Friday, May 6, 2011

Confessions from a Backpacker

I was told by several travelers along the way that the 2.5 month and 3 month part of a trip is usually where the homesickness kicks in. Each time I heard this I would only laugh as I could not imagine that happening to me. Well, I was wrong and it did.

It started about a week or so ago. I was getting tired of constantly moving around, meeting new people and asking the same questions and getting the same questions asked to me. I just wanted a place of my own where I could hang out in my comfy sweatpants and just chill on a couch, order a pizza, and watch a movie with a good friend or a my family that I love and miss.

It really got to me when I arrived in Budapest the other day. I am arrived in a new city when it was dark, the directions to the hostel were not making sense, people kept telling me the wrong direction, it was cold outside but I was sweating from being so upset, I was hungry and wanted something to eat but I couldn't because I didn't have the local currency and because it was late at night I was unable to exchange any money or go to the ATM because I already went that day to pay the previous hostel so all I could do was just try and suck up the tears as I walked along the busy road with my big ole backpack on my back and tried to make it to my hostel, which I finally do an hour later.

I have made it through though and I owe most of it to a tipsy/drunken conversation with another backpacker named Dennis from Chicago who is 25 as well. We were sitting and chatting and doing the whole get to know you thing when we started to talk about traveling. He has been traveling for about a year or more so I asked him if he ever got homesick and he said yes. He told me that it will happen to you at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and a year, but then you get over it. I even asked him if he ever just broke down and cried and he told me absofuckinlutely. We then continued to share stories of being lost late at night and things not working out and then just laughing at it all. I could not tell you how much better that made me feel knowing that I was not alone.

After our conversation of just pouring our stories out to one another Dennis then tried to convince me to continue traveling on and to not go home so early, and that I am young and to do this now when you still can. He told me to take the money that I have left, fly to Sydney, Australia, try and find a job and go from there. He continued to tell me how he had done this in the past and how easy it is to do. I was almost convinced until I realized that Dennis is just one of those guys who is running away from life and to him that is a way of living it. Traveling is not a form of running away, it is a form of adventure and a bit of escape. I think its great that he can do that, but I do miss my friends and family and do look forward to seeing them and hugging them and being able to sit down with a pizza and watch a movie with them, and having a career.

I MISS AMERICAN COFFEE. It is probably the only thing I really miss about American culture. I am sick of these little cups of things they call coffee in Europe in which I can take down in 2 seconds. I want a nice big ole cup of hot coffee that I can carry around with me and slowly sip on it as I explore the city. Is that too much to ask for?! Also, I have found being a vegetarian really is not that hard after all. I feel that I eat better abroad then I do back home. I love the food over here and will miss it for sure.

Now to give a brief update on my whereabouts. The last time I blogged I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia. From there I went to Belgrade, Serbia which is a fabulous place and I could have stayed longer. Then I traveled to Ljubljana, Slovenia with some guys I met at the hostel in Belgrade and crashed at their place for a few days. Next I headed to Graz, Austria and stayed with a guy that I met in Mostar, Bosnia. Graz is absolutely beautiful too, love love love that area and Austria. After Graz I took the train to Vienna and stayed in that very expensive city for two nights. Not my favorite place, but I still love Austria.  From Austria I headed to Budapest which is where I am at now. I am leaving here Sunday to head to Zdiar, Slovakia. I am slowly making my way north, which is horrible because it keeps getting colder and I miss the sun and beach like crazy, and will someday soon depart from Warsaw, Poland back to the states.

I would like to end this blog with a final note that I apologize for any major punctuation mistakes as the keyboards over here are very different and sometimes I do not know how to insert certain punctuations due to the keyboard. Sorry!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If only I could do this for a living...

The one thing that I do not like about traveling is figuring out where to go next, and after researching and researching I just gave up and decided to just go with the flow and hope that it would all work out, and it has.

I left Rome on April 9th and made it to Split, Croatia the following morning at 7am. This city did a fabulous job of welcoming me to Croatia. The buildings are all white marble, the Adriatic Sea is a deep cool blue, and the weather...well a little brezzy but full of sunshine! I had an 8 hour overlay there until my catamaran ferry took me to Hvar Island, Croatia. This island was nonetheless beautiful, less people than Split due to the fact that is is low season, but unfortunately not the kind of beach that I was looking for. It has a rocky coast, not the best for laying out, and I felt wierd wearing shorts (even thought it was 74!) because all of the locals are still wearing jeans and sweaters! My stay there was quiet and nice, met some great people, one of which I traveled with to my next few destinations of Korcula and Dubrovnik in Croatia and then to Mostar, Bosnia.

We were only in Korcula for a night or two. It is smaller than Hvar, and with it being low season did not have much to offer a tourist. It is the birth place of Marco Polo though! We played some basketball with some local boys, saw the old castle of a town, ate some great food, and then moved on to Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik has nice beaches, but just my luck, they had some cold weather that week which stopped me from laying out, but did not stop me from jumping off a cliff into the cold Adriatic Sea. I will give some props to my traveling buddy because after he decided he was jumping in, how could I say no? It was such an adrealine rush and so awesome. The water was probably 54, but after a while the numbness wore off. My traveling buddy also made me an accomplice to some unique souveniors, one being a liscene plate from a scooter (I still feel a little bad about that one, but it is a cool souvenior!) and a big ole glass mug with the logo of the local beer on it. We will see how long that one lasts through my travels though; too heavy to send home and hopefully it will not break during the travels.

From Croatia we headed on a bus to Mostar, Bosnia. Serioualy, best country ever. This place is so rich in history and beauty. When I think of Bosnia I think dirt roads, third world, but wow, I was wrong! We get to Mostar and the war is still visible through the bullet holes on the buildings, the buildings that have yet to be rebuilt from bombings and even from the look on the faces of the locals. I took this unforgetable tour from the hostel which was given by the brother of the lady who owns the hostel. It lasted about 12 hours but was worth every second. He talked about the war, how he and his family fled the war, what happened during the war (the killing and raping of women and children, the destruction of the buildings and surrounding city, and all of the corruption that still exists which segerates Mostar to this day). He also took us to eat some authentic Bosnian food (delicious and can be vegetarian!). We then went to the surrounding areas and saw some of the most beautiful waterfalls that I have ever seen in my life. The water was cold (just like the Adriatic) but that did not stop me from jumping in, swimming around, and climbing into the caves under the waterfalls. The only thing that really sucked is when I would put my head underwater my head would literally throb from the coldness of the water. It was like a massive headache. The sun was warm enough to dry me pretty fast once I got out. The tour continued on and we saw caves, pilgrimage sites, and then ended with some more fabulous food.

In Mostar they have this tall 7 story building that used to be a bank but was destroyed during the war. It was given the nickname of Snipers Nest because that is where all of the snipers would hide to kill off people. I climbed to the top, and wow what a view, but it was crazy to think about everything that happened in the exact spot that I was standing. I actually found some bullet shells and took them as souveniors.

Overall, Mostar is beautiful and is known for thier bridge which was destroyed during the war (it was built by the Turks in 1566) but rebuilt afterwards. The Old Town is lots of fun and I enjoyed walking around. After being there for 3 days I headed on to where I am not which is Sarajevo, Bosnia (the capital city, home to the 1984 winter Olympics, and the where Franz Ferdinand was killed which was the start of WWI). A much bigger city indeed and I have had an amaying tour guide. The old man who owns the apartment has taken me all around town and to all of the local resturants. I met up with some friends I met in Mostar and they showed me around last night and we had a grand ole time drinking and hanging out.  From here I will probably head to Belgrade, Serbia and then who knows.

I will end this blog with saying how traveling alone has been such a different experience than traveling with someone. I would say that I definitely do prefer traveling alone, but I do not think I could have traveled solo if not having my travel buddy along in the beginning. Travling solo can be scary sometimes, but I believe if I can do this than I can do anything. You meet soooooo many more people when traveling alone and the experiences are so very different. I now have friends from all around the world and it is so much fun to hear their story and learn new things from their culture. I honestly could do this for the rest of my life if I could financially afford it. This really is the life for me. It is so cool to know that everything I have fits in a backpack on my back and that I go anywhere I want. Which is sometimes the problem, figuring where to go!  My favorite thing to do is put my iPod in and walk around the city. It puts me in my own world and I am able to take everything in my way (and less people will bug you when you have headphones in too). Hopefully I can make it through June, but if not there is no doubt that I will be back to travel. I am averaging about a country a week, but right now I do not know whether to head south towards Bulgaria and Greece or North towards Prague and Vienna. I will try to keep updating this blog as best as I can to keep you all update!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

And Then There Was Only ONE

As of Wednesday, March 30th I have been traveling solo. For personal reasons Jay has decided to go back to the states and I decided to continue on with my travels. I really have not been alone though. While in Barcelona I met some guys from California who are doing study abroad in Rome and have been hanging out with them. Well actually, more like staying with them. They have been very grateful and have let me sleep on their extra bed while I await for my new debit card to arrive so that I can actually afford to move on to my next destination.

While in Madrid my purse was stolen (which included my wallet with everything in it and my camera) so thankfully the hostel we were staying at was nice enough to let me phone my bank to cancel my card and order another one, and they even helped me file a police report. Amazing people! My bank sent a new card to my house in Atlanta and then once my dad got it he had to wait till I had an address in Rome to send it to, and well, I am still waiting on it! It finally arrived Friday according to the tracking system but the hostel never received it, so now I will be spending Monday tracking down my card between the hostel and the post office. Once I get my card the first thing I am going to do is book a very nice room to spend my 25th birthday in and invite the amazing people that I have been staying with to have one hell of a birthday bash!

Rome is amazing. The first day here I was walking around getting lost and I take a left and out of nowhere I am like oh shit! There is the Coliseum right there! It was insane! Around this busy road and somewhat modern buildings you have this piece of history that was built around 80AD. I just stood there and starred at it in complete awe. After walking around it all I could think about is how much I wanted to watch Gladiator.

My all time favorite place in Rome though is the Vatican City. It is by far the best place in the world to people watch. When I first got there, and after visiting St. Peters Church, which is the largest and most amazing church in the world by the way (seriously, thats a fact, look it up), I just sat by a monument in front of St. Peters for over an hour just listening to my iPod, enjoying the warm sun, and people watching. The Vatican brings in all kinds of people and it is so fascinating to observe such a thing. I even went to a mass in St. Peters today with some friends. I am not Catholic, nor am I religious person, but I can appreciate certain aspects to religion and I felt that going to a mass at the Vatican seemed like a thing to do while in Rome. It only lasted 45 minutes and the entire thing was in Italian so obviously my mind wondered, but so did my eyes as it was hard for them not to constantly look around at the beautiful architecture that encompasses such a place. Michelangelo's artwork around me, statues of over 17ft are on the walls, an organ five times the size of me is playing to my right and a nun is praying in front of me. The sights and sounds are so unbelievable, and what it comes down to, which is always such an awe for me, that right now at this moment I am not only in Italy, but in Rome, and in the Vatican, participating in a mass at the most famous and holy church in the world. Just that thought alone gives my body the tingles and it is hard to not smile knowing what I am experiencing at that moment.

Other than walking past the place where Caesar was stabbed, throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, eating more gelato than my body can handle, I have been enjoying the relaxed party life at the same time. Since I am now crashing at a college dorm room my evenings have been replaced with the usual relaxing and an early to bed with instead a bottle of wine and bedtime at 4am. I have not met a person yet that I have not enjoyed talking to and I take time in getting to know everyone's story, especially with the people that I am staying with. It is fascinating to hear where they have been, what they have done, and what they plane on doing later in life. More so than ever in my life before I am so intrigued by people and I would rather listen and ask them questions then talk about me. And plus, I have told the same ole same ole story about me to dozens of people over the course of the past few months and I am tired of it. It is refreshing to hear about new stories and learn new things about new people.

Europe is wicked expensive and I want to try and move on to Asia as I really do miss that place, but unfortunately it is expensive to get back there and then back to Europe again in June, so I am not sure where my adventure will lead me, but right now I am looking into Croatia. The Balkin area of Europe tends to be much cheaper and I am dying for a beach right now, which is why Croatia is number one on the list. I am looking into Hvar Island and I can take a ferry there from the east coast of Italy. I have also seriously been considering finding a place I like a lot, renting an apartment for a month, and just hanging in one location for a while. One thing I have found that I really do miss and do enjoy since staying with these boys is having a place to come home to. It is nice to come back to a place and just be able to just sit on the couch and read, or cook food, or take a siesta without random people coming through the room. I would like to find a small little place in the middle of nowhere on a beach and just relax and do things I have been wanting to do for years such as take a cooking class and practice what I learn, read books all day long, do puzzles, meet the locals and learn their culture, and at the same time being alone and living in solitude for a while. That is what I really want, now it is just a matter of finding it, if I can.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life as a Backpacker - A Relfection Piece

Okay so it´s time to get personal with a reflection piece. I meant to do this a while ago but never found the time, but with free internet at this hostel and a wide awake mind I couldn´t help but finally write it. I hope to do another after 2 or so months and then one at the end. As time consuming as this blog can be I do enjoy writing it and find myself thinking about what I will write throughout the day, so I hope you all enjoy reading it!

Let´s Get Personal!

Jay and I have been backpacking for the past 2 months, and as much as I read blogs and googled things to prepare myself for a life living out of my 60 liter backpack for the next 6 months I sometimes wish I didn´t. Looking back on it,  I wished I would have just brought some of the things I wanted to bring and say screw you to all of those blogs I read about how I should bring this and that. There truly is no real way to prepare yourself for a life like this.

Through my last 2 months I have discovered that the only way to know what you need for life out of a backpack is to live it. No matter how many people you talk to or how many blogs you read, none of them will prepare you for your experience because everyone´s experience is different. For example, we were told over and over again by people and blogs about how you will have to wash your own clothes and to bring a limited number of underwear and just wash them and wear them. Well they were all wrong! Did you know that you can send your clohtes off to be laundered, pressed, and delivered to you for as little as $1 and as much as $4 even in Europe? Yeah, thats an expense Jay and I have been very willing to pay for. And only limited underwear?? Psh! I am glad I ignored that one and brought as many as I wanted to because we don´t get laundry done that often and serisouly, of all things to take up space underwear is not a concern. I absolutely do wear the same shirts, shorts, and pants over and over again, as I could only bring so much, but honestly they really do not smell as much as one would think they would and if they do I just air them out and rub dryer sheets on them that I brought to take out the stench. Problem solved!

I am very very thankful for the one blog that I stumbled upon which told me about a cocoon. This is a sheet that fits on your bed and have a space to slip a pillow into and has proven itself handy in several locations where we didn´t want to use the sheets provided. The other thing I am very thankful that I brought are sarongs. These things are seriously universally amazing! They have been a bathing suite cover up, a blanket on the bus, a sheet on the beach, a sheet to sleep on, a pillow, and a jacket to keep me warm when walking around town. These things are a must have for any traveller. This I promise you I am not wrong about.

While traveling you come across many different types of travellers. Those who are just taking weekend trips, a month trip, a couple months, and those who lives are out of a backpack. As a female I would sometimes feel intimidated by other females that were wearing nicer things than me and even smelling better because they brought along perfume. I have learned to be comfortable with who I am, which is a person who is backpacking for 6 months. Well I take that back, I am still learning to be comfortable. I have limited clothes and space and I will not always fit in or look glamerous. I will sweat, smell, and have messy hair and you know what, that is just who I am and I am okay with that.

Things become less complicated when you are a backpacker. Which for me, was hard to grasp and took me a while to realize that I can do whatever I want and I have nothing to do. My entire life I have lived with deadlines and planning and getting from point A to B, and for once in my life none of that exists. It may seem odd, but it literally took me the moment of when Jay and I discussed going to Europe last week that I realized that I do have this freedom. Even though I always had it I always felt like I had to plan something or pressure to do this or do that or that I should be doing this or should be doing that. I feel as if I should be living this crazy adventerous life, when in reality this trip has not been so much crazy has it has been relaxing spending days sleeping or just people watching and reading a book. While in Vietnam, after going for a morning run and having breakfast, I seroiously went back to bed from 11am -2pm then went to bed again that night around 9pm. I was tired, so why not sleep? At first I felt guilty like I should be doing something, but why? This is my trip, my adventure, my time, so why live it to expectations of what I ought to be doing?

Travelling with someone can be enjoyable and difficult. I say this regardless of how well you know or don´t know someone. You are with someone 24/7. You go to bed around the same time in the same room and sometimes in the same bed, you wake up at the same time, you eat all 3 meals together, you adventure together, you are always together, and someone in that togetherness you start getting annoyed. Jay and I have no doubt annoyed each other and although it took us a while to realize the simple fact that we need to communicate this with each other, we are doing fine and are learning to work through things. There are times when we have gone off and done our own thing, which has been nice, but then there are times I am glad we had each other. We have had some crazy times together that I know would not have happened if not traveling together. It is a challenge still as we are continuously learning who the other person is and accepting those things of that person. We have seen each other at good times and bad, through gross sweaty moments, and fun clean times. Regadless of it all, we are still travelling together and intend to do so through the end.

As much as I love being an American and love my country, I do not miss it. I miss the amazing people there, but I do not miss it. I love being abroad, and although it can get a little tiring traveling from place to place, I love it. If you didn´t realize yet by how many times I said it, I LOVE this lifestyle and highly encourage everyone to travel, whether its via backpack or a week adventure. If I had the opportunity I would never return (which I have thought about if I do not get into grad school). I do realize that I must go back, and will, but this does not mean that my travels have ended, I will return and continue travelling whether it be with friends or alone.

Time for a Change

So the past blogs of consisted of me updating everyone on day to day activities and that is about to change. I would prefer to talk about things going on now in the present so that is what I am going to do. My blogs for now on, including the one below, will be about the present location with some quick shout outs to the past locations. All questions and details can be filled in when we get back, so therefore we will actually have something to tell everyone instead of us getting back and no one needs to know how the trip went because well, you read about it all ready!

ESPANA! Yep, that is right, we are currently in Spain. We spent about a week and a half in Cambodia; beautiful but the country is a sad place. The poverty is everywhere, but it still was one of my favorite places because of the culture. When walking the border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia we were welcomed by not only the insane heat but also children playing on barbed wire and children begging for money. We saw some breathtaking sites at the Angkor Wat temples where the trees have taken over and it literally is one of best things I have seen so far. My favorite temple, which I forget the name, is the same temple that Tomb Raider  was filmed in. We spent a couple of days there in Siem Reap, but Jay wasn´t ready to leave and I was so I travelled alone to Battambang and then to Kampot where I met with Jay. After Kampot we headed to Vietnam which is when we decided we were ready to head to Europe. Asia was great, and we enjoyed it, but we needed a break from some things and I was dying for some rich culture that I felt like I was not getting in Southeast Asia. And who says we have to follow our original plan? We have the freedom to do whatever we want and go wherever we want, so we checked into the flights to Europe and Madrid was one of the cheapest, so off we flew on Quatar Airways to Madrid, Spain! Before we left we were very fortunate to actually be able to meet up with my grandparents while in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. They are currently doing a cruise around the world and we just happen to be in the same place at the same time! I must say that it was very nice and comforting to see some familiar faces.

Madrid, Spain welcomed us with rain and cold weather but this place is already by far my favorite city in the world. As soon as we got here we headed to the futbol stadium and waited in line to get tickets for the Real Madrid championship league game that night. We got tickets, paid more than I ever thought I would but absolutely worth it and had such an amazing time. I tell ya these Spainards really know how to pregame! The streets were crowded with people, the roads were shut down, they were chanting how the other team is a bitch, lighting road flares, and drinking from solo cups that are so big that I needed two hands to hold and drink from; which by the way for only 6 euros is a nice cheap delicious beverage because the solo cup holds like 2.5 beers! While hanging out in the crowd of people in the ally across the street by the stadium we met some people who live there and chatted it up with them for a while. Jay was going all Spanish on me and was talking in a way that I could not understand and I did my best to try and communicate with these guys. I ended up talking to a guy who knew little English which was perfect for a girl who was a few drinks deep and only knew a little bit of Spanish, the conversation basically consisted of us constantely shrugging our sholders and laughing. I laughed a lot because I had no idea what was going on.

We get into the game and find our seats, which although kind of high up still really good seats because it had a nice view of the stadium. The 80,000 seat stadium was 100% full too, they don´t mess around with futbol here! Oh yeah, so one thing I noticed is that not many females attend these games. I probably counted 10 in the packed pregaming crowds and the fact that the women´s bathroom only has 2 stales and no wait should also give you an idea as well. I don´t know why though, I had such a blast! Real Madrid won 3-0 of course.

Today has been a much nicer day with blue skies and warmer weather. Because I have been used to traveling in 90 degree weather and in the jungles, I went to an H&M and got some new clothes so I was set for fashion attire in Madrid. We walked around today and wow, the buildings here are just breathtaking. The palace, oh the palace! The gardens around the palace, the sculptures, and even the streets! Everything here is so clean and nice and structured. It is just hard to believe that this is such a major city as because of how well kept everything is. We have not had a chance to explore the food yet because we had some minor set backs with things so we just enjoyed a nice bowl of ceral for dinner at the hostel, which was actually very enjoyable as anyone knows me knows that I am a cereal fein and this was the first time that I have had cereal in 2 months! We hope to explore some of the food tomorrow along with the museums. Well, more like I will be exploring as Jay study abroad here while in undergrad and lived here for 4 months so basically he has been a fabulous tour guide for me!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

You Can't Say Thailand Without saying ISLAND!!

Before I begin to tell the many wonderful stories of Thailand, I must first give credit to Jay for the title of this blog as he came up with it as we were riding on a motorbike on some island in Thailand. In general, all we did in Thailand was go island hoping. We went from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao to Koh Chang. We thoroughly enjoyed Thailand; in fact we enjoyed it so much that we accidentally stayed an extra 4 days than our visa allowed and ended up paying a fine of 2,000 BAHT (only like $70). I will attempt to sum up all of the fun in the sun in this one single post so that I can finally get this blog up-to-date, but because of that it might be a little lengthy.

Koh Phangan
After about 20 some hours later, a crowded mini van with a back seat of what Jay and I called Buddhist Monks in Training, we finally arrived in Koh Phangan.We arrived in Koh Phangan at 6:30am via a night ferry. The night ferry has so far been one our favorite boat rides or general means of transportation to a place. The ferry was an old wooden ferry with two levels and everyone rode/slept on the second level. There were mattresses laid out on the ground against the sides for people to sleep through the night and opened windows lining the walls. We boarded at 11pm and the lights were out by 11:15, and I looked out at the night sky as the moon shone down on the river and the little houses lining the river bank. Everything and everyone was silent and it was so calming and relaxing that I could not help but just daze off as I smiled at the moon and stars passing by.

I woke up early the next morning as we hit port and everyone headed out to a taxi to take them to their place of stay. Jay and I booked ahead of time at a place called Top Hill Resort, and the name of the place was no lie, it literally was at the end of dirt and rocky road up a hill at the very end. This place though is probably one of our absolute favorite places we have ever stayed, and it is because of the place (not necessarily the room but more like the view) and the owner for why we stayed an extra 2 days.

Koh Phangan is known for their parties; full moon, blue moon, crescent moon, etc. There is always an excuse to party there and it basically seems like a big spring break island as florescent colors are thrown everywhere, which is the big theme for the parties, and people walking around in their beach gear still drunk at 9am; probably because there are after parties that start at 7am. Jay and I did not participate in these parties as we were there to relax, and we definitely did. We were the only ones staying at the resort in the beginning and we got to know the owner, Tee, very well. Tee is an amazing person who is from Bangkok with a Buddhist background who is very enlightening indeed as well as an amazing cook. Some of my best meals so far has been cooked by him. Tee showed us around local style as he would take us out into the jungle at night for a party or show us where the crazy tourists go and introduce us to some local cuisine. 

The best part about the resort was by far the view. We woke up every morning to the sunrise overlooking a cliff where crystal blue waters waited below. On the other side of the cliff, just walking distance, was where the sun set and where the white sand beaches and hammocks hanging in the trees where. We by far had the best of both worlds there. We probably woke up every morning around 8-8:30am but would not start our day until sometime after 11am because we just spent that time hanging out in the open lounge area drinking tea and enjoying the view.

We ventured off a couple of times on the motorbike to a beach called Ko Mo, A beautiful white sand beach were we did some snorkeling and got an aloe vera message (which they grew the aloe right there) on the beach for only $10 an hour! I was still really sun burnt so I stayed out of the sun most of the time and the aloe vera was heavenly on my skin. I honestly do not think I have ever been so relaxed in my life has I had been on that island.

I also picked up a new hobby there, chess. There was a chess board in the lounge area and I have always wanted to learn so Jay has been teaching me. I have yet to win, but I feel as if I am slowly catching on. I actually really like it too! I have also found a new love for a dessert that Tee made for us and is so easy to make. It is sticky rice, drizzled with coconut cream, and a fresh sliced mango on top. Soooooo gooooodddd!!!

We sadly has to leave the island after 4 or 5 days (time has literally escaped me and I really never know what the date is anymore) to head to our next destination to enjoy the beautiful beaches there.

Koh Tao
The ferry to Koh Tao is a short ride but on the boat ride there was a man on there trying to sell people scuba packages. Now the reason for this is because Koh Tao is know worldwide for its diving and is apparently one of the best places to get certified and to go scuba diving. Jay and I discussed the day before how neither one of us have any inclination to get scuba certified while there. But something sparked in us while listening to the guy and before we knew it we had signed up for Open Water Certification at BAN'S Diving Resort!

Now scuba diving is something I thought I would never do, just never had the interest, but once I signed up for it I could not wait to get in the water. On our second day of class we headed into the pool to breathe underwater for the first time. Most people love the first time they can breathe underwater, well for me it was scary as hell. I felt like I was suffocating and was began breathing too deep and hard and had to come up. I calmed myself down and made it through the rest of the class. The next day though was our first dive out into open water. We suited up, did our buddy checks, and jumped in. Breathing under water in the ocean felt so much easier than in the pool and the second we descended under and I was breathing without feeling like I was suffocating I feel in love. I can only describe it with the combination of two Disney songs, a Whole New World from Aladdin and Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid. Just absolutely amazing. We got out and did another dive that day and then headed in, and the next day we would do our last 2 dives and then be certified!

After our certification was complete I really wanted to continue on to get my Advanced Open Water certification so that I could dive to 30 meters. Jay didn't enjoy the experience as much as I did so he opted out and I stayed in. Most people take a break of a day or two in between the two courses, and I wish I would have done the same, but we were on a time crunch so I had to do it the next day. The advanced course was nice though because all we did was a little class work and 5 dives (the last one being a night dive!) and there was only one other person in my class, unlike my last class had 12.

Diving takes a lot out of you and by the last day I was tired of diving and was just ready to be certified and move on. The entire time while I was on the island I had not had time to lay out or explore it, just training and diving the whole time. On the first dive of my last day of diving I had quiet the scary experience. I used a new pair of goggles and when we got to our descent point of about 22 meters (very bad visibility by the way, could probably only see like 1-2 meters in front of me) I started to have trouble with my goggles. Water kept coming in and I could not blow it out. Then before I knew it the goggles were half full, I couldn't see at all, my group moved on and I couldn't see them, I started to panic which threw off my breathing and I started to have a hard time breathing which made me panic even more, especially since I was 22 meters under the sea! I did what we learned in class which is slow ascend to the top, but I stopped about 10 meters till the top where the visibility was better and finally was able to clear my goggles. I then swam the rest of the way to the top where I waited for my group. About a minute or two later they got to the top, and as I was secretly panicking trying to hold back the tears when the instructor told me well done that I did exactly what I was supposed to do in that situation. So then we went back down to swim with the fishes.

The final dive, the night dive, was unfortunately not as good as it usually is because of the full moon which created bad visibility, but we did get to swim with some barracudas! Which by the way are delicious. Jay and I had some a couple of nights before. I decided that I would only eat locally fresh caught fish to keep up with my protein and to try new things, and barracuda was a good choice! The only thing that really sucked about the night dive was my partner. Nice older man, but he ran into me sooo many times. Which I am sure I did the same to him, but on the night dive, as soon as we got under, he slammed his elbow into my face which threw my goggles off of me. I cursed out loud hoping he could hear me because of how pissed I was, but of course he didn't and for the rest of the 40 minutes of the dive I had problems with my goggles again. Thanks buddy! Once we came up though I was officially certified and it felt AMAZING! Anyone down for some scuba diving?!?!

The last night there I went to bed early cause I was so tired from diving, but Jay didn't get in till 5am, which woke me up and I couldn't get to bed after that. So I headed to the beach with a towel, a book, and some music to watch the sun light the morning sky and enjoy and the peace and quiet that I had been looking for. It didn't take me too long until I got the urge to run on the beach. This was the first time I had run since I had been on the trip and it felt absolutely amazing. I ran about 3 miles up and down the beach and caught some interesting sights which included two people having sex in the ocean. I ran barefoot along the beach, and although it was a great run, I felt the repercussions of it. I thought I had a rock stuck in my foot because it was hurting, but when I examined my foot I realized that I had a blood blister the size of my toe in a crescent moon shape on my big toe. It made walking for the next day or so a lot tougher, but I still wouldn't take the moment back.

After being on the island for about 6 days we paid our dues at the diving resort and headed on a nice 20+ hour journey to Koh Chang. My total costs at the diving resort which included all accommodations the entire time, the training, equipment, dives, certification, etc. came to about 16,000 BAHT which equaled out to only $513! How amazing is that! That is another reason why Jay and I love Thailand so much, so cheap!

Koh Chang
Our travels between destinations are always interesting but I must say that this has to be the winning one so far. We had to take a ferry, then a bus, then another bus, and then another ferry. Our longest leg of the journey was from some place in Thailand all the way up to Bangkok where we were supposed to get there at 5am and then get on another bus at 8am. Well the bus driver from wherever in Thailand to Bangkok was in a real hurry apparently because we got to Bangkok at 2:30am. Well what the hell are we supposed to do for like 5 hours in Bangkok during the wee hours of the morning! Well let me tell you, Jay and I would like to say that Bangkok might rival NY for the city that never sleeps. We get there and walk around the corner and behold, a hustling bustling of a street. Bars were going crazy with people and music, bands on the side of the street, street vendors selling food and beer, massages places squeezed in between all of these places, and of course Bangkok would not be complete without trannie hookers, or as Jay called them, ladies with hot dogs. I seriously have not seen so many trannie hookers in my life, it was very amusing just to watch them do their thing and hit on Jay. 

Jay and I settled on a beer and a foot massage as we enjoyed the music coming from across the street. I believe my favorite part was when the band played Country Roads by John Denver! Go WV! After our foot massage and beer we headed to another bar (about 3:30am at this time) and got some hooka and beer to kill time. Excellent place for people watching as right across the street was the main hub of where the trannie hookers were hanging out too. We continued to walk around the city until we found our bus guy and waited to get on to finally arrive in Koh Chang.

We get to Koh Chang at I don't know what time but get on a taxi and head to Lonely Beach where the backpackers stay, and found a place for the night. We were both in need for a drink, and it was almost 5pm so we got a bucket each and headed down to the rocky beach to watch the sunset and drink our buckets. Now most people reading this probably have no idea what a bucket is, well it is something that is very common in Thailand and Cambodia we have found. They take a bucket, about the size of a small medium beach bucket, fill it half way with ice, pour 5-7 shots in it, then put a mixer in it, some straws, and there ya go! You walk around drinking your bucket. Something that Jay and I were very much in the need of. We ended the night by eating at one of the best Mexican places I have ever eaten at before in my life, and considering I eat a lot of Mexican that is quite the compliment. And it was not good just because we were drunk, it was just very very good in general. It was something I thought I would never find in this part of the world and a beautiful way to end the night.

The next day we found a new place to stay on a more secluded beach (not my favorite beach as I have never seen so much trash in my life on a beach. I think Coastal needs to send some Eco-Reps there to help clean it up). It was somewhat relaxing, Jay loved it and I just chilled. That night though some Russian Bikers had a HUGE party there which was very interesting and Jay and I sat back enjoyed the insane drunk Russians and the amazing fireworks that they let off.

The next 2 nights were spent on the fishing village pier where the owner, are you ready for this, is the 3rd best table tennis player in the US!!! How awesome is that! He even got his citizenship in Wooster, MA so that he could play for the US. He went pro at the age of 12!! He also served us a delcious dinner of some different fresh fish that his fisherman friend caught that night. We had baracudda, red snapper, and cow fish. I think I might have over done it bit that night and am a little fished out for a while.

Jay and I signed up for a Thai cooking class the next day and it was sooo cool! And filling! We each made 3 meals and we got to eat everything we cooked. So if anyone is in the mood for some spring rolls, sweet and sour, or green curry just let me know because I am now a pro!

We were only going to spend one more day on the island and move on but then we discovered White Sands Beach and decided to stay one more day. The ironic part is that it rained the next day so we didn't get to enjoy the beach the second day. But we did go to an amazing waterfall which we swam under and was totally worth skipping the beach for a day.

One the last night there we decided to go to a Muay Thai boxing match. This stuff is crazy by the way! I am not one for violence but wanted to go to experience it and wow, some people really got the shit kicked out of them. In like the 4th match there was a Cambodia guy vs a Thai guy and probably in round 3 the Cambodia guy knocked the Thai guy out and won. But I mean he really knocked him out, so bad that they had to give him stitches in his eye right then and there! Poor guy.

We left the next day as the rain wished us a farewell as we headed onto our next destination, a whole new country, CAMBODIA!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Brief Moment in Time - Malaysia Part 3

I am going to write about the final two locations in brief as I am in desperate need to update this blog, and since we are staying at a place that offers free internet service I will do by best to get everyone caught up as Jay and I are actually now in Cambodia!

We arrived to Penang late and with some disappointment as it was much more developed than we were expecting. As we came across the bridge to the island we could see how the night sky was lined with skyscrapers and that the island was a hustle bustle of a place.  I was excited though when the hostel that we got, which was really the only one that had rooms available (only 2 beds again!) but this place was niiiicceee. Hardwood floors, clean bathrooms and showers (not hot water but there was a massive rain shower!!), aircon rooms, free breakfast, and the rooms were nice and we felt fully confident that we did not even have to use our cocoons. Although the place was a little more than we had been paying for, about 30-40 ringets per person per night (about $10-12) I was absolutely ecstatic to be staying here, and to have aircon!!! We laid our stuff down, went for dinner at a nice little Indian restaurant and then called it a early night.

We woke up the next morning just in time to catch the end of breakfast. They had these pancakes in which they topped with nuts and honey then cut into little pieces and rolled them, delicious! We decided to walk around the city for a bit and then hit up Penang Hill which you take a tram to the top and you can see the whole city. Last night Jay started to feel a little ill, but he toughed it up and came along. As we began to walk around I started to like the city more and more. The streets were not as crowded and were wider and it had a better feel to it. We stumbled upon this little store which sold homemade ice cream. Jay and I could not be more elated as we had been craving ice cream and almost even settled for a McDonalds flurry one night just to give in. Jay had some kind of chocolate sweet brown sugar flavor and I had the most delicious flavor I have ever had before. Seriously some of the best ice cream ever. It was margarita flavored but tasted more like key lime and it even had little pieces of lime peel in it. My mouth watered with each bite and I swear that this is what ice cream heaven felt like. On a day as hot as it was the refreshing feel of the ice cream fit perfectly into that moment.

We continued to walk around until we found the bus station to take us to Penang Hill. At this point Jay was not feeling well at all so he opted to go back to the place and rest up while I continued on the journey alone to the site. I took a 15-20 minute bus ride to the destination which was the last stop. I walked about 100 meters to where the tram is, and what do you know, they were renovating and it will not be working until April. Fabulous! On the ride there I noticed a temple on the hill which was close by. I remembered reading about in the guide book, so I guided by self in that direction. This temple though is no ordinary temple. It is up this intense hill in which I probably walked about 600 meters up this tiny walk way which is covered and lined along the sides are every little trinket shop you can imagine. I get to the top and am just utterly amazed. There are several parts to the temple and the view of the city was unbelievable. There were things lined in gold, symbols all around, magnificent colors, and lots of people course. The temple was not the best part though. The best part was what sat up on the hill which you had to take a tram to; a 300ft bronze statue of the goddess of mercy. Words cannot explain how amazing it was and the decorations that surrounded it. I took the tram up and as I took it up I looked around and noticed that I was the tallest person in there lol.

After about 3 hours of walking around and touring the temple I decided to head back. But instead of taking the bus back I thought I would save some money and just walk back. I knew it would be a long walk and that I did not know my way, but I had the energy and I thought it would be fun if I could figure it out on my own. I actually did pretty well for a while, and only took one wrong turn. I finally arrived back a couple hours later. Yep, a couple hours later. That walk back was about 8km, so technically if you minus the 15-20 minutes bus ride I had been walking/standing non-stop for about 8.5 hours. I figured it out and I walked about a total of 12km that day! Unfortunately I chose to wear my Old Navy cheap flip flops that day and paid the price by receiving 2 magnificent blisters which were mixed with the dirt and grim from the city side walks. Yuck! I was perfectly okay with a cold shower that night as much as I sweated walking around for 9 hours.

When I arrived back Jay still was not feeling well. He said he had been in bed all day and his stomach was killing him. He took some more pills and went to bed and I followed soon after as we had an early morning to catch our ferry to our first real island, Langkawi!!

Welcome to Langkawi where the smells are just as bad, the weather isn't as humid, and the water is crystal blue! We got off the ferry only to be welcomed by a KFC, Pizza Hut, and a Kenny Rogers Chicken place, thanks America (not really). We booked a cheap resort for this island, which ended up being perfect for Jay who was still feeling ill. He was cursing Malaysia and their food and smells all the way to the island (we were still in Malaysia though). We get to our resort to find out that it is in the middle of the island. Oh joy, we finally get to a beach island and we are in the middle of the jungle. But after seeing our place it actually was totally worth it. It was quiet and relaxing and away from the hustle and bustle of everything. There was not many people staying there and the staff was extremely friendly. We took it easy the first night and just hung out on the king sized bed and watched TV, played card games, watched TV, and let Jay slowly get better.

The next day we headed out to rent a motor bike. Probably one of the best things we have ever ever done. Everyone in Southeast Asia rides motor bikes. There are more of them then there are cars or anything else. It is a mix between a moped and a motorcycle and they are fuckin awesome! We rented one and Jay drove the whole time. I really didn't want to drive as I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the back, enjoying the scenery, and letting my mind drift away.

We took that motor bike everywhere. We explored the entire island and checked out some great and not so great beaches. The one thing we did forget about though was sunscreen. Before the day was over my legs and shoulders and Jays legs and arms were completely burnt. I was at least smart enough to put stuff on my face before we left, but other than that we didn't have anything. I was so sun burnt that my legs were not red but purple. I slept horribly that night, and they finally stopped peeling 3 weeks later. Don't worry, we learned our lesson and are feigns for sunscreen now. Because we were so burnt we decided to wait until the sunset to ride back to avoid any more sun. A couple hours before that we landed at the Four Seasons Resort where we fell in love with the view, the hammock, and the cabanna on the beach, and the white sand. We made this little place our beach for the rest of the day and decided to splurge and eat dinner at the resort to watch the sunset.

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love The Food Network Channel and as much I watch the chefs cook on the shows I have always dreamed of eating food cooked by one of them. That night I felt like I was eating food cooked by a chef on from one of the shows. It was so beautifully done and the appearance was delicately perfect. We ordered wine with our meals, which might have been one of the best glasses of red wine I have ever had, and as we enjoyed our meals as we watched the sunset slowly over the blue waters and palm trees. Everything was totally worth the splurge. The chef even came out to introduce himself. We were eating at an Italian restaurant and the chef was, go figure, from Italy! Before working here he was working in Istanbul and in Madrid. No wonder why the food was was good!

We eventually made our way home to enjoy the painful night's sleep from the sunburn. We awoke the next morning ready to hit the island to explore more parts of it, but sadly we were covered head to toe to protect ourselves from the sun. After another long day driving around, we decided to splurge for one more beautiful sunset dinner and settled on a little less expensive place called the Bon Ton Resort. This place was picture perfect. It felt like a yoga zen place, a place we both agreed was perfect for Jay's mom. After dinner we drove around for a bit to enjoy the last night on the island then headed back to drink some wine we picked up earlier. I passed out kinda early, but we had to get an early start the next day so I didn't feel bad about it. We had to get up early to return the motorbike, which somehow we were able to fit Jay who was wearing his backpack and me in which I was wearing my backpack as well. It basically felt like 4 grown adults on there and I used all my strength not to fall off the back. But nonetheless it was fun and now we are finally off to THAILAND!!!!