Glad to be back with Turkey + Tito and making a new home in SB.
The elevator to the top: 124 floors in less than a minute.
A royal cremation for all to witness. Click on pix to enlarge.
Where We Went: Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, India
First Moment Here: We were fully expecting so much crazy and sightly disappointed in just how normal this place feels. Okay, okay, I did see like more guys taking a piss along the side of a major 4 lane (with 5 lanes of traffic) highway than I did cows, which is saying something in India. And thankfully Nepal prepared us for all the honking. Just following my golden rule of “never look out the front of the vehicle” and keeping my blood pressure normal while en route.
Funniest Thing We Did: Try to understand a single word (mind you, they’re speaking English). It makes it all the worse!
Craziest Thing We Did: While driving we saw: pigs, goats, monkeys, dogs (unfortunately many dead on the roadside), antelope, cows, bulls, camels, buffalo and ELEPHANTS! I’m probably missing a few animals in there but you get the idea.
Best Thing We Did: On our sixth day here (in the third city we visited) came the grand finale, the Taj Mahal. We went early in the morning so there was great light. It was cool to see this “wonder of the world” with our own eyes.
One of my other favorite memories is when we were at a mosque (shoes off and everything) and these girls wanted a picture with me. I wanted a picture with them too. Lots of kids smiled and waved (and stared) at me throughout the trip. 10 time more than in any other place we’ve been.
Tastiest Thing We Did: Garlic Naan. And ALL the Indian food we ate.
Coolest thing we Learned: We learned a ton of history while we were here. Gandhi’s story was pretty incredible and hearing it while standing at his memorial was amazing, We also learned all about the previous rulers, the expanse of their empires and different people groups, religions and architecture.
Biggest Surprise: We had trouble communicating sometimes and found that the hotel reception wasn’t always the most helpful.
Mystery Solved: With Holi approaching, I noticed women on the sides of the streets selling these little brown dome frisbee shaped things (but smaller). I asked our guide and they are what I thought they are (manure) for lighting fires in their house (as all Hindus do) to celebrate Holi.
The roads are, of course, crazy. A few things we saw were tons of guys riding on tops of busses, a caravan of gypsies (no joke!), cows laying down in the middle of the highway, dogs running across the road making us slam on our brakes, people hauling all kinds of crazy loads that looked like they could tip the vehicle (in the loose sense of the word) at any moment, lots of tricycles and rickshaws, cars coming at you head on (on the wrong side of the road) for no reason, and people digging a hole in the middle of the street, shoeless, all while men, women and children successfully crossed the road.
Where We Went: Kathmandu, Nepal
First Moment Here: It started before we even landed. It was a little breezy making our airbus sway over the humungous mountains. It was the kind of landing where everyone applauded when we were on the ground. Yeah. I was one of four women on this full airbus, ya know, the plane with 9 seats across. And there was a guy taking pictures of me before we even got off the plane. I loved everyone saying “namaste” in the airport, hello. In the airport parking lot we saw, well heard first, then saw, a guy toting nine crates full of chicks (below). A few times, it looked like he was about to lose a box and I can’t even imagine what the scene would have been with 100 little peeps on the loose. On our drive to the hotel we saw three cows in the street, maybe they were bulls, not sure. All I can say is oh. my. god. And the honking, don’t even know how to describe it. Anyway, I can’t wait to fall in love with Nepal.
Funniest Thing We Did: One morning while at breakfast in the hotel, the waiter asked, “How was your sleep?” but we thought he said, “How was your trip?" (we had just gotten back from a scenic everest flight) so we replied, “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He gave us a strange look so we continued on, “Very sad” since we were disappointed that we didn't see the Himalayas and Mt. Everest. We haven’t stopped laughing about this interaction since. And we see the guy like every day.
Craziest Thing We Did: We visited a holy temple where every Hindu must come once in their life. Outside they cremate about 35 bodies per day and send the ashes down the river which meets the ganges. People are in the river looking for gold that comes from the gold teeth of the deceased. As we’re watching recently deceased have their feet washed before being cremated there is a monkey eating an orange popsicle right behind us. This is a random and crazy place.
Best Thing We Did: We had hoped it would be the scenic mountain flight over Everest but sadly the clouds lifted over the mountains rather than letting the peaks break through. So, instead, it was the sum of the interactions we had with all the amazing Nepalese people we met. We also saw an awesome band play live one night. The guy had such an amazing voice and I’ve never seen such a good electric guitarist. Amazing.
Tastiest Thing We Did: Milk Tea! And the typical nepalese meal. Had it a handful of times and it never disappointed. The presentation is probably one of my favorite parts of it.
Dumbest Thing We Did: Drink liquor, not beer. Even though we were ordering name brand off the menu, it was a far cry from what we are used to and we got the worst hangover ever. Nothing like being hungover in Nepal. Ughhhhh.
Coolest thing we Learned: Nepal is the one of least developed country in the world with the only 15 minute increment time change and NON rectangular flag. Kathmandu is about 100 miles from Everest. The 1,500 mile long Himalayas including Everest are formed by collision of the Indian Subcontinent and Eurasia. The Indian plate is still moving 2 inches per year so Everest is actually getting taller! They speak 92 languages here and 15 of their provinces aren’t connected to the others by year round road access. We learned SO much here, I could go on and on.
Biggest Surprise: Everest beer cost $4.50 (pint and a half bottle).
Mystery Solved: This thing out in front of our hotel (and other hotels) is some kind of machine with “current” as the man out front explained. I asked, “electricity?”. He nodded yes.
Where We Went: Moalboal (Cebu Island), Dumaguete (Negros Island) + Manila, Philippines
First Moment Here: The 3:45 ride from Cebu airport to Turtle Island Dive Resort covered on 45 miles. So, needless to say, it was slow, windy and a bit nauseating at times. The last mile or two of off-roading on dirt roads barely phased us but had Randy and Nicole (friends from Atlanta meeting us there) researching other properties for our stay.
Funniest Thing We Did: When we booked our last AirAsia flight of the trip we figured we better get a meal. Somehow we ended up with FIVE between the two of us. When the flight attendant dropped them off, he said, “Enjoy your buffet”.
Best Thing We Did: We took a vacation this week and stayed at two gorgeous dive resorts. We never had to think about where our next meal was coming from or arrange transportation (via tricycle) to dinner or diving. We got to spend six nights in three locations with Randy and Nicole. It was amazing being around friends, diving and enjoying the Philippines.
Tastiest Thing We Did: The food at Atmosphere Resort was all amazing but getting to enjoy a green salad with seared tuna was a highlight. I think I ordered a salad every day!
Dumbest Thing We Did: Randy and Adam ate hamburgers at Turtle Bay and lived to regret it.
Coolest thing we Learned: A marine biologist did a presentation on the underwater world in the Philippines and we learned a bunch of fun facts. Frogfish are the best! We also went diving with a guy named Julian who had an amazing underwater camera and shared his photos with us. These were taken on our dive!
Where We Went: El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines
First Moment Here: After 13 hours of travel (Bali-Singapore-Manila) we stayed a quick night in Manila before grabbing a flight to our final destination, El Nido. There was a ton of security at the airport (metal detectors + sniffing dogs) but it seemed normal to them. Our flight to El Nido was a little interesting as we were back on a propeller plane and this time, seated backwards. Upon arriving at the open air tiny airport there were women singing a welcome song with a guy on guitar.
Funniest Thing We Did: Chilean with some chileans.
Craziest Thing We Did: No taxis here, instead they drive motorbikes turned into three seaters by making them into tricycles. We had to wait a while for our tricycle since there was a plane taking off and the road crosses the runway. Lol. Then we had a 15 minute ride which was a little unnerving at times and about a mile walk in the heat of the day with our backpacks on to arrive at our hotel. This was the first time Adam used his backpack (2nd time for Chelsea) and it was good to have them since we were walking on dirt roads.
Best Thing We Did: We dove three times here in El Nido. Saw tons of turtles, razor fish, a ribbon tail blue spotted ray, several lion fish, clown fish, puffer fish, really colorful box fish, tons of trigger fish, an eel, really cool schools of fish over cabbage coral, tons of nudibranch and a HUGE bump head parrot fish. The dive master was all ours and these were some of the most relaxing (and longest) dives we’ve been on!
Tastiest Thing We Did: Lunch during our island hopping tour. Kind of crazy that the best meal we’ve had was cooked on the back of a boat. Shrimp, octopus, mussels, grilled fish, pork, salad and the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever had. Plus yellow watermelon, bananas and a few other local specialties. They carried it on their heads from the boat to the beach.
Dumbest Thing We Did: Wait to book our hotel and end up with a one star hotel for $75 a night (super STEEP for this part of the world).
Coolest thing we Learned: The Philippine language shares about 20% of their words with Spanish. El Nido or “the nest” is the name of the town we’re staying in and we hear people using Spanish words for fork, spoon, knife, etc. and counting in Spanish. This is because Magellan conquered the Philippines. Also, the population is about 100 million with another 10 million people living and working in other countries.
Biggest Surprise: How hard it is to use our local SIM card/data and wi-fi. It’s pretty accepted that no one has access to the internet.
Mystery Solved: Though it sounded like it, there was not actually a cat on our SCUBA boat.
-Chelsea was SUPER sick again. Pretty sure I brought it with me from Indonesia.
We have been abroad for over five months now. Each country continues to amaze and impress us with new experiences. No two countries are the same. No two cultures are the same. However, there is a common curiosity that unites them all: President Trump.
It seems we cannot escape the political conversation. As soon as people find out we are American we prep ourselves for the next series of questions surrounding our controversial new President. Most people already have their opinions, but some people ask what we think. It is hard not to engage and I usually make my opinion known.
With the exception of one person (he also favored Brexit and the abolishment of all government which made for an interesting night at the bar!) none of the people we met were in favor of trump. They used words like "crazy", "racist", or worse. However, the most common criticism is that he isn't qualified to hold such an important position. An Australian, who lives in London, asked, "Why don't Americans understand that he isn't qualified to head the world's most important economy?" He went on to explain how the success of America dictates the success of the rest of the world. I had no answer for him.
A woman from Scotland remarked how the world looks to America to be a global leader and we elected a President who wants to run an isolationist regime that won't work in a global economy. She also commented that America is the land of opportunity founded by immigrants, yet we want to build a wall and ban "muslims". I couldn't respond well enough.
A man from Fiji with limited English asked why so many people voted for him when he says crazy, mean things. My attempt to explain the electoral college didn't go well. So again, I had no answer for him.
Another Australian simply said he no longer respects Americans. He wasn't the nicest guy so we just walked away from that conversation.
At dinner in Indonesia our waiter brought up he election. He said in broken-English, "Trump, he has no heart". He then told us to tell Barrack Obama hello for him when we get back to America. If we run into him, we certainly will.
One of the most interesting conversations was with a young man from Germany who was about to start his masters degree is political policy. He was incredibly informed and made some valid points. He started by commenting that Hillary and Trump were both trying to accomplish the same thing: grow the economy, create jobs, and prevent terrorist attacks. The difference, he noted, was that Trump want to do this by isolating America and Hillary wanted a global strategy. He felt that isolating the country from the rest of the world would prove to be more detrimental to the economy and the safety of America. He also said he studied the constitutions of the top ten countries according to GDP in the world and ours is outdated and not that relevant anymore. It is just his opinion, and I am not saying I agree with it, but it made me think considering the constitution originally counted black people as 3/5 of a person. Honestly, I think he knew more about our constitution than 90% of Americans, myself included. It was a conversation I won't easily forget.
Most everyone we spoke with (there are dozens and dozens of conversations) came from a place of concern and were very respectful. We have made some friends through these conversations and hope to stay in touch as we continue our travels and end up settling again in the States. We hope many of them to visit us.
We have also encouraged people to visit America. Many of them had plans to and we did our best to provide recommendations. We spoke with pride of the amazing things to see and do in the States. We even went as far as offering up a place to stay or a meal with friends and family as they make their way across the states. Sorry folks, you have been appointed as Ambassadors of American good will. There were many misconceptions about American cities, American health care and American people. Hopefully we cleared them up and they will enjoy their visit.
We do not expect the conversations to stop but, likely, increase. The travel ban is now a hot topic. I've learned to embrace the conversations. What I realized is that while many Americans are angry right now, most foreigners are disappointed. They feel let down by their Global Leader. I empathize with them.
I guess what I learned from this is that the world is watching and they have high expectations for us. As Americans we often talk about our country as the "greatest in the world". If that is the case then we must act like it. We must embrace our diversity and treat everyone as equals. We must welcome with open arms those seeking a better life. When other countries are in crisis and their citizens are fleeing for their lives we must allow them to find safety and hope in America. We must live up to the great expectations other nations have of us. If we choose not to then we lose the right to call ourselves the greatest country in the world.
Where We Went: Komodo National Park/Lubuan Bajo (Flores) + Ubud (Bali)
First Moment Here: Let’s just say the landing was terrifying. After 90 minutes flying over water in a propeller plane we landed between a few mountains just off the beach and the wind and clouds were at their best. Slick runway meant the plane was all over the place, “comin’ in hot” but we are fine.
Funniest Thing We Did: After an “adrenaline filled landing” Chelsea had to use the airport bathroom. The airport is so small that by the time I came out, we were the LAST passengers left in baggage claim and all the other drivers had already picked up their arriving passengers and left the airport. Embarrassing.
Craziest Thing We Did: Hike on Rinca island, a small island with over 1,500 komodo dragons. Komodos kill buffalo, deer and other large prey with their toxic bite. Humans die in a day if bitten. Very cool to learn about this animal unique to this area and their nesting, etc.
Best Thing We Did: SCUBA here was out of this world. We did three dives and the highlights were getting to play with an octopus, observing a 10’ reef manta at a cleaning station, and our third dive with so many fish and so much beautiful coral you can’t describe it with words. We also saw turtles, sharks, huge eels, unicorn and trigger fish, a broad cuttlefish, lion fish, and so many more.
Here I am doing the underwater sign language for "manta ray" with our dive master. The video of us with the ray is like 4 minutes long so once we get it edited we'll post it!
Tastiest Thing We Did: We sampled 12 Indonesian dishes as tapas and it was really fun to try all the different flavors, textures and SPICES! All delicious.
Also, on Valentine’s Day we went to this beautiful restaurant called Bridges which overlooked the lush greenery along the river and we had a CHEESE plate and wine. I hadn’t realized how much I missed cheese until I tasted it after SIX months. Blue cheese, camembert, and two others (couldn’t understand the waiter). Oh. My. God. Yum!
Coolest thing we Learned: Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world (250m) and the largest Muslim population in the world. It was really cool hearing the prayers (not at 4:30am but all the other times) and seeing all the little girls at school with their heads covered. We also learned that Indonesia, along with Cambodia, has some of the smallest humans. We noticed it first, then looked it up and confirmed it. Lots of ducking for Adam and all the men are shorter than Chelsea (average 5’ 2”). Having children is also super important in their culture. Everyone has kids, and it’s the son’s responsibility to take care of the parents in their old age (since insurance doesn’t exist and medical care is paid for in cash) and the daughter’s responsibility is to care for her husband.
Biggest Surprise: We went to grab lunch and ended up witnessing a royal cremation ceremony here in Ubud. Not only had we never heard of this before, we had no idea what it entailed. No better way to learn than a front seat. It was a really cool moment since we didn’t plan any of it. A good reminder that just being on this trip, being “in the world” is how you have the most incredible experiences.
Singapore + Kuta (see below)
First up, Singapore!
First Moment Here: After a 10 hour overnight flight, we took an uber pool ride to the Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore) campus to meet our host, a guy Adam went to high school with who is now married with kids. We settled in then headed to Little India via public transportation (one bus, two trains) to walk around and get a taste of India. We had the spiciest food we’ve had on this trip thus far, Chelsea got henna, and we went to the really cool temple. This day just went to show how far we’ve come in our travels!
Funniest Thing We Did: We went out for dinner and drinks in Holland Village with our hosts, Corinne and Chris, and after Lebanese food went for margaritas. Corinne photobombed four asian girls taking a selfie, peace signs and all.
Craziest Thing We Did: Try chicken feet. We went to a really cool outdoor mall/grouping of hawker stands and got to sample a bunch of local foods…including chicken feet.
Best Thing We Did: So hard to choose from all the amazing things we did in Singapore, between little India, Chinatown, the Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay and the light show on Marina Bay Sands Hotel. All in all, we loved every second in Singapore and it was all made possible by our awesome hosts! If I did have to choose, I’d go for the 12+ story cloud forest, encapsulated in glass looking out onto the city. So many beautiful plants and flowers, a towering waterfall and two skywalks. Such a cool experience.
Tastiest Thing We Did: Again, hard to choose between the India, Afghani, and Chinese food but because it’s cool - we ate at a Michelin Star restaurant called Hawker Chan which had meals for $4.50 S$. Amazing food at the right price.
Coolest thing we Learned: Riding Singapore trains was amazing. They are super clean ($500 fine for eating/drinking on the train) and people are very courteous. There are tons of PSAs to make sure people offer their seats to the elderly, put their extra bags on the ground (so they don’t take up seats) and even speak in an appropriate volume. The train routes reach everywhere you need to be and when mobs of people are headed into or out of the train station everyone politely “queues” up to ride JUST the left side of the escalator so that if someone walking (not standing) wants to pass on the right there is room. Crazy to witness!
Biggest Surprise: The amount of opulence for a tiny country of only 5 million people. The downtown area is spectacular. The hotels and shopping are over the top. The gardens are amazing, better than our best. And it leaves you wondering, who is it all for?
Mystery Solved: We finally had to ask about the gum situation. Turns out there is NO GUM in Singapore, it’s even on their list of things you cannot bring into the country. This is one example of how they keep their country clean and in check. Craziest thing ever!