On the Road Again

After a brief two month break in DC, we are heading back out on the road, this time across America.

Escaping from the snowy Northeast, we'll head south for warmer weather. We will visit friends and family in North Carolina, Charleston and Savannah, before turning west to New Orleans and Austin. Touring through the Southwest visiting the Grand Canyon, we'll follow old Route 66 to the California coast and take the Pacific Coast Highway up to Oregon, finally ending up in Portland. With 7 weeks of driving behind us, we'll kick back and enjoy some good Oregon beers before searching for jobs and a place to live.

We'll post frequent updates and photos to our Facebook page. Follow us there to keep up with our USA adventure!

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Remember this Soul II Soul song? 

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So, we’re adapting back to life in the U.S. and it feels great to be back. Lots of people have asked us the same questions.

Do you wish you were still out there on the road? 
 

Actually, no. We were ready to come home – the timing felt just right. After all, one year is a very long time, and it felt like the longest year of our lives. In our normal working lives the weeks and months fly by but in our travel lives we were experiencing different things every day – we made it count.

Would you do it again?
 

While there are so many more places in the world we still want to travel to, we’re not interested in traveling for an entire year again. It’s sort of like an itch that had to be scratched…and now we’ve scratched it. Having wanted to go to so many of these places for so many years, in some ways I feel like I just went on an all-out binge, and now I’m ready to detox! Ha.

How are we settling back into life in the U.S.? Any reverse culture shock?
 

I can’t say we’ve experienced it, though we got a huge kick out of certain things upon our return. We touched down for three days in Honolulu before flying into New York to spend time with my family, and then Maryland to spend time with Root’s family.  We were delighted to walk around with the benefit of real sidewalks and streetlights again. Just walking a few blocks and crossing the street was a real challenge in Asia, without the benefit of the infrastructure we take for granted in America where the government has the wealth and will to do more to enhance the quality of life for its citizens.

One night we went out to dinner and found the waitress to be incredibly jarring. The kind of service we’re accustomed to in America – it’s so different from the rest of the world. It didn’t take but a minute for the server to come over and loudly welcome us, introduce herself and give us the run down of specials. Ordering was simple – she understood ever word we said. She checked on us periodically through the meal. Everything we ordered came quickly. We were able to pay for the meal with a credit card (in fact – we could now use plastic again to pay for EVERYTHING.) The whole experience just made us laugh.

Other things… we get to wear jeans again! And other clothes too! The Internet and indoor plumbing – it works! Everything is just so damn easy.

Consumer Culture, and Having STUFF Again

The other striking thing about home to us was stores. We walked into a CVS to pick up a couple things and it felt massive. Clean and neat with nice wide aisles, and dozens of shampoos to choose from, and so brightly lit! A light bulb went on over my head: this whole operation is set up to make you want to BUY. It’s powerful, it's all shiny and gleaming and it draws you in. Nevermind whether or not you really need all these things… you WANT them… you’re subconsciously tricked into wanting stuff. 

By the time we were ready to move into a temporary rental in D.C. we had accumulated so much stuff we were overwhelmed and stressed. There was the suitcase of stuff we left at my parent's house, a suitcase of stuff we left at Root’s parent's (that didn’t fit into our storage pod), a large duffle bag of things I had bought around the world and mailed home, Root’s tools and laptop and other misc things we left at his parent’s house, Christmas gifts, and more. We had to rent a car to travel from New York to Maryland. We had to have Root’s parents follow us in their car to our D.C. rental because we couldn’t fit everything in our Mini Cooper. (OK, so the car doesn’t fit much, but still…)

It all makes you realize what a double-edged sword it is. Stuff makes you happy, but it’s also a huge burden.
 

Americans are incredibly attached to their stuff, and we’re not immune to it either. But it’s something we’re committed to keeping in check as we move towards settling down again.

The whole tiny house movement is so fascinating to me (Google “tiny house” to see what I’m talking about) as a reaction to out-of-control consumerism. So instead of working yourself to death to afford a huge house and all it’s associated costs and fill it with loads of stuff you don’t even have the time to enjoy, you buy a tiny house and focus on getting more out of life. 

First World Medical Care

If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you know by now how much more we value our health and medical care. On Christmas morning, we had to take my sweet 94-year-old grandmother to the hospital…she had developed some kind of infection. She had a fever and couldn’t keep any food down. It was heartbreaking to see her like this but within a couple of hours at the hospital her fever was down and she was getting excellent care. A nice woman walked into her room at one point who was the hospitality coordinator. She was there to take care of non-medical things for my grandmother – like making sure her phone and TV worked – all in an effort to make her more comfortable.

I was floored. First World medical care… it’s like a fantasy world compared to some of the places we visited. (And by the way my grandmother is fine and doing just great now!)

Two-Month Breather

We realized it didn’t exactly make sense to come home for the holidays and rush to see everyone and jump right into the road trip. We decided to take a two-month break in D.C. to catch our breath, visit more with family and friends, make a little money to build back the bank account, and get things in order before heading out West. Our plan now is to get on the road on March 1 and spend around four weeks driving our car out to Portland, Oregon. We’ll take a Southerly route, stopping in places like Savanna and New Orleans, Arizona and New Mexico. Hopefully, the weather will be a bit warmer too – we are so cold here !! 

New Digs

We found a great furnished rental through Airbnb.com. We have the top (attic) floor of a house off 16th Street, 7 blocks from downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. The owner rents out two other rooms in the house so it feels like a cross between a group house, homestay and a hostel. There were two guys from Paris who stayed for a week, and there's a guy from San Diego who is re-locating to D.C. It’s really quiet though, and the owner isn’t here much. It felt strange at first, but I knew that feeling would go away within a few days. After traveling so much last year our ability to adapt is greater than ever, and I noticed after a few days somewhere I settled in. In some places I felt so comfortable, I really didn’t want to leave.

(ABOVE: The room we're currently staying in – in D.C.)

Working World

Root is consulting with the same company he was working for before we left. I am trying something new – volunteering for a non-profit and helping them with marketing communications, fundraising and events. I’m not gonna lie… sitting down to work for eight hours is hard, but we’re adjusting back to that old and familiar routine. Still, we’re taking Fridays off to have time for the other things.

So Much Has Happened

Catching up with family and friends, we know we’re not the only ones who experienced major life events. While we were half a world away life went on. Our nieces grew up. People broke up. There were health problems, new pregnancies, new jobs, new engagements, and so much more. A lot can happen in year, no matter where you are.

What Feels Different

Imagine you’re having a great time at a New Year’s party at your friend’s house. You’re planning to crash there but at some point you learn your car has been towed. Bummer, right? This actually happened to us, and you know it sucked and it was expensive too. But I just shook my head, half-laughed and said to Root “Man – we’re back home and we’re STILL dealing with stuff like this.” And he said, “Yeah, but we’ve dealt with so much worse.”

At my core, I don’t feel like a different person, but my perspective has changed radically. While traveling the world is one way to do this, you don’t need to go on a trip like we did to gain new perspective. All you have to do is venture a little bit outside “your bubble.” Challenge yourself to break your routine, try something new, meet new people, become a mentor or volunteer, seek new knowledge or gain a new skill, go out into nature and get some quiet time alone, keep a journal, turn off the TV and read more, talk to your grandparents. 

The perspective I’ve gained from the trip is the thing I value the most. It’s like I’ve been given a pair of new glasses in which to see the world. I got out of my bubble for a little while and now I appreciate certain things more and some things less. I get upset by certain things more and some things less. I know that travel, as in life, is filled with ups and downs and that’s the awful beautiful reality. I hope I never lose that perspective.

 

 

Year in Review: Beth’s Thoughts

I’m on the plane right now on our last flight from Honolulu to New York. I’m in a good mood even though I’m enduring a 9-hour cramped coach ride, flanked by two crying babies. The guy in front of me immediately reclined his seat all the way back (leaving about 3 inches from my nose to the seat) and he is farting non-stop. (I’m not kidding! Don’t laugh at my pain – I hear you!!) It’s so bad I have my earplugs in my nose.

I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends while I’m reviewing the year’s events in my mind. What did it all mean and how do I feel? 

Santorini, Greece. Some places really are as beautiful as you imagine.

I can tell you that it’s a powerful thing – and such a privilege – to see the world. Experiencing these far away places firsthand and fulfilling the dream to travel has made me feel more complete. Watching and reading news from around the world feels more tangible… it makes more sense to me. Setting out to do something bold and accomplishing it has brought a real feeling of satisfaction.

At the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

There were so many challenging and rewarding moments. You know the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” I can’t tell you how true that is. Certainly nothing had ever tested our marriage so much. But one year later, we’ve learned how to navigate the daily tasks of life on the road and how to cope and support each other when things go wrong. 

So Many Moments

Tri-shaw driver, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Astonishing...

Seeing a billion stars at night while camping in Uganda.

Amusing…

Negotiating to buy things in India.

Breathtaking…

Whale-watching in Kaikoura.

Scary…

Turning a corner near Taksim Square and walking into a wall of riot police.

Love locks on a bridge in Amsterdam.

Heart-Warming…

Sitting down to a home-cooked meal made by Wanchuk’s Mom in Sikkim.

Heart-Stopping…

Enduring a rollercoaster-like ride dubbed “dune bashing” in the desert near Abu Dhabi.

Surprising…

Finding a snake in our bathroom in Bali.

Peaceful…

Floating six miles up in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia.

Ornate tile work at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.



Eye-Opening…

Learning about the genocide in Rwanda.

Mesmerizing…

Watching the hand and body movements of traditional dancers in Southeast Asia.

Mouthwatering…

Eating street food in Penang.

Fun…

Dancing on a bar on my 40th birthday in Zanzibar.

Shocking…

Walking around Delhi, India.

Frustrating…

Our main camera lens breaking just as we entered the Serengeti.

A water lantern display with 'supertrees' in the background in Singapore.

Traumatic…

Getting into a car accident in Sikkim.

Enlightening…

Witnessing various religious rituals across Asia and the Middle East.

A billion stars lit up the sky while camping in Uganda.

Meaningful Connections

At a local orphanage in Nairobi, we met Caroline, a girl my parents have sponsored for the last seven years. 

More than sightseeing, our travels provided an opportunity to interact with people and experience local life around the world. When language barriers meant few words could be exchanged, it’s remarkable how far a friendly smile, wave or acknowledging look went towards bridging the communication gap. I recall the conversation we had with a young man in Mumbai who later emailed me some of his favorite songs. The family we stayed with at a homestay in Indonesia. The women I danced with in Rwanda and the girl my parents sponsor in Kenya. The school children we met in Chiang Mai. The young warriors of the Masai tribe I let listen to my iPod. The men we played hackeysack with in Myanmar. 

Woman in a market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

School girls in India.

My Favorite Place?

A bowl of asam laksa, a fish-based noodle soup, in Penang.

It’s a hard question to answer because each place was so totally unique. How can you compare for example, New Zealand to India? You appreciate them in different ways for very different reasons. And yet still, you have your personal favorites.

The reasons why you love or hate a place can be hard to articulate why. It’s the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the culture… it’s just a feeling you get from being there.

My Top 5


JAIPUR, INDIA
Also known as “the pink city,” the buildings here are made with pink-painted sandstone. The streets are full of life and color with cows and camels mixed in with the tuk tuks and trucks. We had one seriously heart-stopping tuk tuk ride, saw a Bollywood film at an old movie palace, and a fun time negotiating with the shopkeepers.

A gate into the old city of Jaipur, India.

Dancer in Ubud, Indonesia.

UBUD, BALI, INDONESIA
“Enchanting” is the perfect word to describe Ubud. Known as the spiritual and cultural capital of Bali, there are countless temples, ceremonies and dances every night of the week. Women make offerings of flowers and incense and place them in spirit houses and on sidewalks. There’s a real community here (not all tourists) and chain businesses and clubs aren’t permitted. Take a walk through the rice paddies or monkey forest, eat at an organic café or take a yoga class… and enjoy.

INLE LAKE, MYANMAR
Inle Lake was one of the most scenic, unique and friendly places we visited. Here we witnessed local life in floating villages, the fisherman who row boats with one leg, ancient stupas and monasteries, floating markets and gardens.

Life on the water in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

SERENGETI, TANZANIA
Shortly after entering the Serengeti we stopped at a viewpoint. The view was incredible. It was that classic African landscape you could see for miles and miles and miles. It was one of those moments where you tear up and think “I made it here… I’m actually here and it was worth every difficult step.”

Looking out onto the Serengeti.

PRAGUE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA
I fell in love with every corner of the city and could not put my camera down. The elegant art and architecture and the old bridges and churches were lovely.

Pretty Prague.

Like a Dream

Now that we’re back, and everything is so familiar and comfortable again, it almost seems like a dream. Only the dream actually came true. I would say to anyone reading this that it’s incredibly empowering to take steps towards filling in whatever feels “missing” in your life. It’s incredibly empowering to make your biggest dreams a reality. What are your dreams?

John Lennon Wall in Prague.


THE BLOG CONTINUES IN 2015

Look for more posts about our adventures in Southeast Asia, as well as the rest of our photo galleries in the coming months.

Year in Review: Jon's Thoughts

“What was your favorite place?” It’s the hardest question because they were all my favorites. Each of them had their high points and low points, and together they make an incredible story filled with places, people, and adventures. Looking back at our Photo of the Week collection is incredible and just reminds me of our year-long unforgettable adventure.

Before we started, I had visions of far off lands with fantastical jungle temples, and stunning vistas. With the year of travel behind me, I still have those visions, but they are filled with real memories, and context. It shattered ideas and conceptions I had about the world, and spawned so many new ideas and thoughts. A bit like knowing how the magician performs his act, it doesn’t ruin the show but gives a new perspective. The Taj Mahal is no longer just a stunning building but is situated amid the noise, dirt, and life of India. The Serengeti is not just the domain of lions, but also the realm of the guides, safari cars, and the Masai. Of all the souvenirs, photos, and memories we brought home with us, the most valuable thing we gained is this context and perspective. It makes the world a more real, complete place. It makes perfect sense, but it takes real experience for it to click. Of course people live near the temples of Angkor Wat, and on the Masai Mara. These things exist in a vacuum only in their portrayal on TV, or in that vision in your mind.

Traveling has made these places really real, no longer just an idea, but a real, in-the-flesh experience. 

Taking care of an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand

As important, if not more so, was the experience of being with my wife all year long. Many would not have made it, spending as much time as we did together. We’ve come to know, trust, love, and rely on one another so much more this year. We’ve joked that this year must count as at least 5 years of marriage because we’ve been so inseparable. The other night in Hawaii we were walking back from dinner, and Beth mentioned that she had no idea where our hostel was. Navigation has been my job and she just didn’t pay attention to that anymore trusting me to get us around. Just as I’ve come to rely on her for all sorts of things like remembering what time things are, or finding incredible things to do. The longest we were apart was a few hours when I went back to Dubai to get a replacement lens for the camera. Not that there haven’t been some ups and downs, just like with everything else on the trip, but the closeness, support, and knowledge of one another has grown immensely during our travels. I couldn’t have done any of this without her, and it would have been half the experience if I was alone. Plus I would have missed breakfast every single day since I would have forgotten what time it was.

Home cooked meal at Pemla's 

Meeting the people of the world has been an eye-opening and heartwarming adventure in and of itself. Those who so lovingly invited us into their homes like Pemla and Trish, to those we met only in passing, and our friends and family we met up with along the way, all have left their stamp on our travels. Having a chance to interact with people has taught us a lot about the world. Meeting a group of women in Rwanda who lived through the genocide, and playing hackey-sack with a family living in a floating village of Inle Lake in Myanmar, are memories just as precious as seeing the Taj Mahal. Having the chance to stay with Pemla and Wanchuk’s extended family made Sikkim so much more of a special place, and one of the unexpected high-points of the entire trip. 

Thinking back over all that we did this year, it’s hard to believe it all. Beth and I reminisce about things like when we had dinner at the Rock in Zanzibar, or saw the sunset in Santorini. There were tough times too. Like when I had a stomach bug in Ubud, or when Beth got Malaria in Kenya. Blended together, the challenges and amazing moments were like different spices in a stew that emphasized and strengthened the whole.

The Rock restaurant in Zanzibar

If traveling were easy would it be worth it? The difficulties make it more of an achievement, and the struggles and victories make it all the more real. 

 

Travel is experience, difficulty, accomplishment, enjoyment, and reality. What we had the chance to experience this year made the world a more real and even more fantastical place than I ever thought. The whole thing is my favorite place. Ups, downs, places, people, and most important of all, life.

Kids wave from their house in Inle Lake, Myanmar


THE BLOG CONTINUES IN 2015

Look for more posts about our adventures in Southeast Asia, as well as the rest of our photo galleries in the coming months.

The Ups and Downs of Travel

For every blog post we publish I have at least five more in my head. I’ve been writing this particular one in my head all year and I just can’t let the year end without sharing it with you. 

When Maya Angelo passed away in May, a friend posted a quote of hers on Facebook whereby she poetically described the extraordinary ups and downs in her life:

"I had a lot of clouds, but I had so many rainbows."
 

And it’s funny because only a couple weeks earlier I‘d thought about this as a way to describe the ups and downs of round-the-world, long-term travel. The tough moments are inextricably linked to the amazing ones, in the same way that rainbows are not possible without rain, and rain not possible without clouds. In other words, you have to weather some storms to see the rainbows. And when you do, it’s brilliant.

A rainbow in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

When we set out to do this thing, I knew it’d be tough. I figured it’d be the hardest thing I’d ever done. I expected there would times when things would just completely suck. But my attitude was, “bring it on, I’m ready.”

Well, it was even tougher than I imagined.

Before we even left the country:

One day we rented some mountain bikes to explore the caves and otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia. We were having the most amazing day and had paused to take a photo when I heard a horrible sound: “Ssssssssss…..”  My front tire went flat, and we were a very, very long way from town. We had no other choice but to walk the bike all the way back. Minutes later a freakish fierce wind and rainstorm blew in, making the experience that much more enjoyable. When we told the guy we rented the bikes from about the tire he rudely barked, “Oh, and you think that’s my fault?”

Riding bikes in Cappadocia, Turkey

One morning in the Serengeti, we were supposed to be packed and ready to go on a game drive by 6:00 and forgot to set our alarm. Someone came to our tent and woke us up. We panicked and got ready quick but I was horrified at the thought of holding up our entire group for this special day. You could feel the resentment in the air and I just wanted to crawl up into a ball somewhere and die. Then we drove out into the savanna and saw the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen. The sun was an orange red ball rising in the classic African landscape – it was breathtaking. Every day in Africa was like this… highs and lows, with moments that both amazed and tested us.

Sunrise in the Serengeti

In Istanbul it was pouring rain on the day we were headed to the airport to fly to Prague. We were walking the old streets of the city with our backpacks, trying to get a taxi. The taxi drivers guys are notorious for trying to rip you off, so we had to talk with three before getting one to agree on a reasonable price. As I went to open the car door and get in, I stepped in a hole in the street masked by a puddle of rainwater and fell. I sprained my ankle and immediately felt the pain, both physically and emotionally. How was I going to walk around Prague – a city I had so desperately wanted to visit for the past 20 years – like this?

A rainbow in Prague

Singapore’s most famous icon is the half-lion, half-fish Merlion, seen here under renovation

Here’s a classic one… you make your way over to see a major site and it’s closed or under renovation. Like the time we went to see the famous Merlion in Singapore.

Or you don’t even make it there. Yesterday in Hawaii, a guy in our dorm room told us he was looking so forward to visiting this spectacular waterfall. He trekked for nearly five hours through steep, muddy terrain and dense forest and never found it.

The disappointment you feel when things like this happen is amplified when you’ve traveled so far from home to see or experience this thing. So the question is…how do you deal with it?

Some say you can protect yourself from disappointment by lowering your expectations. Or you can look for what’s positive about the situation or what you learned from it and feel grateful for the experience. You can simply shrug and laugh it off. Or move immediately to solving the problem.

My feeling is – it’s ok to have great expectations and it’s ok to feel upset when these things happen; maybe even whine and complain a little bit – you’re human. 
 

But you do have to move on and get over it. You do have to accept that these things are part of the travel experience. Travel and vacation are two different things. A round-the-world trip will yield extraordinary experiences but it won’t resemble anything like a vacation.

Still, there is one thing that solves practically everything: TIME.
 

When things go wrong, or the weather turns bad, when you get sick or lost… it’s no problem when you have more time (or the flexibility to modify your plans). I was laid up for two days in Prague but all was not lost since we had planned 10 days there. The weather was windy when we originally planned our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia but we had time to re-schedule it on a better day. In Laos we weren’t so lucky when we waited until our last day to take a boat ride on the Mekong and couldn’t because we had fallen sick the night before. 

Time not only solves things… it heals and transforms.
 

With enough time, your most frustrating moments morph into your funniest travel stories. Your scariest moments reveal strength you didn’t know you had. Your awe-inspiring moments outweigh the awful ones in your memory. And you feel gratitude. You really do.

Surviving Malaria in Africa

It’s amazing the impact that a tiny little mosquito can have…the sheer amount of pain and suffering it can cause. I learned this firsthand when I got malaria just a few days after landing in Africa. 

We were on day 3 of our overland tour when it hit me…

The night before we were treated to a delicious meal of Mexican tortillas, soup, bread pudding and ice cream – a rare night we didn’t cook our own meal at the campsite. So when I didn’t feel great the next morning I figured it was just the after effects of a rich meal. 

We headed out early for our first game drive. The 45-minute bumpy drive to the park was not exactly pleasant on an upset stomach but once we arrived I used the restroom and figured my stomach would settle down soon.

Entering the massive Lake Nakuru National Park, we saw all kinds of wildlife and beautiful landscapes. And just 20 minutes into it I was feeling so nauseous that I requested to sit up front with the driver. 

As each minute went by I felt more and more ill…

We stopped at a rustic squat toilet and that wasn’t the only unpleasant thing. Ugh, this was India all over again! “It must have been the ice cream,” I thought. Damn – I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream! 

There was just one problem with that theory though… no one else in our group was sick and everyone had eaten the same thing.

About an hour and a half into the game drive we stopped at a viewpoint with another squat toilet. Allow me to paint a rather grim picture. Something that looks like an outhouse with a jagged hole smashed into a concrete floor. Toilet paper? No. Sink? Ha! You must be joking. I won’t even describe the smell. And I was stuck there for way longer than I would have thought possible. It was downright scary. 

At this point, I started to feel a fever. But incredibly, I just figured I was hot because it was a hot day and I had been sitting in the sun in the safari car. It never occurred to me that what I was experiencing was my body reacting to malaria. 

We were riding around in a car like this on the game drive.

The car became absolutely unbearable. I felt every bump in the dirt road in my stomach and felt that at any moment I might throw up. It reminded me of the traveler’s sickness I had in India but man…this was far worse. I was mystified and couldn’t make sense of it. And here we were in the middle of this HUGE national park and there was no way out. The driver explained that we were nowhere near the park entrance. There was also the rest of the group to consider. This was hell.

By the time the safari ended and we re-joined the rest of the group on the overland truck, I knew I had to get out. I was in a dazed, feverish, horrible state and there was a six-hour drive to get us to Uganda that night. I didn’t know what was going on or what to do. I only knew one thing with 100% certainty – there was no way I was getting on that truck.

Was this the end? I had finally made it to Africa and was on my very first game drive. I was on a tour I had booked a year and a half earlier and centered our round-the-world trip around. This can’t be happening. 

And then it got worse – our tour leader (herself a malaria survivor) told me it could be malaria. She made arrangements to get us help and accommodations at a homestay in Nakuru and said we could arrange transportation to catch up with them in a day or two.

How Did I Get Malaria?

You’re probably wondering… was I taking anti-malaria pills? Was I using mosquito repellent? The answer is yes but neither one provides 100% protection against the disease. Anti-malaria pills are not full proof. Most of them are around 80-95% effective. I was on the best pill that money can buy (5x more expensive than the rest) – called Malarone – and I still got malaria. 

The incubation period was incredibly short. I had gotten a couple bites in the first few days and was in Africa for 5 days when it hit me. In most cases the incubation period is between 7 and 30 days, but certain types are shorter or longer.

I had been in Europe two months prior – so I didn’t pick it up there. It had to be one of those first few bites in Nairobi.

Powerful Pills

After settling into the homestay, we went to a clinic to get tested. They pricked my finger for a blood sample and confirmed it was malaria. This was frightening to say the least but the odd thing was, it was no big deal to the Kenyans. Everyone assured me, “You’re going to be OK.” They weren’t worried or in any way alarmed. Getting malaria is so common in Kenya, it’s akin to getting a bad cold. Our driver said nonchalantly, “Oh yeah – I had it just two months ago.”

Next, we saw a doctor who gave me two options: 

  • Get 1 injection, or
  • Take 4 pills over 2 days

I figured the pills were a safer bet and the doctor told me they would “knock it right out…really powerful pills.” 

What he gave me was ARTEQUICK – containing artemisinin, as well as some antibiotics and pills to bring the fever down. Certain types of malaria have been found to be resistant to artemisinin, but lucky for me, it worked. Just 24 hours after taking my first 2 pills I was feeling better. I had thrown up, I had no appetite and no energy, my stomach was still in a bad state, but it seemed I might survive. It seemed the pills were working.

These pills saved me...

This was by far the worst sickness I have ever experienced, but the worst of it lasted only two days. Over the next couple of weeks I had trouble eating and dealt with various side effects, but gradually I got back to normal. It wasn’t easy, but not willing to let go of the dream, and with Root by my side, I made it through. There had already been more than 5 months-worth of travel challenges and frustrations but getting malaria was a new low. There were moments when I said to Root, “I think I might really be done now,” and was contemplating a flight back to New York.

Taken For a Ride

We caught up with our group in Uganda but it was a grueling and expensive journey. The people that took care of us were the employees and wife of a man named Peter. They were so caring and so kind. But Peter only saw dollar signs at the opportunity to help us. As the owner of the homestay and local tour company he offered us transportation back to our group for $1,239. 

Yes, you read that right.

Tragically – we misunderstood Peter and thought he was going to charge us half of this. When we realized it, he insisted our travel insurance would cover all costs (and by the way it didn’t cover a dime.) I was too weak to argue and it was obvious we were stuck. The alternative would have been to catch a bus to the border, manage through the chaos of the border crossing in Uganda, find another bus on the other side and somehow make it to our campsite – safely. I’m sure this would have made for some great travel stories but I was in no condition to deal with it.

Our overland truck

Our tour group on the truck

So we got there. We paid the money and the main thing is – we got there. We had such a great group and tour leader and I’m so grateful for that. Everyone was so nice and so concerned for me. I’m grateful I got immediate treatment and the treatment worked. And I can’t tell you how much more grateful I am for first-world, quality medical care.

How To Avoid Getting Malaria and Other Mosquito-Transmitted Diseases

{Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or an expert, but here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience.}

DEET: It’s toxic and smells bad but you need to use it as soon as you get off the plane and don’t get complacent. The repellent you use should have at least 25% DEET but does not need to contain more than 30%, since there is no increase in effectiveness above that. Lotions work better for me than sprays or aerosols – probably because they just provide better coverage. Buy your repellent at home and bring it with you. I found it difficult to find products with DEET in Africa and Asia, but we did have luck in finding them at major airports at pharmacies like Boots – a UK chain.

MOSQUITO NET: If I were to go back in time and do the trip over, I would definitely pack a mosquito net. I would use it everywhere in Africa and Asia that did not provide one. I didn’t want to carry the extra weight and I worried about how I would rig up the net in hotel rooms. But looking at the different types of nets you can buy in this guide, I would have chosen the ridge-style net and brought a ton of string with me… safety pins, hooks, etc. I can’t tell you how many nights I woke up to mosquitoes biting me. In countless hotel rooms in Southeast Asia, we really tried to stay on top of killing whatever mosquitoes were in the room so they wouldn’t get us at night but if we missed just one, it would get me. 

True story: One night we stayed in a beach hut in Dar Es Salaam. The beds had mosquito nets. After settling in, I shined my headlamp up and saw at least 8 mosquitoes swarming an inch above my net. Scary!!

DUCK TAPE: One of the most useful things you can pack. Use it to patch any holes in your net or the nets provided to you. Also make sure to tuck in the bottom of your net under your mattress and keep your hands and feet away from the edges.

VACCINATIONS AND MALARIA PILLS: Don’t leave home without ‘em. Don’t get lazy about taking your pills. Most people in our group were on Doxycycline. Malarone has the least side effects and we just got the occasional mouth sores from it. I know they say to take it 1-2 days prior to traveling to an area with malaria but I would take it 7 days before.

LONG-SLEEVED PANTS AND SHIRTS: Covering up certainly helps and especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are out in full force, but the reality is – it’s hot in these places and you won’t be covered up all the time. Just make sure to use your DEET!

LUCK: Honestly, there’s a certain amount of luck involved. All 24 people on our tour got bit at one time or another but never got malaria.

On Safari in East Africa: Best of the Rest

From our first moments in Nairobi, to the rustic campsites on our overland tour, and of course on the many games drives and treks, we saw a vast array of exotic and unique wildlife. More than we could ever write about, and some so shy or rare that we only had the chance to get one or two photos. We've selected the best of these to show you.

In Uganda, we trekked through the hot and humid forest to visit a group of chimpanzees at the Budongo Forest Reserve. Thankfully the walk was pretty flat, and completely worth it when, after an hour of searching, we found a group of chimps. Some were high up in the trees, but we got close to this male who was enjoying some jack fruit.

This little guy looks like a rodent but isn't. It's a hyrax, which are more closely related to elephants and manatees. 

We saw vultures throughout our trip in Africa, but the most were in the Masai Mara. The plains there were littered with bleached white bones, and the occasional group of vultures snacking on a corpse.

On Safari in East Africa: Gorillas

They told us to put down our hiking sticks and bags, we were close. Since I couldn’t take my bag, I quickly put a few camera lenses in my jacket. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get close-up shots because we would be too far away. After walking just a few more steps, avoiding the stinging nettles, I realized that I had been very wrong. Not more than 10 feet away, was a gorilla placidly eating some greens. I wouldn’t have a problem at all getting some close-up photos.

The day had started much earlier before the sun came up. We had eaten breakfast and packed lunches before heading to the Volcanos National Park headquarters. After some coffee, we met our guide who told us that we would be trekking to visit the Umubano group of gorillas. Piling into a truck we were warned that we would get a “Rwanda Massage”, which basically means that the road is entirely unpaved and extremely bumpy. 

The gorilla family we visited.

Our trekking group.

After a half-hour bumpy “massage,” we arrived in a very small village on the side of the mountain and began our trek. The weather was a bit cool due to the altitude but after walking for a bit through the nearby fields we felt warm. We passed through an even smaller village with houses made of sticks and mud. Upon reaching the stone border wall of the farmland we met up with several more helpers who were armed with rifles. Water buffalo live on and near the mountain, and the possibility of surprising one of the dangerous beasts was the reason for the rifles.

The stone wall also marked the end of the easy part of the hike. We ascended through denser and denser jungle along muddy trails. Often we had to stoop to fit through low openings in dense bamboo. The trail was lined liberally with stinging nettles that would occasionally even pierce through our pants and gloves. Throughout we saw interesting plants, flowers, and fruit on our hike. I even saw a bush banana, though for some reason I didn’t get a photo even after asking our guide what it was. Finally we reached a kind of clearing and our guide told us to put down our bags, and we met the gorillas.

After traveling thousands of miles by air, hundreds by truck, and hours hiking up the mountain, we had finally reached the gorillas. We were awe-struck to be so close, and the gorillas couldn’t have cared less. It was as if they were in the middle of watching their favorite show. The knew we were there, and only seemed worried that we might interrupt them.

We saw several gorillas in the group, and shortly after our arrival, another came out of the brush with a baby riding on its back. While we were cooing over the tiny infant, our guides were busy moving through the jungle. They made grunting noises to let the gorillas know where they were so they wouldn’t be surprised. After awhile they led us through some dense brush where we met Charles, the silverback male head of the group. 

We had dodged through some dense bamboo, and come out into a very small clearing. Charles was sitting on the other end, and our guide was helping usher us into the area. Suddenly, Charles got up and started to walk toward our group. Our guides quickly helped us move to make way for the silverback. He walked right through the middle of our group, passing within just inches of me, and brushing up against the woman in front. He paused for a second, the guides later explained that he was showing us who’s boss, and then walked into the brush. I looked up to see that Beth, who had been just behind me was a good 5 feet away now. We just smiled at each other for a second knowing that the long journey and trek was worth all the effort.

On Safari in East Africa: Red Colobus Monkeys

Following our time on the mainland we took a ferry to the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. The island is unique and exotic, and it’s where we encountered one of the most endangered species of primates in the world – the Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey. With less than 2,000 individuals remaining, conservationists are working to protect their shrinking habitat. 

Isolated on this island for at least 10,000 years, the Zanzibar Red Colobus has some striking features including a crown of long, white hairs that fan out around the face, fiery red fur, pot-bellies and small heads, four fingers and no thumbs.

Leaves are a favorite food – but not just any leaf – they pick around and inspect them to make sure they are young leaves. They also eat unripe fruit as they are unable to digest the sugars in ripe ones. 

Babies are carried, clinging to the belly of the mother, for 6 months. After that, they can move around on their own but may continue to be carried by the mother for more than a year.

FACT

Colobus sometimes belch in each others’ faces as a friendly social gesture.

 

{ video: Red Colobus Monkeys }

Moments | November 30

Sharing little moments, thoughts and stories with you.

Traveling and vacationing are two different things. Since January we’ve been traveling the world, seeing fantastic sites, and experiencing so many different things, but it hasn’t always been easy. A vacation is calming and relaxing, where everything is simple. Here in the islands of Thailand, we’ve taken some time to relax and reflect back on all that has happened this year. Sitting at a bar on the beach, watching the sunset and remembering all that we’ve done has been quite a welcome “vacation from traveling.”  

Before we really relaxed, we stopped off at the high-energy all-night party island of Phi Phi. It was amazing how the entire main town on the island is dedicated to drinks and house music. You can buy literal buckets of alcohol everywhere, and every other store is either a tattoo parlor or massage place. The beach at night is lit up with fire shows set to the techno and party music from the bars. Though it was a blast drinking the night away watching the beach-side spectacle, we weren’t too disappointed to move on. 

A quick ferry ride away was the more chilled-out island of Koh Lanta. Cozy mellow bars on the beach play great mixes, and serve fantastic cocktails while the sun puts on a show each evening over the ocean. The sunsets here have been the best we’ve seen all year long.

Things were a bit rough when we arrived in Koh Lanta. Immediately we both got sick, and spent the first few days in our room. Then the rains washed out a few more days. Disappointed our week had melted away and feeling so drawn to the relaxing beach vibe, we did the only sensible thing, stay longer. We extended our visa and decided to stay an extra 10 days. It has been completely worth it.

We got a massage here on the beach

It seems fitting that the last stop on our trip is one of the first things we thought about doing. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia has always been a fascination. After seeing so many temples and religious places throughout our trip, it only makes sense to end with the largest one in the world.

Till next time,
Jon