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.

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.

Moments | November 2

Sharing little moments, thoughts and stories with you.

After racing around for much of the first half of the year, we have taken to traveling more slowly for the second half. Our recent trip from Bagan to Mandalay however was the slowest travel yet. It was a 13 ½ hour boat ride along the muddy Irrawaddy River, which gave us plenty of time to watch the pastoral life along the banks flow past. This is much more interesting than walking through another generic airport, and we didn’t even have to go though security to get on board.

Life on the Irrawaddy River.

Arriving at the “pier” in the dark at 5 am, we were grateful for the help getting our bags on board the boat. Especially since the “pier” was two wooden planks that reached from the muddy river bank to the deck of the boat. We were also amused that even though there was seating for at least 80 people, there were only 7 travelers including us on the entire trip. Things started to drag a bit after 10 hours or so, but it was still much more comfortable and interesting to take the slow boat than another flight.

The boarding boards.

Speaking of comfort, of all the hostels we stayed in this year there have only been two we abandoned. The first was in Penang because of bed bugs. The second was recently in Bagan. We arrived and even though we had confirmed our reservation twice ahead of time they didn’t have a room for us. They had to ask someone to move. By the time our room was ready there had been a torrential rainstorm and the power had gone out. This meant the A/C in our room wasn’t working but at least they had a generator and a fan in the room to make it just barely tolerable. When the room started to fill up with bugs and mosquitos, we realized there were giant holes in the room’s small windows. At least the fan was keeping some of the mosquitos at bay, that is until the generator went out leaving us to swelter in our tiny little room with the mosquitoes. 

It was quite a different experience a week later arriving at the Bangkok Marriott. We managed to get five nights in luxury with electricity, air conditioning and a fantastic bath tub with hotel points and gift cards we’d received from our family for Christmas. When it came time to do laundry, we dropped it off at a local laundry service a block away where they washed everything for what the Marriott would have charged to wash a t-shirt and a half. For meals, we checked out the local street food.

Some of the money we saved we had to spend at the hospital because I took too many photos in Inle Lake. It’s an incredibly photogenic part of Myanmar and between the two of us we took more than 3 photos per minute over two days spent on the lake. Many of those are from putting the camera on the highest drive mode where it will take photos quickly when you press the shutter. This is great when you are zooming around in a boat trying to take a picture of someone in another boat that is also zooming around. A lot of the photos are basically duplicates, but there where enough to give myself eyestrain. Since my eyelid was pulsing, I touched my eye a lot, which caused me to get pink eye. 

So when we landed in Chiang Mai a few days ago, we went to an eye hospital to figure out what was happening. We found the hospital was dark, very dark. The nurse, who was decked out in the classic white nurses uniform complete with little hat informed us that the hospital was closed because the power was out. The same place that performed LASIK eye surgery with lasers was closed because they didn’t have electricity. It just reminded us how lucky, and how easy everything is in the US, what with the working power grid, and top-notch health care.

Till next time,
Jon