Author Archives: Erin Onsager

About Erin Onsager

Erin tries to escape her corporate confines as often as she can. She loves far-flung destinations, exotic locales, street food, airports, photography, and fun adventures. Please email for any inquiries or just to say hi!

Rock Climbing and the Beach, Thailand

Pictures are of my last sunset at the beach in Railay Beach, Thailand, me rock climbing in Railay, and me with Zac and Jeff on my second to last night in Bangkok.

I was ecstatic to be back in Thailand, the so-called “Land of Smiles” and immediately noticed the difference between India and Thailand. First, Thailand has got to be one of the most touristy countries in the world. I think foreigners might out-number Thais – alright so that’s an exaggeration, but it’s definitely very touristy. After spending some time alone in India – often feeling as if I was the only foreigner, this was a welcomed change. I’m reminded why I like traveling alone – I barely have a minute to myself before someone strikes up a conversation, which I absolutely love. This is the best part of traveling in general (for me) – meeting people – and it’s even easier to do when you’re flying solo.

I spent a day in Bangkok. I decided to get a suit made. I had one made when I was here a few years ago and was quite pleased, so I decided to have another one made. A custom-tailored suit for $130. It’s a steal. Let’s just hope this one turns out well! I took the night bus to Krabi, which is actually pretty pleasant. The seats recline almost fully; they give you blankets and show a few movies – there are definitely worse ways to travel, but Thailand is definitely the country most set up for catering to tourists and they’ve got it down pat. I sat next to an interesting girl from Montreal. She was a waitress in a strip club in Montreal and told me of the bundles of money she made, that her customers literally just throw at her. Apparently, one customer pays her credit card bill every month AND gives her a $200 month stipend. The craziest part is that she’s a lesbian and absolutely doesn’t engage in the sexual services side of the business. Since she makes more money than everyone else in her life, she can’t contemplate leaving the sex industry, so she’s hoping to be a dominatrix when she returns. My naivety about such things prompted me to ask her a slew of questions. But, she wanted to get away from the business for awhile, so she is traveling in Southeast Asia for 3 months and then will get work in Australia for a couple of months before returning home.

When I arrived in Krabi, I hopped on a longtail boat and headed to Railay Beach (thanks Niki and Chanti for the recommendation!). I’ve been told by multiple people that this is the most beautiful setting in southern Thailand and they may be right. Rock climbing is all the rage here, as there are massive limestone karsts shooting straight up out of the water. It’s not a bad place to pass a few days. The main downside is that this place is expensive. I’m paying the most for accommodation that I’ve paid on my entire trip and it’s certainly not the best place I’ve stayed. For $12, I’ve got a mattress on a floor and a fan. It is barebones basic, which is fantastic, but just expensive compared to the $2-4 range that I’ve come to expect in my travels.

I spent my first two days relaxing on the beach. The first night, I went out and hung out with a group of Canadian guys. On my second day, I met up with Elad, an Israeli guy who I met on the Annapurna Circuit. It was great to see a familiar face again! As soon as Elad and I parted ways for the night, I saw a couple swimming in the pool of a fancy resort and images of Lombok when Niki and I swam in a couple of resort pools was conjured up in my head. I hopped the fence and jumped in the pool and spent some time chatting with a Russian couple who were incredibly friendly and interesting. That evening, I hung out with some guys from Argentina. Today was one of those days that makes me really love traveling alone. I literally went from hanging out with one person to the next group with only a matter of seconds alone – it’s fantastic just how easy it is to befriend people in situations like this. I definitely love it!

Then, I finally tried what Railay Beach is famous for – rock climbing! I’ve done a bit of indoor rock climbing, but have never had the opportunity to go outdoors. Well, I LOVED it. It was so much fun! I think it’s definitely a sport I would like to continue to pursue once I’m back home. On my last day in Railay, I spent the day with two guys from Australia, Jeff and Zac, and a Canadian girl, Meghan. The four of us just sat near each other for breakfast and ended up having a conversation that lasted for at least 2 hours. In my life, I’ve found that groups of four that have good chemistry are often the most fun. I’ve had a solid group of four friends in both high school and college and had the most fun on my trip in Sumatra, when with another group of four. We continued our day at the beach and then spent the evening playing cards.

The next day, Jeff, Zac and I headed to Bangkok on the night bus. I spent my last two days in Bangkok getting fitted for a suit, shopping and getting a massage. I’ll certainly miss the $8 massages, that’s for sure! I said my good-byes to Jeff and Zac and headed to the airport for my 30+ hour commute home. I will write one final blog entry (for this trip) to sum things up. Expect it soon!

Nepal and India

Leaving Kathmandu, we woke up at an ungodly early hour for Erica to catch her flight back to the states and for Niki and I to catch a bus to the Indian border. Our bus ride took the majority of the day, but we passed over to India without incident. We met some other travelers who had hired a jeep, so we hopped in the back and made it to the Gorkaphur train station. Once again, we didn’t have reserved beds, as all beds were booked on all trains from Nov. 27th ‘til Dec. 7th. So, we went ahead and bought unreserved tickets ($3) and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor like we did on our way to Nepal. Our train was supposed to depart shortly before midnight, but was late, so we didn’t depart until 2-something in the morning.

So, we sat for hours waiting for our train. Indians are used to these train delays as they bring an assortment of blankets and plop down on the platform to catch a few zzz’s until their train arrives. Niki and I just huddled on top of our backpacks and staved off the cold and tiredness. Once the train rolled in, we hopped on and found two empty beds, which we quickly claimed. Who knows if they were meant for someone else or not, but we got to sleep peacefully throughout the night. Our train finally arrived in Delhi around 7:30pm the next day.

We made our way to the backpacker area, ate a delicious dinner and feel asleep watching “Friends.” It’s one of the few places that had a TV in the room, which is a nice luxury. The next day, we ran some errands and made our way to the Sagat neighborhood, where we stayed with a friend of Niki’s, an American ex-pat who is working for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His home was such an oasis from the madness that is Delhi – it was clean, comfortable, he had a huge collection of DVD’s, it was heaven. We ordered Dominos and did laundry, and spent a massive amount of time on the internet. It was just the recuperation that we needed.

The next day, I said my goodbyes to Niki – it’s crazy to think that we traveled for 2.5 months together. Never would I have thought that I’d find such a great travel partner, and for so long at that! I already miss her, but headed north to check out Rishikesh, the “yoga capital of the world.” Now, my view of yoga can basically be summed up by that Jimmy Buffet song, Pina Colada, in which he says “if you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain.” I just don’t have the patience for it. But, I figured it’d be a good challenge for me, and I’ll admit, all the massages that are also advertised lured me.

On the 9 hour bus ride to Rishikesh, I was treated to a near constant cacophony of horns as buses and trucks blast their horns to signal that they’re passing. A motorbike hit a pedestrian who then (maybe) was hit by a truck. I can’t say for certain, but as we passed the scene of the accident, I saw an old man, literally just a sack of bones being lifted off the road. The only indication that he was still alive (barely) was that I saw his eyes roll around his head once. Also on the way, they were repaving a section of the road, so rather than close the road and re-route traffic, we just waited while they laid asphalt and rolled it smooth. Once that was done, we drove on.

People come to Rishikesh for months on end to stay at ashrams, much like Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame. There are definitely a lot of dread-locked, linen-clothed, patchouli types here, which I wouldn’t say describes me per se… The first day I just walked around and ended up spending the majority of the day in bed. I got a cold at the start of the Annapurna Circuit and I think the altitude just never let me heal properly, because it’s still lingering. Finally, I got all feverish, so just needed to sleep it off. I momentarily thought I had Dengue Fever (also known as bone-breaking fever) because my body ached all over and I have a few other symptoms, but I think it’s just a culmination of over-exertion and my lingering cold or maybe just a flu.

The next day, I treated myself to a massage. I got the deep tissue massage, which is supposed to be a combination of ayervedic and Swedish, but basically the woman just slaps tons of oil all over you and rubs vigorously for an hour. I can’t say it’s the most pleasant massage I’ve ever gotten, but it sure beats a Thai massage.

Alright, so now I’ve done yoga. I took one class and it was ok. I’d done yoga only once before – in Chicago and I can’t say I was exactly enamored with it. I did it with my sister and a friend and my favorite part was the end where you lie down. I enjoyed it so much that my sister told me that I was even snoring! Well, this 2 hour class focused on breathing (which was a bit of a struggle as I’m still coughing from my cold) and had bits of meditation interspersed. It was enjoyable enough for me to do again, but I can’t say that I’ll start doing yoga at home. I just don’t get it. Maybe I said my chants incorrectly, held my poses in the wrong manner, but I really just don’t get why yoga is all the rage. Moreover, people stay in places like Rishikesh for months on end. My problem is that I just don’t understand what they do all day. I’m was here for 3 full days and at the end of it, I was ready to move on. I asked a girl I met in my yoga class what she does when she stays at an ashram and she told me she spent a lot of time meditating and reading spiritual books. I guess at the end of the day, for me, while it’s fun to attempt dabbling in yoga/meditation, but it’s not my cup of tea – and certainly not for months on end. I’d rather do “nothing” all day on a beach in Indonesia than in an ashram in India. But hey, that’s just me.

After Rishikesh, I headed back to Delhi. On my final day in Delhi, I did some shopping (bought a TON of spices) and went to check out the Ba’hai House of Worship, more commonly known as the Lotus Temple. I’m currently reading Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead about the modernist architect Howard Roark, so checking out the Lotus Temple, which doesn’t fit in with the rest of Delhi definitely made me think of the book and how his designs don’t fit in with what the rest of the world deems as acceptable. I had dinner with the guy I bought my spices from and a girl from the Czech Republic. She was interesting – she had fallen in love with a baba, her guru. Babas are religious men – perhaps self-anointed as such; I’m not quite sure. And hers basically looked like an Indian version of Brian David Mitchell – remember him? Elizabeth Smart’s captor. Anyway, she wanted to marry him, but didn’t have the funds. I’ve heard enough horror stories about cross-country marriages (not saying they can’t work), and I hate to say it, but hers seems (if they ever actually get married) destined for ruin. Her guru was currently living in a cave and wanted to build a house for her before they married. Not quite what I’m looking for in a future partner, but hey, different strokes for different folks, right? It was a weird dinner conversation, but interesting.

I caught a few winks and then headed off to the airport. I landed in Bangkok and after some time in India and Nepal, this place feels like home – almost. I can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over a white person, the city is clean (relatively) and the cuisine varied. I can walk down the street without getting stared out; it’s a welcomed change.

In sum, India is amazing and difficult. It’s most definitely a land of contradictions. For some reason, I found it really exhausting to travel there this time, whereas I adored my first trip to the sub-continent. Perhaps it’s the 3+ months of travel that are starting to wear me out. For instance, waiting in line to use the bathroom in the Kolkata airport, I queued by the door for the next available stall. Well, an Indian woman pushes past me and goes and stands directly in front of a stall door. OK, so we don’t form an orderly queue – we pick our stall and hope our line is the fastest. I can adapt to that, for sure, but come on lady, it’s pretty obvious I was waiting for a stall!

Next update will be about the last leg of my trip – Thailand!

Annapurna Circuit continued

Photos are of our group finishing the trek (relieved to be done!), me crossing a bridge, photographers at the Poon Hill sunrise and me showing some pictures I had taken of them to some local children.

Day 11: We woke up for what I think was our longest day of hiking – 15 miles! Poor Dean got sick overnight – stomach issues and Mat wasn’t feeling great either. In spire of that, both continued on like champs! Today, we walked through desert a bit more, then into a river valley gorge. We walked for what seemed like hours across loose rocks into a headwind that just wouldn’t quit. I found it to be exhausting just because we seemed to be making little to no progress. Eventually, however, we strolled into the town of Marpha, which was adorable with it’s narrow alleys and white painted buildings. Large quantities of wood sat on the roofs of homes and stores – a family’s wealth could be determined by how much wood they had on their roof.

Day 12: We walked from Marpha to Kalopani, which was another long day through river valleys. Today we went through evergreen forests that made me think of the American northwest. We ended the night in Kalopani, which was possibly our most scenic night as the mountains surrounded us on all sides and the sunset was incredible. We also stayed at our nicest guest house and ate the best food that we’ve had along the trail.

Day 13: This trail is incredible – in the past five days, we went from snow to desert to evergreen forest to jungle. Today, we mostly waked on a road (they’ve built a road on the west side of the trail nearly all the way to the pass and are now starting to do it on the east side of the trail, one of the reasons you want to hike this trail before it becomes one big road!). As we walked into the jungle, the sounds were noticeably different – up high, in the snow, it was dead quiet, but down here, you’re reminded of life again as all the animals and insects of the jungle announce their presence. We ended the day in Tatopani, which was super relaxing as they’ve got natural hot springs here. So, we all excitedly ran down to the hot springs and soaked our weary bones and muscles for a few hours.

Day 14: Today was straight uphill to Poon Hill. We gained 1600m, or 1 mile in elevation today. We stayed at our worst place along the trail – I think the walls were made of cardboard and the guy running the place wanted me to place food orders for Erica and Niki before they even arrived! And then, he asked for a tip, which just rubs me the wrong way. First of all, tipping isn’t customary in these countries and secondly, you never ASK for one. It’s like my white water rafting guide in Bali tried telling me that often Americans tip him – and I just responded with, “Oh, that must be nice.”

Day 15: The last day of the trek and the one that made my legs shake the most…. We descended 1900m (and the crazy part is that there were people going the other way). We actually started today at about 4 in the morning so we could make the 45 minute hike uphill to Poon Hill, which supposedly had some of the best views of the hike. The sunrise was, of course, beautiful. At one point, the round bulb of the sun peaked out through the clouds and the crowd went wild – seriously, it made me laugh… But then again, there were many more Japanese on this part of the trail, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Dean got cold and went back to our hotel and I think he said it best when he said that he got back to our hotel, looked to where some Germans were snapping photos and saw the same damn view as at Poon Hill. He couldn’t have been more right, but we didn’t know that beforehand. So, we hiked down three thousand something steep, stone stairs which is just brutal on the knees and toes. Lunch was a welcomed respite, and even more so, was completing the trail! I’m proud that we finished the trail in 15 days and walking the whole thing and carrying all of our stuff the entire way! Definitely a big accomplishment (if I do say so myself)!

Half of us took a taxi back to Pokhara and the cheapies (Niki, Erica and me) opted for the bus. We settled into our awesome hotel, showered and made it to dinner. We decided upon a nice, large steak dinner to celebrate our finishing the trek with some friends we met along the trail (Rob from Canada, his local friend, Gocool, Andreus and Florence from Switzerland and Mat from NYC).

One other side note I forgot to mention is some goals that we set out for ourselves from the beginning. Initially, Niki and I wanted to eat only dal bhat for dinner (I think we ate it 3 times in total – oops); we wanted to completely eschew alcohol (when we got to Marpha – the apple capital, we broke down and tried some apple cider and apple brandy – and changed our goal to no beer – check!); we wanted to go the entire trail without showering (the longest I’d ever gone before was a week and her a few days – we then decided that we could shower once we got over the pass – which we happily did in Muktinath… so we made it 10 days instead of 15 days – much to Erica and Dean’s chagrin). So basically, we failed on every goal that we set out to do, but I’m ok with it J

We spent the next day relaxing in Pokhara – we all kind of did our own thing. Much of my day was spent on the internet catching up on a couple of weeks of emails. I also decided to have some fresh squeezed juice, which was amazingly delicious (pomegranate, orange and apple juice), however I wanted it to go, so the guy emptied out an old water bottled and poured my juice in that. I think that was a bad idea, as a few hours later, I started not feeling well. I lost my appetite and to put it politely, ended up having stomach issues. We left Pokhara the next day and took a 6 hour bus ride back to Kathmandu, which isn’t the most pleasant thing to do when you’re nauseous. Fortunately, my bug passed within 24 hours and before I knew it, I was right as rain again.

Dean, Erica, Niki and I headed to Bhaktapur with Gocool, who we met along the trail. We did a walking tour through the medieval city and the best part was just seeing the daily life and the rituals at a couple of shrines. We then went out for a delicious dinner of water buffalo momos (Tibetan dumplings) which is maybe one of the best things I’ve eaten in Nepal. For desert, we had the local specialty – King Curd, which is a thick, yummy, yogurt cooked in an earthen bowl. Again, one of the best things I ate in Nepal. In general, the food in Nepal wasn’t amazing (India takes the prize on good food), but this meal was fantastic.

The next day, Niki, Erica and I accompanied Gocool to his village while Dean stayed behind to do some thanka shopping. We took a bus ride to Nagarkot, and then walked an hour and a half downhill to his house. It was fantastic! His parents were so sweet and his mother seemed so happy to have us in her home. She made dal bhat for us – traditional Nepalese food (rice, lentil soup and potato curry). After a couple of hours, we began our walk back uphill and took a few buses back to Kathmandu. We met Dean at a local pizza place, where we had our Thanksgiving meal and all went around the table saying what we were thankful for. It wasn’t turkey, or a big feast with family, but it was nice to spend the meal in good company and with some comforting western food J

The next day, Erica and Dean went to see some more local sights, while Niki and I met up with Heather and Maika for lunch and shopping. We bought some pashmina scarves and it was so nice having a local who speaks the language as it helped eliminate some of the hassle of negotiating and now I’m sure that we got real pashminas. It’s hard to tell, as some of the knock-offs feel really nice. But, the man seemed honest, so I was happy with my purchases.

Then, we went out for our final together as a foursome. Dean treated us to a nice 6-course dinner at one of Kathmandu’s nicer hotels. The setting was superb and it was really nice to escape from the madness that is Thamel and the rest of Kathmandu. The meal was good, the wine better and it was the perfect way to end this portion of the trip.

My Annapurna Don’t Want None Unless You Got Buns, Hun!

Niki and I arrived in Kathmandu and were on the go pretty much non-stop from the moment our bus dropped us off. We ate a delicious dinner of pizza and wine for me and beer for Niki. The next day, we woke up and had a really great breakfast then met up with Dean, my former co-worker from Cushman and Wakefield. The 3 of us set off to get our permits for hiking the Annapurna Circuit before rushing back to meet my sister, Erica. We also met up with two of my high school friend Claudine’s friends, Heather and Maika. They were awesome and took us around shopping. Kathmandu is like heaven to me – it’s like REI on steroids – I literally want to shop in every single store. There are knock-off Patagonia, North Face, Mountain Hardware, etc, etc, etc clothing everywhere. Heather’s been living in Kathmandu for 7 years and took us to a good shop where we got some really good discounts. I spent about $150 USD and got hiking poles, a down sleeping bag, a down jacket, zip-off hiking pants, sunglasses, thermals, a couple of shirts, a fleece, hat and gloves. It was a very exciting shopping expedition!

We ran some more errands – like my camera lens wouldn’t retract, so I had to have that repaired and bought toiletries and other sundries for our hike. We had dinner, stopped by a bar briefly and then rearranged our packs for our hike. The next day, after a somewhat of a slow start, we took at 6-ish hour bus ride to Besi Sahar, the start of the Annapurna Circuit. The bus ride went through some amazing scenery – the white-capped Himalyas with the rice terracing in the foreground is just absolutely breath-taking and most definitely awe-inspiring. We made it to Besi Sahar, showered, ate and went to bed. The next day, we were up early to start our hike!

The Annapurna Circuit is famed for being one of the world’s hiking crown jewels – if you google world’s best hikes, it’s always high on the list, if not at the top. Doing this hike was what I built my entire trip around, so naturally, I was very excited for this portion of my trip. It’s about 250km (roughly 130-150 miles) and starts off at 790m above sea level to the highest point, Throng-La at 5416m (17,769 ft), which is one of the world’s highest walkable passes. Each day promises to get better and better.

Day 1: We hiked from Besi Sahar (820m) to Ngadi where we had lunch by the riverside. In the afternoon, we made it to Ghermu (1130m), where we had our first meal of dal bhat – traditional Nepali food (rice, lentils, potatoes and chard or collard greens – I’m not really sure… some green vegetable). The day was long, but the hike not too difficult and the views pretty impressive as you could see the white mountains far in the background. At one point along the way, a little boy in a village that I was passing came out and ran next to me, clinging to my legs. Then, his half-naked brother came and we held both boys – just adorable!

Day 2: We hiked from Ghermu (1130m) to Chamche where we had lunch overlooking a stunning waterfall. The views today were slightly less-impressive in my opinion, if only because the white-capped mountains were hidden. We then stopped in the town of Tal for the night.

Day 3: We hiked from Tal (1600m) to Dharpani for lunch and then to Timang (2350m) for the night. The last hour and a half was a really steep ascent, and the altitude of Timang is 2350m, so we can start to feel the altitude ever so slightly. Basically, walking uphill is slightly more of struggle as our bodies require the same amount of oxygen from the oxygen-deprived air. It’s hard to believe that we’re at roughly 7,000 ft and that we have over 10,000 ft more of elevation to gain! The locals here are noticeably more Tibetan in their facial features.

Day 4: We had a short day – basically a rest day. We hiked for about 2.5 hours to Chame, which is quite developed! There are even a few internet cafes (which we’re not using). Shops sell all the clothing a hiker could need. We arrived before lunch, did a bunch of laundry, went to check out some disappointing hot springs and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and napping.

Day 5: We hiked from Chame (2670m) to Lower Pisang (3250m) and it started raining, which was unfortunate on the one hand as our views weren’t as spectacular as they might have otherwise been, but there was this one point where the low-hanging clouds formed a line against a beautiful huge, nearly vertical, slab of rock, and by huge, I mean a couple hundred meters long and tall. We met a guy named Mat from Brooklyn who ended up hiking with our group for the rest of the hike. We also hiked a bit with a feisty British couple, Tana and Graham, who had been traveling for the past 13 years! Tana was even egging her husband on to get it on on the trail! Apparently when she was 16, she first saw Graham and before even talking to him, told her mother that she had met the man she would marry. Shortly thereafter, they went on their first date, got engaged on that same date and also on that date planned to marry 2 years later, have a boy 2 years after that and then a girl 2 years after that and after a life of raising children they would travel the world. They had quite the prophetic first date. We enjoyed an evening around the fire with them.

Day 6: We hiked from Lower Pisang (3250m) to Manang via the Upper Pisang route. This took nearly twice as long as if we had just walked along the lower route, which closely followed the river. I am SO glad that we made this decision as it turned out to be the most amazing views of the entire hike in my opinion. I literally have never seen anything more spectacular in my life. Every vista was more amazing than the first and as the sun shifted in the sky, the views seemed even more stunning than a minute before. When we finally rested for lunch, the five of us couldn’t talk about much else other than how stunning the sight before us was. After a few more hours of hiking, we finally made it to Manang (3540m), which was so exciting as Manang is the town where everyone takes a rest day to help with acclimatization.

Day 7: We took a welcomed rest day in Manang. It was nice to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast since my sister, Niki and I weren’t exactly notorious for our timeliness in the morning, much to the chagrin (I’m sure) of Dean and Mat. We did a practice hike, as the advice with altitude is to climb high and sleep low, so we hiked to a nearby glacier. Then we went to an informative talk about altitude and then we went to the “movie theater”! We saw Into Thin Air, the movie based upon the Jon Krakauer book. Halfway through the movie, they brought out tea and popcorn. It was cozy and really fun to watch a movie (even though it’s a horrible movie and you should read the book in lieu of watching the movie) so high up in the mountains. The greatest thing about Manang is that we discovered a drink that is AMAZING – seabuckthorn juice. Seabuckthorn grows in the high Himalayas and some other parts of the world and is one of the highest anti-oxidant berry in the world. The juice from this thing is perhaps some of the best juice I’ve ever had in my life – it’s absolutely delicious.

Day 8: Today was a short day as we hiked just a few hours from Manang to Yak Kharka (4000m). I was super excited as I saw my first yaks today. I know these are the Himalayan beasts of burden and I’ve seen them plenty on the Discovery Channel and Planet Earth, but it was nice to see them in person. They sometimes look like a combination of buffalo, cattle and a bear to me. We got to Yak Kharka around noon and had lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent either napping, reading, or hanging out around the fireplace (the place is heated with a yak dung fire). We met a great couple from NYC, Allan and Nicole, a pair of friends from Colorado, Keith and Diane, and Sean, an Australian. The environment was communal and warm and I think we all enjoyed our various conversations that night.

Day 9: We had another short day as we hiked from Yak Kharka to Thorong Phedi (4450m). The past two days were so short as it’s advised that you only climb a few hundred meters (for sleeping) once you get above a certain elevation. We hiked the entire day in snow, are well above the tree line, and at about 14,600 feet, this is the highest I’ve ever been in my life to date and definitely the highest elevation I’ve ever slept at. Our day was spent indoors once again. A large group of us huddled around a table, had various conversations, played cards, ate a lot and drank a lot of water as we tried to stay hydrated. It was utterly freezing outside though and actually snowed most of the late afternoon/evening. As a result, we were worried about what the conditions would be like for our climb over Throng-La the next day. I think our night at Thorong Phedi was the coldest night of my life – thank God for down!

Day 10: We woke up at 4am for our summit bid, err, our climb over the pass. We started hiking a bit after 5 and seeing the stars (yes, we had clear weather – phew!) disappear as the early morning light started to crest over the mountain tops was stunning. The first hour was dominated by silence and the slow steady pace of putting one cold foot in front of the other. We stopped for tea and the continued on our way. After about 2 or so more hours of hiking, we finally made it to the pass! It’s amazing how hard breathing is up this high. At one point, there were 4 men walking excruciatingly slowly in front of me – now, I was walking slowly too, don’t get me wrong, but they were just unbearably slow. Erica, Niki and I all made a move to pass them, but had to walk off the trodden snow and picked up the pace to pass them. Doing this literally took all my energy, because as soon as we passed them, we had to stop to put our hands on our knees and catch our breath – the tiniest act takes much more effort. At this height (5416m, or 17,769 feet), the amount of oxygen in the air is 50% of what it is at sea level.

Dean, Niki, Erica, Mat and I all celebrated our arrival at the pass with hugs and high-5s and plenty of photos. It might sound silly, but reaching the top is a pretty emotional ordeal. I mean, we’d been so focused on getting there for the past 10 days and to finally reach it – carrying all of our own stuff and with our own two legs is a really satisfying feeling. I had thought I might have to get a porter to help me for the last few days near the pass, but I’m really happy that I was able to do it without one. After spending some time at the top, we began the LONG ascent down to Muktinath (3800m). On the descent, I started getting a pounding headache – one of the symptoms of altitude, no doubt. The landscape pretty quickly changed from a snow-covered mountain top terrain to high-altitude dessert. It’s amazing how you can wake up in the morning and trudge through snow and end the day after hours of walking through a desert.

I’ll write about the next half of the Circuit in my next blog entry.

Whirlwind India trip and bus rides to Kathmandu

First picture is of a crowded Indian train from Delhi to Agra, and the second is me just posing with a cow in Varanasi.

As I write this, I’ve now been traveling for a good number of days. First, a day long bus commute from Singapore to KL, then a whole day of flying from KL to Bangkok to Kolkata to Delhi. Then, a 4 hour train ride to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is). Then an exhausting overnight train ride to Varanasi (India’s holiest city). Then, an all day local bus ride to the Nepalese border. Then, an all day bus ride from the border to Kathmandu. Basically, that’s nearly 6 days straight of transit of some sort. I’m definitely exhausted from it all.

I arrived in Delhi around midnight and was happy to have my driver waiting for me as I exited the airport. He drove me through the deserted streets of Delhi and I was reminded that I was in India as soon as I saw the cows lounging amidst the heaps of rubbish strewn about. I met up with Niki at our hotel and we were both so excited to see each other; we talked for hours catching up about our respective time apart.

After only a couple of hours of sleep, we packed our bags and headed to the train station to buy a ticket to Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is. We had thought the train would be only 2 hours so we bought the cheapest ticket possible. Our ride turned out to be 4 hours long, which, as the train got increasingly crowded became more and more uncomfortable. The car we were in had sections that had 4 wooden platforms/beds to a section. We climbed on the top bunk/wooden platform and initially shared our bed with our bags. It was comfortable enough… but we couldn’t stretch our legs out or hang them over the edge, as we would’ve put our feet in the faces of the people below us. The fan in our section wasn’t working. And the train got increasingly crowded with each stop the train made. We crammed a few more people on our berth, but the situation below looked to be far more uncomfortable. Finally, we arrived to Agra and got off our beds. The interesting thing is that all the men jumped up to grab our seats and left the woman standing. As we exited the train, we had to push pass the hoards of people loading the train with no regard for those exiting. I’ve learned that in such populous places, like India and China, pushing is the norm, whereas waiting in an orderly queue will get you nowhere.

We spent a whirlwind afternoon and evening in Agra. We only bought a train ticket to Agra and just figured we’d buy our onward ticket to Varanasi upon arrival in Agra, as the line at the Delhi train station was long and the customer service less than stellar. Well, I’ve been to India before so I should’ve known this, but trains fill up fast and it’s best to reserve tickets as far in advance as possible. Well, once we got to Agra, we learned that all the beds in the air-conditioned cars were full. So, we spent some time trying to figure out other options, but found nothing suitable. So, we decided to head to the Taj. Last time I saw the Taj in broad daylight, this time was sunset. It’s a beautiful building no matter the time of day. We got lucky because it was full moon, so we got to watch that rise over the Taj.

Upon leaving the Taj, we headed back to the train station where we learned we could book an unreserved ticket – which is just a general ticket, which means you have no seat, or no bed, but you just stand/sit/lie where you can. We were told that we could upgrade our ticket from the conductor onboard. Thinking this was a great idea and even better price (less than $3), we excitedly purchased our tickets. We chatted for awhile with two awesome 60-year old German women who were traveling for just 5 days. They inspired us to take a reunion trip when we’re 60. J

So, the train arrives a bit after 11pm. We hop into the 2AC car with the German ladies (2AC is the nicest train car – basically, each section has 4 beds, with sheets, a pillow and blankets, a curtain dividing it from the train “hallway” and air conditioning). We sat on empty beds for awhile and when there were still a few empty beds and the train started moving, we decided to pick two beds and hope to just pay for an upgrade when the conductor came by. Well, not 5 minutes after climbing into bed and taking pictures of our victory does the conductor saunter through our car. He was none too pleased to find us there and we were told to go to the sleeper class. So, with heads hung low, we sling our backpacks on and walk through a couple of cars of 3AC (same as 2AC, but just 6 beds to a section instead of 4) until we get to the sleeper car, which we can’t get to, because a large garage door-type thing made from corrugated metal is closing off the nicer train cars from the riff-raff. Bear in mind that India is not exactly the world’s most egalitarian country in the world and doing something as overt as locking the poor people in their cars so they don’t sneak to the more expensive sections would be considered normal.

We finally get the door unlocked for us and enter the dark, extremely crowded sleeper car. There are 6 beds to a section, no AC, no blankets and more than 1 body to a bed… not to mention all the bodies we walked over on our search for a spot. Finding nothing, we’re told to go sit between cars (where the bathrooms are located and thus the overwhelming stench of urine and feces). We finally find a vacant bit of floor between some beds, so we decide that this will be home for the night. The area definitely wasn’t large enough for both of us to sleep comfortable, so we sat up and literally took turns sleeping in the others’ arms for the next few hours. At 4am, a lot of people got off the train, so we were able to move to actual beds. I ended up sharing my bed with a random Indian dude sitting at the edge of my bed. I woke up to discover that he was using my hip as a pillow. Normally, I’d have swatted a stranger away who was lounging on my body, but it’s India. Men walk down the street with fingers interlaced; they spoon on the floors of train stations; they stand extremely close together – basically, personal bubbles don’t exactly exist.

At 7am, we decided to see if a bed in the 3AC section had become available, and you can imagine our elation at finding multiple empty beds. So, we found two beds where the sheets weren’t overly tousled and eagerly hopped into bed for a few really, really good and welcomed hours of sleep. At the end of it all, Niki and I were both really happy that we a) got to Varanasi when we wanted to b) eventually upgraded ourselves to a nicer bed and c) only paid less than $3 for it. Granted, we did endure a few hours of sleeping on a nasty Indian train floor, but at the end of the day, I’m really grateful for a travel companion like Niki who doesn’t complain when we get ourselves into undesirable situations and just laughs along with me about whatever pickle we’ve most recently gotten ourselves into.

We finally arrived in Varanasi and got to our guesthouse, took a MUCH needed shower and set off to see the sights. After devouring a large lunch, we ran into the German ladies again, so the 4 of us set off to see the burning ghats. Varanasi is India’s holiest city as it’s located on the holiest point on the Ganges River, which is India’s holiest river. About 300 people are burned in Varanasi each day, 24 hours a day. It takes a body 3 hours to burn and I forget how many kilos of wood are required. Bodies are burned with sandalwood, which is fairly expensive and the elderly are required to buy their own wood for their own cremation, which costs roughly $3 USD per kilo. As such, you have a plethora of very old people in Varanasi, literally waiting to die and begging for money for their cremation. The Hindus believe in reincarnation and that you are reincarnated to the same caste as before. The reason people come to Varanasi to die is that they believe if you are cremated in Varanasi, you can escape the cycle of reincarnation and achieve moksha, or nirvana, ultimate enlightenment. No caste is discrimated against during cremation, and as such, there are many Dalites (the Untouchable caste) who hope to die and be burned in Varanasi.

At the burning ghat, I took 2 photos, which you’re not supposed to do, out of respect for the dead. Oops. But, I was trying to be discreet about it, but I guess I wasn’t that discreet, as a local man cum guide seeking money consequently demanded payment for that privilege. I apologized and offered to delete the photos, but he would have none of that. He wanted money, claiming it wasn’t for him, but for the elderly to buy their wood for their cremations. After a lengthy altercation, I finally paid him a portion of what he demanded and we went on our way.

We went to the main ghat and watched the sites there for a bit – a bit less activity than the early morning bathing, laundry and praying rituals, but still just as gross to see women dousing themselves in river water and the swallowing it. Ew, ew, ew. Not only are ashes of the deceased dumped in the river each day, but there are 5 types of people who can’t be burned in Varanasi – children under 12, pregnant woman, those with leprosy and I forget the other two types. In lieu of being burned, their bodies are tied to a rock and dropped off a boat in the middle of the river. And that’s not even why the river is as dirty as it is – there is a sewage plant a few kilometers upstream that dumps heaps and heaps of sewage into the river, unnecessarily polluting it. Varanasi is one of India’s most fascinating and disgusting places to see. I’m intrigued by it, but also equally disgusted and happy to be on my way.

The next day, we left Varanasi early in the morning and caught a local bus to the Nepalese border. This was an 11 hour affair. Our bus stopped exactly twice this whole time. Towards the end, there were about 8 people begging for a bathroom stop, which was repeatedly denied. Finally, we were granted our wish and got to pee in a garbage-strewn field behind a chai shop on the side of the road. We crossed the border into Nepal with ease. I had forgotten to sign my Indian immigration form and the officer looked at me and said “what, do you expect me to sign this for you?” I thought he was joke-being-an-asshole, so I laughed and said that I would sign it. And he wobbled his head and said, “no it’s ok – I’ll sign for you” And he scribbled my signature for me. Ahh, the security of it all – so different from the western world.

We crossed to Nepal and made it through immigration with equal ease and finally found a restaurant in which to eat, as we were starving, since only 4 samosas comprised the bulk of my eating for the day (we were on the bus that just didn’t stop…and when we were at the stop where we got the samosas, the bus driver nearly drove away without us – he was on a mission!). We shopped around at a couple of hotels and finally settled on a $4 room, as it had an en suite bathroom with hot water. Given that I did nothing but sit on a bus all day, I was filthy – my body was absolutely clad in dirt. My hair felt thick with grime and my pants, which were clean in the morning had a visible layer of dirt and grime on them – all from just sitting on a filthy Indian bus all day.

So, our room was good enough. We showered and as we were sitting on the bed – I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I look again and hesitate to tell Niki that I had just seen 2 cockroaches, as the night before, in Varanasi, I was typing away on my computer in bed and looked up to see a mouse staring at me at the head of our bed. I’m not super squeamish or disgusted by bugs and the sort, but a mouse in my room is not cool. That night (in Varanasi) we were able to change rooms, though the men running the guest house thought we were crazy as they’d come to find us standing on our bed and squealing about the mouse. This room in Nepal, however, was MUCH worse than the one in Varanasi. We talked about it and decided that cockroaches weren’t that bad – they exist in this part of the world. All was cool until we saw a mouse scurry along the wall. And before settling in for the night, Niki wiped some bugs off of her pillow. This place was disgusting, but the town was dead – the stores literally all shut down by 8pm and the other places we had looked at weren’t much better. So, we sucked it up for the night and went to sleep in our cockroach and mouse-infested room.

So, now it’s been quite a few days of traveling – I’m currently on a bus from the Nepalese/Indian border to Kathmandu – and I couldn’t be more excited to do a load of laundry and to sleep in a clean-ish bed and to not take a bus or a train for at least 1 day. I know I’ll get my wish. Tomorrow I meet up with Dean, my boss from Cushman and Wakefield and my sister. Shortly thereafter, we’ll head off for 3 weeks to hike the Annapurna Circuit, where we’ll have no access to internet the entire time. I’m really excited about the hike as I built my trip around this hike specifically and have been wanting to do this for quite some time. In our three weeks of mountain fresh air, we’ll reach 17,769 ft at the highest point – the world’s highest pass! – and circumnavigate some of the world’s tallest mountains. So, Happy Thanksgiving to all – I won’t be in touch ‘til after the holiday has come and passed.


Pictures are of my Singapore hostel – beds scattered randomly on the roof and of my holding a monkey in my hostel in KL (the owner just was walking around holding his monkey. The poor little thing’s heart was absolutely pounding the whole time I was holding him – thank God he had his diaper on!)

I flew from Borneo to Singapore and was greeted by exactly everything I was promised: a clean, neat, organized, efficient, extremely developed city. I had thought I would really need Singapore and all of it’s western comforts after 2 months of “roughing it” in far more developing places, but I was wrong – it never ceases to amaze me how adaptable we, as humans, are. I’ve gotten so used to the developing world; I just love it. That being said, Singapore was great! It was like a city from home. And the best part is that it is by far the most international city I’ve ever been in. Well, NYC is honestly a pretty good competitor. Anyway, there’s not a HUGE amount of things to do in Singapore without busting your wallet completely, so I walked around a bunch – Little India, Chinatown and in-between. I stopped in the famed Raffles Hotel and went to the Long Bar where I was going to sip on a cocktail (the Singapore Sling was invented in this very bar), but at the absolutely ridiculous price of drinks, I left (a water was $11 Singapore dollars, which is just shy of $10 USD), even though the band was just starting to play what I consider the theme song for 2009 of South East Asia: I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. Sidenote: Everywhere I’ve been, this song is played. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly popular this song is – you hear it on guitars on every street corner, in clubs in Bali, on the radio in cabs, in the mall, literally everywhere.

While in Singapore, I met up with two friends who live there – Des, a guy I met at a conference, HPAIR that I attended in 2002 in Sydney and Ashraf, who I lived next to in college one year. Des took me to a great restaurant where we dined on chicken rice and barley juice, which was delicious. I hung out with Ash right before Halloween, so we went to one of his friend’s Halloween parties, which was good fun. I had to wear a costume – so I borrowed an idea from my friend Erica Trittschuh, although my costume was a lamer version of hers. I went as a “Blue Jean”. I wore blue jeans, a blue shirt and a nametag that said “Hello! My name is: JEAN” I think the blue wig and jean jacket are a critical component on this costume, because no one got it. Ha, ah well. I was credited for trying given that I was backpacking. When I was out with my friend Des, we went for a drink after dinner and walked through the bar area, Clark Quay, where we passed a bar called “Clinic” where everyone sits on hospital beds. Then we went to a bar called “Heliport” which was just off the carpark, and you guessed it – looked just like a heliport. Ha – it made me chuckle.

Singapore and all it’s modern conveniences where definitely spared at my hostel, which felt like it belonged more in Malaysia than Singapore. My room was literally on the roof. When it rained one morning, a few beds got wet, as the overhang didn’t cover everything. But, the price was right, so that’s ok.

The other interesting thing is that there was this middle aged Middle Eastern man staying in my roof/dorm and he seemed like he had something serious going through his head – as anytime I was in the hostel, he was there, pacing back and forth, back and forth, smoking cigarette after cigarette after cigarette. At one point I was home for 45 minutes and I think I counted that he smoked about 15 cigarettes – no joke. So, to myself, I joked/worried that he was a terrorist plotting his next move (typical white person stereotype, I know). Well, as it turns out, he did have something on his mind. I ended up getting the story from an Italian guy who I traveled from Singapore to KL with, but basically the story goes like this: The Jordanian man was working in Singapore, teaching and apparently he got in an altercation with a student. This student reported him to the police. After 2 days in prison, they released him to wait for his trial, but kept his passport, so he can’t leave the country. He went to the Jordan embassy to ask for their help and they basically told him that they were powerless; that he’d have to wait it out – and it’s now been over two months.

So, get this, they told him to escape if he can and then just get a new passport at the Jordan embassy in Malaysia. So, he tried escaping twice already and is currently plotting his third attempt (hence his nervous jitters I suppose). If he gets caught, he gets a minimum of 20 years in prison. So, he wants to swim from Singapore to Malaysia. Problem is, he doesn’t know how to swim. So, he’s currently looking into getting a job as a fisherman off the shore of Singapore, and I guess he’ll learn how to swim and hopefully make it to Malaysia. I only heard his side of the story, but I’d be scared sh*tless of escaping from any country, but especially Singapore, where they fine you $500 just for jay-walking. But yeah, I did jay-walk, so who am I to talk – breaking Singapore laws left and right. ;-P

I left Singapore, spent a quick night in Kuala Lumpur and met a girl, Bridget, who I’d been introduced to on facebook by a girl I met at my hostel in Kota Kinabalu. We’d been emailing back and forth as she was trying to join me in Nepal, but had visa issues. Well, it’s a really small world when you’re backpacking, because guess who I ran into when I walked into my dorm last night? It’s funny that we almost traveled together without having met and then randomly meet in KL – unbeknownst to both of us that the other would be there. And now I’m en route to Delhi, where Niki is waiting for me. She and I will travel onward overland to Kathmandu over the next couple of days.

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

Photos are of me climbing up the ropes of the granite face of Mt, Kinabalu and the sunrise view from the top, overlooking the granite crowns.

Before I write about my climb up Mt. Kinabalu, I have two stories that remind me of how Malaysian Borneo is still not quite as developed as the western world: First, on the drive from Kota Kinabalu to Mt. Kinabalu, we passed a car accident. Lots of cars had pulled over to watch and some were helping the injured driver, who, as we passed was lying in the shade and visibly quite bloody. About 30-40 minutes of driving later, we pass an ambulance headed towards the scene of the accident. About an hour and a half after that, finally at our destination, we pass the ambulance again – headed away from the accident. Basically, it made me appreciate how much faster our emergency personnel respond to such situations at home. Secondly, they love plastic bags here. You buy a pastry and it gets wrapped in plastic and then put in a plastic bag. Anytime you go to a store, you get a plastic bag. Well, I’m walking down the street today and saw a man holding a chicken in a plastic bag. Nope, not a dead chicken, but a real, live chicken. It made me chuckle!

Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in South East Asia and roughly half the height of Everest. Joanne, the Irish girl, Sam, the Canadian guy and I set off to climb Mt. Kinabalu on the day of the men’s Climbathon. The shorter route was closed until noon, as the Climbathon was going on, so we opted for a route that was 2km longer as we were allowed to leave in the morning. Given that it rains consistently every afternoon at around 1pm, we wanted to get as much hiking out of the way before the rain started coming down. Our hike was nice and scenic until it started raining, predictably at 1pm. I got completely drenched during the last hour and half to two hours of the hike and was happy for the hot shower at Laban Rata, which was our resting point for the night (~3200m). Our lodge was much nicer than I was expecting, complete with hot showers and really warm, comfortable beds. There were multiple all-you-can eat buffets, which I took full advantage of, as climbing definitely depleted my energy. We went to bed at 7:30pm and after a fitful night of sleep, woke up at 2:30am, ate breakfast and started hiking at 3. I made it to the summit at 5:30am (4095m), just in time for a stunning sunrise.

The last portion of the climb was all granite slabs – and there were ropes guiding the way the entire time. Sometimes you had to pull yourself up with the rope, and other times, it was just plain steep. It was a decent climb, but a slow and steady pace made it completely bearable. It took me a total of 8 hours to get to the top. Ok, so I did take a longer route up. But, compare that to a girl in my hostel who was 10th place in the Climbathon – she went up AND back down all in 4 hours. Crazy! Apparently Skyrunning (as it’s called) is very popular in the UK (where there are no mountains above 1000m to speak of), as many of the competitors are from the UK. Anyway, it makes the normal climb (which I did) look like a piece of cake when you look at some of the times people raced up and back in. Unfortunately, I must be getting old, as my knees and left ankle killed me on the way down. I think I twisted my ankle while surfing, because I’d get really sharp pangs of pain shooting up my leg if I stepped the wrong way. I only hope that everything gets in working order again before Nepal.

After the climb, I spent my last full day in Borneo at the beach. I went to a different, small island offshore and swam, read, ate, swam, read, swam, read, ate. It was incredibly relaxing and very beautiful. I think I’m (sadly) done with the beach now for at least a month – until I get to Thailand in December. But, my legs feel great and I’m ready for my 3 weeks of trekking in Nepal! I head to Singapore for a few days and then on to KL for a crazy day of transit: KL to Bangkok to Kolkata to Delhi. Next update will likely be from India or Nepal in very early November! Enjoy the fall weather at home – I thought about that today as I was lying on the beach, just trying to envision leaves crunching under my feet or the smell of mulling spices on the stove in my old apartment. So, happy fall to y’all back home! Also, thanks for all the emails and facebook comments – it’s really nice and encouraging to get news from home!

Beachin’ in Borneo

Pictures are of the Kota Kinabalu night market where I had delicious bbq tuna steak and of the sunset I saw while camping at a small offshore island. Next blog post will have cooler photos. And I’ll try to upload more to facebook too.

After parting ways with Niki at the KL airport, I hopped on my flight to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the province Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. My flight arrived around midnight and I was the only white person on my flight and the only white person in the airport. After over 5 weeks in Indonesia where I’d be automatically ushered to where I wanted to be by a commission-seeking local, I was completely ignored at the KK airport. Perhaps for most people, this would be a welcomed reprieve, but it just made me miss Indonesia. Of all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve come to realize that I really and truly absolutely adore developing countries. I much prefer the style of travel that they offer than more developed nations. Anyway, I hopped into my $15 cab, where I had to orderly queue in line and was dropped at my hostel. I have to pay for 1 night what I paid for my last 5 nights in Bali.

So, Borneo. I had expected untamed jungle, indigenous people, undiscovered off-shore islands, like Palau Tiga, where the first Survivor was filmed. Well, I was a bit surprised when I landed in Kota Kinabalu and discovered that it is a very developed city, the people are quite refined and the wealth of the local people is fairly apparent. KK isn’t too far from Brunei, where the world’s wealthiest man (until Bill Gates usurped him) lives. The wealth in this region is due to natural resources – offshore oil drilling and palm oil plantations. Borneo in general has a massive deforestation problem – the entire island (and mind you, this is the world’s 4th largest island) is on track to be 98% deforested by 2022. The natural jungle is cut down for rattan furniture and is replaced by rows upon rows of palm trees. As I’m sure you all remember from your science class days, any form of mono-cropping isn’t good for the environment and it’s particularly sad as Borneo is arguably one of the few places on earth with such biodiversity and many, many rare species. And gosh, just where will future episodes of Planet Earth be filmed?

Anyway, I’m digressing. As a result of it’s natural resources, this island is actually much wealthier than I anticipated and as a result, it has all the bells and whistles that a developed nation has. I wanted to climb Mt. Kinabalu straight away – which at 4,095m is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain (the highest mountain between the Himalayas and Papua New Guinea), but there’s a multi-day Climbathon going on, in which racers climb up the mountain in record times. So, I had to push my climb back a few days.

In the meantime, I decided to go camping on an off-shore island with Joanne, an Irish girl I’ve met and Sam, a 19 year old Canadian guy that tagged along. Joanne and I camped for 2 nights and Sam for only 1. The first Survivor was filmed just a few kilometers away from the island that we stayed on, which was pretty exciting. The sand was superfine and very comfortable for sleeping. We lounged, read, swam, snorkeled and ate way too many noodles and bread and peanut butter. It was nice having a bonfire on the beach – looking one direction was the vast South China Sea and a few islands in the distance, yet looking the other way were the bright city lights of Kota Kinabalu.

After 2 days of camping, Joanne and I headed to Mt. Kinabalu. We stayed in a 12-bed dorm that absolutely reeks of BO – and is the most I’ve paid for accommodation this entire trip – $10, including breakfast. As it turns out, everyone in our dorm, except us, is doing the climbathon. And, unbeknownst to us, we could’ve signed up for the climbathon and paid only $35, which let’s just say is a lot less than what we’re paying. But, we didn’t find that out until too late unfortunately. I don’t know how keen I’d be on running up the mountain. Next post I write, I’ll give an update on how the climb went.

Oh, and in other news, Niki just bought a ticket to India and will be joining me on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal! Woohoo! I’ll be doing that trek with Dean (my boss from Cushman and Wakefield), my sister and now Niki. At this point, I just can’t wait to get to India and Nepal!

Surfing in Bali and Farewells

Pictures are of me happy to have caught a wave on my 1st day of surfing and of us girls on a night out in Bali – (l to r) Niki, me, Anna, and Monique. And of me, Niki, and Anna with all of our bags on as we head from Lombok to Bali on the ferry.

After an incredibly beautiful, calm and relaxing week in Gili Trawangan, Niki, Anna and I headed back to Bali on the slow ferry. Anna is a Danish girl who is a naval officer that patrols the waters around Greenland and reminds me immensely of my friend Nathalie from college – both in terms of looks and personality. Anna, Niki and I hit it off really well and so Niki and I were more than happy to have Anna join us for the remainder of our trip in Bali. To get from Gili T to Bali was a 14 hour experience and involved a boat, a bus, a long, slow ferry, and another bus ride. Our last bus ride, it felt like we were traveling in a hearst – our minibus was dark on the outside and inside. First they packed all the bags in and then the vehicle appeared full, but no, somehow, they managed to squeeze in 13 westerners. My hip bones were squashed and I had to go to the bathroom for the whole 3 hours, but all was well in the end.

We made it to Bali and found a room for $5 for the three of us in a really great location, so we were happy. The next four days we passed at the beach, learning to surf. The first day we all took lessons together and Niki and Anna were really awesome – both able to stand quite a bit. Me… not so much, but then again, my instructors only advice was “stand up” Not the best instructor. But, it was still fun and the moments when all 3 of us caught the same wave, it was a really nice feeling.

We met up with our friends Rick and Monique, who Niki and I had traveled with in Sumatra. It was SO good to see them again – seriously, just like seeing old friends. And being back in Kuta Beach was like a homecoming of sorts. I think I have a love-hate relationship with the place. On the one hand, it’s a backpacker ghetto, which is very comforting and necessary at points – as it has everything a backpacker would want – massages, western food, cheap accommodation, clothing, sunglasses and art stalls. And the setting is absolutely stunning. The beach is expansive and gorgeous and watching the enormous waves roll in is absolutely mesmerizing.

On the other hand, Kuta Beach has a very bad reputation due to the large number of Australians that are there. Now, nothing against Australians, but I do have something against what we started terming the “Bintang Bali Aussie Boys”. Bintang is the beer of choice in Indonesia, and wife beaters with the Bintang logo are aplenty, especially in Kuta Beach. Going out at night, the streets and clubs are just littered with Australian guys wearing these awful shirts and getting absolutely hammered. I met a good number of Australians who are embarrassed by the Bintang-wearing crowd…and rightfully so. But, it makes sense – Bali is what Cancun is to the American college kid, except way cheaper, and flights cost next to nothing, so of course there are lots of Australians. So, after days of seeing guys in board shorts and Bintang wife beaters, it gets old pretty quickly.

But, the fun that I had with my friends here and the thrill of catching a wave totally outweighs any negative impression I have of the place. By my 4th day of surfing, I was catching more waves than I wasn’t and finally mastered how to correctly paddle and actually stand up. There was a bit of a learning curve, no doubt – I learned that while I snowboard “normal,” I surf “goofy” – and that took about 2 days to figure out.

After a day of surfing, our evenings and nights were filled with massages, or should I say “yes, massage”, because every single massage place you pass by the women say “yes, massage.” We’d get on the internet, shower, get ready for dinner and sometimes went out. Honestly, being in the sun all day and surfing is a fairly exhausting routine and we quickly tired of the Bintang Bali crowd, longed for the quieter nights on Gili T, so we had a more low-key night life this time around.

And now I’m at the airport and absolutely sad to be leaving this place. Never before have I been so sad to leave a place I’ve traveled – ever. It’s probably the combination of the country, the people I’ve been with, the food I’ve eaten, etc, but I’m really, really sad. Niki has been such a godsend – I know we’re both really grateful and happy that we met and traveled together. We’ve had such a blast together, have been through a lot together and definitely will be friends for a long time to come. Of the 7 weeks I’ve now been traveling, we’ve been together for 5 and a half weeks. I’m in the midst of trying to convince her to join me in Nepal, so this might not be the last you hear of her yet. I had such a good rapport with Rick and Monique and Anna and Niki that it’s really sad to leave them all – feels like I’m leaving some really good friends and now I’m a little sad to be traveling on my own again. I know that I’ll meet more people along the way – it always happens, but at the moment, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye – to Indonesia or the people I’ve met along the way.