Our flight from Delhi, India to Cairo, Egypt included a layover in Kuwait City, Kuwait. I must say, flying into Kuwait, staring out the plane window looking down at a place so often talked about during my childhood was surreal. That day we flew over Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, which sounds silly but was all very exhilarating. Just the thought of being 30,000 feet over sectors of the “axis of evil” made us feel like we were on the brink of danger! Drew even spotted a Patriot missile battery as we landed in Kuwait… We finally arrived in Cairo, zipped through immigration with ease, and found our hotel pickup immediately. Our initial reaction to Egypt was that of sheer happiness. The scenery reminded us of southern California with large, straight, palm tree lined highways, crystal clear blue sky, a cool breeze, and 75 degree weather. The only distinguishable difference was the architecture and the fact that the buildings were all a different variation of the color tan.

Our guesthouse was on a traffic circle in the heart of Cairo, which had a Parisian air to it all. The smells of the bakeries, the beautiful restaurants, and delicious street food was a warm welcome as well as the Egyptian people. While a lot of them are smooth operating snake oil salesmen, trying hard to get you into their perfume shops with trickery, the majority just seem to be nice people who all said, ‘Welcome!’ as we passed them on the street. We fell for the ‘charmer’ routine once, but I guess everyone does the first time they come here.

As always, we hit the ground running and the very next day found our way to Giza to see the Great Pyramids. A lot of people don’t realize (we were guilty of it ourselves) that the Pyramids are smack in the middle of a city. As a matter of fact, you can take a taxi to go see them. So, we made it there with relative ease on a mini bus and stumbled upon another charming man trying to sell us something, this time camel rides. We called it fate and rented two camels (named “Whiskey” and “Michael Jackson”) and a guide for two hours. Though completely awe inspiring, I couldn’t help but feel like we were in Disneyland. As a matter of fact, all of the sites we have visited in Egypt make us feel that way because it’s just so hard to believe these sites are the real deal. Maybe it is because out of all the countries we have visited we are taught most about Egyptian history and culture, so we arrived with more preconceived notions and ideas than other places? Maybe it’s because Americans have taken Egyptian history and incorporated it into their amusement parks, malls, money, and various forms of pop culture? I dunno. Whatever the case may be, it’s been absolutely amazing being here, but also a little hard to wrap around minds around.

From Cairo we decided to head all the way down to Aswan, which is the southern capitol of Egypt. The Nile River divides the country east/west and all of the major cities are a long this stretch of water. We went to Aswan because we were told Abu Simbel was a must and had to check it out. Abu Simbel is a temple built by Ramses II which sits on the Egypt/Sudan border 3 hours south of Aswan and next to Lake Nasser, the largest man made lake on the planet. While the temples of Ramses II and Nefartiti were spectacular we found that Lake Nasser was just as breath taking. The lake was built in the 60’s but in order to complete it they had to move the Temples to higher ground so a team of people from Egypt, America, Italy, and France came to the rescue. What did the Americans have to offer in this deal? Caterpillar. No really, a team from Caterpillar provided all of the heavy machinery to help move these ancient ruins to safe ground. The bus to Abu Simbel left at 3:30 a.m. and arrived there at 7 a.m., which was the perfect time of day when the air was still cool and fresh. We could’ve sat there all-day and stared out at that beautiful lake.

Our next move was to Luxor, three hours north of Aswan. Luxor is an absolutely stunning city with loads of history. You can easily spend weeks there and not fully cover all that it has to offer. We found a lovely guesthouse called Fontana Hotel run by an Egyptian family, which we were happy to call home for a few days. They set us up on a day tour of ‘The Valley of the Kings’, ‘The Valley of the Queens’, and a temple built by a female Egyptian pharaoh named Hatshepsut. Again, the day started early but we had a lot of ground to cover. The first stop was ‘The Valley of the Kings’ where 160+ tombs lay of Egyptian pharaohs and other VIP’s. You see, the pharaoh’s decided that pyramids were a little too obvious so they chose to make their tombs in a far off valley underneath mountains because mountains mimicked that of a pyramid. This way their gateway to heaven would stay safe from robbers. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the tombs we visited because they are spectacular! The hieroglyphics, the colors, and the all around work put into these masterpieces are mind blowing. Some of the tombs even reach 5 stories down! The most colorful tomb we visited was in ‘The Valley of the Queens’ and was the son of Ramses III. The walls were all depictions of Ramses and his son enacting Book of the Dead scenes and then walking to the gates of heaven. I believe the boy was only twelve or so when he died and at the time his mother had a miscarriage so they put the fetus in the tomb with the boy. Upon excavation archeologists did find the skeleton of a baby, which is now on display inside. Each tomb and temple has a story to tell; they show the life and death of whoever was buried and/or revered in great detail. A lot of the tombs were robbed over the years but many of the treasures have been found and are on display in the Cairo Museum or Luxor Museum. The temple built by Hatshepsut is intense. She was a female pharaoh around 1,500 BC who knew females at that time could never rule so she dressed like a man and acted like a man to maintain rule and deceive. After her death her body was stolen (and recently found by archeologists) and her temple was defaced. We do wish we had a little more time to spend in Luxor exploring but were happy with what we could see and were very, very anxious to get to the beach for some much needed r & r.

A 20-hour bus ride later and we finally made it to Dahab, Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. Drew wasted no time signing up to get his advanced divers certification (my birthday gift to him!) so we’ll be here for the next three days enjoying the sun, the relaxation, and some good dives. I must say, the beaches here are gorgeous. White sand, crystal clear blue water, perfect blue skies, a desert backdrop, and a lot of palm trees. They say people come here for a few days and end up staying for a month… we can definitely understand why. Two weeks left on our trip and we still have Jordan to get to. We are trying desperately to live in the moment and not plan for Jordan quite yet. The thought of packing our backpacks right now is excruciating although we are very excited to spend some time at Petra and swim in the Dead Sea. The plan may be for Drew to finish his advanced dive certification and then we head to Jordan, see the sites, and come back to Dahab if we have time but as for right now, the skies the limit…

India: Goodbye – Hello

March 24, 2010

We arrived in Delhi at 2 a.m. with just enough time to get 5 hours of sleep before our next departing train to Jaipur, at breakneck pace… Six hours later we reached our destination only to find that it is a huge, sprawling city. For whatever reason we were under the impression that Jaipur was an ancient fortified lil pink village. Instead it is modern and crowded and appropriately deemed the shopping mecca of Rajasthan. We hit the ground running and found both of our wedding outfits here along with a wedding gift for Rikul & Shweta (apparently it is custom to buy only the bride a gift such as earrings or beautiful cloth to make a sari or Punjabi dress). Between the heat, the pollution, and the constant nagging from tuk-tuk drivers we did find ourselves often taking refuge in our awesome guesthouse called Karni Niwas. Tucked away, off the main shopping road, in the new part of town this little slice of heaven made everything bearable. We had a huge rooftop room, surrounded by breezy windows, complete with gigantic bathroom and a fantastic view of the city… we even had TV that showed endless reruns of ‘Friends’ and ‘2 1/2 Men’ and got to watch E! News and catch up on all the latest Oscar news!

The highlight of our stay in Jaipur was a tour of the ancient sites, guided by a tuk-tuk driver we met on our arrival to the city. Raj was the best. He and his lifelong friend showed us around for hours, taking us to the Sun (Monkey) Temple, the Floating Palace, the City Palace, and the beautiful city museum. We had great conversations about Indian, American and Islamic politics, as well as Indian/Muslim traditions. Finding a tuk-tuk driver with good English and a great attitude is definitely the best way to tour a city. Tour highlights included me unsuccessfully trying to smuggle a little baby piglet, that could barely walk and squeak, saw two bulls fighting, blocking our hill path, but managed to sneak past and were given good luck bracelets and our first bindis. Thanks to Raj and his pal, the evening was a complete success!

As we were starting to pack our bags to head to Udaipur, Drew unfortunately fell sick… again. We barely made it to the train station before he started vomiting and then the poor guy spent the entire night in the crammed train bathroom hovering/squatting over the hole in the floor, being tossed around against the walls, barely able to hold himself up from exhaustion. Staying positive, it still offered him some lovely moments alone to watch the early morning light hit the deserts of Rajasthan.

We reached Udaipur at 7 a.m., immediately found our hotel pickup, and finally made it to safe ground… or at least a stationary, western toilet. Drew spent the next two days in bed trying to recover while I made many frantic emails to Dr. Aparna asking for advice. Thankfully we brought the entire ‘John Adams’ series on our laptop to get through the day as well as countless amounts of episodes of ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’, which never cease to make Drew smile. Our guesthouse, Panorama Guesthouse, is situated on Hanaman Ghat in the quieter part of town and is spectacular. A sweet rooftop restaurant, wi-fi, and a cheap corner room made for a great stay, even with all the illness going around.

When Drew finally conjured up some energy we went to a beautiful little restaurant along the lake for what was probably the best dinner we’ve had in all of India (well, minus the paneer tikka butter masala we had in Darjeeling!). The following day we walked around Udaipur, which is a beautiful city that sits on a great big lake with not one but two floating palaces. Udaipur’s big claim to fame is it was briefly featured in the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’. Every evening at 7 p.m. almost every guesthouse and restaurant in town shows the movie. I imagine most of the locals have the entire thing memorized by now. Udaipur was exactly what we were hoping to find when we came to India. Huge white buildings built with that beautiful Indian architecture of large domes and swirling window and doorframes set against a crystal clear blue sky… So romantic. This place sort of reminds me of what parts of the Mediterranean look like with all the whites, beautiful blues, and greens. In the evening we went to a cultural event at one of the museums where we saw different dances from the various regions of Rajasthan. Women danced with pots of fire on their heads, marionette dolls glittered as they danced across the floor, one woman even balanced ten pots of water on her head to represent the deserts of Rajasthan and the women who have to walk for miles to get water and then carry as much back home as she could. It was a really fun and interesting evening until I got sick…

I didn’t even make it back to the guesthouse before vomiting all over myself. The funny part is, I had spent the last two to three days holed up in our guesthouse taking care of Drew!! We have found it extremely hard to stay healthy here for whatever reason. I spent the next two days in bed, watching more ‘John Adams’ trying to shake whatever was beating me down, or trying desperately to exit. As I sit here and type I’m still feeling nauseous, but we must keep moving. Tonight we catch a sleeper train back to Delhi for our friend Rikul’s wedding. 48 more hours until the ceremony begins… I just hope I’m in better shape then than I am right now. After that, we take a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then come Monday we are on a flight to Cairo, Egypt to gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza and do some killer scuba diving!

Cut to 1 week later: Getting back to Delhi was very comforting; as we knew where we were going, the costs for transport, and some good spots for food. We spent the day preparing for the wedding. Blair went to the all woman (very rare) run beauty salon to get her hair done and I arranged for a taxi, and then we departed. The drive through Delhi was a delight. The city really is beautiful, with gardens everywhere and lush lawns centering on all of the roundabouts. The city is under serious construction in prep for the 2010 Common Wealth Games. It took us awhile to make it to the suburbs where the wedding was taking place, our driver must have stopped 30 times for directions, but we finally made it… and we were the first to arrive. We stood around for a bit, but were lucky that the bride’s sister-in-law (who just moved back to India from NYC) found us and brought us back to her family’s house (3 blocks away) to wait and enjoy refreshments. It was very nice to sit, relax and meet the family. The house was enormous with four stories and sixteen bedrooms. We can only imagine it houses the entire extended family.

Soon it was time to return to the community center and await Rikul’s arrival… It was at this point that I realized that none of the men were wearing traditional dress; Blair fit in perfectly and beautifully, but it would become obvious (all other men wearing dress pants and business shirts) that I over shot on this outfit. So the ceremony begins and to be honest it was a bit confusing… but if you like Vegas light shows and the groom as the star then it’s right up your alley. A quarter mile away Rikul sat on a carriage made of fancy disco lights drawn by two white horses. The carriage followed behind a crazy marching band and tons of locals dancing in the street, fireworks and rose pedal canons exploding everywhere. Depending on the wedding, this journey can take ten minutes or it can take two hours. Rikul’s only lasted about thirty minutes and then it was time for him to greet Shweta’s (the bride) sisters at the door of the community center for another tradition. This time Rikul and his brothers had to offer money to the sister’s so he may “enter,” as they playfully kept asking for more. From there Rikul walks into the community center where he sits on stage and waits for his bride to enter. Once she is on stage they exchange big, beautiful necklaces made out of flowers, more rose peddle canons explode, and the ceremony is over… well, at least that part of it is. For the next couple of hours the couple sits on stage while guests go up and offer them gifts and take photos with them. The entire time this event is going on there’s a courtyard off to the side with garden seating that has loads of food and drink, a dance floor, and even a moon bounce for the kids to play on. In western cultures you have the ceremony first and then the reception but here it seems the reception happens simultaneously. I imagine because the ceremony is so long, it keeps everyone happy if they can get up and move around a bit. Unfortunately we had to depart around midnight while Rikul and Shweta were still busy taking pictures with guests. After the photo session there is a whole other ceremony called something like “Fire and Agony” that was explained to us but again was confusing. We said ‘Adieu’ and called it a night heading back to Delhi and prepared to hop our train at 7:30 a.m. the following morning to Agra.

A five-hour train ride and a one-hour bus ride later and we landed in Fatehpur Sikri, a small town an hour outside of Agra. We chose to stay here to try and escape the city life for a night or two thinking it would be peaceful and quiet, unfortunately, we were wrong. You live and you learn, right? It seems as if it is almost impossible to escape the flies, the touts, certain sewage smells, and the car horns here in India. We made the most of it and tried to relax, knowing that our last few days in India were a head of us. We took a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal as our last tourist excursion, and we were incredibly happy we did. The Taj is simply gorgeous. The sprawling gardens that surround it, the symmetry, the fountains and the mosques are all perfect. The hand carved flowers and the inlaid precious stones are breathtaking. Seeing it in person is a must! It was a wonderful escape inside of those walls and away from the crowded, cramped streets. A few times we were asked by teenage boys to have our pictures taken with them, and while I always agreed, Blair would escape, and as soon as she did, they would lower their heads and scurry away. What’s the Indian word for ‘chopped liver’ again?

We have confirmed our flight to Cairo tomorrow and are packing our bags and gearing up to get on the bus to head back to Agra to wait for our train back to Delhi. We get into Delhi around 10 p.m. and leave for the airport at 3 a.m. One month in India has certainly been a robust and challenging experience; one you must simply experience for yourself. It’s a complicated place that sucks you in with beauty, and can kick you in the gut when you’re least expecting it.

See all of our photos of India!!!!

Cry Me A Ganga…

March 11, 2010

After all of the trouble with Indian visas, crossing the boarder into India was a snap. We lucked into Travel Jeepan empty jeep to Siliguri, but were not as lucky for the 2nd leg. The 2nd Jeep was packed (12 inside, and 2 to 4 on top depending) and underpowered. Our 15-year-old driver was forced to swerve left and right, in order to gain the power we needed to summit the Himalayan foothills.

Despite being a great introduction to India (affectionately know as “India Lite”), Darjeeling was a bit of a bust for us due to being socked in by clouds the entire time. So we spent a large amount of time on travel planning/logistics, home bills, wedding planning, and blogging… We did get an amazing Paneer Butter Tikka Masala due to some fabulous advice from Danny Wilson… and stumbled across a weird documentary on TV about famous “superstores” featuring Archie McVies and the REI flag ship store… Seattle, Buck!! Buck!!! So, we registered to travel to Sikkim with the gov, and pulled up stakes for Pelling in hopes of clearer skies and views of the mountains.

It took 3 jeep changes but we made it to Pelling in fine shape. The next morning we were gifted with perfectly clear weather and a heart stopping view of Khangchechgzonga, which according to the book is the 3rd highest mountain in the world, highest in India, and 2nd highest of the Himalayas… though I am not sure where K2 fits in there. We leisured down to a travel agent to see about trains to Kolkata only to find all were booked for days unless we departed immediately, so we had a shot… an abbreviated yet totally appreciated trip to Sikkim was cut short, and bad weather was already rolling back in.

We managed back to Siliguri and made it to the train station after a few mile hike with full backpacks & bags, only to find out that we were at the wrong station. This is when we 1st learned the glory of the bike rickshaw. It may be slow, but it is cheap, and always leaving you wanting to tip… a rare and good feeling indeed. So we made it to the correct station and hunkered down for our first Indian train ride, the first of many all-night sleepers. We woke in Kolkata, no longer in “India Lite.”

Kolkata is like stepping into the 1950’s; its London influenced 5 story all stone architecture and large tree lined streets are stunning, as well as the DSL 1500 Ambassador Classics used as taxis, which were basically the only cars on these gridlocked streets. I found the architecture, which is carried on today in all new buildings most inspiring… it was the first of envies. Wishing the urban areas in the States hadn’t lost the will to build-to-last in stone like they still do here… Maybe it’s cheap labor… Maybe it’s cheap materials… but the buildings built today will be here in 500 years. A challenge to linoleum siding, indeed. We wished we thought about the future as much… But, with the good comes the bad. First, during the day the city seems completely inhabited by men, all of which are interested in Blair, a nagging minority of which cat call and come uncomfortably close/brush-up against. At rush hour there are over a million buses, again packed to the gills with seemingly men only. Note: we finally found an Indian man without a mustache. Then, I get Delhi Belly and am very happy that I have an over priced guesthouse bathroom toilet from which to reside for 1 1/2 days.

Off to Varanasi… once bowels are relatively under control. We board an all night sleeper class train for Varanasi. Unfortunately, it decided to tack on a day trip as well as our 12-hour journey turns into 26 hours. The time honestly melted away as different groups of doods jockeyed to talk with us, play us songs, and learn about Americans (marriage, courting and divorce). The men do ask a bit too often how “I” can get “such a woman” as Blair; but not know the Hindi word for “chop liver”, and honestly agreeing, I defer. People kept saying that they would remember this journey forever… very sweet… It was also our first time riding the rails during the day so the views of semi arid farm fields where spectacular. Train food highlight: Blair: Paneer Pakora, Drew: Chili Pakora.

We finally arrived in Varanasi at 10pm, and readied ourselves for the hotel touts and taxi mambo. We found a decent priced rickshaw but got very lost on the way to Meer Ghat near the hotel, and had to walk the last 1km… this is when the power outage hit the city (think navigating Venice, Italy in the dark), with a line of hotel touts trying to misguide us with, “your hotel closed, full, burned down, no longer exists, under construction”. I was fried and in no mood for crap, lies and cheats; and challenged all with strong language/questions about their karma. We finally made it to the guesthouse, and the room, Blair names the lizards on the ceiling Gus and The Lady, and we passed out…

The main attraction for tourists in Varanasi is sunrise and sunset boat rides down the Ganges River. Seen as the holiest river in Hinduism, people go there every day to bathe, to mourn their dead/funeral pyres, and for celebrations. In the morning we found our guesthouse had a beautiful view of the river and all of the magnificent buildings that line it. Every couple of yards, in between the buildings, are ghats, which are stairs that descend into the water for washing and worship. We opted to take a sunset boat ride that evening. We purchased lotus flower candles and place them in the water as offering. The weather was gorgeous and the sunset was mind-blowingly beautiful as we leisurely cruised the river, viewing the ghats, old palaces and mansions at the rivers edge. We were totally relaxed until the apocalypse hit… Swarms of insects surrounded us, they weren’t flies and they weren’t quite moths either. They were something new to us and they were out for blood. Well, not literally but we just couldn’t escape them. Perhaps it was their attraction to the fishing boats docked along shore or the fact that in some spots the river is septic from sewage being pumped in daily, but the flying criters were out by the tens of thousands. Neither of us had ever experienced such an intense attack. Needless to say, we were ready for the boat ride to end. Thankfully we got off and found a lovely little wood/stone over pizza restaurant and the best darn apple pie and vanilla ice cream outside of our mom’s. The night had been redeemed…

We filled the rest of our visit to Varanassi with strolls around the small back streets and alleys doing what we love to do best… eat, people watch and shop. We joke about the hardest part of our day being where to eat. The streets are so tiny there that you can outstretch your arms and touch both walls, but they still cram shops, bicycles, motorcycles, and an immense amount of cows into them. If you are claustrophobic or hate stepping in cow crap it’s probably the wrong place for you. Other then a monkey throwing a book binder at Drew, and seeming laughing his butt off, the last highlight was that we were finally able to conclude and take care of the whole visa mess. Once in the country we had to register our trip with the foreign registration office and there was luckily one in Varanassi. To no surprise it was down a weird back alley and all the signs were in Hindi (I thought the place was for foreigners!?). At any rate, after answering many questions and filling out MORE paperwork the guy told us he would need 6 passport photos each. We laughed thinking he was making a funny joke, but it turns out he was dead serious. He then told us we needed 4 copies of each piece of paper we filled out and also needed photocopies of our passport stamps and visas. The time was now 4:30 and they closed at 5pm. We sprinted to the nearest Xerox place, got all of our papers in order, turned them in and were on our way. We have now given the Indian government a total of 22 passport photos for our one visit to the country. You really have to want to travel here.

Our guesthouse in Varanasi was called Ganpathi Guesthouse and it was a great escape from the craziness of the river and the streets with a lovely garden quart yard, water fountain, rooftop restaurant, internet lounge, and great laundry service. Two thumbs up! We had trouble booking our train tickets to the destination left on our itinerary, all were sold out for days, even weeks…We learned a good lesson that it is an absolute must to book trains many many days/weeks in advance. For the average backpacker this is something entirely new, as we enjoy not having tight/planned itineraries, but in India it is a must… on to Delhi where we connect to Jaipur to scope some pigs, forts and wedding outfits!!

View all of our pictures of India!!

Nepal, beautiful, lovely, scenic… when we flew into Nepal we were immediately captivated by the Bhaktapur - view from guesthouseHimalayan Mountains. They are something we have all seen in calendars, on postcards, perhaps a movie or TV show but nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the intensity of seeing them with your very own eyes. When we de-boarded the plane we met a nice British girl named Heather while waiting in line at immigration. Heather had just come from India and had been in Nepal four years ago so she had loads of tips to give us. She told us that instead of staying in Kathmandu we should stay in a town called Bhaktapur so we took her lead, all hopped in a taxi, and headed for a charming little city built in the 11th century about an hour outside of Kathmandu. Once in Bhaktapur heather brought us to a lovely guesthouse called Shiva guesthouse right on Durbar square (durbar means palace). The view from our window was spectacular! Every morning we would wake to the sounds of soft prayer bells coming from those who came to the square to pray. However, there were a few nights in a row that a stray dog would take up residency on top of the temple in the square andBhaktapur - Marching Band & Blair bark all night. When we say “all night” we really mean it! He would climb up there around 9 p.m. begin barking and pacing the parameter like a guard, and by 6 or 7 a.m. he would still be barking but his voice would be hoarse. Drew took up a major problem with Devil Dog (that’s what he affectionately named him) and tried shooing him away but swore laser beams from his eyes made it impossible. There were even two nights that a marching band at around 10 p.m. came through the square which were for weddings and the best thing to do was join in the fun! The funny thing is, the electricity in Nepal is pretty sparse. It usually runs for an hour or two during the day and at night it will turn on around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., they affectionately call these blackouts “power sharing.” So not many people have it so most of the time it’s either pitch black or you’re walking around in candlelight. We happened to enjoy this very much, although it did make it hard to charge our gadgets. So, at night when Devil Dog or the marching band came through the square we couldn’t really even see what was going on. Despite all of this, Bhaktapur is simply fantastic, and complete surpassed expectations.

From Bhaktapur we took several day trips. Our first was to another medieval town called Patan where Patanwe spent the day walking around and shopping. Drew also had his first meal of mo-mo’s, which are like pot stickers served with spicy dipping sauce. They only had buffalo, no veggie, but they were fantastic, and coast a whopping 15 cents a plate. The ancient towns all have a Durbar Square since there used to be so many rulers until the country became unified. In Patan’s Durbar Square we picked up a beautiful bust of Buddha that fed-ex tried telling us was an antique and wouldn’t let us ship it out of the country. We refuse to believe it actually is an antique as most durbar squares these days are heavy tourist traps selling loads of crap but just maybe…

The second day trip we took was to Kathmandu to spend another two exhilarating days at the Indian Embassy. This time around though it was much more organized and we got the information we needed in a somewhat timely manner. They told us in order to get back into India we had to have a ticket into India and a ticket out of India. We had waited to purchase these items just because we didn’t know how we wanted our trip planned as far as India went but it wound up being a good thing because it meant we spent the rest of the day getting organized and buying the tickets we needed to buy anyway. The main tourist part of Kathmandu is a neighborhood called Thamel, which could easily be compared to Khao San Rd. in Bangkok. Tourist shops, western food, knock off North face gear, and touts line the streets, while the smog eats away at your insides. It is a must to wear a handkerchief over your mouth and regardless every time you blow your nose black stuff comes out. The only other time we really experienced that was when we were in Beijing, China. In America when a baby girl is small mom’s usually put bows in their hair to make them look pretty, and to show that they are girls. In Nepal they put black eyeliner on the baby because they think accentuating the eyes is pretty and it definitely is on adult ladies but usually the baby cries and smears it all over their face. It’s certainly interesting though! We also saw lots of little kids (ages 5 to 10) smoking cigarettes, which totally caught us off guard. It was usually the kids who were severely poverty stricken with little family interaction who would also always beg for money or sweets. We started carrying around little butterscotch candies in our pockets in the event we came across these kids because that’s always a better alternative than giving them cash. We saw a group of kids huffing on the streets and that was probably the saddest thing we came across in Kathmandu. We bought a few gifts in Nepal and wanted to mail them home but found out it would cost $125 to mail since Nepal is landlocked and isn’t on any direct flight route so now we’re stuck carrying around a box of souvenirs with us that probably cost a total of $50. Hopefully India will be better for this! Regardless of all that though Nepal definitely goes down as one of the best countries we have ever been to.

After our two days in Kathmandu, we got our India visa finally sorted and headed for a town the NagarkotLonely Planet swears has the best views of the Himalayans called Nagarkot. What we didn’t realize was the first two days in Nepal the visibility was brilliant but that was a rarity. We went to Nagarkot, walked around, had some drinks on a balcony and had the visibility been great we would’ve seen the mountains perfectly, just like the book mentioned, but not since our second day here in Nepal have we had a clear day. The dust and the smog keep everything pretty darn cloudy making any view less than perfect. We enjoyed Nagarkot nonetheless but left feeling a little defeated.

We decided it was time for us to leave the Kathmandu valley for a town called Pokhara in western Nepal. We took a 7-hour bus ride west and met Damien and Edel, a lovely Irish couple, on the bus. We shared a taxi with them into town and quickly became friends. Pokhara is one of those places you go where you spend most of your time going on treks, whitewater rafting, or some other outdoor activity. The town itself sits in a valley on a major lake. The four of us knew we wanted to do something but weren’t sure what. There’s always power in numbers when traveling because you can usually get a cheaper price if there’s a bigger group so we decided to sign up with a travel company and go on a whitewater-rafting trip in two days time. In the mean time though the four of us had fun palling around Pokhara. One day we decided to climb up to a town called Sarankgot, a mere 5,500 feet high. It took us 3.5 hours and at one point or another one of us thought they were going to die of exhaustion but we finally made it to the tippy top. As far as we’re concerned, it was a great accomplishment! Unfortunately though the visibility at the top sucked and we couldn’t see anything let alone the Annapurna Range like we should’ve been able to see.

Monday arrived and it was time to head out on our whitewater rafting trip down the Seti River. A few other people had signed up for the trip as well so it ended up being the four of us plus two girls from Australia and one girl from Holland. We all got a long great, which was a major relief, and the guides were the best! We had three Nepali guys as our instructors. One sat in the boat with us, one paddled the raft with all of our gear, and then one was the safety kayaker who always followed our raft in case someone fell out. The river was low so the rapids weren’t as big as they could’ve been but the scenery was spectacular and we all had a lot of fun. The guides cooked us lunch and dinner on the first day, which consisted of things like peanut butter and jam sandwiches, coleslaw, baked beans, French fries, steamed veggies, and pasta with cheese sauce and all of it was spectacular! That night we camped on the side of the river and had a bonfire. There was a guy that called himself the “bar man” from the nearest village who came and took our drink orders. He didn’t speak a lick of English besides “beer” and “coca cola” and was super sweet. It was so peaceful and fun a long that sandy shore. I think all of us agreed that it was one of the best things we have done on our trip thus far. The next day they cooked us breakfast, we paddled for another 2.5 hours, and then we were finished but not before they cooked us another delicious lunch. Paddle Nepal was the name of the company that took us whitewater rafting and we would strongly recommend them to anyone. They were clean, professional, funny, and can whip up a mean meal with only a single gas burner. After lunch they put us all on our different buses and we went our separate ways. Damien and Edel are supposed to backpack through America starting at the end of April so we’re excited to see them again and show them around a little bit!

Tomorrow we fly to Bhadrapur, a town on the Nepal/Indian border in the eastern part of the country and from there we walk across the border into India. Our first stop in India will be to Darjeeling and then up to Sikkim and then back down to Calcutta. A fun thing we found out was that one of Drew’s old coworkers, Rikul, will be getting married in Delhi on March 18th and he invited us to the wedding. We can’t wait to get some clothes made for the special occasion!

Usually I feel ready to move on to the next country. We tend to get anxious when we know something different is right in front of us. I know Drew is ready to take on India as am I but I am also left with a feeling of wanting more. I had no expectations of Nepal, didn’t know what it held or what we would do once we arrived and am now totally captivated by how much it has it offer. One could spend months within this tiny country and still not see or do everything. It’s an interesting gathering point in Asia with a mixture of so many different cultures. I would love to come back and trek the Everest Base camp or take a guided tour into Tibet or come in October/November when the whitewater rafting is at its best! The people are beautiful (Nepali women are ridiculous hot!), the food is great, and the weather stays relatively cool. On a bright, sunny day here in Nepal it is impossible not to smile, especially when you look up and see those Himalayas.

See all of our pictures of Nepal!!

Wow, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. So, Greg, Aparna, and Dave have all come and gone andDavid relaxin' in Unawatuna Drew and I have left Sri Lanka for Nepal! We were sad to see them go and they were sad to leave beautiful and ultra friendly Sri Lanka for the east coast snowpacalype (well, not Greg because he went back to California). So, where were we? Ah yes, Greg arrived and two days later Dave and Aparna flew in and joined us in Unawatuna. It was a good thing they did, as the day before arriving I started feeling sick (fever, chills, nausea, etc.) Dr. Aparna to the rescue! Drew and Aparna went to Galle and hit up the pharmacy and scored me everything I needed for a speedy recovery. I did wind up laying in bed for nearly 3 days while the rest of them went snorkeling and diving, Dave and Aparna did a discovery dive (scuba dive for those that aren’t certified), ate delicious curries, and took in the sun. Every few hours they would check on me in our room and hang out for a bit, which was super sweet. I started getting better so we decided to pack our bags for the hill country of Kitugala.

Kitugala brought cooler temperatures at night, beautiful lush green foliage, and a crazy long river called Kitugala, cabin over the riverKelaniya Ganga. The gang (minus myself) decided to swim in the river and came out covered in gross black worms. Ugh. We stayed at a place called Rafters Retreat, which was comprised of 11 cabins overlooking the river. The owner is a man named Channa who looks like crocodile Dundee, grows his own cinnamon, tea and rubber trees, and hand built everything. His grandfather built the house he lives in, which is also on the property and is insanely awesome. Initially Dave and Aparna were the only ones to score a cabin because they booked in advance and the rest were full, but when a bus tour of older folks decided the cabins were to “natural” we scored big time and got our own. Poor GregKitugala, Channa (Croc Dundee) had a hard time sleeping in his though because he found a huge cave spider with long pinchers in his bathroom sink! We woke early the next morning and did some white water rafting. The rapids which were levels 2 to 3, had names like “butter crunch” “back breaker” and “killer falls” and really weren’t anything too major. We looked like pros in the boat while paddling but as soon as rapids approached and things got a little rough, arms, paddles, and bodies went flying. It was a little chaotic and our boating instructor got a kick out of it. We laughed the entire time. It was a great way to start the morning, being the only boat on the water watching beautiful birds and being surrounded by really neat trees. At one point our instructor gave us the thumbs up to hop out of the boat and take a quick dip in the water. I didn’t think it was a good idea because I didn’t know what was lurking in those waters. Everyone had a good time and got back in the boat while moments later we saw the hugest monitor lizard swimming around. I could’ve sworn it was a crocodile by how big it was!

After finishing our boating trip we decided we would high tail it north towards our final destination. We Waterfall in the hills, on the way to Kandytook a taxi to Kandy, another city in the hill country, and along the way visited two waterfalls and mountain terraced tea plantations. We hadn’t planned on visiting Kandy but figured it was a good stopping point for the night. Kandy’s most famous temple holds Buddha’s tooth, which Dave, Aparna, and Greg visited while Drew and I walked around. It actually was a great city and the guesthouse we stayed in, called Green Woods, was super cute with really friendly owners. It sat across from a nature preserve with colorful tropical birds, and occasionally the monkeys would come out and sit on their balcony. So fun! The next morning we woke and took another taxi to Dambulla, a city in the ancient cities region of Sri Lanka, to check in to the Heritance Kandalama Hotel. We had booked this hotel months ago as a treat. It is always nice to intersperse the trip with high-end accommodations to sorta recharge your batteries. The Kandalama is apparently the world’s first “green building” built in 1994. It is built into the base of a mountain, sits on the edge of an ancient lake, and has loads ofThe monkey's visit our room!! monkeys, wild boar, and elephants roaming freely around it, not to mention great clean swimming pools. Speaking of monkeys, our first morning there we woke to probably 20 monkeys sitting on our balcony watching us sleep through our sliding glass doors. The best part of the hotel in my opinion was the food. For breakfast and dinner they had a gigantic buffet filled with both Sri Lankan and western dishes. The first evening we scarfed so much food it was ridiculous! It was the first time in what felt like forever that I saw salad! At this point I was feeling better but I still had a weird sensation in my belly from being sick. The food did the trick and allowed me to get totally back on “track”. It was a spectacular place but like most fancy hotels everything is over priced and they nickel and dime you, and on a 3-month long trip you can’t go crazy with stuff like that.

It was at the Kandalama that Drew hopped online to find his checking account completely drained by fraudulent jewelry purchases in India, we hadn’t even been to India yet aside from Airports! We’re still working on getting that cleared up with his bank, but it just goes to show how easy it can happen! At that point we’d only used our cards maybe 3 times at ATM’s (which are scarce in Sri Lanka) and for no major purchases! Scary stuff! Thankfully the bulk of his money was in his savings account.

The main tourist attractions in Dambulla are Sigiriya and the Cave Temples. Sigiriya is pretty hard to Sigiriya and gangexplain so I’ll tell you what Lonely Plant has to say about it. “From a geological point of view it is the hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano that long ago eroded away. Peppered with natural cave shelters and overhangs… probably inhabited in prehistoric times. Popular myth says that the formation served royal and military functions during the reign of King Kassapa (AD 477-495). A new theory, supported by archeological evidence instead of local legend, suggest that it was never a fortress or palace, but rather a long-standing Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist monastery built several centuries before King Kassapa. Monks were using it as a mountain hermitage by the 3rd century BC.” Whatever the case may be, Sigiriya was nothing less than breathtaking! It wasn’t as long of a trip up as I had though but I certainly got scared towards the top (I don’t do well with heights!) once on top of the rock, looking out over all the land, it was spectacular! It was definitely the next best thing to Angkor Wat in Cambodia that I’ve ever seen.

Next we ventured to 5 Cave Temples that housed beautiful Buddha statues that date back to the 1stDambulla Caves century BC. They are said to have been a haven for King Valagamba when he was driven out of power. When he regained his throne he had the caves carved into temples as a gift, which were later improved upon by future kings. In all there are 150 images of Buddha within the caves and they were all very, very magnificent! We spent our last night together having our way with a bottle of arrack. “Of course” it enabled a 3 hour conversation about the
inexistence of human free will… I am definitely blaming the arrack, Greg is blaming Dave and Aparna. LOVE YOU GUYS!!!

The next morning Dave and Aparna headed straight for the airport to fly back to Baltimore, MD and Drew, Greg, and I took a bus to a town called Negombo that sits just north of Colombo near the airport. The three of us cruised around there for two days, biding our time before our respective flights. Greg was traveling home and Drew and I were traveling north to Nepal. Unfortunately we had two layovers in India where we had a really hard time with our visas (exactly Negombo, the kids of St. Mary'swhat happened on the way to Sri Lanka) and now have to visit the Indian embassy here in Katmandu to get permission AGAIN to travel into India since for some ludicrous reason changing planes in India counts as use of your visa. Ugh. If for some reason we get denied this time around Drew and I are already scheming for other countries to see… Maldives anyone?? We should say that Sri Lanka was one of the most friendly and beautiful countries we have ever had the privilege of visiting. From gorgeous relaxing beaches to cool breath-taking mountains, for such a small country, it has a wealth to offer. For now, we’re in Bahktapur, Nepal loving life to the fullest! Nepal is absolutely stunning and may even top the list as the best country we’ve ever been to, and we are only on day two, but that’s saved for the next entry…

View our photos of Sri Lanka!!!

See Greg’s excellent photos of Sri Lanka!!!

Unawatuna & Galle

February 2, 2010

It’s hard to capture all of the things we encounter on these trips without getting too lengthy. The best way to convey this past week is in small descriptions. Our friend Greg is arriving today and we could not be more excited to share the people, food, and spots we’ve discovered with him.

In the last few days we’ve been pretty busy. We dove Napoleon reef, and were treated to Morey eel, triggerfish and a huge grouper. The reef is hurting, but apparently on a bit of a rebound. In 1994 the ocean changed temperature very quickly (2 degrees). What may seem like a small change was enough to wipe out 80% of the live coral. Again, it’s making a come back due to replanting and protection, but an obvious canary in the coalmine for climate change. They estimate 5% of the reef was destroyed by the tsunami as well.

We found a fantastic roadside rotti shop run by our now friend Cecil. Cecil and his sweet young and mute son/sous-chef have been great with giving us the skinny on the presidential election, local news and the lowdown on cricket (everyone here is fanatical about the game!). You see pick-up games, kids and adults, everywhere you go city to country. Cecil also makes great buffalo curd lassi’s, bang and all.

We took a day to scope out the rest of the beaches on the south coast, though we didn’t make it to Tangalle. Mirissa was by far the clear winner. About 1/10th the size of Unawatuna, so it doesn’t have the variety of guesthouses and restaurants, but it more than makes up for it with its amazing beach, a good surfing break on the west bay, and fun climbing outlooks on the east. We are definitely going to suggest it to the team once every one gets here.

As far as food goes in Unawatuna, our favorite veggie place, South Ceylon Vegetarian Restaurant, is perched on the second floor balcony over the guesthouse. As Sri Lankan’s cook in their kitchens with internal wood ovens, the second floor is perfect for smelling the bbq and keeps the mosquitoes away. It’s aromatically hypnotizing. The lonely planet mentions Jina’s Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant, but South Ceylon is the original, and much better quality. South Ceylon is run by a Sri Lankan woman and her British husband, and they and their place rules it! We have a food specific post coming, and we will go into detail.

Another day trip was to Galle. Reported to be the best-maintained colonial fort in South Asia. It was first build by the Portuguese then taken over by the Dutch in the 16th century, and then the British. Walking the perimeter of the fort was great. Apparently it is THE place to go for young courting couples. There were tons of boutique hotels, and crafts in the interesting different Muslim section of town. We even caught a Sri Lankan film crew in action. We bused there for 17 rupees (15 cents) but opted for a tuk-tuk home, we would have spent a good bit more time, but it was raining

At the end of the day we opted to walk up to the temple and dagoba (stupa) at the west end of Unawatuna bay, we also wanted to see if we could find a great beach we read about on the other side of the outcropping, jungle beach. We made it to the top, and then felt very bashful about not having pants on (having your legs covered at a religious site is the right thing to do). We jumped down the rocks and discovered an amazing makeshift sunset bar on the top of the rocks, right next to a bellowing ocean blowhole. We sat in the seats and sure enough a waiter comes up the hill out of the bushes to take our beer order. Cold and delicious Lion Lager, with a sunset that pictures cannot do justice.

Yesterday was lil Mrs. Ringo’s 27th b-day. Starting with a delicious breakfast at our fave vegetarian/vegan restaurant (though we have been loving traditional brekkie) we opted for huevos rancheros and coffee. Later, the cute guys at guesthouse surprised Blair with an extra special lunch plate. Still later, after some mean rain, I surprised Blair to a full body Ayurvedac message, apparently the oldest form of documented medical treatment in the world – think like gentle oil message. Dinner was special too, ending with birthday tiramisu and a candle.

To update:
Greg got here yesterday (February 1st) safe and sound. He was a trooper and stayed up until roughly 9 p.m. so he could get on our time schedule. Drew and Greg just set sail in a boat to do a reef dive so Greg could get reacquainted with the dive gear and acquainted with the water. Tomorrow we will do the wreck dive, Rangoon, first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon we welcome the arrival of Dave and Aparna!

See our photos of Sri Lanka!!!

We woke up this morning and watched the sun rise while sitting on the sand eating delicious fruit breaky in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka; a beautiful view, with moon stone blue water, sandy half moon shaped beach and stunning Buddhist temple. Our Lonely Planet guide told us that this place was a small town that hadSri Lanka - Unawatuna been demolished in the tsunami of 2004 but was quickly rebuilt with a lot of help from foreigners who hold this place near and dear to them. Looking down the beach at all the guest houses and restaurants one would never know anything so tragic happened to this place. It is now bustling with people (Lonely Planet is a wee bit outdated as far as that goes), restaurants, resorts, guesthouses, and jewelry shops. We’ve found multiple vegetarian and vegan restaurants, there’s yoga in the sanctuary gardens every morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and internet cafes are out while free wi-fi at restaurants and cafes are in. It wasn’t always so easy though. Lets rewind a couple days and start at the beginning…

Drew, our beautiful friend Aparna, and I set sail on Friday, January 22nd, 2010 from JFK airport on a non-stop flight to Mumbai, India. Unfortunately we couldn’t all sit together since we didn’t book together but luckily Drew and I I asked for one drink, got threewound up sitting with a sweet man named Raj. Raj was born and raised in Mumbai and came to the states in the early 80s to attend the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He now works for Berkshire Hathaway so he and Drew got a kick out of talking about what a cool guy Warren Buffet is. He answered all of our silly questions about India and persevered with us getting up and sitting down since he had the aisle seat for the entire 14-hour flight. It honestly was a truly quick 14-hour flight. We watched what I believe to be the worst film on 2009 on the flight, 500 Days of Summer. Another 20something movie that name drops The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian as new discoveries and Zooey Deschanel talking about her love for Springsteen and the afore mentioned made us roll my eyes in disgust. I must say though, we did get a kick out of watching ‘2.5 men’ on the flight. Ahhhh guilty pleasures!

As soon as we landed in Mumbai we exited the plane onto the tarmac and hopped on to a bus. We parted with Aparna here as she went off to visit her Grandma and would meet up with us in roughly a week in Sri Lanka with her husband, and one of our favorite people David. The first thing we noticed upon arrival was the intense humidity (it was 10:30 p.m.) and the construction. It looked as if the entire airport was under construction and from what we can gather it’s that way through much of India. We had 6 hours to kill in the airport before our flight to Sri Lanka so we killed it watching BBC news and sleeping. Another thing we noticed almost immediately were the mosquitoes. Even in the airport we were bombarded with the little buggers! Once in Mumbai we changed into shorts and flip-flops and quickly noticed we were the only ones. We couldn’t have looked more American or touristy…

We took our flight to Chennai, India where we had a layover on the way to Sri Lanka. This is where things got sticky. Everything was going smoothly until it was time to board the flight to Sri Lanka. They made us go through immigration and customs and it was there they stamped our passports with the dreaded “No Entry for 2 Months” stamp. Now, most of you don’t know this but a few weeks ago (after we paid $200 for our Indian Visas) India made a new rule where you cannot reenter the country after leaving for 2 months. The thing is, we never even left the airport! How dare they stamp our passport with that garbage! We knew it was going to be something we had to deal with at some point; we just didn’t know it would be this soon. The only option for us was to visit the India High Commission and get permission in Sri Lanka so we could continue with our trip as planned. We wound up staying in Colombo, Sri Lanka for an entire extra day spent at the High Commission amongst other westerners waiting… and waiting… and waiting. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Awesome. As they started to call other’s names to the desk we saw one person after another get DENIED. There was even a guy there from Canada who had applied for an Indian Visa and they granted it to him but screwed up the dates that he had written down making it so he couldn’t go when he needed. They were unhelpful and told him to reapply, which is a $50 and 2 week process. I can’t even imagine being in his shoes. When we finally heard our names called and saw we got permission “for humanitarian reasons” it was a huge victory and a giant weight off our shoulders. We asked no questions, said many ‘thanks you’s’ and went next door to one of the fanciest hotels in all of Colombo, the Galle Face Hotel, sat in their court yard that over looked the ocean catching the last few minutes of sunset, and had our victory drinks! The next morning we were headed on the first bus out of town to Unawatuna. We forgot to add that the first day while walking around trying to find the High Commission Blair started not to feel well and wound up puking behind a gas station amongst black birds and dogs. We forgot about the fact that you aren’t supposed to take your malaria meds on an empty stomach. We are slowly but surely getting our travel legs underneath of us even if it means learning the hard way!

We landed in Unawatuna yesterday and took up residence at a guesthouse called SurfCity. Back in the late 1970’s southern Sri Lanka greeted its first surfers from Australia. Ever since it’s grown into a popular tourist destination; we seem to overhear mostly Brits and Germans/Austrians and the clientele here in Unawatuna is mainly older (50+). I must be honest and tell you I was hoping for something a little less populated and touristy but I would be silly to even complain. As we look out over the ocean all we can think of is the fact that we’re looking out over the end of the world. If we had superpowers and could see for miles and miles the next place we’d be looking at is Antarctica. It’s interesting to see the amount of big vessels and ships out on the horizon being that it’s a major route along the ocean between Japan, china, and other Southeast Asian countries and Africa, India and other eastern (or western depending on where you’re at) destinations.

Drew and I are moving guesthouses today to somewhere a little bit cheaper. $17 to stay on the beach is a little out of our price range so we’re moving across the street. We met a great dive master and are planning a reef dive for the afternoon and are going to scout some other beaches as we wait for Greg, Aparna, and Dave to join us in a week or so.

See our photos of Sri Lanka!!!

Slack Nutterfluffer!!!!

December 18, 2009

When I was a kid, my Dad would start every trip with the same “Dad joke.”

Dad: What did Washington say before crossing the Delaware?

Kids: *Grown*

Dad: Get in the boat men!!

photo Now, Blair and I start every trip by saving a bunch of money and quiting our  jobs.  She finished her choo-choo train movie and got home two days ago, and today is my last day.   Next its the holiday’s with friends and family, and then (1/22) its off to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal & Egypt.  We could not be more excited!!!!  Please come with us!!!!!!

I want my Bali!!!

April 25, 2008

48 hours of real travelin’.  40 minutes on the back of a truck.  We get the boat, see the fans and cushy mattresses and think it looks sweet.  We then find out we are sentenced down below, to sleeping on grass mats, sans fan, 4 foot overhead clearance.  Trying to sleep was a waste of time so I sat up on the bow half the night watching the stars, small rocky islands and bright lights of the squid fishing fleet.  We arrived at the docks of Surat Thani in the morning, and were gently-form fittingly packed into tuk-tuks which drove us thru town to a tourist office.  From there we were picked up by a minivan and driven a few hours to the Malaysian boarder.  We crossed the boarder, loaded onto a bus, and road the next day through Malaysia to Singapore (the bus was actually very nice, air conditioned, and we watched I Am Legend dubbed in Malaysian(It was better).  We arrived in Singapore as the bars closed, and fought for an expensive taxi to the airport.  Our 150 dollar flight somehow turned to 300 each, and another 12 hours of sleeping in the airport. We thought we were in sheitesville, BUT THEN WE DISCOVERED SINGAPORE AIRPORT!

  • free computers and internet at every turn.
  • two free 24 hour movie theaters
  • free swimming pool (also 24 hour)
  • TV lounges with tons of channels
  • free coffee
  • free arcades and on-line game rooms
  • free, free, free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Airport empolyees actually greeted us and asked how they could improve the airport. The only thing I could think of was free beer and Mexican food.  The 12 hours melted away, and we caught our flight to Indonesia. 

We got into Bali late, haggled the taxi drivers for a bit less then an hour, and finally got a decent price for the 16 km trip to Sanur.  Getting in late is a gamble, it means either a buyers or renters market.  That night went to the renters, and we paid dearly for our mold crusted walls.  We found much happier confines the next day at Julia 2, and began the final lap of our travels.  Indonesia proved the perfect choice…

Again, we were tavilin’

D and B

Koh Tao

April 11, 2008

after an all night bus ride and an hour and a half on a boat, we finally made it to koh tao.  koh tao is an island about 70km off the eastern coast of thailand in the gulf.  we were turned on to koh tao over all the other islands after my good pal jason visited it last november and came back raving.  like i said in my previous post, we owe jason a huge ‘thank you’ for scouting out this location prior to going.  southern thailand is full of so many different islands on both the east and west coast so it’s easy to get bad information.  trust me when i say that koh tao could never be a let down (unless of course you’re looking to get drunk at the full moon party, fall down, and hurt yourself.  then you should stay far away and leave koh tao alone).  on our boat ride to the island drew and i saw a bunch of flying fish.  this was my first time seeing them and definitely wasn’t the last. 

like every other place we’ve visited, we spent no time getting right down to it, figuring out what’s good and where to go.  we knew we wanted to stay on the side of the island that jason suggested so we headed there and immediately found a dive resort that we thought suited us.  This was the first time too, that the cold shower only guesthouses were more of a benefit then not…  It was HOT… 

Up until this point i didn’t think there was a chance in hell that i’d go scuba diving with drew because i’m so scared of the ocean, however on the ride to koh tao something changed in me and i grew some guts. 

we spent the next four days, 8 to 9 hours a day getting our open water scuba diving certification from the Buddha View Dive Resort in Chalok Baan Kao Bay.  there were two other people in our class, brian and esmee.  brian is from england and esmee from ireland and they had been friends since birth so naturally they acted more like brother and sister than anything.  our dive master was a guy named Jesper (pronounced Yespa) from Denmark.  he had bright red hair, blue eyes, and a very dry, clever sense of humor.  we loved him!  our first day centered around the classroom and the swimming pool, while our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th days were in the ocean.  oh! i forgot to mention, drew was certified years ago in Belize but apparently his training was pretty crappy and he didn’t feel he knew what he should, so he did it again.  he also had a different certification, while the one we got in koh tao is a PADI certification which is now the most widely recognized and some say best!  scuba diving is so much more complicated than i ever would’ve imagined.  it’s not hard, there’s just a lot to it.  with a little bit of practice though and some repitition you get it pretty quick. 

esmee and brian have a good friend named mick (a true old salty brit) that’s living in koh tao becoming a dive master.  he buddied up on our course to get some more dives under his belt and watch jesper as an instructor.  mick is renting out this crazy mountain bungalow for the duration of his stay.  when i say ‘renting out a bungalow’ i mean, he is renting the whole place and managing it with his ladyfriend.  the view is absolutely spectactular from there! the place looks like a giant treefort that lover looks mountains and ocean.  doesn’t get much better than that! 

after we were officially open water divers we spent the rest of our time cruising the island on our motorbike.  every evening we set up shop at this bar that sits right on the beach.  it’s got a deck with bean bags and low tables, a bar, and a killer buffet so we’d go and relax there.  the bar is actually associated with buddha view so we managed to see a lot of familiar faces there, which is always comforting as well.  just thinking about that buffet, i really miss the potatoes smothered in cheese and sour creme they had. oh man…

one of our last days there we managed to rent some snorkel gear and go to shark bay.  a few days before we went to this bar that overlooks shark bay and from the bar you can sit there and actually see the sharks swimming around.  they don’t come in close to shore but the whole bay is so shallow they’re still in only knee deep water.  this freaked me out.  again though, i wanted to be brave and try snorkeling there.  we got into the water, swam out a bit, and i immediately freaked out.  i stood up and told drew i couldn’t do it and started walking back to shore practically in tears.  had i not gone to that bar to actually see the sharks, i think i would’ve gone in but once i knew they were there and in really shallow waters, i spazzed.  drew did the snorkel by himself (sorry!) and i laid on shore waiting for him.  he came back and said that he was scared too but held it in because he knew i was far worse than him.  he was swimming around and hadn’t seen anything when a shark came bolting past (4 or 5 feet) him from behind!!  i know had i been in the water my heart would’ve stopped at that very moment.  he kept going though and eventually had five reef sharks swimming around with him!  the sharks are black fin reef sharks that wouldn’t harm anyone but those beedy eyes and sleek bodies are enough to keep me out of those waters.

after 10 luxurious days on koh tao we decided it was time to move on and head south to bali.  it was a bit of a struggle getting us to figure out how we were going to get there because at this point we’d started to give up a little and slow down.  we were fighting ourselves to get all the logistics squared away because our brains were so tired of doing the math.  i gotta say though, we had faith that bali would be far worth the energy…