Erik’s Half-Way Sur-Vey

1. What has been your favorite place and why?

There are a ton of really memorable and amazing places, and going back through our pictures and posts, I kept saying “oh yeah, that was so cool!” But when I just sit back and think about our trip so far, the one thing that most readily pops into my head is trekking in Nepal. So many things came together on that part of our trip. The trek itself was amazing, combining one of our favorite activities with amazing surroundings, and completing a lifelong dream in the process. But the country itself was just fantastic as well. The people were really friendly, Pokhara was a great city to relax in before and after our hike, the local food was great, and everything was cheap! What more could you ask? In the middle of our trek, we were already planning the logistics for coming back and hiking other trails; how better to know you’ve fallen in love with a place?

2. What has been your least favorite place and why?

Delhi. This is slightly unfair, as it was our first stop and a major culture shock. I’m willing to give India a second chance, but really, Delhi was a truly horrible first impression. Thick smog everywhere, blotting out the sun and making breathing painful. Deceitful, manipulative locals constantly trying to cheat you and get your money. Everything was filthy, though I got over that quickly. My impression of the place was definitely not helped by the horrific food poisoning we got while there, either.

3. Funny story?

So, on the topic of that horrific food poisoning… We had come down with something nasty after an all you can eat buffet and at-table barbecue, and after a fitful night, we woke up and got hit hard. The next 48 hours was this macabre joke of two people, one bathroom, one trashcan, and four constantly exploding orifices. It was a delicate dance, surprisingly mostly succesful, and even now, I chuckle thinking back on some of the interactions that took place. Best line of the day; as I was crouched over the side of the bed, groaning and hurling into the nearby trashcan, I hear from Alina in the bathroom, “I’m peeing out of my butt!” Even at the time, it made me laugh at our ridiculous situation.

4. Embarrassing moment?

Alina gets much more easily embarrassed than I do, at least for most things. Thinking back over our trip, there’s not much I was really embarrassed about, probably largely because if you’re never going to see someone again in your life, who cares what they think? Here’s an example though, of where I felt a bit awkward, if not really embarrassed, and I think Alina was pretty mortified.

When we arrived in Melbourne, our hosts were really nice and took us out to the local supermarket to do a bit of shopping. As we walked through the store, they talked up all the high quality meats, fresh vegetables, and fancy cans of tuna. Meanwhile, we’ve been eating frozen meat, store brand pasta, basically the cheapest stuff we can find. We tried our best to avoid buying anything pricey, and limited ourselves to just a small basket, planning to return after they’d left for their vacation to do our real shopping. I even swapped out a few things in our cart for store-brand versions when no one was looking. The worst was when they were extolling the virtues of free range, organic eggs, which we totally agree with. But we’re poor, and Australia is expensive, so we just had to sit there, agree, and then sheepishly reach for the carton of cage eggs. So yeah, more awkward really, and we felt bad because they were really being so nice recommending things and taking us out in the first place.

5. Most and least favorite food?

Maybe this isn’t the most interesting answer, but my favorite food so far has been Pad Thai. It’s not the most unique, nor does it have the most vibrant flavors, but I ALWAYS wanted to eat it when we were in Thailand, which says a lot. Every place we went had a different spin, and while there were certainly some lackluster results, some of the others were amazing. Of course, the best we had was what we made ourselves during our cooking course.

Least favorite is easy. Whatever thrice-damned bit of meat or whatever got us horribly sick in Delhi. I couldn’t even think about eating Indian food for 2 months after that. Otherwise, I think every food I’ve tried has been really tasty.

6. What have you learned about the world?

It’s much smaller than people think. You think about all these places that are sooo far away, and how they are “once in a lifetime” places to visit, but it’s just not so. Sure, the flight to Bali or Kathmandu might be more than the flight to London or Paris. But guess what? It’s a hell of a lot cheaper once you get there. On a 3-4 week trip, things more than balance out. It’s really been eye opening to finally visit places where your money just goes really really far and to realize that visiting these places regularly is an achievable goal. Or hey, it’s only another $100 to get from Singapore to Australia. So why not? That being said, the Pacific is genuinely big, and I’m not looking forward to our crossing from New Zealand.  (Though we just bought our tickets, and we’re stopping in Fiji!!!)

7. What have you learned about yourself?

I’m disappointingly unmotivated. While it’s easy to forget about everything when you’re busy every day traveling, or sightseeing, or hiking, it’s another thing when you’re housesitting in one place for an extended period. There’s so many great things I could be doing to better myself, like teaching myself programming languages or about web development. Or I could be looking for a new job, or for other opportunities. Instead, I’m perfectly happy to just sit about and read.  It’s not usually even reading a good book. Often, I just seem to laze away the day reading internet message boards. It IS a vacation, but still, I wish I had more motivation to make the most of the copious time that I have right now. I am trying to learn some Spanish before we head to South America, but it’s going slower than I’d like at the moment. Perhaps that will be a resolution in New Zealand. Devote more time to actually useful things, and spend less time mucking about.

8. What have you learned about Alina?

She’ll try to tell you otherwise, but Alina is a really great caretaker. When I got really sick with some random tropical disease in Thailand, she spent three weeks looking after me. Spongeing me during the fevers, bundling me up and making tea during 3 AM shaking bouts, being patient when I couldn’t walk more than a block or so at a time, she did a really great job. She’ll say that she was super frustrated, and pissed off, and just wanted to yell at me sometimes, but you know what, she didn’t do that. She just gritted her teeth and dealt with me, and helped me recover.

9. One thing you wish you brought?

I wish I had a real laptop. When we set off, we decided to bring one netbook and one iPad, to share as needed. In the end, Alina has needed the laptop for working most of the time, so I’ve sort of taken over the iPad. While it’s great for some things, it is definitely not a computer replacement, and I often miss that versatility. That being said, I love the size and weight of the iPad for travel, so I’m not sure I’d actually make a change if it came down to it.

On a secondary note, something I wish we had, but don’t wish we’d brought, is a tent. There have been, or will be, times when we’re in places where we could camp, or go on a trek, and it would be great not to have to think about renting a tent, or finding huts to stay in. But, for this kind of trip, I wouldn’t actually want to carry the thing around through cities and such. Even our sleeping bags seem a hassle much of the time, though I am glad we have those.

10. One thing you can’t live without?

I’m going to cheat again, and list two things. First, the internet. Both for good and bad reasons. I honestly can’t fathom trying to do a trip like this without being able to do planning online, beforehand and in the middle of the trip. How did people do this 30 years ago when you had to arrange everything in advance, or just show up somewhere and hope for the best? Given how much we like to do things at the last minute, online resources have been a lifesaver.

Now, for the other thing I couldn’t live without; a traveling partner. I’m just not cut out for doing this kind of trip solo. Sure, I could do short trips like treks in the Himalaya by myself, but the rest would be overwhelming. Exploring cities and experiencing culture is something that needs to be shared, and I’m not the kind of person who could easily meet up with people in hostels or whatever. I am so happy that I can share it with Alina as we travel, and I love the fact that we’re making all these memories together.

And now I’ve been told that the intent of this question was to list an actual physical object that I brought along that I’ve found indispensable.  Ok, I can do that.  Besides our oral re-hydration salts, which we may quite literally not have been able to live without (a slight exaggeration?), I’ll go with my Sea-To-Summit sil-nylon day pack. I knew I wanted something to carry around lunches, and books, and to take as a carry on on buses and planes and such. But a backpack is so bulky! This thing is great though. It weighs like 2 ounces and packs up into a ball half the size of my fist. I could wish for another internal pocket or two, but it’s really, really been great. It even survived an assault by vile beach monkeys, with the bite holes swiftly dealt with by the ripstop fabric.

11. Best travel advice you have?

Don’t move too much, but at the same time, don’t move too little. When I started thinking about answers to this survey, only the first half of that sentence was on my mind, but I’ve expanded it now. Let me explain. So, many people do these whirlwind tours. Two days in this city, hop on a bus, two more days somewhere else, see some ruins, take a flight, on and on and on. I’ve done this before, and sure you see a lot, but you don’t experience much, and you don’t come back with a real sense of where you’ve been. This trip has been much different. We’ve tried to spend about a week most places we’ve headed, and when we’ve done so, it’s been great. Just having the time to walk around lazily for a few days trying out new food stalls or exploring public spaces is such a relief. Or knowing that you can sleep in, or relax in your hostel for a few hours without feeling like you’re missing out on something amazing.

At the same time, after a series of longer housesits, I’m really ready to do some traveling again. Due to our finances, it’s turned out that the only feasible way to visit Australia and New Zealand is via housesitting, but it means several months in a row of staying in pretty much the same place. I think what we did in Asia, with about a month of moving every week, then a month housesitting, then another month or two of moving around, was more ideal. But you know what? I also remember being on Bali longing for our housesit outside Cairns to start so we could just relax. So maybe my views are being unduly colored by my most recent experiences. A healthy middle ground is probably the best.

12. Thing that has most surprised you?

I was really surprised how much I ended up liking Singapore. From reading various things and watching a few programs, I had this impression that it was very sterile and regimented. Sort of this gigantic city of skyscrapers. When we were there though, it seemed much more relaxed, with plenty of green space, people everywhere shopping and having a great time. Sure, things were extremely clean, and there was a strange degree of order with people lining up for taxis and buses, but it was much more carefree than I would have thought. Especially when we visited the marina at night, there were couples out for strolls, tons of joggers running around the bay, and all sorts of lights and music. It seemed really friendly and a great place to spend more time. Now if only it weren’t completely un-affordable.

I was also really surprised when we were on the second half of our Annapurna Sanctuary trek, walking down out of the mountains, and I actually thought to myself that I was bored. How could I be bored in such an amazing place, doing something I’d been wanting to do forever?!? I think it’s a weird combination of having the climax (and a spectacular climax) be in the middle of the trip, and of having it be a bit of an “out and back” trip, where the second half is much like the first. I think that at that time, I didn’t really appreciate how amazing it was just staying in these little villages, and I was thinking of moving on to the next thing already. I hope that next time we’re there I can try to experience it a bit more fully and really get into the day to day spirit of trekking and encountering new villages.

13. Something you would do if you had more time/money?

Easy. Borneo. When we originally were coming up with our plans to visit Malaysia, and deciding what to do in three weeks, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an itinerary that would get us to the island of Borneo while still seeing things on the mainland. There was so much great stuff. Climbing Mt. Kinabalu, delving into the largest caves in the world, filled with millions of bats, diving in the best reefs of the world, or traveling up a jungle river to visit tribal longhouses. But guess what? Turns out that everything on Borneo requires an expensive guide, an expensive permit, and a lot of time. It just was not possible to justify flying over there when our experience would be so lacking. It’s definitely at the top of my list for places to head back to when I have at least a month to dedicate to exploring the place, and sufficient money to really do all the things I’d love to do. It’s really a haven for adventure and exploration, and I’m a bit sad we couldn’t make it work on this trip.

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