A Traveler’s Terrene

You only live once. What are you going to remember the most?

I’m back! June 23, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip,Vietnam — italicana kitchen @ 6:58 pm
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Unfortunately, the past few months I have spent more time updating my vivid daily journal and have been horrible at keeping my blog updated. But, by popular request (or actually stern prodding by my brother Mark), I promise to keep this updated more regularly so I can share the remainder of my travel experiences with family, friends, and fellow travelers. My great intentions to have this as a resourceful travel blog for other travelers may have to wait until I take my next round the world trip (and surprisingly yes, I’m already scheming it), as below I have just provided a number of posts recapping memorable moments in New Zealand (South Island), China, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia. Enjoy!

Where am I now? Suzanne and I arrived in Vietnam a few days ago and are heading down to the Mekong River Delta for three days to view the floating villages and explore more of the countryside before returning to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay tuned for more details!

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Recap: Cambodia

Filed under: Cambodia,Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 6:34 pm
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Each country I have been to thus far has affected me in it’s own unique way. New Zealand fed my hungry appetite for adventure and tramping in the outdoors. China presented me with a colorful history coupled with beautiful chaos. Thailand spoiled me with mouth-watering food and secluded tropical beaches. And, Malaysia showcased her natural beauty: sparkling beaches, fascinating wildlife and a breathtaking underwater world. Cambodia, by contrast, has revealed to me her horrific past and daily struggle to overcome tragedy. Traveling in Cambodia has, thus far, been the most emotional and inspirational country I have visited.

Prior to stepping foot in Cambodia, I read the novel “At First They Killed my Father,” by Loung Ung. This powerful book, told through the voice of a five year old child, takes the reader through the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979), a period in which Pol Pot rained terror over Cambodia, killing off 1/5 of the country’s total population through execution, starvation and forced labor. The regime mostly targeted those who had the potential to undermine the New State. They ruthlessly disposed of doctors, lawyers, teachers, former military members and intellectuals because they were seen as a threat–killing not only the individuals but entire families. Even people with glasses or soft hands were quickly disposed of.

Even after reading about Ung’s horrific experience, it still didn’t prepare me for the raw emotions and heartache that surged through every part of my body as I walked through Choeung Ek, also known as The Killing Fields, an area outside of Phnom Penh that was used to execute and bury thousands of innocent victims. Within the first 20 feet of the entrance stood a massive statue with over 8000 skulls lining the inside and a heap of clothes piled at the bottom. My head swirled and my stomach became queasy like i had just gotten off a boat on rough seas.

Our guide had us follow him to additional mass graves, where articles of tattered clothing could be seen poking out under the muddy path. He stooped down and picked up a human tooth that was lying on the ground as he explained the brutal torture methods used by the Khmer Rouge. To save bullets, adults were clubbed in the head with blunt instruments or their throats were sliced with the sharp edges of baby palm leaves. As for the babies, they tossed them into the air spearing them with their bayonet or held them like a baseball bat and hit them across a tree.

Throughout the tuk tuk ride to Tuol Sleng Museum, the former Tuol Svey Prey High School, I choked back tears but as I walked past row after row of the victims’ photos, I silently let them fall. Babies, children, teenagers and adults stared back at me with looks of fear, hatred, confusion and utter hopelessness–it was one of the most heartbreaking afternoons of my life.

Although horrific, going to The Killing Fields and museum helps to explain the current state of Cambodian society. It gave me perspective and understanding of why poverty levels are so high, infrastructure still poor, and education systems lacking. It is a nation rebuilding itself, trying to regain what was so brutally stripped from them only a mere 30 years ago.

 

Recap: Malaysia

Filed under: Malaysia,Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 6:31 pm
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Malaysia: Highlights and Memories

West Malaysia

1. Walking the streets of Penang while marveling at the contrast between the old run down buildings, colonial architecture and Chinese temples mixed and mashed along side each other on the same street.

2. Drinking Malaysian coffee while listening to jazz music in a quaint little neighborhood cafe. This deep black roasted coffee could possible rival (dare I say) Italian espresso, it really is that good.

3. Miscalculating new currency.Suzanne eyed a beautiful piece of art at a shop on our way out to the Botanical Gardens.

“Wow, that’s only $20,” I exclaimed after converting 200 Ringgit to American dollars in my head. She agreed it was a steal of a price and within moments had the purchased piece of art in a sack as we walked out the shop door. About half a block away from the shop, Suzanne stops dead in her tracks.

“Wait!” She suddenly comments. “That wasn’t 20 dollars…that was 200 dollars!”

Ahh, yes…that would be correct. We were still in the mindset of Thai Baht, not Malaysian Ringgit.

4. Discovering the world’s most hidden jewel, the Perhentian Islands.What originally was going to be a three to four day stay at Perhentian Kecil turned into nine days. Life was too good. $5 for a bungalow off of a soft white sand, clear torquise water beach, who could ask for more?

5. Becoming fast and close friends with 20+ fellow travellers from around the world. We spent practically every moment together, swimming, playing volleyball, talking about life/travels, snorkeling, and thinking up amusing ways to pass the time–like digging a 4 foot hole to play charades in or dressing up in ferns and flowers for a night out. The best part of travelling is the people I have met along the way and the surprising tight bond of friendship I have formed in such a short time.

6. Touching a wild sea turtle! We spent the afternoon on a snorkeling tour around the island where we saw reef sharks, vibrant shades of coral, a variety of fish and my favorite, a sea turtle. I hovered over the turtle as it lazily glided below me. Then, as it came up for air, I swam right alongside it, hand caressing the smooth shell until it began it’s decent to deeper depths. It was in that moment, that I knew I wanted to explore more of the underwater world.

East Malaysia (Borneo)

1. Watching the cute orange Organgutans at the Sepiloc Orangutan Sanctuary. With their long arms and slow graceful strides they made their way along a rope tied between two trees to where the bananas and milk awaited for them. I felt like a child at a zoo intently watching their every move.

2. Spending three days exploring the Kinabatangan River and jungle. I sat in a small motor boat as it slowly moved alongside the shores of the jungle. From a distance we saw tree fulls of Long Tail Macaws and Proboscis monkeys swinging among the branches, squabbling over food, and lazily sleeping in the nooks of the trees. A Spitting Cobra snake glided through the water, our boat tailing it closely–I waited in fear for it to leap from the water and bite me. Small crocodiles with their eyes peaking up from the muddy banks of the river seemed to glare at us as we continued on.

During our walk through the jungle, I stomped through the muddy trail in my rubber boots like a 5 year old child–I enjoyed the feeling of getting dirty. Variety of bugs lined the floors and sunlight shone down in beams through the small open spaces of the trees. We left the path and went on a hunt in search of the wild orangutan making rustling noises nearby. Our guide, chopped down leaves with his machete as we followed behind. My arms and legs covered head to toe, were still attacked by leeches that “leeched” out at us from tree leaves like a small child reaching for it’s mother.

3. Getting my PADI Certification and diving in Sipidan, one of the top 5 dive spots in the world. Ed, our English instructor extraordinaire, led Suzanne and I to depths of up to 18 meters where a whole new world awaited all this time. Before me stood a reef containing hundred of thousands of different types of coral: pale pink shaped mushrooms, squishy red tubes and elephant ear sized discs just to name a few. Swimming past me where Angel and Parrot fish while lobsters with their long antennas peaked out from the holes in the rocks. Little Nemos shyly hid in the anemone while Green and Hawksbill turtles lazily moved past, holding my gaze until they disappeared out of sight. Ed had us tickle a Garden eel’s head and pointed to a pregnant pufferfish swimming past. A blackfrog fish blended perfectly into the midnight color coral and as for the crocodile fish, I almost mistook it for grains of sand.

When I thought it simply couldn’t get any better, a school of a 1000+ barracuda swam overhead, casting a shadow that blocked out the sunlight that shone from above. The glittering silver fish glided past as I watched in complete awe, it is a moment I will never forget.

As our dive came to a close we moved up to 5 meters for our 5 minute stop, playing underwater sports games to pass the time. I wound my body up and threw Suzanne a pitch. As she hit the invisible ball, Ed dove to his side and made an impressive “catch.” Moments later we were swinging golf clubs and watching them fly into the distance.

Diving. I think I have found my new addiction.

*A shout out to Suzanne for being the best diving “buddy” ever!*

 

Recap: Thailand

Filed under: Round The World Trip,Thailand — italicana kitchen @ 6:30 pm
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Thailand: Highlights and Memories

1. Meeting my friends Brian and Suzanne at the Bangkok airport. Brian came out for 3 weeks and Suzanne met up with me for the remainder of the trip (and then is continuing on for 3 weeks in Africa after we split up in Italy…speaking of which I still haven’t bought a plane ticket home…!).

2. Staying with my good friend’s Aunt and Uncle in Bangkok. We were spoiled and treated like kings and queens. Thank you Scott, Cynthia, A.J., Abi and Austin for your amazing hospitality, a real bed and great home cooked food!

3. Thai massages. $6/for 1 hour. Need I say more? Absolutely heaven.

4. Thai food: Phad Thai, pumpkin curry, banana pancakes, mangos & sticky rice and fruit shakes, just to name a few of my top favorites.

5. Eating barbecued grasshopper. The grasshopper was surprisingly somewhat palatable, the maggots on the other hand, were a completely different story. No joke…they tasted like Jack and The Box tacos. I wonder, is this a coincidence or possibly the same recipe?

6. Tropical fruit: Mangos, pineapple, mango steams, dragon fruit all being sold for cheap by street vendors on every corner.

7. Riding an elephant. The act of sitting atop such a massive beast was absolutely thrilling; the cruelty of the teenage boys who used long wooden sticks capped with sharp steel hooks to prod the elephant to move, ruined the experience.

8. Koh Phangan Island. We spent over a week at Hat Khom and Hat Yuan beach where we met a handful of amazing new friends, I finally got rid of my Seattle-pasty skin, sea-kayaked around the bays and swam with tiny stinging jellyfish in the sparkling turquoise clear water.

9. Railey Island. Besides the picquresque pinnacles, I wasn’t too impressed with the island-life itself as one half was a honey-mooned packed resort area and the other a backpacker strip on muddy beach lined with sunken trees and taxi boats. Brian, Suzanne and I did, however, go on quite a hiking adventure to a secluded lagoon (although Brian was the only person to make it down the trecherous mud lined verticle walls) where we met a Brazilan named Caio and all four of us became friendly with the mud, painting our faces like warriors before jumping into the water to body surf the thrashing waves.

10. Getting food poisening. Definitely not a highlight, but it was quite the experience to come down with food poisoning on a travel day and spend over 24 hours holed up in a room once we reached our destination.

 

Recap: China

Filed under: China,Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 6:29 pm
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China: Highlights and Memories

1. Waking up to the most beautiful sunrise on my flight from Auckland to Beijing. Black filled the sky, and a perfectly round sphere lay in the horizon with what looked like paint brush strokes of red and yellow streaking across the morning sky.

2. Walking on the crumbling stones of the Great Wall of China, a place that had always seems mythical to me. I was walking on an ancient relic where Chinese warriors had stood thousands of years ago. The thought of this still keeps me in awe.

3. Escaping the smog filled streets of Beijing to explore the Summer Palace. The sky, still a whiteout of smog, disguised itself at the Summer Palace as a comfy down blanket wrapping me in warmth. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom dispersing a sweet aroma as I strolled through the rounds with my new English friend Jan, marveling the vibrant colors and intrinsic designs of Chinese architecture.

4.. Sitting in awe, as a man in tights charged the trampoline gaining momentum with each step until finally making connection with the spring and propelled his body to spiral forward in a flip and land on the shoulders of his fellow performer who was on the top of the four-man stack. Twelve girls in pink leotards and showgirl-like headpieces rode push bikes in a circle, each one exiting at their given cue to pull along side the leading bike and climb aboard. The women gracefully piled on the top of each other and fanned out like peacock feathers as the act came to a finale. These were just two of many extraordinary performances at the Beijing acrobat show.

5. Visiting the Beijing Huiling Community, a center for men and women with learning disabilities ranging in age from18-35. Upon arrival, they excitedly greeted us with huge grins and had prepared for us a lunch of pork dumplings, taught us how to write in calligraphy, and put on an entertaining musical and talent performance.

6. Catching a thief in action. With my backpack strapped to my back, I stood in line waiting to go up the crowded escalator, while talking to my English and Australian friends Jan and Emily. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my back. I instantly turned around to witness a 20 something year old trying to unzip the top of my pack! I slapped his hand that was still suspended in air, and pointed my finer inches away from his face.

“No!” I sternly exclaimed, scolding him like a misbehaving child. He stood there in shock, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, eyes startled at being caught. Slowly he drooped his shoulders and walked away.

7. Sauntering around the Terracotta soldiers excavation site and listening to our guide, “Julie”, explain the purpose and history of the underground Mosulium and 8000+ warriors who were built to protect the emperor in his afterlife. I found it interesting that the emperor ordered the massacre of his 300+ concubines so they would follow him into death, and was going to do the same with his entire army, but after the recommendation by his leading general, conceded in creating replicas instead.

8. Patting the fluffy head of a panda bear! I feel so fortunate for this experience as these adorable creatures are on the brink of extinction.

9. Feeling ant-sized as I stood at the toes of the Giant Buddha. The massiveness of this stone statue is simply mind blowing. Pictures do not do justice.

10. Exploring the Wu Yu temple surroundings. After exiting the temple, we traversed through a maze of walkways, bridges, crumbling temples and waterfalls until we passed through a square where women sat at tables selling trinkets while men armed with self-made brooms swept stone steps or whizzed by on bicycles that contained a cage full of chickens harnessed to the back. We walked towards the exit and as we reached the top, the view took my breath away. Before me stood the most beautiful bridge set above still water and green grass that lined the banks. The red bricks lining the two gazeba like peaks on either side of the bridge’s curved walkway were vibrantly reflected in the water creating a mirrored image. It was an view straight out of a fairy tale book.

11. Staying overnight in a monastry on Mt. Emei. I woke up to the sound of beating drums and voices chanting in harmony. Still half asleep I rose from my bed, walked barefooted across the cold tile floor, veared right to descend the stone steps and followed the rhythmic music to the main temple where before me stood 20 some monks dressed in orange robes heads and shoulders bowed as they prayed in unison. One monk yawned, he too was tired.

I sat on the stair steps, transfixed in a curious gaze watching the monks’ every actions until the final beat of the drum signaled the end of the early morning prayer ritual. They exited single file down the staircase, across the courtyard where a trough of incense burned and disappeared through a side door. Somewhere in the distance birds were chirping as I rose from my seated position. I followed the stone steps back to my room as the morning light danced across my feet. My body welcomed the warm comforter as I crawled back into bed. Within moments I was fast asleep. A few hours later my eyes fluttered opened.

“What a wonderful dream I thought to myself.” Then it all came back to me as I saw the proof of dirt still caked on the souls of my feet. The sleepy smile on my face broke into a huge grin, it wasn’t a dream….it wasn’t a dream.

12. Becoming a celebrity. With my 5’8” height, white skin and light eyes, I was a novelty in the mass of dark hair and dark eyes. Babies and small women were shoved in my arms while I walked on the street. Men and women tugged at my sleeves motioning me to look at the camera their friend held. In one instance, my blond hair friend Jan and I partook in a 20 minute photo shoot with about 15 curious Chinese men and women. I finally knew what it was like to be Jennifer Aniston.

13. Painting a picture with a Chinese artist. I helped Dongzuyi with his English and he showed me how to paint. He drew a mountain, I drew the rest of the mountain. I drew a tree, he filled in flowers. It is a simple pice of art with it’s child-like strokes of paint coupled with artistic prescision.

14. Riding a bicycle through rice paddy fields. Images of men and women, some wearing triangular straw hats, crouched down with their pant legs rolled up in ankle deep muddy water and threw blades of rice grass into the earth.

15. Climbing to the top of Moon Mountain. After a muddy walk up a hidden brush path, Jan and I reached the top of one of the most beautiful horizons I’ve ever seen. Tall pinnacles of rock jutted out from the ground in every direction like the points of a king’s crown while green rice patties and orange trees sparkled like jewels in the afternoon sun.

16. Sitting front row at the Youngshou Light Show. Lined behind me were bleachers of seats, in front of me water and pinnacles, the landscape transformed into a grand-scale stage. Powerful music played loudly. Lights danced in every direction and 800-some performers held me memorized throughtout the 2 hour show.

17. Taking a cooking class . With an apron tied around my waste and a cooking hat pinned to my hair, I fashionably learned how to make three Chinese dishes, the pork steam dumplings being my favorite.

18. Joining Vince, Michelle (friends of friends who live in Hong Kong) and 5 other girls for Dim Sum. For an afternoon I was not a backpacker. I was enjoying a mouthwatering Sunday Dim Sum lunch at a fancy club chatting with my new friends as though I have known them for years. It reminded me of my wonderful friends back home.

 

Recap: New Zealand-South Island

New Zealand: South Island Highlights

1. Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) in Christchurch.

2. Randomly competing in a sushi-making contest. I was the only Caucasian competing against a dozen managers from a sushi-chain restaurant. Although my chopping skills were definitely not up to speed, they found my efforts quite amusing and entertaining. I think they may have even put the video on You Tube…

3. Mark and I discovering our favorite breakfast spot, Oasis. Fresh baked muffins and moccachinos all for 5 NZD. What a steal! Over the course of the following 5 weeks, we greeted any excuse to make it back to Christchurch just for the delicious muffins/coffee. Ironically enough, Gabe, the guy’s couch we surfed on, ended up getting a job at Oasis after we took him there for a farewell-thank-you breakfast.

4. Mark and I buying a 1989 Nissan Prairie, which we named “Prairie Fire”, in honor of our brother Cliff whose cheeky prank on a former co-worker still makes us laugh out loud to this day. ( Cliff, we even toted around Tequila and Tabasco Sauce in the back for 5 weeks!) The best part about the car….it had a SUNROOF. (Revert to a post below about my obsession about convertibles and sunroofs…as you may guess…I was in heaven.)

5. Horseback riding in Kaikoura.

6. Wine tour in Picton.

7. Trail-running the Queen Charlotte Track. They estimate that the hike should take 5 hours. Mark and I did it in an hour and 45 minutes.

8. Sunday morning Church at the Nelson Cathedral. One of the best services I’ve been to.

9. Getting lost on our way to Motueka. We were going to only hike 2 hours into the Abel, spend the day on the beach and hike back out. We (by “we”, I mean “I”…) ended up driving to the end of the Abel track and instead of driving back, we left our car in Totaranui, caught a water taxi to our original campsite destination and then had to hike out the entire track the following day. Most people do the Abel Tasman track in 3-5 days. We did it in one, hiking out in the dark.

10. Missing the low-tide crossing and Mark having to carry his pack, me and my pack across thigh deep water. My brother Mark, the “Sherpa”, is an all out champion.

11. Driving up Golden Bay to Whanganui Beach where Mark and I spent the afternoon walking through rolling green pastures lined with sheep, plunging down sand dunes like rabbits leaping through the air and eating lunch inside a cave while playing ankle deep in the water, tempting the torrent waves to come get us like a boy tormenting a dog on a leash-only this dog was frothing white water like it had rabies and was on the loose!

12. Soaking in the natural rock pools and Japanese bath house at Maruia Springs.

13. Driving through Lewis Pass: U2 blaring through the speakers of the car, feet on the dash, sun warming me through the window, my brother-my sidekick-driving, and my hand stretched high out the opening of the sunroof. Top 5 scenic drives of my life.

14. Picking up Mark’s friend Trevor, a warm-hearted and hilarious guy who added a ton of great memories and fun energy to the trip.

15. Driving through Arthur’s Pass and stopping at Castle Hill to watch a bouldering competition.

16. Thinking I was going to fall and break my skull when Mark forced me to boulder one of the rocks. I shimmied up the rock with great fear but savored the view and the adrenalin rush from the top.

17. Car camping alongside rail road tracks, beach roads, gravel turn outs, parking lots, streets, sports fields, farms and rivers. To save money we would car camp for 2-3 days, staying at hostels only when we needed a shower. True backpacker style!

18. Climbing Avalanche Peak, an 8 hour hike off of Arthur’s Pass.

19. Caving and exploring the pancake rocks at Punakaiki.

20. Meeting up with our 3 Danish friends, Kris, Soren and Morton, every 5-6 days. It was a joyous reunion every time we saw each other. It’s truly remarkable how tight-knit you can become with other travellers in such a short time.

21. Ice Climbing on Franz Joseph Glacier and being stuck in a “rescue mission” when my crampon broke as I was climbing out of a crevasse.

22. Meeting Lou and Ann, one of the most inspirational couples in their 60’s, who retired 15 years prior and have been sailing around the world ever since, breaking their adventure only once or twice a year to visit their children and grandchildren back home in the states.

23. Becoming acquainted with Ed, a Scottish-traveler living and working in Queenstown. We stayed at his place, went out with his friends and experienced a “local” perspective of QT. (Note that “local” virtually means anyone living in QT longer than 3 months as everyone is practically a foreigner.)

24. Eating a Fergburger-one of the most mouth-watering, gourmet and delicious burger ever created.

25. Hiking the Routeburn Track.

26. Kayaking and staying overnight in the Milford Sound. Imagine a bay surrounded by rock, rainforest and hundreds of waterfalls spilling down towards the shoreline.

27. Learning how to Zouk, a type of South American dance, with a Brazilian dance instructor named Rodrigo.

28. Enjoying a picnic and bottle of wine on a blanket with a handful of friends at Screen on the Green, a series of mini-documentaries, played for the public at a park in Queenstown.

29. Canyon Swinging. 109 meters high. 60 meters free fall. 150KPH. 200 meter arc. This is basically set up like bungee jumping but you swing through a gorge at the end instead of bobbing up and down. The great thing about canyon swinging is you also get to pick how you want to jump (backwards, somersault, dive, upside down etc.). I went backwards and upside down–which was an amazing rush.

30. Seeing Mt. Cook while on top of a neighboring mountain.