A Traveler’s Terrene

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

In India! August 9, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 10:29 am
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Phew! Just posted a quick recap of Vietnam/Laos, it’s amazing how the weeks fly by and all of sudden I’m yet again, months behind in updating you all on my travels. (I was typing fast, so get ready for a good laugh on my grammatical mistakes and random thoughts!)

Suzanne and I flew into India on the 3rd and have had quite a whirlwind adventure so far. I have about a week of updates, but it is going to have to wait until the next time I jump online as the Internet cafe is shutting down.

More on beautiful and chaotic India, to come…!

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Laos: Highlights and Memories

1. Taking the bus from Hanoi to Vientiane. This was a 24 hour non-stop bus ride. You heard correctly, 24 hours. However, at this point in my trip I’m use to 8…10…15 hour bus rides, so really, what’s another few hours?

2. Being spoiled with a “home” and amazing hospitality. Sara’s sister Gemma lives and works in Vientiane, and let us stay with her and her boyfriend Thomo, in their amazing mansion of a house. It was so great to have a “home” for a few days (and a REAL BED!). They absolutely spoiled us. THANK YOU GEMMA AND THOMO!

3. Cooking for a dinner party in a real kitchen. Cooking is one thing I miss on this trip, and it was an absolute treat to get in the kitchen and whip up a meal.

4. Tropical Fruit, muesli and yogurt. Need I say more. This alone is my ultimate favorite food in the world. Well, maybe it runs a tie with Amarena gelato….

5. Working out in a gym! I was “Gemma” for the afternoon and spent 2 glorious hours lifting weights and running on the elliptical machine. I think I could have spent 8 hours easily. It is so hard working out while travelling and in humid heat (trust me, Brian, Suz and I tried to do sit ups on the beach in Thailand and got plenty of stares).

6. Meeting our new friend Joe on the bus ride up to Vang Vien.  Joe is probably one of the smartest and most interesting people I have ever met. Suzanne, Joe and I were inseparable for about a week straight and I don’t think we ever ran out of interesting things to dicuss, debate or laugh about.

6. Being stranded on the road twice in one journey. Due to the tarantula downpour from the night before, our bus got stuck going around a corner as we made our way from Vang Vien to Luang Probang. We waited over an hour and watched as the bus/car backup piled to 20+ vehicles in each direction. Luckily after an hour, a tractor came and pulled us out. Later, when we were maybe only a 1/2 hour from our destination, the engine stopped.  Fortunately we were picked up by another bus within an hour. Our 7 hour journey turned into a 10 hour adventure.

7. Sitting quietly on the temple steps, listening to  the monks chanting their afternoon prayers in unison .

8. Learning how to cook Laotian food at the Tamarind Cafe. In an outdoor garden setting along the Mekong River, I learned how to cook gourmet Laotian food. The menu included: fish wrapped in banana leaves, chicken stuffed lemon grass, Buffalo laap, Jeow salsa & sticky rice and a traditional Laos soup. The flavors were incredible and the presentation was impeccable. I have the cookbook and bought a mortal and pestle, so  get ready for a yummy Laos dinner when I get back!

9. Meeting Yev and Isaac, two fellow Americans (which is a rarity, because Americans don’t travel!). Again, traveling is more than just seeing the destination, it is about the people you meet along the way. Yev and Isaac also top the charts on being two of the most fascinating people I’ve met on this trip. Every conversation was stimulating, interesting and educational. I love learning and if this trip does anything at all, it has definitely made me thirst for knowledge.

10. Scaling the walls of a giant waterfall. Probably not the smartest idea, but adventurous indeed.

11. Using the waterfall’s rapid spray as a back massage. 1) it was free and 2) was better that a real massage. Now, how to get that set up in my backyard someday is the question…

12. Watching Yev run and slip-in-slide head first down a muddy trail. Absolutely epic.

13. Painting Yev, Issac, Joe and Suzanne’s faces with mud. It’s fun to be a warrior for a day!

14. Eating a Laos BBQ.  This is not a traditional BBQ, but rather more along the lines of fondue. There is a grill set up in the middle of the table where you put on your own meat (and cook to your personal tenderness)  as well as a bowling pot below the grill where you heat up broth for soup and cook veggies. Delish!

15. Being the instigator in setting up a 100 meter dash in the middle of the street, during pouring rain. Hey, if you’re already wet, might as well play in the rain!

16. Staying up til 5a.m. talking about politics, films, books, inventions, business, travelling and life in general. I can’t remember when I’ve had more interesting  and stimulating conversations than that night hanging out with Joe, Yev, Isaac, David, and Suzanne. It was like we were in university—where we had time to discuss, to be creative, to brainstorm and to share personal knowledge.

17. Riding an elephant through the jungle, over streams, down mud trails and eventually into a lake where I bathed the elephant and got splashed with water.

18. Trying a smorgasbord of food from the local food stalls. It’s so fun to try out all the different type of food. Point and pay is the name of the game.

19. Laotian Pineapple–the BEST pineapple that has ever touched my lips. Unless you’ve tried it, you don’t understand.

20. Relaxing on a boat while we made our way to a cave filled with hundreds of Buddha trinkets.

21. Shopping in the Laos market, one of the most stress-free and relaxing market shopping experiences in all of Southeast Asia.

 

Vietnam: Highlights and Memories: Sapa to Hanoi

1. Trekking through the rice paddy fields of Sapa and spending the night at a home stay.

2. Drinking rice wine with the Lo Chai women and playing card games while laughing and talking candidly.

3. Riding on a moped through the countryside, past small villages and waterfalls.

4. Watching the Water Puppet Show in Hanoi, and marveling over the unique instruments that the band used to create the music.

5. Meeting up with my Australian friend Sara, who I had gone to uni with in Perth. It’s amazing how with some friends, no matter how long time passes, you can always pick up where you left off.

6. Meeting “old friends” along the beaten path. It was great to see David, John and Victoria (friends we met in De lat) while we were in Hanoi. The backpacker community is truly unique in that you are thousands of miles away from your hometown, but run into people that you “know” so the world never seems that large. In fact, it’s small.

7. Hanging out with 7 Spanish guys and being mesmorized by their accents. “Zapatillas”, which simply means “shoes”, is now the sexiest word in my dictionary.

8. Going to the movie, Sex in the City.  I know, “bad tourist”, but after 5 months of traveling, you sometimes need to incorporate a few comforts that remind you of home.

9. Taking a nap in the sun on the roof of a boat overlooking Halong Bay. Waking up and falling asleep to beauty is one of nature’s glorious gifts.

10. Riding a bicyle, around Cat Cat Island.

11. Getting a massage, while sitting outside at a bar drinking a cocktail. Kind of bizarre as the massuse moved from one person to the next in the group, but it still felt amazing!

12. Running through the rain in search of Pho’. With the rain pelting down around us, Sara, Suzanne and I happily ate the most delicious Pho’ under a tarp at a street stall vendor. The cheap and amazing food from street stalls is something that I am going to tragically miss when I go home.

 

Vietnam: Exploring Sapa

Filed under: Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 8:48 am

Sapa: If you get a flutter of excitement when you see a shiny silver star sparkling from the top of a Christmas tree, then your stomach is going to roll like thunder as you weave your way up a mountain lined with green and brown terraces of rice paddy fields and streams of cascading waterfalls strewn down the mountain like glittering blue Christmas tinsel. Sapa is more than a village tucked up high on top of a mountain, Sapa is the essence of that magical Christmas feeling every time you see that shiny silver star.

To carry on the idea of the winter holiday theme, the ride up to the top of the mountain was like piling the family in the car on Christmas Eve and slowly driving by the houses decorated to the max with blinking lights, snowmen and Santa Clause & rain deers strapped to the rooftops in mid-flight.  Gazing out the window as you drove by, your sensors are overloaded by the amount of decorations and novelty of it all. This–in a nutshell–is the same affect you get while driving up the windy road to Sapa. There is so much to see: giant green banana leaves line the side of the road, A-frame shacks with thatched roofs dot the rice paddy fields, red dirt tracks cut through the mountainside, water buffalo with giant horns lazily graze on grass, and as you climb higher, the gray sky turns to blue and the white fog that hovers over of the bowl of the mountain’s jagged peaks gleam with a hint of yellow from the rising sun.

When we arrived in the actual village we were greeted by two little girls from the Lo Chai tribe, Chow and Mu, who walked along side us as we made our way to our hostel. Dressed in their traditional attire of indigo blue coats and leggings, they asked us questions about our family and life in America. Although, they carried woven baskets with souvenirs strapped to their back, they did not ask us to buy anything. Instead, they buttered us up with conversation and said they would stop by later once we were settled in.

It is heartbreaking to see children working from dawn until dusk because they have to help support their families in order to survive. The tragedy to this is that they miss out on their childhood. They miss out on the ability to play with friends, to use their imagination and to be sheltered from the hardships of reality. Your youth is one of life’s biggest gifts, and so many of these children never get to unwrap it.

With this tucked in the back of our minds, Suzanne and I thought it would be fun to take Mu and Chow on a picnic lunch to Cat Cat village. We could, for a day, give them a break from work so they could enjoy themselves. However, they didn’t understand this concept and wouldn’t accept the food we tried to buy them. (We even tried to buy them ice cream but Chow relayed a myth that if you eat ice cream when it’s hot outside that you would die! She said her father told her that. Eventually, at the end of our day trip they let us buy them noodle soup at the local market.)

As we walked to the village, we candidly talked about their lives in the nearby tribe.  Although 11, Mu looked like a child around the age of 8. She had a handful of brother and sisters, and her parents had a small farm as well as made silver jewelry to sell in town. During our walk, she asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said no. I asked her if she had a boyfriend. She said she was too young. However, when I asked what the typical age for marriage was she told me it was fifteen! Her sister, who was 16, was already married and had a small child. I’m 25, and I think I’m still to young to get married….

The entire day was wonderful. I did not cure cancer or disarm nuclear weapons, but I did hopefully bring a little joy to a young girl’s life. (Chow and Mu especially enjoyed the Washington picture book that I brought with me and gave them as a present, as well as the photo shoot Suzanne and I took of them at the waterfall where we made them do star jumps and goofy faces.)

Frequently, while traveling I’ve felt hopeless–in that I am only one person and my actions cannot bring much change. However, it is in these moments that I realize, the small actions do mean something. And, doing something, is better than nothing.

***Note that Chow and Mu, seem to be some of the luckiest children that we have met while travelling in southeast Asia, in that they live in a peaceful environment, are well fed, are part of a loving community and seem to be selling souvenirs as additional income for their family, not as their main mean of livelihood like the children in Cambodia.