A Traveler’s Terrene

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

Star Jumping and Toyota Kicking the world! November 14, 2008

Yesterday marked my 9 month anniversary of leaving Seattle to travel around the world!  It was an experience of a lifetime, an epic adventure. I freed the explorer inside me that has been restless since my childhood days when I explored the world in my backyard. I finally had the courage to say to that little voice…go on…PLAY! IMAGINE! CREATE! The world is your playground I told myself, it is a Traveler’s Terrene.

So here I am nine months later with some 50 gigs of photos, unforgettable memories, and a global network of new friends.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. From the people I travelled with on different legs of the trip: my older brother “Mohawk Mark” (2 months in New Zealand), college friend and dance extraordinaire Brian (3 weeks in Thailand), my childhood next door neighbor and “Sister Zesma” Suzanne (5 months throughout Southeast Asia, Turkey, Croatia and Italy), my adorable Italian former roommate Ilaria (2 weeks in Milan and a long weekend in England) and the countless backpackers I met along the way where we travelled together for a few days before parting ways (you know who you are…I HEART you…and there are too many too name!)  

At some point I’ll upload a wide selection of photos to Picasa and send a link, but for now, here is a snapshot of my trip as I Star Jumped and Toyota Kicked across the world!


Croatia: Highlights and Memories October 30, 2008

1. Taking the train from Zagreb to Split, and although the countryside was stunning with scattered colors of golden yellow, sun kissed orange and fire red trees, I was frankly more entertained watching the girl sitting kiddy corner from me sucking her thumb as she dozed off in her seat. Now you are probably, imagining a 3 year old. Maybe even a 5 year old at most. Now, scratch that image out of your head….and imagine a 20-something-year-old sucking her thumb. Yes! 20-something. I could not believe my eyes. So, I did like any normal person would do…and stared until she woke up and caught me looking at her.

2. Unexpectedly witnessing a wedding celebration. Right outside the tourism office, and in front of a grand old church walked the groom and wedding party into the middle of the square where music began to play, an accordion danced in circles, and Croatian flags waved inthe air as the groom was lifted to the groomsmen’s shoulders,  while everyone chanted a song in unison (it sounded almost like a fight song, perhaps the national anthem or maybe their favorite soccer team won and they just found out the score?) In any case, it was a beautiful surprise to see a square full of people happy and living life with gusto.

3. Getting a haircut and for the first time in 7 months and having my hair blow dryed and straightened. You have no idea how much I’d missed my dryer and curling iron, I felt like a whole new person. I actually felt cute for a change!

4. Suzanne and I renting a car and driving down the Dalmatian Coast!  I drove and Suz was the navigator and photographer (as we forgot to put her name on the contract).  It was one of the top highlights of the entire trip. Driving a manual on windy roads along the coast, stopping to take pictures whenever we found a scenic spot, and exploring the little towns nestled around each bend as we made our way to Dubrovnik. There is only one thing that would have made the day more perfect: a convertible.

5. Enjoying the view from a seaside restaurant, with a glass of white wine and Black Risotto, a Croatian delicacy made with risotto and octopus ink. The flavor was amazing, but it does momentarily turn your teeth black!

6. Suz and I dressing up as twins for our epic road trip!  We wore similar hats we bought in Thailand, identical shirts, jeans, bracelets, shoes and rocked our lovely jewelry we were given in Istanbul.

7. Staying at an adorable Croatian woman’s home in Dubrovnik,where she rented out rooms to travellers. She was so kind and sweet, giving us a welcome vodka shot (or some kind of clear liquor) on arrival and pomegranates from her garden for breakfast.

8. Going out to a wine bar with Tony, who was from Australia, and another guest at the woman’s house. He had been staying there for a few weeks and gave us the lowdown on all the not-so-touristy places to check out.

9. Soaking up the last of the summer rays down by the Adriatic Sea.

10.  Meeting Dan and Steven, two other Ozzies, on our walk back into town. Randomly enough, Tony knew Steven from Australia, talk about a small world!

11.  Exploring the Old Fort, taking shadow pictures on the wall, and being given a Croatian Welcome Pack by the gentleman at the door.  It came filled with brochures, dvds, lavender sachets, a key chain and a Croatian handicraft heart. (Poor guys, they weren’t given much love and only Suz and I received these gifts!)

12. Going to dinner, drinks and dancing with our new friends.

13. Walking the city wall at sunset, a wall that wraps entirely around the Old City that was used to protect the city from invaders but now a days, provides the most stunning views of the sea and town.

14. Going to dinner with the Ozzies, while listening to the Orchestra play music in the background.

15. Waving goodbye to beautiful Dubrovnik and boarding a ferry headed towards Bari, Italy!


Recap: Cambodia June 23, 2008

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: 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.


Priorities January 27, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 7:59 pm
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I don’t have a fairy godmother leaving me 100 bills under my pillow nor did I win the lotto (I wish!). To save up enough money to travel for seven straight months is simple. You set priorities on how you spend your money. Do you want that $400 purse or do you want a plane ticket to another country? Do you want that $4 latte every day or do you want a bungalow on a beach?

It is a simple concept but not always simple to do. America is a materialistic society. We want…want…want. We buy..buy…buy. I will be the first to admit it, I flirt with this mad game of consumption daily. However, in order to help overcome this fight, I give myself a few little rules of thumb to follow.

1. Limit unnecessary shopping. Does this item serve an actual purpose (like toothpaste) or is it unnecessary (like a new shirt)? If it is the latter, I don’t buy it. I don’t need new clothes, shoes or other fashion items. I won’t take it with me on my trip so what is the point of buying it now as it will be out of fashion when I get back?

2. Be a cook. Cooking is almost always going to be cheaper than going out to eat unless you plan to hit up a fast food restaurant every night. I cook almost every night and I always bring a lunch with me to work. I can not express how this in itself has saved me so much money. My only downfall is that I absolutely love to cook but I don’t like to cook cheap. If you are coming over for a dinner party you will find yourself enjoying a 5 course meal. But the cost for that one dinner alone is the cost of living in Asia for a week. So, this kind of cooking falls under “entertainment” and I only do it occasionally.

3. Limit entertainment. The key here is not to deny but to limit your favorite hobbies and past times. I love snowboarding and glorious powder. I adore getting dressed up and going out to dinner. I cherish the end of the day when I grab beers and happy hour with friends. I get excited to go to the movies, plays and concerts. However, traveling is also my hobby. So I have to pick and choose. Would I rather spend a day trekking in the jungle or day on the mountain?

These three simple rules have helped me think carefully about how I spend my money. It’s not that I really deny myself of anything, I just limit the number of times I do it. This has allowed me to balance living in the moment and planning for the future.

So, if you want to go on an around the world trip there is no,”I wish I could.” Rather, what you should be saying is, “I can”–then start prioritizing.