Bali – Round Three

A few days before arriving in Bali, my five week dog sit fell through. I was disappointed as I was looking forward to having a free place to stay and free use of their scooter. I quickly turned to Facebook to get ideas on where I could find a month-to-month rental. Within six hours, I secured a luxurious room with a private bathroom in a house shared with two other solo female travelers.  Fingers crossed the room and house are as good as the pictures show.

I arrived in Bali the night of May 7th. I chose to pay $35 for a 30 day Visa on Arrival (VOA) this time so I could extend it for an additional 30 days. The other two times I’ve been in Bali, I went with the free VOA which requires you to leave Indonesia by day 30.

My first day and a half in Bali was spent down in Kuta. I hung out with my Bali boys, ate some delicious mie goreng (fried noodles), buzzed up to Canggu to see the house in person, and rented a scooter for the month. On the afternoon of May 9th, I moved into the Canggu house and was instantly greeted by Layla, a Dutch digital nomad.

Digital nomads are people who work completely online and are location independent. One week they might work from a coffee shop in Spain and the next week they could be working from a public library in Russia. This type of employee is quickly gaining popularity especially in the graphic design, social media management, writing, and computer engineering fields. Bali, specifically Canggu, is a common hub for digital nomads due to the low cost of living, beautiful scenery, and high-speed internet. Most digital nomads plan to spend one month in Bali, but end up staying for six months or more.

My first two days in Canggu were pretty low-key. I worked four hours in the mornings, took afternoon naps, and caught the sunset on Batu Bolong Beach in the evenings with Layla. Side note – our other roommate, Guila from Italy (pronounced like Julia), left on the 10th for a two week surf trip near the island of Sumatra. I joined the Canggu Nomad Girls group on Facebook which connects other female digital nomads in the area.

My first weekend was spent exploring the nightlife of Canggu. Friday night’s hot spot was a DJ spinning tunes on the beach (nothing like the Full Moon Party) and Saturday night’s was at Pretty Poison, a bar where patrons gather around to watch local and foreign skateboarders alike drop into a bowl to show off their tricks.

On Sunday, May 13th, I woke up to a text from my Bali boys notifying me of three suicide bombing attacks in Surbaya on the next door island of Java. This is the same island where I hiked Ijen Crater last time. Soon after, I received an email from the US embassy stating they believe the three bombings to be connected to each other, but isolated from future attacks. The most sickening part of these bombings was the fact that children were used – two teenage brothers and their nine and 12 year-old-sisters, alongside their parents. Were the kids in on the plan the whole time or did they just think they were running errands that day?

This past week, I set myself a pretty regular schedule for tutoring. Work five hours in the morning and one hour in the evening with two and a half days off. Each afternoon I layed out and then enjoyed a different activity. Monday and Friday were spent playing beach volleyball with a group of expats from all over the world. We used bamboo for poles, PVC pipes for the stakes, and a real net. Tuesday was spent at the beachfront property of La Laguna watching Alice in Wonderland on their projector screen. La Laguna provided beanbags, blankets, and popcorn. Is this the Indonesian version of a drive-in movie? On Wednesday, I went to the weekly lunch meet up with the Canggu Nomad Girls members. I met some fellow Americans and my first Serbian! After lunch, I opened a text from the Bali boys notifying me of yet another bombing, this time on the western island of Sumatra. Because some terrorists escaped, the boys warned me to stay away from certain nightclubs that could be targeted as well as the suggestion of just staying in for the next few nights. Again, shortly after, I received an email from the US embassy stating the attacks were ISIS related and they anticipate more bombings to occur countrywide during the next month of Ramadan (Muslim fasting period). However, the embassy didn’t increase their travel advisory level. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks can happen anywhere (Paris, London, US, etc.)  so I won’t leave Indonesia unless the US embassy tells me to.

Friday night I headed down to Kuta to hang out with my Bali boys. While it’s only 17km (10 miles) away, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive there due to constant traffic. Before arriving at their house, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up some pop. Fast forward three hours later, I wanted to grab some more liquids but couldn’t find my wallet. I knew it had to be somewhere between the convenience store and their house which is only 300 meters. After coming up empty by retracing my steps and the male employee telling me they didn’t have my wallet either, I sat down and started making a checklist in my head. Cancel my credit and debit cards. Order new ones which will take probably two weeks to arrive. Estimate how much money I’ll need to live off of for at least two weeks. Have Barb make a Western Union transfer out of my account. Make sure she includes my middle name on the transfer. Good thing I brought my expired drivers license. My passport is safe in my house. Feeling annoyed but calmer than I probably should have, I headed back to the Bali boys’ house. As I walked past the convenience store, the female employee rushed out and grabbed my attention. “We have wallet! He not understand English words.” Yesssss!!!! Apparently I had left my wallet on their counter while putting the bottles of pop into my bag. While I was gone, they secured my wallet in their safe and all my money and cards were in their correct place. I just made an ATM stop and they easily could have wiped out all the cash I just withdrew. There still are good people in this world!!

After playing more beach volleyball Sunday evening, I spoiled myself at the grocery store. I bought bananas, apples imported from the US, chips and salsa (Ortega brand!), mango juice, strawberry juice, chocolate milk, cereal, 1% milk, pasta, pasta sauce, cheese, hummus, and bell peppers. Oh the joys of Western food!!!!!

After four weeks of trekking in Nepal and two weeks of bouncing around the Thai islands, I was really craving some stability. It’s safe to say that I’m definitely feeling settled in here within my first two weeks. I love that there is a community vibe and that I feel I’m a part of something. There’s lots of meetups for digital nomads where you can either bounce ideas off each other or just have that friendly coworker chat that is missing from remote work. Being able to completely unpack my bag and put my clothes in a closet and dresser is glorious especially after the daily unpacking/repacking I did on the Annapurna treks. My room and house are definitely luxurious (daily maid service, private gated entry, high vaulted ceilings, I even have a rainfall shower head!) which only cost me $350 for the month… a splurge I’m absolutely ok with. It’s really easy to be motivated to work because everyone here is working the same online schedule – work in the morning, break/have fun in the afternoon, work a little bit more in the evening. I’ve already marked my spot in the beach volleyball group and hope to find another group to play soccer with this coming week. Life in Bali is surely amazing.

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The view while relaxing on my front porch before writing this blog

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Adam’s Second Southeast Asian Adventure

After Nepal, I flew to Phuket, Thailand where I sequestered myself into an apartment for a week to teach English online and wait for Adam’s arrival. I was a bit hesitant if I’d have any of my regular students back as I took seven weeks off. To my delight, I had fifteen reservations waiting for me when I logged back in!

Adam was set to arrive through the night of Thursday, April 26th. When he got to Chicago O’Hare, he found out his flight from Shanghai to Phuket had been moved up by 4 hours which was impossible for him to make. Is that even legal? I’ve seen flights delayed or cancelled but never heard of flights being pushed and by four hours? That’s a bit aggressive! Because of this, he had to get on an additional flight through a different airline. He arrived on Friday, April 28, only eight hours later than originally planned.

After I taught a couple sessions and Adam took a nap, we rented one scooter to run some errands and drive around Phuket. Boy did we get some stares as Adam was on the back while I drove! I’m pretty sure he felt like less of a man for the whole two hours we scooted around.

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Only in Thailand do you see an elephant crossing sign.

That evening, we laid low as I taught two sessions and got on the phone with both my debit and credit card companies. Back in Nepal, my debit card number was stolen off an ATM skimmer and someone in the US had been trying to pull money out of my account in both Chicago and Indianapolis while I was trekking. I unfortunately did not find this out until I attempted to pull money out on Thursday and all the ATMs declined me. After a few phone calls, the issue was cleared up and we had a plan of attack. Charles Schwab expedited a new debit card to Bali where I was headed next for a 5 week dog sit. Capital One added a pin number to my credit card so I could do cash advances through ATMs in the meantime. Such a hassle but I was finally able to access my money again!

On Saturday, we left our Phuket AirBnB and headed to the bus terminal for a full day of travel to the island of Koh Samui. I very gently introduced Adam to the backpacker lifestyle in the Philippines back in November by having him travel with a backpack and stay in a very nice four-person dorm room in a hostel. For this trip, I decided to give him typical Thailand backpacker experiences. We could have flown from Phuket to Koh Samui for $110 per person which would have taken just under an hour. Instead, we took a six hour bus to a two hour ferry for only $16.55 per person. Welcome to the backpacker budget! Typical Thailand backpacker experience #1. Adam did much better on the bus than I expected, although I think that has something to do with the bus having WiFi strong enough for him to stream YouTube the whole time. I, on the other hand, slept for most of the trip as I typically do.

We were greeted by a massive rainbow over the island of Koh Samui upon arrival. After checking in to our hotel, we rented a scooter and drove 40 minutes to the other side of the island to catch a Thai boxing fight night. Typical Thailand backpacker experience #2! We witnessed two knockouts within the six matches, one of which ended with a boxer carried out on a stretcher. The last fight of the night was a female match and they jumped right in to throwing punches and kicks. The first rounds of the male matches were pretty slow…. both fighters kind of dancing around and throwing jabs here and there. The females though… woah…  as soon as they were signaled to start, the girl in red landed a punch square in the jaw of the girl in blue. Finally some action right away! This is awesome! Girl power!

Koh Samui (1)On the way home, we noticed we were running low on gas. We passed a few gas stations, but they were all closed as it was after 1am. We’re 10km from the area of the island we’re staying at. Yet, our fuel gauge has been blinking at us for awhile now. Think we can make it the rest of the way? I guess worse case scenario, we just have to walk home. Although Adam might die. On the side of the road, we finally saw some bottles of rum filled with gas which were guarded by a guy sleeping in a hammock. After waking him up, our gas tank was refilled and we successfully made it back to our hotel.

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I’m still not sure why I agreed to let him drive the scooter

On Sunday, we headed back out on the scooter to try and find a swimsuit shop I had seen the night before. The shop was closed when we arrived so we stopped for some mango sticky rice instead. Typical Thailand backpacker experience #3! Mango sticky rice is my favorite food to eat in Thailand. It’s fruity; it’s sticky; it’s sweet; it’s delicious! I was super pumped to share this goodness with Adam. “So… what do you think?!?!” I asked all excitedly as he took his first bite. “The mango has no flavor and the rice is OK”, he replied. I forgot Adam is one of those weird people who doesn’t like sweets… More for me then!

Koh Samui (5)At 1pm we caught our half hour ferry to the island of Koh Phangan. This island is known for their Full Moon parties which is what our entire trip revolved around. We hit the streets to find our gear (the brighter the neon, the better!) and pre-game drinks for the night. Our plan was to lay out at the pool for the rest of the day and head to Haad Rin Beach for the party around 9pm. Mother Nature had some other plans in mind… it rained off and on until 8pm and then a torrential downpour occurred. At 11pm we finally felt confident the storms were out of the area and we headed south to the Full Moon Party decked out in our neon. Typical Thailand backpacker experience #4!

Koh Phangan (13)As Adam puts it, it was “the most intense event I’ve ever experienced!” 20,000+ people gathered on a 1km long beach, sand buckets filled to the brim with cocktails, jump ropes lit on fire to find the souls brave/dumb enough to try their luck without burnt, beachfront properties each blasting a different genre of music, partygoers decked out in neon shirts and body paint, massive dance parties, people relieving themselves in the ocean, 18-45-year-olds all gathered together with one common goal: to have one of the best nights of their lives. For Adam and I, the Full Moon Party did not disappoint one bit! We rolled back home about 4am and were pretty worthless for all of Monday.Koh Phangan (1)

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Fire-burning jump rope

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Taking a break from the crowd of 20,000+ people

We did muster up enough strength to eat dinner at a local food court Monday night. Imagine a farm shed filled with picnic tables, vendors, charcoal grills, and fans. We selected spring rolls, an ear of corn, and a chicken kebob which were put right on the grill (who knows how long they’d been sitting out for) which cost us the equivalent of $1 each. Typical Thailand backpacker experience #5!

In the morning of Tuesday, May 1st, we hopped on an hour and a half ferry to the island of Koh Tao and hit the ground running once we dropped our bags at the front desk of our hostel. We rented a scooter and drove to the east part of the island to check out Tanote Beach. After a bit of sunbathing and lunch, we headed north to Mango View Point. Adam got to experience the sketchy roads I usually encounter on my way to waterfalls and we promptly turned around with 3km left to the top.

Our next stop was Dusit Buncha Resort where we caught a five minute water taxi to Koh Nang Yuan. This island is where 90% of the images are taken from when you search Koh Tao on Google. This is going to be great! The beaches here look to be amazing! What. A. Letdown. The area is popular with snorkelers which means the beach is made of broken and washed up coral. Note to self: it’s VERY uncomfortable to walk on barefoot! We decided to try our luck in the water and same thing – sharp and pointy rocks everywhere. We retired back to our beach chairs and silently contemplated what we were going to do for the next hour and a half until our water taxi picked us up. “You wanna hike to that viewpoint?” Adam asked me. Woah… if Adam, notorious for hating hiking and hippie-loving tree huggers, is suggesting we hike, he must REALLY hate his life. “Yes! I would love to!!!!” was my reply. After a short clamber through a forest, we were greeted with this view:Koh Tao (2)

That evening we checked in to our hostel — a 12-person dorm room with personal lockers the size of my drawstring bag. Typical Thailand backpacker experience #6! Adam again did much better than I anticipated. It probably helped there were more girls than guys, no one snored, and there was an en-suite bathroom.

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Except the urinal was located outside…

Wednesday was another full travel day. Our morning started with a 6:30am ferry back to the island of Koh Phangan. We switched to a different ferry which made a stop in Koh Samui before getting back to the Thailand peninsula. We hopped onto a bus for four hours to the town of Krabi where we were transferred by taxi to a van. The van drove us to our hotel on the island of Koh Lanta, but not before we had to ride on a car ferry (a first for me!). Cars, construction trucks, scooters… you name it, it was on the ferry. Koh Lanta - Car Ferry

Thursday, May 3rd we rented yet another scooter and explored the island of Koh Lanta. We had a long and gradual incline before dropping down to Mu Koh Lanta National Park. Koh Lanta (5)After scoping out the viewpoint, we placed our bags and clothes under a palm tree and laid out on Ta Nod Beach where we only saw a handful of people. “Uh…Laura… there’s a monkey going through your bag”, Adam said nonchalantly. “What?!” I jolted out of my daydream and ran towards the monkey, clapping my hands and yelling. The monkey was clearly looking for food which I didn’t have and ripped through my plastic bags which hold my passport, contacts, glasses, international drivers permit, etc. Basically all my important items. I should have taken a picture to show how he scattered my items about once he rifled through them. Serves me right… I always make fun of people who get their sunglasses and food swiped from these monkeys… and yet here I am… just another victim even without having their prized possessions with me. 

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Ta Nod Beach

We packed up our things and headed out of the national park to explore another part of the island. Shortly up the massive hill, our scooter putzed out on us. It didn’t have enough power to go any further. Talk about a fail! “These 125cc’s aren’t made for two Leber’s!” Adam declared. While I drove the scooter back down to get a running start up the hill, Adam walked the rest of the way to the top. He’s going to be an avid hiker before he knows it!

We grabbed lunch on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I had Adam order Tom Yum which is a spicy Thai soup. Typical Thailand backpacker experience #7! While he could taste some heat, the level of spice hardly fazed him. I, on the other hand, felt my mouth burning as soon as the broth touched my tongue. So much for my spicy food tolerance.

Our last destination for the day was Ba Tan Kiang Beach which we had all to ourselves! It was amazing. After we felt tan enough, we drove back to our resort for some drinks at the beach bar, took in a fantastic sunset, and played some cards.

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Sunset at low tide

What we thought was tan had actually turned into a sunburn by the time we woke up on Friday. Even with a t-shirt on, I could feel the burn on my shoulders intensify when I walked outside into the direct sunlight. We lasted all of one hour at the pool under shade before we took cover back in our room until catching an afternoon ferry to Koh Phi Phi, our sixth island of the trip.

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This was our transportation to the ferry port – a scooter with an attached side bench in a cage

Koh Phi Phi was hands down the most beautiful island of our trip. It instantly reminded both of us of El Nido, Philippines. Clear water, different shades of blue, giant rock formations plunging out of the water, long tail boats everywhere…. paradise. Up until now, the other Thai islands looked better in pictures than what we saw with our eyes. But Phi Phi… man, it was even more beautiful than our cameras could capture. Koh Phi Phi 4

While walking around the island, Adam saw an advertisement for Captain Bob’s Booze Cruise which he had remembered from his initial research — I planned out our Philippines trip; Adam planned our Thailand trip. Adam was fully on board to book the cruise for the next day, but I was a little bit hesitant due to the $80 USD price. I looked up what all was included in the cost – 6 hours, unlimited drinks on the beach (Thailand has a law where you can’t serve or consume alcohol on a boat), water activities, and food. Ok! That’s pretty good. Then when I looked at the reviews on TripAdvisor, 94% of the 839 reviews were all 5 stars. Aannnddd…. I’m in! I walked down to their ticket booth to reserve our spots for the next day and found out even more things were included — full access to proofs of all the pictures and videos they would take, an extra meal, an additional hour of fun, and alcohol would in fact be served/consumed on the boat, just concealed inside Sprite and Coke bottles. This price is actually a STEAL for everything that’s included!

After lathering up with lots aloe vera, we had some drinks in our hotel room and played cards until bedtime. Saturday morning, we put more aloe vera on our bodies and sheltered ourselves from the sun until we had to be at our 12:45pm meeting point.

After everyone arrived, we walked quite a ways to Camp Bar to begin the festivities. Their slogan is “Active Drunk” after all. After introductions were made (93% North American, 6% British, and 1% Norwegian), we played some drinking games and soaked up the sun before hopping on the boat. Our first stop was Monkey Beach where we fed peanuts to monkeys to get the perfect photo op. We never made it to the beach as the monkeys cannonballed from the rock cliffs into the water to grab our peanuts as we were swimming. I think the monkeys are gross and have seen them scratch and bite humans so I just treaded water while Adam and the others got some great shots.

Next up we snorkeled at Loh Samah Bay. Last time Adam and I snorkeled, it ended badly with both of us scrapping our legs. This time was actually a blast! I realized it’s too much for my mind to handle keeping my body afloat while breathing under water. So I laid on a lifejacket and just focused on breathing or I caught my breath on the lifejacket after going under for a bit…. so much better and less stressful!

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Snorkeling is not too bad when you have a life jacket waiting for you on the surface.

Our third stop was some lagoon where we were able to swim around and use standup paddle boards. We tried to beat the record of 10 people on one paddle board, but the most we could get was nine before tipping over. After some food and more drinks, we headed to Maya Beach which was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s hit movie, The Beach. Our boating time ended with watching the sunset. Then it was back to the beach bar we started at for some dancing, drinks, and food. Such a fantastic and extremely fun way to end our travels in Thailand. Koh Phi Phi 16

On Sunday, we hopped on our final ferry back to Phuket, checked into my hotel room, and walked Adam to the airport to catch his flight back to the US (also moved up by four hours).

Final Thoughts on the Thai islands: There were only two things on my Typical Thailand Backpacker Experience that Adam didn’t get to – Thai massage and a fish spa. I really wanted to hear Adam’s opinions on a Thai massage but that’ll have to happen on another one of our trips. Besides Phi Phi, the other Thai islands were beautiful in our pictures, but we didn’t really see that beauty in person. Because the islands are so popular, they are actually quite expensive. Adam liked the amenities better in the Thai islands (air conditioning, electricity, wifi), but thought the Philippines had more untouched natural beauty. I’m glad I visited and experienced the Thai islands, but I have no desire to go back. It was a one and done for me.

P. S. Here is a video I made showing a glimpse into the life on a teahouse trek in Nepal.

Koh Lanta (7)Koh Tao (3)

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What a life to be living!

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Sunset from our booze cruise

Things I Learned in Nepal

  • Dumb dumb means let’s go in Nepalese. At least that’s what they told me….
  • The gear in Kathmandu shops are actually high quality for a fraction of the cost.
  • Nobody pulls over for ambulances even with lights and sirens on. Our driver was impressively weaving in and out of two way traffic. Even when we came to a roundabout patrolled by police, no right of way was given to us.
  • Nepalese shove as many people into buses, vans, and taxis as they can. 15 passenger van? More like 50 at their rate! I watched three people get shoved into an already overcrammed van. The assistant push on the person’s butt while trying to slide the door behind them… similar to how you zip up an overstuffed suitcase.
  • These two teahouse treks taught me that I no longer want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The thought of setting up a tent after a full day of hiking is unfathomable. Plus I’d have to cook my own food which means I’d have to carry additional supplies and in turn add more weight to my pack. I think teahouse treks are best for me.
  • All tourists buses from Pokhara to Kathmandu leave at 7:30am. No wonder the traffic is so bad! Maybe they should stagger the buses to A) give people more departure time options and B) help with the congestion of traffic.
  • Trekking in Nepal completely messes with your mental state. As mentioned in previous posts, Flynn and I both struggled coming to terms with our reality. At first, I just chalked it up to our failed attempt. But one week after Catherine and I finished the ABC, she felt like she had no purpose so she booked a guide to help her conquer Everest Base Camp (EBC). Daniel, my Israeli friend, didn’t know what to do with himself after successfully completing both the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp in 20 days so he renewed his visa and also headed northeast to EBC.
  • Full body massages in Kathmandu include a belly button poke and breast massage. My masseuse literally stuck her pointer finger in my belly button and twirled it around (such an odd feeling). She then moved up and massaged my breasts for a good 10 minutes Uh… what is she doing?!  This is so weird. Do I go with it? Tell her to stop? Wait… It actually feels pretty relaxing. Well… when in Nepal I guess…..
  • Men are notorious for standing around in a line for no reason.
  • Ladies and gentlemen go through separate security lines in the Kathmandu airport. Men get patted down in the open while women are patted down behind curtains.
  • Nepal challenged me… it really truly did… and I can’t wait to come back within the next year!

Annapurna Sanctuary - Day 6 ABC 33

Video: Nepal April 2018

Video: Life on a Teahouse Trek

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek

I decided to do this hike solo because I just wanted to be alone. I wasn’t feeling very upbeat and didn’t want to bring someone else down. Plus, I would have no idea what their hiking style or pace was going to be and I was just ready to only have to think about myself for a bit.

Day 1: April 8, 2018

I took a taxi from Pokhara to the trailhead at Phedi. I took a deep breath and began climbing switchbacked stone staircases for the next hour and a half. I absolutely hate hiking stairs but there was no way around these. This is awful. Maybe I should just turn around. These never end. Am I there yet? I might only get to the first town today. It also didn’t help that it was blazing hot out. I even put on sunscreen which is a rarity for me these days. I reached the first town of Dhampus at 11am. Woo hoo! I made it! OK! I can do this! Let’s just go one village at a time. I stopped for breakfast and to rest my legs. As I’ve mentioned before, I can hike 20+ miles on flat ground; I can hike inclines for eight miles, but going up stairs just kills my leg strength and stamina.

Shortly after Dhampus, I came to a split in the road with no signage telling me which way to go. So I did what I always do when solo hiking in a foreign country… I sat down at the intersection and waited. Within 10 minutes, a jeep approached and the driver pointed me to the left option. An hour later, I arrived at the town of Allure Hill. This town isn’t listed in my guidebook. Where the heck am I?!

After looking at the massive map posted in town, I realized the driver of the jeep pointed me in the direction of the road, not the trail, to Tolka which added an additional hour to my day. No wonder I didn’t see any arrows or flags for this last bit. Looking back, I’m actually OK with walking on the road as it was probably an easier path to follow (remember I’m absolutely terrified of getting lost in the woods) and I frequently encountered locals. The rest of my hike was pretty uneventful. I made it to the village of Landruk by 4pm where I enjoyed a hot shower (43 degrees C), handwashed my clothes in a bucket, and played a new card game with two French people. Ahh… it feels good to get back to the trekking life. 

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View from the village of Landruk

Phedi –> Landruk                            6 1/2 hours                                         15km (9.3 miles)

Day 2: April 9, 2018

I witnessed a landslide across the valley while I stopped for a break today. Talk about sketchy! I saw signs earlier warning the area was prone to landslides. What would I do if I heard/felt one coming? Cover my head and hope for the best? Run? What’s the protocol here? About 30 minutes before my destination for the evening, I met a girl on the trail from Ft. Collins. What are the chances?! We had so much in common we ended up chatting for 20+ minutes. Unfortunately, she was going in the opposite direction from me so we bid farewell once we heard thunder approaching.

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Just carrying doors up the mountain

Landruk –> Chhomrong                           4 hours                                             8.4km (5.2 miles)

Day 3: April 10, 2018

I got an early start today as I heard the village of Bamboo has already been booked out for the night. This information also came from a tour group of 14, so I held onto a glimmer of hope that there would be at least one room available among the five tea lodges. My glimmer of hope was shattered after inquiring at all five places and being told “no” each time. Although I’m pretty sure the last place I asked had a room, but they wanted double occupancy. “How many people?”  was the response after I asked if they had a room. “Just myself.” “Sorry, all booked.” Um… you could have just told me you wanted two people or just charged me a higher price. During my hour and a half walk to the next town of Dovan, I contemplated what I would do if they were also full. Maybe I could shack up with a local family? Sleep outside? My sleeping bag is warm enough, but what kind of animals would I encounter through the night? Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out as the second place I asked in Dovan had a single room right off the kitchen. I’ll take it! Tonight I met and hung out with Catherine, a medical student from New Zealand, who is also trekking by herself without a guide or porter. Annapurna Sanctuary - Day 3 Doban 1

Chhomrong –> Dovan                         4 1/2 hours                                               9.2km (5.7 miles)

Day 4: April 11, 2018

Today I have a very social hike. In the village of Himalaya, I ran into the French group of 14 I first met in Chhomrong. They had reserved all but one room in the Chhomrong lodge and they basically adopted me into their dysfunctional family. Then I ran into Daniel from Israel who Flynn and I first met on the Annapurna Circuit. He had already completed the circuit and was coming down from Annapurna Base Camp. Talk about impressive! The last person I ran into on today’s hike was the guide who we had stop the bus on our way to Khudi the first day.

As expected in Duerali, all the rooms were booked so Catherine and I snagged up two benches to sleep on in the dining room. It seems to be a common trend for lodges up here to be booked up as I’m now on the ‘out and back’ section of the trek. The ACAP has a limit on the number of lodges in this area. While I appreciate them trying to keep it authentic and preserve the land, they either need to allow more lodges or limit the number of permits they give out for this area. The first lodge I asked was fully booked in both their rooms and dining hall, which slept 30 people alone.

Catherine and I played cards tonight with two Russians who were also sleeping in the dining hall. When they taught us their card game, I asked why one of them played a certain card. “I don’t know. I just did!” he responded. That doesn’t help me to understand the strategy.

Once 9pm hit, the dining hall was turned into our sleeping spaces. Mattresses were placed on benches. Blankets placed on tables. Because Catherine and I were the only girls sleeping in the dining hall, the owner gave us each our own corners while the males (Russian hikers, Korean hikers, an Italian hiker, porters, and guides) were forced to sleep two people side by side on the benches and tables. It actually reminded me of sleeping in a motorhome… kitchen and eating area by day; beds and sleeping spaces by night.

Today’s Thoughts While Hiking:

  • Hot drinks are so frustrating. When you first get the drink, it’s boiling hot which burns your mouth. Then it drops to the perfect temperature which you hope it stays at so you can actually enjoy your drink. However, about five minutes later, the drink is cold and it just tastes terrible.
  • When I first read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I found it to be very annoying. It had a “poor me” theme to it which got old after awhile. But after doing these hikes and being mentally challenged day in and day out, I can totally relate! I’d love to read it again to see if my perspective on the book changes.

    Annapurna Sanctuary - Day 4 Deorali 4

    My spot for the day/evening in the dining hall. Bars on the window?? Looks like the perfect place to hang up my laundry!

Dovan –> Duerali                3 hours, 20 minutes

Day 5: April 12, 2018

Today I hiked to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) which only took two hours and I gained 500m (1,640 feet) of elevation. I expected today’s hike to be challenging especially with the altitude but I found it relatively easy. Last night in the dining hall, Catherine and I met Alex, a solo Italian hiker, so the three of us combined forces and decided to share a triple room tonight. We had the Duerali lodge owner make us a reservation in MBC so we could actually have a room before things were booked up. It’s much easier to secure a triple room compared to being a single or even a double.Annapurna Sanctuary - Day 5 MBC 5

After I got to our lodge ( Catherine and I left at different times because we both wanted to hike by ourselves and Alex went all the way to Annapurna Base Camp), Catherine and I hiked up for 30 minutes to help acclimate our bodies for tomorrow. The key to not getting Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS, is to hike higher than where you sleep, among other things.

Later that afternoon, we met Brenton and Patricia, a couple from Australia and Spain respectively, who were absolutely hilarious. You know those times when you click with someone you just met? That’s how it was. They were like the missing piece for Catherine and me. Over the course of the evening as snow was coming down, the four of us decided to walk to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) together the next morning. Word spread that we were planning a 4am departure no matter how much it snowed and our group soon grew to 15… literally everyone staying in the lodge. I hate hiking in a big group but the trail will be hidden and it’ll be dark out so it’s definitely the safest/smartest choice. By the time we went to bed, it was still snowing with no end in sight.

Today’s Thought While Hiking:

  • While eating chips and salsa at home, it’s better to have the crumbs for the top of the salsa jar and the full chips for reaching down into the bottom. Maybe I should start opening chip bags from the bottom???
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View of our MBC lodge from the back. The snow on the mountains almost looks fake!

Duerali –> MBC                                2 hours

Day 6: April 13, 2018

Catherine’s alarm went off at 3:50am and we were out the door by 4am. No toilet, brushing teeth, or deodorant occurred.  We literally rolled out of bed, threw on our jackets, hats, gloves, boots, and head lamps, packed our sleeping bags into our backpacks and were greeted by over a foot of snow. Surprisingly, our entire group of 15 was all ready by 4:15am when we hit the trail. It was dark and cold (my water froze inside my full Nalgene bottle on the hike up), but the sky was clear and there were fresh footprints in the snow that we followed all the way to Annapurna Base Camp.

The sun first hit the mountains at 5:30am and by 5:45am, we had made it to Annapurna Base Camp!!!! The view was absolutely incredible. Fresh snow on the mountains, the sun peaking over a ridge, and not a cloud in sight. Catherine and I had brought our backpacks because if it was cloudy, we were going to stay the night at one of the four lodges at ABC. Fortunately for us, it was a bluebird day (for you non-skiers/snowboarders, that means a clear blue sky with not a single cloud in sight). We could not have asked for a better day to see ABC. Brenton, Patricia, Catherine, and I spent about two hours snapping way too many photos and just reveling in the amazing views. I cannot fully describe how perfect of a morning it was. Talk about an iconic way to celebrate six months of solo travel! After being 100% satisfied with our time spent at Annapurna Base Camp (and with our feet starting to freeze), the four of us headed back down to MBC for breakfast.

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I’ve never seen the sky so blue!

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Annapurna Sanctuary - Day 6 ABC 1

I MADE IT! WAHOO!!!!!!

After fueling up on eggs, toast, and lemon tea, we hiked all the way down to Bamboo, arriving at 5pm. Brenton and Patricia want to be back in Pokhara tomorrow night so we hiked longer than we probably should have and the last hour and a half was in the rain. By 8pm, the four of us could barely keep our eyes open so we promptly went to bed.

MBC –> ABC –> Bamboo               8 hours         32,000 steps         20km (12.4 miles)

Day 7: April 14, 2018

After our achievement of ABC and hiking 20km (12.4 miles) yesterday, we allowed ourselves to sleep in this morning. The four of us hit the trail at 8:30am and began the day by hiking up just shy of 400 stairs to the town of Sinuwa. We stopped for a quick break as Brenton was getting a migraine and we still had another 1,100 stairs to climb up to Chhomrong, which none of us were looking forward to. We all hiked at different paces but arrived in Chhomrong at 12:30pm. We treated ourselves to sweets at the German bakery (chocolate croissant, cinnamon roll, chocolate brownie cake, and apple pie) in lieu of lunch.

Annapurna Sanctuary - Day 3 Village of Chhomrong

The village of Chhomrong is located on the top left hand corner of this picture. Can you make out all 1,100 stairs leading up to that point?

After Chhomrong, we parted ways. Brenton, Patricia, and Catherine headed east to Jhinu to catch a jeep back to Pokhara and I headed west to Ghundruk as I wanted to fully hike the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek from start to finish. As 3pm approached and the threat of rain became apparent, I stopped in Kimrong and got a room. While there were two lodges in the village, no other trekkers stayed the night as it’s more of a lunch stop than an overnight stop. Staying overnight in a village where you are the only trekker is definitely not the smartest choice, but it seemed safer than hiking for two hours through a forest full of interminable switchbacks and rain with a very low probability of running into any other people, be it trekkers or locals.

Today’s Thought While Hiking:

  • When you take a picture with two people who have the same name and you’re placed in the middle (Joe, Sally, Joe for example), why is it called a Joe Sandwich? When you talk about a food sandwich you always name it for whatever is in the middle because the two pieces of bread are the same…. so wouldn’t it actually be a Sally Sandwich??

Bamboo –> Kimrong          6 1/2 hours

Day 8: April 15, 2018

I walked all the way to the finish in Naya Pul!!!! Yay!!! I made it!!! I think I practically skipped to the end as I was so stoked! It took me 8 days and 52 miles roundtrip! I hopped on the local  bus back to Pokhara and treated myself to a 5 star hotel that offered a STEEP discount… usually $152/night but I snagged it for $20. The shower was hot. The bed was comfortable. The air conditioning was cold. It. Was. Glorious!

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The end of the Annapurna Sanctuary trek!

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This is how ratty my hair was after not showering or brushing my hair for the last four days of the trek. Took me just over half an hour of brushing to get through this mess.

After showering and putting on real clothes, I met up with Catherine, Brenton, and Patricia for dinner. I again treated myself… this time to a burger with fries and a bottle of red wine. I deserve every last ounce of this.

Kimrong –> Naya Pul                         6 hours

April 16-20, 2018

I spent the next two days in Pokhara, going through pictures, watching Netflix, and reflecting back on my time in Nepal.

I really do love life on a teahouse trek. The people you meet both on the trail in the day and in the dining halls at nights… The food freshly cooked and homemade. Nothing is pre-cooked or frozen… The simplicity of knowing the only thing I have to do each day is hike with my backpack… The unknown of where I’m going to sleep at night. Will I have a room? By myself or shared? Will the mattress be a little bit hard or extremely hard?…. The feeling of being a badass when other hikers realize I’m doing this trek completely on my own. No guide to show me the way. No porter to carry my bag. Just me out in nature carrying my belongings on my back. Call it independent, courageous, brave. For me the term badass is the perfect description. Sorry for the language, Grandma!

The feeling of defeat is so much worse than any mental challenge that comes my way. I usually have a lot of negative thoughts on hikes when the trail gets really steep for a prolonged distance or the stairs are never-ending (This is awful. Why am I doing this? Is this over yet?), but the high I get when I finally reach the summit is intoxicating. This is AMAZING! Oh I can’t wait to do this again! Look how much I conquered! I LOVE HIKING!!!!!!!!! 

I was unsuccessful on my first 14er a few years ago. I truly think that’s why I have such a strong desire to summit all fifty-four 14ers in my lifetime because the initial defeat fueled my drive to achieve every single one from here on out. Much in the same way, I fully plan to come back within the next year to retackle the Annapurna Circuit. There are two times a year it’s feasible to hike so I will either return mid-October 2018 or beginning of April 2019.

The mountains were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Immaculate, massive, beautiful, stunning… these don’t even begin to describe the true beauty and nature of the Himalayas.

Here are my Nepal videos for your enjoyment!

Video: Nepal April 2018

Video: Life on a Teahouse Trek

Annapurna Circuit: Days 7-15

Day 7: March 31, 2018

Today, I woke up feeling refreshed. After reviewing how far we’ve hiked (87km/54 miles) and what we have left to Thorung La Pass (21km/13miles), my mental status is top notch! We’re only three days away from crossing Thorung La Pass!!!!! And of those three days, we have one long day, one medium day, and one short day. We’ve covered a lot of miles so far and are now into the ‘taking it slow’ phase because of the altitude. We can do this!

After taking a nap and being lazy, I was pumped to start trekking again tomorrow. Flynn, on the other hand, had developed a medical issue over the last few days that by 7pm required us to take her to the Himalayan Rescue Association’s health post in town. When I say health post, it’s literally three doctors volunteering their time from US, NZ, and England and living in a 4-room shelter. There isn’t even an examination room, so their consultations take place outside while sitting on plastic chairs.

Dr. Ben from the US conducted a medical procedure on Flynn in our teahouse room to provide her some relief. We plan to give Flynn’s body another day of rest and recovery so we can get back to trekking on Monday.

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View of Annapurna III from the village of Manang

Days 8-10: April 1-3, 2018

We had a restless night’s sleep. After Dr. Ben’s morning visit, we knew we needed to get Flynn to an actual doctor’s office in Kathmandu that had more supplies and equipment. I left Flynn alone for about an hour to check out our options for how we could get back to Kathmandu. I knew she would not make it walking back down, no matter how much she tried to convince me. I looked into paying two scooter owners to drive us down — she probably would have fallen off the back. I looked into taking a Jeep down — would have taken two days and I would have had to slip her some Xanax so she wouldn’t have a panic attack. Here’s a video I took of the road on our previous day’s hike to Chame. I even checked into renting a man’s pony to strap Flynn to while I walked beside them. Needless to say my options were limited.

When I came back to give Flynn her options, she had taken a turn for the worse. She could barely keep her eyes open, was lethargic, and couldn’t move from the fetal position. I immediately summoned Dr. Ben who then made the executive decision that Flynn would need to be medically evacuated via helicopter.

After speaking to the helicopter company, insurance, and hospitals, our chopper arrived at 5pm that evening for an hour long flight. Side note: Their helipad was a field of rocks.While Flynn was in dire pain, I busted out my Go Pro to get some fantastic views of the Annapurnas. She’ll appreciate this later. I’m glad I paid attention to all of Brian’s tours of his bases and flight simulators because I was able to look at the helicopter’s navigation instrument and give Flynn an update on how far away we were. “We just went over Tal.” “Now, Besisahar which means we’re halfway there!”

Annapurna Circuit - Day 9 Helicopter (2)_Moment(2)

Backpacks and trekking poles along with our two pilots

Upon arrival at the Kathmandu airport, we were transferred into an ambulance. It was more like a truck with a topper, but it did have a bed, seats, and heart/pulse monitor. On the way to the hospital, I gave the EMT all of Flynn’s information and chain of events leading up to this point. “Are you a medical professional?” he asked me. Nope, just her friend that has been documenting EVERYTHING. He then preceded to give me a tour of the city and ask about my time spent in Nepal. “Look! We’re now in the center of town. Have you been here yet?” “This is your first time in Nepal? What do you think about it?!” Um… aren’t you going to help my friend? You’re more like a welcoming committee than a medical professional. Oh, the medical standards in third world countries…

After arriving at the hospital, I again gave the ER doctor Flynn’s information and the rundown of events. After some imaging and tests, Flynn was admitted to the hospital for Acute Intestinal Obstruction. Basically, she was able to put food into her body, but it hadn’t exited in eight days.

We spent the next 48 hours in the hospital. While Flynn was in subpar conditions, I got pampered. A staff member made up my bed, gave me a towel for my shower, came in to take my food and drink orders… I practically had a butler for the duration of our hospital stay.

After being unsatisfied with answers and not given much information, we may have fibbed to the doctors so they would discharge Flynn. It wasn’t our proudest moment, but she needed to be seen by a GI specialist in the US. We purchased her a ticket on the next available flight back to Denver.

Day 11: April 4, 2018

After sending Flynn off to the airport, I finally had a chance to decompress. What the heck just happened?! Should I go back and start the circuit over? Will I have enough time? I really shouldn’t hike it alone when crossing into new elevation heights. Will the experience even be what I’m looking for without Flynn? Am I mentally ready to rehike those seven days so soon?

I purchased a bus ticket to the town of Pokhara departing the next morning as A) it was hard to walk around Kathmandu when there was just a buzz in the air from people either starting their trek or coming off of one and B) Flynn and I had planned to spend three days there at the end of our trek because it had been highly suggested from other travelers.

Days 12-15: April 5-7, 2018

Over the next few days in Pokhara, I felt very down and discouraged. The feeling of defeat was overbearing. The months of preparation that went into trekking the Annapurna Circuit – the research, the training, the packing lists, Facetiming Flynn while she was in my storage unit grabbing my gear, the building of excitement… we were only three days away from crossing Thorung La Pass. I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of sadness. I legit slipped into a mild depression. Talking or hearing about the circuit made me instantly burst into tears. There was one day where I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed until 5pm.

After some sleepless nights and many shed tears, I decided to hike the Annapurna Sanctuary trek instead which led to Annapurna Base Camp. While I still wasn’t feeling like myself, I knew the mountains were my happy place and I needed to escape to them. A wise man once told me, “The hardest part of mountaineering is knowing your limits and when to turn around.” 12 days to hike the Annapurna Circuit is doable, but it doesn’t allow for anything to go wrong, nor does it allow for proper acclimatization. The worst thing you can do is rush altitude.

The hospital Flynn stayed in was specifically for foreign travelers. I nosily looked at the whiteboard of other patients on her floor and she was the only one in there for something other than Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). While I knew it was the right decision to forgo Annapurna Circuit, it still took me quite a few days to accept it as my reality.

Annapurna Circuit: Days 1-6

Day 1: March 25, 2018

We left our hotel at 6am to catch a taxi to the New Bus Station (how original). We miraculously found counter 34 (nothing is in English, even their numbers are written different) even through all the men asking, “Where you go? You have ticket? Hello?!?! Follow me!” It was a bit overwhelming. After supplying our pre-purchased ticket, a guy showed us to our bus. This is what we were shown and told we were purchasing at the travel agency:

Annapurna Circuit - Bus (1)

Air conditioning, bags under the bus, WiFi, manufactured within the last 5 years

This is what we actually got:

Annapurna Circuit - Bus (2)

Wifi?! Pretty sure this bus rolled out of the factory circa 1950. Air conditioning?! You mean, opening the windows. Notice their E-brake? It’s a rock. Deluxe?! Quite the opposite.

Well played travel agency, well played….

By 7am, we were rolling, or should I say crawling, through Kathmandu. We had mentally prepared for a seven hour journey to go a whopping 179km. The first three hours of the trip were identical to driving into the mountains from Denver on a Saturday morning – standstill traffic for no apparent reason. The further we got, the more the roads resembled Independence Pass to Aspen – hairpin turns, extreme drop offs without guardrails, one and a half lane roads….

During the fifth hour of our journey, we popped the front driver tire. We drove on it until we came to four shacks on the side of the road, one of which repaired tires. One hour later, the tire was patched up, secured back into its place, and our journey continued. We made it to Besisahar around 3:30pm. Here the bus stopped so all trekkers could check-in and register their Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) cards. TIMS is a way to monitor trekkers’ locations on the trail so if a natural disaster were to strike, rescuers have an idea of where x amount of people are. However, their sophisticated system is just paper and pen so if a natural disaster were to come through, I’m pretty sure the notebook full of information would be gone as well.

We originally planned to only take the bus to Besisahar, but since traffic was finally moving, we decided to stay on until the final destination of Bhulbhule. Besisahar technically starts the Annapurna Circuit, but the trail is literally the road that buses, jeeps, and motorbikes drive on which can be both dusty and dangerous. Asian drivers are organized and strategic compared to the crazy drivers in Nepal. One lane road with oncoming traffic??? Sure, that is the PERFECT time to pass the vehicle in front of me.

The closer to Bhulbhule we got, the sketchier the road became. Remember those waterfall roads I frequently found myself on in the Philippines? It was like that, but with more road erosion and much higher drop offs. There were some areas that made my stomach drop, but overall I felt confident we’d make it to Bhulbhule in one piece. Flynn, on the other hand, was getting more and more nervous as we kept going along. And justifiably so. In 2015, she and her husband, Paul, were driving to a remote mountain biking area when they rolled their Ford Escape off a similar road. They were unhurt (their car was another story), but Flynn has had some PTSD on unserviced forest roads ever since, especially because she was the one driving.

Back to the current situation, I noticed her growing very quiet (quite unlike her), eyes bulging, and grabbing on to parts of the seats. “This is giving me flashbacks. I don’t know how much longer I can do this”, she said to me. During the three minutes it took me to look up how much further we had left, Flynn started to have a panic attack. I know all too well what that feels like so we rushed off the bus, climbed on top of the bus to retrieve our backpacks, and stood on the side of the road while she calmed down. It was only 3.8km (2.36 miles) to the town of Khudi so we put on our hiking boots, grabbed our hiking poles, threw on our headlamps, and began our trek on the Annapurna Circuit at 5pm (should be off the trail by 3pm at the latest) with thunder and lightning in the distance. We booked it into town in a mere 30 minutes, registered our Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP), and found a room at the first teahouse in town (you’re supposed to shop around and negotiate a free room in exchange for eating all your meals there). 300 rupees for one night? GREAT! A room with two beds? PERFECT! Bedframes made out of 2x4s and a crepe-thin mattress? EXCELLENT!

Annapurna Circuit - Day 1 Khudi (1)

Starting out on the Annapurna Circuit

Flynn kept apologizing for how our trek started out but I gently reminded her of our conversation back in Phnom Penh; we had spent an hour talking about our expectations, our limits, acknowledging we were going to have good and bad days, and the agreement that if one of us was at our limit for the day, the other person would be supportive to stop and not peer pressure the other to keep going. Little did we know we would have to put that to the test Day 1.

Somewhere after Besisahar –> Khudi        3.8km (2.36 miles)           30 minutes

Day 2: March 26, 2018

Annapurna Circuit - Day 2 Ghermu (1)

Find the white-cloud-looking things on the horizon. I promise those are the Himalayas and they look much better in person!

We began trekking at 7:30am. We saw our first glimpse of the Himalayas in Bhulbhule. I can’t believe we’re actually doing this! We met two porters here and ended up leap-frogging with them for most of the day. They were our lifesavers at some crucial intersections in the beginning because we were just chatting along and not paying attention to signage. To be fair, the signage is a bit like Where’s Waldo… most of the red arrows and red and white stripes are either faded or in places we wouldn’t think to look. Twice we were ahead of them and then we heard, “Excuse me! This way!!!!” from behind us. Once we figured out where to look for the signage (10 minutes down a path instead of at an intersection, 2 feet off the ground instead of on the path or at eye-level), it was smooth sailing. It took us five and a half hours to reach our destination of Ghermu for the night, including about ten stops. We have plenty of time so we took way too many pictures and drank more water than we normally would have if we were hiking in Colorado.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 2 Ghermu (10)

Row after row after row of rice terraces. I stopped counting after I reached 100.

We stayed at Rainbow Lodge as it was at the far end of town and overlooked a massive waterfall. We saw three groups of trekkers from our bus ride and all were so concerned about us from yesterday. “We’re so glad to see you guys!” “Did you make it in before the rain?!” “We were talking about how dangerous it was getting off the bus where you did.” Another reinforcement that there are still good people in this world.

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View of the waterfall from Rainbow Lodge

Khudi –> Ghermu      16 km (10 miles)        5 1/2 hours         500 meters (1,640 feet) ascent

Day 3: March 27, 2018

Breakfast arrived a bit late so we didn’t get on the trail until 7:55am. Ten minutes into our trek, we crossed a suspension bridge over the Marsyangdi River and were met with a herd of rice and propane-carrying donkeys with less than 20 feet left. “What should we do? They’re too wide to go around,” I said to Flynn. The bridge was barely wide enough for two locals. She forged ahead only to be pushed around like a rag doll by the first donkey. There’s no way I’m going to do that another nine times. “Turn around!!!! I’m heading back!” I shouted among the chaos. After backtracking to the original side of the bridge in the order of lead donkey, me, Flynn, four donkeys, herder #1, five donkeys, and herder #2, we attempted to cross again and were successful. Safe to say that suspension bridge can handle some weight!

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The suspension bridge after our run-in with the herd of donkeys

After the village of Syange, we noticed the porters staying on the road even though the trail was marked to the left and away from the road. After some discussion, we chose to to follow the New Annapurna Trekking Trail (NATT). This proved to be a poor choice as the trail was steep, rocky, and crossed a stream while having to climb over some big rocks with a 50 foot drop to the right, only to eventually meet back up with the road. Lesson learned: ALWAYS follow the porters. They’re carrying up to 30kg (66 pounds) so they know the most efficient way.

Flynn and I have never used trekking poles before but we brought them as they were highly recommended. The first two days, we felt (and probably) looked like giraffes learning to walk for the first time – super uncoordinated and gangly. I have since figured out how to use them uphill and downhill, but Flynn still looks goofy going downhill.

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One of the numerous waterfalls

We were able to see some impressive waterfalls through the remainder of our hike. The trail became steep and after Chamje. We stopped frequently for breaks to rest my legs and get more water. It was a hot day so I crushed just shy of 5 liters of water during our hike. As the trail finally started to descend, we were met with views of Tal in a valley and off in the distance, another Himalayan peak. We knew ahead of time today was going to be steep so when we finally saw our destination for the night after six hours of trekking, we were elated!

In Tal, I was able to pick up some Vaseline for my chub-rub (area where your thighs rub together). Our teahouse had a warm shower and WiFi, although it was only strong enough for Facebook Messenger (no internet, Skype, Line, or Viber). After letting my brother, Adam, know where we had made it for the night, I did some laundry in a bucket and ate a delicious pumpkin, potato, bean, and vegetable curry with homemade cornbread.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 3 Tal (16)

Absolutely delicious dinner!

The Annapurna Circuit is also known as the Apple Pie trail because at the end of everyday, there is hot apple pie waiting for you if you please. After today’s steep climbs, we felt we deserved it so we ordered some at dinner. It came out looking like a calzone but flaky and inside was apples and chocolate in place of cinnamon! Soooo good! I may have to bring this style of apple pie back to the States.Annapurna Circuit - Day 3 Tal (13)

Ghermu –> Tal          12.87 km (8 miles)          6 hours              640 meters (2,099 feet) ascent

Day 4: March 28, 2018

We knew today was going to be a LONG day so we decided to forgo breakfast right away and were on the trail by 6:46am. We took an hour and a half breakfast break in Dharapani after going through the ACAP check point. It was a little longer break than we anticipated, but we needed some additional time to mentally prepare for a hard, steep section coming up.

In a matter of an hour, we gained 500m (2,099 feet) of elevation. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated as it was just incline and not stairs. Stairs are my nemesis. I can walk inclines all day (thanks to my previous months’ of training), but my legs (specifically my thighs) wear out so much quicker on stairs. Nine and a half hours after we first started on the trail (including our long breakfast stop), we made it to our destination of Chame, just before rain really started to come down. We gained 1,100m (3,608 feet) of elevation today and we can feel it in the cold temperatures. I hiked in my pants and thermal base layer for the whole day.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (7)

So. Many. Stairs.

After dinner, Flynn went back to our room and I stayed in the dining hall playing various versions of Solitaire with the deck of cards I brought. I attracted the attention of a local and after some conversation, I asked if he wanted to play a card game. I figured Crazy 8s was an easy game to teach. Fast forward to an hour and a half later, myself, the local, and the lodge owner were in a heated game of Crazy 8s… it was so much fun! I even learned how to say the suits in Nepalese.

Today’s Lesson: Flynn needs more time awake in the mornings before we start hiking and I can’t have long breaks.Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (14)

Tal –> Chame               20.92km (13 miles)         9 1/2 hours           1,100m (3,608 feet) ascent

Day 5: March 29, 2018

Annapurna Circuit - Day 5 Upper Pisang (3)

View leaving Chame

Today was a mentally challenging day. We knew it was going to be a short four and a half hour day and had thought the terrain was going to be easy. While it was easier than yesterday, I wouldn’t describe it as easy. We hiked in silence for the last hour and a half. We did have some awesome views of Annapurna II and two other Himalayan peaks which helped.

We made it to our destination of Upper Pisang and have an incredible view of Annapurna II staring at us (although both of us failed to take any pictures of it for some reason). The windows in both the gas-powered shower and in the toilet rooms are perfectly placed in view of the massive peak. Our shoulders are starting to hurt from carrying our packs. I’ve rubbed off two blisters on my feet so far with two more coming in. This is the longest either of us have backpacked so all things considered, we’re actually doing pretty well!

Tonight will definitely be a chilly one as we were both in our down jackets by 5pm and the temperature is only dropping. Tonight’s teahouse is made of wood with some gaps which doesn’t help with the cold temps. Luckily there is a wood-burning fireplace in the dining hall so I plan to stay in here until I’m ready to go to bed. Gotta take advantage of all the heat I can get.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 5 Upper Pisang (12)

All I could think about when looking at the face of this mountain is how awesome it would be to get some fresh tracks on my snowboard.

Chame –> Upper Pisang      13.8km (8.57 miles)     4 1/2 hours      600m (1,968.5 feet) ascent

Day 6: March 30, 2018

Annapurna Circuit - Day 6 Manang (5)_MomentWe woke up to four inches of snow this morning. We decided to leave a little bit later today to allow for other trekkers to pack down the snow and for it to clear/warm up. All our research and previous hikers had told us to take the harder route up from Upper Pisang because the views made it worth it. We mentally prepared ourselves to be miserable for the first part of the day. After rounding a bend, we saw the mammoth beast we were about to take on. It was switchback after switchback after switchback for as far as our eyes could see. This better be worth it… After stripping down to just our base layers, we took a deep breath and began the seemingly never-ending climb. One hour later we reached the top, only to see the exact same view as we had this morning in Upper Pisang. It was so discouraging! What were all these other people thinking?! Am I missing something here?

Annapurna Circuit - Day 6 Manang (8)

How many switchbacks can you find? It’s so much more daunting in person!

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We hiked in silence for most of the day as we were both mentally drained. Physically our bodies are feeling pretty well (our shoulders are getting stronger, our feet more adjusted to the daily hiking), but mentally we are rundown. Neither of us were prepared for how mentally challenging this trek was going to be. Packing our bags every morning just to unpack every night is draining. Finding a place to sleep every night is exhausting. It’s getting significantly colder with each passing day. We are struggling to live in the moment and appreciate the vast Himalayas constantly surrounding us. Hiking up an incline only to descend and hike back up another incline is frustrating – I’m used to Colorado’s hikes where you keep hiking up inclines until you reach the summit. Annapurna Circuit - Day 6 Manang (10)

We made it all the way to Manang which was 12 miles from Upper Pisang and took eight hours. We had already planned for an extra day in Manang to acclimate and this couldn’t have come at a better time. We plan to do absolutely nothing tomorrow. We will rest our bodies and rest our brains as we have come to accept the fact that the next three days are all going to be very hard mentally. It’s only going to get colder and steeper until we cross the pass. I feel that after Thorung La Pass, we’ll be back to our high energy selves and take everything in. For now, this is the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done.

Upper Pisang –> Manang     19.62km (12.19 miles)     8 hours    400m (1,312 feet) ascent

Annapurna Circuit - Day 1 Khudi (5)

Our nightly meal of dal bhat. Each one was slightly different, although it always had rice, lentils, and potatoes.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 2 Ghermu (20)

This is where we did our laundry and was one option for getting drinking water.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (20)

What I expected teahouses to look like…

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What a teahouse actually looks like.

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Prayer wheels mark the entrance to larger villages. You are supposed to walk on the left side and spin the prayer wheels clockwise.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (27)

How the exit of a village was marked.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (8)

Where’s Waldo? One of the better trail markings.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 3 Tal (5)Annapurna Circuit - Day 5 Upper Pisang (5)Annapurna Circuit - Day 6 Manang (2)Annapurna Circuit - Day 6 Manang (3)Annapurna Circuit - Day 6 Manang (6)

P.S. If you’re just tuning in, I have added in pictures to my previous blogs. You’ll need to go all the way back to the post titled Flynn and Tina Have Arrived for the unseen pictures!

Flynn and Tina have Arrived!

Country #18

So. Much. Fun.

Last Minute Preparations for the Annapurna Circuit

Annapurna Circuit Tips

There are TONS of blogs and information out there about how to hike the Annapurna Circuit without a guide or porter. Here is my list of tips that aren’t covered in any of those outlets:

  1. Keep the weight of your pack to 20% of your body weight.
  2. Buy Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal Himalaya book. I usually despise Lonely Planet, but they created this book right! Hiking times, suggested itineraries, and most importantly, telling you the most efficient way to complete the circuit…. such as when to follow the road and when to veer off on the trail.
  3. Shop Right Supermarket, located in the Thamel neighborhood, is very clean, very organized, and massive. It consists of two floors and is the best place to find odd items that can’t be found in trekking shops such as bug spray, Ziploc bags, and Western candy.
  4. Aroma Garden, also located in the Thamel neighborhood, is your place for Tiger Balm, small containers of lotion, face wash, and soaps. Everything has a price on it so you don’t have to worry about negotiating.
  5. You will need two full days in Kathmandu to get Nepalese rupees and change them down to small bills. Teahouse lodge owners prefer exact change and you’ll want more 100s and 50s than 500s and 1,000s. Day One pull all your money out of the ATM. Find a bank, explain how much money you want to change down, and confirm they will have enough small bills for you when you return the following day. I found success at NMB Bank Limited. If you aren’t able to go through a bank, you’ll need at least five hours of stopping in at every single money exchange to make change.
  6. An average of $25USD per day on the circuit is plenty.
  7. Nepal Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu will provide six passport photos for free. Don’t spend money on these beforehand!
  8. There is an ATM right outside the Nepal Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu.
  9. No bus ticket to Besisahar/Bhulbhule can be booked online. Travel agencies will oversell and over promise you on the price and conditions of the bus. Instead, go to New Bus Station at 6am (this is when counters open), find counter 30 (also labeled 34, 35, and 37), and buy your ticket directly. Bus will leave by 7am and take about nine hours to Bhulbhule including traffic, two toilet stops, and one lunch stop. There is no tourist bus to Besisahar/Bhulbhule… only a local bus.
  10. Buy Tiger Balm to apply to sore muscles at night.
  11. From Jagat to Dharapani, there will be a split in the trail with a suspension bridge in view. Both options are marked with the red and white stripes. The trail to the right says 1:30 to Dharaphani and Trekking Trail. Choose the trail to the LEFT to eventually cross the bridge. The left-hand trail is less steep and is a quicker route to Dharapani.
  12. Stay at Royal Garden in Chame. It’s located at the far end of town. It was the nicest lodge we stayed in during our trek. The attached bathroom has a Western toilet, but the outside shower had HOT water (43 degrees Celsius).
  13. Stay in Upper Pisang, but take the Lower Pisang route to Manang. The views from Ghyaru and Ngawal are the same you get in Upper Pisang.

Happy hiking!

Video: Nepal April 2018

Video: Life on a Teahouse Trek

Annapurna Circuit - Day 5 Upper Pisang (8)

View from behind after leaving Chame

Last Minute Preparations for the Annapurna Circuit

On Monday, we embarked on our full day journey to Phnom Penh. Getting to Koh Rong was very easy – we took a van from Kampot, walked a few blocks to the pier, and hopped on a ferry. Getting back to civilization from Koh Rong proved to be low quality and unorganized. After walking on the beach through rain, we were met with a janky old wooden boat that claimed it would take us to the actual ferry back to Sihanoukville. On Koh Rong’s main pier, we transferred over to the ferry we were originally expecting. After all passengers were loaded and we had pushed away from the pier, a crew member got everyone’s attention to tell us, “We’re down to one engine, but I think we’ll be able to make it all the way back to Sihanoukville. Oh and we’re going to drop you off at a different pier than the one you left on, so just wait out on the street for our bus to drive you back into town. Look for a guy in a yellow shirt.” Um… what?! 

Although we could hear and feel the engine being overworked, we successfully made it across the sea… only to dock up next to another boat (had to walk across both boats with our belongings to access the dock) and were dropped off at the Supply Port…. aka the town’s trash dump. I think there was more trash than water near the dock. After walking past massive garbage bags overflowing with trash and plastic bottles, we made it to the street. Our bus arrived about twenty minutes later to transport us back into town. Flynn and I found a Tourist Information Center and booked the next bus to Phnom Penh. We were told we would get picked up right at the center, but they failed to mention it was a sketchy old van that would transport us to the real bus. By 1pm, we had taken a janky wooden boat, subpar ferry, coach bus, and sketchy van before finally hopping on a leather-seated bus for the 5 hour journey to Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh - Traffic (1)

Normal traffic pattern for Phnom Penh… good luck trying to figure it out.

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 7pm and checked into our hostel. The 24/7 electricity, air conditioning, and wifi along with a very clean room and bathroom were greatly welcomed by us after our remote/lacking facilities in Koh Rong. After settling in, we met up for dinner with my cousin, Chantz, who has lived in Phnom Penh for the last five and a half years. We ate fried rice, prawns, and veggies in a tamarind sauce which was delicious! Flynn went back to the hostel and Chantz and I headed out on the town for some country music and rounds of Liar’s Dice. What are the chances that Monday nights are country nights at one of the bar’s here in town?! Chantz knew the lead singer of the cover band and he came over to chat with us during their break. After introducing me and explaining that I was excited to hear some country music, the lead singer said, “I figured as much. When you got to the top of the stairs, I saw your eyes get big with a goofy smile plastered to your face.”  I don’t think you understand my level of love for country music and especially for LIVE country music. This never happens in Asia!

Flynn and I hit the ground running Tuesday morning. We had booked a full day tour of the S21 prison and Killing Fields through our hostel which left at 8:30am. The S21 prison was our first stop and deeply disturbing. They showed graphic pictures of the last 14 victims found and had them blown up to the size of movie posters. The audio tour discussed in detail the torture techniques used and showed the equipment recovered. It was troubling to hear that a) this genocide happened so recently (1975-1979) yet this was the first time I had heard about it, b) 1.5 million to 3 million people of all ages were murdered in a span of 4 years, and c) there are Cambodians who visit S21 prison to this day to try to identify their family members in hundreds of mug shot pictures. Flynn and I walked through the S21 prison separately and when we met back up two hours later, we both mentioned how nauseous we felt. Is this from the food we ate last night? Please don’t be food poisoning again! Maybe it’s from this place and the gory details and pictures? This is way worse than Dachau. 

We boarded the van along with our 11 other hostel mates and drove out to one of the over 300 killing fields. The Killing Fields were again set up with an audio tour and described how the mass graves were found, how many people were killed daily (typically around 300), and their execution methods. My nausea only increased at the Killing Fields. The audio tour explained how the Killing Tree (still erected) was used to kill babies by holding on to their ankles, smashing their heads against the tree, and tossing them into the nearby mass grave. Upon discovery, brain matter and skull fragments were found embedded in the bark. It took everything in my power not to throw up after hearing that and staring at the actual tree.

After our hour tour concluded, Flynn and I sat in a restaurant and attempted to digest everything we were just told and shown, but we found it difficult to come up with words other than “what the….”. After further research, I learned the leaders of Khmer Rouge weren’t convicted until 2007-2012. Seriously, how did I miss all of this international news?!

Phnom Penh - Killing Fields 1

Floor to ceiling showcases of a small portion of skulls recovered at the Killing Fields

Once we got back to our hostel, I took a much needed nap as my body just didn’t feel right. When I woke up two hours later, I was still feeling off, but wanted to try to accomplish my Nepal To-Do list. After struggling to concentrate and make any progress, I retreated back into my bed and listened to my body yelling at me to give it a break. I think it was a combination of my time in Koh Rong, the previous nights’ food, lack of sleep, and the tour that caused my body to just shut down. My insides hurt and my brain couldn’t process what others were saying to me.

I’m happy to report after sleeping for 10 and a half hours, I was back to my normal functioning self and able to actually write a coherent blog. You should have seen what I attempted to write Tuesday night… Yikes… 

Wednesday was spent completing my To-Do list and running last minute errands. About midday we headed over to Chantz’s apartment to get one last workout in and take a well-deserved break at his rooftop pool.

Phnom Penh (2)

View of Phnom Penh from Chantz’s rooftop pool

All of Thursday was spent making our way to Nepal. Our flight from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur was uneventful. Our flight from KL to Kathmandu was a different story. The Nepalise men were very confused during the boarding process. They didn’t understand their ticket had a seat number on it so the stewardess had to show each one of them where to sit. We were two of ten white people on the flight and two of only four females. The men looked at Flynn and I as if we were aliens. Where are all the women?! I feel like we’re about to enter a whole new level of male dominance. 

Sunset Plane Ride

Incredible sunset from the plane

When we arrived at the Kathmandu airport, again, there was an overwhelming amount of men and hardly any women around. With so many men around, my chances of finding a husband have to be astronomically high.

We arrived to our hostel (creatively named 8848 Hostel because you know, the height of Mt. Everest is 8,848 meters) and were looking forward to getting some sleep. Unfortunately, the walls and windows were super thin so I got maybe three hours of sleep. As Flynn described to her husband, Paul, the next morning, “It was like seven families and their dogs were having dinner in our room.” It was so loud that I got up to check that our windows were shut three times throughout the night…. and we were on the 5th floor!

After breakfast on Friday, Flynn and I headed out to get our two trekking permits. One hour and $40 later (each), we had our permits in our hands! Is this really happening?! The rest of the day was spent taking money out of ATMs (we have to carry all our money on us for the next 21 days), breaking down said money into small bills (the villages in the higher elevations typically won’t be able to break the equivalent of $10), buying gear (down jackets as the high has only been about 10 degrees in some of the higher elevations, Nalgene which perfectly connects to our water filter), and buying last minute items (Tiger Balm for our sore muscles, chapstick with SPF, face wash so I don’t have to carry all my Proactiv products, peanut butter for energy on the trail, etc.).

Kathmandu - Street 5

Trying to navigate the side streets of Kathmandu

Our original plan was to hop on a bus Saturday morning to begin trekking on Sunday. After a full day spent walking around Kathmandu buying our necessary items, we felt we still needed one more day to get everything done and not feel rushed. Our main problem was money. Flynn was only about to take out the equivalent of $500 per day and we needed as least $630 to get us through three weeks. Then came the issue of breaking our money down into small bills. 1,000 Nepali rupees comes out of ATMs ($10), but most items will cost between 100-500 Nepali rupees ($1-$5) while on the trail. We had been warned if you need to pay 200 rupees and only have 1,000 rupees on you, the entire village will have to combine their money to create your change or you’ll just be out whatever amount they are unable to scrap together.

I first headed to a bank to get change, but they were only able to break down 20,000 of my 80,000 Nepalese rupees. After explaining why I needed the small bills, the staff member told me to come back the next day between noon-3pm and they would be able to break down most of my remaining money. We then decided to try our luck at a currency exchange as they are not allowed to charge a commission for their services. We quickly found out most currency exchange places were either unable or unwilling to break down more than a 1,000 rupees bill (I had over 60 that still needed to be converted).

We switched to a hotel Friday evening so a) we could get a decent night’s sleep and b) two friends from high school just so happened to be coming back from a trek in the Annapurna region and were also staying at the hotel. Being raised in a town of 1,000 people, I am literally halfway around the world and hanging out with Nick Maguire from Treynor and Maureen Houser from Riverside. I mean, what are the chances?!

Kathmandu - Dinner

Dinner with Nick and Maureen

On Saturday, we headed back out to the streets to get the rest of our items. Once noon rolled around, we headed to the bank. The staff member remembered me right away (probably because I wore the exact same clothes as yesterday; trying to save my clean clothes for beginning the trek and another stash for when I return) and went into a back office. She emerged with a canvas bag in her hands, sized similar to a regular drawstring bag, and a security office to stand next to me. In a matter of ten minutes, I had changed out 45 of my 60 remaining large bills in exchange for stacks of 100s ($1) and 50s ($.50). Once the canvas bag was empty,  it was Flynn’s turn…. except I had cleaned the bank out completely… so we were back to square one to break down Flynn’s money.

Kathmandu - Money 2

$800 worth of Nepalese rupees

This specific bank was the only one we could find open on a Saturday (their Saturday is equivalent to our Sunday) so we spent the next three hours literally going into every single currency exchange place on two streets (there is one about every 20 meters) and just taking whatever amount they would break down. By 4pm, we had arrived back to our hotel with 90% of the money converted. We spent one hour going through our gear, splitting up shared items, and packing everything we’ll need for the next three weeks into two 70 liter backpacks, each weighing 35 pounds. The weight is definitely heavier than we wanted, but due to starting out at 2,624 feet and hiking as high as 17,777 feet, we have to carry warm, cold, and rain gear for the duration of our trek.

Kathmandu - Packing

Everything that went into my 70L backpack

It is now Saturday night as I’m writing this blog. Tomorrow we will leave out hotel at 6am to catch our 7am bus to Besisahar. While it’s only 179km away, we anticipate it taking between 6-8 hours due to road conditions (still lots of destruction from the back to back earthquakes in 2015) and traffic.

Kathmandu - Street 1

Typical road in Kathmandu caused by the 2015 earthquakes

This will be the last blog until April 22 as I will not have wifi for the next three weeks and even if I did, I’m not about to add an additional 8 pounds to carry my laptop through the Himalayas. Plus, there’s a strong chance we’ll be without electricity in most of the villages once we reach a certain elevation. I do plan to keep an old school handwritten daily journal while on the trail and will type up all my thoughts and experiences for you upon my return to civilization.

Over the next three weeks, I anticipate using only my feet as a mode of transportation, being completely disconnected from the outside world, wearing only two outfits (one for hiking, one for hanging out in the villages at night), hiking an average of 7 hours per day, eating dal bhat twice a day every day, going to the bathroom outside more often than inside, and sleeping in a shack where you can hear a person fart three rooms down. So why am I doing this you might ask?! Because I’m about to see some of the most beautiful scenery on this planet, hike in the Himalayas with one of my best friends, and cross Thorong La Pass, the highest navigable pass in the world.

HERE WE GO!!!!!!

 

So. Much. Fun.

Sorry for the late post! I was without wifi and electricity was hit or miss (much more miss than hit) for majority of this last week. Gotta think all the way back to 10 days ago…. Ah, yes… back to Siem Reap and coming off food poisoning. 

On Monday, I woke up feeling great and ready to tackle our last day in Siem Reap. We had purchased a three day pass to Angkor Wat and still had one more day to use up. We checked out of our hostel, put our bags in their luggage storage, and biked our way north to Angkor Wat. Our plan was to bike the remaining half of the Grand Circuit which included five temples. I was in high spirits after the first two, but felt progressively worse with the other three.

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 79

Just taking it all in

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 80

Not too shabby of a picture after having food poisoning 

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 85

While walking into the final temple on our route, I got bit three times in a row by some bug/insect. After leaving the temple 15 minutes later, my arm was swollen and hot to touch. (I’ve had this happen once or twice in every country I’ve visited on this trip, but have yet to figure out what animal causes my body to have this reaction.) We found a street vendor with some ice and jimmy rigged it to my arm using a plastic bag, pre-wrap, and the assistance of a parking attendant. Great way to test out our First Aid skills for Nepal!

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 84

Prime First Aid skills right there

With the bag of ice mostly secured to my arm, we started biking back towards the exit. I soon began to feel lightheaded so Flynn and I stopped under the shade of a tree. After a 10 minute break, I still wasn’t feeling any better so we decided I would hire a tuk tuk to take my bike and I back to the hostel. Unfortunately, there weren’t any tuk tuks near us which led us to bike two miles before we found one. By that point I was super out of it – lightheaded and blotchy vision, confused (I knew Flynn was speaking English to me, but my mind couldn’t process what she was saying), overheated (sun was blazing), dehydrated (no liquids in my body), and no strength (my diet had consisted of 4 crackers, rice, and a fried egg over the last 36 hours). While it was obviously the right decision, I felt like such a failure during the ride to the hostel. These people probably think I’m such a wimp who bit off more than I could chew with biking Angkor Wat. They don’t even know this is my third day of biking and I’ve already covered 84 miles!

Kampot - Hotel Bus 1

Sitting on my top bunk in the hotel bus

After laying on benches in the hostel for the next four hours (we had already checked out of our room), it was finally time to catch our night bus to Kampot. It was labeled as a hotel bus and it was awesome! There were bunk beds in place of seats and slept 26 people. The left side of the bus had double bed bunk beds and the right side had single bed bunk beds. Each bed had an outlet, light, and vent. Pillows and blankets were provided. Flynn and I crawled into our sleeping bags and grabbed some shut eye before being woken up at 4am when we arrived in Kampot. We found two other people heading to our hostel and shared a tuk tuk. Because our hostel’s reception didn’t open until 7am, we got back into our sleeping bags and slept on the outdoor bar’s benches for another few hours.

Kampot - Arcadia Backpackers 2

Flynn snoozing away while we waited for reception to open

Once the sun came up and the staff arrived to work, we were able to see what we were about to get into for the next two days…. it was like summer camp for adults! There were eight apparatuses over the river – zipline, rock wall, rope swing, slide, blob, platform, Russian Swing, and a floating bar. My breakfast was served beer… yep, I think I’m going to like this place! Another awesome thing about this hostel is that it’s not on any third party booking sites. It’s strictly through word of mouth – a girl I met back in Penang, Malaysia had told me about this hostel and gave me their email address to make a reservation.

Kampot - Arcadia Backpackers 4

Why yes, I would love a beer with my breakfast while I update my blog. How thoughtful!

The next two days were spent flinging ourselves into the river. You can see some of the fun we had here. We did take some time out on Wednesday to hike 14km to a waterfall with our packs on to check our fitness and stamina levels for Nepal. We anticipate we’ll hike 10-20km per day so while this hike didn’t have too much incline, it was still a great test.

Kampot - Hike (3)

Testing our fitness and stamina levels

Our fun at Arcadia Backpackers and Waterpark came to an end Thursday morning. We hopped on a two hour van ride to Sihanoukville where we caught a late afternoon ferry to the remote island of Koh Rong. After a 25 minute walk on the beach, we arrived at our hostel, Nest Beach Club, and had a low key night. Pretty sure we were both sound asleep before 9pm.

On Friday, we woke up bright and early and were greeted with an amazing view! Crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, hammocks, beach volleyball… really the definition of paradise.  We spent the next three days out in the sun enjoying beers and playing LOTS of beach volleyball. I played so much beach volleyball that I still have bruises on my forearms three days later (the volleyball’s quality was less than par). Every day around 2:30/3pm, we would gather up people from the beach and play until the sun went down. We had electricity for maybe six hours a day and only had wifi after walking 30 minutes through the jungle into the village.

Koh Rong - 4K Beach

Our daily view of 4K Beach which our hostel was located on

We met some really awesome people during our time in Koh Rong. There was a group of Israelis who walked through the jungle to our hostel to partake in our daily game of beach volleyball. There was a fellow American who has been teaching all over Asia for the last seven years. We met two Indian guys who were experiencing hostel life for the first time and talked to their mothers over 10 times a day. We ran into Frederick and Espen, two Norwegian guys we originally met at Arcadia Backpackers. During their bus ride to Sihanoukville, they met Batina, a German model, and the five of us became one big happy family for three days.

Koh Rong - Police Beach Party (1)

Police Beach

Saturday night we went to a rave on Police Beach. Ironic, right? It was supposed to go until sunrise, but electricity was knocked out at about 4am. While some of our crew then went back to the hostel to catch a few hours of sleep, I and a few others stayed out on the beach and caught the sunrise. This made for a hilarious Sunday breakfast as we turned slaphappy… where you are so delirious that the most mundane thing can bring you to laughing so hard you cry. Somehow we rallied through the whole day, again playing beach volleyball and enjoying cold drinks. That evening after enjoying a pot roast dinner as a family, the five of us booked a night boat to see glowing plankton. We were able to spend one hour in the water under the cover of night watching the plankton light up as we moved our bodies through the water. By 10pm, I was more than ready for bed as it had been 40 hours since I’d last slept.

Koh Rong - Sunday Breakfast Slaphappy (1)

Talk about a slaphappy breakfast…

This week was in the top two of most fun weeks I’ve had on this trip. The two days spent outside of Kampot at Arcadia Backpackers and Waterpark filled my thrill-seeking ways. The four days in Koh Rong laying out, playing beach volleyball, consuming too many drinks to count, and suffering from a major lack of sleep fit in perfectly with my desire to enjoy the last year of my 20’s to its fullest.

Koh Rong - Police Beach Party (3)

The crew for Police Beach

Country #18 – Cambodia

I enjoyed a full morning off from tutoring on Monday by running errands, training for Nepal, and laying out by the pool. The highlight came at lunch time when I enjoyed some real tasting Tex-Mex! I commonly crave Mexican food and more often than not, I’m let down by the quality here in Asia. Is this how Asians feel when eating Chinese food in America?! Sunrise Tacos Grill actually served bottomless chips and salsa (10 different kinds to choose from!!!) and a delicious tasting burrito! The chips and salsa options were so good (my favorite being the fresh pineapple salsa), I crushed three baskets of chips and took my burrito home for dinner.

Tuesday morning started off with three hours of tutoring and then checking out of my apartment. I had some time to kill between when I had to be out of my apartment and when I could check into the hotel room that Tina, Flynn, and I shared so I headed back to the Mexican restaurant and downed another extensive amount of chips and salsa. I tutored that evening in our hotel room by using my phone as a mobile hotspot and met up for drinks with Tina and Flynn after.

On Wednesday, I was woken up at 7am by Flynn and Tina willingly getting ready for a run. Curtains open, sun streaming in, excitedly chatting about their route to run the streets of Bangkok. Remind me again why I’m friends with these two?! After failing to fall back asleep, I headed out to the corner to do my laundry. Yes, their laundromats are outside on the sidewalk.

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After your clothes are cleaned in the outdoor washer, you hang them up and hope nobody takes them while they air dry.

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Ferry ride down the Chao Phraya River

Later that morning, the three of us met up with Nikki, another girl from Denver. She arrived through the night to begin her year long ’round-the-world-trip. The four of us hopped on a tourist ferry and cruised down the Chao Phraya River to the Flower Market and the famous Reclining Buddah. I thought I was templed out before getting to the Reclining Buddah, but man, I was blown away by the sheer size of it! It was easily 30 yards long, by 30 feet high. So impressive.

 

Bangkok - Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn (31)

Reclining Buddah – absolutely massive

We capped our day off by getting massages. This one put Tiger Balm on our backs instead of oil or lotion. It felt like Icy Hot, which was really nice, and smelled even better than Icy Hot, which I didn’t think was possible. Tina caught her flight home that night and Flynn and I turned in early as we had to be out of the hotel by 5:30am to catch our bus to Cambodia.

After my varying experiences of long-haul bus trips in Malaysia, I had prepared myself for the worst. Our bus ticket said it would take 12 hours, so I assumed it would be at least 14 hours. We stocked up on snacks and drinks because we weren’t sure how often we would stop. We were pleasantly surprised when a) they fed us breakfast and lunch, b) our seats reclined back 75 degrees and had a foot rest, and c) we arrived in Siem Reap in only eight hours.

Crossing the Thailand-Cambodia border, now THAT was an experience. We were given a crash course into how to cross the border by our bus driver. “First, exit stamp from Thailand, walk, Cambodia visa, then Cambodia stamp. Meet back on bus by hotel.” Um… ok? Sounds simple enough. Five minutes later, we hear, “Quick, everybody off!” We literally hopped off the bus as it was still moving. We followed the crowd of people through the Thailand immigration. Easy, peasy.

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Literally walking across the Thailand-Cambodia border

Then we walked outside, followed the sidewalk towards a sign saying Kingdom of Cambodia, and then chaos ensued. Guys on motorbikes asking if we needed rides. Buses and vans to our right getting inspected. Other people from our bus had gone off in all directions. So where do you think we go now? I think he said something about a palace? Maybe that big building? We asked one of the motorbike guys where to go and he pointed us down another sidewalk filled with street vendors. “Oh! There’s the hotel we’re supposed to meet at. And there’s our bus!” As we crossed the street and approached our bus, we realized we hadn’t gotten our Cambodian visa or stamp, yet we had somehow already crossed over into Cambodia. Our bus driver kindly showed us back to the Visa on Arrival office (still not sure how other people found it) and then guided us to the random cement building where our visa was stamped. How did we just do that? It’s harder to get into a local farmers’ market in Colorado than to enter the country of Cambodia. 

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Cambodia’s tuk tuks are more like chariots compared to Thai tuk tuks.

Upon arrival in Siem Reap, our tuk tuk driver was waiting to take us to our hostel. After checking in to our private room (it sure is nice to travel with a friend and not be in dorm rooms!), we found bikes to rent for a measly $2/day, grabbed a beer on Pub Street (hello $.50 happy hour!), and were in bed by 9:30pm.

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Our awesome cruiser bikes complete with a basket

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I can get used to these prices – all in USD too!

Flynn and I were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we woke up to our 5am alarm on Friday. Besides the Annapurna Circuit, seeing Angkor Wat was the next highest thing on Flynn’s bucket list for this trip. Years earlier, she had visited Borobudur in Indonesia and Bagan, Myanmar which combined with Angkor Wat is the trifecta for holiest places in Buddhism. We put on our headlamps, hopped on our bicycles, and pedaled our way north to the entrance. Again, just when I thought I was all templed out, out came the Angkor Wat complex in all its glorious beauty, numerous temples, and large land mass.

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Outside the Angkor Wat temple

Our first temple of the day was the actual Angkor Wat. It is one of the few major tourist attractions that was 100% worth the money in my opinion. My expectations were high and it far exceeded them. From the intricate details to the sheer volume and height, I was thoroughly impressed. After some breakfast with Angkor Wat in the background, we temple hopped the Grand Circuit for the next ten hours and covered 40 miles on our bicycles…. a feat which I have never done before.

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Biking around the Angkor Wat complex

Even though I was sore and exhausted, I headed to BlackLab Coffee, a co-working space, to tutor for the evening. My original plan was to tutor inside our private room at the hostel, but a) the hostel wifi didn’t have a fast enough connection, and b) my local SIM card didn’t support a mobile hotspot. For those unfamiliar with a co-working space, they come in all shapes and sizes. You either have to pay upon entry or order food/drink to use their internet. There are tables, outlets, and chairs everywhere and everyone is on their laptop working with their headphones on while in a big open space. Some co-working spaces are very quiet while others encourage brainstorming sessions to help generate creativity and share ideas. Even though BlackLab was quiet, I still paid extra for a private room as Cambly requires a quiet background and nobody else passing behind you on your video feed. Plus, I didn’t want to be that one annoying person that everyone would be able to hear the constant conversations with my students.

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Small glimpse of the sunrise over Angkor Wat

We started Saturday morning off the same as the previous morning… 5am alarm, biked up to Angkor Wat, but this time we were actually able to catch the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. Other travelers have compared this experience to watching the sunrise at Machu Picchu. And again, it was worth the hype! The sunrise was a majestic orange which pictures just do not do it justice. After another breakfast with Angkor Wat in the background, we temple hopped through the Small Circuit for seven hours and covered 28 miles on our bicycles.

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So many miles were covered on this bike…

That evening, I headed back to BlackLab Coffee for a few more hours of tutoring before I take the next six weeks. Before my first student, I ordered a mango smoothie and gulped it down. It was just the right amount of cold, mango, and sweetness. Promptly an hour later, my stomach started to feel queasy. That’s odd. It progressively got worse and then in the middle of tutoring a six-year-old whose

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If only I knew what was about to occur an hour after snapping this picture…

parents weren’t in the room with her, I felt it… the rising up from my stomach to my throat, my mouth salivating, no, no, no, no! “Grace, I’m sorry, I will be right back, go get your parents and tell them I’m going to be sick!” I said quickly as I ripped my headphones out of my ear, pushed the door open, and sprinted to the bathroom just in time to vomit up my mango smoothie. Phew! I feel much better now! Wonder what was in that thing…? I returned to Grace and explained to her parents what happened, but said I could finish the lesson as I was feeling much better. I finished her lesson and got through a short 10 minute lesson with a different student before I was throwing up in the bathroom again. Mango smoothies do not taste good the second and third time around.

I couldn’t see an end in sight so I cancelled the rest of my classes that evening and headed back to the hostel where I spent the next three hours violently purging every amount of liquid out of my body. I even went so far as to have an FPS, what Adam commonly refers to as a fetal position shower…. where it takes every ounce of effort in your body just to lay over the floor while the shower runs over you.

While Sunday came around with no more purging, my stomach was still very queasy, my back, neck, and core were sore, and I was beyond exhausted so I didn’t leave my bed.

Needless to say, I had my first encounter with food poisoning. I’m not sure if I got it from the mango smoothie (not sure what kind of water source was used to make the ice) or from the sweet and sour chicken I ate earlier that day, but thank God, we were in a private room.

My initial impression of Cambodia in general and Siem Reap is awesome! I really like when I enter a place country or city and immediately know it’s where I want to be. Being able to say that even after having food poisoning… yeah, I’m going to like it here!

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Temple where Tomb Raider was filmed

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We visited so many temples, I can’t even remember which temple this one was

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Not entirely sure how the white tree was able to grow out of this temple and not crush the decaying stones… pretty impressive!

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Inside Angkor Wat temple

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Another inside area of Angkor Wat temple

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Climbing steep stairs with a towel wrapped around your waist was not the easiest thing to do

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Inside my favorite temple within the complex – Bayon Temple

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My absolute favorite picture of Flynn and I to date