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.

DCIM100GOPRO

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.

Advertisements

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.

DCIM100GOPRO

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!

Annapurna Circuit - Day 3 Tal (10)

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.

DCIM100GOPRO

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…

Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (10)

What a teahouse actually looks like.

Annapurna Circuit - Day 4 Chame (28)

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!

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.

Bangkok - Laundry 2

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

Bangkok - Chao Phraya River (4)

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.

Border Crossing

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. 

Siem Reap - Tuk Tuk 1

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.

Siem Reap - Bikes 2

Our awesome cruiser bikes complete with a basket

Siem Reap - Pub Street

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.

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 49

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.

DCIM100GOPRO

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.

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 62

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.

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 63

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

Siem Reap - BioLab Coffee Coworking Space

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!

DCIM100GOPRO

Temple where Tomb Raider was filmed

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 61

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

DCIM100GOPRO

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

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 50

Inside Angkor Wat temple

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 51

Another inside area of Angkor Wat temple

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 66

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

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 73

Inside my favorite temple within the complex – Bayon Temple

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat Complex 59

My absolute favorite picture of Flynn and I to date

 

 

Back to the Grind

While Flynn and Tina headed north to Chiang Mai (same city I originally started my travels in with the family in December 2016), I jumped back into the workplace grind. I worked 53 hours this week and by Sunday night, I was exhausted to say the least. I sound like SUCH a millennial. I woke up each morning to my 7:45am alarm and started tutoring at 8am sharp. At noon, I changed into my swimsuit and headed down to the pool to lay out for a bit. After I felt tan enough, I headed back up to my apartment to take an hour or two nap before starting my second shift at 5pm. At 9 o’clock, I grabbed some dinner and headed off to bed. When I read back through this, I’m really not helping the case against stereotypical millennials. But man, after essentially being on vacation for four and a half months straight, it’s a little bit of a struggle to get back into the work mentality. 

I’ve started to get more regular/repeat students but I kind of feel bad that I will take 4-6 weeks off after I just developed a plan of attack and established a relationship with these students. I have notified some students already, but others I’ll drop the bomb on at the end of next week.

I had some rather interesting and eye-opening conversations with students this week. I chatted with a guy from Syria who escaped to Saudi Arabia during the war, but was separated from his family who ended up in Turkey. He hasn’t been able to see his family in over six years due to border restrictions on Syrian citizens.

I had a 51-year-old Brazilian divorcee who recently discovered Tinder. Tinder is a dating app that matches you with others based on your current GPS location. Two times this week for an hour each, we discussed his dating life and he showed me pictures of the women he matched with.

I chatted with a lady from Saudi Arabia about Disney movies and which ones were our favorites. Mulan and Lion King are my top two while Beauty and the Beast takes the crown for her. In discussing the topic of women being allowed to drive in Saudi starting this October (she’s a little nervous but overall excited), I learned that it’s common practice to employ drivers from India. Her family has two drivers to shuttle around her sisters, her mom, and herself. Her family provides the vehicles, separate housing on their property, visa sponsorship, and payment on top for their drivers. Her family also employs a maid from the Philippines. The maid is given a room inside the house, invited to eat dinner with the family nightly, visa sponsorship, and payment on top. It was interesting how they keep their drivers very separate from the family, but welcome the maid into their personal lives so freely.

J and I were discussed the topic of age. The conversation led towards taking care of elderly parents. J is expected to and gladly will move his parents into his own home once they begin to need additional help. I explained to him that most times, Americans will place their parents in nursing homes when they are no longer able to take care of themselves. After a shocking look crossed over his face, he asked, “But don’t you owe it to your parents to take care of them after they took care of you for all those years?!” Well, when you put it that way, I feel like a terrible human being. But let’s be real… I’m still going to throw Barb into a nursing home.

I had a Turkish student who chose the discussion topic of adventure. Oooo! This’ll be fun to compare notes! After I told him the adventurous things I have done in my life and still want to do, he replied, “Yeah, I don’t know why I chose this topic. I’m not very adventurous. I can’t even ride a gondola or monorail.”

The most shocking conversation came from a Saudi Arabian man while discussing marriage. He informed me that he has a secret girlfriend (Western style of dating is prohibited in Saudi) of over two years who he is madly in love with. The problem is his mom will chose his future wife and because his mom doesn’t know his girlfriend, he will have to marry someone else. I told him how unfortunate it was that he wasn’t going to be able to marry the love of his life. He said the only chance he has of being with her is if his cousin is empty (meaning can’t bare children for him). There must be something lost in translation here. He doesn’t actually mean his cousin. I asked him to describe what the term cousin meant to him. He said, “You know, my dad’s brother’s daughter. That’s who my mom will chose for me to marry.” WHAT?!?!?!?! I explained to him how it is illegal in the US to marry your cousin (upon research I learned you actually can marry your first cousin in 26 states, 7 of which have infertility exceptions, GROSS). As if that knowledge wasn’t shocking enough, he preceded to tell me how he has to have a job before he can marry because males have to pay the bride’s father the equivalent of $15,000 USD for her hand in marriage.  “So you are literally buying your future bride?!” “No. That money goes towards getting her ready to be married to me, like clothing and a car.” Doesn’t matter how you spin it, you’re still purchasing your bride. I was so shocked by these two revelations that later in the week, I asked three of my other Saudi students (two males, one female) and all confirmed both of these were customary traditions in their country.

My week ended on two high notes. 1) I was rated 4.97 out of 5 in my first week tutoring! I have no idea what most tutors’ overall ratings are (students are asked to rate each of their tutors), but I honestly didn’t expect THAT high of a rating. Cue happy dance here! 2) I was asked to be interviewed and featured as a guest blogger on another travel blog! Apparently more than just my family and friends get a kick out of my adventures. After researching the other travel blog (super legit, the blog was awarded top 100 Photography Travel Blogs in 2017), I said yes!  My installment will be published in June. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely share the link with all of you.

Flynn and Tina have Arrived!

I began tutoring on Monday and so far, it has been great! I spent the first morning and afternoon watching videos of other tutors and reading a Tutor Guide so I knew what to expect with my first student. I was a little nervous when I signed in at 7pm and took my first caller. How does this platform work? What level of English will they have? How long are they going to want to talk for? What if I can’t keep the conversation going? My student was a female from India who was on a five minute trial session so I spent those five minutes asking her name, where she was from, and explaining how Cambly works. Phew! That wasn’t so bad. My next student was from Saudi Arabia but is currently studying abroad in Australia and we spent 30 minutes discussing our best and worse experiences going through airport immigration/customs.

Throughout the week I’ve chatted for 1,382 minutes (sounds like a lot but is really only 23 hours) between 87 students from 18 different countries:

  • India
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Korea
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • El Salvador
  • Guatamala
  • China
  • Kuwait
  • Russia
  • Japan
  • Colombia
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Nicargua
  • Jordan
  • Turkey

Our topics of conversation have included backpacking, beer, soccer formations, books, and Bali nightlife to name a few. I’m literally getting paid to have conversations about things that interest me. What could be better?

In just this first week, I have six regular/repeat students. I classify a regular/repeat student as someone I’ve talked to at least three times and enjoyed our conversations. One of these students is a 29 year old from South Korea who is pretty reserved. We’ll call him J. After our one hour long session discussing body piercings (he was blown away you could pierce a tongue) and beer pong (try explaining to a reserved foreigner who doesn’t drink what beer pong is…not the easiest thing), he thanked me for “the passionate class”. Is that your polite way of saying I’m untamed compared to your culture?  He must find me rather intriguing because he’s reserved four hour long sessions for this upcoming week.

Another regular student of mine is also from South Korea, but has been living in Austin, Texas for the last six months. We’ll call her E. Her job relocated her and in our first half hour conversation, we bonded over moving to a new city and the struggles of making friends with people who really get you. Four days later she called me again, but this time from work. E was working late but couldn’t focus so she got on Cambly in hopes of distracting her mind for a bit. She was clearly stressed out and just needed a listening ear so I asked her if she wanted to talk about whatever was bothering her. After some initial hesitation, she spent the next thirty minutes telling about being overworked at her job and the boy issues she was having in her personal life. I feel like a therapist…. 

My other regular students include a 20 year old in in-patient rehab for a back injury caused by a car accident who enjoys talking about soccer even though he won’t be able to play again, a Saudi who likes to play me Eminem’s rap music and ask what some of the phrases mean (Thank you Urban dictionary for the help!), a dad of a 4 week old who thinks guests shouldn’t stay longer than three days, and a college student who enjoys telling me the summary of whatever book she has finished (she reads about two books a week!).

Before moving on to Flynn and Tina arriving, I guess I should back up and explain how Cambly works. Cambly is global so not only can my students be from anywhere in the world, but I can also work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a quiet space and strong enough wifi connection. I’m actually surprised they only require download and upload speeds of 2 mbps. Students purchase minutes based on how long they want a session to be (anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours) and how many days a week they want to talk. When a student logs on, they can either call in to a specific tutor or be assigned a random tutor; it’s their choice. They can also make reservations with a specific tutor at least six hours in advance. They can search out a tutor based on the tutor’s native accent (USA, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland, or Scotland), interests (I’ve listed books, outdoor activities, snowboarding, sports, and travel), specialization (mine is pronunciation and grammar), and day job (some are full-time ESL teachers, others are like me whose career doesn’t relate to English). I set my own schedule and can work as much or as little as I like. I can set aside specific hours just for reservations or block out times where I’ll accept any students who calls me. Some students just want to have an organic conversation while others want to go over a specific article for reading comprehension and vocabulary. There are lesson plans already laid out for tutors so I don’t have to prepare anything. I get paid per minute of being in a session/talking with a student. To put it simply, I’m making money by talking to people from around the world with a wide array of backgrounds and interests, all from the comfort of my apartment.

Flynn arrived late Wednesday night and got to my apartment at 3 in the morning by taxi. After some solid sleep, I tutored for three hours while she laid out at the pool and walked around my neighborhood. We then grabbed her backpack and hopped on a train to her hostel. After checking her in, we hit the streets and ate some spicy papaya salad (Flynn’s taste buds were not prepared for the level of spice) and the mouth-watering dessert of mango sticky rice. We parted ways so I could tutor that night and Flynn could get some sleep before picking Tina up from the airport Friday morning.

I tutored again Friday morning and met up with Flynn and Tina around 1pm. They wanted to check out the Grand Palace so we grabbed a map and hopped on the train. According to the map in our hands, the Grand Palace looked to be only ten or so blocks away from the last train stop. Fast forward an hour later… we had walked over three miles and still hadn’t arrived at the Grand Palace. That’s when I noticed an asterisk on the map that said “Maps are not to scale.” That’s quite an understatement. 

While looking at the map, a local approached and informed us the Grand Palace had already closed for the day. Fail. We started walking back the way we came from and chose to take a look around a large temple. We were able to witness monks chanting a song to Buddha while sitting on their knees but propped up on their toes. Talk about a hard position to maintain! We left after thirty minutes and I couldn’t even imitate the pose for five minutes.

Bangkok - Wat Suthat Thepwararam Ratchaworahawihan 4

Outside Wat Suthat Thepwararam Ratchaworahawihan with Tina

On Saturday, Tina and Flynn went to the floating market while I tutored. Due to an obscene amount of traffic, I wasn’t able to meet up with them until dinnertime that evening. We had booked a tour for Sunday with a pickup time of 6:30am so we ended our night early after dinner and drinks.

Sunday started with a 5:15am alarm and a speedy Uber ride to Flynn and Tina’s hostel. We were picked up at 6:30am and began our full day tour. By full day, I mean 14 hours which is the longest tour I’ve been on, but it went by so fast and we were able to see/do a lot of things! The first stop was the Bridge over River Kwai which I came to find out was a part of World War II. Tina is reading a book about River Kwai so she was very excited to find a tour of the place. I, on the other hand, had no idea this was even an attraction/memorial. As mentioned numerous times throughout this blog, I only memorized information long enough to get through each history test in school. I bet there are so many awesome historic things I could see while I’m traveling around that I don’t even know exist. Kanchanaburi - Bridge over River Kwai (4)

Kanchanaburi - Bridge over River Kwai (10)

Walking across the bridge over River Kwai

The bridge was really cool to walk across. We spent all of our allotted time on the bridge so unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go into the JEATH War Museum. We drove about thirty minutes away from the bridge and hopped on the train for a forty minute segment of The Death Railway. We saw a little cave in a rock wall along the tracks where POWs lived. Our lunch stop was on a floating restaurant which was something new for me. After flushing the toilet by dumping a bucket of water on top of my bodily fluids, I could hear it go directly into the river that we were eating lunch on. Hello third world country.

Kanchanaburi - Death Railway (6)

DCIM100GOPRO

Enjoying our bamboo raft

Next up was floating down said river on a 5×10 bamboo raft with our captain who steered with just one oar. The river had a good current, but his maneuvering skills were still impressive! Half an hour on the raft was just not long enough as the three of us could easily have enjoyed the ride for an hour or more. We arrived at the elephants where Flynn and Tina rode one for about a twenty minute loop. I opted to sit that one out based on my previous experience with elephants in Chiang Mai. I did, however, gladly feed the elephants bananas!

Kanchanaburi - Elephants 2

Feeding the elephant a banana

DCIM100GOPRO

Saiyoknoi Waterfall

Our next stop was at Saiyoknoi Waterfall which wasn’t anything too spectacular, but was a nice way to cool off after a full day in Thailand’s heat and humidity. The final stop before heading back to Bangkok was the War Cemetery of the allied prisoners.  All 300-some American bodies were shipped back to the States, but the cemetery was full of British, Australian, and Dutch soldiers. The pictures of the POWs reminded me of the pictures I saw when Adam and I toured Dachau in Germany…. hollow faces, malnourished, and unimaginable living conditions.

We arrived back in Bangkok at 8:30pm. We had originally planned on getting massages that night but after dinner, all three of us were exhausted from the day so we headed our separate ways. During my walk back to the train, I walked down what I will dub as ‘Prostitute Alley’. The street was lined with bars and pubs but it wasn’t a sketchy area. On two distinct corners, girls were all dolled up, sitting on chairs in a line, and just waiting for men to buy them. I witnessed males walking up, scanning over the girls, and opening up his wallet as he approached his selection. It was eye-opening to say the least.

Kanchanaburi - Bridge over River Kwai (6)

Tina and Flynn are here!!!!!

Four Months on the Road

Woo hoo! I’ve now been on the road for four months. Can you believe it?!

Warning, the following story may not be appropriate for Grandma. Before leaving Bali, I went to Victoria’s Secret to purchase some new underwear. Side note: clothing wears out much faster when you wear the same thing every week for months on end. The pair of shorts I bought January 2017 in Chaing Mai hit the end of their road this past December. The pair of sandals I bought November 2016 met the trash can last month. One of my shirts is on the fritz but I’m still holding out hope for it. Maybe I should have packed different clothing than the previous six months’ worth of travel. After picking out some underwear, I asked a staff member if I can try them on (obviously over my current pair) as different styles have different sizing. She said yes and pointed me towards a door. When I opened the door, I noticed it was a storage room, not a fitting room. “Um…” Doesn’t look to be any cameras in here. I guess this’ll do. As I started undressing, the staff member came in. “Don’t worry. No cameras. But I do stay in here,” she said. Alright then. This should be interesting. The next ten minutes were filled with her critiquing each pair I tried on. As is typical with Indonesians, she was bluntly honest. I don’t have a mirror so I guess this is the next best thing. I ended up buying three pairs… all of which were approved by her. What an experience that was!

Monday morning I packed up my bag and headed to the airport. I knew my plane already had an hour delay. Upon arrival at the airport, I found out my plane was delayed another hour and a half. At 1pm, I boarded my flight and was asleep before we even left the runway. I woke up about halfway through the flight to an announcement from our pilot saying our ETA into Kuala Lumpur was 4pm. Hm… I wonder what time my connecting flight departs. I grabbed my boarding pass and saw the departure time… 16:00. For those of you not familiar with military time… that means 4pm. Huh… well I hope my gate is close to whichever one we land at. After being that jerk of a passenger that I hate, you know the one, being the first to jump up into the aisle after the seatbelt sign comes off and pushing their way to the front, I was greeted by an airline staff member at the gate. “Bangkok?! Anybody going to Bankgkok?!” “Me! Where do I go?!” He pointed toward gate H8, five gates away from where I was, and said, “Hurry!!!” I ran to the gate, put my laptop and carry on through security (every country has different security measures), only to be told that the captain declined me as a passenger because they were already late. “But isn’t that my plane right there? The one that doesn’t even have the thing hooked up that pushes the plane it back?” “Yes, that’s the plane, but the captain still said no. We’ll put you on the 7am flight tomorrow morning.” Fail. Turns out there were three other backpackers in my same situation. After going through immigration and customs, they put us up in a hotel for the night and gave vouchers for dinner. All hotels should be like that one… there were no windows so when I turned out the lights, it was actually pitch black which is what I strive for. Back home, I have a black shower curtain over my window because regular blackout curtains don’t get the room dark enough for me.  However, I’m basically trapped if there were to be a fire outside my room.

Around 7pm, I headed downstairs for dinner. When the staff member was trying to explain how much the voucher covered, he had a really thick accent and was attempting to say “thirty-five”. I responded with, “Ohhh! Tiga lima?” (Indonesian/Malaysian for thirty five). He had a deer in the headlights look on his face for a few seconds before recovering with “kamu mengerti bahasa?” (you understand the language?). Man, give me about 9 more months in Bali and I could totally be bilingual! I think I forgot to mention when I had a pedicure done in Ubud after ripping leeches off my feet, I said, “Terima kasih. Semoga harimu menyenangkan,” (thank you, have a good day) to the owner and he responded in English with, “How long have you been here?! Your dialect is really good!” All the credit goes to my beach boys!

Tuesday started with a 4:45am alarm to catch my 7 o’clock flight. By noon, I had made it to my hostel and settled in for an afternoon nap. That evening, I headed out to find some street food. Most of the carts were only in Thai and nothing looked appealing until I found one that said Chicken Noodle Soup on the top. Ooo… that sounds good! I asked for one for take away and checked out my surroundings. The little alleyway was pub street central, complete with a ladyboy lounge called Soi Cowboy. Yep, I’m back in Thailand. 

Back at my hostel, I grabbed a bowl and poured out the four different bags I was given. And this is what I saw…

Chicken Noodle Soup

I mean, they weren’t lying when they said Chicken Noodle Soup.

Yes, those are chicken feet complete with chicken liver. I immediately started gagging. No, no, no, no, no. That is so gross. Oh, I can’t eat that. Maybe if I pick the feet and liver off, the noodles will still taste good? I covered my hand with a plastic bag and grabbed the first foot. Oh, that’s even worse! Don’t throw up, Laura. You can do this. Only three more feet to go. Five minutes later, I was at the nearest convenience store buying some Lays Bacon and Cheese potato chips.

I checked out of my hostel Wednesday afternoon and headed over to my dogsitting apartment. The owners are both American; the wife is originally from Illinois and the husband is originally from Indiana. After getting the rundown of the apartment complex and Tasi’s schedule, I saw them off and sat down with my laptop.

I purchased a 120 hour online TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course back in December. I took 120 hours quite literally and planned to spend my time in Bangkok, holed up in an apartment, studying 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, to have it knocked out in 3 weeks. Back to the mindset of working 40 hours a week! That first night I sat down to get started on it I was feeling excited. I’ll have some structure/schedule in my life again; this will let me travel for a longer period of time; T-minus 120 hours until I have a certificate in hand; got my notebook and three differently colored pens ready to go…. Three hours later I had already completed 2 out of the 10 modules. Either I’m flying through this information as most of it is familiar (back to Mrs. Olsen’s fourth grade English class of learning about propositions, subject/verb agreement, rules to forming a grammatically correct sentence, etc.) or some people are REALLY slow going through the modules.  If I keep on this track, I’ll be done with this certification by the weekend. If this is how all online classes are set up, I’ve been doing my schooling completely wrong all these years!

TESOL course

Let the studying begin!

Oh Thursday, I texted Carlin as we hadn’t talked since I left Bali which was odd considering we practically spent the last month together. He responded back with, “so funny story….” Turns out he was involved in a scooter accident that resulted in him getting 18 stitches in his head and a very swollen face. He was on the back of a friend’s scooter when they were T-boned and he flew off the scooter into parked scooters. Luckily there were locals around who put Carlin on the back of a street bike and another local got on behind to hold him up as he was super out of it. After leaving the hospital, Carlin decided to cut his trip short (he still had another 3 weeks) and booked the next flight back to Canada.

Unfortunately, I hear of scooter accidents all the time in South East Asia. Two days into my arrival in Bali one of the locals who I hung out with last year was involved in a head-on collision which resulted in him getting facial reconstruction surgery. After some thought, I’ve realized that foreigners driving scooters in South East Asia is equivalent to teenagers driving in America. It’s new, it’s exciting, you want to impress your friends, you push the limits but you don’t really have the experience to properly handle the vehicle which then causes accidents. I bet 95% of American readers were involved in a car accident during their teenage years. So I say, Yes! Drive/ride scooters when you’re over here… just be smarter than your teenage self.

By Saturday, I had completed my TESOL certification course after a total of 14 hours working on it so I treated myself to laying out at the complex’s pool. So much for my plans for the next three weeks…

On Sunday, I said goodbye to Tasi and checked in to my apartment that I have rented for the next two weeks. I plan to get a head start on tutoring online to see if a) I like it and b) is a realistic way to bring in some money while on the road. I’m not out of money yet, but want to have a plan in place for when I reach that point later on. I have been hired by Cambly which is a platform for adults wanting to practice their conversational English skills online. I am anticipating it to be like having a blind date every hour… “Where are you from? What do you like to do for fun? Tell me about your family. What do you do for a job?”

Flynn and Tina arrive from the States this week! Flynn gets in on Wednesday while Tina gets in on Friday. They’ll be in Bangkok through the weekend before heading up north to Chiang Mai and down south to the Thai islands over the following nine days. I’ll hang out with them while they’re here, but will remain in Bangkok while they travel around the rest of Thailand. Yay for more friends meeting up with me on this great adventure!

Tasi

My playmate for four days… Tasi!

Bye Bali

Gili T 1

Enjoying the sunset on Gili T

On Monday, Carlin, Hannah, and I caught a fast boat over to the island of Gili Air. I knew ahead of time that Gili Air was much quieter compared to Gili T, but I didn’t realize how much quieter…. After lounging around the mushroom-shaped pool and walking halfway around the island’s coastline (you can walk the perimeter of the island in about 90 minutes), the three of us were in bed by 9pm and we weren’t even the first ones!

Gili Air 9

Hanging out on Gili Air. Pretty sure my legs are darker than the wood.

Gili Air - Sunset 2

Sunset on Gili Air

Tuesday I parted ways with Hannah and Carlin and caught an afternoon boat back to Bali to hang out with my beach boys. On Wednesday, Hannah and Carlin took a boat back to Bali. It was Hannah’s last night in town (she’s been traveling for 13 months) so Carlin, Tom (the UK dude who hated his life my first week in Bali… had an eye-opening moment of turning into a Yes Man, and now is up for just about anything), Anthony, and I had a wonderful going away party for her at Sky Garden.

Thursday was spent poolside at our hostel working on our tan. I am the darkest I’ve ever been and it’s amazing! I’m probably going to regret that statement when I get diagnosed with skin cancer in ten years. The hostel used to be a hotel so imagine a tropical hotel resort, just with 3 twin beds to a room instead of two queens. There were two pools on the grounds, one of which has a swim up bar. I’m actually surprised a hostel bought them out as it’s in a prime location (literally 50m from the nightlife street), the rooms were good sized, and there was a restaurant on site. Once the hostel finishes renovating all the rooms, it will be THE hostel to stay in when visiting Kuta, Bali. Mark my words.

27901192_1791504387547037_1208009164_o

Carlin, Hannah, and I enjoying the pool at TZ Party Hostel. Who knew bean bag chairs could float in water.

On Friday, Tom headed down to the southern part of Bali, Anthony headed up to Canguu, Carlin stayed one more night in Kuta, and I headed over to Seminyak to begin my 24 hour tour to hike Ijen Crater. Ijen Crater has a sulfur mine at the bottom and when the sulfur gas is ignited, a blue fire emerges from the cracks at 1,112 degree Fahrenheit. This blue fire phenomenon is what Ijen Crater is known for. Because it’s a sulfur mine, you have to wear gas masks while hiking. After reading about both of these unique items, I knew I had to add Ijen Crater to my list of places to visit.

Ijen Crater Java 5

Hiking into the crater with my gas mask on.

Ijen Crater is located on the island of Java which is the closest island west of Bali. It was quite the journey to get there. I, along with two random couples, left Seminyak at 6pm. First we drove (we had a driver) three hours along Bali’s west coast, caught a 20 minute ferry from Bali to Java, then drove another two hours to the base camp.

Ijen Crater Java 11

Miner hard at work

At 1am, our tour guide met us and we began our hike with warm jackets, hats, gloves, and flashlights. By 5am, we had hiked up to the rim and down into the crater to witness the blue fire. Unfortunately, the smoke was thick that night so I didn’t get the best view of the it. We had an hour and a half to kill before sunrise so we just sat and watched the miners work which I felt a little uncomfortable about. I was literally sitting on the ground, watching guys work, while our tour guide explained the life of a miner and sulfur facts. I feel like I’m THAT tourist… you know, the one who gets a picture taken with drugged up tigers or rides on an elephant’s back.

  • Miners work from midnight – 9am as it’s too hot to work during the day
  • Miners carry 30 to 65 kilos (66 to 143 pounds; most of these Indonesians barely even weigh 130 pounds) of sulfur on their shoulders from the mine to the top of the rim (1km), then put the sulfur on a push cart and push it down to base camp (3km), drop off the sulfur to be processed, push the cart back up to the rim, and hike back down to the mine. Each miner does this process 4 times a day.
  • Miners are paid 1,000 IDR ($.07 USD) per kilo. So much work for so little money.

    DCIM100GOPRO

    Contraption used to carry the sulfur on one shoulder. You’re looking at 65 kilos here.

DCIM100GOPRO

This push cart can be used for pushing sulfur down to base camp… or for pushing non-fit tourists up to the rim. Dual purpose.

Once sunrise came, we were able to see parts of the crater lake when the smoke wasn’t in the way. I was able to try out lifting 65 kilos of sulfur on my shoulder and while I was able to do it, I couldn’t imagine carrying it up to the rim of the crater even once.

DCIM100GOPRO

That’s 30 kilos of sulfur in my hands. So much heavier than it looks!

Ijen Crater Java 2

The crater lake

DCIM100GOPRO

In front of the sulfur mine

Afterward hiking back to base camp, we had breakfast at a local’s house and began the journey back to Seminyak, Bali. We arrived at 5:30pm Saturday evening running on about two hours of sleep and reeking of sulfur. I hopped on my scooter, drove to Canguu, and met up with Anthony and Carlin for my last hoorah in Bali.

Canguu - Sunset 2

Saturday night’s sunset in Canguu

Canguu - Sand Bar 1

Carlin and I enjoying nightlife on Echo Beach

Sunday I said my goodbyes and headed back to Kuta to return my scooter and have my last supper with the beach boys before flying out Monday morning.

Kuta Bali - Sunset 5

Sunday’s sunset on Kuta Beach. Well done Mother Nature. You saved the best for last.

I felt like the first two weeks in Bali went pretty slow (which I wasn’t complaining about) and then the last two weeks just flew by. Bali was amazing yet again and while the Philippines were more beautiful, Bali still remains as my favorite place.

Gili T 5

Horse and cart on Gili T

Gili T 6

Impressive how much weight ladies carry on their heads in Indonesia. Plus balancing it with no hands!