The past three months in review: part 3
All I need I carry on my back; I have nothing to hold me back. The necessities, that is all I need to be happy, that is all anyone needs to be happy. You/we are conditioned to believe you need “stuff” to be happy or to have a fulfilled life, but rid yourself of all the “stuff” in your life and you will realize it was just weighing you down. Lighten your load, live a little, free yourself of the burden. Go out and live your life. Keep it simple.
So it is that time again, my three months in review. Here it is, a short (believe it or not) recap of my past three months.
Day one of month seven was spent laying on the beach watching a movie at the outdoor cinema…one of my favorite spots on the island of Gili Meno. Not a bad way to spend the first day of 2016 in my opinion.
But day two began under the sea, as I began my scuba diving classes. I now have my PADI! I was able to see an aray of sea life, but by far the coolest were the Sea Turtles that were the size of a grown adult! Unfortunately I did get an infection in my leg while diving, from coral, and I had to visit the doctor…which was located in a shack rental/bike rental/restaurant/grocery story/doctors office/home.
Before leaving Indonesia I meet back up with Jo, a friend had I traveled with in Thailand, in Uluwatu. We went to this amazing little beach where you had to walk down a large stone stairway, carved into the rocks, between two large rock overhangs. The beach was beautiful with all its overhangs and little cave formations, you felt very secluded from the bars just above.
One of the prettiest places in Uluwatu, Bali was Pura Luhur Temple; though the sunset was pretty disappointing, it was still beautiful. The temple sits on the edge of a cliff were you can watch the warm pinks, oranges and yellows of the last rays of the day disappear behind the sea (or at least that’s what I’m told). As we were waiting to watch the “sky show”, a pesky (but really smart) monkey came up from behind and stole the glasses right off my face! Luckily for me this happens all the time, so there was a nice man standing by, prepared to exchange my glasses with the monkey, for bags of fruit. It took three bags to make the deal. Like I said, SMART monkey!
Jo and I spent one day watching the massive waves from Dreamland Beach, as well as the occasional surfer-hottie. We also had the bright idea to try our hand at body boarding…I nearly died at least five times. One gigantic wave I was tossed around in I literally thought “OMG, this is the end!” But it was still fun, nonetheless.
I toured Chong Khneas, a floating village on Tonle Sap Lake, one of the worlds largest fresh water lakes, just outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was a very eyeopening experience for me. The village was amazingly beautiful in all its disheveled glory. Run down boat houses, mucky water, kids playing in the water, mothers hanging clothes out to dry, men fishing; just everyday life there. The people of Chong Khneas survive on the water from the Tonle Sap; they live on the water, fish in the water, bathe in the water, swim in the water, cook with the water, wash clothes in the water, and they even empty their waste into the water; it is their lifeblood.
I have seen many temples but none compare to the ancient temples of Ankor Wat. I spent two days exploring the many temples surrounding Ankor Wat; the detail put into creating these masterpieces is unreal. What an amazing place to begin my day watching the sun rise behind these massive stone wonders.
I gave a blessing at the foot of buddha and received a braided bracelet and a blessing for my donation.
Tarantulas, scorpions, water bugs (still not convinced they weren’t cockroaches!), silkworms, ants, grasshoppers and crickets…anyone hungry? Yes… I did it! Only because I couldn’t be the “girl” who wouldn’t do it. Never again! Though I do have to say… they didn’t actually taste all that bad, except for the water bug….it nearly made me vomit.
I found out the hard way that laying on the beach can sometimes be anything but relaxing. I had to fight off people trying to sell me: bracelets, sunglasses, massages, and threading (hair removal) just to name a few. I actually had one woman come up to me, sit down on the end of my chair, and proceed to feel my leg hairs. She gave me a shameful look and proceeded to thread my legs as a demo. It took me ten minutes to talk her down! I made a quick trip to my bungalow to shave my very hairy legs, hoping this would deter her and any other threaders from stopping by. It seemed to work. I did give in to two ladyboys, named Pim and Beyonce though, who gave me a $5 pedicure, and an anklet. 🙂
In Cambodia they primarily use US Dollars. So do not be surprised when you receive USD from the ATMs, or when you pay for your bill and receive both USD and KHR (Cambodian Riel) currencies in return.
I slept on the beach in a hammock for five nights, on a tiny little Cambodian island called Koh Ta Kiev, where the only means of transportation is by foot and there is absolutely no WiFi. It was everything I imagined it would be…until the last night.
On my last night there I learned of my unusual tolerance for Marijuana, which is completely legal in Cambodia. My hostel had a reputation for its homemade snookie cookies, so I thought… “Why not?”. Though I have smoked an occasional joint, I have never been able to get the infamous “high” that everyone talks about, so I thought I would try edibles, instead. The night before, I had tried the recommended amount (promised to give even the biggest marijuana connoisseur “a trip”), but for me, nothing. So on this last night, I doubled my intake (they were only cookies, after all). My friend ate only the recommended amount and was gone within half an hour. Me….nothing. So I took yet another portion, THREE TIMES THE RECOMMENDED AMOUNT! Nothing. Five hours later…while finding my way through the jungle to my beachside hammock, I began to feel the wrath of the snookie cookie. After eventually locating my resting place, I zipped myself up in my bug-proof hammock and watched as the world spun. The waves were crashing on the shore just a few yards away and I began to get seasick. I was trapped. I could not find the zipper no matter how desperately I tried. Three times I vomited on myself all zipped up before I was able to get out and drag myself to the shore to wash off. Luckily I had a clean blanket at the foot of the hammock that I was able to wrap myself in. And so there I slept, on the deck of the hostel…for everyone to find when they awoke for coffee the next morning. Never again!
The sunsets on Koh Ta Kiev were out of this world!
I also went naked snorkeling on Naked Beach, unfortunately I didn’t see much (sorry folks no pictures.)
I swung over the blue salt water in a hanging chair, with my feet dangling in the water, reading as the waves rolled in and out.
I had much better luck snorkeling (in my bathing suit) off another one of Koh Ta Kiev’s beautiful beaches. There were so many yellow, blue, white and silver fish, of all sizes, but be careful of the sea urchins… they are everywhere! The fish were magnificent! But the best part was when I heard this buzzing sound… I had no idea what was going on when all of the sudden from nowhere I was surrounded by thousands (yes, thousands!) of little silver fish about three inches long. They swam up from behind me and engulfed me as they swam past. The little beauties then swam back and surrounded me again only to turn back around and pass me one more time! It was by far one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed. I just lay there floating, taking them all in. I was kicking myself for forgetting to charge my GoPro, but maybe it’s more special that I have that memory just for myself.
Cambodia was a place of reality checks. While in Phnom Penh I visited the killing fields and the S21 prison where much of the tragedy of the Cambodian genocide, committed by the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, took place from between 1975-1979. I left there with a very heavy heart.
I met back up with Matt, one of my Camino friends, in Vietnam. It was an unusually cold winter in North Vietnam and we FROZE as there was no heat. It also rained the entire time we spent together. Despite the weather it was great to see him.
Matt also introduced me to a little piece of heaven called Bon Mei, a Vietnamese bread roll; basically a sandwich put on a baguette. He asked if I had ever tried it and claimed “The Vietnamese make baguettes the way Europeans think they make baguettes.” I informed him that was a bold statement…and then I tried Bon Mei! WOW!
To be honest I didn’t know a lot about the Vietnam war when I arrived in Vietnam, or the War Against America, as they refer to it. I visited two war museums, one in the North and one in the South; I was appalled. I can now understand why my grandpa never would talk about the war. So sad.
I waited out the rain for three days to take a boat tour of Halong Bay; worth the wait. I am told there is only three places in the world with rock formations like the ones found in this part of Vietnam. And if the boat tour itself were not spectacular enough, we stopped to walk through a beautiful cave as well as we canoed between and under the rock formations.
From Halong Bay I moved to Ninh Binh, my favorite place place in Vietnam. Nihn Binh is landlocked but mostly wetlands and scattered with the same rock formations as in Halong. I stayed in a perfect, if cold, little shack in a small cove between the towering rocks. The shacks stood on stilts with raised walkways and hammocks as it was surrounded by wetlands. Stunning!
I went on a river boat tour on the Trang An in Ninh Binh. What was so unique about this tour was that the river looked more like many lakes. It was all connected through caves at the base of the towering rocks. It would look as if the “lake” were coming to an end when suddenly the Vietnamese woman would frantically be trying to tell us to get down in the bottom of the boat, as we had no clue we were actually going through caves on this tour. There would be a small opening sometimes no more than three feet high that we would squeeze through, sometimes it would open up once we were inside, but other times we would be folded up in the bottom of the boat still trying to avoid the stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling. So much fun!
I went biking around the Tam Coc river area and watched from a bridge as the guides would paddle their boats past, with their feet; one stopped to sell me hot coffee and snacks. After my coffee I biked to Bich Dong Pagoda.
I ate dog for the first time…NOT. But I do have to admit… I was a little curious…
I climbed to the top of Lying Dragon mountain with breathtaking views, everywhere you looked.
Leaving Ninh Binh, I had a motorbike taxi to my bus stop that I will NEVER forget. Vietnam has to be the only place in the world you can arrive somewhere more than an hour late and still be two hours early. My motorbike taxi driver (who I could not communicate with) got lost. We drove up and down the same stretch of road at least fifteen times. We stopped as he asked for directions about 6 times and he nearly killed me 100 times… and I am not joking! At one point he turned into oncoming traffic (without even looking) and stopped while trying to cross the road as a bus only missed us by inches! I literally felt the wind from it as it passed. He finally found a group of people at a different bus stop, to ask for directions, one of whom (thank God!) spoke english. They were able to call the bus company for me and get the proper directions. After finally arriving (and crossing my fingers that I was in the correct place) my bus arrived… two hours later! I boarded a local sleeper bus, only after they made everyone get off the bus and change seats. All the elderly people were seated first, women and children next and then the men (who mostly had to sleep on the floor). The whole process took about another 30 minutes. What an ordeal!
I experienced TET which means “the first morning of the first day”, in other words the lunar new year, it is the biggest celebration of the year in Vietnam. This year, 2016, is “the year of the monkey”. The festivities last for an entire week; much of the transportation and local establishments are closed during this time. The locals celebrate by traveling home to be with their families. In a way it is like combining all of the traditional holidays we celebrate in the States into one big holiday! Its fantastic! Everywhere you look you will see red and yellow flowers as well as tangerine trees and blessings consisting of incense sticks, fruits and other random items.
Egg coffee is a Vietnam specialty…very thick but very delicious! Egg (whites or yolk), sweetened condensed milk and espresso.
Asia, but especially Vietnam, is notorious for their motorbikes (as you may have gathered from my story above). There and little to no pedestrian lights and it’s virtually impossible to cross a street for the thousands of motorbikes. I actually had a taxi driver come over to me, take my hand and walk me across the street, after watching me attempt to cross it myself for ten minutes. You would be amazed at how many people (or things) you can fit on a motorbike! I would say the average amount of people on one bike is four, usually with small children as well. It was shocking to see in the beginning but somewhat normal by the time I left.
Hoi An is known for their tailors so I felt it necessary to have a pair of shorts and a pair of slacks custom made for myself, a first for me.
The street markets in Vietnam are crazy, chaotic and amazing! And the street food is fabulous, and possibly a little questionable.
I had my picture taken with someone I assumed to be famous, as crowds of people were gathered to get their pictures taken with him. He was very impressed I knew how to say “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese. He actually came back to have me say “Chuc Mung Nam Moi, on video!”
In Vietnam it’s common to be walking down the street and see locals who have brought their lawn chairs out for a nap on the sidewalk, you will see street vendors sleeping behind their food cart as well.
As I was sitting in the park one day four kids came up to me and asked me if they could talk to me for a while to practice their english. We talked for about 45 minutes, it was the highlight of my day.
While walking around the Jatujak weekend market in Bangkok I found a booth selling embroidered patches of countries, which I’ve been collecting. As I was digging through them I came across a stack of Indiana state patches…really! Out of all the fifty states, Indiana was the only one they had. I felt it was meant to be!
While fling over the Himalaya Mountains from Asia to Europe I watched the movie Everest…kinda cool, I thought.
Eight months away from home and my family, is a long time. So I was very excited to be reunited with Mom and my aunt in Italy! We started south in Napoli (Naples) and worked our way north to Venezia (Venice). Two words come to mind when I think of Italy..Pasta (particularly gnocchi) and Gelato!
The three of us took a bus down the Amalfi Coast to the city of Amalfi, which sets on a black sand beach. Winding roads along the edges of cliffs with beautiful views of sea/cliffside towns and aqua blue water. As we were exploring the quant little town we stumbled upon a small restaurant not yet open and were invited in for a complementary glass of wine…the hospitality!
While in Napoli we stayed at an Airbnb, with the most amazing host, Melania. We were met upon arrival with fresh made bruschetta and wine, and later in our stay were treated to Spaghetti Napoli, that she whipped up in about 10 minutes with all fresh ingredients. YUM! It also happened to be just a two minute walk to the famous and oldest pizzeria in the WORLD, Pizzeria da Michele…you know, the one from Eat, Pray, Love. Our first visit we were seated right away as it was a weekday, but the second time was a Saturday evening….we waited in line outside for nearly two hours…but well worth the wait! Oh… and did I mention, in Eataly, you. do. not. share. pizzas. everyone gets their own! 🙂
We wandered, or got lost rather, in the lost city of Pompeii which was frozen in time during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. It was magnificent! The plaster casts of the victims of Vesuvius were quite eerie.
Rome was AMAZING! Everywhere you turn there is another ancient ruin to be seen. The Colosseum and Roman Forum were incredible. The amount of history literally build on top of history is mind blowing not to mention the beauty and detail of such structures as the the Colosseum and Roman Forum. I kissed The Holy Cross in the Colosseum, which is said to entitle you to spiritual indulgence, which means it will knock one year and eleven days off of my time spent in purgatory, according to the sins I have committed in my lifetime. SCORE!
We were lucky to visit the Vatican, which I learned is both the smallest and richest country in the world (they even have their own currency), in an exceptionally holy year (2016 Jubilee “The Face of Mercy”) as well as during lint. I have to admit though, I was more than a little disappointed by the Sistine Chapel, the way they herd you through like cattle to where you can hardly move really takes away from the AWE. St. Peters Basilica was pretty amazing on the other hand. And the Swiss Guard with their serious demeanor and circus like uniforms… very contradictory.
Trevi Fountain was of course a must while in Rome. We were shocked by the size and magnificence of this fountain. I of course had to partake in the tradition of throwing coins over my shoulder and into the water; one coin to ensure a return trip to Roma, two coins for a new romance and three coins leading to marriage…how many do you think I tossed?
After leaving Rome we headed to Assisi where we rented a little apartment for four nights that overlooked beautiful green fields and stunning Assisi on the hill, in the distance. We walked to the local fresh fruit and veggie shop and cooked most of our own meals while at the apartment. Even though Assisi was just a short distance from our apartment it proved very difficult to get to. It sets high up on a hill making walking to it a little difficult and the local bus to Assisi apparently was not running, as we waited to no avail. In our effort to find transportation we stopped by a cute little authentic restaurant for a quick cafe and WiFi. The only problem being the very stern German looking woman (though she was Italian) would not serve us cafe and did not have WiFi. She spoke no English and scared us into ordering full meals, with wine. Seriously, she was intimidating, but kind. In the end we rented a very overpriced car and were able to visit both Assisi and Spello. Spello being just as splendid with its small cobble streets. The cathedral in Assisi was grand, one of the prettiest I have seen!
We took advantage of our rental and drove to Florence, where we arrived absolutely starving…during siesta, searching for anything that was open. I know it may have been a big tourist foul, but we did not stand in line to see David. It rained the entire day and the line was long…not a fun combo. However we did see fake David which was still pretty…naked (David, not us) and very cold.
Aunt Carol flew home from Florence and Mom and I took a train to the adorable town of Pisa. A lot of people find the leaning tower of Pisa disappointing, but I loved it!
Venice was next and we were upgraded to a much nicer hostel upon our arrival and free laundry because the WiFi was out of order in our original hostel…no complaints here. We had just missed Carnival and the street were still scattered with confetti in all the little nooks and crannies. We floated down the canals on a gondola while our gondolier serenaded us. Most of our time in Venice was spent getting lost (on purpose) in all its many side streets and canals.
The last night with my mom happened to be her birthday, we were able to be in two of her dream places for her birthday. We left the gondolas of Venice, Italy for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. It was beautiful lit up at night and we must have taken five hundred pictures or more. And then the rain came just as we found our Big Bus tour (literally minutes before the scheduled departure), open bus tours are not nearly as much fun in the freezing rain. After watching Mom disappear into the crowd at the airport the next day, I spent the rest of day crying, and very homesick.
I fell in love with Paris, it is such a beautiful city. Every street you turn down there is something else to see. I was crossing a bridge near Notre Dame and stopped to listen to a few bands who were playing, and the next thing I know this guy wheels a piano into the middle of the bridge and begins playing. Only in Paris.
I met back up with a friend, Wes, who I met at Nova Starine Art Park, my first work-away, in Croatia. We sat outside a little bar and caught up on the past months and our travels. Again, it was great to see a familiar face. I also met two of his friends; one of whom lived in Paris, and was able to give us our own personal night tour of the city!
I attempted to visit the D-Day Beaches and memorials of Normandy, but apparently all transportation to these places shuts down during the winter months. My only option was to hire a personal driver, which was not in my budget. So I did not get to see the main memorials but the airbnb I stayed in was right off Sword Beach, one of the five D-Day beaches, which had a small memorial. I guess I will just have to make another trip….Darn!
Next up was Cork, Ireland, where I met Meghan and Tawnee for a week, two of my friends from home. The night before my $57 flight from Paris to Cork, I went to check in for my flight and discovered that I had in mistakenly booked the flight for May 10th and not April 10th, a mistake that cost me $200! Oops! (Glad I didn’t splurge on the personal driver!)
We of course had to make a trip to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, which as legend says will give you the gift of eloquence…which may be why this blog is so long. While at Blarney Castle we roamed the well managed grounds and found ourselves in the fern garden, it was magical. I half expected to see little fairies darting from the ferns.
St. Patricks Day in Ireland! We of course had to see the parade…which was extremely disappointing and extremely long. However, we headed to a pub with a live band and it was exactly what I expected, except for the absence of green beer. There were plenty of bar fights, I believe we counted four, which was great entertainment between songs. The band, The AlKove, were also great and they either dedicated or put our names into about five of their songs. We chatted with them afterwards and I got a free CD! SCORE!
If you have not heard of the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon, or the STARZ TV series based on the books, you NEED to check it out. But… for those of you who do know the story, you know exactly how excited I was to see my first stone circle! We drove to Drombeg Stone Circle in the south of County Cork. And I was sadly disappointed when I was not transported back to 1743 to find Jamie! Oh well…maybe while in Scotland, where the story actually takes place. But anyway it was very interesting nonetheless. We also visited a nice beach and a few Castles.
The most beautiful place I have seen in Ireland thus far hands down would be the Cliffs of Moher. Such dangerous beauty, they actually had a memorial plaque for the many people who have died on the cliffs (trying to take a selfie no doubt…but you just can’t resist)! Aside from the beauty of the cliffs and the sea below there were the crows. Those who know me well know my love of crows! I was able to get within a few feet of the ravens (in the crow family) and take some fabulous pictures! I was stoked!
And here I am, nine months in. I have begun another work-away helping a wonderful family (still in Cork) with a house move and helping to mind the cute kiddos. I will be staying with the Burke family for a month. It’s nice to be still for a while and have my own bed and wardrobe and did I mention the jet shower! I even attended my first ever (that I know of) circus with one of the little girls…I might have had more fun than she did.
Indonesia – Halo
Cambodia – Sues-Day
Vietnam – xin chào
Thailand – sà wàt dii kâ
Italy – Ciao
Vatican – Ciao
France – Bonjour
Ireland – Hello/Dia dhuit
Money spent (estimate): $4000