Tag Archives: Asia

Breaking up with Asia

Well here it is, the end. I’ve procrastinated writing this post for a few reasons. 1) because one of my most unfortunate qualities is that I have procrastinated everything my entire life 2) because this post marks the definitive end of my adventures across Asia, a fact that I have been woefully ignoring 3) because I feel an overwhelming need to justify my 5 month experience in one final post, a task which I am completely incapable of. That being said, here we go!

Before I get too deep (yeah, we’re getting deep today friends), let me tell you about my final week in Asia! I think I use this particular adjective too much, and it’s a loaded word, but here I go again- my last week in Asia was perfect. Just like the rest of my adventure- inspiring, chaotic, overwhelming, fun, humbling, flawed, spontaneous, easy, difficult, beautiful…. perfect! I have always been a perfectionist (yuck.), but this word now has new life for me. I used to think perfection meant I had to be good at everything- but that’s BS. Perfection is not at all the absence of fault, my adventure had plenty of faults (none of which I regret); but rather the ability to embrace the bad and the good equally, recognizing that one could not be without the other. Too much good is- boring, unfulfilling, annoying. Too much bad is- depressing and useless. In the right amounts, a natural balance of the two is- perfect. Alright now that we got that tangent out of the way (do I have ADD?), let’s get back to Cambodia.

One thing I would like to share about Phnom Penh is the horrific history of the Khmer Rouge and their deadly regime. For those of you who don’t know, the Khmer Rouge (led by dictator Pol Pot) took forceful control of the country in the 1970s. They spent three years in power, during which time more than 25% of the population was ruthlessly murdered by the government. What a disgusting statistic. Imagine if your government just wiped out a quarter of your population, one of every four of your friends is now dead. These innocent people were beaten, starved, and worked to death. No one was spared. The educated, successful, ambitious, intellectual, and creative citizens of the country were sought out and arrested. They were tortured for months before eventually being executed. The more poverty stricken part of the population, who weren’t thrown in jail, were put to work 12 hours a day to increase the government’s profits on exports. Since they were busy selling all that was produced, there was literally not enough food left in Cambodia to feed the people. Even the people that worked for the Khmer Rouge were at risk of sudden execution. Anyone could be killed at anytime for any reason. My friend Helene and I spent an entire day at both the killing fields and the infamous s-21 prison while in Phnom Penh. It was the kind of day that leaves a lump in your throat and a knot in your heart. The amount of human suffering that occurred during this time in Cambodia is almost incomprehensible. An entire generation of intelligence and leadership was taken from the Cambodian people. To put the ruthlessness in perspective for you, of the 17,000 people that were arrested at s-21 prison (one of countless such prisons in cambodia), 7 made it out alive. If you ever have the chance to get to Phnom Penh, I implore to spend a difficult day learning about the heartbreaking history of the Cambodian people. It will likely leave you shaken, but also with a renewed desire to spread more good in the world.

A cell block inside the S-21 prison
A cell block inside the S-21 prison
All prisoners of the Khmer Rouge were photographed upon their arrest, here are a few of the innocent faces
All prisoners of the Khmer Rouge were photographed upon their arrest, here are a few of the innocent faces
A tribute to the lives lost at the killing fields. Many victims remains are still found around Cambodia today.
A tribute to the lives lost at the killing fields. Many victims remains are still found around Cambodia today.

After Phnom Penh, we left for Siem Reap to experience another important (and more impressive) part of Cambodian history at the temples of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a stunning complex of ruins from the Angkorian Empire that ruled much of Asia during the 14th century. We spent 3 days exploring these beautiful and mystifying structures with some new friends from Phnom Penh. Together we were a group of 6- from USA, Denmark, Australia, Scotland, and Holland. We hired a tuk tuk driver to take us around for our sightseeing excursions and really had an amazing time exploring this breathtaking place. The place truly has an air of magic that is palpable to its visitors. You could really spend hours wandering each temple. I would definitely say it should be considered one of the top sights in the world. You should absolutely make it a priority to get here in your lifetime. In our time outside of Angkor Wat, we enjoyed the creature comforts of Siem Reap. Siem Reap is the city closest to the temples and as a result has grown in size and activity as the number of tourists has increased. Although it lacks the true Cambodian character, it is a fun town with great restaurants and lots of energy. We happened to be here on the weekend, so we were able to take advantage of all the excitement that the very entertaining ‘Pub street’ had to offer. Pub street closes its block to cars when the sun sets every night and turns its music up as the other bars close their doors. What results is an international dance party in the middle of the street that continues until the sun comes up. I never made it that far, but it was good fun anyway. After taking full advantage of our last Cambodian destination, it was time for my final visit to Bangkok. An ironic place to end my trip, considering 7 years ago it was the city that started it all! In 2006, I spent 5 weeks volunteering in Bangkok. Thus beginning my love affair with Asia, and eventually leading to my desire to return to this part of the world! Anyway, because I can’t seem to leave anywhere on time, I obviously changed my flight and much to my mother’s disappointment bought myself an extra day in Asia. I realize, I have an Asia problem. Oh well. In the end, I did board my flight and reluctantly said goodbye to my asian adventures.

Exploring the temple complex by tuk tuk!
Exploring the temple complex by tuk tuk!
Ornate Angkorian architecture
Ornate Angkorian architecture
Exploring with friends ( thanks Pete Williams for the photo!)
Exploring with friends ( thanks Pete Williams for the photo!)
Angkor at sunrise
Angkor at sunrise
Missing Cambodian nights out with my travel buddy
Missing Cambodian nights out with my travel buddy

So, here it is- this is where I say goodbye. Now I won’t promise I’ll never write again, because I kind of like this blogging thing. But at least, this is where I close the chapter on the last 5 months of my life. Some of the best 5 months of my life. For obvious and less obvious reasons, it’s a hard chapter to close. The best way I can think to relate it to you is that it’s like mourning a break up. Breaking up always sucks and it just takes a while to get over it. Although in the end the break up may have been for the best, it’s still requires adjustment and figuring out how start your new days with a positive attitude. Some moments, I want to burst into tears I miss traveling so much, other times I am so excited for everything that is next to come. Essentially, I spent the last 5 months in a relationship with myself.  I realize this is incredibly selfish and a completely unsustainable way to live, but for 5 months it was beautiful. Ultimately I cared only about myself every single day. I gave myself what I wanted and what I needed, without giving much to anybody else. I put all my energy into looking after me and I am so grateful for that experience. During this relationship, I took myself on a lot of really awesome dates across the world. Now, I will go back to Utah where I will spend the majority of my energy giving to my patients, my boyfriend, my family, and my friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love all four of those things immensely and it brings me much happiness to give to these incredible people. But the last 5 months reminded me that we have to spend an equal amount of energy loving ourselves. After all, your relationship with yourself is the longest relationship you will ever have, might as well commit to making it work. While mourning my breakup, I will learn to find a balance between caring for myself and caring for others. Often, we forget that this is an essential part of a good life. I encourage you all to nurture your relationship with yourselves. Some of you may disagree, but I think we all deserve 5 months of selfishness at some point in our lives. I now know myself better than I ever have before and in turn, am able to give more of my ‘whole self’ to the people around me. The last 5 months have given me so much happiness in my heart, I have even more to share with others. So my advice- be selfish, take care of yourself first. It will make you a better person. To my friends, apologies in advance that I might be the really annoying girl who won’t stop talking about her ex for months to come. What can I say, Asia has my heart.

Now I’ve just realized I lied to you all. This isn’t my goodbye. I have a lot more to say and I guess I don’t shut up easily. My family and coworkers will definitely vouch for me on that one. So now that you understand my separation anxiety from Asia, I will share more next time on the adventure itself. Asia is a gold mine and I want to tell you all the secrets. At this moment, I am still playing tourist and en route from NYC to Philly. I will travel the northeast USA for the next 3 weeks before finally returning to Salt Lake City. The adventures continue…

Love in an unlikely place

I am head over heels in love with this country. I can’t seem  to understand where or why so many of my fellow backpackers formulated the negative opinions that were shared often throughout Thailand. It is certainly a country with a rough exterior, but as they say- you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, right? Likely, I think these nay sayers either didn’t spend enough time here or chose to have their entire opinion marred by one negative experience. The truth about most of Asia, is that it’s gruff and often desperate. This is especially true in a communist country, who’s history is riddled with the atrocities of war and government oppression. Unfortunately, the outcome of this is that a few unsavory and dishonest characters have made it their business to prey on naive tourists. Most of the people who had a poor taste of Vietnam, shared a similar story. You find this everywhere in Asia, but I firmly believe if you stay half awake and follow your gut when being propositioned for something that sounds too good to be true, it is unlikely you will come across any harm. Also, trust only yourself. That being said, the quality of life in Vietnam has improved significantly in the last decade and it is generally a country of happy, hard working people. In three words- I would describe the Vietnamese as friendly, enthusiastic, and curious.

My last post finished with my arrival in picturesque Hoi An, which is ironic considering I now find myself, 10 days later, on a bus back to Hoi An. Before coming full circle, I have journeyed to the very north of Vietnam- visiting snowy Sapa, capitol city Hanoi, breathtaking Halong Bay, and finally historic Hue.
After our motorcycle adventure, Alyssa and I spent 3 days getting completely sucked in to the charm of Hoi An. This is the quintessential postcard city, that has been fantastically preserved and restored from it’s glory days in the 1800s. It is a french-appearing colonial town, with brightly colored stone buildings that decorate the canals and cobblestone streets. It is the perfect place to get lost or cozy up in a cafe with a book. We spent our first day enthralled by the abundance of small shops, selling everything from jewelry, hand woven fabrics, tailor made suits, art work, house decors, and the list goes on and on. A great and unique place to start our Christmas shopping. On day 2, we rose early to join a “Heaven and Earth” bicycle tour of the Hoi An country side. Despite overcast weather, we had a blast exploring the small villages and farms that dot the land around the Thu Bon river. Before leaving the next afternoon, Alyssa and I decided to divide and conquer for the morning so we could both accomplish our desired adventures for the day. Mostly i just needed an excuse to not go on a jog with her. Anyway, I rented a bike for a dollar and made my way to the beach. This was a beautiful ride that culminated with coconut trees and white sand. I didn’t have my bathing suit, so today I was just looking not touching. On my way back to town I intentionally took a few wrong turns and landed in a busy market. Markets are always exciting to me, as they are literally alive and the energy is palpable. After no more than 5 minutes and no less than 50 “you buy something?’s later, I began being tailed by a woman who appeared to be playing cat’s cradle with a thin string wrapped around her fingers. After pausing for half a second too long, I was now at this woman’s mercy and was quickly informed that the string was in fact a very successful method of hair removal (“3 month no hair!”). Well, given that I had been shamefully examining the unattractiveness of my eyebrows that very morning, I decided it was a sign and agreed to follow her to her shop.For those of you that are aware of my previous Asian beauty salon experience, where the notorious Bangladeshi mullet first came to life, you can imagine I was a little bit nervous. Before I had the chance to run, or even exhale, my face was being chalked and the strings were being rapidly pulled and pushed across my eyebrows. It hurts about as bad as you would expect it to but was over quickly. After my ‘salon artist’ tried unsuccessfully to talk me into getting my cheek hair threaded (surprise, apparently I have cheek hair?),  she took one look at my foot and I was easily convinced that I needed to have the ‘dead skin removal’ procedure done. This procedure entailed a lot of moisturizer and a very sharp razor blade. Afterward, it was proudly proclaimed that my feet were “like baby bum!!”. Perfect. Before I could say no, my fingers and toes were being clipped and painted and my $2 threading turned into a $13 spa treatment. I’ll consider it a win. Also, I had enough will power to say NO to the offer of hair cut. That’s a lesson I only needed to learn once.
Lovely Hoi An :)
Lovely Hoi An 🙂
The colors and architecture of Hoi An
The colors and architecture of Hoi An
I am frequently mistaken for a local
I am frequently mistaken for a local
Getting my foot shaved. First time for everything!
Getting my foot shaved. First time for everything!

After a short flight to Hanoi, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at New Day restaurant before boarding the overnight train to Sapa. We were going to Sapa for the weekend, for 2 days of trekking in this mountainous region of minority villages. Unfortunately, we forgot what month it was and when we disembarked the train in our flipflops and shorts the next morning we were greeted by freezing rain. Hmm, maybe we didn’t really think this one out. The weather went from bad to worse and we spent the weekend trudging through muddy land slides and trying to defrost by small charcoal fires. At night, our lovely host family gave us several pounds of heavy blankets and it was actually the best night’s sleep I’ve had. By sunday it was snowing and I was sure I would lose at least one toe.My lips were a dark shade of purple and I was becoming convinced I would never feel warm again. Given that my only remaining options were flip flops or toms, I bought a pair of rain boots from a hotel receptionist upon our return to civilization and I am still sure that it was the best $3 I ever spent. We were grateful to board the train back to Hanoi, and I spent the night with 5 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, and 2 pairs of socks on. No exaggeration, I was that cold and was that illy prepared for cold weather. Next time I go to the north of anywhere in December, I will remember to bring a sweater. That being said, we still managed to have a lot of fun and our brief and mostly foggy glimpses of Sapa’s famous views were truly breathtaking. Sapa was definitely a mountain town that reminded me a lot of the alps. It should also be said that this was the first time Vietnam had snow since 2010. We picked a good weekend.

The foggy and unbearably cold, but still picturesque, rice terraces of Sapa
The foggy and unbearably cold, but still picturesque, rice terraces of Sapa
A Hmong woman, one of the many local women who practically dragged Alyssa and I up and down the muddy hills of Sapa. Don't worry, we then repaid them in very overpriced handicraft purchases.
A Hmong woman, one of the many local women who practically dragged Alyssa and I up and down the muddy hills of Sapa. Don’t worry, we then repaid them in very overpriced handicraft purchases.
Defrosting our toes next to our cereal bowl sized fire.
Defrosting our toes next to our cereal bowl sized fire.
The coziest blankets on the whole planet earth!
The coziest blankets on the whole planet earth!

After spending the next day in Hanoi completing our Christmas shopping, it was time for me to say goodbye to Alyssa. I am so used to traveling on my own or with ‘strangers’, so it was a welcome experience for me to travel with a good friend. I love the liberty of being on my own and having the freedom to decide what i want to do each day. But traveling with Alyssa was easy, and we made good companions. The next day I left for a 3 day boat cruise through Halong Bay. I had been here once before, in 2006, when I took a short trip to Vietnam while spending my summer volunteering in Bangkok. It is a UNESCO World Heritage sight, and the powerful splendor of the bay’s limestone cliffs convinced me to go back for more! Unfortunately, I was still in the northern part of Vietnam and it was still a lot colder than I was prepared for. At this point I had been recycling the only two long sleeved shirts I have for at least a week. Stinky. We spent the days cruising through amazing rock formations, kayaking, visiting floating fishing villages, and exploring a local island. I returned to Hanoi with one more day to soak In the sights.

Sunset in Halong Bay
Sunset in Halong Bay
Exploring Halong bay by kayak
Exploring Halong bay by kayak
Trying to keep warm in my summer clothes! Wrong season.
Trying to keep warm in my summer clothes! Wrong season.
This is the life
This is the life

Hanoi is a loud, cramped city but has such an amazing amount of character you can’t help but love it. I enjoy Hanoi a lot more than I enjoy Ho Chi Minh City. If you ask anyone in the south of Vietnam, they will warn you sternly that the northerners are not as friendly and not as kind as them. While I do think the Southerners have a unique charm and generosity, I found no fault with the northern Vietnamese people. As much as I was enthralled with the winding streets of Hanoi’s old city, I decided it was only just to explore the other areas as well. But the old city still remains my favorite, I could spend days sitting in the little plastic chairs on the side walk, drinking Bia Hoi (25 cent draft beer, that must be imbibed the day it is brewed, as it has no preservatives) and people watching. So, I went and saw the legendary lake who’s famous turtle is very much still alive and is said to be guarding the country’s most important sword. I also stopped by to say hello to Ho Chi Minh, but his grave site is only open for 3 hours a day so I just waved from outside the gates. Soon, it was time for me to board another train.

The chaotic streets of Hanoi!
The chaotic streets of Hanoi!
Enjoying Bia Hoi in the mini size chairs of Vietnam
Enjoying Bia Hoi in the mini size chairs of Vietnam
I am only (with some degree of humility) posting this picture so someone could share the laugh with me. I honestly had no idea I looked like THIS until I had someone take a photo of me, unfortunately at that point the day was over. Backpacker fashion :/
I am only (with some degree of humility) posting this picture so someone could share the laugh with me. I honestly had no idea I looked like THIS until I had someone take a photo of me, unfortunately at that point the day was over. Backpacker fashion :/

On this train I found myself waking up Hue, the imperial capitol city of Vietnam. The imperial city is a massive walled in conglomerate of ancient buildings, temples, gardens, and reception halls. For me, it was reminiscent of Mulan and I was a giddy little girl seeing my favorite Disney movie come to life. It was a fascinating place and full of incredible history. I spent the day touring the other relics of the city with 3 American girls currently serving in the Peace Corps. Remember, when I barely survived my one month stay in the little Nepali village? These brave girls have been doing that for TWO YEARS in Indonesia. They were cool chicks and I was glad to have spent the day with them. In the evening we enjoyed the free Bia Hoi offered by our hotel, the not so legally named “Google Hotel” who’s logo is plagiarized right out of the 90s. It’s a pretty eccentric place, but very enjoyable. After we felt we had sufficiently filled up on our share of free beer, we headed out for a night of backpacker fun. As the first bar closed however, I decided it was my queue to turn as I had to be up at 6am for a full day tour and we all know how unsuccessfully I function with a hangover. It turned out to be a very good cool, when I ran into some fellow revelers the next day who were still nursing the casualties their previous night’s alcohol intake well into the evening. This tour was a full day excursion up to the well known “Demilitarized Zone” or DMZ, that unfortunately was the home of a horrific amount of blood shed during the Vietnam War. This area was essentially the border line between the North and the South, the two opponents of war. There was an obscene number of casualties here and it gained a terrifying reputation among soldier. It was interesting to learn more about the war and see where a lot of the worst days were experienced. We also visited an underground village, that went up to 23 meters deep and housed an entire village of 300+ people during the war. This was their only option to escape the endless bombing that persisted over their homes. It was quite the system and was very successful, as all the villagers survived the war against unlikely odds. There were also 17 babies born underground in the tunnel network! I could not spend 5 years in a  cave.

Amazing imperial architecture from the 18th century
Amazing imperial architecture from the 18th century
Exploring the underground village outside of the DMZ! Best $3 boots I ever bought.
Exploring the underground village outside of the DMZ! Best $3 boots I ever bought.
'The rock pile', a significant battleground of e Vietnam war
‘The rock pile’, a significant battleground of e Vietnam war

And that brings us to the present day, where I am on a not so luxurious bus returning to Hoi An! I will enjoy the afternoon here before I check into my next hotel aka train carriage number 7 and wake up on the beach in Mui Ne. I will spend Christmas here, with an Australian couple I volunteered with in Nepal. Looking forward to a sunny holiday! Hope you all enjoy your families this week. I will be enjoying mine from very far away, over a hopefully reliable Face Time connection. It’s just like being there! Happy Holidays 🙂

update: blogging on the bus cost me my keyboard. My fancy little iPad bluetooth keyboard is likely for sale on the streets of Vietnam somewhere. I feel like I have lost a blogging limb. I guess I better start exercising my thumbs for touch screen typing 😦

Hope you are all enjoying December. December for me has brought a new country and a decision to extend my stay in Asia. After much thought, I have decided that it what I want and what is right for me at this particular moment in my life. That being said, I change my mind a lot and you shouldn’t be completely surprised if I book a ticket home on Christmas Eve. Anyway, having worked as an oncology nurse for 3 years I have been well exposed to the fragility and preciousness of life. We only get one of them after all, so might as well make the most of it. And right now I feel like this is the thing in my life I need to be doing. So we will see.

I am now in Vietnam, having arrived last Wednesday from Thailand. Vietnam is amazing, but more on that later. My few last days in Thailand were filled with islands, scuba diving, food, and nights out. After my last post, I left on a 3 night scuba diving live aboard boat. It was me and 24 of my closest friends. Well kind of. Most of them I met that day, but also many of them were new friends that I had met hanging out in Khao Lak for the past week. Both students and instructors, it was such a good group of people. We left on friday night, and spent the next 3 days rising with the sun and scuba diving until our bodies were pruned. We did 3-4 dives a day, at various sites around the Similan Islands. On Sunday we did a night dive, which entails complete darkness and flashlights! Definitely makes your heart flutter, but the ocean at night is a whole different place. I saw so many cool fish and octopus and eels and snakes and turtles and coral. And I am finally officially an open water certified diver! I am hoping to get a couple more dives in on my tour of Asia, might even go back to Thailand. Anyone want to join me?? A few of my friends there were completing a 6 week ‘Dive Master’ training, which allows them to eventually become diving instructors but also certifies them to lead trips. Many of them end up working in Khao Lak for the season and then often ‘chase’ the scuba seasons around the globe. Mexico anyone?

After returning from the boat trip, I stayed one day longer in Khao Lak than originally anticipated. I just have such a hard time saying goodbye to places I love! But my friend I was meeting in Vietnam was delayed due to visa troubles so I figured why not, right! Monday night consisted of a big night out with my new scuba friends, lots of Thai beer and live music. Yes please. Also some late night pool poaching at the most luxurious hotel pool I’ve ever seen. It look like it could have maybe hosted the olympics of Ancient Greece. Tuesday and wednesday was beach time and last minute souvenir shopping before I was on my way to Ho Chi Minh City. My travels were undoubtedly filled with a little bit of chaos, because that’s just the way it goes. This time it was a matter of immigration. My flight to HCMC from Phuket included a layover in Bangkok. I ‘checked out’ of Thailand at Phuket immigration and was labeled with a ‘fly thru’ sticker upon boarding the plane. Apparently this meant I was to remain in my seat at arrival in Bangkok and wait for an escort to my next international flight. Well I must have been sleeping during that announcement because as my head was up in the clouds I followed the rest of my air asia compatriots and suddenly found myself standing at the baggage claim. As in, on the very wrong side of immigration. As in, CRAP I was in the country illegally. I literally RAN to immigration, where I tried hopelessly to explain myself before even handing over my passport. To which I was responded with “You have departure stamp!!! Why you in Thailand?!?!” Uh Oh. I was escorted to the immigration office where someone recognized my ‘fly thru’ sticker and after making copies of my entire passport decided I was okay to, re-depart. I squeezed out a few tears that may have helped as well. Anyways, in my stressful situation recovery time I was unfortunate enough to pass a McDonalds and gave in immediately. Oops. Some things are just out of my control. The rest of the travels were uneventful and I arrived safely in Vietnam.

Since arriving here, I have come down with some rare unknown strain of the Asian bird flu. Well not quite, but my face feels frequently likes its going to pop and I have never seen such a rapid production of snot in my life. Fortunately it has not been debilitating, most just a huge annoyance, but hopefully it will be on its way soon. So, after a day in Saigon I have made may way north where I am exploring the Central Highlands by motorcycling. Aside from saying it is absolutely amazing, I will wait until the completion of the trip on Tuesday to fill you in on the rest! Good luck with the Christmas shopping and hope you are all enjoying the snow. xox.

Until we meet again, Nepal

The end of my journey in Nepal. What a bittersweet day! Bitter, because- I have said goodbye to a new family, I have left friends from all over the world, and I have had to leave a country from which I still want more. Sweet, because- it was a success in every sense of the word, I will take many memories/moments/lessons with me, I am a better person for having been, and I am on to new adventures. If I could capture my experience in just a few words it would be- Challenging, inspiring, hilarious, and humbling. But because it has been far too long since my last post, I will gift you with more than just a few words today. Since we last spoke….

I have completed the Annapurna Base Camp Trek! It took nine days total, even with an extremely grueling detour to the top of poon hill that may or may not have been worth it (Jury’s still out). We started our trek on Tuesday October 1st, late in the afternoon due to an illness delay (Jamie had a pretty severe case of the sniffles). Our international trekking team included- Lauren (USA), Jamie (New Zealand), Chanelle (Australia), and myself. Day 1 was cloudy and we began by ascending at least 7685 stairs. We only walked for about three hours on this day, but based on how we behaved when we arrived at our first lodge you would have thought we had been walking for a week. In other words, we consumed our body weight in food and I think the kitchen was genuinely concerned they were going to run out of pringles. Once we made it to the top of ABC, there may actually have been a national shortage.

Okay enough about pringles and I also changed my mind about recapping each day, because I’m already bored writing about it so I can’t imagine how you feel. Lets try again. We decided to do our trek without a guide and without any porters. We were one of the few groups along the trek that had made this ambitious decision. Generally, a guide is hired to help you navigate the mountains, keep you safe, encourage and maintain group morality, etc. A porter serves the purpose of carrying all of your crap up the mountain. Porters have been the subject of much controversy in Nepal, although I think the feeling is generally improving. While guides have (or should have) significant knowledge about the the Nepali mountain ranges and generally a lifetime of experience trekking; porters are often very low class citizens willing to do just about anything to feed their family, including dragging upwards of 60 lbs to the top of some of the world’s highest mountain ranges in unreliable clothing and broken flip-flops. Many times, the porters have never hiked this mountain, are malnourished, and are not in any type of outstanding physical fitness. Nepal guidebooks warn travelers of porter abuse and report horrific tales of porters being left behind to fend for themselves in bad weather conditions because they are too sick or injured to go on. On the contrary, without foreign clients accepting the services offered, there would be no source of income for hundreds or thousands of Nepali families. To ensure safe and appropriate care of porters, the general rule is that you are expected to treat your porter like an employee- providing safe working conditions and fair wages. Although ultimately I was glad I chose not to have a porter, I did see examples of both good and bad porter hires. I saw a large Finish group invite their porters into the dining hall (generally, porters are not allowed into the dining until all the foreigners have finished their meals and left) to buy them tea and teach them their favorite dice game. I also saw a porter limping with a bamboo cane, his flip flops taped together, carrying two client’s loads on his head while they ran ahead with nothing but the weight of their camera’s on their backs. My overall impression is that there is still much progress to be made in the respect and care of porters. As for guides, we had a good map and in the few instances where we had to guess (do we go under the fallen telephone pole or down the waterfall/steps?) we got lucky. The only times that a guide would really have come in handy was when we got into the villages. We frequently followed the well marked signs (Next village this way…) because well, who wouldn’t. The signs did indeed take you to the next village, but not before taking you on a sometimes strenuous uphill detour to the guest house of a clever owner. I imagine the guides were intelligent enough to avoid these sneaky traps.

So, on the way to ABC we traveled up and down mountains for four days. There are small villages about 2 hours apart from each other where you can find a guest house for $1 a night. Sounds good until you pay $8 for your dinner. Ouch. Food prices understandably increased the higher you go due to the fact that man power is the only way to transport food beyond the road from which we started at on day 1. Porters are responsible for this as well. We even saw a porter carrying what appeared to be a bed on his head. It was easy to pay the higher prices when you saw these guys running up and down the mountains with everything from new pots and pans to toilet paper and bottles of whiskey. We made it to Base Camp on the morning of day 5. We woke up early to see the sun shining for the first time in a few days so we decided to stay in bed and head up to our “summit” a little later. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and by the time we made it to the top we were in a complete whiteout. This was unsurprising, as the previous three days had given us spectacularly terrible weather. We stayed an extra night at the top and the next morning woke up early enough to steal a few brief moments from the sun to take some photos. The day after we left the top, the sky decided to open up magnificently blue for the remainder of our descent. Oh well.

Highlights and lowlights from a trip to ABC-

– You will meet AMAZING people. This was one of my favorite parts of trekking. We met people from all over the world every single day. So many cool stories and adventures. Specifically, we performed a very unofficial Nepali sun dance with aging American Marty, his taiwanese wife, and his adorable assistant guide “Eric” in the very middle of a trail through the himalayas. We helped a young Irish-Argentinian couple prepare for their ambitious ascent from base camp to the summit of Annapurna. We donated our spare beds to a middle aged Australian couple who met online three years previously and had just experienced some of the more difficult days of their relationship. Anyway, the list goes on. But it was so much fun to meet people and often see them again, all of us on the same journey.

– Lemon Ginger tea is a natural analgesic for sore muscles and cold bodies.

– There is no sense in being miserable about the weather. We had about the crappiest week of trekking in the history of Octobers I am pretty sure. But overall we had an incredible experience that I would do again in a heart beat. I can’t say the same for everyone else we met along the way. Specifically an older British couple who decided the country of Nepal had conspired against them to put a rain cloud over their trek and therefore hated anyone and everything that had to do with Nepal and/or trekking. We met quite a few people who’s everest treks had been cancelled due to terrible weather and they had therefore been re-routed across the country to ABC. Most of these people had traveled all the way from Europe just to reach Everest and despite the massive wrench in their plans were still some of most enthusiastic trekkers I met. A situation is certainly what you make of it.

– Chinese people visit ABC by the thousands. They also have the most stylish and technologically advanced gear on the entire mountain. Which unfortunately does not make up for the fact that they are also the least physically prepared tourists around.

– You will happily pay an exuberant amount of money for a bowl of ramen noodles at 4,100 meters. This will be the best bowl of ramen noodles you have ever had in your life.

– Beds are hard to come by during peak season at ABC. Even harder, when the everest treks are cancelled. I am grateful to have not spent a night on the kitchen floor like some Germans I know or been the Korean lady who showed up in the dark proclaiming desperately “PLEASE give me spot in dining room! I’m old lady!” only to be turned away.

– If you successfully arrive at the top of ABC, you will have completed more stairs than you have ever walked before in your entire life and your ass will look amazing. If you then proceed to Poon Hill, you will curse the inventor of stairs and not give a sh*t about your ass.

– Going down hurts more than hiking up. I think it’s a sign I’m getting old. I’m pretty sure if I had walked one more minute my joints would have actually popped and more than one of my bones would have broken in half.

– When you arrive back to civilization, you will not have any inkling as to how awful you and your belongings smell. Although you knew along the trek that your things we’re starting to stink pretty bad, you are surrounded by others in the same situation so it seems a little less insulting. You won’t realize the aggressiveness of your stench until a few days later when one of your honest friends finally mentions she can’t go in your hotel room.

-Trekking is one the the most personal journeys you can have. It is scary, challenging, amazing, gratifying, fun, awe-inducing, and overall incredible. I want to trek again and again. There are few times that I have really felt so connected to myself. You should all do it to.

Here I am again, being long winded. Growing up, I was always one of those students who threw a fit about word limits on my essays. I could not understand why someone would want me to stop at page 12. Do you believe it? The good news is you are not my professor so you can stop reading at anytime. Well, I will end there for today. Currently en route to Sri Lanka via India. That’s another story in itself that I could summarize with my complaint letter to priceline.com. Did you know if you have a connecting domestic flight in India, you are required to get a visa? Yeah, neither did I. So my original booking of Kathmandu–>Mumbai–>Chennai–>Sri Lanka was completely useless when I got to the ticket counter. So here I am $270 later, preparing for a 9 hour layover in Mumbai so I can get a direct flight to Sri Lanka and avoid my domestic layover. It’s not like I had any plans to leave the airport! Ugh. Fortunately a met a Canadian hippie named Tom who shared in my plight and overcame this problem of international law with me. Well, I will write again soon because I still want to tell you about the Dashain festival (I ate goat tongue, for breakfast) and my last few days in Nepal. I guess it’s a good thing I have 9 hours in Mumbai. Watch out, there are so many blog posts coming. If all goes well, Sri Lanka here I come!

Departure

Hey friends and family! Welcome to my blog. (Disclaimer- 2 things I did not intend to be at age 25,  1.homeless 2.blogger. But here we are!)  I will share my thoughts, experiences, successes, and struggles of life across Asia. Hopefully, the content will be entertaining and enjoyable for you… but really, blogging scares me more than going to Asia alone does- so no promises!

Now, lets get to the adventure-
WHY (am I crazy?)
WHERE (wouldn’t I prefer an area of the world that has toilets?)
WHAT (No, I do not know where or with whom I will be living next week)
WHEN (my bank account will likely dictate the answer to this)

Ever since I was young, I have been addicted to traveling. It started when I moved to Paris, France with my family at age 13 and it hasn’t stopped. I love- the challenge, the new people, the interesting cultures, the spontaneity, the change of pace, and the experiences that come with being completely outside of my comfort zone. So, before I moved to Salt Lake City, UT three years ago, I promised myself I would save  the necessary money and go on an adventure. Well, the time has come and now I am leaving behind the most amazing job at Huntsman Cancer Hospital, a comfortable life of friends and family, a perfect boyfriend, and pretty much everything else I know. It is hard, but worth it. Those things will likely be there when I return, and having this opportunity is a unique, life-shaping experience.

After ultimately deciding my plan to ‘go everywhere’ was not entirely realistic, I narrowed down my destination to ‘anywhere’ in asia. More specifically, Nepal and the countries of South east Asia. This decision was based on my past experiences in Thailand, a trip that left me wanting much more.

So I begin in Nepal. I land in Kathmandu on Saturday evening and join a volunteer group called Hope & Home that I have signed on with for the next month. I will have a few days of orientation in Nepal’s capitol city before I find out my placement and (mode of transportation tbd) get sent off to a rural village with my backpack and enthusiasm. I will live with a Nepalese family and work in a health clinic, I think. I decided this was a good way to start my adventure and get my foot in the Asian door. Then, the door opens real wide and I will explore the rest of Asia on a whim. Some top destination desires: trek in the himalayas, learn to scuba in Thailand, motorbike in Vietnam, and sightsee in Cambodia. But who knows, maybe I will be a yogi in India or never leave Nepal. This is the fantastic flexibility of traveling by yourself!

I currently have a return ticket to Boston, MA for the end of December. My intention was to leave with a one-way ticket, but the cost effectiveness of a round trip ticket was convincing. I do however, have the option to change this ticket for a fee- so I may be home in October (please no.) or March. My limiting factors are money, and that I’m pretty sure if I stay much past December someone from my job will get on a plane, find me, and physically put me on the next flight. Love you guys!

Well,  a few more cuts to make on the clothing roster before I can zip my bag closed and maybe a panic attack or 5 (crap, this is really happening!) … then I will be on my way!