Around The World 2010-2011
LA // London // Bath // Paris // Algeciras // Lagos // Granada // Malaga // Tarifa // Chefchaouen // Fes // Marrakech // Dades // Merzouga // Essaouira // Casablanca // Cairo // Aswan // Abu Simbel // Luxor // Dahab // Bahariya // Istanbul // Cappadocia // Amman // Petra // Dead Sea // Bangkok // Pattaya // Chiang Mai // Pai // Koh Tao // Phuket // Bali // Nusa Lembongan // Gili Trawangan // Gili Air // Narita // LA // SF // Buenos Aires // Montevideo // Cordoba // Cafayate // Salta // San Pedro de Atacama // Uyuni // Oruro // La Paz // Cusco // Machu Picchu // Manu // Lima // LA // Las Vegas // Washington DC // Philadelphia // New York // Boston // SF
Title: Time is Nothing by Kien Lam
Original Music: Places and Faces by William Lam [Metaphysika Sounds]
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Stonehenge, England. The first stop on my around the world adventure. A friend picked me up straight off a non-stop flight from San Francisco and we headed on the A303 through the English countryside to this prehistoric monument. It’s staggering to think that I was standing in front of something that’s been there for 5000 years. Checking this off my long bucket list felt good, especially since I knew that for the next few months, I’d be traveling around the globe and checking many more things off this little list. I look back and envy the person I was on that day, standing there at one of the ancient wonders of the world (not officially) with all the exciting possibilities of adventures yet to be had and stories yet to unfold and fill itself with details. I certainly hope the adventures aren’t over, but for now, the list is definitely not getting checked off nearly as fast. But then again, what’s the rush if time is nothing?
Bath, England. On the first night on my travels, I would get 3 hours of sleep on the floor of a friend’s friend’s quaint little apartment in the lovely spa town of Bath. When you combine the English’s love for a drink and your host losing her keys on the same night, you may well end up wandering like a zombie at 3 am down unknown streets in hopes of finding your way back and hoping that her roommate is at home and not dead asleep. At one point, with just £20 and no passport or identification on me, I was ready to jump over a wall and just pass out under a tree. Lucky for me, I didn’t and avoided the explaining I’d have to do the next morning when the all-girls school security guard would find me passed out under said tree. Side note: the city is beautiful. Even with 3 hours of sleep, I still woke up at 7 am to go for a run with a friend through the city.
London, England. My carriage to the airport awaits. London was unfortunately too short of a visit and an incomplete one. I missed both high tea and Sunday roast. That enough warrants a return visit, old and new English friends withstanding.
Paris, France. After London, my next country destination was Paris, a city I have put off visiting the last couple of times I was across the pond in hopes that I would have more than a couple of days to visit this European metropolis. From Charles de Gaulle Airport, I took the TGV to la Gare du Nord to practice my French accent and walk with a baguette under my arm.
Paris, France. Outside the Louvre, I found a nice place to sit down and have my so-called Parisian picnic lunch you usually pick from the local markets consisting of a baguette, some cheeese and wine. The difference was I couldn’t stop at just the cheese and wine, and added some cheap caviar, a couple of fromages, sliced meats (you have to have sliced meats), some jarred asparagus, pate and a pepper grinder that I somehow managed to carry for the rest of my travels.
Paris, France. The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world, the home to the Mona Lisa, and the resting place of Mary Magdalena directly underneath where Tom Hanks kneels down and gets that light-bulb moment at the end of Da Vinci Code. But what’s more important is that there’s a food court just next door.
Paris, France. Entrance to the Louvre, beneath the glass pyramid. I remember really needing to pee when I was here.
Paris, France. It is hard to stand on a bridge overlooking the River Seine at dusk with the Eiffel Tower just in the distance and argue that Paris is not one of the most romantic places on Earth. It is also one of those cities that invite you to walk everywhere even when you know the maps make different locations appear deceptively closer than they really are. I don’t think I logged more miles walking in any one city during my entire time backpacking.
Paris, France. This was my first unobstructed view of La Tour Eiffel. A week into my journey and still benefitting from waking up early due to cross-Atlantic jetlag, I got out of bed at 6 am and took the Metro to the Trocadero to see the tower without the masses. Aside from the few street vendors setting up shop before the rush of tourists, I had the place to myself along with a clear view of the tallest structure in Paris light by the soft morning light. I stuck around for a bit as people started to gather breaking that beautiful tranquility.
Lagos, Portugal. Lagos by day was all about kayaking, swimming, tanning, caves, coves, and relaxing on the beach. Lagos by night was all about the bars. And that bar was Shakers with George the bartender, who may or may not make you a shot called the “flatliner” that is 1 part Jaegermeister, 1 part Absinthe, and 1 part Tabasco. Good stuff.
Lagos, Portugal. Sometimes those pictures of paradise you see in travel brochures and guidebooks don’t show that just outside framing of the pristine turquoise waters and endless white sandy beaches are the fist-sized mosquitoes, a lack of potable water, and swampy path to get to that little slice of heaven. Lagos, Portugal was NOT one of those places and in fact should be too good to be true. But it isn’t. In the southern Algarve region of Portugal, you have a quaint little town, with a thriving nightlife, a simple restaurant that served some of the most literally finger licking good food on all my travels, and one of the most beautiful stretch of cliff, coves and beach in all the world (up to that point in my travels at least, and I have been to Australia’s eastern coast). In the mornings, you start at the local croissanteria (that is a word) and then rent a kayak and paddle around the grottos and caves scouting out the perfect cove (this part comes later). Now it’s time to dry off for a fresh seafood lunch and beer, followed by a walk along the top of the cliffs until you find that perfect cove (from earlier) to hike down to for a afternoon nap and tan on the sandy beaches below. At around 6 pm, you head to the best restaurant in Lagos to simultaneously play with your palate AND fill up in preparation for a big night out one at one of the many bars around town with the friends you’ve made at one of the most chill hostels in all of Europe. I resist from using names to avoid sending too much traffic to these establishments and changing this experience into a massive tourist attraction. The next day, you lather, rinse and repeat.
Granada, Spain. The friend we hitched a ride with from Lagos to Granada, also turned out to be a pretty cool unofficial guide during our stay. From the best tapas spot to the best view of the Alhambra and his favorite hangouts spot like the stairs near the Albaicin. The wall art there was awesome, but the smell of stranger piss may be a slight deterrent as far as calling it a favorite hangout spot.
Granada, Spain. The Alhambra in Granada was the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain. It is an incredible piece of Moroccan architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage site. My Australian yoga-instructor-radio-broadcaster-cocktail-singer friend and I met an awesome brother and sister pair in Lagos at our hostel and hitched a ride with them the next morning straight to Granada. Since I was headed to Morocco, where I would see the influence and design of the Moors everywhere, the Alhambra, somehow seemed less impressive. What Morocco didn’t have on Spain, and particularly Granada is the free tapas that you get with every drink. That’s right. As long as you keep drinking all day, you will never go hungry.
Malaga, Spain. A coastal city south of Granada. This was one of two stops en route to the ferry that would take me from Spain to Morocco. Like Granada, the proximity of the city to Morocco meant it was once occupied by the Moors. What remains is the old Alcazaba, a fortress built in the 11th century. It reminded me of some of the levels from the original 8-bit Prince of Persia games. So much so that I wanted to swing from one metal bar to the next and jump off of old crumbling ledges.
Tarifa, Spain. A place between places. At the southern tip of Andalusia is the port town of Tarifa. There, it sits across from Morocco, steadfast in extending a hello to Africa from Europe. For centuries, this Spanish bastion has endured the winds blowing through the Straits of Gilbraltar, the same winds that also makes this place the wind-surfing capital of Europe. I could easily see why sitting on the beach watching the ominous clouds move aggressively across the skies overshadowing even the mighty waves sweeping into shore.
Chefchaouen, Morocco. In Spain, I met a French-Canadian and convinced him to travel to Morocco with me. Having secured a French speaker, I felt a lot more comfortable taking the ferry from Spain to the tip of the African continent. We stayed in Tangier long enough to buy a bus ticket and get onto said bus out of Tangier. Our first destination was the town of Chefchaouen, an old fortress city painted mostly in shades of blue. It was surreal. Even though we arrived in the city with no map and only the name of a recommended hostel, 4 hours after we left the European continent, we were walking wide-eyed through our first winding Moroccan medina, found a place to sleep and sat on a rooftop enjoying our first tajine and glass of silly sweet mint tea. Yes, that was pretty surreal as well.
Fes, Morocco. Getting lost in Fes is fun, but eventually you need to find your way home. This is where finding a gate comes in handy. My friend and I found the famous Blue Gate just before dusk and opted to follow the path outside the medina wall back to a familiar point to get back to our riad instead of attempting the souk route. Smart decision. We made it back in time for our private hammam session.
Fes, Morocco. The guidebook section on Fes warns visitors about getting lost in the city’s labyrinthine medina. Paths wind into nooks and crannies, smiling children find it funny to lead you the wrong way, and everyone is trying to sell you a carpet. Most maps are also useless. When you inevitably end up lost, the simple solution is to let it happen. And enjoy losing yourself in the smells of the spice market, the sounds of metal craftsman’s and the sights of everything from Coca-Cola transporting donkeys to a freshly killed goat hanging proudly in front of the butcher’s stall. Then, the next day you go and yourself a local guide named Mohammed (everyone is named Mohammed), who will efficiently take you to sites like the Al-Karaouine Mosque (considered the oldest university in the world) and the Attarin Madrasa seen here. The latter allows for non-Muslim visitors to enter through a large set of bronze doors.
Marrakech, Morocco The souk in Fez may be the most confusing, but the one in Marrakech is the largest in Morocco. And quite busy at all times. That is until the Jamma El-Fna Square opens at dusk.
Marrakech, Morocco The famous Jemma El-Fna square comes to life just before dusk as food stalls spring up and the aroma of simmering stews, roasted meats and exotic spices lure the masses and one by one disarms any will power to resist taking a seat. Locals, tourists and even people on bicycles weave about chaotically but in perfect harmony like a dance of life, dust and activities beneath the haze of smoke billowing from the fires and stoves and through the hanging light bulbs. Those not entranced by the food gather around acrobats, snake charmers, storytellers, and musicians who captivate and spellbound just as well. Beautiful turmoil. I go back to the smell because it dominated all other senses, even silencing the unyielding calls from the food stalls to sit at their table and the clatter of pots and pans being moved, filled and scooped from. I gave in quite easily.
Marrakech, Morocco This is one of many food stalls that I was a patron of every night in Marrakech’s Jamma El-Fna square. Everything smells good, and I will most likely eat anything, anytime, anywhere, so this place was this a gastronomic paradise for me. They serve everything from lamb tangias (slowly cooked lamb in an oven) and mechoui (a whole lamb cooked slowly over an open fire) to more adventurous fares like cow brains, sheep head meat, and boiled snails. Yes, I tried everything. And then had a second helping. For dessert, I went over to the chicken and lentil soup stalls and washed everything down with some fresh squeezed orange juice.
Sahara Desert, Morocco. The top item on my list of things to do on my travels was to sleep under the stars in the Sahara. Even if it meant that I’d have to lie on a camel blanket and under the same camel blanket I used to ride in on. After everyone fell asleep in the tent, I felt completely alone (in a good way) out there in the Merzouga desert and watched for the stars for a good long hour before I eventually passed out.
Dades Gorge, Morocco. I’m going to do it. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. The Dades Gorges were gorge-ous. Pun undeniably intended. Located in between the Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountain ranges, everything from the winding mountain pass to the berber villages, rock formations and ancient kasbahs were just stunning. And that was before the sun began to set on everything bathing it in such deep shades of earthy orange and red tones. Gorgeous.
Merzouga, Morocco. A day’s journey east of Marrakech is the gateway to the Merzouga desert, where travelers can experience a bit of the Sahara and ride a camel into the sunset. We spent the night dining on Bedouin cuisine, sipping hot mint tea, and trekking arduously up a deceptively massive sand tune to provide back-up vocals to our Bedouin guides as they sang Bob Marley standards. We slept under the stars and left the Bedouin camp just before dawn to ride back to the village with the sunrise. My camel is the empty one at the back. Along the way, I got off my camel, ran as fast as I could ahead and waited for the camels to come around the dunes. Needless to say, I got my exercise for the day.
Casablanca, Morocco. After Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia, Casablanca lays claim to the 3rd largest mosque in the world and the tallest minaret in the world. The interior was just absolutely grand and immaculate. The former king spared no expenses in the design, material and construction of the mosque, bringing in the best granite and marble from Morocco and Italy along with 10,000 artists, craftsmen and workers to bring life to the details of this massive undertaking. To enter, you have to take off your shoes, which is a given in any mosque, but even then I felt like it was wrong for people’s dirty feet (not mine, they were clean, they are always clean, even when I walk barefoot through mud and dirt) to touch the floors, parts of which were made of glass to look down into the baths below in a non-creepy way.
Giza, Egypt. The Great Pyramids. Some places unfortunately suffer from people having an overly romanticized notion of what it should be rather than what it is. I’ll admit to that being the case here. Long before coming to Egypt, I imagined that when I arrived, I’d be riding a camel, wearing a khaki explorer’s shirt, and sporting a headscarf to protect myself from the constantly blowing sands of the Sahara. The pyramids would stand in the distance with the intense heat of the desert rising into the air creating a mirage of a lush oasis. An old nomad would be leading his camel to the east and when our paths crossed, he would share his water and some ancient Arabian wisdom. Here’s how it actually happened. I woke up, put on my khaki explorer’s shirt, wrapped my scarf around my neck and head and got into an air-conditioned van. I sat for 40 minutes through Cairo traffic with a guide I could barely understand, let alone derive wisdom from, and arrived near the pyramids next to a KFC. Unfortunately, not a mirage. (Side Note: I love KFC. Just maybe not by the Great Pyramids). I don’t want to take away from the incredible feat that was the building of these step pyramids. That part, I was still humbled by standing in its presence. The part where there were security guards sitting idly by on the steps, telling me I can’t climb on the pyramids…then later inviting me to climb the pyramids (for a price, of course), not so much. An extraordinary place, but sadly one diminished by the legions of hawkers offering to sell me every kind of souvenirs or telling me to take a photo of them and then asking for money. That said, everyone is entitled to making a living and as a visitor and tourist, I shouldn’t really judge.
Cairo, Egypt. Built during medieval times, the Citadel of Cairo, a preserved fortification is also the site of the Alabaster Mosque commissioned by Mohamed Ali Pasha in the 19th century. The mosque was built in the domed style of the Ottoman Empire. Since Turkey was next up after Egypt, I got a glimpse of a domed mosque before I set foot in the old Constantinople.
Abu Simbel, Egypt. In hindsight, it’s incredible how many of my days started in the early hours of the morning before the roosters have had a chance to crow. At 3:30 am in my Aswan hotel room, I heard someone yell up from the empty streets below telling me to come down. With some measure of trust, I walked for a few slightly nervous minutes down an empty back-alley to eventually join with a group of 20 others travelers that morning to Abu Simbel. “Safe” now in my cramped mini-van escorted by police convoy, I tucked my legs in and resumed sleeping for the next three hours. Besides being one of Egypt’s most spectacular ruins, the impressive bit in all this is that these two giant temples dedicated to Ramses II were actually piece by piece, disassembled from the mountain it was originally carved into, and moved uphill into a man-made mountain since the rising water levels would have eventually submerged the temples underwater completely.
Nile River, Egypt. I had an entire felucca to myself for 3 days. An entire felucca. On the Nile. An entire felucca. To say that being able to lounge, read and relax and move at the whim of the north wind up the Nile was amazing is the biggest understatement of my travels.
Luxor, Egypt. As most backpackers through Europe would know, after you’ve seen a handful of churches, all but the grandest of churches catch your interest. The same applies to Egypt and its many temples. By the time I got to Luxor, I had acquired enough temple entrance tickets to make a mini flipbook. Luckily, Queen Hatshepsut’s temple was already quite the sight as you approach from a distance and see the mortuary temple sit at the base of a colossal cliff face. Despite a campaign to erase her name from the records by her successor and the natural damage caused over centuries being lost in the sands, the restored temple still retains much of its original splendor. Long before Cleopatra, Hatshepshut was the Egypt’s original female badass ruling the kingdom for 22 years. This was the 2nd place where the security guard wanted me to buy another entrance ticket for my tripod. Tripod in my hand is a tripod. Tripod touching the ground needs a ticket.
White Desert, Egypt. Egypt is known for its ancient temples along the Nile, and those three little pyramids at Giza, but go west to the desert and you can eat, drink and sleep under the stars. And then wake up to this beautiful white desert. The sand was chalk-like in feel and some of the rock formations broke off with relative ease. Delicate, beautiful and white.
Black Desert, Egypt. Close to the White Desert. Except black. And it was on the way back to the Bahariya Oasis.
Mt. Sinai, Egypt. This was my view of the sunrise on Mt. Sinai after hiking for 3 hours in the dark passing camels and many shops along the way selling coffee, karkadé, and snacks. When I started my travels, I planned on chasing the sun, following it east around the world and then south of the hemisphere when summer would begin there. This meant that even with every remotely warm piece of clothing I had, I started to freeze around 4 am while I sat near the summit, waiting to climb the last few hundred steps at dawn. Just before the top, I negotiated a cup of noodle down from 30 LE to 15. Freeze dried noodles never tasted so amazing. It warmed me up enough to comfortably sit at the top of Mt. Sinai slowly clicking away as the sun came up.
Mt. Sinai, Egypt. The trek down was easier, but not nearly as nice when the sun started to beat down hard. It was worse for the camels since the only people who seem to have paid to ride down were heavily overweight people who did not want to walk.
Dahab, Egypt. There is perhaps no place with better conditions to learn how to scuba dive than in the Red Sea at Dahab, other than perhaps a swimming pool. The water was a perfect 79°F for every dive and visibility was incredible. In subsequent dives in Thailand and Indonesia, surfacing was usually a bittersweet affair, but every afternoon dive meant breaking the surface slowly over velvety smooth water with the setting sun gently warming you up. I could trade weeks and months of ordinary moments for just seconds of that bliss.
Dahab, Egypt. How do you beat a day of scuba diving on the Red Sea? A night sitting by it, smoking a hookah and watching the boats sway.
Istanbul, Turkey. I think of Istanbul and I think of this ancient center of an entire empire that through siege and conquests changed hands from the Greeks to the Romans to the Ottomans and finally to the Turks. I think of a city that bridges Europe and Asia and a place so beautiful and revered that even when the city was taken by the Ottomans, the emperor could not bear to destroy some of the iconic churches of the Byzantine empire and instead converted them to mosques. The Hagia Sophia, the most famous of these churches, became a model for many Ottoman mosques over the next few centuries, including the Blue Mosque. Even though I am not a Muslim, I still stood in awe and silent admiration under the domed roof of this holy site. In the courtyard, I felt like I could just sit along the steps for hours watching the clouds blow by. Despite a suicide attack nearby in Taksim square just a couple of weeks before, I felt completely safe here almost like within a fortress wall.
Hagia Sophia, Turkey. The Hagia Sophia itself, first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum, was so vast and expansive when I first entered the nave. The security detail was not so happy with my tripod for some reason, but not before I managed to capture these two scenes of movement within the museum.
Istanbul, Turkey. The gateway to Asia. I made my way from Sultanahmet to the Eminonu Ferry Docks, walking through an empty Grand Bazaar that was slightly creepier than it should be (especially through the section with all the mannequins). From a high-up vantage point you can see the flow of Istanbul traffic, which was a lot less hectic than actually being down there waiting to get onto the ferry to cross the Bosphorus river.
Cappadocia, Turkey. After two months of backpacking through Muslim countries, I jumped at the chance for an all-you-can-eat-and-DRINK night of entertainment. That and I did practically everything you could do already in Cappadocia being stuck there for longer than I had initially planned. Whirling Dervish and other dancers performed and brought members of the audience in to participate. Your guess as to whether or not I belly-danced and had a Turkish fan following who wrote me a lovely little thank you note at the end of the night.
Cappadocia, Turkey. Getting stranded in the middle of Turkey because the entire country was on holiday and practically every bus in and out of the region of Cappadocia was booked for 5 days longer than I had intended on staying turned out to be a mixed blessing of spending an extra 5 days visiting fairy chimneys. Lots of and lots of fairy chimneys. One day on a motorbike, another in a minivan, and third on a bicycle. After that, I felt like I had certainly seen my fair share of fairy chimneys and did everything I could to avoid seeing another fairy chimney for the rest of my stay. Admittedly that was an impossible task to begin with since the hostel I was staying in was actually built into one of those fairy chimneys. Still, that place was felt magical, especially when you can get miles away from anyone else with no sign of modern civilization. At that point, you can’t help but feel transported to some far away land. Until you get to that next tourist stop where the hoards of Turks on holiday come pouring out of large air-conditioned charter buses and ask you to take a photo of them with your camera because you (an Asian person with a camera) are the tourist attraction yourself.
Istanbul, Turkey. A couple of weeks before arriving in Istanbul, a suicide bomber blew himself up and injured 32 other people in busy Taksim Square. This was not exactly encouraging news before arriving in a foreign country, but when I met a local in Taksim, it sounded like the residents of Istanbul hardly let this event cause more than a skip of a beat in their routines. If they felt still felt safe, I wasn’t going to let fear keep me from enjoying myself from experiencing Taksim both day and night.
Petra, Jordan. In my mind, Petra has always been defined by the image of a giant Roman building carved into the mountains at the end of a dark narrow sandstone gorge, almost hidden away like a treasure. This scene was made famous in the climatic journey’s end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Knowing little about Petra itself, I was absolutely blown away when I made my way down that famous walkway, known as the “Siq”, came face to face with that same view I’d seen in so many famous photographs of the “Treasury” and then discovered that this was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The place is just incomprehensibly vast with the many tombs, monuments and facades seemingly carved right into the sandstone cliff faces. To put this into perspective, you are able to buy a 1, 2 or 3-day pass to visit and fully appreciate Petra. And the kicker on top of this is that 85% of the ancient city is still underground and undiscovered.
Petra, Jordan. At the top of Petra, two signs point outward and declare “All Places From Here” and “The View [at] The End Of The World”. There you can look down across the valley beyond Petra and have tea under ragged tents at the “Last Shop” at the end of the world.
Petra, Jordan. As my friend and I walked out of Petra along with the setting sun, we were accompanied along the way by a security officer who wasted no words of flattery for my friend. Somewhere between “I drink a lot of camel milk, you know, it is like viagra” and “You want to know Bedouin man?” I think she got the hint and we slipped away.
Wadi Rum, Jordan. If there’s an arch, you climb it. I think that’s written in the Genenva Convention somewhere.
Wadi Rum, Jordan. While traveling, I witnessed some spectacular sunrises and sunsets that swung my heartbeat one moment from a near frozen lento tempo to a racing vivace the next. The burning red desert of Wadi Rum was perhaps one of the most dynamic and captivating, rivaled only by the dramatic sunset in the Valley of the Moon of the Atacama Desert. Coincidentally, Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon.
Dead Sea, Jordan. It’s true. I swear. A tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. Oh, and that thing about being able to float in the Dead Sea too. This lake between Jordan and Israel has long been an attraction since the biblical days of King Herod and David. The salinity of the water is so high here that life cannot flourish, hence the name. It also means you are as buoyant as a balloon in this thing. I weight about 150 lbs, but you can weigh a whole lot more than that and you’ll still float. A caveat to travelers: you will feel every cut on your body that comes in contact with the water. Also, don’t drink the water and avoid water exposure to the eye. When they tell you that the water taste horrible, don’t question that claim. Happy floating.
Amman, Jordan. Right in the middle of the busy and noisy center of Amman is an old Roman amphitheatre. I watched the sun set, from the nosebleed section of the theatre, the last fiery yellow light of the day slowly being pulled away like a falling curtain from the houses high on the hill across from the theatre. The only other people there were a couple of visitors walking across the seats and a few locals who probably see visitors like myself standing there everyday, watching in awe as twilight made way for the night in their city.
Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you ever have the choice between an elephant and a camel as transportation, always go for the pachyderm. They don’t have humps that ride up your rear. They may occasionally assault you with their trunks if you buy a bag of banana, but no humps. That’s my elephant scratching himself on the tree after I disembarked.
Pai, Thailand. Pai had one of my favorite night markets, selling souvenirs that were actually pretty neat and creative. Between every few souvenir stands would be a food or drinks stand which, if you know me personally or through my writing, is right up my alley. You see street performers in every country doing everything from being performing tricks to standing completely frozen as a statue. This guy was original. For a donation, you can just take one of the paint brushes provided and use his body as a canvas…and he stood still for the hours he was there doing this. He definitely earned his keep.
Pai, Thailand. Some hot springs in Pai explicitly warn to “no boil eggs” in the thermal pools. Not this one, they even sell little bags of regular chicken and eggs and the much smaller quail eggs in ready to boil plastic bags. All you do is take one of the bamboo sticks lying around the thermal pool, hook your bag up to the end of it and let it sit in the water for 20 minutes. Since the water is about 20 degrees below boiling, the soft whites don’t fully solidify, making for a tasty but unusual egg eating/sucking experience. Since the hot springs had a sulfurous smell, you could lie and blame your post-egg consumption flatulence on the hot springs.
“Really, it wasn’t me – * fart *. Ok that was me this time.”
Pai, Thailand. The best way to get around Pai is to rent a motorbike. We rented 5 for 6 people and looped around the city stopping by temples, hot springs, and little waterfalls like this.
Bangkok, Thailand. This is Khao San Road better known as backpackers central. This place is packed with vendors running the gamut with fake shoes, fake backpacks, fake watches, fake IDs, and probably even fake chickens. At night, the bars open up along with food vendors selling anything from piping hot corn to freshly fried up Pad-Thai. Buyers beware, the whole place can get quite messy.
Chumphon, Thailand. It takes 8 hours to get to Chumphon from Bangkok by bus. You get used to it. I promise. I arrived at around 5 am and waited with a fellow traveler for dawn and the Lomprayah ferry to arrive at 7 am to take us to Koh Tao. I recall the morning being quite calm and beautiful, except for a gentle breeze blowing away at the flags. This lasted until we boarded the ferry for nearly 3 hours of stomach churning, up and down, wave crashing, boat action that I somehow slept through it. My English companion did not fare so well and was wide-awake through the entire thing. Paradise comes with a price sometimes.
Koh Tao, Thailand. Another day. Another island. Another sunset. No less spectacular. After our tumultuous boat ride to get to Koh Tao, we settled into our $15 beach front bungalows and rented motorbikes to ride around the island. This beach and an afternoon nap more than made up for the early morning stress.
Koh Tao, Thailand. At night, the low tides on Sairee Beach allow you to walk out deep along the shoreline. Along the beach, fire dancers perform to pumping music while everyone drinks from buckets of Sangsom and Coke/Soda. I spent Christmas Eve here with some a contingent of English and German travelers, starting with a Christmas feast at the Big Blue Dive Resort, followed by buckets on the beach, lots of dancing, and a pre-morning dip in the water.
Nang Yuan Island, Thailand. A small set of islands just northwest of Koh Tao, Nang Yuan is certainly a contender for the title of paradise in a photograph. This was taken on Christmas Day. I still get little palpitations thinking about what a great day that was. After spending the day swimming and lounging on a stretch of smooth undisturbed sand, we hiked to the top of one of the islands. From there, you can see that the three small islands are interconnected by a long sandy beach and surrounded by crystal clear aquamarine and turquoise water.
Uluwatu, Indonesia. On an edge of a cliff is a Balinese temple with this breathtaking view of the crashing waves. Below, it is stormy and violent while above; the temple looks out, peaceful and calm.
Kuta Bali, Indonesia. If you want the quiet peaceful beaches of Indonesia, you get as far away from Kuta Bali as you can. This place is also known as little Australia, where half the population of Australia goes to party during the holidays. There’s a strict uniform code for the Australian guys that’s limited to either wearing a Bintang (local beer) tank-top or going shirtless. Those are the rules. If you see a group of 5 guys, all wearing matching tank tops in the colors of the Power Rangers, you can mostly guess that they are Australians. If one of the 5 happens to be shirtless, it may just mean that his tank-top got dirty from last night’s party and it’s being washed. Don’t give him a hard time. I tried to avoid most of this on New Year’s Eve and went down to the beach where I witnessed the most incredible non-stop display of “it-must-be-illegal-at-home” hand-held fireworks from 10 pm to just past midnight.
Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” – Marcus Aurelius
So wise, but sometimes living in the moment too much can have its consequences. I stopped at a nice little resort on the south end of Nusa Lembongan for a dip in the pool and a cold drink. And then a little longer for a nap. And just a bit longer to see the sun start to set. And then set. And stayed for dinner. Next thing I knew, it was dark and I still had to ride back to my bungalow, somewhere on the west side of the island. This wouldn’t have been such a daunting undertaking if 1) I had a real map, 2) the road was more than just a rocky path through the jungle and 3) I knew where the hell I was going. Lucky for me, I guessed correctly at a fork and eventually made it back. I was never happier to see artificial light at the end of that ride.
Gili Air, Indonesia. Stone-oven pizza. Fresh fruit smoothies. A pair of fins and goggles. All you need for to start your day on the smallest of the Gili Islands. Life moves at an even slower pace here than the already island life pace of Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. Located between Bali and Lombok, this was a nice post-New Years respite from Kuta Bali and half the drunk and shirtless Australian population that flocked there during the holidays. The biggest decisions I had to make during my time on the Gili Islands were whether I wanted to do 1 or 2 dives a day, how many games of ping-pong I wanted to play with the locals, and what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not a bad way to start 2011.
Narita, Japan. While not my ideal way of visiting Japan, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to at least grab an authentic bowl of ramen even if that meant traveling to the closest town from the airport for just a few hours. The alternative was to sit at Narita airport for 7 hours. Like my climb to Mt. Sinai, I put on every warm piece of clothing I had in my backpack in order to brave the weather in Japan, which was about 40 degrees lower than the weather a day before in Indonesia. The tank tops and fisherman pants that served me so well through Thailand and Indonesia was, expectedly, not useful at all. After I acquired that warm, warm, delicious bowl of noodles, I joined the other tourists and paid a visit to the Shinshoji Temple. And then I went for a bowl of rice and freshly grilled eel. Both meals cost more than what I paid to eat for a week at a time in Thailand and Indonesia.
Montevideo, Uruguay. I came to Montevideo for the beef, but most come through en route to Brazil from Argentina or vice versa for the beach. Despite it being a pretty nice, and that no one should ever hold any grudge against a beach, I can’t say I have fond memories here. I arrived on an overnight bus from BA at 8 am, sleep deprived, went to the beach to pass the time until my room was ready, only to pass out and wake up with the ugliest watch, sunglasses and farmer’s tan. Months of slow controlled tanning across Europe, Africa and Asia ruined by one careless moment. Yes, you can tell that the extent of my troubles and worries were not the same on the road as they are at home.
Montevideo, Uruguay. Meat, meat and more meat. Uruguay has the highest per capita number of cows in the world. It’s hard to say whether Uruguay or Argentina has the best beef in Latin America, but either side you take, them’s fightin’ words. At the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo, you can sit down at one of the many parillas grilling up massive cuts of their finest grass-fed cows and judge for yourself. Siga la vaca.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of my best things about traveling is meeting amazing people. The only thing that tops that is when you get to meet them again somewhere further down the line. I met an awesome couple on a 10-month around the world when we were all in Egypt. The last stop on their trip happened to be the first of mine in South America: Buenos Aires. “El Ateneo” is an opera house that’s been turned into a massive bookstore. It is also where we chose to meet. Two big birds with one stone. And then an all-you-can-eat Argentine meat fiesta to celebrate.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. Palermo is the fashionable and hip Soho district of Buenos Aires. Instead of being frowned upon, street artists are even commissioned to work on houses and business establishments. Cafes line the street and life moves at a fast but chill pace.
Salta, Argentina. The view of Salta high atop San Bernardo Hill. From here, you can see across the Lerma Valley of northern Argentina.
San Lorenzo, Argentina. Getting to San Lorenzo was an easy enough day trip from Salta, so I convinced two Chilean brothers who were bicycling from Chile to Salta to join me on this short bus ride to Salta’s neighboring city. San Lorenzo was a pleasant surprise with its lush tropical flora and a nice hiking trail for the afternoon.
Salta, Argentina. Every big night starts somewhere. In Salta, it began with two Chileans at my hostel I met who in turn had met two girls from Salta. Before the sun set, we met in the main square for a gastronomique tour of the city where I managed to demolish a huge lomito (steak sandwich), a bowl of mondongo (cow stomach stew), a bowl of locro (hearty Andean stew), and a side of roasted chicken and fries. We ended the night at a local boliche (night club) where I danced away the calories and was assaulted by a group of Argentinean woman who refused to let me sit down until I danced with each and every one of them.
Cafayate, Argentina. While in Salta, I almost avoided checking out some of the surrounding regions since any of the tours would mean sitting in a van with other tourists for an entire day stopping every hour or so to step out of the van to see the sights along the way. Luckily for me, I slept through most of the boring bits and woke up to see the amazing scenery like the Castillos rock formations and the natural amphitheatre. And then I went back to sleep.
Atacama Desert, Chile. The Atacama Desert is the driest desert on earth, hardly getting any rainfall in a year and about 10-15 days where clouds even appear. When a French explorer discovered a valley of stone and sand formations carved by the wind and water and looking similar to the surface of the moon, he named it la Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon. When you combine such a barren and forbidding landscape with atmospheric fast-moving dark clouds, you get something that is, for a lack of a better description, out of this world.
Atacama Desert, Chile. If the Atacama Desert was something to behold during the day, by sunset, it cranked itself up to eleven and put on quite a show. In this case, the photographs speak for themselves.
Tatio Geysers, Chile Despite many early mornings waking up to catch buses, waking up to get off buses, and waking up to continue riding on a bus, it is still very difficult to wake up to get on a bus at 6500 ft at 4 am and then having to wake up at 13,800 ft 3 hours later. At that elevation, the Tatio Geysers are some of the highest in the world and are an incredible sight in the early morning when they erupt and the steam plumes rise up and disappear into air. It is an even more incredible experience when you can do it with a cup of hot coffee in hand and then go bathing in a thermal pool shortly after.
Southern Altiplano, Bolivia. Geysers are cool. But they smell of sulfur. And sulfur smells like rotten eggs. So geysers are cool, but they smell like rotten eggs. Maybe not all, but this one did. Forgive my lack of excitement here. I was on a tour and one day away from finally seeing the Salar de Uyuni.
Sur Lipez, Bolivia. Tight on time, quite a few people skip out on Bolivia while traveling through South America. Or simply opt to go straight to Uyuni to check out the salt flats there. From San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, I joined a 3 day tour that would end with the spectacular Salar de Uyuni. Our drunken driver (this is an unfortunate but common occurrence amongst tours here) did however take us to some of Bolivia’s most beautiful locations. One of those stops was in the Sur Lipez Provence to check out the Arbor de Piedra, a large stone shaped like a tree.
Uyuni, Bolivia In the wet season, the endless cracked salt flats of Uyuni is flooded with rain water and perfectly reflects the blue sky. On a windless day, the horizon disappears altogether. The sight of the salar grabs you like a pair of rabbit ears and knocks whatever breath you have left in your diaphragm out like a pair of unwanted cut off jeans. Who I am kidding, who would throw out a pair of cut off jeans. Unfortunately for me, after years of anticipation, my driver managed to time everything just perfect, so that while the weather was still beautiful, we went shopping for trinkets and llama socks, made a two hour-long detour to the office, just to write down our passport number (which they are already had), and took our time eating lunch. Then when it started to rain, he was ready to take us into the salt flats driving so slowly that he continuously fell asleep behind the wheel even after one of the girls punched him in the arm. The day before, he fell asleep driving at 70 mph and nearly flipped the car after running it off the road. All without one single word of apology. It was a pitiful site in the car as everyone sat there angry staring up at the blanketing rain cloud and hoping fruitlessly for the sun to burn through. The place was still surreal, but this was the only time during my time on the road that I actually hated someone.
La Paz, Bolivia. Off the bat, this city knocks the wind of you, especially if you haven’t acclimated to the higher elevations. At around 12,000 ft, just walking around is exercise enough. I found that although it was not so polite to my Danish travel companions, it was a lot easier to avoid talking to them while we hiked up the stairs, one breath at a time, to the Mirador Killi Killi lookout point. Walking down was a lot easier, so I happily continued my conversation then, not so out of breath.
La Cumbre Pass, Bolivia. La Cumbre Pass is the starting point of Bolivia’s “Death Road”, where riders gear up, brave the morning cold/snow/ice at 15,260 ft and descend down to 3,900 ft over a 40 mile stretch of road through some of the most beautiful terrain. It was christened the “world’s most dangerous road” since most of the winding path is no wider than 10 ft and the drops are at least 1800 ft. If careful and respectful of your own limits, the “dangerous” part is over-hyped, but despite that, the views and microclimate changes alone are worth a 2nd ride down.
Copacabana, Bolivia. In the town of Copacabana (not the one from the Barry Manilow’s annoyingly catch song), I went to the edge of town to watch the sun set on Lake Titicaca. This was one of those sunsets that appeared like a painted canvas that moving right in front of your eyes. I watched as boat skippers undocked and moved their ships out to the waters before the night swallowed them in its darkness.
Puno, Peru On the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, you can visit the floating islands of Puno. The Uros people build their villages on bundles of reeds that are strong and buoyant enough to effectively become a floating island. These islands were originally built to withstand attacks from aggressive neighbors, but now they make for a pretty nice tourist attraction.
Cusco, Peru. The main square in Cusco always seems busy without feeling busy. Women pass out little flyers for cheap massages, tour offices advertise the lowest prices to Machu Picchu and the rainforest, and both locals and visitors sit around the fountain chatting about yesterday and tomorrow. Everything seems busy, but somehow so effortless.
Santa Teresa, Peru. On the 3rd day of our jungle trail trek to Machu Picchu, we started from Santa Teresa and hiked to the hidroelectrica de Machu Picchu. The walk along a paved road provided a few worthwhile sites like this tumultuous waterfall, but it was notable because after the ridiculous number of invisible bites from the sand flies along the trail over the previous two days, today I actually saw the beginning of its devastating effects that would make the bug bites I got in Thailand and Indonesia look and feel like a day spa treatment at the Four Seasons. Fun stuff.
Machu Picchu, Peru. The night before the climb to Machu Picchu, I stupidly left my iPhone behind at an internet café in Aguas Caliente, losing perhaps one of the single most important items in my possession, after having lost practically nothing in over 6 months and with just 10 days left to my trip. A few hours later, I woke up at 3 am along with the rest of my group, put on my rain shell and hiked in the rain to the foot of the bridge to wait with a group of about 50 other people for the gates to open. At 4:50, the gates opened up and we began on 40 minutes of non-stop “stairs” up to Machu Picchu in the dark and in the rain. Despite arriving wet, sweaty, and hungry, when the clouds finally parted and revealed the ancient Incan ruins, I just simply forgot about everything else, including the hundreds of videos and thousands of photos I had lost along with my phone.
Machu Picchu, Peru. You can hardly walk 10 minutes without running into a view more impressive than the last in Machu Picchu. From the top, you can look down on the ruins and at the edge of the ruins, you can look down into the clouds and the vast valley below. Being one of the first people up Machu Picchu that morning, I got one of the coveted passes to climb Huayna Picchu. Making the way up the steep, wet steps of this younger brother to Machu Picchu, you can’t help but imagine a city built on the clouds themselves. The immensity of this place just makes you feel so small and lost amongst the ruins.
Yosemite, USA. The Hetch-Hetchy Dam. This is where San Francisco gets it’s drinking water from. Natural and straight from the glacial source connected by a 167 mile long aqueduct. Our backpacking trip began near the dam and took us past Wapama Falls and to Rancheria Falls, where we camped for the night out in the Yosemite wilderness.
Las Vegas, USA. What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas. Viva Las Vegas. Go Big or Go Home. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. The House Always Wins. Never Pay The Hooker Up Front. The Happiest Place on Earth.
All sayings and slogans about Las Vegas. What else needs to be said?
In the Air, USA. Red eye flight from San Francisco to Washington D.C. 6 AM. Who knew the passengers around me would not enjoy waking up to the sound of my camera shutter going off every few seconds continuously for 5 minutes.
Washington DC, USA. Any museum that has a T-Rex fossil, mummies, the remains of a giant squid, and a massive diamond is a pretty neat museum in my books. And they have an 8-ton, 14-foot African elephant taxidermy right in the middle of the rotunda to welcome guests to this free Smithsonian museum.
Washington DC, USA. The DC Metro station boasts some of the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere that can take around 3 minutes to ride standing still. From the surface, it takes you deep down to where the platforms are located. The vaulted concrete ceilings are stunning to behold in person, but I’m guessing that most daily Metro riders heading to and from work probably overlook this modern architectural marvel.
Philadelphia, USA. Back to my Alma Mater, the University of Pennsylvania. How many times have I walked down Locust Walk and how many more times would I have walked down if I actually went to all my classes? The path from here to the world of finance to backpacking the world and then becoming a photographer may not be a straight or related one, but sometimes that’s just how the universe works. And I’ll take it.
New York, USA. Whenever I stand in places like the main concourse of the Grand Central Terminal watching people arrive, depart, welcoming visitors and loved ones, I imagine what it would look like if I could tag each and everyone person leaving the terminal and follow them to their final destinations. Within a span of 24 hours, you would see thousands and thousands of lines shoot out from a single point and spreading all over America and even the rest of the world. And then to recall that at one point in time, they were all in the same place: the Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Just fascinating.
New York, USA. Believe it or not, I’m not usually a fan of big cities where lots of people gather. It’s just a bit too noisy and crowded for my taste. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in Time Square on New Year’s Eve standing in the cold, but it’s somewhat manageable most evenings. Even if all around you is advertisement blaring and flashing at you, it’s hard to not be impressed by the scale and immensity of the whole thing.
Boston, USA. Two friends traveling around the world. Across 5 continents, we backpacked. Across 3 oceans, we flew. Across countless cities, we ate, dived, danced, and explored. The only thing was we did it 6 months apart. How ironic that we finally overlap in Boston of all locations after missing each other by as little as a week and only a few hundred miles.
San Francisco, USA. San Francisco is infamous for its relatively cold California weather. Luckily on this day, the sun came through just before twilight and gorgeously lit up the skies ever so gently while the winds blew the clouds across the bay and over Alcatraz. You don’t have to go very far from home to witness nature in its most divine moments.
San Francisco, USA. Pier 39. Quite the tourist destination in San Francisco, the pier is a gateway to Alcatraz, and also a stop for a half-decent bowl of clam chowder.