Still Kicking.

Photo 12

So, November 4th passed without too much fanfare, in fact, we laid on a hammock on our own little thatched roof bungalow’s porch all day in Southern Laos, only moving when it was time to have a BeerLao and maybe some curry. Regardless of how we celebrated, it was a pretty big milestone for us. Six months of solid traveling, of living out of the same bag and wearing the same often questionably smelling garments, of taking a bus/boat/motorbike/tuk-tuk every few days to a new location, and of learning to say hello and good-bye, thank-you and delicious differently at every border crossing. So what do we make of it? I can only speak for myself, but this six months is without a doubt, the most exciting, awe-inspiring, adventurous and downright challenging 24 weeks I have ever lived.  Here’s some little lessons, anecdotes and amazing experiences that I have acquired on the road.

1.    Patience pays. I can’t count how many times (mostly in Asia) that I’ve been quoted a 5 hour bus ride and been sitting on that same bus 10 hours later. In Asia, especially the local buses of Vietnam and the share taxis of Cambodia, they enjoy riding around, sometimes for hours until they fill the bus up, making it worth their while to make the journey. This means circling the city 27 times while someone shouts “Sapa, Going to Sapa!” or “Heading on the dirt road to Sihanoukville, come along” in local dialect. Often this involves a very systematic order where first they get goods to deliver, such as, but not limited to refrigerators, chickens, breakable pottery, lampshades, bananas, and on one particular bus journey, even a one ton table saw which was nimbly lifted on to the bus roof and tied lightly with a piece of twine. After goods, come any foreigners because we can be overcharged and after that, finally, any locals who need to get anywhere along the stated route. I have grown impatient on so many journeys, only to feel like a jerk when the attendant has to be the one to lift the table saw off the top of the bus at 2pm in the afternoon in 100 degree weather. The same attendant, then climbs back aboard with a piece of cinnamon bark that he’s pulled straight from the tree for me to try as we climb through the gorgeous Northern mountains of Vietnam all while offering me a huge, if not sweaty smile. All I had to do was sit for a long time, no heavy lifting was involved so who am I to complain?.

2.    The sunrise at Angkor Wat and seeing the man-made world wonder for the first time illuminated by the sun behind it.

3.    The sound of children screaming “Hello! Hello!” and then seeing their huge toothy grins and palms waving frantically out of windows or running behind your tuk-tuk in the countryside.

4.    That first motorbike experience with a strange man as a driver. Do you put your arms around him? Do you sit side saddle like the local ladies? What’s the etiquette? Will I fall off? Will he even stop if I do? It’s an amazing feeling zipping through the rice paddies and random temples with the wind whipping through your hair.

5.    I may be the charades master when I come home, because English skills are a bonus. Learning how to communicate in places like China, South Korea and even parts of rural Laos have been challenging, but also hysterical. I knew I was starved for the English language when I got so excited to hear a Southern lady voice on the other end of my long-distance Bank of America call. You take basic communication for granted everyday of your life, until spoken word does you no good.

6.    Seeing the golden ground slowly turn into the fairy chimney landscape of Central Turkey and the sunsets over the valleys while the call to Allah plays in the background.

7.    Toilets. Last night, I was on a night bus and after nearly peeing on my leg 20 different times over the half squat toilet with bucket flusher, I would have given anything for a western toilet with paper. I have mastered flushing anything with a big bucket of water, which direction to face to manage to get my pee in the actual toilet and never blinking an eye upon seeing other women use the toilet, often right next to me. Also, I always carry paper in my purse because even 5 star hotels don’t provide it.

8.    Eating Sushi Breakfast at Tskuiji Fish market in Japan at 6 am. Eating Lobster and scallops for 2 USD on the beach in Nha Trang. Drinking fruit shakes with Jackfruit and mango. Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. Curry Amok in Cambodia. Dumplings in China. I have learned that I will go to great lengths for good food even if it means walking an hour out of my way. I have also learned that my stomach thinks this is annoying trait of mine.

9.    Taking a traditional Japanese onsen with fifty naked women ranging in ages from two to ninety-five.

10.     Reaching the top of both Bokor Hill station in Cambodia and Ulsanbawi in South Korea.

11.     Finding out that for me it’s all about the people of the country. The country can have the best restaurants, coolest bars, most interesting culture, or jaw-dropping scenery, but if they don’t have gracious people who welcome you into their country, my experience is never as good. With that said, the Cambodian people have smiles that make you feel like you’ve won the lottery. After all of the torture and genocide they faced not too long ago, it’s amazing that one group of people can be so kind, accommodating and full of life at the same time.

12.    You are fatter than Asian people and nothing will change that. It’s nothing like a little healthy reminder from the locals by pointing to you and motioning to themselves about how much bigger you are or feeling it a bit odd that the van driver seems to think he can fit 25 people in a 9 person car, but then realize that none of the Asians are complaining. Way to go Big fatty Westerner.

13.     Night trains in China are their own special experience, often resulting in people sharing strange seeds with you, pointing at you while taking a picture of you on their camera phone, stealing your book to confirm in Mandarin that “yes, you do read in English and it looks funny,” and waking up in the middle of the night to find that, yes, people do enjoy watching the “Megwuo (American),” sleep.

14.     Fire red Sunsets over the Mekong river in sleepy towns while drinking local beer.

15.    Having your own small bungalow and your own hammock that costs less than 2 USD and thinking that this relaxation cost me less than an iced tea back home.

16.    The first motorbike you see that has 3 grown-ups, 4 children and the family dog on board in Vietnam.

17.     Plastic Chairs on street corners, eating whatever someone is cooking on their tiny cart or grill.

18.    I have learned to eat spicy food. For real. Now I’m the one reaching for the chili sauce at every meal. I never thought that would be me.

19.     Other backpackers can be small replacements for the best friends that you miss or as annoying as that dreaded co-worker that you felt fortunate to leave behind. The variety of people you get on the road means you’ll love some people and hate others and half the time, you’re first impression about someone will be wrong. With that being said, it’s sometimes incredibly hard to say good-bye to friends you make on the road, never knowing when you’ll see them again, but having shared that weird bus journey, drunken night out and creepy hostel roommate with these people, you feel so connected to them.

20.    Dancing until 4am on the beach with a bunch of Khmer girls to really bad hip-hop songs. Karaoke with South Koreans.

21.    Keeping and updating a blog is a good idea in theory. It’s hard to catch up when we do lots of stuff every day to write about and the internet connections in Asia, specifically SE Asia are hard to come by. We have a hard time just emailing our family much less downloading our photos and organizing the website.

22.    Ellie and I haven’t killed each other yet so it appears true that you can be with the same person nearly 24 hours a day and not go insane ☺ In fact, she’s the best travel partner I could ever ask for.

We have so much amazement left to come in the next 7 months of our journey. The north of Laos with tubing, villages and trekking. Heading for a long 2 month stay in Thailand where my mom will join us for 2 weeks, maybe getting my diving certificate on the Thai islands, a Full-Moon Party on Ko Phangnan for New Years Eve, Real Pad thai. After Thailand, traveling south to Malaysia for more beaches, Kuala Lumpur, and hopefully some orangutuans in Borneo. Work our way down to Indonesia to see the Gili Islands and Komodo dragons and fly over to the Phillipines to swim with the gigantic whale sharks. Over to Oz to explore for a few weeks and reunite with old travel friends before making a long flight home via Hawaii, San Francisco and Mexico City, stopping at all for a last ditch effort to see as much as we can before touching down on May 21st in Miami.

After all of this time, we often get asked by people “Is there anything you miss?” and even though, I feel like I’m living in an alternate dream reality most of the time, there are totally things I miss so now I give you in no random order this list:

1.    Good Tex-mex, big salads from Caroline’s, American-size pizzas (particularly Mr. Z’s after a long night), Ambrosia sushi, any American dessert that has actual chocolate in it, hummus, falafel, conch fritters, spinach dip, omelets from Camille’s, veggie burgers from the café, and sour cream. I add something new just about daily. I told you I like food.

2.    Choosing what I wear everyday. I can’t even remember what it feels like to have a closet with more than one pair of shoes and jewelry and dresses.

3.    Mango Margarita’s, micro-brew beer, and red wine.

4.    Cheese gets its own separate category.

5.    Going to the movies. I have a running list of movies I want to rent when I get back.

6.    Parties. I miss BBQ’s, birthday parties, Thanksgivings, fiestas, dinner parties, game nights, and any good time when I can rustle up a bunch of friends or family, good food and good laughs.

7.    Going to live music shows.

8.    Sometimes the efficiency of the Western world, where it doesn’t take 2 hours to change money at the bank or having someone accountable to complain to when things go wrong on a bus trip or a meal.

9.    Having an income. It’s pretty scary to watch your money dwindle and dwindle.

10.    Having wireless internet at my disposal at all times.

11.    And most importantly, my family and friends. I am shocked to hear my beautiful niece talk to me now on the end of the Skype call. I miss my mom’s cooking and her laugh where once she gets going, she can’t stop. I miss convincing Lauren to dance with strangers at music festivals. I miss the way that Gena and Merlin weave so effortlessly into the grand scheme of my life. I miss Sunday brunches with Natalie. I miss sitting on the front porch with Rachel. I miss sitting on my couch, watching bad reality TV with Cory. I miss meeting my Key West friends at the beach or at Melissa’s for some beers in the back room. I miss Dairy Queen runs with Caitlin. I miss spending time in St. Augustine with Ellie’s family, especially her mom’s bread and orange marmalade and her sister’s crazy high-school dramas. I miss going to brunch with my brother Joe at Goldman’s. I miss all of these people all of the time and there is no substitute for any of them. You never appreciate how nice it is to have people who already know your history and don’t mind when you scratch your butt or wear clothes that don’t match. Meeting new people everyday and having to explain where you come from, why you’re here, what you were like in 5th grade, can get tiring. It’s nice to have people who remember what you were like in 5th grade, for better or worse.

With that said, Thanks for reading this blog thus far and hopefully, it’s been helpful or entertaining or maybe just a time-consuming diversion from work. We’ll try to catch it up in Thailand where we hear internet is everywhere. We’ll work hard, that is, when we’re not eating Thai curry and drinking buckets of Thai alcohols on beautiful beaches ☺


2 Responses to “Still Kicking.”

  1. 1 Mum Z November 13, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Kelly…you almost made me cry! What a great summary of your adventures!I so appreciate your blog…it is almost like being there!I have learned so much about the world through yours and Ellie’s eyes!The term “experience of a lifetime” takes on a whole new meaning when I review what you too have seen and done!You two are truely AMAZING! I so love and miss you!! Mum Z

  2. 2 Amanda November 17, 2009 at 1:43 am

    I know I dont get on here near enough but WOW…when I do I cant stop reading! WHat you girls are doing is TRULY amazing and I only wish I get to see 1/2 of that in my lifetime. I’m sooooo happy you girls have managed to stay safe. The pics are amazing and your blog totally brings me to the moments as if I was riht there with you! I love love the fashion and city of toyko, I loved the $180.00 sundae, and I cant believe you girls actually slept in one of those capsule things. SOOO COOL!!!!

    Well keep the fb updates coming and enjoy Thailand! I know Grandma is sooo stoked so take lots of pics and eat lots of pad thai for me!!!

    Love you girls!

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