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Journey’s End…Or Not

Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.

What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089

This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.

This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.

We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!

Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!

We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.

Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:

  1. Bemo ride in Krui, Sumatra. 18 people in one tiny minivan. Slowest driver ever.
  2. First day hiking the Temples of Angkor. Perhaps the hottest place on earth, at least we thought so.
  3. Our last day in Kuala Lumpur when we went to Batu Caves. The locals were sweating.
  4. Pushing our tuk tuk up a dirt road in Sri lanka after the clutch went out. I had to push and run along side the tuk tuk while Chris steered.
  5. Sitting on the train in the station in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The power went out, the fans turned off, I had at least seven people touching me. Curry odors were emanating out of every pore.

Scariest Transport:

  1. The “taxi driver road rage” night in Sumatra. After our driver took us to his “friends” restaurant where we proceeded to get totally taken, he decided to really scare us by driving like an insane person while we begged and pleaded for him to slow down.
  2. Ojek (motorbike taxi) ride in Bangkok. It was three of us on the tiny motorbike trying to pull our knees in tight enough so they wouldn't hit cars as we wove through Bangkok traffic at high speed.
  3. Driving Highway 1 in Baja, near El Rosario. This section of highway is so, so narrow with big trucks, cows, and giant potholes.
  4. The flight from Jakarta, Indonesia to Colombo, Sri Lanka when the four traditionally dressed Arab men stormed the front of the plane before we hit the runway to land, and the flight attendant screamed at them to sit down. Apparently they just wanted to be the first in line to get off the plane.
  5. The descent through the Ella Gap in Sri Lanka on a packed bus. The driver was hopped up on betel leaves and was careening down the road, one hand on the wheel, the other on the horn.

Top Five Medical Emergencies:

  1. Getting stitches in my face in Guerrero Negro, Baja. The only English the doctor knew was The Eagles and Rolling Stones songs. He did a fabulous job sewing me up and was a pretty good singer, too!
  2. Chris going to a government hospital in Akkaraipattu, Sri Lanka with a fractured hand. This one is hard to describe, but to give you an idea, Chris had to argue for a while to get the radiologist to put the lead apron on him while he was getting an X-ray. The tech tried to explain that it's the same amount of radiation that we get from the sun. The argument ensued, with Chris replying “yeah, but I'm not standing on the sun!”. He eventually gave him the apron.
  3. Stingray wound infection in Baja. A few weeks after it happened, Chris foot swelled up like a balloon, so off we went to a clinic, to try to explain everything in Spanish.
  4. Finally going to a hospital in Bangkok after eight days of stomach woes and fever. After two days of shopping at Chatuchak Market and (literally) holding it together while walking by the giant dried fish vendor, it was time to see a doctor.
  5. With only five days left, I came down with a sever sore throat and fever in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. AT THE SAME TIME, the chickens at our guesthouse were dying. I was convinced I had Avian Flu until I went to a clinic in Pottuvil and got antibiotics for a throat infection. Ah, the perils of travel.

Best Wildlife Encounters

  1. Elephants, elephants, elephants. Sri Lanka was amazing for elephant sightings! Elephant Nature Park in Thailand was an incredible place to learn more about the complex life of a pachyderm.
  2. Ocean and desert wildlife in Baja, Mexico. The intersection of rugged desert with the Pacific Ocean created a surprisingly vibrant ecosystem. We saw coyotes, snakes, osprey, herons, tons of migratory birds, whales (almost every day), dolphins, sharks, seals, fish, and more.
  3. Leopard sighting in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. We were pretty excited to see this big cat in the wild. Kudos to Sri Lanka for their National Parks.
  4. Monkeys. We know, we know, lots of people don't care for monkeys. They are kind of like the squirrels of the tropics. But we have to admit they are pretty cool when you see them jumping from tree to tree.
  5. Cobra? While we didn't really WANT to see a cobra, it was kind of cool to see a cobra. Sri Lanka has the highest “death by snakebite” in the world. Yikes!

Best Food:

  1. Every fish that Chris caught in Mexico. Halibut, corvina, white sea bass, sierra. We cooked or made ceviche every way possible. Good eats!
  2. Thai cart food. Pad thai, satay, Penang curry, it's all delicious. I think Thais could cook tree bark and it would be delicious.
  3. Rotis with dhal and coconut sambol at blue ocean in Arugam bay. I ate this virtually every day. It is a very simple, but very satisfying and delicious meal. We had heard varying reports of Sri Lankan food, but found it to be fabulous!
  4. Baja fish tacos with a cold Mexican macrobrew. Tony's in Guerrero Negro and El Viejo in Los Barriles are at the top of the list.
  5. Banana, chocolate and coconut rotis at Okanda. There's just something about gorging on these after a four hour surf session that feels oh so good.

Best “Locals Only” Activities:

  1. Seeing Kelly Slater win the 2011 Hurley Pro at Trestles in California. Hanging out with the best surfers in the world was a great way to start a year long surf trip.
  2. Watching Indonesians clear big jumps at the 2012 Indonesian Motocross Championships on modified scooters. It was hysterical being the only “Bules” in a sea of thousands of Indonesians.
  3. Hiking in the jungle for an hour with Mexican teenagers to a surf break. Diego, Bernardo and Daniel were exceptional people, great surfers and just a joy to spend a day with. They also kinda made us feel old.
  4. Swerving around elephants while driving our tuk tuk in the pre-dawn hours. Driving our own tuk tuk in Sri Lanka was a complete blast and gave us the freedom to explore the east coast of the country.
  5. Going to a Mexian rodeo, complete with amateur bull riders taking shots of tequila before attempting to stay on a bull. Viva Mexico!



High Un-Expectations

The unexpected exceeds many expectations while traveling. There have been moments when we notice things or something happens and we blink and think “Wow, we never thought we'd see something like that.”

Exhibit A: After loading onto a very nice, air conditioned bus for an overnight trip across Malaysia, a Muslim cleric gets on the bus, says a very lengthy prayer (in Arabic, we presume), then walks down the aisle collecting money. Virtually everyone on the bus gives him money, except for us. He stops at our seats, looks at us for a while, says some more stuff, then continues on. Did he put a hex on us? Does he hate us because he knows we are American? Was he for real? We'll never know.

Exhibit B: We spent a few days at the Perhentian Islands, in the very northeast corner of Malaysia. One fine day, while swimming and sitting on the beach reading, a very large (and I mean LARGE, well over two meters long) monitor lizard cruises down to the beach, walks around, then goes for a refreshing dip, swimming through the water. The thought of a large, swimming, carnivorous reptile is a little worrisome while snorkeling.

Exhibit C: Who knew we'd be surrounded by large, sunburnt Russians on the Andaman coast in Thailand? In places, everything is translated into Russian. The televisions in bars are tuned to Russian programming. They must have good airfare deals this time of year.

Our traveling style these days is at a much quicker pace, staying in one place for typically no more than three nights or so, so we have spent many hours on busses, trains, and boats. From KL, we went to Perhentian Kecil, a lovely, if not “backpacker” style island with insanely clear water and fabulous snorkeling complete with beachside bars, thumping beats, and abundant booze (rare for Malaysia). From there, we scooted back across the country, on another overnight bus, then ferry, to the northwest corner to Georgetown on Pulau Penang, known for its Chinatown, Little India, and abundance of street food.

The goal was to be out of Malaysia before the start of Ramadan, the very important month of reflection and fasting for Muslims. During this time, Muslims only eat or drink one hour before sunrise, then again after sunset. Many eateries are closed during the day, which is quite dicey when you are (read: Chris is) hungry! However, although the majority of Malaysia is Muslim there is also a large Chinese population that turns out some exceptional food. Thank god for the Chinese! We left Malaysia on the second day of Ramadan, with full bellies.

Our basic routine has changed from “eat, sleep, surf” to “eat, eat, eat” for we are in Thailand and the food is incredible, cheap and abundant. Piles of Pad Thai, satay, noodle soup, crispy pork, and of course panang curry. We literally eat two to three lunches a day, moving from one food cart to the next, spending two dollars at each place. Chris' vocabulary has been reduced to “I think I'm ready for another noodle bowl.” Although it is generally the low tourist season for most of Thailand, we find it to be quite developed and touristy, something we are trying to get used to. There are some advantages to this, particularly that transportation is very organized and it is easy to figure out how to get from point A to point B. The downside is that things are more expensive and the locals hassle you to take a taxi, eat at their restaurant, braid your hair into tiny painful cornrows (never in my life will I do this), or whatever it is that they are selling.

The seas on the Andaman coast are rough, but what that means for us… WAVES. We did our homework and made it to a “surf spot” in Thailand and lo and behold, got two much needed wonderful little surf sessions today. We rented boards (we left ours in Sri Lanka for a month) from a goofy British dude named Lee and spent the morning surfing with him in what we would now call marginal surf. Sometimes it doesn't take world class waves to make your day. After not surfing for three weeks, we realize how much surfing has become a part of who we are. Withdrawal therapy may be necessary when we return to landlocked Central Oregon.

Our new friend that we met in Malaysia.
Yes, the water is really that clear.
More fresh fish for dinner at this place.
Infamous Georgetown hawker food. Nom, nom, nom!
Need some heat? These will warm you up.
Typical roadside electrical clusterF$#^%K.
We eat a lot of Thai food. Can you blame us?
Much of Asias rainforests have been destroyed and replaced by palm oil and rubber plantations.
We are happy to be on a motorbike again. Freedom!
Offerings to the gods of Fanta.

Slackpackers On The Move

From leopard sightings to skyscrapers, we are on the move, full backpacker style. The swell started pumping during our last few days at Arugam Bay, or as our Kiwi friend Tom says, “the surf was gangbusters.” We went on exotic tuk-tuk adventures everyday, pulling over to watch elephants grazing at dawn, finding great waves, and eating piles of banana/chocolate/coconut rotis. Sri Lanka treated us so well, that we have decided to return in August for the last month of our journey. So we've stored our surfboards there and are now traveling light and fast. Okay, maybe not so fast… But two small daypacks and one duffle is a dream compared to that PLUS three shortboards. Taking a break from surfing (this is a YEAR in trim, after all), was a tough decision, but we are already enjoying the ride.

We took the long route back to Colombo, traveling by train and bus to the southern tip, then up the west side of the island. Our first night was spent in Tissamaharama, where we embarked on another half day safari, with the hope of seeing a leopard, as this area has the world's highest concentration of these animals. We had heard good things about a particular driver, Eka Deka, so we requested him to guide us through the park. We climbed into a very old British Land Rover, and proceeded to seriously haul ass out of town, passing cars, cars, busses, and other wide eyed safari goers. Clearly this guy has been doing this for a while and was hell bent on getting us to see as much as possible. Eka Deka did not disappoint and we were rewarded with many animals, including a leopard sighting. We pulled up to about six other jeeps that spotted the leopard walking off the road and into the bush. As all the other tourists sat there, scanning the bush, Chris happened to glance behind us, just in time to see the big cat saunter into the road, yawn, then proceed to lay down in the middle of the road, while about 30 tourists faced the other direction. For a few minutes, it was the two of us quietly watching the leopard lounge in the road, truly an amazing animal.

From Tissamaharama, we spent the next night in Galle, a 1600's Dutch colonial fort built on a peninsula on the southwest coast of the island. Unlike anything else we have seen in Sri Lanka, the fort was packed with narrow brick streets, colonial architecture, and small cafes and shops, giving it a very European feel. The fort, being a fort and all, is surrounded by a huge wall that is entirely walkable. From Galle, we bus hopped our way up the west coast, stopping in dry season surf spots such as Hikkaduwa and Bentota. Not to disappoint, our last travel leg of the day was on the most jam packed, sticky, sweaty commuter train. Ah Sri Lanka, we can't wait to come back!

We are currently spending a few hectic days in wealthy, modern, shopaholic Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A quite pleasing city, with outstanding architecture, excellent public transit, cheap digs, and some incredibly humid heat. Fortunately, there are tons of air conditioned malls to get a reprieve from the sweatfest. We've spent a few days here, living the city life, sightseeing, riding public transit, shopping, eating street food, getting our fix of western food (Krispy Kreme and Pizza Hut, anyone?), and just doing some good old fashioned people watching. A very diverse city, from local Chinese and Malay, Chinese tourists, European backpackers, Aussie trash (we'll touch on that in another post), and Muslim women, faces covered in full burqas, buying designer hand bags. Consumerism really does bring the world together!

Since we are now on the slackpacker trail, rather than the surfer trail, so we are definitely hanging with a different crowd. Our “backpacker inn” in KL is quite a scene with a rather eclectic mix of twenty something Euros, a few dubious looking middle aged men, and a Japanese guy who sits with his MacBook all day, looking like he is doing very important work. The place is a funky, multilevel place, covered in original oil paintings with paper thin walls between the rooms and friendly staff.

Time to leave the city before we get hooked on junk food!

Elephant day at the beach.
Here kitty kitty.
One of the many amazing birds of Yala, a bee eater.
Two animals you wouldn't want to come across in a dark alley.
Galle mosque and lighthouse.
Galle car. Love the old stuff in Sri Lanka.

Petronas twin towers in KL. Second highest buildings in the world.
KL Tower.
More delicious street food, KL.
We took a batik class. This is Katy in the beautiful artists studio.
Batu caves. 140 foot high statue of Lord Muruga.
Inside Batu caves.

Love At First Bite

We’ve only been in this country for three or four days, but it’s an easy country to love so far. Women in brilliant gold embellished saris walk under the shade of parasols. Piles of tropical fruits and bright fabrics line the market stalls while hawkers yell and ring bells to entice you into their shops. Tuk-tuks putter past tangerine robed monks and Buddha statues. Heavy wood furniture and antiques line restaurant walls while a tiny Sri Lankan waiter impeccably dressed in white polishes china for $3 meals. Curry and spice smells emanate from every corner. It is truly candy for the senses.

After a very delayed flight from Jakarta, we landed near the capitol city of Colombo at 11pm in a sleepy haze, found a guest house nearby and early the next morning made our way to the train station via a combination of tuk-tuks and busses. Sri Lanka with its Dutch and English colonial past, retained a very impressive railway infrastructure for such a small developing country. We were hoping for first class tickets for the train from Colombo to Kandy, but alas, only second class was available so this made for a very exciting entry to the train.

Standing on the platform, before we could even see the train, the crowd became oddly agitated and within seconds the rail platform was transformed as dozens of Sri Lankans vied to be first onto the train, as there is no assigned seating. Of course we suspected something like this would occur, but the speed and the magnitude of the transformation still surprised us. We thought our plan was solid, with Katy using her excellent strength to size ratio as our lead to grab us a pair of seats, while Chris dealt with the surfboards. However, despite Katy’s best efforts, tiny grandmothers, kids, gentlemen in suits and women in saris pushed and shoved their way past her and into the train and we were left laughing with small shelf to lean on in the galley. The scenery is quite spectacular, of course we are still in the tropics so it is very green but much more rugged and untamed than we expected. It was a great experience, hanging out the door of the moving train with the locals, as we flew down the tracks into a beautiful country, images from an exotic movie imprinted on us.

We arrived in the bustling hill town of Kandy, loaded our luggage into and onto a little three wheeled tuk-tuk, destination: lunch. After a delicious lunch of all things, Chinese food, we set up at an inexpensive guesthouse for $7/night, instantly welcomed by kids, grandmothers, cousins and a friendly mop looking dog named Bruno. Apparently Bruno is well loved by the monks and has been known to attend evening prayers at the temple.

Sri Lanka is a primarily Buddhist country and Kandy houses several temples including the main attraction which is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Yep, the left canine of the Buddha is housed in the sprawling temple, and no you don’t actually get to see it because it is housed in an altar in a closed gilded room guarded by monks. Nonetheless, we enjoyed strolling the grounds with our audio guides (love those) with the hordes of school children on field trips and the devote pilgrims. This is an important pilgrimage for Sri Lankan buddhists and a very important part of Sri Lankan history and culture. For dinner we enjoyed our first real Sri Lankan meal which means, you guessed it – curry. Yep, it was spicy and good, and pretty much lit Chris on fire.

Kandy is quite refreshing. After two months in Indo its great to be back in a country that values pedestrian friendly avenues and the aesthetically pleasing city with a small picturesque lake is much appreciated. The climate is also very enjoyable with mild temperatures and near constant breezes. When we tire of walking, the tuk-tuk rides are just a blast, an open air combo of motorcycle and very small car. They are the perfect taxi vehicle, and impressively 1 out of 7 of all Sri Lankans own one. And for a reported $3500 USD, its Chris’ big ticket item on his Christmas list for this year.

An unusual hazard in Kandy are the cheeky monkeys which stalk the tourist path around the lake. Again lucky for Chris, he has Katy here to protect him. What a sight, watching Katy swing our bag of lunch goodies at the “attacking” monkeys. She transformed into an aggressive and ominous sight, tucked low, swinging the bag of groceries with both arms extended, all the while the monkeys scrambling and squawking. True this is the same woman and same species that posed for cute dinner photos just a few days ago, but how quickly that can change. Luckily all involved avoided injuries, we did not lose any of our groceries, and entertainment was enjoyed by everyone, including the locals.

Enjoying the train to Kandy.
The mad rush to get a seat.

There is so much cool old stuff like this here.

A lovely large Buddha. ‘Nuff said.

Flowers prepped for offerings at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

View of Kandy from a hilltop monastery.

Hustle and bustle of Kandy.

Chris before curry dinner.

Chris after curry dinner. HOT!

Our favorite tuk-tuk. Notice the scale here.

Half Time in the Snow

From camper to backpacks, this is all of our stuff for 5 months.

People often ask us, “Did you feel safe?” There are some scary things that happen in Mexico. There are some scary things that happen in the US. The US is not scary. Mexico is not scary. Having traveled (and mostly camped) in this country many, many times, the worst thing that has happened to us thus far is that someone snuck off with Chris’ entire shoe supply and one beach towel one beautiful moonlit night in Michoacan. We knew better than to carelessly leave those things outside.

We are not making light of this, and yes, Mexico is undergoing some serious problems and this is reinforced when talking to the locals, especially when words like “la familia” and “narcos” come up. However, for the most part, tourists are not targeted. With a lot of planning and preparation, and probably a bit of luck, we felt safe. Contrary to popular predictions, after over 7,000 miles on the road, we did not experience any of the following:

1. Beheading. Thankfully, we came home with our heads (and new hair color to boot.)
2. Drug Trafficking. We were not held hostage and forced to shove heroin balloons up our butts.
3. Kidnapping. Dozer was so admired by Mexicans and Gringos alike; we did think he might get kidnapped.
4. Carjacking. We were much more afraid of sideswiping a burro in the road.
5. Police Bribery. Thanks to Chris’ stellar driving skills, we did not get pulled over once.

What we fear in our lives is so often revolved around what the media tells us, and we get stuck in the revolving door of what to fear next. What are you afraid of?

Okay, okay, we are afraid of a few things, particularly pertaining to the next leg of our journey:

Getting Sick. Dengue fever, malaria, creepy strange parasites. We’ve skirted Dengue Fever outbreaks both in Mexico and the South Pacific and we’ve decided it’s not something we really want to experience. One fellow traveler and friend described his experience as passing out in his room naked, while he was attempting to crawl to the bathroom, only to wake up spending a delirious week in the hospital hooked up to IVs. I’ll pass on that. But we know that there are plenty of creepy parasites, viruses and bacteria just waiting for our little white asses.  Oh, and leeches.  Katy is really, really, really afraid of leeches.

Scary Waves and Reef Cuts. Ouch! We’ll likely be putting on our big boy/girl panties, facing heavier waves, sharper reefs, and more remote locations. Falling on a coral reef is a lot like getting scraped on a giant cheese grater. See above post on bacteria.

Not Having Our Own Food Supply – FOR 5 MONTHS. Chris eats a lot, I eat a lot, we eat a lot. Fortunately, we are pretty adventurous when it comes to street food, but not having a healthy food supply on our bodies or in our packs; well, we shall see. Low blood sugar meltdowns might be the new norm.

Not Having ANY Language Experience in the Upcoming Countries. Spanish is easy, Spanish is fun! And if we were thrown into another country with a romance language, we’d probably survive okay. We understand that Indonesian is a fairly “easy” language for the following reasons: 1) It is very phonetic 2) There are no tenses (thank god), and 3) There are no genders. Easy in theory, not so easy in practice.

Missing Our Dog. Spending every day with the pooch in Mexico was a blast and often provided hours of entertainment during those windy, no surf days in Baja. We’ll miss Dozer Dog, but we know he will have a great summer at Chris’ parents house in Albany, OR (that’s where he discovered he has a taste for lamb.)

We are currently in beautiful Central Oregon and the weather has been typical “spring” like with temps in the 30s and a delightful sun/rain/snow mix. All of this is forcing us to wear shoes, and at times, socks, but not for long!

Sampai waktu berikutnya!

On our way home, we spent a night in Tonopah, NV and woke up to this. The only one excited about this was Dozer.

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