Portugal

We flew into Qatar to change planes and coming from Kathmandu it was like entering another dimension in space and time. From there we flew to London and had a short layover. The shuttle ride to the other terminal was clean, it was peaceful, we were the only people on the bus, and if there was an opposite to Nepal, London might be it. It was the start of our Europe leg and we were experiencing culture shock. Big time!

Portugal was kind of a last minute decision for us. At one point we were headed to Greece, then Istanbul, but when our friends Josh and Mary said they were on board to meet us somewhere…. Well, Portugal has lots of open coastline and that means lots of waves. The four of us really didn’t know much about the country except for that fact and off we went. Caro and I met up with them at the apartment we all rented in Lisbon, and in was on! It was really good for us to see these two! For anybody who doesn’t know about them…Josh and Mary are the two people we more then likely spend most of our time with back home in California. They live a couple doors down from us in Newport Beach, I grew up with Josh, Caro and I were both in their wedding last year. I wouldn’t call these guys friends, they’re family. You get the idea. So, with that being said, we were super excited to see them.

After being in Asia for a couple months I guess you kind of just start getting used to things that are not readily available. Once we got to Europe, things just became a little easier. So for the first couple days in Lisbon we walked around town, checked out some historic sites, drank beer/wine, drank coffee, and really just caught up with J and M on our travels and life and whatnot. It was a very leisurely couple days in Lisbon. We took a train into Sintra and visited the Pena national palace. It’s an awesome castle with an even more impressive garden. We spent the whole day in Sintra taking pictures and walking around through the castle and surrounding areas. The next day Caro and Mary did a walking tour and Josh and I picked the rental car up. The next two weeks were going to be spent cruising up and down the coast in Portugal and seeing what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into.

From Lisbon we went north to a town called Peniche. This town is considered to be a pretty legit surf town that hosts a world tour of surfing contest every October at a surf spot called supertubos. The four of us rented an amazing little house for 3 days and from here did little trips to go surf and check the beaches. One day we took a boat about 45 minutes to Berlenga island off the coast. There’s a famous castle thats on the island we wanted to check out and some caves on a cliff that you can access by boat. So we got off the boat and started walking up a hill in the direction of the castle. It didn’t take a long time to figure out why people come to see this island. Crystal clear blue waters, rolling hills, and beautiful picturesque landscapes is what you’re graced with when you start walking. There were also lots of seagulls. The more you hike, the more the birds infiltrate these beautiful landscapes I was just mentioning. Nobody really told us what the deal is with the seagulls but from what we gathered ourselves is, is that it must be a time of year when the gulls come and lay their eggs because they’re are literally thousands of seagulls! They really don’t bother with finding an ideal, isolated location to lay the eggs either. They have posted up on the trails where everybody walks and they were very upset that we were there. In order to get to some of these sites (the castle for example) you have to walk through these seagull protected areas. As soon as you get close enough to an egg or a baby gull, you can’t see btw, the adult seagulls starts dive bombing at your head. They protect their young and they are viscous!! Carolin, Mary and myself were on a path right above the castle and a seagull came out of nowhere and just dive bombed straight for Caro’s head. Josh snapped a photo of it happening and it’s priceless to say the least. After surviving the crazed seagulls we finally made it to the castle. We were basically the first people there and snapped a couple photos. It was a beautiful spot and highly recommended to see. From the castle we jumped on a partially glass bottom boat and took the cave tour around and through some of the huge caves the island has to offer. We got dropped off at the main harbor and decided to venture off on another little hike. The hike was looking good until we encountered some more relentless seagulls. We made it up another 10 minutes and we were faced with a crossing in the path. An adult seagull was protecting her young and had laid her eggs a couple feet from the trail. Josh went first and had one come straight for his head. It turned around and then came swooping from behind him and barely missed his noggin. Even though Josh made it through he was still surrounded by birds, the three of us opted out and he came back down the trail only to be swooped again by the same bird. This time he was filming with his phone and I was taking pictures of him running down. The result was one of the best pics of the trip. (See below for full effect) we headed down and grabbed a couple beers just laughing at the whole situation.

Peniche was a cool sleepy little town. Josh, Caro and myself had some really fun surf sessions and saw why it hosts such a big contest every year. We had a good time there but it was time to head south to Algarve and get into some warmer weather. After a couple hours of driving south we made it to Los Lagos which is pretty much the southern tip of Portugal. We rented another apartment above some local bars and posted up there for 3 days. As a group we had a rough idea of what we wanted to do. For me personally, I had another agenda that Josh and Mary were privy to but Carolin was not.

It’s a long story that I will probably write another post about but in a nutshell……well…whatever I’m just going to ramble here for a minute.

Last October is kind of when we set our minds to this whole round the world trip idea. During the time of initial planning, Mt. Everest base camp was included in our laundry list of destinations. We ended up booking the trip and I started thinking about a proposal idea to Carolin. I thought ” how cool would it be to propose to Carolin at Mt. Everest Base camp?” I thought about it a lot. I even started emailing the guys at our treking company to put together something in advance and set some kind of spot up to propose. I had it all figured out except the ring. Between the time we decided to go on this trip and the actual date we set out to leave really gave me no time. Between working any job I could to save for the trip, finishing school for the semester, to finding the right ring, we were busy. I knew from the day we said we were going to do this trip that somewhere along the way I’d propose to her. At that point it was just a matter of working out the logistics, and timing it right and getting away from Caro long enough to figure it out.

My plan was to find a ring along the way and propose to her when the time was right. This is not an easy feat by the way. When you travel with someone you’re close to, and for as long as we’ve been traveling for, your space becomes our space, your stuff becomes our stuff, where you want to go during the day becomes more of a necessity to know for safety and for fear of missing out. Things change in ways that you don’t foresee them changing in. Even our phones and iPads and computers are shared. It became a challenge for me to even research rings and look for legitimate jewelers along the road and email them screenshots of rings I wanted to get made. All my history on my phone or ipad would have to be erased and screenshots on my phone for fear of giving Caro even the slightest scent of what I was up to. I had done some research on getting a ring made in Bali. When we got there I had a difficult time finding the guy I wanted. Alex and Dana were there and had a contact for me for a friend of theirs who used to run a jewelry shop. It turned out they wanted the ring and the band made and it wasn’t going to work out for me. While in Bali we decided to go to Ubud. This is where I had found the guy who I thought could make the ring I wanted for Carolin. Once we got back from sumatra we went straight to ubud for about 3-4 days. I thought that would be a good amount of time to suss things out and find this guy. Uluwatu was a semi short drive from ubud and if something went wrong with the design of the ring I could always meet somebody half way or figure it out. We were also spending another 2-3 weeks in bali so I had plenty of time.

Let’s just say that when were in Ubud, I didn’t have much time to do all I wanted. Carolin had booked some Pilates classes and that gave we the perfect opportunity to find this jeweler. Turns out, after driving around for 3 hours, and asking random jewelery store owners, the guy moved twice in one year and finding him was virtually impossible. I ended up meeting some great jewelers in the process and buying a ring that I thought was right. I knew that I didn’t have too many chances to buy a ring and it may not have been perfect but I had a chance and I took it.

Fast forward to Vietnam. After riffling through every single piece of gear I’m traveling with, somewhere between Bali, Singapore and Vietnam, I managed to lose the ring. Mind you, I’ve lost numerous things on this trip. Partially because I put all my valuables into a backpack that barely holds a jacket. When I pull one thing out, everything comes out. I think I lost it in Singapore on the plane but I called the airlines and they didn’t have anything turned in….. Go figure. I searched for it but I had to face the fact that it was gone. All of the sudden Everest is coming up way to quick and my plan is slowly turning sour. First I had to get the ring, then I had to somehow call Carolin’s dad and ask permission, then I would call Cathrin to see if she’d help me out on the proposal but I can’t do any of that without the ring. I was somewhat devastated and had to function normally day to day with Carolin on this trip because she still had no idea of what was brewing.

I didn’t find a ring in time for Everest and I had pretty much called it off. I just didn’t want to rush it and I figured when the time is right, it’ll let me know. So, we went to Nepal and we trekked all the way up to Lebouche and further. We got into this huge argument about proceeding through the snow storm and when we came back down to Lebouche that one very tense afternoon, it was an emotional one. For me it was a culmination of me not getting the ring together in time and not asking permission and strategically planning it out and asking myself “why didn’t I get it together?” Simultaneously, turning around in the snow storm from everest base camp after coming all this way. Caro started questioning my desire in the first place to come up there and she wondered if she had dragged me up there against my will. Like I said in the last post it was a crazy day. I broke down, I had told her my plan about proposing to her up there and that there was a lot more to it then just following her up there. I had to let her know that it was meant to be something bigger than both of us imagined that day and that I wanted to get to base camp more then anybody.

Caro was stunned to hear me talk about proposing to her and the whole plan I had. Almost instantaneously she became less mad at the fact we didn’t go to base camp and wondered what I had been up to this whole time. I almost immediately regretted filling her in on my plan because it just went completely against the element of surprise and to tell you the truth, I don’t know why I told her in the first place. I think it has something to do with that day we were arguing about going up to base camp and how dangerous it was. We were standing in a snow storm weighing out our options to go further and risk our lives or not!!! The whole time I was thinking how I want to spend the rest of my life with this person and we’re standing there arguing about whether or not we are going to die. It was crazy. It’s so hard to describe the overwhelming emotions in this situation. So, after my crazy splurge of information of my plans to Carolin and no ring to show, it was kind of a weird afternoon. She was giddy like I had proposed to her, but the only thing is, is that I didn’t.

Once we were back in namche bazaar half way down I figured out what I was going to do. I called Carolin’s dad, Hans, and had a chat with him about proposing to his daughter. It went very well and he gave me the green light and wished me luck in my proposal. In Kathmandu I had a custom ring made for Carolin that Caro’s sister Cathrin helped design. I had a personal engraving on the inside of the ring and tried to make the ring as personal as possible. All made in stones from the local Nepal region. It felt right and at this point and as far as Carolin was concerned, she knew I was serious about “us” but didn’t expect anything too soon.

I called Josh and Mary and emailed them photos of the ring and told them I was going to propose in Portugal. I also emailed photos to Cat, and my family and told them it was coming soon. I had a plan to propose to Carolin in the Benagil Cave in the Los Lagos region we were staying in. It’s a very beautiful and famous cave but there’s really no information on the internet on how to access it and/or how private it can be. I kind of had a feeling the proposal had to be here. Josh and Mary were so awesome as far as going along with this cave idea. They acted like it was something they really wanted to check out so Carolin didn’t think It was all me wanting to see this cave and we tried not to make anything too obvious. We also all had no idea how to get there.

The morning of the proposal I rolled over and looked at Carolin. She looked at me with eyes wide open and said “I had the craziest nightmare last night. I had a dream that you proposed to me and it was awful!” I said “wow! That’s a weird dream Carolin”and that was all I said. She went and told Mary all about the dream too. All day Carolin had been talking about proposals, weddings, engagements, etc. it was just unreal. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We got lost on the way to the caves for about an hour and then finally found the beach we thought it was at. The thing is with the cave is that you can’t see it by beach. It’s only accessible by boat or swimming. I had done my homework and knew it was within swimming distance. Josh and tried getting 2 kayaks but they want 40 euros for one hour which was ridiculous!! Josh and I swam about 10 minutes in 50 something degree water and just went for it. Soon enough we made it to the cave and it was perfect!!! The light was perfect! The tide was perfect! There was nobody there! Except….. one couple, and one seagull. The seagull had a nest in this cave and was going absolutely ballistic on this couple. The thing was dive bombing them left and right and josh and I just looked at each other and started laughing. It was the kind of laugh like, if I try to propose to Caro over here and that thing is dive bombing us??? We came all this way and if that was how it was going to play out then that was how it was going to play out and that was that. The next part was trying to convince Carolin to take a kayak over to see this amazing cave. Caro was sitting there saying “I’m not paying 40 euros for a stupid kayak for one hour, are you kidding me?” This is where Mary comes in handy and just hands Carolin a large glass of wine and said “just drink this and simmer down”… Basically. Just like that the next thing I know is we have a kayak for an hour and Mary and Carolin are paddling towards the cave and I’ve got the ring in my pocket and josh and I start swimming. We get inside and it’s still perfect. The seagull is still there chasing some other couple out of the cave and josh and Mary and I are trying to figure out ways to distract the seagull while I can propose to Carolin. We figured if we creep against the wall we could get underneath the nest and snap a couple photos in the beam of light shining down through the roof of the cave. I’m following Carolin and she’s saying ” stay right there and take a photo of me, Rex stay right there! Rex! No! Back there!” I was saying “no, josh will get a photo of both of us in the light, it’ll be good”. We made it safely to this beam of light in the cave and I start fumbling around in my pocket to grab the ring. From here on out the pictures do this story justice because I was so nervous I just remember her saying yes and little tidbits here and there. She went from being mad at me for not taking her picture to absolutely stunned. She may have hit me simultaneously saying “are you kidding me?”Really Rex?” We never got dive bombed and it worked out perfectly. I think it’s safe to say I caught her off guard and we spent the rest of the day and even still now, celebrating our engagement. I couldn’t have done it without Josh and Mary. They played such a perfect role and made the day really special for us both!!! I am forever grateful for that! They grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine and we celebrated right there in the cave.

Back in Los Lagos we took a day trip to find some surf and got the rental car stuck in the sand for a hot minute in the middle of nowhere. We posted up at a pretty cool beach with some pretty good shore break. Josh and I snapped some shots with our go pros and body whomped in the shore pound like we were 14 years old again. We stopped at a terrocata store for like 2 hours buying plates and souvenirs. We had a great day seeing the countryside of portugal.

One night we walked past this store that specializes in feet cleaning. We walked in and decided to give it a whirl. The way it’s set up is they have chairs lining the walls with fish tanks connected to the bottom. Inside the fish tanks there are about a hundred little fish all waiting patiently for you to dip your feet into the tank. Once putting your feet inside it feels like you just put your feet into a fizzy foot bath. Except there’s no bubbles. That sensation is the fish plucking off the dead skin on your feet. It’s safe to say Mary lost it, Carolin felt like she was being tickled and josh and I just laughed hysterically. It was an experience to say the least and I’m not sure if I’ll personally go back. Either way we all had a good laugh.

We were so stoked and happy Josh and Mary made it to Portugal. Everyday was really easy going with them and we wish they would have stayed longer. Without them we probably wouldn’t have done certain things like previously mentioned foot sucking fish story. We had a great time in Los Lagos and headed back up to lisbon to spend one more day with J and M and say goodbye.

Caro and I headed back up north towards ericeira to stay at a surf house/hostel for another three days. The house felt more like a compound filled with boards and surf paraphernalia. All we did was surf and enjoy awesome company at this hostel. We’d cruise through town and walk around with ice cream checking out the harbor. Nod local beaches and then head home for a family style dinner followed by some futbol. We surfed some reef breaks and we surfed some beach breaks that were super fun. We got good surf info from the hostel and had an awesome time driving around the coast line.

Portugal definitely made an impression on us. We all came into the country not really knowing too much about the it but by the time we left we all felt like we’d barely scratched the surface. We could have all stayed at least another couple months. As far as a surf destination goes, it’s perfect. Great waves and great food and friendly people all round. Portugal also held a special moment in our lives which we will definitely not be forgetting. We were very fortunate to spend it with such great friends and for it to turn out to be such an amazing experience. So long portugal and we will see you soon. Until then we are pushing on. 

 

Nepal and Base Camp Everest trek

Before we left for Kathmandu we had done a little research about what to expect when we arrive. Usually, it’s been nice to know things like how far our hostel or hotel is from the airport, or if somebody is going to try and swindle us as soon as we step out onto the street. In the case of Kathmandu and the couple things we found out before our arrival…well, something that stood out that we haven’t really encountered yet was the fact that Kathmandu has rolling blackouts where they lose power for a number of hours (up to 16hrs). Coming from Kuala Lumpur and flying on Malaysia airlines definitely turned my senses up a notch and considering they’re recent history of missing planes, yeah, I was a little nervous to say the least. Traveling through Asia for a couple months and seeing how some airlines prepare they’re flights had instilled a little more fear in me, and to tell you the truth I have lost confidence in some of those airlines. Fast forward to our landing situation in Kathmandu. Usually when you start landing you can see some lights or a glow through the clouds. I knew we were close but I could not see anything. For a minute I thought, holy shit! We’re landing in the ocean somewhere! Then I thought, no that’s impossible, we’re landing in Kathmandu but there’s no power at the airport! Either way I didn’t see lights until we were on the ground and it scared the crap out of me. (This increase in fear of flying the last couple months will play a part later in this post btw).

We made it into Kathmandu and were picked up by our lead guide Raj who would be organizing and informing us about our base camp everest trek. Our first night we met up with Rob and Anuba who were on the navimag with us from puerto montt to puerto natales in chile a couple months prior. We had some beers and they gave us some pointers for Kathmandu. In October last year we booked the everest base camp trek and Carolin’s sister Cathrin agreed to join us. For three days we spent our time getting last minute gear and enjoying the sites in the Thamel area.

A family friend of Caro’s donates to a school in Kathmandu for underprivileged children ages 2-7 and they put us in contact with them. The three of us were picked up by someone from the school and we visited with the kids for a couple hours. They showed us how the Montessori learning system works and how the children benefit in their own unique situations. It was the first time I’d seen the Montessori system work and if you don’t know about it, in a nutshell it’s a system that gets kids together from different age groups and they learn through educational materials instead of direct instruction. They’re free to move around as they please and can choose which activities they want with long blocks of time to advance at their own pace. I’m sure there is much more to this type of learning but this is just what we saw. It was really cool to hang with the kids and check the program out. They took us to the monkey temple that overlooks Kathmandu and Patan Durbar Square.

We experienced the rawness of Kathmandu and both agreed it was one of the most chaotic places we’ve been yet. Kathmandu, geographically sits within a bowl surrounded by mountains. There’s lots of traffic and lots of people. I’m not sure exactly how it works but it creates this bio-dome of smog and air pollution that you can actually feel in your lungs. The air feels stagnant and ideally it’s probably not the best place to hang right before you trek to everest base camp. We were already coming from zero altitude and trying to acclimate even at a somewhat low elevation like Kathmandu is a difficult feat. So our plan for Nepal in general was to stay in Kathmandu for a couple days, start our hike up to base camp that would take in total about 2 weeks and then finish in Kathmandu for another couple days.

I knew a couple months prior we would be needing to take a small plane to a somewhat sketchy airport to start the trek, although once we were in Kathmandu I started hearing things like “worlds most dangerous airport” and “crashes are frequent” and “never fly domestically in Nepal”. Well, it turns out all the rumors are true. The planes are super old and I did myself the favor (worst idea ever) and looked up everything I could about how bad the flights were and and why it’s rated the most dangerous airport to fly into. We were warned that if the weather was even slightly bad in Lukla, the plane would not fly. Up until about 2 years ago, planes that flew to Lukla in bad weather would find themselves either turning around to Kathmandu or flying blindly in clouds and fog. The problem is when you’re landing you have sheer cliffs underneath you and all around the airport. If you miss calculate the landing, well…I think it’s safe to say you get one shot at it. The plane gets flown visually, so no computers just the experience of the pilot and his 2 eyes. The airport itself is at 2,900 meters, or about 9,400 feet. Cat said once we landed she didn’t hear me say one word for the 24 hours prior. I was so happy to be alive after that flight and I also found out how sweaty my hands could get. Caro for once in her life seemed oddly okay with this small plane and viewed this whole thing more like a roller coaster ride than a death trap and cat had a scared look in her eye but was giggling like a lil school girl. The landing strip is not flat by the way. It sits at a 12 degree slant. Once you see the pictures below you will understand my fear and hopefully it gives you an idea of what we went through.

From the Lukla airport we pretty much start hiking. Everybody who either goes to the top of Mt. Everest or just the base camp starts hiking in Lukla. We spent the next 7-8 days or so slowly climbing up town by town. The first day was fairly easy. The second day was a little more interesting. Cathrin has a slight fear of heights and/or hanging bridges. We crossed I think 4 or 5 bridges and they were actually pretty high. We had to develop a strategy for Cat so she could feel a little more at ease. I would walk in front of her holding her hiking poles in one hand at the same time I would kind of be pulling her forward. Carolin would focus on substitution and diversion and just start asking as many questions as she could to Cat. It seemed to work pretty well except for the fact that whatever question Caro asked Cat, Cat would respond off topic and would create her own elaborate answer that really didn’t have anything to do with the original question. The real challenge for was on the second day. We crossed the highest walking bridge I’ve ever seen. If I were to guess how high it was, I’d say at least 180 maybe 200 feet in the air. Our strategy seemed to be working fine until half way through the bridge a dog who decided to join us on the crossing stopped in between my legs and then Cat’s. I looked through the metal slats and saw how far we really were from the river and actually had to concentrate on crossing this thing. For a split second I felt uneasy about it but there was no way I could say anything in front of Cat that doubted my ability to cross or my slight increase in heart rate. Again, see pictures for full effect.

Everyday we hiked a little higher and a little further. We became more aware of our environment and the lack of oxygen. You start paying attention to everybody else’s condition and once someone says they have a headache or they’re stomach hurts your ears definitely perk up. It’s kind of a bit unreal sometimes. You start your hike closer to 10,000 ft high and the whole time there are just these massive daunting mountains all around you. Altitude sickness is no joke. Everybody reacts a little differently too. Some people show light symptoms and some people none at all. Our goal was everest base camp and that sits at about 5,300 meters or 17,500 ft.

Along our trek we would hike to tea houses in small villages along the trail. Some are nicer then others but they all kind of consist of the same construction. Plywood and rocks. No real insulation in the walls because there’s only 1 sheet of plywood connecting rooms. Most places had toilets but some just had holes in the ground but there was always a distinct toilet smell. They all have beds but since it gets freezing at night, your below zero sleeping bags are a must. Breakfast lunch and dinner are all served at different locations depending on where we are staying but it was a strict diet of vegetables, eggs, cookies, and rice. We had plenty of options and although steak and chicken were on the menu, it wasn’t advisable to eat any of it. The reason for this is the area surrounding Everest , the khumbu valley and all of the national park are a protected area for the animals which means no killing. All the meat comes from a town below Lukla which is a 6 day hike. Then the meat takes another couple days to make it up to the different tea houses. There’s no roads. It’s all hiked in on somebody’s back. We saw one of the guys who does it too and he wasn’t hiking with a refrigerator on his back either (even though he could have) the meat was all out in the open. Only covered by the other meat in his woven wicker basket.

Our hiking crew consisted of 11 of us and a head guide (Raj) and his assistant (Depak). It was a mixed bunch mostly from the US and from what I thought we all hiked at a pretty good pace. For almost 2 weeks we all hiked and ate and hung out together. We conversed and told stories and really it’s amazing how we all found ourselves wanting to hike this mountain. Everybody has their own story and reason for why they were there.

The first week or so was pretty routine. Like I said before we hiked a little further, a little higher, and a little harder each day. One thing we encountered that was a possibility in everybody’s head but I don’t think we were really expecting was snow. We all expected to see snow and for it to be cold. We all knew the weather could change drastically in a matter of minutes and as far as our gear goes, we were all pretty much prepared but if you went back and asked everybody….. We all were probably missing one or two items we needed for this next bit I’m about to explain. It snowed on us one day when we were doing an acclimation hike to 5,100 meters/ 16,700 ft. At about 4,800 meters it started getting steep and slippery. Some of us turned around because if we were slipping going up then for sure we’d be slipping going down and possibly into a hole or worse sprain or break an ankle. Raj told us that we’d gone high enough to acclimate and down we went. The other half that felt comfortable, continued up. That night I remember thinking, if we get any more snow it’s going to make the rest of the way very difficult for us. The next day we hiked through snow the majority of the day. At times you couldn’t see more then 30 feet in front of you and it didn’t look like it was letting up any time soon. At this elevation hiking is one thing, but when you add snow into the mix it becomes a whole different experience. Everything becomes just a little bit harder. I think we were all hoping that night that it would be clear skies the next morning and the trail would be clear. We made it to lebouche which is now at 5000 meters and most of us were complaining about some form of altitude sickness or another. One person says their head hurts, one person says they have a stomach ache etc. Not to mention the prior 3 days plus or minus, some of us had trouble sleeping. Trying to sleep at 16,500 ft. can be a little difficult. It was common for Caro and I to wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. Full on, sitting up in bed, and gasping. When you get up to go to the bathroom and try getting in your sleeping bag, by the time you get back in your struggling for air. Little movements and flurries of activity leave you just parched and exhausted. The lack of oxygen at that altitude is definitely noticeable.

The next mornings plan was to hike up to a village called Gorek Shep which is about 2 hours away and then another 2 hours to base camp everest and then back down to sleep at Gorek Shep. Unfortunately, we woke up to another white out outside. There wasn’t anybody outside and it was about 6 in the morning. We geared up to make the push to Gorek Shep and as soon as we left our tea house in Lebouche our guide and his assistant blazed the trail. In fact, there was no trail. We were hiking through thigh deep fresh powder at 16,500 ft. and it was taking us forever. It was exhausting and actually quite frustrating. We hiked for 2 hours and had gone about a mile at most. The amount of ground we covered if there had been no snow would have taken us 30 minutes and at the rate we were going it was looking like it was going to take all day just to get to Gorek Shep. We stopped, had some words about whether or not it was going to be worth it. Raj was trying to get our porters to blaze the trail and they didn’t want to so they sat under a rock and said “this is crazy and it’s not worth it”. We had other groups pilling up behind us and their guide was telling us that if anybody gets sick up further there will be no rescue because the weather was so bad and no helicopter can fly. At the same time groups started coming down from Gorek Shep and told us one of the hotel owners is coming down and he closed his place because he was afraid of how much snow was on his roof and it might cave in on itself. Some groups came down and said everything is fine. One guy even had a weather report that said it might clear in the morning. Half of our group wanted to push through and at one point when our guide was asked what he wanted to do he said “I don’t want to die”. The whole situation was very confusing and emotional. Carolin wanted to go up, I wanted to go down, and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to discuss our options. To put it in perspective, we’re up in a snow storm at 5,100 meters and we’re weighing the option of hiking up further and risking our lives, or turning around and playing it safe. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. I personally lost faith in our guide because there was no reassurance that what we were doing was safe or not. Telling us he didn’t want to die was a very direct message but somewhere in all that there was a communication breakdown. He also allowed members of our group to blaze the trail for the rest of us. I don’t have a problem with them blazing the trail but more so our guide for not staying in front and being more assertive. In my eyes the only two people I wanted to follow up to base camp was our guide Raj and his assistant. When your guide stops guiding, that sending a pretty clear message. Anyways, I had my reasons and Carolin had hers. She felt like we had enough info to at least make it to Gorek Shep. The clouds were also starting to clear. At this point Raj had told us that base camp was out of the question for that day and it was going to be determined by the weather the next day. The group was split. Half went down and the other half went up. Caro and I were with the group that went up. Cathrin went down. I did not want to go and was a little pissed at Caro for not listening to our guides warnings. She was pissed at me for coming all this way and not listening to the other signs that said we would make it. Again, it was a very difficult decision to make and even harder when you feel responsible for somebody’s safety and you think you’re right. It felt like we didn’t know who to put our trust in anymore and it became more of a personal choice. It didn’t take long before we separated ourselves from the group and turned around. We hiked back to Lebouche and by the time we were half way back the sun was completely out and the clouds had lifted. It was like a sick joke Mother Earth had played on us.

The rest of the afternoon was a little tense to say the least around Lebouche. We had lunch with the rest of the group and Caro looked at me and said “I want to try and go back up”. Almost exactly at that moment the rescue helicopter made three landings to pick people up who had been sick the last three days and could not get evacuated. All afternoon the helicopter was making runs to rescue people in Gorek Shep. I told Caro that I’d have to go with her and she refused. At one point she saw a horse and seriously considered hiring it to ride up to Gorek. It was a crazy crazy day. We asked our guide to call up to Gorek to see if we had time to hike up on our own and he said it was impossible for us to make it in time. Just like that it was done. We had to sit tight and that was that. Later that night we heard that the rest of the group made it to base camp that same day.

In the morning the next day we got word that Raj was coming down and that most of the other half of the group got really sick. If everything had gone to plan, we would have been hiking to Kala Patar which is actually higher then base camp but it gives you the view of everest that base camp does not. Two of the girls that made it to base camp attempted it with our assistant guide but barely made it a quarter of the way up because of the snow. We started our decent down to a lower camp and met up with the other half of the group. The two girls looked fine although I think we were all complaining about headaches but the guys that went up looked like they got hit by a train. They all had been throwing up all night and couldn’t hold any food down at all. They weren’t back to normal until we were back down in Kathmandu a couple days later. Either way I’m glad we made the decision to come down that day. At the height we were at and the stress we were putting on our bodies, it’s for real. It’s not something to take lightly. It’s too easy to let the thought of yourself standing at the top of a mountain get in the way of the real dangers that are very much apparent. Your pride is your biggest enemy in my eyes up there. Other people can make their own choices up there and that’s fine. I’m really proud of Carolin for making the choice to turn around. I know it was a tough pill to swallow for her and it was for me too but all in all I think it was the right thing to do (I am still not sure if she agrees :)).

We took a couple days to come down to Lukla and had another wild plane ride back to Kathmandu where we spent the last four days going on walking tours, shopping, and getting rings made…..( more detail in next post )

Nepal was a crazy and beautiful place. It made us appreciate all we have and how fortunate we are to be on this trip together. There have only been a couple places so far on this trip where we’ve really felt out of our element and Nepal was definitely one of those places. Sometimes words can’t describe what you see and how you feel. No matter how much we try and explain how something is elsewhere, it doesn’t do it justice. We’ve realized that depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going has an effect on your trip. Sometimes the country you were just in is more raw then the one you’re going to. That has a huge impact on what you experience. Caro and I came to a crossroad up there. In a strange way it was the hardest decision we’ve made as a couple to turn around and to sit with our choice. If that’s the hardest thing we’ve had to decide then I’d say we’re doing pretty good. Nepal was amazing! All I can say is, we will absolutely be coming back.

 

Thailand

Our trip to Thailand started out with a family friend of ours who met my parents 20 years ago in bangkok. Since then my mom has frequented thailand multiple times and created a very strong connection with the country and I would go so far as to say it’s her favorite place to visit. Naranon or just Non has taken my mom all over thailand in his new jet black Toyota Camry. We’ve sent other family friends to visit him and his wife Umpai and everybody always comes back with nothing but amazing things to say about them both. With that being said, we have nothing but amazing things to say about Non as well.

I had never met him before so when he picked us up at the airport it was really nice to finally put a face with the name.
He dropped us off at our little garden oasis hostel in bangkok and told us we would all have dinner together the next night. Once Caro and I got settled we ventured out to grab some authentic pad Thai from a street vendor and celebrated our arrival with a couple cold Chang beers.

We could see all the protest spots throughout Bangkok and where the roads have been blocked off but from what Non told us, it was calm on the surface but underneath it all was as crazy and unruly as ever. We where only in Bangkok for 2 nights so our time was limited. We went to a crazy market close to our hostel and that night Non took us out to dinner on the waterfront which was probably something we wouldn’t of found on our own. It was a quick visit into Bangkok and we wish we would have spent more time there. The next day we planned to meet up with one of Caro’s college friends Chris Kelly and his girlfriend Desire at the airport to travel the rest of thailand together.

We flew into Chiang mai and stayed at a place called “seven brothers”. The place is phenomenal and the guy Lester who runs and owns the hotel is somewhat of a legend in those parts of the world.

On a side note, Chris had told us he was going to propose to Des a month or two prior so he was constantly looking for the prime opportunity and Caro and I had to keep our lips shut until that moment came. So…we checked out some temples in town and sat down with a couple monks who were volunteering there time to talk with us about various different subjects. It’s called “monk chat” and it’s basically an opportunity for us to get to know and understand a day in the life of a monk and it gives them a chance to ask us questions and learn about our culture. We asked the typical questions you’d want to ask a monk like…. “Do you have Facebook? What do you think about when you meditate? Could we become monks? What do you do when you see other monks breaking the rules?” Y’know, things like that. We received some pretty funny answers and asked if he wanted to know anything about us. He did, and the only two questions he asked were. “Are there gangsters in Los Angeles? And do you want to be friends on Facebook?” To tell you the truth we were not expecting that and had a good laugh over it. We walked around through the markets and stores and experienced a legit tuk tuk ride home.

Seeing some elephants were on all of our lists and from hearing about my moms extensive experience with them we had to make a visit to one of the camps. We opted out of riding elephants and decided to go somewhere a little different. We ended up going to the Elephant Nature Park which specializes in rescuing elephants from illegal logging companies in Laos and Burma that use the elephants for hard labor or elephants that need rescue from tourist traps like street begging.These elephants have heart breaking stories from logging accidents that break their hips and legs, to brutal mahouts that whip the eyes until they move and ultimately blind the elephants. The stories are horrific.The conditions of some of the elephants is pretty much the worst you could imagine. It’s heart breaking and you really can’t help but want to support the rescuing efforts.
So what this nature park does is pay up to 10,000 usd for one elephant and gets them to the nature park and treat their injuries as best they can and give them a better life. They’re free to roam around on a couple hundred acres of land and they’re never ridden. The tourists come in and pay x amount to walk around the park freely with them. We could walk all around the park and feed them and bathe them and just kind of hang out with them for the day. It’s the exact opposite lifestyle of what they’re used to and you can see the smiles on their faces. They get showered with love and food all day long. It’s a really special place and they’ve done a great job in taking care of these truly amazing creatures. Over the last couple years they’ve acquired almost 40 elephants. If you have a chance to go here, definitely go. If your interested in staying there for a little longer, you can stay at the facility and help prepare their food and volunteer for as long as you want.

From chiang mai we headed north to a town called Pai. After a pretty brutal 4.5 hour bus ride through windy mountain roads you arrive in this small little hippy town. Hippy town is really the only way I can describe it because it’s exactly that. Lots of expats walking around barefoot with dreadlocks and big flowy pants. Fire dance contests and banana milkshakes. It kind of reminds me of Paia in Maui. For those of you that don’t know about Paia, it’s same same but different. We rented some scooters right away so we could escape all the incense. We heard about a waterfall and a lookout point to check out so off we went. The waterfall was ok. We were there in dry season so there wasn’t so much flow and it’s pretty small. After the waterfall we saw a sign that said “viewpoint 25 minutes”. 45 minutes later we saw the exact same sign. At this point we were determined to get to this vista but the road gradually got worse and worse. We had mopeds and we were off-roading way out of bounds. The road became dirt and then there were big cracks all over the place and then mud. The girls would have to get off the bikes and walk up the steep sections. We could tell we were close but these damn signs kept saying 25 more minutes. We ended up ditching the bikes because it was too steep and hiked another 30 minutes to the lookout. We hung out and had some fanta and ventured back down. The brakes went out on our bike which was interesting not to mention they were also covered in mud.The mopeds we were on were not really meant for this terrain but they made it back to town and we survived the day.

After a few days of fire dancing and some of the most amazing people watching yet, we headed back to chiang mai to catch a flight to krabi. It was time for the beach!!! We flew into krabi just in time for a massive thunderstorm. We had a driver pick us up and take us to a dock where a ponga boat was waiting. Our destination was to go to Railey beach. With the thunderstorm approaching and it being pitch black over the ocean, the situation was looking pretty dismal. We had a 20 minute boat ride into the darkness while lighting and thunder was cracking all around us. I personally enjoyed it and felt pretty comfortable out there but Carolin on the other hand was hating life!!! We made it safely and woke up the next morning to a little slice of paradise. We were in railay for a couple days just relaxing on the beach, and enjoying the sites. We hired a ponga boat to take us to some different islands and cruise through the inlets and sandbars. We’d stop and post up in a little cove and snorkel around, then we’d beach the boat and walk around in a foot of water between different islands. It was beautiful and after the whirlwind trip we had through Vietnam, it was nice to be in the middle of nowhere without anything to do but basque in the sun and admire the surrounding crystal blue waters.
On the other hand, Chris Kelly was trying to figure out the right moment to pop the question to Des. It went pretty smooth actually. We walked out on the beach during sunset and he told Caro and I that now was the time. So, we readied the cameras and he did his thing. It was a special moment, and we felt honored to be a part of it.

We took a speed boat across to Phuket and were planning on spending the next few days looking for surf and hanging around the beach.
We did find some surf down the street from out hotel but it was subpar at best. Just a couple little beach breaks close to shore and pretty gutless. Either way we were surfing in thailand and it was an experience. For not really expecting to find surf we can’t really complain. Most of the time we took it pretty mellow. We visited a couple markets and picked up some souvenirs.

All in all thailand was an interesting place for us. I think our expectations were a little different then what it actually was. Coming from such a chaotic place like Vietnam and nonstop traveling may have caught up with us a little in thailand but it’s exactly what we needed. Meeting up with Chris and Des was awesome and seeing some familiar faces made us think about all our friends and family back home.

Caro and I agreed it wouldn’t be the last time visiting thailand but for now we’re pushing through to Malaysia, and then to kathmandu to prepare for our hike to Everest base camp.

 

Vietnam

Hanoi

“Welcomeeee to Viettttnammmmmm!!!” Is what keeps on repeating itself in my head from the moment we landed in Hanoi! Obviously I am not the only one, considering from the second you land you can buy t-shirts, hats and tanks with the saying!
Needless to say, we finally felt like we were really in S.E. Asia!
From chaotic (I might even say suicidal) driving, to dirty, loud, crazy madness, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Nothing makes sense but somehow everything works.
We headed to my dearest friend Camilla’s house in Hanoi. The directions alone were amazing : ” Take a cab and he will probably drop you off somewhere around the Army Guest House because there are about half a dozen or more of houses with the same address as my house. From there follow this map and hopefully you will find it. If not call me! ”
Luckily Camilla was home by the time we got there because I think it would have taken us a couple hours to find her apartment. She welcomed us open armed with a couple bottles of red wine in her arsenal!
For you who don’t know Camilla- I have known her since I was a baby. Our parents have been friends since they were in their 20s if not earlier. Camilla visited me in Newport about 3 years ago and was actually with me when Rex and I had our first “hearts fly around our heads” moment. She was also with us on our “first” date.
After catching up into the wee hours of the morning with some amazing wine and food we crashed out!

We spent the following day jetting all over Hanoi. Here’s a “brief” run down.
Stop 1- Food- We started the day by eating the best pho I have ever had in my life, in a local hole in the wall joint on mini benches, squished together way past capacity.
Stop 2- Planning – We carried on with a tuk tuk threw the old quarter to Miss Ly travel agency (missly1@hotmail.com). Since we have started we have become pretty relaxed about our travel plans (some might even call it lazy). We just book our flights a couple weeks before hand and figure out the rest as we go. Miss Ly helped us get our following week sorted. She is amazing and we highly recommend her. After 1 hr of picking, sorting and booking we were ready for a coffee/beer.
Stop 3- Creepy Coffee- In a nut shell you walk threw a random knockoff bag store to the back, threw some dark dingy stair cases and you end up in this room filled with smoke, and people sitting on mini chairs slugging Vietnamese coffee and eating sunflower seeds. Needless to say dirt cheap and amazing! Think: Whipped sugar egg whites mixed with chocolate expresso like coffee!
Stop 4- Beer!
We wandered the streets of old quarter, filled with people, terrifying electrical work, crazy motorcycles drivers, amazing street food and sidewalks filled with mini tables/chairs and people chugging beer.
We plopped down at one of Camilla’s favorite spots and let the people watching begin. Impeccable service (your beer was full the moment you finished it) and weird food made the experience complete. After a couple hours, Camilla’s good friend Tip (or “future” husband made an appearance). He is a local guy with an interesting story which is worthy of a whole other post, but to sum it up he is a winner of the best bartender in Vietnam award in 2013.
Stop 5- More Food & Beer – We continued on with eating/drinking our way threw Hanoi’s street food vendors at one of Tips favorite places, fried rice with sweet and sour veggies! Tip continued telling us crazy stories and we enjoyed the evening as the sun went under and rain began.
Stop 6 – Pho Cocktail – since Tip won the bartender of the year award he had quite the following in Hanoi/Vientam and had his own signature drink- the pho cocktail. We headed to a friends rooftop bar to experience this drink and see how the drink is made. It is a full on story and was super cool! See picture!
Stop 7- Dancing- Hair of the Dog Club- 9 pm you enter into a building thinking it will be completely dead, since it is 9 pm but you are greeted with a cloud of smoke of cigs/shisha, a thumping bass and shoulder to shoulder packed club. Tip arranged for a private table and the fist pumping began (incld. Birkenstock and a bag of fruit since we hadn’t be home since the morning, that was a definite first!!!) 3 hours later and after chugging drinks “100%” (come to learn,Vietnamese don’t sip there drinks, they pound them back to back till you can’t walk) we got spat out by this club !!
Stop 8- Nightcap – Camilla was ready to rumble and we were off to another bar, that didn’t last very long due to the 12 am closure of bars/ clubs! There are some places that bend the rules due to “good relations” with the police but we were exhausted!

Next morning was spent in bed and lounging and going to an italian lunch for Easter Sunday! It was odd expierence being in Vietnam surrounded by Italians, in a court yard that resembled Italy with the best gnocchi I have ever eaten. Fast forward to the evening and we are at a Vietnamese/Korean BBQ joint eating… Guess what? The best BBQ I have ever eaten. You get the drift… We are eating our ways threw Vietnam and it’s so worth it!
The following day was Camilla’s birthday. We were busy getting ready for the shinding that was to be held for the birthday girl and we spend the evening celebrating with Camilla and her international group of friends, till the wee hours of the morning.

Halong Bay

The next morning Caro and I were scheduled to drive 4 hours east to Halong Bay. We jumped on a ferry boat, then to a semi-cruise boat without all the luxuries of what you’re probably expecting. The boat was basically held together by paint and grime. The rooms had a hint of urine sent in them and the shower had wires hanging out of the walls so I personally opted out of the hot water bit. To put our expectations in perspective, most of the tours to Halong Bay in Hanoi are advertised as,”come and swim in the majestic emerald waters of Halong Bay and discover the untouched beauty of the region”. To get a couple things straight, it’s not untouched, the waters are not emerald, there’s trash everywhere!!! There’s boats everywhere. We felt like we were being rushed through the tour and our horrendous guide couldn’t answer one question regarding anything outside of her rehearsed, scripted little bubble. It was disappointing to say the least. Every once in a while we would look beyond the trash and all the damage that’s been done and you could get a glimpse of the beauty.

Our plan was to spend one night on the boat and one night on Catba Island. The first day we saw a cave, we rode kayaks (for a time limit of 20 min) then we went to Ti Top island. I think I’m still trying to figure out why Ti Top island is the way it is. I know it was named after a former Soviet Union hero astronaut, and I know that bit of history is somewhat interesting but I don’t understand the attraction I guess. We didn’t have very good weather either so that adds to the effect. In my opinion, nobody should be swimming in the same area as the drop off point from all the boats. When you can see the oil/gas film on the surface, you don’t go in. We stayed the night on the boat and in the morning we visited a pearl farm. The farm was interesting although again, a little disappointing. We never knew how pearls were made but now we do. Since the oysters have to be pried open and pearl placed inside. A shocking 60-70% of the oysters will either reject, and/or develop some kind of illness that ultimately kills them. I’m no sales expert but I’m pretty sure if you want to sell lots of pearls, you don’t tell everybody how many oysters died in the process of making them. Anyways, the good news is, is that we changed boats after the pearl farm and with that came a great new guide and a bunch of rowdy guys from Australia. Instantaneously our spirits lifted and the second half of our Halong Bay trip looked like it was about to get a lot more interesting.

We rode bicycles around Catba island through a local village, our guide took us to a local woman’s house and we drank some local rice wine that knocked our socks off and put even more unneeded hair on my chest. We were then dropped off at the main harbor at Catba and taken to our less then exciting hotel. Our time for the next 24 hours was our own to explore the island. Caro and I rented a motorbike and went straight to the national park to do some hiking which was interesting to say the least. We didn’t see anybody else there. There wasn’t really any signs guiding us, and after about 2 hours or so the trail became very narrow and very loud. Every time something fell out of a tree or brushed up against my leg I thought it was a snake or some kind of giant bug. The loudness was caused by a bug called a cicada. It makes a high pitched ringing sound that at times can be extremely loud and almost disorienting. We saw some beautiful scenery and realized jungle hiking is much different then mountain hiking.

We visited a place called hospital cave that was used to treat injured Vietcong during the war. We only spent 15 minutes there but it was the highlight of Halong bay for sure. The cave itself is tucked away on a sheer cliff. There’s a little metal door that opens up to a long dark hall way with rooms. It’s three stories high and there’s also a pool on one of the levels that Ho Chi Minh himself used to swim in. I think the engineering of this place is what surprised us. Perfectly squared off concrete corners and almost kind of modern in a way. If you ever get a chance to go to Catba island, check out hospital cave. We had dinner with the Australian guys that night and the next morning made our way back to Hanoi.

Halong Bay is an amazing place. Its a beautiful area of Vietnam and it has potential to be an even more amazing destination, but it needs to be taken care of more. They’ve figured out how to make money off the place and herd people in and out of there all day but there’s little pride shown. As a result of this, the park suffers. Although we had a subpar tour guide and were disappointed with the condition of the bay we had a great time. There are many different ways to see the bay and there are many different tour companies offering different packages. Some people we talked to had a more private tour and said nothing but great things about their boat and the places they saw. It really just depends on what tour you go with and if you get a good guide or not. The next couple years will be interesting at Halong. Hopefully they realize that taking care of there backyard will ultimately benefit them in the future.

Sapa

Come to our first overnight train, Hanoi —> Sapa. It was such an unexpected pleasant surprise. The plus side of trains is that you don’t have to worry about your bags being stolen as easily as on an overnight train. There are stops but you have your bags with you in your cabin, so really the only threat are the people in the cabin with you and the possibility of you sleeping threw your stop (luckily not the case in Sapa since the train ends there.

We slept like babies and got in only 3 hours delayed. We met up with our private tour guide that Camilla set us up with and we were off on our 2-day hike.
Starting out, we were walking with a bunch of other tourists, we saw Cat Cat Village and before we knew it we were hoping over rice paddies, balancing on mud damns, nativating water canals and jumping over massive mud puddles with no other people in sight. This was the moment we knew we had made the right decision to go with our traditionally dressed private guide, Ms. Su Linh for a whopping $20 more than a large guided group and we knew the money went all to her. Best decision yet!!!
Ms. Su Linh’s english was, to say the least, impeccable in comparison to our previous guides and the remarkable part is that she taught it herself.

A little background on Ms. Su Linh :
Age: 21
Weight: 40kg (LBS)
Height: maybe on a good day 5’1″
Kids: 2
Married : since 16
Education Level: 4th grade
Languages: 5 (3 fluid, 2 semi-fluid)
Tribe: Black Hmong Tribe

We spent the day hiking along the hillside paddies and in general just really enjoying the view and conversations we had with Ms. Su Linh. She had so much information to share and it was so easy to speak to her. I felt like she legitatimly wanted to share her way of life with us. We hiked 16 km in the boiling heat and ended up at Ms Su Lyn’s aunties house in their remote village. The place could have slept 16 people but we were only 4 foreigners to sleep there. It was also the only home stay in a 20 mile radius.
To describe the house, it was concrete floor partial concrete walls, some wooden panels which were not water/wind proof. In the US we would consider it more of a hut or barn than a house. She had 4 proper beds downstairs and upstairs 5 mattresses on the floor. All had curtains and mosquito nets for protection and privacy. Even though it was very basic it was one of the homiest and coolest places I have ever stayed at. Luckily we had a shower with hot water and a western toilet, its the small things in life, right?
Once dinner time came around a collapsable table was pulled out and in no time a feast was presented to us (+home made rice wine) with the whole family (think: grama/grampa/kids/aunts/husbands) right next to our bed. After a evening filled with “one more? “ and stories exchanged, we passed out just to be woken up by the double doors flinging open by the wind (think: movie “what you did last summer” where murder stands in rain and doors flings open and lighting is behind him) and hearing massive thunder. We looked under our bed and a river had started to flow threw the entire house. Frantic running combined with shuffling of things ensued for the next 30 minutes, as the other couple got moved from upstairs into the only other dry bed in the house which was also Aunt’s bed. We are still not sure where Ms. Su Linhs
Aunt slept. Rex and I agreed that we both had never been threw such a violent thunderstorm (that wasn’t a hurricane). The lighting seemed to be continues as well as the constant rumbling of the thunder. It was an eventful night.

Next morning we woke up to perfect weather and continued on with our hike,only 9 km left, passing a few waterfalls and more and more tourist. We also stopped at Ms. Su Linh house which was the biggest eye opener yet. See pictures below, they speak more than words. We learned about the cost of going to school, how little it cost but how impossible of an idea it is for most people of the area since they do not earn enough money. We saw the first had impact of tourism which isn’t always good, and i can honestly say i wanted to stay and help these families. I hope to one day return and continue to share knowledge, educate and be of service to these amazing people.
To top the end of this adventure off we took motor taxi’s back to Sapa which was the scariest thing to date that we have done. Next thing we knew we were on our way back to the train station to catch our overnight train back to Hanoi.

Overall Sapa was one of our highlights, I learned so much about the indigenous tribes, there way of life and their crafts (indigo hemp clothing, which i am obsessing over). I learned how to stitch their traditional fabrics, how they prepare the hemp to be woven into cloth, how they indigo dye the fabrics and everything else between. We tried on traditional clothing and jewelry, ate amazing food and had great conversations.
I would highly recommend Ms. Su Linh and her family. If you guys are interested in booking something with her, just give her a call 0166668651 and she can arrange it all for you 🙂

If you can’t tell by the length of this post, Vietnam left an impression on us. Its such a place of rawness and so much culture, you don’t really know what to do with yourself. We felt utterly exhausted and as if we got eaten up and spat out. This has been a first for us on our trip, which is actually surprising.

Phong Nha

After our amazing time in Sapa we took the overnight train back to Hanoi and waited around until 10 pm to catch another overnight train to Dong Hoi or (phong nha). That is south of Hanoi for anybody who doesn’t know. It’s almost central Vietnam and only about 5 kilometers away from the country of Laos. The town of Phong Nha has been on the radar only for a couple years depending on who you talk to. If you’ve heard about the discovery of the worlds largest cave in the last 3-5 years, you’ve more then likely been reading about phong nha and it’s surrounding areas. Phong nha is starting to gain traction as a tourist destination and is slowly but surely becoming one of the worlds top picks for outdoorsman and backpackers. We posted up at a place called the Pepper house Homestay in the middle of the country side. From there we rented motorbikes and rode around the national park visiting some of the biggest caves I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t long after riding around we realized we maybe should’ve booked a couple more days here. Paradise cave was the first stop and we were blown away instantly. We hiked almost a mile into the cave. It actually goes another 6 kilometers deeper but you need a guide. After paradise cave we rode our motorbikes to dark cave. Here we jumped on a couple kayaks with nothing but life jackets, and construction helmets with headlamps attached. After a couple minutes we kayaked into a massive cave. We all hiked in for a couple minutes, ditched the life jackets and started walking through the cracks in the walls. Eventually the cracks turned into very tight crevices. At the beginning of this excursion, nobody really explained anything to us by the way. They just told us to keep taking off more clothes and that we would get wet. None of us had a clue what we were in for. All of the sudden your bare feet slide into a dark, cold, mud trench. Then you walk a little further and now that mud trench is up to your thighs. A couple minutes later we were asked to sit down and lay back into the mud and make sure our headlamps are off. So…there we were, in complete darkness, about 10 total strangers, in a cave in Vietnam, laying on our backs in the mud. Totally normal. We hiked back out and put the life jackets on and went for a swim deeper into the cave with our headlamps guiding the way. Such an amazing experience!!! One we won’t be forgetting. We were in Phong Nha for 3 days and we could have stayed for 3 weeks. Unfortunately, the previous 8 days of overnight trains planes and bus rides started to catch up with us. The second day in phong nha had us in hammocks the majority of the day and the most we did was ride some bikes around and play pool at ” the pub with cold beer”. That’s the actual name of the place and its spot on. As I’m writing this I realize where I am. Sometimes I catch myself saying all we did was lay around in hammocks and visit a pub with cold beer. It’s sounds miserable doesn’t it? I know it’s hard to believe that traveling to these parts of the world can be exhausting, but it’s true. Most people ask us how our vacation is going but in all honesty, it doesn’t feel like a vacation at all. Nor did we ever want it to feel like one. When the maximum time at one location is usually 2-3 weeks, it’s always go go go. We are always trying to fit in as much culture as we can and take advantage of our time, but, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. It’s inevitable that at one point you crash. That doesn’t always coincide with travel plans either. So with that being said, we had to kinda of just crash for a day and let our batteries recharge. We only had 3 days here and we really missed out seeing the rest of the park.

We left Phong Nha by bus and we booked a ride that would take us by the 17th parallel on our way to Hoi An. The 17th parallel was the border between north and south Vietnam during the war and where most of the fighting took place. We visited a war museum and also walked through the underground tunnel systems the Vietcong used. It’s all pretty amazing in my opinion. The Vietnamese are a very proud people. From the small amount we’ve seen on the road all I can say is that they are an extremely resilient people too. The museums show how they used to live in these caves and even have babies underground. There is also a section of the museum that is dedicated to people who are still experiencing some of the effects of the war. People who plow their lands and clear crops and accidentally find a bomb that hasn’t yet exploded yet. Farmers are still finding bombs in the rice fields. It’s all very surreal to me. It’s amazing how long ago it was but how very apparent the memory is there still.

Hoi An/Danang

Our bus took off from there and headed towards our last destination in Vietnam. Hoi An and Danang. Camilla was meeting up with us there and the timing worked out perfectly to try and get some surfing in and perhaps get a custom suit made. Danang is known to have the most consistent surf in Vietnam and although it’s mostly pretty small there, it does have its days. Danang is also part of a massive development area. They’re building very high end luxury hotels and villas right on the sand. Hoi An has a little more character and is more well known for its shopping. Hoi An is a great place to get anything made that is custom. Shoes, suits, dresses, bags, tshirts, basically anything you can think of, they can make it. We scored some really fun waves in Danang both days we were there and we were able to get some custom clothes made as well. Most days were spent at the beach surfing in the morning, walking around Hoi An shopping, and getting a few drinks at night. These two areas are pretty fun and if you get a chance to come to Vietnam you should definitely plan a week or two. We had such a good time in Vietnam!! We covered some good distance and met some great people. Camilla really helped us out a lot and made our trip very special. Hopefully we can come back sooner rather then later but for now we have to push onward to Thailand.


what my hands look like after rubbing indigo leaves from a bush in my hands for 1 minute

what my hands look like after rubbing indigo leaves from a bush in my hands for 1 minute

drying after being dyed 6x

drying after being dyed 6x

natural vrs. dyed

natural vrs. dyed

another blanket

another blanket

indigo print, done by hand on hemp

indigo print, done by hand on hemp

detail shot of of the blankets, the color and mixing of fabrics random but amazing layouts come out of it.

detail shot of of the blankets, the color and mixing of fabrics random but amazing layouts come out of it.

Hemp Loom, after making the the hemp thread they use looms like this to create the different fabrics

Hemp Loom, after making the the hemp thread they use looms like this to create the different fabrics

Singapore

After talking to a few people about traveling to Singapore, we didn’t really have high expectations of the place. From what we heard, it wasn’t considered to be a long term destination, nor could we hike or surf there either. So, it kind of narrows it down. We planned to stay there for one night and hopefully catch some kind of walking tour and/or check out the well known overflow of electronics they have. We found a hostel called the Inn Crowd that had a reasonable dorm, ice cold tiger beer and a free razor scooter, push tour through the city thing. You’ll understand what that is when you scroll down and see the pictures. No offense to anybody, but back home razor scooters are not exactly the most awesome way to get around. They are usually used by kids and I personally would probably never ride one. On the other hand, when you’re in Singapore and there’s a free tour through downtown, and none of you friends are going to see you riding down the street…they become very awesome! So we teamed up with another 8-10 Germans and started kicking away through little India. We razored through a flea market, we razored downtown and saw the Raffles hotel, we razored down to the water front and saw all the high rises. We razored the hell out of Singapore basically. Actually, it was a full blown 5 and a half hour razor mission through the city. We went through the botanical gardens and posted up in an area that looked a lot like a scene from avatar. The park had these huge tree-like structures that lit up with multi colored lights and at 8:30 there was a light show. We all laid down on our backs in the middle of the avatar forest and enjoyed the display of music and lights simultaneously interacting with each other. If you’re ever in Singapore, check it out. It plays every night of the week.

There was a second light show we were headed to but Mother Nature decided to throw a thunderstorm/rain squall fit so we took the metro back to the hostel instead.

The next morning we visited a building that my dad designed that was across the street from where we were staying. I guess in town it’s called the “Gotham” building because of the 1920’s kind of style and the fact that its not like the other buildings in the area. We met up with the head security guard and he gave us a tour of the grounds. We took a couple pictures that were not allowed in the bar and went to the top floor to see the view. The building houses four major international embassy’s. Oman, United Arab of Emirates, Austria, and Mongolia. We were stoked we got to see the building and then it was time for us to start making our way back to the airport.

Singapore definitely surprised us. We weren’t expecting much but we had a great time. Apparently they have a zoo you can visit where you can walk amongst the animals with no barriers, they have hawker centers (open air food pavilions, or street food vendors) basically a foodies heaven. If you want to buy electronics, they have everything. You just need to know what you want and how much you want to spend. They have tons of cool leather and boutique shops…. The list goes on and on. Singapore hit a nerve with us and if we ever get a chance to go back for a free razor scooter city street tour thing, we will most definitely take full advantage of it.

Bali part 2

During our stay in Sumatra, Rex and I had to start thinking about our next couple moves. After some debating we decided that we would want to stay in Bali a little bit longer than we had originally planned and we extended our stay by 2 weeks. Which means we ended up spending the max amount of time allotted on our visa and booked our flight out of there on the last day possible.
Once we came back from Sumatra, we headed straight to Ubud for some culture. The main reason to be in Bali was to surf, but we figured we should at least check out the artisan/batik/yogi meca of Indonesia (also it’s one of the only places I could find Pilates classes in Bali:)) we arrived close to midnight and just crashed out in our room.

The place (suly resort and spa) we stayed at was a real find. For $22 a night we had a massive room with aircon, wifi, 2 pools in the middle of rice fields, free yoga, a pretty cheap breakfast buffet and so much more. The resort is interesting due to the fact that it is also ran by high school kids. The front of the compound is a boarding school for kids from less fortunate areas who get scholarships to go to school and at the same time they get trained in everything hospitality. Basically at the end of their schooling, not only do they have their high school degree, they also have the ability to go get a job within the hospitality Industry. So the entire place (which is huge) is crawling with 16 year olds doing everything from room service, front desk, restaurant, and gardening. The resort was a little bit outside of town, in the area called Mas which is the area known for its wood carving. We rented a scooter to get us around and we were off to explore.
The next few days were filled with temples, monkeys, shopping, Pilates/yoga. It was pretty action packed considering the previous 2 weeks were fulfilled with just surfing, eating, sleeping.

One day we decided we would do some artisan classes, Rex chose wood carving and basket weaving, I did batik and also basket weaving.
We spent an entire day in a shop outside of town learning these 3 trades and let me tell you …basket weaving is hard… Like really no joke, hard!! At one point Rex and I both looked at each other like : “are you kidding me?!” In the mix of all this, it’s also 99% humidity and a heat index of 90 and we are tying our fingers in knots trying to weave a little box out of dried palm frauns. Our teacher completed 4 in the time that Rex and I finished 1…and he had a cigaret in his hand most the time… The upmost respect to those basket weavers.

As for the other classes, I think we both walked away extremely inspired to try and continue those crafts when we get home again. Batik was a lot of fun and reminded me of the silk dying, that Cat and I used to do when I was a kid. Rex took a huge liking (rightfully so, he has a natural talent ) to wood carving. His fish looks amazing and I can’t wait to see how it is once it’s sanded and done.

One of the only things Rex really wanted to do in Ubud was to go eat at Lotus Cafe. It has been there for over 30 years and was a restaurant he had fond memories of, from his previous visits. We decided to officially celebrate our 3 year anniversary there and unknowingly we also got to see a traditional Balinese dance performance. The food was amazing and the music/dance was entertaining. It didn’t break the bank and we felt like it was a special night!

After 4 days we left the hustle and bustle of Ubud and headed back to our beloved bukit peninsula. We had already reserved a room at Impossible Villas where Dana and Alex had posted up. We were ready to eat, breath, live surfing for another 14 days. Personally I was ready to put this whole surfing thing to rest mid Sumatra. I have had an odd relationship with it for 8 years. It has been an on and off again relationship, getting better but then taking 5 steps back, mental blocks that would infuriate me(and Rex) and I finally wanted to really just work on surfing and wrapping my head around it. I needed to figure out my mental issues with the ocean and the fear of it. So where to do it better than in the #1 best place to surf in the world (on reef?! The scariest thing ever) Rex, of course, thought this would be a great idea. He helped me learn how to read the waves/ocean and after the first day I was able to go surf on my own and figure it out. Rex would analyze and critique me after most waves and without him I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did. We would spend afternoon or evenings practicing on dry land (popping up, body movements once standing etc). We would watch videos of Sumatra and us surfing and analyze it(who knew that looking where you want to go instead of down the the wave would make such a huge difference ;)). Seeing the love that Rex has for surfing and the ocean really helped as well. Watching him surf, with such determination, grace and strength is really inspiring.
It was super uneventful and really boring for most people but I really truly enjoyed it! In the midst of all this I also met a couple other girls that surf and rip and it doubled the fun. Who could beat warm water, perfect 3-5 ft waves and good company?

We ended up surfing mainly Uluwatu and Padang Padang (I now know where all the German surfers go, 90% of people in the water were German and this is where I,ironically, ended up surfing most the time). We did a day trip to Pandawa (with some
Old colleges of Alex and I) and Rex did another day trip to Nusa Dua with Alex.

In the midst of our stay, I learned of a designer in town called Maggie. She is the founder and owner of a brand called Magini Bikinis. Dana and I made our way over to her shop one afternoon and man oh man was I in heaven. She had a rack of bikinis and then a shelving unit full of fabrics. In the corner were two sewing machines were a local couple was sewing away. Before we knew it Maggie (she is from Portugal, about 5’2″ and 80 lbs) had strapped and twisted and wrapped some bikinis on our bodies and was talking away about fit, fabric and construction. I felt like I was just glowing and then she told us the price of a custom bikini and I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. After long debates about what fabrics, fit and size to go with I walked away with 5 pieces and Dana with 3. In 3 short days they would be ready for pick up.

Weird enough, another couple from Orange County was in bali at the same time. Some ex-volcom employees that Alex and I worked with for awhile. We all had an amazing surf together and a great dinner. It was so great to see people from the old family and it truly made me be grateful for my times at volcom.

All in all it was nice to finally be in a little bit of a routine. We weren’t always bound to each other and could independently move around. It was inspiring and relaxing.
Rex got some massive waves and got his barrels in. I learned/did my first cut back front side and backside. We got to spend and build stronger friendships with old friends.
I am not going to lie, once again a piece of our heart was left in bali, we are already talking about when we can come back! So thank you bali and your people for being who you are!

Now we are on our way to Singapore and vietnammmmmmmm!!!

Sumatra

So,we were trying to get to Sumatra to meet up with a contact who at one time was from Costa Mesa, California. Her name is Amy and she had given us directions to her surf camp that kind of went along the lines of, take this airline to Jakarta because it’s cheaper, then to bandar lampung where you will have to stay the night. The next morning you need to go back to the airport and find a flight on susi air to krui. Don’t worry I will have the air traffic controller meet you there. The flight will not be available online nor will anybody in the town say it exists but it does. Or, if for some reason the flight is not running, grab a taxi that will take you the better part of 6-7 hours to the camp. She said she’d help us along the way but she was also in another part of Sumatra visiting her boyfriend. She wasn’t coming back to her camp for another 3 days after we would get there. So, we were on our own for a couple days. Turns out the flight to Jakarta was cheap and it was basically a brand new plane. The second flight into Bandar Lampung was the sketchiest landing I’ve ever encountered. Let’s just say we were coming in hot! Really hot!! Like we were breaking through earth’s atmosphere hot!!! I think I might have accidentally assumed the “brace yourself for crash landing position” at one point because the g’s we’re pushing me into the seat in front of me. We spent the night at a brand new hotel with discount prices that was also unheard of. So finding the place at night made it a little more interesting.

Back at the hotel, I was trying to book the taxi to the airport for the next morning and the girls at reception kep