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Posts Tagged ‘Sunsets’

One bittersweet aspect of travel is making awesome new friends and then having to part ways with them days or weeks later, knowing you’ll probably never see them again.   Most backpackers accept this as part of the long-term travel lifestyle, but I say its bullshit.  Sure, the norm is that you won’t ever see the majority of these people for the rest of your life…but some you might; you just have to make it happen!

Kelly and I met some amazing people during our travels who we still keep in touch with – Doug, Marianne, the Jeffs, Meghan, Tessa, Phil, and Luke being some of our faves and we all promised to visit each other in our respective countries.   So several months ago when Luke and I tossed around the idea of me coming to visit him in Australia, instead of thinking ‘yeah right, that’s crazy’, I thought why the hell not?!  I had received a large tax refund that I wasn’t expecting and instead of buying a computer and a new cell phone or some other ‘practical’ item, maybe I should take a kick-ass vacation.   Maybe after my break-up with M, I needed to do something a little irrational.   So I said fuck it and bought a plane ticket to Melbourne.  I’m tired of just talking about things I’d like to do and want to actually DO them.

Luke and his other 5 roommates were kind enough to let me crash with them for the duration of my stay, which gave me the opportunity to be immersed in Aussie ‘culture’.  Basically, they are all crazy (in a fun, obnoxious way).  My first couple of days in OZ I spent recovering from jet-lag.  I slept in, took a train into downtown, checked out Federation Square, the ACMI museum, walked along the river AND got to reconnect with Tessa, whom Kelly and I met in Spain.  We met in Fed Square and had a hard time recognizing one another since we had on make-up, had done our hair, and had on normal clothes…we were only used to what we looked like as grubby backpackers!   It was so great to reconnect with her.  She gave me a walking tour of downtown Melbourne, took me to the Queen Victoria market to buy souvenirs, and showed me the ‘footy’ stadium where all of the AFL (Australian Football League…much different than American football) games take place.  Victoria peeps are nuts about their teams!!

Along the river

Tessa and me!

Me in front of the footy stadium

That weekend, I went to the Park Life music festival downtown with Luke and crew.  We all dressed as cyclists, which seems somewhat ridiculous, but ended up being an awesome idea…very easy to find one another in our neon jackets.   Saw some bands, drank too much, and acted like fools…overall, a super fun day!

On Monday, Luke and I departed for Alice Springs to begin our tour of Ayres Rock (Uluru), the iconic sandstone rock formation in the middle of the Northern Territory.   I was very excited about this, since Kelly and I were only able to see the east coast when we were in OZ the previous year and I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to see Uluru.  To be honest, Alice Springs is in the middle of NOWHERE and is sort of a hole.  We strolled around town, met a 69 year old Dutch woman traveling the world by train in 80 days (so inspiring!), took a nap, ate dinner, and had an early night.   I think we were both still recovering from the debauchery of the weekend.

After a 5 hour drive the next morning, we made it to our campsite near Ayres Rock.  The plan was to hike the ‘Valley of the Winds’ trail, but due to the high heat, the trail was closed.  Instead we did a couple of short hikes around the Olgas (another group of rock formations) and headed over to Uluru for sunset.  As all of my faithful readers know, weather never seems to cooperate with my travel/site seeing plans.  It was very cloudy that evening so the dramatic color changes of the rock that I had hoped to witness didn’t happen.   Still very pretty though.

Walking through the Olgas

Luke and me in front of Uluru at sunset

The next morning was one of my favorite days of the trip.  We woke up early as hell in the morning to make it to Uluru and walk around the base of the rock during sunrise.  Luke and I were able to separate ourselves from the rest of the tour group, which was nice.  The weather was perfect, the sunrise beautiful and the rock itself was incredible.  It’s fricken massive and the colors are amazing…almost like it’s GLOWING.  Honestly, it’s mind-boggling that this giant rock is sitting in the middle of completely flat terrain for hundreds of miles.   Luke and I discussed climbing the rock, but decided against it, as it’s sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people in the area.  They prefer you don’t trample all over their special mountain.  OK, fine.  The climbing trail ended up being closed due to the wind anyway, but honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to climb it either way…the ‘trail’ is basically a chain that you cling to up a steep ass mountain…it looked terrifying.  People die doing this every year…no thanks.

Sunrise

On our walk. Shadows are fun!

Uluru

That afternoon our tour group was supposed to drive another 4 hours to hike King’s Canyon the next day (supposed to be amazing).  Go figure, some arsonists had set a bunch of bush fires, which resulted in the road to the canyon being closed for the next 4 days.  We were slightly bummed, but again, you can’t get too upset about things you can’t control.  Our guide took us to watch the sunset with a view of the Olgas…Luke and I splurged and got tipsy on a bottle of wine and had no trouble keeping each other entertained for the rest of the evening.  We slept outside under thousands of stars, which were absolutely beautiful…totally worth freezing our asses off the entire night.

Waiting for sunset at the Olgas

We made our way back to Alice Springs the next day, saw some local park areas, and then met up with several people in our tour group for dinner.  Afterwards, we had many drinks at the bar next door, danced a little and basically made fun of all the crazy ass locals that were there…a lovely end to our time in the not-so-lovely town of Alice Springs.

My last full day in Melbourne was spent at Luke’s house with his roommates and friends watching the AFL Championship (basically, the Aussie version of the Super Bowl).  Luckily, the team they were pulling for won.   Lots more drinking ensued (I was able to introduce them to my favorite drinking game – FLIP CUP) and then we hit up the town for more shenanigans.   Felt pretty rough the next day, so we laid around, watched movies, and I packed up all my crap to be ready for my 3.30 a.m. taxi pick-up to take me to the airport.

It was a pretty quick trip, but I’m so happy I went.  Not only did I get to see some cool shit, but got to reconnect with old travel buddies and make more new friends.  I have to admit I was a little nervous to go and spend 10 days with someone that I had only hung out with for a couple of weeks over a year and a half ago.  I mean, what if he totally sucked in ‘real life’?  Obviously that wasn’t the case and Luke and I got along just as well as we did the day Kelly and  I met him in Turkey.  I hope we get to see each other again… I know we will, it’s just a matter of making it happen.

Marianne, Doug, Meghan, the Jeff’s…you’re next!!

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After all the craziness in Bangkok and Phuket, Kim and I were looking forward to taking it down a few notches and relaxing on some of the small islands of the Krabi province. First stop was Phi Phi Island.  With some advice from fellow travelers, for the first time on this trip we arrived with no reservations for accommodation, as we were told that the island was quite small and we could easily find a place to stay just walking around a bit.  This was a big step for Kim, the planner!   But we found a home for the next 5 days without a problem.   It even had a TV with an awesome movie channel. Pretty Woman, Before Sunset, The Last Unicorn….it was so nice to lay around and watch TV before bed, something we hadn’t done since Buenos Aires.

One of the Ko Phi Phi Beaches

 

 We spent our week wandering around the tiny center, chowing down on delicious Thai food, and sunbathing on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  The island has two beaches — one side is mainly a pier where the ferries, longtail boats and private watercraft come in and out of the island and the other is the main beach where most people hang out.   Both sides are lined with cute little restaurants, bars, and shops.   We hiked up to the view point via the Tsunami evacuation route that gives a perfect overlook of both sides of the island.   A photo of Phi Phi just four hours after the tsunami hit is posted up on a tree…it’s crazy to see the difference between that photo and what it looks like today.

Boats lined up at the pier

Ko Phi Phi from viewpoint

Another day, we decided to do the “Seven Islands Tour” that was recommended by a friend we met on the ferry.   It was one of the best tours we have done on this trip.   Captain Dang (and his awesome sunglasses) took us on his long boat to an amazing lagoon with translucent water, surrounded by limestone cliffs, where we took turns jumping off the boat and did some swimming.   Then off to Maya Bay where they filmed the movie, The Beach, for lunch where we were able to work on our tan.   After lunch, we headed over to Monkey Beach to feed the monkeys and do some snorkeling.   For our last stop, we took a long ride to Bamboo Beach.   Kim laid around while I collected coral and sea shells for my friends’ kids back at home.   Because of the way Phi Phi Island itself is shaped, you can’t see the sunset from either coast. However, on the way home from our tour, Captain Dang stopped us right in the middle of the ocean to watch the sunset.   It was such an incredible day.

On the boat

Me swimming at Maya Bay

Kim and Captain Dang

Bamboo Beach

 

Sunset

 That night, we hung out with some Colombian girls we had met on the beach and their Spanish friends. Of course I loved the chance to use my Spanish all night. It’s been so long since South America! We had some of our first buckets—yes, they drink out of huge buckets in Thailand, and made our way to a Thai boxing bar. They were offering a FREE bucket to any girl that would get in the ring and “fight”. I was so close to gearing up and getting’ in there and then Kim reminded me how getting hit back may not be as much fun as getting to hit someone-which I’ve always kind of wanted to do:) She was probably right and it was probably for the best that I didn’t get in there in my current state. HA! But that sure would have been a good story… 

Kim and I both really loved Phi Phi.  There are a ton of tourists on this island, which is why some travelers claim to dislike it, but it’s definitely worth seeing in our opinion.   However, we did want check out one of the even smaller islands of Krabi.

I’m sure I have said this a lot over the past few months but Railay (or Rai Leh) was one of my favorite places we have been on this trip so far.   Ah!   It just keeps getting better!   This island is reknowned for it’s rock-climbing trails and has two sides of beaches as well.   On the west end, there is a fantastic beach and all the resorts, a hot spot for honeymooners.  Take a short walk over to the east side for the backpacker friendly accommodation and cheap restaurants and bars (obviously this is where we stayed).   The beach on this side is all mangroves and not suitable for swimming, but just head south about 10 minutes and a trail will lead you to the picturesque Tham Phra Nang Beach, perfect for laying out, taking a dip or getting a dirt-cheap foot massage right on the beach, which I totally took advantage of. Best $4 I’ve ever spent!

 

Tham Phra Nang Beach

Rock Climbers

We spent 3 days here relaxing on the beach, watching the rock climbers do their thing and hanging out at what might be my favorite bar in the world – Skunk Bar 2.   Great staff, great drinks, great music (most of the time) and a SUPER laid back atmosphere.   Every night we got our butts kicked in Jenga and Connect Four.   I don’t know what it is about the Thai’s, but they know their games…it’s like winning strategies are ingrained in their heads as a toddler or something.   Never bet money on Connect Four in Thailand. They will annihilate you!

 

Kim and Pat, our bartender. As you can see, he has a tough job.

The Universal Language of Jenga

One night we were having drinks and playing Jenga with the staff when all of a sudden, two men with plastic badges around their necks came into the bar.   Everyone got quiet, the music was turned off and it was obvious that there was something quite serious going down.   I looked around and everyone was putting out their “left-handed cigarettes” (that they purchased at the bar) and trying to act cool.   Of course all the conversation was in Thai, so none of us knew what was going on.   The two men went behind the bar and started going through…all their CD’s??   Yeah, they were some kind of pirated music police!!   They took all the copied CD’s they could find, had some words with the owner and left.   What?!!   The bartender, Pat, explained what had just happened and then assured everyone they had copies of the copies that were just taken and there would be tunes back on in no time.  It was hilarious!  Smoke all you want, drink all you want, but don’t get caught with pirated music in Railay!

After our chill days in this wonderful place, it was time to get ready for the madness that we knew was coming.   After an entire day of traveling by long boat, mini-bus, public bus, and ferry to the east coast, we would arrive in Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party….

Incredible Sunset on Railay

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Thailand…Whoa.

Most travellers we have met say the same thing about Bangkok….you either love it or you hate it.  After spending four or five days there, I can safely say that we are…undecided.

We were visiting Thailand smack-dab in the middle of  the tourist high season, so we expected there to be a lot of backpackers around, but were shocked at how many travelers we saw.  Our guesthouse was located in the infamous Koh San Road area, a street that is lined with backpacker guest houses, travel agencies, bars, clubs, t-shirt booths, and food carts. Other than the tuk-tuk drivers and food cart vendors, there were no Thai people in sight…just tourists.  I had heard that the ‘real’ Bangkok was more modern and filled with nice malls and shops, but after Hong Kong, Kelly and I had no desire to wander around another shopping complex.  

Koh San Road

Our first full day, we sorted out our bus tickets to get out of Bangkok and spent time exploring the Royal Palace and Wat Pho, home of the world’s biggest reclining Buddha statue.  The palace and temples were absolutely breathtaking, but the heat forced us to head back to our guesthouse soon afterwards for some A/C.

The Grand Palace

 

Reclining Buddha

The next couple of days were spent wandering around ‘The Old City’, looking at temples and strolling through street markets.  From our observations, Bangkok is noisy, polluted, smelly, and fairy difficult to navigate…the street signs are very confusing here, and although close to a lot of tourist sights, our part of town was pretty isolated from the main modes of public transport.  Needless to say, we were ready to get out of the city.

We did love one thing about Bangkok…the food, of course!  There are tons of street food vendors selling delicious pad-thai, barbecue meat sticks, fried rice, fresh fruit and other fried goodies for ridiculously cheap.  One night for dinner we scarfed down all of the above for the insane price of $3 TOTAL.

Meat Sticks!

We just couldn't bring ourselves to eat one

In all fairness, Kelly and I only saw a smidgen of the city, so we can’t really pass judgment.  We will say that it has not been our favorite place and leave it at that.

After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, we were looking forward to boarding a bus twelve hours south to Phuket, one of Thailand’s popular beach destinations.  Our plan was to check out the craziness of Patong Beach for a couple of days and then do some island hopping on the Andaman coast. 

Not surprisingly, Phuket turned out to not really be our cup of tea either.  Patong Beach was pretty, but super packed with endless rows of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a few old topless ladies.  At night we checked out the party street, Bangla Road, which is like an even tackier sixth street in Austin.  We saw our fair share of lady-boys and had about 30 different Thai guys approach us and ask if we wanted to see a ping-pong show.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, google ‘ping-pong show Thailand’.  Tempting, but…no.  There is also a lot of prostitution in Phuket and I can’t tell you how many older men in their sixties we saw with very young Thai women…pretty disgusting.  We were glad to only be spending a couple of days here. 

Patong Beach

At Sunset

Other than lying on the beach, we took a day tour out to Ko Tapu, otherwise known as James Bond Island…it’s where parts of ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ were filmed.  The island itself was lovely, but the amount of souvenir stalls covering the entire beach and  the boatloads of tourists really turned us off of the whole thing.  I realize that Kelly and I are tourists as well…I guess I just didn’t expect for there to be so many of us in one place at one time!  

This one's for you, Sarah H. - James Bond Island

Based on our experiences in Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand was not living up to the beautiful, relaxing paradise we had envisioned.  On top of that, Kelly and I were starting to feel a little travel fatigue.  I know it’s hard to believe, but living out of a backpack every day, constantly figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, finding a place to sleep, a place to eat…these simple tasks become quite tedious and can start to wear you down after awhile.   Poor us, right?

Hopefully our time on the island of  Ko Phi Phi would get us back on track…

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Kelly and I made some good friends in Monteverde, but were really looking forward to some quality beach time.  After a couple of relatively tame bus rides, we reached Manuel Antonio, a small beach town on the Pacific Coast and home to Manuel Antonio National Park, the most visited park in Costa Rica.

All of our new friends in Monteverde
All of our new friends in Monteverde

By the way, if you ever come to Costa Rica, don’t even think about staying more than 2 hours in Puntarenas.  It’s a dump.
 
We checked into our hostel, Vista Serena, which is run by two American guys, Alex and Conrad.  It’s set at the top of a ridge and has a huge deck with hammocks with a fantastic view of the ocean.  We spent all of our evenings sitting on the deck drinking Imperial and watching the sun sink into the horizon.  There is nothing to describe the sunsets here…all of them are extremely different and absolutely beautiful.

View from the deck at Vista Serena Hostel
View from the deck at Vista Serena Hostel

We planned to hit the beach on our first day, but we woke up to thunderstorms and pouring rain.  Kelly and I knew we were coming during the ‘wet’ season, but had only seen rain our first day in San Jose…we were wondering when the crappy weather was going to hit.  It ended up clearing up by the afternoon, so we walked down to the beach, checked out all of the shops and had a beer before heading back to Vista Serena to watch the sunset.
 
For dinner, we’ve been eating at a kick-ass restaraunt called Angel’s right down the street from the hostel.  We had an incredible dinner of fresh mahi-mahi, rice, au-grautin potatoes and salad for about $7 per person.  A plate of food like this in the U.S. would cost at least $20.

Mahi-Mahi dinner.  It rocked our world.
Mahi-Mahi dinner. It rocked our world.

On our second day, Kelly and I checked out Manual Antonio National Park, which was really beautiful.  It has several walking trails, a handful of picturesque beaches, and a ton of wildlife.  We layed on the beach for a couple of hours and saw a sloth, a family of white-faced monkeys, birds, and had a couple of iguanas hang out with us on the beach.  We grabbed a quick snack and a beer before heading home and made it back just in time before the rain started.  Alex whipped up a fantastic dinner for everyone at the hostel (fresh fish, grilled veggies, and plantains).  Kelly and I nursed our sunburns and called it an early night.

One of the beaches in the National Park
One of the beaches in the National Park
This is where we spent our Saturday.  It's a rough life.
This is where we spent our Saturday. It’s a rough life.
Happy Sisters!
Happy Sisters!
An Iguana that hung out with us for a bit
An Iguana that hung out with us for a bit
A sloth!  These things are so cool.  They move all slow and trippy-like.
A sloth! These things are so cool. They move like they are in slow motion.
A monkey!  We want one.
A monkey! We want one.

Today is our last full day in Manuel Antonio and the weather is perfect.  We plan to take it easy, lounge on the beach for a couple of hours, do some laundry, and get ready to head further south to Dominical in the morning. We really enjoyed our time here and recommend Vista Serena to any of you that ever plan to head this way.  Just be ready to drink and smoke every night, because that’s pretty much the way of life here. 

We hope all of our friends had a great time in the rain at Austin City Limits festival.  Kelly and I were bummed to have missed it this year, but while you were rockin’ out to King’s of Leon and Pearl Jam, this is what we spent our evenings enjoying: (Mary, these are for you)

Vista Serena - Night 3 (It was cloudy, but still pretty)

Vista Serena - Night 3 (It was cloudy, but still pretty)

Sunset at Vista Serena - Night 2
Sunset at Vista Serena – Night 2
Vista Serena - Night 1
Vista Serena – Night 1
Our last night's sunset

Our last night's sunset

Goodbye Vista Serena!

Goodbye Vista Serena!

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