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Posts Tagged ‘Wrap Ups’

Turkey Wrap Up

Turkey truly exceeded our expectations and turned out to be one of our favorite countries that we’ve visited so far. Most people back home are surprised by this and ask us what was so great about Turkey…well, here’s what: 

The Landscape 

With beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean coastline, emerald green hills, and poppy-strewn fields, and the magical scenery and rock formations of Cappadocia, what’s not to love?

The People

Turkey is a secular, democratic county where 95% of the population is Muslim; as a result Kelly and I did not interact with a ton of women while here. In many of the small town local cafe’s, it was rare to see two Turkish women leisurely having coffee…clientele mainly consists of groups of men drinking tea and playing backgammon.

Speaking of Turkish men – they are SMOKIN’ hot, especially if you like the tall, dark, and handsome type. They are also very passionate and flirtatiously aggressive…and man, did they love Kelly! We had to quit walking down one particular street in Istanbul because practically every man we passed would profess his love to Kelly and ask her on a date. Seth and I ended up dubbing her the ‘TP’ (Turkish Princess).

Basically, everyone that we met was extremely friendly, kind, hospitable, and helpful.

The Costs

Kelly and I found the costs to be pretty reasonable, especially when compared to other places in Europe. It was about $13 – $15 for a dorm bed at a hostel and a typical meal would run $5 – $10.

The Food

Surprisingly, we were not all that impressed with the kebabs here…the ones back home are much better in our opinion (or maybe just what we are used to). We did enjoy the amazingly fresh seafood here though.

Some of the other local dishes we loved were kofte (minced lamb meatballs with herbs), manti (small meat raviolis served with yogurt and chili oil), and menemen (a breakfast dish, much like migas without the tortilla chips).

The Booze

Efes beer was definitely our favorite. Raki is the local liquor of choice, which Seth drank too much of at Turkish night and basically blacked out, if that tells you anything.

Random Thoughts

-Although annoying to some tourists, Kelly, Seth and I loved hearing the call to prayer drift through whatever city or town we were in (it plays five times a day from the local mosque). There’s something really exotic about it that you don’t experience in other European countries.

-The sheesha pipe is super popular here. Even if you aren’t a smoker and you visit Turkey, be sure and try one…the flavored tobacco is super mild and smooth. Plus, you can pretend you’re the caterpillar from Alice and Wonderland and who doesn’t like to do that?

Sheesha Pipe

-Don’t talk smack on Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic), or his awesome eyebrows. The locals don’t like it.

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Nepal Wrap Up

The Landscape

Nepal’s natural beauty is really beyond words. Seeing the the Himalayas so up close and personal is a draw-dropping experience. If mountain trekking isn’t your deal, whitewater rivers, tranquil lakes, valleys, forests, and jungle are all there for exploring. 

The planning of our round-the-world trip revolved almost entirely around our trek in Nepal. We wanted to make sure we got there while the skies were still clear, before monsoon season set in. I’m so glad we planned around the weather…a few days after we finished up our trek, the skies started to get hazy and views of the mountains were not nearly as good.

 The People

The Nepalese are incredibly hospitable. They love to chat with traveller’s and were always interested to know what made us want to visit their country. 

One thing that Kelly and I noticed is that guys are very affectionate with their male friends here. You will regularly see two dudes walking down the street with their arms around each other’s shoulders (even the little boys). It’s so cute. 

The Costs 

Nepal is not quite as cheap as Thailand and Laos, but it’s pretty close. We paid about $10 per night for a private room at a guesthouse and we would spent roughly $5-6 for a meal. 

If you decide to do any of the treks without a guide and porter, you can get by on very little money. A room at a village lodge is about $2 per night…meals run about $3. 

The Food

The primary dish in Nepal is dal-baht. This meal consists of steamed rice, lentil soup, a vegetable curry, and some sort of spicy pickled chutney. Locals eat this dish every day, both for lunch and dinner. It’s very tasty, and while trekking, Kelly and I ate it everyday for at least one of our meals. 

Dal Baht

Another one of our favorite local dishes were the Tibetian momos…small dumplings filled with veggies, potatoes, chicken or cheese. You can’t go wrong with a dumpling. 

Momos!

The Booze

Everest was our local beer of choice, although most of the Nepalese drink the Danish beer Carlsberg.

 

Roxi, the local moonshine and beverage of choice for our guide Powan, tastes a bit like rice wine. Not good, basically. 

Trekking Tips 

Make sure you have comfortable well broken-in shoes for the trek!!! This is the number one rule, people! They don’t have to be high-tech hiking boots, they just need to fit right.  shoes were a bit too small as well and four months later, I still have dead black toenails.

-Whether you buy or rent, be sure to carry a quality sleeping bag. It is cold as hell up in the mountains and if you have some piece-of-crap sleeping bag, you’ll freeze your bum off. 

-We recommend hiring a guide. One can definitely get by without one, but it’s a good way to get to know a local and ask questions about the Nepalese culture…it truly enhances the trekking experience. By the end of the twelve days, Kelly and I got to know Powan pretty well and were even invited to his home to meet his family (sadly, we were not able to take him up on his invitation as a result of some miscommunication). Also, there is no need to hire a guide before you get to Nepal…there are tons of local companies in Kathmandu that you can book through upon arrival.

-Take it slow. It’s not a race. 

-Bring your I-pod and a couple of books. Music is great for motivation and there is a lot of time to relax once you reach your guesthouse for the afternoon. 

Other Random Thoughts 

-One thing we did NOT like about Nepal was all of the loogey hawkin’. Everyone does it here…they’ll be walking down the street and will a hawk a big loogey every five minutes. This sound disgusts me more than any sound in the whole world. I hated this about the Nepalese. 

-Depending on the city or region, there is no electricity for 8 to 16 hours a day (typically in the afternoon and during the late evening hours). We ended up taking more than a few showers in the dark. 

-‘Namaste’ in Nepal actually means ‘hello’, not ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.

Next stop…Turkey!!

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Laos Wrap Up

The Landscape

The Mekong and Nam Song rivers wind through mist covered mountains, farmland, jungle, and rice paddies.  The only downside is that a lot of slash and burning goes on here, so the sun is usually obscured by a smoky haze. The roads are horrible.   Since they are unpaved, it takes five times as long to get anywhere and you’re extremely lucky if your bus/van/car doesn’t break down or get a flat along the way.

The People

Lao people are some of the friendliest we’ve met on the entire trip.  Everyone goes out of their way to greet you with ‘Sa-ba-deee!’   The children will come up to you on the street to say hello and will run alongside your bus or tuk-tuk, waiving and smiling until you are out of sight.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of poverty here, but everyone seems to be pretty happy.   It reminded us that you don’t have to have much to live a full life.

The Costs

Laos is the cheapest country we have been to so far.  For a private room at a guesthouse, we paid around $5 a night.  Beers were $1.  Food was about $3 a meal at a restaurant (even cheaper if you ate sandwiches or pancakes off of street vendors).

The Food

Surprisingly tasty!   We figured it would be just a bunch of rice and noodles, but that wasn’t the case at all.  The local cuisine consists of a lot of stewed meat (mainly buffalo), vegetables, and eggs.  Our favorite food was laap – minced chicken, pork, or fish mixed with mint and other herbs, served with sticky rice.  

On the late night, we scarfed down a couple of the street vendor sub sandwiches and pancakes…banana and Nutella pancakes are to die for!!

The Booze

Beer Lao is one of my favorite beers on this planet. It is dirt cheap and delicious.  Lao Lao, the local whiskey, is absolutely disgusting, but you’ve got to try it.  Most restaurants give you a free shot before a meal…I think it is actually cheaper than the beer.

Other Random Thoughts

-Lao is a communist country. Commie flags everywhere!

-No joke – you can order joints and ‘magic’ mushroom shakes off the menus at many restaurants, despite the fact that drugs are illegal here.  No comment on if any of us partook.

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Thailand Wrap Up

Thailand is a pretty kick-ass country.  The fact that it is sooooo touristy did rub Kelly and me the wrong way from time to time, but hey…places are touristy for a reason, right?  Overall, we had a great time and of course, hope to make it back one day.

The Landscape

You’ve seen the pictures.  Awesome beaches, jungle, and mountains.

The People
Thais are so friendly!   Although at times, they kill you with kindness while ripping you off.   We did appreciate the fact that women are a bit more respected here; we were never harassed (unlike in Costa Rica and South America) and actually felt quite safe everywhere we went.   You can get by without being able to speak Thai, although the language barrier was definitely more of an issue for us here.

A popular stop on the ‘backpacker trail’, we met tourists from EVERYWHERE, but mainly a lot of young Brits traveling overseas for their first time.   Also, a ton of Canadians…it was great to meet up with the two Jeff’s and hang with them and their fellow countrymen. 

The Costs
Thailand is cheap, but not nearly as cheap as we’d thought it would be.   After breaking our budget in New Zealand and Australia, everyone told us ‘oh, don’t worry…in Thailand, you will get by on $10-$15 a day’. These people obviously did not travel here during high season.

While street food is dirt cheap, accommodation was still pricey in our opinion – $10 per person, per night for a room in a guesthouse.  For the full moon party, we paid $45 a night.   Northern Thailand is a lot cheaper and we paid roughly $5 per person, per night for our accommodation.   Bus transport was reasonably priced, but the buses were pretty ghetto.

The Food
FANTASTIC.   Spicy curries, greasy fried noodles and rice, tangy soups, yummy pad thai, tasty meat skewers, fresh seafood, fruit shakes (our favorite was watermelon)…the list goes on and on and we cannot say enough about how wonderful and cheap the food is Thailand. 

 A lot of U.S. travel health warnings urge travelers to ‘avoid street food’ for sanitary reasons, which is hilarious.   It’s convenient, cheap, and DELICIOUS!!!   After Hong Kong, it is definitely one of our favorite food cultures.

Of course, there are still plenty of McDonald’s if you need your comfort food fix.

The Booze
Beer. Our choice was Chang because it was the cheapest and tasted good, but a lot of people preferred Singha or Tiger.

Buckets. Ugh.  Most people’s bucket of choice is vodka and Redbull, but there is no way Kelly and I could stomach that disgusting mixture.   We went with the plain vodka/soda route which wasn’t much better because the club soda SUCKS here.

Other Random Thoughts
-There are a lot of squat toilets in Thailand.  Western ones exist as well, but instead of pushing a handle to flush, you fill a bucket of water, dump it in the toilet, and repeat this process until the force of the water has pushed everything through the pipes. 

-The Thais don’t use toilet paper; they have a water sprayer next to the toilet that you use to clean yourself, which we actually got quite used to and sort of prefer.  We liked to call it the ‘bum gun’.

-Riding in a tuk-tuk is fun!

-If you come to Thailand and plan on visiting any of the temples, bring a scarf or sarong.  Upon entering a Wat, your shoulders and legs must be covered.  Also, don’t point your feet towards an image of Buddha or he will be pissed. 

-Now, onto Laos!

 
 

 

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Australia Wrap Up

Australia was great and we wish we would have had more time here. It felt a lot like being home in the States, only with better beaches.

 The Landscape and Weather

 We can’t really speak for the country as a whole, as we only saw a bit of the east coast…mostly golden sand beaches, blue crystal water, and looming cliffs (it was horrible, really). Again, it was summer here, so it was eighty or ninety degrees everyday, sunny for the most part, but we had a few rainy days in Sydney and on our Whitsunday’s trip.

 

The People 

Actually, we met more Aussies abroad than we did while visiting the country. We love Aussies…they remind us a bit of Texans (loud, proud, friendly, and love to drink). Oh, and the men love to wear tank tops. We also met a ton of Brits, Canadians, and Americans on work visas here. 

It was also great to meet up with Marianne again and we loved hanging out with ourr new Canadian friends, Jeff and Jeff.

The Oz Gang

The Food

 …was a lot like in New Zealand and basically what we would get back home (minus the awesome Tex-Mex). We actually cooked a lot of our own dinners in Australia since we were usually with a group of friends and it is muuuuch cheaper to cook your own meals here than to eat out.

 Costs

 Australia was our most expensive country to date. The food and booze is comparable to home, if not more expensive. Hostels ran us $25 – $40 per night, per person, depending on the location, which took up a huge chunk of our daily budget. Bus transportation is reasonably priced, but since Australia is so huge, we had to purchase an internal flight which wasn’t cheap. All tours and activities are pricey. We spent around $800 per person for our Frasier Island trip and Whitsunday sail. Obviously, we were over our budget in this country. If you plan on coming here, be prepared to spend some cash!!

 The Booze 

Our beers of choice were DB and Toohey’s New. We had the occasional decent bottle of vino, but we mostly drank ‘goon’, otherwise known here as boxed wine. All broke backpackers drink the stuff because it is literally $5 – $8 for two liters of it. I will say though that we did drink a little bit better (expensive) version, as the bottom-of-the-barrel goon says it is made from ‘nut and fish products’. No thank you. I’ll pay the extra $5 for a box of actual wine made from grapes.

 

Kelly drinking the last bit of goon

Random Thoughts

 -We listened to the ‘top 100 songs of 2009’ countdown on our way home from Frasier Island and the top five songs in Australia are crap.

-We are totally bummed we never got a chance to try a kangaroo burger, but we did SEE several kangaroo.

 

Kangaroo!

-There are a lot of jellyfish here. We had to wear ‘stinger suits’ (wetsuits) while swimming on our Whitsunday cruise.

-Yes, there is a Steve Irwin Zoo/Museum here. We did not go.

-Surfing isn’t as huge a thing as I expected. Yes, there are a bunch of surfers and surfing lessons, but it wasn’t shoved down our throat like I thought it might be.

Now, onto Asia!!

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New Zealand Wrap Up

Our last night in Auckland, we had dinner with Ben and Jo and took a walk around the harbour during sunset.  I love New Zealand and truly consider it my ‘home away from home’.

The landscape and weather

The New Zealand landscape is extremely diverse and dramatic, especially for such a small country…it’s no wonder that Peter Jackson decided to film ‘Lord of the Rings’ here, with its staggering mountains and volcanos, rolling hills, pristine lakes, lush rainforests, and golden sand beaches.

It was the beginning of summer when we were here, so the weather was warm, but still chilly at night. Unfortunately, we also got a lot of rain, which was unusual for this time of year.

The people

The Kiwis are absolutely wonderful – polite, friendly, and extremely helpful. In Wellington, Kelly and I were standing on the street outside of our hostel and a local man stopped and asked us what we were looking for and if he could help us. So nice.

We were also fortunate enough to have my old flatmates take us into their homes. Becky, Gavin, Ben, and Jo…thank you so much for your hospitality! You really made our time in New Zealand special (and cheaper!)

The food

Kelly and I were looking forward to some more variety after South America so it was no surprise that we went a little overboard here. Plus, I was dying to taste some of my old favorite Kiwi foods. This sounds weird, but the dairy products in New Zealand are outstanding. The chocolate, the cheese, the yogurt, the ice cream. My favorite is the orange chocolate chip ice cream and the hazelnut yogurt…Kelly HATES yogurt and still thought it was delicious.

We also went through god knows how many boxes of my favorite ‘biscuit’ in the world…the Tim Tam. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, double dipped…I’m seriously going to go through withdrawals from these once I get back to the States.

The most amazing cookie you will ever put in your mouth

Other than sweets, we ate our share of New Zealand green-lipped mussels, crayfish, lamb, meat pies, and tasty Thai and Indian food.

 The booze

New Zealand has great beer and wine (particularly whites). Our favorites were Monteith’s Original and Summer Ales, and of course, Speights. We also drank way too many bottles of the Lindauer sparkling sauvignon blanc.

Costs

Costs have really skyrocketed since I was here eight years ago, primarily due to the popularity of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and also because of the crappy American dollar. Accommodation ran us about about $20 – $30 per night, per person.  Food and booze were comparable to the States, if not more expensive. You couldn’t get breakfast for less than $8. Our transportation costs weren’t too bad since we rented a car and split the costs between 5 people. With gas, I think it averaged out to $15 a day/per person or something like that. Adventure activities (bungy jumping, glacier hikes, skydiving) are super expensive…Kelly’s bungy jump cost around $150 and a sky dive will cost you twice that.

Other random thoughts

-‘Sweet As’ is a popular expression here. For example, ‘Do you like my t-shirt?’ ‘Yeah, it’s sweet as’. The first time I heard this, I thought some ten year old was telling me I had a sweet ass.

-Prostitution is legal here. At least Kelly and I had a job if we ran out of money. (Kidding, Dad).

-There are no one-cent coins in New Zealand. Their lowest coin denomination is ten cents…change is rounded up. Why don’t we do this in the States? It makes soooo much ‘cents’. Ok, sorry…I love a good cheesy pun.

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Argentina Wrap Up

We spent our last few days in Argentina chilling out in Buenos Aires.  Several people had mentioned a drum circle concert that takes place every Monday night, so we grabbed our friends Dave and Brian from Punta Del Diablo, piled into a couple of taxis and headed to ‘La Bomba’.  The show was very cool…about 15 local drummers, a few horn players, ‘magic’ cookies, and really huge beers.  You can check out some videos of the drumming on our flickr page (um, once we get it uploaded).  After the show, we wandered around aimlessly for about an hour trying to find the ‘after party’ with no success, so we called it a night.

Kelly, Dave, and Brian at La Bomba with their big beers

 Our last  in evening in Buenos Aires, Kelly and I went to a cheap local parilla for dinner with our new Irish friend Ashlyn and than headed back to the hostel where Kelly dominated at some beer pong.  We planned to have an early night, but it didn’t exactly happen that way.   Many drinks were consumed, dancing to obnoxious eighties music definitely took place, and Kelly may or may have not groped someone on accident.  

Kelly smackin' it at beer pong

Last night in Buenos Aires

Of all of the countries on our trip, we will have spent the most time in Argentina, so Kelly and I left feeling like we really got to know the place, although there is still so much to see and do.  This country is absolutely amazing and we cannot say enough good things about it.  I’d have to say that Argentina was one of the countries I was looking the most forward to and it did not disappoint.  

The landscape and weather 

The landscape in Argentina is extremely diverse…it has it all.  Tropical and desert-like areas in the north near Salta and Iguazu, the Andes mountain range lining the west of the country, flat plains along parts of Route 40, and the amazingly beautiful lakes district and wine regions.  Kelly and I experienced all four seasons from hot and humid to freezing cold and snowing.  We wish we would have brought some warmer clothing, but made out ok. 

The people 

Most all of the locals we met were friendly and helpful (with the exception of the Andesmar bus company staff).  Of course, we still got the annoying cat calls on the street from the local men (even WORSE than Costa Rica) who we found to be somewhat aggressive, but that’s the machisimo culture for you.  

We met more Americans than we thought we would and met a ton of Israelis, Aussies, Brits, Irish, and Canadians, and a few people from Sweden, Norway, and Belgium. 

The food

 Steak, steak, and more steak.  We got some amazingly cheap dinners…our last steak dinner in Buenos Aires cost Kelly and I less than $20 total, including a bottle of wine.  Other than red meat, we ate a ton of empanadas, milanesas (a thin cut of steak that is coated in bread crumbs and fried),  pasta and pizza.  For breakfast, all Argentineans eat is bread or croissants with dulce de leche (ie. caramel spread).  Kelly and I were so excited when we actually found a place that served fruit or cereal.  The food is great and cheap, but by the end of our time here, we got tired of red meat, pasta, and dulce de leche.  One thing we noticed quickly is that there isn’t a ton of variety in the restaurants.

 The booze 

This was probably our favorite thing about Argentina…the red wine is ridiculously fantastic and cheap.   A really good bottle of red wine may have cost us three or four dollars.  I cannot begin to guess how much red wine we consumed while we were here.  The beer was typical lagers…Quilmes was our beverage of choice.

 Costs

Accommodation ran us about about $10 – $17 per night, per person.  As previously mentioned, food and booze were super cheap.  We took mainly buses everywhere we went, which ranged in price, depending on the destination (I think the most expensive bus ticket we had was close to $100 one-way).  The buses in Argentina are super nice…(almost) fully reclining seats, blankets, pillows, food, movies, and toilets are all on board.   Tours that we booked ranged from $20 – $60 per person. 

Other random thoughts 

–      On several occasions when Kelly and I were at a restaurant and we would order something (like a Coke for instance), the waiter would tell us that they didn’t have that particular thing, and then 5 minutes later, we’d see the waiter bringing said thing to another patron.  It made no sense.

–      Also when you are at a restaurant, the waiter does not bring you the bill…you have to ask for it.  If you wait for him to bring it to you, you will literally be sitting there all day.

–      There is such a thing as too much cheese on a pizza.

–      Argentineans eat dinner at around 10 at night and don’t go out to bars or clubs until around 2 a.m.  As you can imagine, Kim did not adjust well to this schedule.

–      Fried eggs on burgers and sandwiches is an amazing idea.

–      MC Hammer pants (aka it looks like the person took a dump in their britches) are extremely popular here amongst the ladies.

–      Have you ever had mate?  It is a leaf from the yerba plant and is sort of like green tea (the taste is much more bitter though).  Everyone drinks it in Argentina and Uruguay.  You basically put a bunch of the ground leaves in a gourd, add hot water,  and pass it around to your friends to drink.  Kelly and I really got a kick out of seeing some one carrying a baby, a suitcase, and a couple of grocery bags, while still managing to hold onto their mate gourd and thermos.

 Now onto Chile for a week…

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