Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mohit's Four-week recap





So we have been traveling for over four weeks now, and we‘ve hit three countries.  We both can’t believe how much we have seen and experienced but also how quickly time has flown by.  I thought I would take this opportunity to recap some of my most memorable moments:

GUATEMALA

Vulcan Pacaya: I was told there are three spots in the world that you can come close to lava, and I’ve  been fortunate to experience two of these spots.  I first climbed a volcano in the Aeolian Islands near Sicily, Italy in 2002, where I saw lava bursts every few minutes.  At Vulcan Pacaya we were within feet of the lava ooze, close enough to roast marshmallows. 

Lake Atitlan: The entire lake is surrounded by lush mountains.  The view is amazing as you descend into the lake side town of Panajachel.  The town San Pedro, where we stayed, has a very low key vibe with great restaurants.  At night we watched movies on screens set up in the bar while we ate dinner.  We went on a horseback ride through an interesting coffee plantation and enjoyed some stellar views of the lake.  

Tikal: I hiked to Machu Picchu in Peru a few years ago.  The interesting part of Machu Picchu is recreating the Inca Journey and trekking for four days.  The ruins were interesting but I remember the hike more.  Tikal is quite different from Machu Picchu, only 30% of the ruins are excavated.  You almost feel as if you are discovering Tikal versus finding a nicely manicured ruin.

Cave Exploring: I went on a rappel/ cave trip just outside of Flores without Kate one day.  It was just me, the guide, and his friend.  We first rappelled about 50 meters (167 feet) straight down a hole in the rocks. Luckily I have done some indoor climbing so I understood what to do.  The guide gave very little direction, in fact I had to explain how to do it to other guy, who was from Quebec.  I’ve found this is a common thread in all developing countries- there is little attention to safety.  

The spelunking was interesting, we were constantly contorting to get through to the next cave.  As the other guy in his French-Canadian accent said "you can’t be fat to go through these caves.”  I was happy not to be considered fat.  Close to the end of our trek I realized that we were walking/sliding/crawling not through mud but actually a thick layer of bat droppings (it looked like mud).  I left the cave covered in bat shit but somehow happy about it.

TOKYO

Flying Business Class:  As a wedding present, our friend Kim gifted us both upgrades to Business Class for our flight from Guatemala to Tokyo.  We also got a free upgrade on our flight from Bali to Hong Kong, thanks to an overbooked flight.  We are spoiled now and can’t fly coach anymore.  Too bad we have a dozen long coach flights before we get home…

Fish Market: How can a fish market be a tourist attraction?  Somehow it is and it was a highlight of our Tokyo trip.  The massive amounts and size of the fish are mind boggling.

Food: Great sushi.  I would love to come back to Japan with a bigger budget and to eat with locals who know where to go.  We have barely scratched the surface here.

BALI

Beach Massages: This shouldn’t be any surprise.  

Natural Beauty: Bali is a beautiful country.  Kate and I especially loved the lush mountain towns and hiking to waterfalls (Munduk), through rice fields (Ubud and Munduk), and following canals through farms (Ubud).

Touts: Cities in Bali have certain streets where the touts congregate.  On some streets, you can’t walk five minutes without being offered ten different taxi rides and a half dozen massages.  Most people are walking, so the laws of supply and demand seem to indicate the taxi drivers have picked the wrong profession but who am I to judge?  At some point I started getting a complex about it, maybe I am not going to enough places or getting enough massages, but I got over that quickly.  

Gili Islands: As my friend Raj said, these islands are very special and he is right.  Our resort was not one that you would think of traditionally, it only had a total of six cottages on the beach.  That’s it, it wasn't a  100 unit resort.  There are no cars or motor bikes on the islands.  Horse and carriages are the only means of transportation.  We could snorkel from our beach and see amazing coral, fish and turtles.

Pills:  We are very glad we brought prescription antibiotics with us.  Both Kate and I got sick in the same week.  The pills we brought (Cipro) were a life saver.  Before we left, we actually had a friend tell us we are too cautious;  he is an idiot and will remain nameless.  

Surfing: My first time on a surf board was at Legian beach.  I paddled, got up and surfed (eventually).  Awesome fun.

Prickly Heat:  I have never experienced this before.  It’s gross to look at but its fairly harmless. It was so hot during our hike to the waterfalls in Munduk and I was sweating so much the perspiration couldn't get through my skin and created bubbles of sweat under my skin.  I thought it was cool and showed all the guys working at the hotel.  Kate wasn't as impressed.

Gunung Kawi: These ruins near Ubud were large and amazing to look at.  Unfortunately our camera battery died that day so we have no pictures.  It was my favorite ruin in Bali.

Hinduism in Bali:  There are a lot of similarities to Hinduism in India and the Balinese worship some of the same deities.  We saw statues of Ram, Laxmi and Ganesh.  But the Balinese have clearly changed a lot of traditions for their environment.  As Kate mentioned in her first post about Bali, you are constantly walking over offerings (to the Gods) on the street.

Motorbike Incident #1: When I rented a motorbike for the afternoon in Ubud, I was given no instructions whatsoever on how to operate the bike.  I have never driven a motorcycle or scooter in my life but it didn’t really look that hard, especially since I’d just seen two girls (tourists) ride past me three minutes before.  I jumped on the bike, turned on the ignition and cranked the throttle.  This jerked the bike to an obscene speed and pushed me to the rear of the bike and I was holding on for dear life.  The sounds of the scooter hitting the curb and scraping the side of the bike grabbed the attention of all the shopkeepers who are all yelling to me press the brake.  The problem is that I am not able to reach the brake I am so far back.  I some how managed to let go of the accelerator handle which slowed the bike down.   I call this the motorbike incident #1 because I plan to redeem myself in India.

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