Gili Trawangan and Hiking RINJANI!

Alright, so I slacked at the end of my trip at blogging. I’m writing this post after reading through my travel journal. I want to have the whole trip documented here.

After Singapore Martha and I flew to Bali, Indonesia. After paying to enter the country we took a van to Padang Bai where we spent the night. In the morning we took a ferry to Gili Trawangan, one of three Gili Islands (Meno and Air are the other two). These islands are tiny, and no vehicles are allowed. We stayed at La Boheme Hostel. I think this was my all time favorite hostel not because it was nice (it was just fine), but because it was so friendly. Everyone there wanted to get to know each other so we made a lot of good friends. Gili is really famous for it’s insanely aqua blue waters and intense sunsets.

Basically we spent five days watching sunsets, bar hopping (each night a different bar is designated the party bar so the island can share the business), and walking around. It was beautiful but all tourists and horse drawn wagons which I thought was unnecessary because you could bike the whole island in like 45 minutes. And on an island like Gili, you’ve really got no where to be in a hurry.

Mike, Ben, Mar and I went snorkeling off Gili Air which was cool because I saw my first sea turtle in the wild. Mar and I were itching to go diving again after that. At one point when Mike, Ben, Mar and I were swimming I got absolutely taken out by a wave. Like my entire swim suite came off. So that was cool.

Bild 09.08.14 um 21.45DSC_0513DSC_0556DSC_0006After four days on Gili we decided it was time to hike Mount Rinjani, something I had been looking forward to for months. This three day, two night trek was one of the most challenging things I’ve done physically and mentally. They don’t tell anyone how hard climbing this 3,724 meter volcano really is because the guides really need the money. I’m up for a challenge but I really didn’t know it was going to be as hard as it was. I was so out of shape at this point. I hadn’t ran since I left in May. We ate too many pancakes in Thailand and drank too many Bintangs on Gili T haha.

about to start day one.

about to start day one.

sick view hey?

The crater lake is down there. Sick view hey?

hiking down to the crater lake, day two

hiking down to the crater lake, day two, I don’t know what’s happening here..

We're going up there!

We’re going up there!

Lolly

Lolly

Hot Spring

Hot Spring

We got a boat to Lombok to start Day one of the hike. It was a steep uphill hike for five hours. I got blisters approximately one hour in (from lack of wearing anything but chacos and flip flops for three months). I knew I carried those tennis shoes around for three months for a reason, but that reason was not to get gaping blisters. I still have scars from on my heels two months later!! Epic battle wounds! Thank goodness for Rory, aka Lolly, and his blister thingies that saved my life. I hiked about half of each day of this trek in my flip flops.

We spent that first night at a base camp on the ridge of the lake. It’s a sick view when there are no clouds but unfortunately we spent the evening in a cloud so the view was not picture worthy. The crater lake of Rinjani has another little volcano that grew inside of it! The next day we hiked down for a couple hours to the lake where some of us went swimming. I passed on that because I thought it was too cold out! We also went to a hot spring for a little bit where people swam! Then we started the hike uphill for about 4 hours. This was even more uphill than the first day. I remember the last hour being very hard on everyone. Each step got harder as our quads got more tired. We made it to base camp two where we were level with the clouds. This was a great night. We could see a volcano on Bali from where we were. We were all exhausted but had good attitudes. Unfortunately, Rinjani is pretty dirty. It gets many visitors and the guides often leave trash on the mountain. Our guides were conscious of taking the trash with us and reusing bottles. I think they are learning, as in many parts of Southeast Asia, that taking care of the environment is important.

Serpas carrying supplies.

Our Porters carrying supplies.

DSC_0811DSC_0866DSC_0837The group we had on this trip made it worth every step and kept me going mentally. Lolly from London was silly while Caroline from the Netherlands was bubbly and dramatic in a good way. Moniek was a cool girl from the Netherlands who quit her job, boyfriend, and sold her house to move to Australia. Alice and Katherine were chill girls from London who later went on to survive a shipwreck off Komodo. More on that later. We all bonded so quickly and the dynamic personalities of the group made my Rinjani memories so rich. As we drank our tea we tried to keep the “tinder fire” alive by blowing on it and adding more tinder every five mintues until there was no more tinder to be found. It was like stirring a pot of soup and adding more ingredients. It lasted a lot longer than any of us expected.

We all woke up at 2am the next morning to prepare to hike to the summit of Rinjani for sunrise. After some breakfast and tea we started our ascent up the treacherous volcanic ash slope. Two steps forward, one step back. It was dark but the super moon guided us so head torches were not necessary. I’m thankful I could not see too far ahead of me. Not knowing how much further made it easier. It was two and a half hours for some of us and three for others to the top. It was hard, but SO SO SO worth it. And because it was so hard, it was even more rewarding. At the summit, we froze. Two Kiwis (hooray for kiwis!) saved us by lending us a sleeping bag (brilliant idea). We all cuddled for half an hour while we waited for the sun to start rising. The view from the summit was so rewarding. All of the hard work we put in was gratified by that view. Words cannot describe how accomplished we all felt.

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Katherine and Alice!

Katherine and Alice!

After appreciating the view we basically ran back down to base camp. It was fun because we just flew down, digging our feet into the ash, kind of bounding our way to the bottom. After we packed up camp we continued down, seven hours in total that day. I’m not even joking when I say we literally ran down this dirt hill for hours because it was harder to try and walk. Our toes became so sore from the pressure against our tennis shoes that we all went in our flip flops after a while.

About to run down this in 30 min. Took 2.5 hours to climb.

About to run down this in 30 min. Took 2.5 hours to climb up.

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Down and dirty after running downhill all day.

SOOOO dirty after running downhill all day.

on the way down, with our guide Sap. and some badass indonesian man..

on the way down, with our guide Sap. and some badass Indonesian man..

also, there was a forest fire coming at us

also, there was a forest fire coming at us

Team Awesome, all done!

Team Awesome, all done!

That was Rinjani, one of the highlights of this three month trip. Our Porters are the strongest people I’ve ever met. These men carry supplies uphill, with only one day off per week. I thought it was hard with only a small bag, but to carry what they carried… I can’t even imagine. These people have one of the hardest jobs in the world, but they make good money in their society from people who want to summit Rinjani.  And our guide Sap was so humble and kind to us. All and all an incredible trip!

Five tips on Friday

Every Friday ( until I run out of tips) I am going to share five tips I wish I new before going to SEAsia!

1. Don’t be afraid of the bum gun. — Let me start by saying these are not some fancy bidet that you will want to wiggle up next to. This is a toilet with a kitchen sink sprayer attached to the side. So I’m not going to lie. It is a little intimidating at first … but after the third bus stop with no toilet paper I should have sucked it up and tried it out. (It really isn’t that hard to aim.) But no I waited almost two whole months! Major mistake. Don’t wait. Embrace the bum gun.

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It’s all about the people

The month of July 2014 was easily one of the best of my life.

I was in Cambodia and Thailand. I was traveling with my best friend. I was on lounging on white sand island beaches . I was dripping with sweat on some of the largest religious sites in the world. I was walking on dirt, teeth and bone fragments at one of the most powerful genocide memorials in the world. I was watching bubbles float past my face as I learned to breathe under water. I was slowly allowing my face to peel off after the worst sunburn of my life. I was befriending some of the funniest, smartest, most unique and rambunctious people I’ve ever met.

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Cambodia — a country in ten days

Phnom Penh

The differences between most countries we have visited have been apparent but hard to pin point. It isn’t so much major changes but a sense or a mood.

But from Cambodia to Vietnam was obvious. The country is clearly not as industrialized as it’s neighbors, but with good reason.

For those who don’t know (I didn’t until I started researching for this trip), Cambodia was experiencing a civil war from 1968 until 1975. The Khmer Rouge was the victorious side and post-war they declared Cambodia a farmer nation. For four years horrifying genocide over took the country and three million people were killed.

If you had an education, you were dead. If you could speak another language, worked for the prior government, had too pale of skin, lived in a city, or wore glasses you were considered a threat to the government and you were killed. Your whole family was killed.

If you weren’t already dead, you were sent to the countryside to work on rice fields because the Khmer wanted to dramatically increase the rice exports to impossible numbers. They worked civilians like slaves while starving them.

The genocide ended in 1979. Most people in the country either remember and experienced the horrors or are once removed from it.

In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, Anna and I visited a killing field just outside of the city. This was one of 300 of mass graves where thousands of people were killed and placed in mass graves. This one was six acres with 20,000 people buried.

I’ve never been to a concentration camp, but people I spoke with it was more chilling than Auschwitz.

They have recovered and identified as many people as they can but each rainy season more bones and teeth are washed up. They are bone fragments scattered all over the area still. It was horrifying and incredibly moving.

During the Khmer Rouge they wanted to cleanse the country of culture that was deemed challenging so they destroyed most of the temples and historical sites around the country. Angkor Wat is one of the only temples standing today.

It is so hard to see a country that was literally stripped of their sense of self.

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People leave bracelets as a sign of respect.

To Nam

Anna and I just wrapped up three weeks in Vietnam. We stopped in seven different cities and rode approximately 300 buses (it was actually nine buses, and around 60 hours.)

Quick recap of our time:
Three nights in Hanoi.
Two nights in Halong Bay.
Pit stop in Hué.
Seven nights in Hoi An.
Two nights in Nha Trang.
Two nights in Da Lat.
One night in Mui Ne.
Two nights in Ho Chi Minh.
Add a few nights on sleeper buses and you have our itinerary!

Every stop was completely different. Hanoi was wildly busy and bustling.

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Halong Bay was an oasis.

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Hoi An was a city of lanterns and our week of pure bliss.

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Da Lat was mountainous and refreshingly chilly!
Mui Ne was rolling sandy dunes colored with paprika and curry spices.
Everywhere we went the people were kind (and always eager to sell you something!).
Some days were pure relaxing on the beach.
While others we challenged ourselves to learn about the Vietnam War from the other perspective.
Beginning I was a little bit worried about how people would treat us. Would they resent us? Or blame us? But in actuality most people were incredibly kind. Many people told us the past is the past and they live in the present.
We went to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh. I can’t remember the exact number but there were thousands of soldiers and civilians living underground to avoid being killed. There were entire civilizations underground with schools, kitchens, living areas.
We climbed through one of the tunnel that has been widened so westerners can climb through. It was 100 meters long and even with the expansion I was feeling very claustrophobic!
There was also a larger display of the traps they would set for US soldiers. I didn’t really listen at this part because our guide was kind of laughing as he said things like ‘Ah! And then we killed another American! Got him!’ I think going out of your comfort zone to better your understanding of the world is extremely important, but the way he talked about death so casually bothered me.
But the country was mostly fun! We spent a lot of time trying to NOT get hit by motorbikes while crossing streets. In Ho Chi Minh there are 10 million people and five million motorbikes. They have two rules of the road: honk constantly and there are no other rules.

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We met so many amazing people — local and other travelers. We watched World Cup games and saw the sun rise!
I could have stayed waaaay longer. It was just truly amazing. I can’t wait to go back!
Now we are in Cambodia and heading to the islands soon!!

xx

Still without a computer charger so posting from a cell phone. I’ll try to update again soon!!

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Filling travel time

Thinking back to my ‘preparations’ for this trip, I feel like a complete idiot.

Why didn’t I think of such basic things like the fact that we would frequently be taking five hour bus rides?

Candy crush is only entertaining for so long. (Also, I’m really bad and use my lives up quickly.)

What I really wish is that I thought to learn a new skill while traveling.

I’m reading a lot, but the books are heavy and take up room. Picking up new ones in hostels is nice, but they are poor quality and the selection is limited.

I should have brought a book on tying knots or identifying plants or finding constellations.

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.

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My most recently finished book. Amazing novel!!

Our computer chargers melted so we are stranded to posting with our phones. I’ll update as much as a can but my good photos are trapped on SD cards and dead computers. *sigh*

That’s all for now.

Xx

Sabaidi Laos. Sabaidi.

IMG_3263One of my favorite word I’ve learned so far is Sabaidi. In Laotian it means hello and goodbye.

Walking up and down the night market streets it was constantly being shouted. ‘Sabaidi! Sabaidi! Would you like a bracelet? Sabaidi!’

It was a beautiful word. It was one of many beautiful parts about Laos.

We arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos in what I’m assuming will be the most interesting forms of transportation we have in our trip — a two-day slow boat.

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Hello slow boat!

Side shot of a slow boat

Side shot of a slow boat

With anything you do — work or play — the people you are surrounded by will make all the difference. We were lucky enough to have an amazing boat full of people. Soon the beer started flowing and people sat on the boat edges, toes dipped in the flowing Mekong River.

Then, the music started playing. Dorf, our Aussie pal, and a young boy on board brought out an amp and the party got started. We limboed and danced until our overnight stop in Pack Bang, Laos.

LIMBO!

LIMBO!

Anyways, the fun continued until we arrived in Luang Prabang.

It’s hard to describe what made Luang Prabang so special. It was a quiet, peaceful town with bustling markets and shops. The food was amazing, the exploring was fantastic, and our slow boat crew was in town.

Here are some highlights:

Maddy, Desirèe, Anna, Sasha (our pal we picked up on the slow boat) and I checked out the nearby waterfall one afternoon.

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Pals!

Desirèe, me, Anna, Maddy and Sasha

We hiked to the top where teenage Monks were doing backflips!

We spent time in the night market (so much cool stuff but so little space in the pack).

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We went midnight bowling because the bars all close at 11:30 p.m.

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We got fish foot massages, which were extremely tickly!!!

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We awoke at the crack of dawn to watch local monks receive alms from locals. (The extra was given to poor children in town.) *Pics won’t load … sorry!*

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We ate DELICIOUS food for a dollar.

Moral of the story, it was an amazing time. I fell in love and was extremely sad to leave. Until next time Luang Prabang! Sabaidi!

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Crazy Vietnam

My first reaction upon arriving in Hanoi was WHOA. The city is bustling, with vans and motorbikes zipping by constantly. We quickly learned that the old “look both ways before crossing the road” doesn’t apply in Vietnam. You’ll never cross the road. All you can really do is just go and not hesitate or you’ll disturb the flow.
Vietnemese people love to grab a bite on the side of the road at food carts. Each food cart has mini plastic tables and chairs where people sit in packed crowds to enjoy their meal. When the crowds become too big, people often spill into the street with their tables and chairs, which is illegal. It’s funny because the police will come down the road but they announce that they’re coming over a loudspeaker on top of the car. When people hear the police are coming, suddenly every table and chair vanishes! We went out on a saturday night in Hanoi only to find the clubs unoccupied and the streets overpopulated. Sidewalks should be called motorbike parking lots. About 90% of the time you can’t walk on the sidewalk because people are selling food and nick-nacks or there’s a sea of motorbikes in the way. Needless to say, coming from a chilled out Luang Prabang to a fast paced Hanoi was a little overwhelming. It also seemed so dirty, with leftover shells from seafood everywhere and interesting waves of indescribable smells.
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We took off to Halong Bay for a few days, which was amazing-incredible-fabulous-extraordinary, etc (see previous post for pictures). Once we got back to Hanoi we started to enjoy it more; the longer we stayed the more it grew on us. We walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see where Ho Chi Minh lays but we got there too late. Such a weird thing, to have a man’s dead body laying there for everyone to see… We ended up going to the Museum instead. Ho Chi Minh was the communist leader of Vietnam for many years. From what we understand, the Vietnemese people really like him. He lead them through the Vietnam War and seemed to really care about his people. I want to read a book about him and the Vietnam War though, to gain a better understanding. It shouldn’t be hard to find one in a second hand shop.

We left Hanoi via sleeper bus direct to Hoi An (on the coast in central Vietnam). It was 16 hours but it wasn’t so bad because it was at night. The driving skills people have in this country are insane. First of all, there are people on the FREEWAY with little stands selling bread and what not. Next there are the countless motorbikes zipping around with families of 5+ per bike (not joking). Then there are the buses that pass the vans when there’s a semi fast approaching. Passing on the shoulder is completely normal and driving into the chaos of a roundabout looks like a death trap but somehow everyone manages to survive.. We wonder why they even bother putting paint on the roads to be honest. Oddly, I don’t feel scared when in a vehicle, I just feel amused, knowing that this is the norm for them.

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Anyways, we’ve been in Hoi An since Sunday and plan to leave tomorrow (Sunday). We really like it here. It’s an old city that used to be a major shipping port. It has a lot of charm and glows at night with pretty hanging lights everywhere you look. We’ve been walking around the city, eating a lot, and biking to the nearby beaches every day. It’s been a nice to place to hang out and slow down. I highly enjoy biking to the beaches! One day our hostel only had one bike so we had two of us on one bike for 4km. It was hilarious! What’s scarier than trying to cross the road? Trying to make a left turn on a bike in traffic with two people on it.
Okay we aren’t actually scared because we know it’s the flow and everyone will work their way around you. It’s more of a hilarious accomplishment:)
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We have absolutely loved our time in Hoi An, but we are off the Nha Trang tomorrow night via sleeper bus. We are going to be in Vietnam for about another week. From Nha Trang, we will head to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) to see the War Remnants Museum which should be emotional. We plan to be in Cambodia by July.

Cheers:)

Learning as we go

Two years ago I studied abroad in Stirling, Scotland. My pals and I did weekend trips and some longer stretches at the end of the semester. I also traveled for a bit around Europe with my parents before heading back to the states, so I like to think that I wasn’t a total amateur traveler before this trip. I’ve slept in some sketchy dorms and used some nasty showers.

With that said, things have been quite different traveling in Southeast Asia, and I am learning everyday.

Backpack fully loaded!

Backpack fully loaded!

 

Realizations:

  1. Two long sleeve shirts are not necessary.
    Right before I left Wisconsin I had a conversation with my cousins, Kelly and Ellen. They have both spent time in Costa Rica and warned me that I might get use to the heat. ‘It would be 80 degrees and I would have a hoodie on,’ Ellen said. But man. The heat in Asia is not a heat you ‘get use to.’ I would definitely ditch my heavier shirt at home and stick with the light, hiking material for long shirts and pants.Also, I made the strange decision to purchase two pairs of pants over here. Why? No one knows. Thiapants have a hold on my heart and they won’t let go.

    Thai pants for days

    Thai pants for days

  2. Clothes need to be durable.
    With packing my clothes I was only thinking about light clothing that I could mix in match. I had planned on throwing away a lot of the tanks I brought over before returning home because I imagined I would be sick of them. But I didn’t account for the wear and tear that would happen when I wear the same tank top every other day. The cheap tops I picked up at Forever 21 before I took off from home are already running thin and are significantly stretched out. Anna and I may have to do some shopping before too long! Bummer, right? 😉
    Shoes also need to be durable.
    Back home I NEVER wear flip flops. I have my Birks and my Chacos and that all I need in life (little dramatic but I love my Birks). I almost forgot to bring a pair but my doc stressed that shower shoes are a must for SE Asia. The morning of my trip I frantically recovered a pair of pink Victoria’s Secret flops from the back of my closet (high quality, right?).
       Anyways, it was week two and Anna and I were a bit turned around in Chiang Mai, and when I say ‘turned around’ I mean we forgot the name/location of our hostel so we just followed the AC around town. Well, this scorching hot day was about to get even better and my flip flop blew out in the middle of an intersection. I continued to wander aimlessly around town with one shoe dragging until a random Thai man — my saving grace — jumped out of a passing by car, showed me a piece of wire in his hand, and fixed my shoe for me! Whoever you are Thai man, I owe you my life! Or a hug!

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Moral of the story: Don’t bring crappy quality anything with you when you will be living out of a backpack for a few months. Now I’m sporting some super fashionable Abercrombie and Finch flops from a super legit street corner vender. What up!

  3. Plan for accidents.
    Our pals Maddy and Desirée are traveling with what they refer to as a pharmacy. Before they left they stocked up on motion sickness meds, Benadryl, creams and pills for swelling, bug bites and allergic reactions. I brought or took in advance the stuff my doctor recommended (like prescribed pills for typhoid fever, malaria, traveler’s diarrhea) and I brought Tums, Advil and some Band-Aids and Neosporin. But it was definitely not enough. Being the accident-prone klutz that I am I have a handful of bruises cuts. In Laos I slipped in a waterfall and bashed my leg against a SHARP rock. In Laos we got locked out our hostel and had to jump the front gate. Trust me. The spikes are effective.

    Beware

    Beware

 

Differences/Hints

 

  1. While traveling in Europe, aside from a few exceptions, we mostly stayed in hostels with dorm-style rooms. Sometimes the rooms would be as many as 16 people to a room. Here in Southeast Asia, Anna and I had intended on the dorm life, but with private sweets charging only a buck or two more than the dorms, we are high rolling a little bit.
  2. Another difference is towels and bedding! Most places required you to pay a few dollars for a towel … sometimes even for sheets! We definitely don’t need to be toting towels around.
  3. Another thing we are dragging around … TENNIS SHOES! We brought Chacos, light, water-proof hiking sandals that fight great and stay on in water or on land. So far I haven’t even considered touching my runners. I was thinking I would be working out a lot in SE Asia, but with this heat I would have to be getting up at 5 a.m. to beat the sun. No thank you!

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

4. It was also very unnecessary to bring a water bottle with. I was hoping I could use it to live a little eco-friendly on this trip but the only water you can drink comes from a vendor (sorry Mother Earth!). My water bottle has sat in the hood of my bag and it isn’t going anywhere fast. Do I leave it behind? But I love my water bottle. It’s been a month and I haven’t ditched it yet … but we will see.

5. Oh and for anyone out there thinking they will be writing and blogging while traveling, invest in a tablet. This beat-up, slow, janky MacBook Pro is driving me nuts.

6. The last tid-bit of information I’m going to share is the beauty of a neck pillow. Most people reading this are probably thinking, ‘Well, duh Martha. Everyone knows neck pillows are quite nice for airplane travel.’ But you don’t understand the love I have for my neck pillow. I would choose it over my computer as a travel necessity. Anna and I bought neck pillows in LA as a last second decision prior to our 14-hour flight. I use it constantly and people stare on with envy as we whip them out on overnight trains and buses.

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Maybe I’ll update when I realize more mistakes I’ve made. Until then, Anna and I are doing well!

xx