And just like that, my amazing journey has come to an abrupt end. I don't want to dwell on what happened, because it could happen to anyone and it's a misfortune I'm frankly fortunate enough not to have encountered until 6 months into my backpacking trip.

Basically, I was in a complete groggy haze when I woke up at 5:45 AM this morning. I didn't know we were in Budapest (I had been sleeping in a pathetic ball with my feet against cold metal in a shoddy box of a train car). I only knew that the conductor had just checked our passports/stamped them. The next thing I knew I was hastily packing all of my crap into my bag, ensuring I still had my phone charger and my camera. Unfortunately, my small leather purse with all of my credit cards, debit cards, Burt's Bees chapstick, 3 Romanian Lev, passport, and some Euro coins was sitting carefully under my ass the entire "sleep" (it was more of a wake up every 30 minutes to the train loudly stopping/trying not to punch the guy who was snoring like a hyena). Unfortunately, as I headed to the Information section of the shoddy train station and instinctively grabbed at my side for my bag, I had a panic attack. I realized I left my bag on the train and it hit me like a ton of bricks. HOLY FUCK. I have never done something so stupid, well except for that one time in Vietnam...I sprinted to the Information center and they clearly did not understand english or simply didn't care because they pointed in an irritated way to the other end of the station. I sprinted there, waited in line, confused, and asked a lady who grumpily told me it was not their company. Okay, that's odd. Nobody can help me and this is an EMERGENCY. Seriously, do you guys want me to stay here? She told me to go track 4 (WTF) and of course, nobody was there. I went to tracks 5/6 and found some conductors there. They were so sweet even though they hardly understood me. They let me sit in their shed, drink hot green tea (ugh I hadn't drank water in hours!), and eat a homemade sandwich. Seriously? Some people are so damn sweet. He also called the Romanian train line and apparently my purse was not there which either means A) he did not ask the right person B) somebody stole my purse C) somebody brought my purse to a lost and found official. UGH. I spent the next several hours holding back tears, getting to my hostel, being comforted by a very sweet 40 year old woman staying at the hostel who gave me a pepper, 2000 Hungarian forint, and multiple hugs. She even offered to buy me a flight home (I had very little in cash for this emergency!) and of course I declined. What a sweetheart. Then I went to the police, who did jackshit. I filed a report for insurance purposes, contacted an English translator myself (because they would not do that) and then they never came out to help me, even after 20 minutes when the lady said she would be back. Unbelievable. So different from my generous experience in Vietnam. Good luck if you need the police in Hungary, they don't give a shit. I notified my credit card and debit card companies that my cards had been lost and to reissue me a card back in the U.S. I went to the American Embassy and got a passport within a day (thank god!) and will get a new one for the same price back home (I only have a temporary one). They even played phone tag for me with the Romanian train line, yet they did not help AT ALL. Fuck it. It's all been a chaotic 24 hours and I decided to buy a student flight back home (got one for $400 when they were selling for $800-3000, for LONG layovers!!!). Although it has been the worst day of my life, I have to grin. I am very excited to come home and I truly feel there is a reason this happened (although I don't believe in a higher power). It taught me to accept what comes your way, even at the worst of times, and adapt. I know I WILL finish this trip some time in the near future, just not now. I need to go home and work on my career, organize my life, be there with my family and friends, and figure it out. I will certainly update this blog once those posts are ready and I can manage to travel again. In the mean time, here's what I wrote before my god awful turn of events this morning.

What do I love about being in a completely foreign culture where people adore pork, share a history of horrific political oppression, have strange sounding names and live outside of dreamlike forests? Well, it's the experience. After adapting myself to 4 months of quiet, shy, modest, Buddhist culture I had to get used to being in a Western society that valued familiar cultural aspects like shopping malls, barbecues, camping, materialism (not that Korea, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur would be lacking in that concept!), heavy drinking, and pop music. After that, I was thrown right back into a slow, similar yet different enough culture that valued the sea, family, and the people (Greece). My flight to post-Communist soil brought me to a completely different place in time and space, Sofia and Bucharest.

While I studied and worshipped the fundamentals of biological science in school, I never got much of an education in politics, economics, or European history. That's why I find Eastern Europe to be so fascinating. While capitalism has an absurd amount of flaws (and that's a long winded conversation for another day), it is absolutely shocking how horrible Soviet communism was to its people (and not the government per se). While my guide in Sofia to the Rila Monastery and Boyana Church did not talk much about life in Communist and post-Communist Bulgaria, she did mention how a small amount of elderly Bulgarians wished it returned. She remarked how many people forget how horrible things were back then, and only wished to alleviate a stagnant economy. For example, people used to wait in line for days at grocery stores (though they were really only places people exchanged government supplied coupons for food rations). Often times, they did not have basic food like vegetables and fruits. Could you imagine how awful that would be? Elbowing and fighting with your neighbor to have a simple loaf of bread or a few tomatoes to feed your family? What a meager life!

While I am not spending as much time in each city as I would like (due to my 90 day Schengen Zone obligation and life obligations I have back home) I am very happy I decided to learn more about life in Eastern Europe, which is definitely not on the typical backpacking route (though it should be!!!!). Visiting Bucharest and Sofia has allowed me to meet many bright, hardworking young people and I truly believe there's hope for improvement in Bulgarian and Romanian society. I was beyond blown away by how corrupt Romania used to be (and certainly still is!), as there were so many issues with government ownership of land, including the demolition of apartment buildings, hospitals, factories, and churches for the slave labored production of the ostentatious Palace of the Parliament. There are a few amazing free Al Jazeera documentaries on the corruption in the Romanian government and Communist rule, so if you are interested please do watch them. While I was very moved by what happened under Communist rule (especially in relation to the torture of intellectuals by force feeding them human feces and forcing them to torture their comrades) and I learned a lot on my tours, I know I only have a fraction of the stories on corruption. Who knows how much hardship and how complicated the story of Communism is in all of the Eastern European countries??? It makes me realize I also know nothing of the Fascist rule in Italy and Spain, aside from what I read of it in For Whom the Bell Tolls by the brilliant Ernest Hemingway. Hopefully I can learn about this opposite political movement when I visit Bologna and Barcelona.

On a more positive side, Romania is a VERY beautiful country. There are many beautiful castles in the countryside, with beautiful forests (sadly, many of the forests are being destroyed for logging on private land due to corruption in their government (of course the Romanian people are not seeing any sort of profit from the destruction of their natural resource)). I would love to come back here again someday. I know I also saw very little of Bulgaria (only Sofia and Rila Monastery). Unfortunately, if I took as much time as I needed to see all of these places, I would never come home. I still do not regret coming here as I know this will be the last large trip of my life, before I am retired.

I am currently on the train (15 hours!) to Budapest. Blegh. While it will be easy to get to Vienna, Salzburg, and Ljubljana afterwards, I need to go both south and north. I am having a hard time deciding if I should head down to Italy (most practical idea) or go North to Prague. Most likely I will be going to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco from there. In order to take my language course in December in Stockholm and prepare to head to Iceland and back home, I need to see Norway, the Netherlands, the countries aforementioned, and the rest of Eastern Europe on my route (i.e. Berlin, Prague, and Gdansk). It is certainly not as easy as planning my route around Asia was! The distances between cities are further apart.

It is crazy how much of my trip I have planned by the seat of my pants. I hope that encourages others reading my blog that you too can just as easily figure out traveling on your own, and you should not be intimidated by it! There have been quite a few frustrating moments in my trip (e.g. I just had to go to 5 different train kiosks, find a money exchange (after the price was misquoted by my hostel), and choose to take the long way to a city because it is 1/3 of the price), but the pros have so outweighed the cons. Despite my "rushed" trip in Eastern Europe, I have had much down time to think, relax, and plan ahead. Why do I need to fly everywhere and spend way more than I should? Why not relax and look out the window and use that extra $100 to enjoy my time in a city?



Pictures from beautiful Bran Castle in Romania (Dracula castle)

​Despite my adversities on this timeout, I will never give up my dream of living in Stockholm for a few weeks to learn Swedish. Apologies Sweden, you're at the top of my travel list :) <3 (not my photo)

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Kaliméra!

After chomping away at my freshly baked nutella pastry with powdered sugar and sipping some black Greek coffee, I realize I have gained at least 5 pounds in Greece! Sitting on a boat for a week and eating your heart out tends to do that, especially when the food is so good and the house wine is so cheap. Greek wine is a bit watery for my tastes (at least the local wines served in restaurants) but I am not going to argue with someone when they are selling 500 mL of wine for only 4 euros! Last night I got dropped off at my private studio in Syros (no hostels on the smaller islands) and took some time to relax, walk along Galissas Beach, and eat a Greek salad and drink red wine before taking some much needed sleep.

I could not even begin to describe how fantastic a week of sailing in the Cyclades is, especially with such a fantastic group of people. I started from Paros in a tiny fishing village called Piso Livadi, and sailed to Iraklia, Amorgos, Koufonisia, Naxos, and Syros. Our skipper was a gruff, hairy, bearded, tanned, curmudgeon of a Greek man who was hilarious and had an infectious laugh. Our trip organizer and dive master was a funny, very loud (but in an excited way), gregarious Greek woman who always had a good attitude, even when half of our boat got sick with what we thought was Norovirus. There was an Austrian couple on their honeymoon and they were so amazing to be around. The wife was very sweet and incredibly thoughtful and the husband was hilarious with his enormous mermaid-like long, blond hair and nerdy physics glasses and crazy impressions. I really enjoyed their company and getting to know them as a couple, especially in relation to their views on politics, living in Austria and Switzerland, and going to graduate school together to study physics. They had been dating eight years and had even taken a one year break before moving back in together to reassess their relationship. They had moved to Switzerland together and are now planning to move to Crete to start their new lives. I have so much admiration and respect for people/couples like that! What role models :). They were always so positive and liked to joke about the issues we faced on the trip (like how 4 out of 8 people were getting sick with Norovirus, yet us 3 did not have "Da Virus" and how our engine broke down because a plastic bag got lodged in it). Simon joked with me and told me (in front of our skipper) that we should put another plastic bag in the engine! Meeting people like this on my trip has inspired me in so many ways on how I want/should live my life and what sort of people I surround myself with.

I roomed with a sweet, intelligent lady from London and her and I, as well as the Austrian couple hung out a lot throughout the trip. We took long walks across the beaches, got lost wandering around town, and shared way too much Melitzanosalata (aubergine dip), Tzatziki dip, bread, Raki (damn you Simon for buying us so many rounds!), salads, and many other delicious foods.

On the topic of food, I'm going to tell you some of the etiquette and customs I learned about the Greeks. I originally thought Greece was the land of greek yogurt, hummus, donkeys running around everywhere, and people shouting OPA! No. Except, for the first part (Greek yogurt is a breakfast, a dessert, and is used in many dips). Greek people loving sharing. It is rude NOT to share. That is why the table is covered in a paper sheet before the meal (people grab food from dishes in the middle of the table and do not even pass the bowl, which is customary in American dining). I was shocked by how "gruff" Greeks appear in speech. It felt like they were shouting or unfriendly but that is not the case. It is not like how us Minnesotans have to sugar coat greetings (even if we do not like somebody) in a cheery sounding voice. People say "Kaliméra" for good morning and "Kalispéra" for good evening. In Greece, you drink an apéritif (we drank it after dinner though) that is anise-flavored called Raki. You sip it, although I always took it as a shot. For breakfast, you can drink Greek coffee which is prepared in a special type of pot on the stove called a briki. You have to add your sugar before you serve the coffee because you cannot stir the coffee once it is in your cup, as the grounds sit on the bottom of the cup. It is not exceptional coffee (the one I am drinking right now has a potato after taste) but it is cheap and Greeks spend all day sipping it. On the islands, sage tea is quite common and it is delicious and relaxing on the stomach. I drank it overlooking the harbor in cafes and felt so calm. Cheese is a big deal here. Many locals make a sour cheese that is so good on bread or salads. Feta is obviously very popular and they put huge chunks of it on Greek salad (my favorite!). Greek salad has green peppers, olives, tomatoes, onions, feta, olive oil, and oregano (very common spice here) on it. There is no leaf like lettuce or spinach, but it is still excellent and healthy!

In Greece, especially in the islands, you will find cats EVERYWHERE. And it's not like they have mange or are anorexic. Now this is my kind of place (except they should spay their pets!). They are very sweet and meow like little beggars at you and run around the table except when the dogs come and chase them :K. Greece has some of the best beaches I've ever seen! While they have pebble beaches and lack the beautiful sand of SE Asian beaches, like Boracay's or Koh Phi Phi's, they have magnificent views of the mountains on the islands, tiny islands around the harbor, gorgeous sailing boats, and fishermen sailing into the sunset with their dogs. I have yet to see an ugly sunset in Greece, even in the off season when the weather is a bit colder. If you wanted to take up painting or photography, this is the place as it is impossible to get an ugly view. There is an absurd amount of islands here. People live a much more laid back lifestyle in the islands as compared to Athens, but are very set in their ways. There are many cultural and custom differences between islands! For example, people on Kalymnos refuse to let their loved ones or valued guests pay for anything, as they are extremely hospitable. They also like to launch bombs (easter eggs?) on Easter, which is beyond me. Go look it up! Diving here is fantastic. I went on five dives throughout the week. I saw a wreck dive (WWII Nazi hydroplane crash), a few spots with amphorae from Phoenician times, two wall dives (reached 27 m below), and a cave dive. Every time I go scuba diving, I get so much better as I have to deal with new conditions, like sinus issues (struggling to equilibrate my sinuses during the descent), communicating underwater, equipment issues, conserving air, dealing with cramps, dealing with choppy surface water, learning to not kick up silt but also hovering with good buoyancy, etc.

Soon I will be off on a ferry to Athens. My flight time keeps changing every 5 seconds (thanks Ryanair!) and I fly out to Bulgaria on Wednesday. I cannot wait to explore Eastern Europe!!!!!




​From Top to Bottom: 

Sailing into Amorgos

Old man and the sea in Amorgos

Our jolly crew 

The lounge on our boat

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Quick Update: I am currently in Athens on Day 3 and am planning on eating as much Greek food as possible (street food is very cheap here, like 2 euros for a Greek bagel, 2 euros for a gyro) and drinking Greek wine (also cheap at 4.5 euros a glass). The Greek accent reminds me a lot of the Italian accent. Greek people are literally some of the most beautiful people I've ever seen (a huge amount of them look like models) and many are very kind. I spent the day at the Benaki Museum, which is filled with many beautifully arranged collections of art, clothing, instruments, and jewelry from Ancient Greek times. There's a reason Greek art has such a high reputation. It amazes me how intricate and ornate the designs on the pottery and gilded metals are. So cool!!! I took a prehistoric archaeology of Europe course in college and I'm sad that we didn't cover Greece (it was far too large for a semester with the rest of prehistoric Europe). I also walked to the Parthenon, the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was my favorite temple! It's amazing to stare up at such huge columns and weathered marble sculptures, and marvel at how ingenious these people were. Athens reminds me a lot of Rome as every corner you look, there's something historic about it. It definitely deserves a visit from a European backpacker, as it's affordable, interesting, and charming in its own way.

As I travel, I get worn out from all of the stress of long flights, dramatic hostel guests, and what feels like the doomsday of the US presidential election. I feel like retreating into a tiny box and not leaving. The more you travel, the less the idea of seeing a zoo, a beach, or a temple seem novel. I do have a long bucket list and I don't regret traveling for so long (I am happy I started in Asia where I could appreciate the cultural differences between America and Asia more than Europe), but I have come to the decision to not spend several days in a city. I want to simply see the major sites, try the major foods, then pack up and leave. I'm thrilled to be sailing for a week in the Cyclades, as it will be a nice change of pace and I can get out of a hostel, but I know when I come back and leave for Sofia, I'll be on quite the quick backpacking expedition.

Here are some of the chaotic thoughts I had while strolling around the Benaki Museum, sitting on a cramped 10 hour flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, and contemplating my life and the point of living. This is what happens when you are removed from your normalcy for the last 5 months.


Life isn't about safety
If you want safety stay in your mother's womb, better yet, don't be born!
Sure I could get married out of college, have kids, watch reality television, never question anything everyone tells me, buy new clothes at the mall every weekend, drink my $5 Pumpkin Spice frappe everyday and always do what society tells me. I could follow the religion of my family and community, only visit resorts in Mexico and celebrate my awful football team I have no desire to follow in order to be a good citizen. I could never question my beliefs, my values or what anyone tells me. I could be a racist jackass and push people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds to the ground to empower my own insecure and hateful mind. But what kind of life is that?
I want to motorcycle through mountains in a first world country on a beat up 110 CC engine.
I want to be an independent woman not afraid of solo traveling at night (within reason of course) and be an example so others feel encouraged.

I want to be the friend that looks after others and feels comfortable in giving everyone a chance, while also not feeling embarrassed to assert her boundaries in order to uphold my dignity and personal wellbeing.

I want to travel to places everyone says to not go to when they do not know the actual danger, or what actually happened in these countries. I want to travel smartly around Egypt, Myanmar, the Philippines.
I want to go to places I don't speak the language and learn about their culture.
I want to meet Russian strangers at airports and talk about their lives and what our "enemy" cultures have in common. We're all just people too.
I want to try food that repulses me and find out I love it!

Travel makes you realize how little you know. And how silly it is to never change your beliefs and subscribe to the lifestyle that society tells you is "right." No. There are so many people in this world and so many philosophies that simply following what others in your culture tell you to do is mundane and makes you ignorant.

​From top to bottom: 

-Cappuccino, spinach and feta and cinnamon sugar phyllo dough pastries

-Temple of Venus 

-The Parthenon (no picture of the whole thing because it is under repair)

-overlooking the beautiful city of Athens from the temple grounds 

-Temple of Olympian Zeus (my favorite!!)

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I'm writing this blog post from the lazy confines of my comfy hostel/hotel lounge. My hotel has a nice Taiwanese breakfast buffet every morning. I've noticed the food is quite greasy and oily, but not in a repugnant way. Like the eggs are definitely softer and the garlic lettuce dish I've eaten everyday for breakfast is also oily and wet.

Taiwan has some of the best night markets I've ever seen! There are shit tons of them all throughout Taipei, with places to sit and enjoy your cheap meals. If you asked me how to describe Southeast Asia, I would describe it in these words: hot, humid, tropical, night markets, crappy beer, Buddhist, noodles, rice paddies, fish, tea, mopeds. I'm probably missing a lot of words but those are pretty ubiquitous throughout the places I've been. The people in Taiwan are SO DIFFERENT from Chinese people, it baffles my mind that some people consider Taiwan a part of China. Taiwan has its own successful economy (it's part of the Asian Tigers including Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, meaning they had rapidly evolving economies in the 60s and can stand alone), its own culture distinct from mainland China, its own relationships with foreign nations, and so many other things. The people are very nice, helpful, quiet (I've only met extremely loud Chinese people since traveling in Asia), and well accomplished. I'm consistently impressed with the amount of Asians I see traveling abroad (many travel to the Philippines to learn English because it's cheaper), particularly South Koreans! If I have children, I'm forcing them to study abroad for a bit so they can learn a language of their choosing. It's ingenious and I so wish I had done that!

I visited Longshan Temple in Taipei and was blown away by the beauty of the scenery; there's dragon fountains spewing water into a tranquil koi pond with beautiful bushes and flowers surrounding the perimeter, ornately carved bronze dragons, beautiful rooms filled with offerings, relaxing oriental music playing, and intoxicating incense flowing around the grounds.

Aside from visiting temples and eating my face off, I've been drinking tons of bubble tea. I love the tea here as it is incredibly fresh (it's as fresh as Japanese tea, which is a huge compliment).There is an endless number of varieties of bubble tea here, and of course I don't know all the options because some are in a weird Mandarin to English translation. I usually am boring and get milk tea or Taiwanese tea with pearls because it's frickin delicious.

Yesterday I went to the hot springs and was amazed by the amount of older Taiwanese people there. Of course I saw a few Koreans, Japanese (it used to be a place for the Japanese (during the occupation) to relax and indulge in their onsens), and Europeans (? Some white people) as well. You can move in between four different pools of varying temperature (the hotter pool flows into the lower temperature pool) and it's only 40 TWD to get in for foreigners! That's a little more than 1 USD. The pools were a bit gross because I saw dead skin and hair flowing around, but not everyone showers before getting in :(.

I honestly have no idea what I'm doing on my last day in Taipei, but most likely something involving my favorite hobby, eating. I'm flying to Hong Kong tomorrow and will be spending two nights there. I'm very sad about leaving Asia, as I've spent the last FIVE MONTHS of my life in Australasia. The better part of it surely was in Asia! I know I'll be back here someday, though I don't know if I'd live here. Maybe Japan, maybe Singapore, maybe Seoul. I don't know. I'd love to spend more time in Vietnam and Thailand, and I have yet to see much of Malaysia or ANY of Indonesia. What a cool continent :). In leaving Asia, I have noticed my anxiety spike up: it's the idea of my travels ending and I hate that feeling! I don't want to ever think my journey ends as I love traveling and am seriously considering on settling in the US for a year or through grad school to get more education and then perhaps finding a reason to leave to travel more. It's not that I don't want to live in the US someday, it's simply that I love traveling. I aspire to see as much as I can of the world, be it a new culture, new people, travel through a new language, a new style of transportation (I.e. Trikes, Jeepneys, songthaews, etc.) and simply living in Minneapolis the rest of my existence is not the way to do it. Nor is staying in Asia the rest of my travels, but I'm stoked to see where life takes me on that note. :).

Taiwanese night markets;

From top to bottom:

-Mango shaved ice

-Making an oyster omelette

-Steamed pork buns

-Candied, skewered strawberries

-Strawberry milk tea with pearls

-Taiwanese lemonade (looks very gelatinous because it is but it's very tasty)

-Beef noodle soup

-Steamed pork bun

This is just a fraction of the foods you can get...

​As I was eating a doughnut in one of my favorite doughnut shops from the US (this is the first international store for Voodoo Doughnut, and I just happened to come across it here in Taipei!!!!!!! :O), I was laughing because I realized there are so many funny things about the US that you only notice after spending extensive (and I mean more than a few months) time abroad. I'll start this list:

1. Our coffee sizes are GINORMOUS. I used to get coffee with my coworkers and get a 20 oz without thinking (of course after drinking a coffee for breakfast from home) because I wanted the biggest bang for my buck. When I was in the Philippines, I went to Starbucks. This was the first Starbucks I've seen abroad that offers 20 oz!!! I looked disgusted as I stared and marveled at the enormous cardboard caffeine vessel in front of me. I wonder if I'll start drinking those again when I'm home?!
2. Drinking ice cold water or water with ice is bizarre. While I do think it's really refreshing, NOBODY does that here. Or even in Australia or New Zealand, I don't remember that being an option (although it surely has a higher chance of being an option). Of course there, you can order a soft drink with plenty of ice, but lukewarm or warm water is so much more common. 
3. I find it strange how much my diet has changed. At home, I live off of spinach, wine (I seriously haven't had any quality wine the last five months, which is soon to change thanks to Greece and Italy), craft beer, pasta, and pizza. I honestly haven't seen a leaf of spinach my entire trip, which is really sad. Spinach deserves worship due to how healthy and versatile it is.
4. The stupid amount of pharmaceutical ads we have in the US on TV. This is coming from a lady that loves pharmacology and strongly believes in the necessity of Western Medicine (though I do believe Eastern Medicine is important and must not be ignored, especially for those cultures that use it in America). It's disgusting. The only persons that should be discussing medicine with you is your doctor/CNP/PA or your pharmacist. PERIOD. You won't find that advertisement anywhere outside of the US, as far as I know. We're so backwards!!! 
5. Our wastefulness. While I'm happy to say that I shop at a store that penalizes you for not using reusable bags (Aldi) and Minnesotans are better about it than what I've seen abroad, I feel that Americans purchase way more food, clothes, and material goods than any other culture in the world. It's disgusting and wasteful.
6. It's crazy how many Americans drive cars. Obviously our country is more spread out but nonetheless, it is frustrating. I love my car but not everyone has the option of buying one, so they're pretty screwed transportation wise because of our transport infrastructure.
7. Our love of Christianity. The only country that loved Christianity more than we did was the Philippines, which was shocking coming from places like New Zealand and Australia. 
8. We don't eat fish as much as Asian countries, for obvious reasons. 
9. We're really loud, though not as loud as Chinese people in public places >D
10. We support marijuana much more than other countries in Asia! In a lot of places, if not all, you'll go to prison and sometimes it means death, say the Philippines!
11. We support gays much better than Asia
12. We are SO globally recognized. We're very lucky for that and have a huge responsibility in upholding foreign diplomacy and acting as a respectful world power. We can't let that get to our head, which has happened so often in the past.
13. We are an incredibly diverse country. However, we don't support these diversities enough!
14. We eat way more frozen and processed foods than any other country I've seen. Ew. 
15. Our bread is so fresh and healthy. I miss that. Going to American stores in the bakery aisle, you'll find a million options for whole grain bread whereas in Australasia, it's usually just white bread. 

Obviously this is not a fair assessment (can we really help it that we don't eat fish when most of us don't live on the ocean?) but this is what has gone through my mind as some huge differences between Australasia and the US. 

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I originally wrote a note on my phone about how frustrated I was with so many things in Cebu (not with Filipinos themselves, rather the circumstances their country is in). In a nutshell, I couldn't believe the poor quality of food available to Filipinos on Cebu (I find it better in Manila and definitely Boracay, well because it's for privileged tourists). In Oslob, I could not find any healthy food. I woke up to grab a cup of noodles with pebble sized cat food (was actually beef, but I doubt its authenticity). I also ate a very processed ice cream bar because well, there was no other food available!! You can go to greasy, shitty burger joints like fast food places, or eat garbage hot dogs. Since my stomach wasn't tough, I didn't want to get street food because it looked like it was sitting out all day (not wanting to repeat my bad luck with the Myanmar samosas in Pyin Oo Lwin and hurling). Filipino food has loads of meat in it. The agricultural sector is not nearly as developed as other third world countries. I did not find any fresh vegetables at the market in Oslob! I'm also frustrated with how filthy Cebu is. I've been all over Vietnam, parts of Myanmar, parts of Thailand, and two major cities in Cambodia, and the cleanliness rivals Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which is a horrible compliment. Considering the Philippines used to be a SE Asian power in the 50s and 60s and now it's being surpassed by countries like Vietnam and Thailand, it's shocking! I'm not going to pretend I understand Filipino sociology or politics, but damn, there must be some major corruption if there are so many homeless people. People here are very kind and I feel so surprised they are living in the conditions they are. On that note, Manila is also pretty dirty and in bad condition. The LRT (train line) is a joke and needs to do so much better! It took me 1.5 hours to get from the airport to 8 km away in Intramuros. So bad!!! Compare this to another third world country's capital city, Bangkok, who has an outstanding sky train (albeit God awful traffic). Manila traffic is awful!!! Again, I really feel for the Filipinos that have to work in that :(. Hopefully the economy picks up because the Philippines is an awesome place to go and a must for SE Asian backpackers!

On that note, let's talk about Boracay! I bought a spontaneous flight there from Cebu because Coron was twice the price and 5x the time to get to! Boracay is not too expensive and has the best beach I've ever seen. Island hopping is so fun! I went to Crystal Cove, White Beach (the main beach), Puka Beach, and many other beaches. I did a scuba dive there (I had an awesome time and saw clownfish, many beautiful corals, damselfish, tangs, starfish, and many other cool species). I also went paddle boarding, which is very hard to stand up on! I met some cool ladies in my hostel that I went out with and we really enjoyed the Boracay nightlife, which is quite lively and fun. Overall, I couldn't recommend Boracay enough and would definitely say it's a great place for a honeymoon or fun vacation. Loved it there!

Currently, I'm waiting for my flight to Taipei (I've been in Manila the last 12 hours and I'm so drained). I get in at 12 am and am probably going to sleep at the airport. I'm so stoked to visit and drink bubble tea like my life depends on it! :D I'm too lazy to write much more so I'll share some awesome photos from one of the best trips on my erm, trip.

Pictures from top to bottom: Boracay boat men are badass and like to hold boats together with their feet.

Soursop in Oslob (my favorite SE Asian fruit). I spit out the seeds like sunflowers.

Boracay island hopping.

Looking out of Bay Watch on Crystal Cove in Boracay.

Paddle boarding like a non-pro. I can barely stand on a surf board so paddling and moving the board without falling is pretty challenging.

White Beach, Boracay.

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13/09


Ahhh the thrill of visiting a new country, especially a third world country. A new set of faces, a strange language, finding commonalities between people of the same culture...I'm so excited to leave my familiar first world comforts behind for something that challenges my patience and feels completely undiscovered. I'm currently flying from Auckland to Cairns (for a short stopover until I board the exact same flight) and then I'll be arriving in Manila very early in the morning. Luckily, I board my flight to Cebu not more than a few hours after, so it will have been a long day for me! I woke up for the airport shuttle at 5:30 AM this morning (I've always been a morning person so it wasn't that bad). I am so happy with Philippine Airlines. I didn't even pay for a checked bag (because I wasn't sure what their policy on my 10 kg backpacking bag would be) and they checked it. They were also highly professional, punctual, and fed me dinner and red wine for free! I didn't even pay for it at checkout, which is exceptional considering I didn't even get fucking water on my 7 hour flight from Osaka to Cairns from Jetstar...though every airline shines in comparison to that garbage. If this is a foreshadowing to my experiences in the Philippines, I'm so beyond excited :D!
I'm not sure how long I'll be in Cebu, but I will be going to Bohol for a day at least. I considered Palawan and Coron, but I might just head for Luzon instead. I fly out of Manila for Taiwan on the 21st. If you're ever traveling to the Philippines or New Zealand, do know that they both require proof of exit! I feel like almost every country I've flown into in Asia has requested it but not enforced the rule (by the check in staff) but they are not kidding around here! Deciding to go to Taiwan was as easy as deciding to buy a neck pillow for a 14 hour flight...it's just that cool! I've heard fantastic things about the markets, the nightlife, the nature, and the people. I also can't wait to pay homage to the country that invented my job in college, i.e. making bubble tea. And I've met some awesome Taiwanese people :).
One of the joys of traveling and backpacking is seeing what random occurrences cross your path. In a library at my hostel in Paihia, I traded my barely read (because it was boring and pretentious as hell) copy of Life of Pi for Deception Point by Dan Brown (which was so good!!!!). I then traded my copy of Deception Point for the first Game of Thrones novel (can you believe I found that in a hostel library?!). Of course it's completely dilapidated and annotated with a foreign language on weird words like "harp," "maggots," and "shattered," but that just adds to the fun and history of the book.
Unfortunately, I'm in for a 5 hour flight to Cairns, but if there's one thing I learned about myself, it's that I'm really awesome at turning my brain off and not thinking about sitting in the airport for almost 12 hours and also sitting on a plane. I absolutely loathe airports, with their overpriced bullshit paraphernalia (though I understand why you might shop at a souvenir shop if you haven't actually visited the country and won't have the opportunity to) and obnoxious people shouting over you, spitting into trash cans, putting leashes on their children (seriously if I had kids, I would never treat them like a dog), and having only 30 minutes of free WIFI for a 12 hour layover. That's another thing I love about good ol' 'Merica, she loves her free and fast WIFI (we Americans have attention spans of 5 seconds and can't bear to not check Facebook or Reddit every waking moment).
As I was reading the Filipino newspaper offered on my flight, I noticed some staunch differences between American journalism and foreign journalism. First of all, Americans have no problem naming people that are arrested or thought to be involved in a crime, including the victims. I noticed this in Australia, as a person who stabbed a convenience store worker wasn't even named or pictured. In the Filipino article mentioning drug crime, the individuals arrested were left unnamed so as not to "bring shame to the families." Another interesting difference is that American media is so filtered (but isn't all media to some degree?). What I mean by that is we're afraid to offend anyone. How did I come up with that idea? Well, I read a few articles in the newspaper about how Americans are not fighting Middle Eastern terrorism appropriately (interesting for another uninvolved nation to comment on our struggle...) and open and honest criticism of how Duterte (Filipino president) is handling the war on drugs. I would not be shocked to see such criticism on Obama from a Fox News outlet, but when the name of the newspaper sounds pretty neutral (Malaya Business Insight), it's surprising to see such commentary. I was also surprised to see justifications on why Duterte wasn't in a way, "sucking up" to Obama and the U.S. when the Philippines had done so in the '60s and '70s. I don't think American journalism would ever say such things about other presidents so overtly, unless it were a radical journal.


14/09

Landed in Cebu and sleeping on my bed (I'm in a coma thanks to Gravol, jet lag, travel exhaustion, and feeling a bit nauseous from dinner at a sketchy BBQ, so do excuse any grammatical mistakes).
General observations on the Philippines:
-I'm surprised by how third world the country is, despite how many Filipinos I see traveling abroad. Call me naive, but it's on the same scale of poverty as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia (well, maybe not Cambodia), and Myanmar, and I don't see any citizens of those countries with money traveling abroad. I'm no sociologist, but that's pretty surprising!!! I was sort of expecting something in between Thailand and Korea, i.e. a little dirty, with bad water, but not as impoverished.
-People are so friendly. This is annoying when it comes to me getting excited "hellos" as I'm walking down the street and a passing jeepney full of guys has to cat call me. O_O I'm just not used to it after being away from Southeast Asia for 2 months.
-Jeepneys are buses here. They're like the Thai Songthaew, but bigger like a bus. I'm intimidated by them but I'm determined to use one! They are covered in artistic murals and drawings.
-Food is gross (sorry Philippines). It's just lackluster in comparison to Viet or Thai food. They do have a lot of dried foods on Cebu I want to try though! Like dried mango, danggit (dried and salted rabbitfish), and dried squid.
-I found a scuba dive for $25!!!! OMG. WHY this is so awesome!
-There's a million cool beaches and islands to visit. SO suck it Australia, I'm done paying over $100 to visit a crowded, overrated beach (ehem Whitsundays). Gotta love SE Asia :)
-I'm so hot Wahhhh. The heat shocked me a bit as I walked 2 km to the post office and felt like passing out. Gotta toughen up!!
-Island hopping via plane and ferry is ubiquitous, but usually pretty cheap. I want to go to Coron though and I would probably pay about $180, which ain't cool considering how cheap my flights to Taiwan and Hong Kong are. Boohoo.
-I miss you cheese, yogurt and fresh bread. RIP Western supermarkets
-Some German lady in Australia warned me the Philippines was expensive. LOL. I just bought lunch for $1. Nope.
-English is everywhere and so far Filipinos are fantastic English speakers. Lucky!
-There are so many malls, yet I haven't been yet.
-Surprisingly haven't seen many Muslims or hijabs in Cebu or in the Manila airport.
-The Spanish influence here is so strong! Tagalog sounds pretty Spanish to me and people definitely look so different from other Asians (I love seeing this in each culture I visit). They have tanned skin, can be very tall or short (I feel like women are often shorter) and the kids are so darn cute! The Filipinos I have met are very bubbly, friendly, and helpful. They are a lively culture. I also feel that "small talk" with Southeast Asians is a lot more meaningful than it is with westerners because their perspective is a lot more interesting and in general, a lot less whinier or mundane (I'll speak for myself on that one ;)).
-There is a crazy war on drugs going on (thanks to President Duterte) that is very reminiscent of the American war on drugs. Though I won't say I feel like Cebu is a crack infested place. It might be behind closed doors, but it's no different from seeing people opening tiny ziploc bags of Oxy or coming into cafes to yell at drug dealers like I experienced in Sydney and other parts of touristy areas in Australia. Gotta love this fear people have of drugs and third world countries yet drug abuse and the issues that plague it are all over America, Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. Can't necessarily say the same about first world Asia, to my knowledge.
-Also, something that hasn't been in my life for awhile: BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP! Honk BEEP honk! (:

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I'm only a few days from leaving New Zealand and I'm already planning my next visit, something that can't be said for every place I go to. I absolutely love the South Island, despite being stuck on a bus for over 20 hours of it. Yes, the North Island is breathtaking but has more people on it and the mountains, oh the mountains! Wanaka, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Nelson, Picton...all surrounded by beautiful mountains that beg you to stare and drink coffee and admire them. There are many alpine villages here that would make for a great road trip stay. I hiked 12 kilometers yesterday at Franz Josef to the glacier and admired every step of the way. New Zealand is nothing short of a fairytale place. Everywhere I turned my head, there were beautiful, sprawling silver ferns, waterfalls creeping out of the side of the road, colorful iron ores in rocks at my feet, moss overgrowing boulders in beautiful patterns, nauseatingly breathtaking sky blue rivers, lullaby birdsong...you get the picture. Yes, it has had its downs (namely Rotorua because it's simply way too touristy for me and reminiscent of my tour of Australia's east coast in that way) but oh my, has it had its ups. I will say if you plan on coming to the South Island, it is much more expensive. Where yogurt was $5 for a tub in the north, it's now $7, which may not seem like much, but if you keep adding $2 to everything you buy and compound it by how long you're staying here, it adds up very fast!

Other things I should mention: I got stuck in Wellington because Nakedbus fell through in so many ways (I.e. The bus driver was way late to pick me up/gave me attitude when I asked why he was on the wrong side of the street at 2 AM/we arrived an hour after we were supposed to be there, and it was complicated to change my transportation afterwards because their online service is crummy). I was originally annoyed to have to take a day off my South Island trip, but wow, Wellington deserves some spotlight here! Wellington is the first place ON MY ENTIRE TRIP that has awesome craft beer! I went to Fork & Brewer and got a paddle of sour beers and saisons and was genuinely impressed by the creativity in the recipes and flavors of the beers! Congrats! I'm so annoyed when I go to places and they're all "we haVe GenUINe CraFT beeRRR." Nah shit, why is your Vienna lager cloudy and not light and translucent like a true lager? Awkward...
Also! The food in Wellington is delicious! On my way to Weta Cave (Lord of the Rings art studio working on many design projects for private artists and films like Warcraft, the Halo film, The Hobbit, etc.) I hopped into some random cafe and got a delicious cauliflower chowder with grilled shrimp and garlic bread (perfectly textured and cooked) and churros with melted chocolate. I was so impressed! I'm so sick and tired of going to places that charge a ridiculous amount of money for mediocre food, so I was excited to spend a decent amount of money for such a satisfying meal. I have faith in you Wellington! :)
It's been incredibly cold since I arrived in Franz Josef. I have worn up to 4 layers on my chest and two layers on my legs. I still shiver at night sometimes. I don't have a winter coat because I started my trip on the swelteringly hot lands of Vietnam, with no solid intention of traveling much after that. How wrong I was! As for my next country, I'm currently planning on not going to Luzon (unfortunately) and arriving in Manila at 3 am. I will book a flight to Cebu and visit Bohol, where I will stay on beautiful beaches and snorkel and see cute Tarsier monkeys. To say I'm psyched to visit Southeast Asia again is a ridiculously large understatement. While I've loved New Zealand and Japan and had some good moments in Korea and Australia, SE Asia is beckoning me to kiss it goodbye before I hop to Taipei and Hong Kong, and then off to the magical waters of Greece. I will be in Taipei and Hong Kong for a week after the Philippines, and leave for Greece on the 28th! I can't believe how much my trip has transformed and truly wonder where the heck I'm going to be in a year (don't worry, I'll have been home for awhile then). It's crazy to think where spontaneous solo travel takes you, but that's why it's (in my humble opinion) far superior to travelling long term with other people...you just don't have to worry about other people or look after them! I create my own schedule and I meet whoever I want, when I want. If I'm annoyed or feel threatened by somebody, guess what? I leave. Adios! I'm about to research the Philippines and prepare for my Shotover jet ride tomorrow (incredibly fast canyon boat) as well as a gondola ride and luging!

Kayaking on a lake outside of Franz Josef. Someday I will walk on the glacier, but not now when it's $500 NZD to ice climb :/

I adore Queenstown and can't wait to not backpack here (AKA spend cash money on enjoying it properly!)

Notice the beautiful reds, greens, blues, and greys of Franz Josef. This was part of my hike to the glacier. So beautiful.

​A Tarsier monkey from Bohol, an island in the Philippines. Why WOUDLN'T you want to see that face?!

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I'm so excited to be leaving this part of the world! I'm ready for awesome, cheaper food, warmer weather (though not looking forward to be scorching hot in Asia), more variety, and easier transport. As I am traveling in winter over here, unfortunately that means a lot of activities are postponed. I was supposed to sky dive this morning, but the wind, cloud coverage, and rain have all interfered. Also, Nakedbus doesn't have the best service when it comes to booking buses to the South Island (I've literally sent 18 emails back and forth with them just to book my South Island locations) and they're pretty slow. As I only have a week left here, you can imagine I'm a bit stressed trying to fit in transport to Wellington, a ferry crossing, transport to Franz Josef, Te Anau, and Queenstown all in a week...ugh. The good news is that I know exactly what I want to do there (ice climbing, kayaking in glow worm caves, visiting Milford Sound, shot over jet, luging and gondola ride in Queenstown), and most don't require good weather. I've loved NZ, but it's soon time for me to leave. To be perfectly honest, the best parts of my long term backpacking trip have been in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia and Japan. I could seriously move to Asia for a bit of my life, it is that badass and fun! :D I miss the diversity and the collision of foreign interactions, something that isn't as interesting or riveting here. I miss the sweet and beautiful Vietnamese people, the bomb food I had and efficiency I enjoyed in Japan, the vibrancy of Singapore, and the beautiful culture and nature of Thailand. In a way, backpacking in New Zealand is frustrating. Like I said about Australia, it is much easier to travel by car or camper van, something I hope to do later in my life.

One thing that is awesome about NZ is how crazy the landscape is. There have been many thermal hot pools in Rotorua and even one in Taupo! Taupo is beautiful and a much more relaxed, enjoyable tourist town, as not many people go here compared to Rotorua! The lake is the largest in New Zealand and you can see Mount Taupo (volcano) from the city. It's gorgeous. I don't like the idea of living in a town home, but the town homes here are quite cute and relaxed. I saw so many cute dogs on the trail to Huka falls yesterday and it made me nostalgic for running on the Gateway Trail back home.
I've tried two decent beers here, from Boundary Road Brewery. Coincidentally, they were American ales (fit with cheesy sayings about our number one religion being baseball and religion). Honestly, beer isn't that good here and often when it is "craft beer" any idiot can slap a label on their bottle and call it so, when it just tastes like earwax or junk.
Since I was in Hamilton, I went to Hobbiton (which was awesome and so worth the expense as the land surrounding it is beautiful and the set is so believable), and Rotorua, which is the most foul smelling city ever. I remember going to Yellowstone and seeing Old Faithful when I was young, and boy did I forget how awful pure sulfur deposits smell :(. I had to live in the stinky part of town for a few days, but my lungs are happier now in Taupo! I went horse trekking (although the land was beautiful, the horses were not the most well trained for trail riding and would bolt), went ZORBing (although short, it was very fun!), and toured Whakarewarewa Maori Village (the guide was really informative and it was awesome seeing how the village cooked their meals in the sulfur baths!). If you're going to Rotorua someday, I highly recommend going to a Maori village. It's very educational and is one of the more affordable touristy things in town.
Right now I'm chilling in Taupo and getting ready to wake up at 1:30 AM to board a bus to Wellington! Tomorrow is going to suck majorly as I will be on the bus, then ferry, then bus again and will arrive in Nelson around 3 pm. I look forward to ending my bus travels in Queenstown, as I won't have to deal with Nakedbus booking anymore! And Queenstown has loads to do!

Kuka Falls. New Zealand has very blue, translucent water, which is not something you see everyday.

Typical dinner for me. Melted feta cheese over a type of pasta, basil and tomato sauce, and mixed greens. No ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches pour moi, unless they're Japanese miso ramen noodles!

Since this is one of those times I'm sitting around and doing "nothing" (i.e. I haven't booked anything to do in the last 24 hours because of crappy weather and unreliable transportation) I thought it would be fun to write a little bit about what I take for granted in leaving home. Of course this is incredibly satirical and I'm not trying to say I hate where I've traveled, but it is fun to poke fun at the differences :).

1. While I feel that people are very sweet here, I feel a bit forced in talking with people. I am not one to make eye contact with someone walking on the street and I hate small talk ("Oh man the weather sure is bad today Jimmy") so it's been different and I can't help feel a bit out for not being a little ray of sunshine. Sorry New Zealand, I guess I'm just an asshole :p Also sorry I don't feel the need to comment on every little thing, maybe I'm just weird? I like silence and not filling the air with noise, which I feel at times makes me come off as rude or hostile. And when I say "No, I'm not interested in going out with you," it doesn't mean I'm evil or selfish. It simply means I have the sovereignty to not be around you longer than I have to, so sorry you're shocked by my bluntness. Here's a Band-Aid. Nope, I just don't have the energy to be beaming and fake.

2. I've said this a million times to people about my travels and probably on my blog as well, but you really take it for granted how awesome the variety is back home. U.S. grocery stores have SO MUCH to choose from (brands and products) as well as names of grocery stores (there really are only two here, New World and Countdown), which I really appreciate. We import so much wine and beer from all over the world, that even going to Cub Foods Liquor is a joy because there's so much craft beer to be found :D Also, you don't have to take out a loan to buy the essential fruits and vegetables, because tomatoes aren't $12 (NZD)/kg back home!

3. When you travel long term, everything starts to look the same. To counter this, before you go somewhere, have a destination or trip planned ahead. Unfortunately for me, I really wanted to go skydiving in Taupo. While I valiantly waited all day (AKA sat on my ass eating wasabi peas and browsing the Internet thereby missing out on signing up for other tour options), my trip got canceled. Boohoo. Sometimes traveling sucks and I wasted my time here in a way (I could've been making my way south to adventure capital), but life goes on. When you don't get to see something because of bad timing, it makes it all the more awesome when shit does work out (I got to hike up Mt. Fuji and was very luckily in the right part of Japan at the EXACT right point of the year! :D). Unfortunately, traveling everywhere all in one go means seeing new things can seem less impressive. The beautiful Kuka Falls I saw starts to look less impressive than Anisakan Falls and the idea of going sailing again for a huge fee seems dumb when I adored the trip I went on in Paihia. Seek diversity in experiences!

4. I have become less patient with meeting people and making small talk to be "social" in exchange for cherishing getting to know people and learning their interesting narrative. I have met so many awesome and inspiring people that motivate me to do better in life, and that's one of the awesome parts of traveling :)

5. I really take it for granted that I have a car back home. Renting a car here is like 50 NZD, which is way out of my several month backpacking budget. No thank you! Having a suburban job pretty much requires you to have a car in the US. But here, you can't really see as much as you want/have much flexibility as you are at the mercy of the buses and your activities picking you up, which is not as common as Australia. ugh. Like the time I wanted to go to Waitomo Caves but Hamilton sucks because their bus service only drops you off and picks you up at the least flexible times ever. Thanks for being the major hub for one of the most popular tourist attractions and not helping the people bringing money to your city O_o. That's one of the most annoying things about New Zealand. Not all of us have the luxury of blowing hundreds of dollars a day in order to see the country.

6. I am a coffee fiend :K and drink it like my life depends on it. The coffee here is either really overpriced or just shitty compared to what you get back home or in Europe. Boo. It also makes zero sense that a flat white (aka a latte) and a long black (aka an Americano) are the same price for the same size. What! Milk is definitely more expensive than water, so you basically drive up the price of coffee for those who drink healthily. :K

7. It's pronounced "beer" not "bia." And it's "uncle" not "ankle" lol. Don't say "Yis" unless you're going to stamp your feet on the ground and honk "motherfucking bread crumbs" like the goose in the comic. Of course this comment is made in fun, and I'm not saying American "television" English is superior and more universally understandable than Aussie/Kiwi English...or am I? :P For those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, here is the gif: https://m.imgur.com/gallery/zaCeu08

8. Reliable internet is seriously a scarcity in New Zealand and Australia. It's ironically much better in SE Asia (should be worse cuz it's poorer) and even pretty bad in Japan, but at least it's free! You'll pay out the nose for basic internet service in a hostel, which is not the same in other parts of the world. It's just not as valued here (maybe because people normally have data plans? I don't know).

Inside the Green Dragon. Note that the interior was completely constructed for visitors and was NOT where the scenes from TGD were filmed (I believe those were shot back in Wellington).​

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Welp, here it is folks. The post I've been daydreaming about writing since I started my trip. I am ecstatic to report that New Zealand is everything I dreamed of and more. It truly is a beautiful and pristine land plumb full of gorgeous rolling hills (like the ones the cast of the Lord of the Rings arduously crossed throughout their journey to Mordor). The birds are beautiful, there are no toxic animals like in Australia (although arguably I never saw any and very few deaths result from those animals in Oz) so I can do a barefoot hike up a huge hill with no issues, the landscape is something out of a movie (literally), and the people are very down to earth. Unfortunately for those that love big cities, this country is not the place for you. Auckland is tiny and even more sheepish in character than a place like Brisbane (which feels like a boring American city) and is simply a place to work (there are so many Kiwis that live there for work in more traditional careers). Although I'm a huge fan of places like Austin, Bangkok, Singapore, Seattle, Saigon, and other big cities, I feel that Auckland really fits the country as it doesn't try to be pretentious or something it's not.

People don't come to New Zealand for Auckland, yet it still has its charm by way of ferry to its surrounding islands (like Devonport) and cute little cafes on the harbor. While I enjoyed my time there I would be cheating myself if I didn't rush head first into the nature of this gorgeous country. I got a ride up from a sweet Germany lady who had been an au pair in Auckland for a year before properly traveling the countryside. Our drive through the city outskirts, through Whangerei and up to Paihia was jaw dropping and awe inspiring. The hills rolled up and down like a bouncy ball carving the lush green pastures and cattle lazily hung out in the powerful sun under the big blue skies. You have to be careful here, as the ozone layer is very thin and even when it's cold, you could wind up with a nasty sunburn. -1 for New Zealand (though it will be very hard for the cons to ever outweigh the pros).

I would already move here if it weren't that it's so darn far from everywhere I love. Yet I wouldn't hesitate to find reason after reason to come back, whether it was for work or study or vacation. I know I will be coming back here as there's far too much to see, even though it's much smaller than Australia (and I'm not itching to come back anytime soon).

Bay of Islands is filled with hundreds of beautiful islands that may be reached by sailboat (my transportation of choice) or yacht. A lot of wealthy people (like the Russian mafia) own land or even whole islands in this area and come here to vacation. Apparently Tom Cruise stays at a resort called Eagle's Nest (no it's not Hitler's hideout) where it's something like $15,000 (NZD) a night. Why not move here Mr. Cruise? This morning I went parasailing above the harbor and I have to say, it's much different from sky diving as you're floating at the same height for quite some time (12 minutes). It was not as chilly as I thought it would be and it was a nice way of seeing the gorgeous harbor below me.

I am now headed for Hamilton which is an hour northeast of Waitomo Caves. I'm planning on going caving in the glow worm caves (plumb full of glowing secretions produced by the worms to lure their prey to them). Although my time in New Zealand is short, I am making the most of it by treating every day as a new adventure (I don't have time to sunbathe and walk about unless I'm trekking (or tramping as they say here)) so I can see more of the country.

First time sailing (my boat was named "She's a Lady") and I loved it! It's a great excuse to be on the water and it's a bit counterintuitive (when the boat was leaning a certain way (which is scary!) you keep turning towards that direction)

​Goldenrod colored flowers, lush green grass (the greenest), amazing mountains and hills in the background. The things dreams are made of, all in a Kiwi's backyard. 

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27/08/2016-morning


I have spent the last week in Byron Bay and Sydney. I can honestly say Byron Bay was one of my favorite cities on my trip, which shocks me because so far I hadn't really been enjoying Australia as a backpacker. After finishing the East Coast and seeing many of the popular backpacking sites, I truly feel that Australia is best seen from a camper van or a vehicle you can use to see the country from. It's stressful taking long bus rides, yes, but it is even more stressful being stuck in a sordid hostel plumb full of young 20 year olds who have no education or desire to do something with their future. Of course that's not true of all hostel goers in Australia, but an overwhelmingly large amount of them don't seem to have any plans aside from getting piss drunk on goon every night or meeting likeminded individuals. They don't clean up after themselves in the kitchen and they don't have any care in the world aside from taking "adorable" snapchat selfies with obnoxious filters and living off instant noodles and working shit jobs for a "life-changing experience". I get it, you might have just left high school and don't know what you want to do with your life yet, so you chose to come to Australia and work for a year or two, in a grimy hostel or working construction. Fine. But there's people in their 30s that have no idea what they want for their future aside from partying and twerking to loud club music and drinking cheap shit beer. I miss living in hostels where people care about the local culture or history of a place and are respectful to their neighbors.

Anywho, Byron Bay was awesome! It actually happens to be the city Chris Hemsworth and his family currently live in (I was drinking a beer and admiring the sunny weather as I looked this up on Wikipedia). I stayed at YHA hostel, which was run by an awesome Italian expat (she told me about the government corruption and mafia oligarchy back home) who was now on her 4th year and getting ready to apply for citizenship. How cool! I went up to Nimbin one day with an awesome Kiwi hippy bus driver, who played awesome music like The Beatles and The Grateful Dead. Nimbin is a pro-marijuana town that is a bit excessively free for my tastes. It was cool to see such a different culture though, and it was definitely nothing like the hippiness of Colorado or Christianshavn in Copenhagen. The next day I had the pleasure of walking around town and grabbing some delicious coffee and brunch (I had a sausage roll and while I don't love meat, it was damn tasty because they put beet jus, maple syrup, bacon, and a doughnut bun on it). I also got to walk the main beach where I had my surf lesson the following morning. At sunset, I watched as windsurfers expertly maneuvered their boards through the choppy and unrelenting waves and landed crazy jumps several feet in the air. Oof. I gotta try windsurfing someday!

Surfing was fantastic as my instructor was the most sarcastic, sassy, crotchety older Aussie ever. He has been teaching surfing for decades and his passion for living in Byron Bay really shows through his comments on how to approach waves. As we quickly hopped on our boards at the "nose mark" and crouched in position, he told us which waves to go for and how many paddles we needed before we stood up. I find surfing to be quite challenging, as you have to be physically fit (my deltoids and biceps were so sore!) and carefully calculate the moment you go for a wave. You can't just hop up on your board, either. You have to keep your eyes forward (just as if you're riding a horse, your eyes follow where you go), but maneuver your hands around the board until you're ready to push off on both legs. I loved it! Of course we didn't go very fast when we did stand up, but it was still good fun.

In Sydney, it was very rainy and foggy. My first day I was soaked to the bone in rain as I walked to the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, which were very anticlimactic. I'm sure when I see the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, it will be the same feeling. I learned a lot about Aboriginal history and culture at the Sydney Museum, as well as the convict upbringing of Australia at the museum located in the original convict barracks. I also did a day trip in Hunter Valley, which is about 3 hours away from Sydney proper. I tried some awesome Rosés, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, among many other wines at three different wineries.

Something crazy happened while I was staying in Sydney...although I have a few libertarian or republican friends back home, absolutely none of them support Donald Trump. I met a Canadian girl who unfortunately was staying in my room that told me all about how much she supports Trump. She said some very ignorant and racist things about Asians, native people, and black people that I refuse to repeat. She essentially said white people need to look out for each other...excuse me?! (*Queue neo-Nazi music*) I couldn't believe my ears. After politely disagreeing with her (I didn't want her to shit on my toothbrush or anything), she got very defensive. Ugh. The rest of my stay she tried to engage me in conversation and I just couldn't bear to be around her and her crazy ass beliefs.

I was happy to leave Sydney, as the weather was crappy and honestly, I didn't find it as nice as other parts of Australia. I will come back for Melbourne one day, but for now, I realize I'm not in the right point of my life to fully enjoy Australia. Once I got to the airport, I found out it was mandatory that I had a flight booked out of New Zealand before I could board my flight (thanks Jetstar for informing me!!!!! 0_o). I immediately booked a flight to Manila (it was unfortunately between traveling to Indonesia or the Philippines, as I'm running out of time before I leave for Europe) with the intention of visiting Cebu and Luzon. I will leave the 13th of September for Manila and that still leaves me with over 2 weeks before I leave Hong Kong for Greece. That means I have about 17 days to enjoy New Zealand, which is perfectly okay given my meager budget. I just need to be back in Asia well before the 28th, so I'm happy to leave the expensive lands of Oceania.

All in all, I miss Asia in a way that I want to come back and spend more time there but I also yearn for Europe, which is a continent I'm more familiar with and approving of. I miss the beautiful, ancient architecture, the delicious, relatively affordable food on every corner (we're not talking about Scandinavia of course!), and the passion for high quality wine, beer, and cocktails. Of course I miss the states, but my trip is flying by so quickly I know I will be home in very little time.


27/08/2016-late afternoon


I just got into Auckland and here are my first observations:

-It has the weirdest rain ever! It's not even sprinkling as there's quite a lot of volume to each droplet but it's so quiet and fast!

-It's dreary like Seattle right now, but it's a very comfortable cold (I'm wearing a fleece and my rain jacket, which is borderline warm enough)

-Auckland is a pretty small city and definitely not impressive but it does have its charm; I like that it isn't as metropolitan as Sydney or Brisbane

-Service people are so nice here and are actually helpful

-I will never live in a shithole. A lot of the hostels I've stayed at are garbage (that's what I get for backpacking for such a long time on a penny pinching budget) and it makes me grateful for all of the decent to nice places I've leased. The carpet is dirty, the walls need painting, the bathrooms sometimes smell like piss, and the rooms look depressing, as if they were borrowed from a David Lynch film. I will never live in a shithole.

-Shopping at the grocery store is so expensive. There are exceptions, of course (fresh bakery items are relatively easy to find and I think cheese is priced fairly (it's about the same if not less than back home)) but overall, I can't imagine how much money would go to food each month. Fruit in particular is very expensive. Americans would be screwed if we didn't have cheap labor picking our fruit, and we should be very grateful for it, considering how far away our fruit and vegetables come from!!!


#goalz In another life, I will come back here to windsurf

Squinting/glaring because I'm so jealous of how awesome those windsurfers above my shoulders are

​I didn't even make it to the famous lighthouse but that doesn't stop me from thinking Byron Bay is one of the most beautiful cities in Australia, at least on the East Coast!

Likes

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