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Top 10 Moments From My Quest to the Seven Continents

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I began and ended this quest in ice…

…from the Arctic north of Alaska to the frozen continent of Antarctica. In between the two poles, I largely ventured in warm, subtropical climates. From the East to the West, the journey from the oceanic islands of the South Pacific all the way through across the Atlantic to the eastern coast of South America was enlightening, spur-of-the-moment, and the most adventurous of all my tales.

After a little more than a year and a half of constant travel, I successfully completed my Quest to the Seven Continents: North America, Oceania (Australia), Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, & Antarctica.

These are the TOP 10 Greatest Moments from that journey around the world. 

 From August 2016—February 2018

#11. Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro  (Honorable Mention).

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I had to include this as an honorable mention because it was just so damn special. Attending New Year’s Eve on the exotic beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been on my ATLAS (bucket list) for years and for good reason; it was truly something remarkable. Coming off the worst hangover of my life (lasting two days!) with a bunch of party-hard backpackers and insane Brazilian locals—I donned in mostly white attire and got silly again with them on on the eve of the New Year. I stood in the shimmering ocean as fireworks were booming and each jump over an incoming wave signaled all the best luck heading into 2018. I was sandy, soaking wet, and buzzed, but on a personal high I haven’t experienced in a long while. Rio delivered to the quest.

(I have yet to publish a post about this moment. Look out for it soon!)

#10. The Gift on the Great Ocean Road

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Some of the best moments are the unexpected ones. A few years ago while backpacking through Laos, I met an Australian traveler by the name of Alison who taught me how to ride a motorbike for the first time. Fast forward to November 2017, I still haven’t seen her since. Knowing she lived on the East Coast of Australia, I contacted her and asked if she was around to reunite for a bit. Unfortunately, she was working on assignment in the Middle East.

However.

Completely out of nowhere, she offered her entire home to me while she was away and encouraged me to bring my friends. It was a vacation style house, an utterly perfect luxury abode sitting right at the start of Australia’s Great Ocean Road. I graciously accepted her generous offer, heeded her advice, and invited a handpicked selection of trusted friends who were around the area along. To say our weekend there was a blast would be an understatement. Even more amazing, was the fact that this woman, Alison, whom I’ve only met once in a random country years ago, trusted me with her home. I took great care of it and still plan to one day return the very generous favor to her in some way. This was a very unexpected, yet appreciated compliment to my quest.

 

#9. Diving With Bull Sharks

Bull Sharks in Beqa Island, Fiji while Scuba Diving

The only thing I wanted to do in Fiji was scuba dive with bull sharks. I got the opportunity on my first day there when a group of scuba divers at a beach house I was staying at randomly asked if I wanted to join on a shark dive the next day. What luck! You would think seeing a gang of ferocious sharks underwater, just a few meters away from you would be terrifying, but not in this case. It was thoroughly mesmerizing in every way. I did three more shark dives in Fiji after that one. One of my most desired travel dreams was accomplished very early in the quest.

 

#8. Finding A Needle In a Haystack (My Lost Passport in Ukraine)

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This can also count as one of my most tense moments during the quest. The lengths I went through to find my lost passport to get out of Ukraine is nothing I will ever just shrug off. The complete language barrier, the bizarre police rides, the mysterious messages from Russian women, the apartment complex puzzle-solving, and of course, the shady man in the trench coat who tried to kidnap me in his alleyway vehicle…I still give myself a gratifying pat on the back for a triumphant ending. When I nearly gave up hope, I miraculously found my passport and was able to leave Ukraine in the nick of time. This quest was not without its trials and this is one unforgettable example of that.

 

#7. Summiting Annapurna Basecamp

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The Himalayas are perhaps the most fearsome mountain range in the world and I wanted to trek it. Not Mount Everest though, I’m not ready for that yet. Instead, I opted for its smaller-scale neighbor, Annapurna Basecamp. A buddy and I trekked up through vivid scenery for nine days until we peaked at 4,190 meters in the cool snow with relative ease. Annapurna Basecamp is the second highest climb I’ve ever done (Kilimanjaro is the first) and the highest summit I’ve conquered on this particular quest.

 

#6. Lost in Indian Mountains During Christmas

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I was sitting in a hostel in Mumbai minding my own business until a local Indian man came up to me and asked if I wanted to hike Fort Torne with him and his friend on Christmas Eve, which was just a day later. I gave an immediate “yes”. Fort Torne was a small mountain range just a few hours bus-ride east of Mumbai where tourists don’t usually go. We left late in the evening and had to sleep on the concrete floor in a small temple at the base of the mountain to avoid wild leopards during their primal hours. We got lost in the pitch black during the hike up which resulted in us sleeping on a random villager’s stack of hay we stumbled across, alongside a stray dog who kept us company the entire night; all while keeping watch of any looming leopards. The next morning, we found our way through Fort Torne. I wanted to do something unique for Christmas, but never could I have expected this. This would have been my favorite Christmas ever, but the Christmas of 1998 still reigns supreme—the year I received a Nintendo 64.

 

#5. Sparking The Most Colorful War On Sarangkot Mountain

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I just so happened to be in Nepal during their Holi Festival. A holiday where everyone celebrates life by throwing colored powder at each other among other traditions like shooting water guns and lobbing water balloons at everyone. Once I found this out, the child in me came all out. I bought a ridiculous amount of colors and water guns, bazookas, balloons, and even silly string and snow spray. I was completely ready to wreak the most colorful havoc on my village and they were prepared as well. It was me versus nearly the entire lot of kids in the area in what was the most polychromatic, rainbow war that I’ll ever participate in…at least until next time when I exact revenge. They completely destroyed me. On that day, Holi Festival became one of my new favorite holidays I was fortunate to experience for the first time ever during this quest.

 

#4. Walking 500 Miles Across Spain

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A friend in Manchester told me about El Camino de Santiago; an 800-kilometer pilgrimage from the France border across most of northern Spain. Many do it for religious reasons. Others do it to find themselves. I did it solely for the challenge. On the way, I met an eclectic range of personalities while walking through whatever the camino threw at me: villages, mountains, highways, forests, cities, farms, grasslands, and the nefarious Meseta region, a hot and dry portion that required all of my mental prowess all while eating rock-hard bocadillos every single day. I completed the camino in 32 days along with the group I met along the way. It was a gracious feeling knowing I could achieve such a major accomplishment to close out the European portion of the quest.

 

#3. Creating The League of Extraordinary Events

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The idea of removing three of my American friends from their normal everyday lives and throwing them into one of the biggest unexpected twists of their lives sounded like complete brilliance. For months, they were certain I was taking them on a special road trip down to Florida. Instead, I pulled the rug right from under their feet by flying them out to Alaska and then immediately to Hawaii to participate in eight extraordinary events and activities I’ve been planning for months. Little did they know that the unknown events involved sharks, icebergs, mountains, booze, ATV’s, rapids, oceans, and so much more. This extraordinary feat kicked off my quest around the world.

 

#2. Voyage To Antarctica

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Learning how to sail the Europa, a tall Dutch ship across the infamous Drake’s Passage into the icy wonderland that is Antarctica is arguably my greatest adventure of all time! I’ll never forget stepping foot onto the continent for the very first time, completing the short, yet arduous list of the world’s seven. Over the span of 22 days, I learned the basics of sailing and became a crew member for the Bark Europa vessel. Add on the abundance of wildlife, mountainous glaciers, icebergs taller than skyscrapers, the nights of unavoidable sea seasickness, and the natural beauty beheld…the voyage to Antarctica was truly the ultimate pinnacle of my entire quest.

(I have yet to publish a post about this moment. Look out for it soon!)

 

#1. Nepal

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It was the most heartwarming decision I made on this quest.

The only reason I went back was to fulfill a promise I made two years ago to the class nine students; to take them on a field trip, fully funded by me. If it weren’t for that sole purpose, I probably would have never returned, but I’m so glad I did.

I kept that promise and took that same class, plus a couple other classes on a special trip, but what I didn’t expect was to gain a family while I stayed in the villages in Sarangkot Mountain. I got to know my host families much better this time around and in the process created an unbreakable bond with the people there. I gained a few new “brothers” and never once did I feel like a tourist. I stayed for three months, much longer than I anticipated, and even returned for two more months, just a short time later. I felt completely at peace.

The family foremost culture in Nepal is something I don’t really have back home, I hate to admit.  I always think about the country and how it’s now one of my absolute most favorite places in the world. I already am looking forward to my near future trips to see my “family” and friends there once again. My newfound love for Nepal was the best gift this quest presented me.


 

Here are some other interesting numbers:

-I visited 26 countries during this quest. Not including airport layovers and transfers. 8 of them are ones I’ve been to before.

-I spent the most time in Nepal (5 months total), which also means I spent the longest time in Asia out of all the continents.

-Not counting being home, I spent the shortest amount of time in North America out of all the continents.

-The longest consecutive time I went without any internet is 22 days.

-I flew on 36 different flights around the world (not yet counting the ones taking me back to Michigan)

-I spent 35 consecutive days without eating meat.

-Out of all of my travels, I’ve been sick the least amount of times during this trip. Only a 24 hour flu and a brief stomach bug. Both occurring in Nepal.

-The absolute worst hangover in my life occurred in Brazil. (Lasted for two days.)

-I learned to say basic phrases in 6 new languages. (Hello, Thank you, Please, Excuse me, etc)

-I held 6 different phone numbers total during this quest.

-I’ve driven a vehicle in 6 countries during the quest. Only one of them was on the right side of the road.

-Around month number 9 is when I first began to feel travel fatigue.

-I always accidentally receive some sort of semi-permanent scar on my body from a trip. With this quest, I came out unscathed.

-I stayed in a total of 104 different hostels, hotels, lodges, and airbnbs. A bulk of this is from the camino in Spain. This doesn’t include homestays, volunteer houses, and friends homes.

-I vomited in 3 different countries during this quest: Poland (intoxicated), Brazil (very intoxicated), and Antarctica (seasickness) (I’m also counting that as a country).

-“Despacito” and “Shape of You” are by far the two most popular songs I’ve heard during most of the quest in many countries.

-The highest altitude (without flying) during this quest was 4,190m (Annapurna).


 

And now my watch quest has ended.

What could possibly be next? I have no clue. But, I still have a bucket list to complete…

 

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All The Reasons Why South Africa Is The Perfect Place To Wine

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Western Cape, South Africa is the Shangri-La of all things wine. The Garden of Eden of wine.  The absolute nirvana of wine ecstasy.

Not to discredit world-renowned wine capitals such as France, Italy, Spain or any others, but everyone already knows how distinguished and prized they are, unlike the hidden gem and severely underrated wine region of Western Cape, specifically in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.  South Africa is the underdog in the world of all things wine and now, more and more people are discovering just how impressive it truly is. If you’re a complete wine enthusiast or love wine even just a little bit, treat yourself and get down to Western Cape for a truly pleasurable experience.

Here’s why:

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South Africa is one of my favorite countries because of how stunning it is. Oceans, mountains, rivers, valleys, lakes, forests, deserts, vineyards–it’s all here in one relatively small pocket of the world. Each winery I visited in Western Cape (I lost count) was complemented by mother nature during her finest.

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Even my Airbnb in Franschhoek was surrounded by acres of beautiful vineyards and mountainous backdrops.

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What did I do to deserve all of this?

imagesMore Accessible Than Ever

Western Cape presents to you more options than ever to get your wine game going strong. Private shuttles, Ubers, cabs, trains, trams, wine buses, bicycles, and even Segways are at your service when it comes to getting around. My favorite option was the trams and wine trains in Franschhoek which normally requires a reservation.

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In many cases, you don’t have to book a tour in advance. On two occasions, we walked right up to a tourist information center in Stellenbosch and enquired about a wine tour to go on there and now. Soon enough, a knowledgeable driver arrived to chauffeur us around. On another occasion, we simply had different Uber’s take us around to the random wineries we chose on our maps. On another occasion, we took a series of Hop-on, Hop-off buses in Franschhoek to a few wineries. Getting around safely and responsibly was never an issue.

imagesThe Unbeatable Pairings

Sure, wines are known to be carefully paired with select cheeses and chocolates, but where else in the world can you have your wine paired with biltong?

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Biltong is basically South Africa’s unique version of beef jerky. Though the biltong here can be made up of some of the most interesting game meats–from springbok to kudu and even ostrich. They all pair quite well with your reds.

Besides the biltong, you have your go-to pairings of favored cheeses, chocolates, sweets, and other nicknacks all available to your liking.

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imagesYou Will Meet Some Fantastic People

Wine tours attract thirsty people from all around the world who enjoy divulging in the finer things in life. In this case, wine. And in my experience, wine people are happy people. You’re bound to meet others who share in your wine commonality. I met a group of frat-like Dutch dudes who joined in on a custom tour and on another occasion, I accompanied a group of beautiful ladies on a special birthday wine tour that they thoroughly enjoyed.

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imagesThere’s No Better Place To Discover Pinotage

Did you know South Africa has their own varietal of red wine they invented? It’s called Pinotage and there is no better place in the world to try it. It’s a red blend: Pinot noir and Hermitage, hence PINO TAGE. Western Cape offers that and every other varietal you can imagine. As a special bonus, South Africa also offers some of the finest selection of Brandy in the world!

 

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imagesIt’s Conveniently Affordable

I’ve been to South Africa a handful of times over the past five years and have been able to go on SO many wine excursions because of how affordable they are. At one of my favorite vendors, Muratie, I even shipped a few bottles back home to Michigan right there on the spot. As of this post, the US dollar is doing well in South Africa, which means more to spend on your favorite Cabernet or Sauvignon blanc.

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I found a tour that shuttled you roundtrip from Cape Town and included six different wineries with five tastings at each winery and lunch included for R800 which translates to about $65 USD. Quality pricing!

imagesThere’s More Than Just Wine

Another thing that’s great about the wine region here is that there is an abundance of other things to do during your wine day. There are tons of exceptional restaurants and bars, shops and cafe’s, malls and theaters. There was even an instance where a friend and I went to a champagne tasting at the House of J.C. LeROUX and then immediately after went to go play with monkeys in a conservation outreach nearby!

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imagesTips To Make The Best of Your Wine Excursion

  • The wineries in Western Cape are open year round but the best time to visit is during the late spring and summer when the weather is ideal. Remember that the summer in South Africa is in the December to February months.
  • Many wineries, especially in Stellenbosch, close earlier on Saturdays for some reason. Some as early as noon! For that reason, Fridays are the most popular days for wine tours.
  • However, there are a couple exceptional outdoor food markets in Stellenbosch that are only open on Saturdays. Root 44 and the Slow Market in Stellenbosch are the two most popular. There they serve lots of fresh and delicious food in addition to great wines. Beginning there on a Saturday morning is never a bad idea!
  • The birthday girl in one of my wine groups got lots of free samples and larger pours when she told our wine hosts it was her birthday. Hint hint 🙂
  • Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are home to an insane amount of different wineries and I have yet been to a bad one. You should have no trouble finding any as they are all relatively in close proximity to each other.
  • Pace yourself. You’ll be surprised just how fast the wine creeps up on you.
  • There are many other wineries outside of the neighboring towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but these two places have the most wineries by far.
  • There are loads of accommodation in Cape Town that cater to wine tours, along with hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Many companies offer direct pickups and returns.

Happy WINEing 🙂

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9 Really Dumb Things I Used To Do During My Travels That I Don’t Do Anymore

I’ve been traveling on a large-scale around the world for the last decade or so. With that, I’ve made plenty of dimwitted mistakes and committed piles of ignorant acts back in my earlier days of exploration. Looking back now—things that make me cringe!

Don’t do what I did.


1. Touch The Boobs

I was persuaded to go to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Bangkok with a couple other backpackers. I didn’t want to because I thought it would be boring, but they kept on insisting. So to make it entertaining for myself, I thought it would be hilarious to fondle many of the wax celebrities and peek underneath their clothes, much to the horror of all the other museum patrons. I was so annoying.

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2.   Climbing Sacred Religious Monuments

I had (and still do have) an urge to climb things that aren’t meant to be climbed on. So when we went to a religious Buddhist park in Laos, I couldn’t resist the itch to climb on all the statues. Even worse, there were monks around praying while I acted like a damn monkey climbing all over the park. The photos I got were amazing, but looking back on it…I was such a dick.

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3.  Run From The Law

Speaking of Laos, it was there where I also ran from the cops to escape a ticket. While riding a motorbike for the first time in my life, I accidentally drove past a red traffic light. An officer on the side of the road (who was on foot) whistled for me to pull over, and so I complied. He asked me a bunch of questions in broken English, in which I pretended I couldn’t understand him. He then asked me to wait a moment. When he went into his office several meters away to get some information, I took off at the speed of light to avoid the ticket. I could have gotten in some SERIOUS trouble if I were caught.

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4.  Hike a Mountain With A Flu

Kilimanjaro was (and is still) the most formidable hike I’ve ever endured in my life! I began the trek with a godawful flu. The hike cost around $1,200, so flu or no flu, I hiked it to get my nonrefundable money’s worth. I was challenging death during summit day. I fainted, passed out, nearly froze to death, and had to be given oxygen from an emergency tank…but I made it! However, it’s a risk I won’t tempt ever again.

5. Jump Into a Tidal Pool of Ferocious Water

Another dumb thing that nearly killed me. I led a group of clueless volunteers to a destination I dubbed as “The Rock”; a gigantic towering boulder about a mile down the Pacific side of Costa Rica’s western coastline. As we trekked, we came across a giant pool of water, with angry waves pummeling against an enormous rock wall. Stupid, dumb me thought that if we swam against the wall, then the waves can’t possibly slam us into said wall. The others told me not to but I didn’t listen. Confident, I jumped in any way and immediately was sucked out into the water and picked up by an oncoming wave, repeatedly slamming my back against the wall! Stupid, dumb me also had a tendency to overpack, so thank goodness that my backpack I was wearing absorbed most of the impact. Also, thank goodness there was a professional rock climber among the volunteers who were able to miraculously grab me and save my life.

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6.  Prebook Random Flights Because It Sounds Like A Good Idea

While at home in Michigan, I had an upcoming three-month long trip all over Africa. I thought that I would break up my Africa trip by booking a flight to Paris for a few days and then return to where I left off. When it came the time in Tanzania to fly to Paris, I couldn’t be bothered with another long plane journey to an expensive city for four days by myself, only to return right back in Tanzania again. So I simply skipped the flight and my hotel in France. That was $1000 I’ll never get back, right down the drain of stupidity.

7. Video Record the Women in the Red Light District

Stupid, naive me thought the Red Light District in Amsterdam was famous because of its cool red lights everywhere, not because of the prostitution and sex-oriented businesses that infamously ran rampant there. So as I strolled through, I had my phone on record, documenting everything I saw, including all of the scantily clad women in the glass windows offering a peep show. So you can understand why I was startled when one of the women suddenly popped out of the window and ordered her security to retrieve my phone. He couldn’t catch me and I still have my video. Won’t try that again though, now that I know what the red lights really mean…

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8. Flash My Stuff Around An African Shanty Town

I already knew better than to do this. I was volunteering at a school in a township in South Africa for a while. I left the school early one day and walked back to my homestay. I felt comfortable enough in the township to listen to my iPod on the way. Minutes later, two lanky, scraggly men approached me and tried to take my iPod from me. I was prepared to fight (they had no visible weapons) and I felt I could take them on. And so, they backed off once they saw that I stood my ground. I got off lucky, but I never flashed any fancy object in any poor township ever again after that.

9. Put My Valuables Underneath a Bus In a Developing Country

This is another instance where I felt “invincible” in a foreign country. While traveling all over Vietnam by bus, I normally kept my carry on bag with my valuables on my person. Well, one day I decided “screw it” and placed my carry-on bag in the undertow of the bus. Later, I discovered my iPhone was missing. I thought I just misplaced it, until I discovered photos on my iPad that were newly synced from my missing phone. Selfies of that dirty bus driver, who obviously swiped my phone from my bag. There was no way of getting it back, as I was long gone in another country. No one to blame but myself…

I tried to find a tenth dumb thing to end this list on a nice, even number, but I couldn’t think of anything substantial. I’m sure I’m guilty of plenty more dumb travel related things…just as you probably are too!

What stupid things have you done on your travels? I wanna know!

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60 Things An American Learned From Living In Nepal

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The cultural wonderland, oceanless nation of Nepal has completely captivated me like no other country has before.

I express it quite a few times in several posts. It’s really got a hold on me–even with its faults. A beautiful country, but also dirty in some aspects. The citizens are friendly, although they like to save face and don’t always tell the whole truth. They may have zany superstitions that some locals will admit, holds them back from progressing, but I still love them for it. It’s gotta be the people, above all else that continues to compel me.

I’ve lived in Nepal (Sarangkot, Pokhara mostly) long enough, on and off over the span of three years. I now feel that I can give solid, personal opinions and facts about what I learned from living there.

60 of them to be exact, off the top of my head:

1. I noticed most Nepali will make a long ‘e’ sound in front of several nouns that begin with the letter ’s’. So instead of simply saying words such as star, spray, or school—many would instead pronounce it as “e-star”. “e-spray”, and “e-school”. Not sure why they do this but I told the students and teachers there to knock it off.

2. On the notion of spelling, Nepalese are HORRIBLE spellers when it comes to English. Take a walk around Kathmandu or Pokhara and I bet you will find a hundred misspellings across their signs, posters, menus, advertisements, etc. But…

3. They have the neatest, cleanest, most satisfying penmanship I have ever seen. They legit could be a new font family.

4. They literally have dal bhat (lentils, vegetables, and rice) for breakfast (or in their case lunch) and dinner, every day of their lives. Thankfully, it tastes amazing!

5. Arranged marriage is still a thing, but it’s not entirely enforced. Speaking of…

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6. It’s common to never have a girlfriend or boyfriend throughout their lives. Many just simply wait to get arranged to someone and then boom–three weeks later, they’re married…

7. …And then it’s custom for newlyweds to dip their feet in a bowl of water, which then immediate family members must come and take a sip from it. Ew! I went to a wedding once, worried I would have to do this. Amish informed me that only immediate family has to do it. Thank the Lord!

8. It’s typical for Nepalese to drink a tiny spoonful of cow urine when they are ill. They don’t do it often, but most of the locals have done it at least once or twice.

9. If you ever visit a village in Nepal, be prepared to have the most tea you’ve ever had in your lives. Usually either black or milk tea. Sometimes ginger tea as well.

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10. Snickers, Oreos, and Kit-Kats are all the rage to Nepalese children.

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11. Nepalese are super friendly, BUT they don’t always tell you the whole truth and I found much left important information out when I needed it.

12. They eat their dal bhat with their hands. It weirded me out at first, but then eventually I preferred using my hands. Weird. Strictly right hands only though. Their left hands are for poopy purposes…catch my drift?

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13. I’ve had many cakes over many different birthdays in Nepal and they all taste the same–damp, spongy, and bland as heck. I always tell them how much their cakes taste like shit compared to most Western countries, but they just have no idea. Most will never know. They look like they taste great, but they never do.

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14. The men (and some women) in Nepal are OBSESSED with Clash of Clans, an app for touchscreen phones. They also got me hooked on it, unfortunately.

15. Everyone has crappy Samsung phones that are always cracked and beaten up.

16. The electricity ALWAYS goes out unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times.

17. Soon after puberty, boys have a special Bratabandha ceremony where they must completely shave their head, except for a small patch on the back, and essentially become men. This means they are now able to get married. I’ve attended three while I was there amongst all of their friends and families. It’s a huge deal.

18. Nepalese constantly wash their feet.

19. Transportation is always a nightmare. Traffic is congested. There’s always construction. There’s always dust. Many roads are unpaved. Since Nepal is a mountainous country, vehicles are constantly twisting and turning, sometimes just inches away from a cliff.

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20. Speaking of construction, constructing anything usually takes freaking FOREVER.

21. It is common for people to pass out sweets to all of their family and friends on their birthday. When my birthday rolled around, I had to pass out sweets to the entire school!

22. Red tikka on your forehead is a sign of a blessing and good luck. Red tikka and rice on your forehead is usually something extra special. Yellow tikka on your forehead means you are mourning the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Women may have a red mark at the top of their forehead which means they are married.

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23. Many children in Pokhara sway back and forth when they are studying. I asked them why they do this but none of them gave me an understandable reason. Some weren’t even aware that they do it. They just do.

24. Most of my sarcasm flew right over their heads. Only the ones that knew me best eventually learned the art of sarcasm.

25. From personal experience, I never worried about any locals mugging me or stealing any of my possessions. As a matter of fact, whenever I lost something, they returned it to me promptly. I didn’t realize I lost my wallet one day until a student ran to my home after school and told me he found it on the road. And there was so much money in there. Very trustworthy people when it comes to personal belongings.

26. Nepalese are generally peaceful people. They usually do their best to avoid any confrontation.

27. I’m friends with a shit ton of Nepalese on Facebook and 80% of them don’t use their real names or their own profile picture. I’m always confused as to who messages me. Also, they always tag me in photos that I’m not even in. My friends at home let me know that they are constantly seeing photos of Nepalese people on their newsfeed because they are always tagging me in them.

28. Flies are an issue during the warmer months, but it didn’t bother anyone as much as it bothered me. So pesky! There were spiders everywhere too, but they were harmless.

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29. Nepalese are ridiculously superstitious. I was once told I couldn’t bring a group of students back home from a trip on a certain day because it was bad luck. I was informed this AS I was already bringing them back home. I brought them back anyway.

30. I’ve noticed that the education isn’t as engaging as many developed countries. A good amount of it is simply just copying and memorizing everything word-for-word.

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31. The Nepalese-English alphabet song is almost identical to the American one, except they repeat the letters “l-m-n-o-p” and “x-y-z” twice throughout the song. I’m still baffled as to why.

32. Everyone always refers to the uncles on their father’s side of the family as “paternal uncle” and the uncles on their mother’s side as just “uncle”. Whereas we in the US refer to both sides as simply “uncle”.

33. They have sooo many holidays/festivals, with Dashain being one of the most auspicious ones. Around 40 of them, with some lasting for several days! They celebrate evvverrrything.

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34. It is super common for Nepali to find “deep” random quotes pertaining to life, in English somewhere from the internet, and then post a photo of themselves on Facebook with that quote as their caption. They all do it. Some prime examples:

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35. Nepal CANNOT do desserts properly. On a side note, there is NOTHING German about their so-called “German Bakeries”. Actual Germans would consider them a true disgrace to their own famous bread bakeries.

36. Teaching a Nepali kid from the mountains how to swim is like teaching a rock how to fly. This requires tons of patience. They are mountaineers, not swimmers.

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37. If a Nepalese considers you a brother or sister in their country, then they usually mean it for life and will make an effort to keep in touch, no matter the distance.

38. Many of the students have long hikes up and down the mountain to get to school six days a week, yet you won’t ever hear them complain about it.

39. Eating off of someone else’s plate is not a thing here and is considered unclean. I once accidentally flicked a single grain of rice from my plate onto little Aakash’s plate and he was completely disgusted and pushed his plate aside.

40. Although many taxi drivers have meters in their cars, most of them will say, “it’s broken” and then you must negotiate a more expensive price than what it should be.

41. It’s fairly common to see babies and toddlers in Nepal with a black dot on their forehead. A black dot on their “third eye” is for protection against evil spirits.

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42. Everyone has really amazing teeth.

43. Normally when I want to show a single photo on my phone to a local, they always proceed to casually take the phone from me and then start going through ALL my photos. Always.

44. Unless you go to a western style accommodation, the shower is never separate from the rest of the bathroom. Thus, when you take a shower, the whole bathroom gets completely soaked.

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45. Nepalese never end a phone conversation properly. They just hang up. No “bye” or “Talk to ya soon”. Just “click”. At least with all of the phone calls I’ve had with them.

46. Many of the students don’t know their birth dates. That’s because they only know it according to their own Hindu calendar that they share with India and not the Gregorian calendar that is widely used internationally. As of this post, it is the year 2074 in Nepal.

47. Nepal and India share a love/hate sibling rivalry type of relationship, very similar to the USA and Canada.

48. It is common for the youngest male child to never leave home, in which they take over once the parents have passed. The daughters traditionally always move into the homes of their new husbands to help tend to the daily housework and taking care of their husbands’ parents. It’s kind of a crappy deal for the women, but its been tradition in Nepal for a long time now. Slowly, that tradition is becoming less of a thing as younger generations continue to break the mold.

49. I am considered a god in Nepal. Guests and visitors to Nepali homes are treated as such.

50. Get used to local prices vs tourist prices, just like many other countries. However, the differences aren’t as ridiculous as they are in India.

51. Nepali “like” EVERYTHING on Facebook. You can post a blurry photo of your armpit and they’ll “like” it.

52. The major touristy parts of Kathmandu and Pokhara are full of cover bands. You’re likely to hear a multitude of bands play the same freaking songs, night after night after night. I don’t ever want to hear “Hotel California” or another Red Hot Chili Peppers song again! Bob Marley gets a pass.

53. Fast wi-fi is not a thing in Nepal.

54. Nepali bob their head sideways when they mean to convey ‘yes’. This confused me for the longest, as I interpreted it as an “Eh…”. Kind of like a shrug. Their side to side head tilt signifies more of an ‘okay’  than a sure-fire ‘yes’. I found myself tilting my head whenever I said yes even after leaving Nepal.

55. I found that Nepali women are generally uncomfortable with shaking the hands of men and to an extent, hugs. Whenever I go for a hug to one of my host mothers, it really is the most awkward thing ever. So now I don’t hug anyone anymore.

56. Nepali kids love Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean.

57. Nepali dancing is similar to India’s Bollywood dancing, except a lot more twirling and arm-flailing. My buddy Caesar and his sister Bindu below!

58. If a local Nepali calls a tourist “fat”, it usually is a good thing. It means you eat well. They don’t mean any disrespect.

59. Cows are their holy God, but the many cows roaming (and sitting) in the streets of Nepal are malnourished and always eating out of the trash on the side of the road. You would think if they were so holy, they would be taken care of a little better… Plus, it’s difficult, for me at least, to tell the difference between their buffalo from their cows.

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60. Apparently, many different songs are played on the local buses, but they all sound exactly the same with what sounds like the same lady or dude singing in each of them. I challenge any foreigner to try to spot the difference.

If anyone, especially anyone from Nepal, would like to add some insight or combat me on any of these, feel free to let me know.

Nepal is far from being the perfect country…

…but it’s perfect to me.

Walking Across Spain (El Camino de Santiago): Week 1

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Why the hell would anyone in their rightful mind want to walk across an entire country?!

Some are doing it for spiritual reasons, some for religious reasons, some just to get away from real life for a moment. As for people like me? I’m doing it solely for the challenge.

It’s called El Camino de Santiago — an 800 kilometer walk from the France/Spain border to nearly the Atlantic coast.

I’ve planned to do this walk since a little over a year ago. A friend from Manchester told me about it—said it was one of the most amazing experiences of her life. It immediately piqued my interest. I’ve never heard of it before and it sounded truly fascinating. Walking 800 kilometers from the France/Spain border to Santiago, a city in Spain, near the Atlantic Coast. I’ve never attempted anything quite like this before. A perfect addition to my quest to the seven continents.

During my quest, I thought very little of the camino. It was still far off and it wasn’t until just a few days before, when I did my research about what to pack.

Things that were recommended to bring, I didn’t have:

  • a sleeping bag
    earplugs
    headlamp
    a few small odds and ends

Things that I did have that I brought:

  • three t-shirts
    a light rain jacket
    a poncho
    trekking shoes
    flip-flops
    a pair of cargo shorts
    two pairs of synthetic pants (they can unzip and become shorts if necessary)
    two pairs of synthetic/wool socks
    one pair of regular cotton socks
    sunglasses
    four pairs of underwear
    a buff
    light travel towel
    my iPhone
    my Canon DSLR

Everything besides the trekking shoes and the electronics were lightweight. My camera was the heaviest.

Thankfully, my darling Lucy had all of that and then-some that she happily lent to me. I left the majority of my belongings with her in England for the time being. Suddenly, my 85-liter backpack weighed about a tenth of my weight; just like the guides recommended. I was now officially a pilgrim! A pilgrim is what us trekkers are referred to during the camino.

But first…

I had to meet a friend and fellow pilgrim in Paris. I went overland through England, across an overnight ferry to France, and trained it to Paris. I settled into a hostel and met my friend Ethan there the next day, who has just flown all the way from North Carolina. I met Ethan last September while volunteering in Fiji. He volunteered with the construction program and we were roommates for the majority of my stay.

Upon first glance, I would describe Ethan as your typical frat guy (he hates when I say that, but that’s the most generic description I could give). He was the dude bro in Fiji that always enjoyed a beer, wanted to party, and more importantly, wanted everyone to party with him. Not a bad person to have in the house. Still, I was nervous having him around for the camino. He and I would be together, 24/7 for about a month! We are bound to butt heads, if not anything worse. Not to mention, we still don’t know each other very well. I was only in Fiji with him for a little over a month. I was set on doing this alone, but when I mentioned I was doing the camino later in the spring, his eyes lit up. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to have a companion.

My new underlying mission alongside this 800 km walk across an entire country:
Don’t Kill Ethan.

We casually walked around Paris before we went for our bus that would be overnighting to Bayonne, in the south of France. At the bus, we randomly met Christina, a girl from Texas. By the way Ethan and I were dressed and geared up, she could tell that we were pilgrims on our way to Spain. Thus, the three of us decided to stick together for a while. Once we arrived in Bayonne, we went to the train station and booked a journey to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, the official starting point of El Camino de Santiago!

We, along with a crap ton of other pilgrims, went to the pilgrim office to receive our special pilgrim passport. With this passport, we would gain access to the many albergues scattered across the entire camino. An albergue is essentially a hostel, but exclusive only to pilgrims. At each albergue, we would get a unique stamp in our passport, as proof that we actually walked the distance.

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I also bought a small journal to keep tabs of my daily observations that I will share with you all here — unedited and from the heart, each followed by my after-thoughts of each day.

17 May
Day 1: St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncevalles (25km)

“Supposedly the hardest day of the hike, because of the ascent (1,400m). Our group of three expanded into six with the addition of Jon (California), Nicolas (Frankfurt), and a girl from Italy (not sure of her name). The day was super scenic, extremely windy, and cool. I felt bad for Christina and carried her heavy bag up most of the way. We arrived before 3pm. Good Day!”

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Yeah, Christina over-packed and so we switched bags for the day. Good exercise. The Pyrenees were stunning. It was extremely breezy, but it helped keep us cool. I heard that this day was one of the hardest days, but I found it to be more enjoyable than anything. I loved that day!

18 May
Day 2: Roncevalles to Zubiri (20km)

“Cold, wet, and gloomy day. Beginning to realize it’s cheaper to get our breakfast and dinners outside the albergue’s, but sometimes we have no choice. Wore my poncho most of the day.”

 

Complete opposite of the day before. It was coooold. We were soaked by the time we reached our destination.

19 May
Day 3: Zubiri to Pamplona (22km)

“Our group of six enjoyed a nice, cool day towards Pamplona. Ethan began to get feet full of blisters, which slowed us down a bit. It’s only day 3 and his feet are already hit! Nic bandaged him up. Our group couldn’t decide whether to stay an extra night in Pamplona. I’m hoping we don’t. We shall see.”

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Pamplona was one of the larger cities during our camino and a pretty extravagant one at that. I didn’t know that this area was famous for the Running of the Bull tradition they hold every year. We had lots of cheap red wine this night.

20 May
Day 4: Pamplona to Puente de Reina (24km)

“Socks didn’t completely dry overnight, so I stayed back while the others went on. Eventually caught up and pressed on. Beginning to realize that I am spending too much. One, because when I’m hungry, I buy lots of food. Two, Ethan always wants to drink and I always give in. Italy quietly left our group. Jon began to blister up. I have been fine thus far, so I hope it remains. Warm, sunny day through cornfields, small villages, and rocky slopes.”

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I washed and hung my clothes to dry the day before, but my wool socks didn’t completely dry overnight. It’s not wise to do long treks in wet socks so I had to improvise; I hung my socks over a toaster oven. It did the trick! I managed to catch up with the others who stopped along the way to wait.

21 May
Day 5: Puente de Reina to Estella (22km)

“My team is starting to physically break down. Ethan’s knees, Christina’s limp, Jon’s feet, and Nic’s illness. Fortunately, I am still completely able, but it’s only the fifth day. Since my pace is naturally a bit quick, I went ahead of the group and reached Estella two hours before they did. I enjoyed walking alone for a change, chatting with other pilgrims along the way. Tomorrow, I will try and walk slower with the others. Hopefully, their conditions don’t worsen. I made the day cheap for us by booking a cheap albergue and cooking dinner.”

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I was already growing tired of having bocadillos (sandwiches) all the time so I took it upon myself to make dinner for the group. Saved money and it’s also great practice for me since I’m no cook. Most albergues have kitchens in them for pilgrims to cook their own food in.

22 May
Day 6: Estella to Torres del Rio (30km)

“Instead of stopping in our planned destination of Los Arcos, we (and many other pilgrims on our route) decided to press on further to Torres del Rio. We heard it was a cheaper, better city…but it really wasn’t. The day started off cool. We saw the public wine fountain and then walked through a cloudless heat. By far the hottest day yet! I stayed with the group most of the way, but walked faster once it grew hotter. Ethan’s knees have gotten worse and is unsure how he’ll perform tomorrow. We suggested that he sends his bags to the next town, to ease the load on his legs. We shall see. Christina quietly fell behind in our group. As of now, it remains just us four guys. However, if injuries persist, then I may be walking alone. So far I am in great shape!”

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I didn’t anticipate the albergues to be able to accommodate so many people! Thank goodness for the ear plugs Lucy gave me. They have worked wonders. The best item I brought with me. But if you forget anything, you can buy your necessities in virtually every big town you come across.

 

23 May
Day 7: Torres del Rio to Logroño (20km)

“Ethan’s knee pain was too unbearable and so he decided to take a taxi to Logroño, while Jon, Nic, and I would continue our walk. An easy 20k day. Once we reached Logroño, Jon opted to stay in a 75 Euro hotel! Nic and I met Ethan at an albergue nearby. His knee wasn’t really getting better, so he decided to rest another day and he will meet us in Santo Domingo via bus in a few days. I’ve been in great shape since the beginning and felt stronger than ever! No blisters, no aches, no pains, or anything. I hope it keeps up! It’s only been a week. Something is bound to happen.”

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The distances indicated for each day are close estimates. If you ask any pilgrim, they will all tell you different answers, but usually they are always around the same ballpark.

Week 1 done. If we continue on this pace, we should reach Santiago in about three more weeks!