Tag Archives: Travel Stories

Sellers Abroad Meets Students Abroad

I just want to point out that the spanish keyboards are pretty confusing. So if there are any weird accent marks anywhere, it’s because I haven’t figured this thing out yet! But anyways…

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With pretty much all of my volunteer housemates gone, it’s just Carly and I now holding down the Olga fort. Usually every week we get a new volunteer or two but this week we came up completely short. I believe the reason is because Olga also rents out to people outside of Maximo Nivel and they’ve been taking up potential space for other Maximo volunteers who are more around my age. The others who have been staying here are generally a lot older and are here solely to study Spanish. They’re nice people but it’s just not the same hanging out with 50 and 60 year olds. Wondering at all if we’re going to get anyone half as awesome as the previous crew we just had, Carly and I still enjoyed the setup we had at Olga’s. From everything we learned the past few weeks, it sounded like our accommodation was the best in many regards. My bed is always made for me everyday. I have my own bathroom, fresh towels and linen every week, and the food Olga prepares for use every day always hits the spot. We’re pampered here. One day during dinner, in walked three guys who looked around my age. Olga said they were students studying abroad. They were actually a few years younger than me. Their names are Nic, Lincoln, and Hayden, all from Indiana, which is very close to where I live in Michigan. The three are here for about a month studying the history of Guatmela, fair trade, and Guatemalan coffee and chocolate. Interesante!

After dinner, Carly, the three new housemates, and I went out into the city to show em` the ropes of Antigua.  We were planning to meet Hanni and her housemates at an Irish pub but weren’ sure which one. We found a pub with a green clover on it and when Carly walked in, she was applauded and cheered by all the women sitting at the rail. But when I walked in, I was booed and gestured to get the heck out! So out I went, a little baffled by what just happened. Why would they boo me out? Carly went back in with more applause and cheers and I went back in to more boos and sneers…just to make sure I was hearing correctly. I noticed everyone in the bar was a woman. “Is this a lesbian bar or something?” I asked them. One of the women pointed to a sign that was hanging by the door that depicted a picture of male genitalia with a huge red ¨x¨ on it. It made sense now. We immediately left and found the correct Irish pub just down the street where we met Hanni and the others. The next night, Nic, Hayden, Lincoln, and I went to Monoloco and sat at the bar. The bartender offered a challenge to the bar guests. Whoever can shoot the most plush basketballs into the hoop behind the bar would win a pot of money. The pot of money was ten quetzales that everyone who participated threw in. Nic and Lincoln easily, EASILY, whooped all the Guatemalan locals. But when it came down to just the two of them, Lincoln walked with the win and the pot of a little more than 100 quetzales. 100 quetzales is only about $13 USD so it wasn’t much, but here in Guatemala, $13 can stretch a lot further. Currently, they are considering coming back here often to hustle the locals each week, in which I think is a great idea!

Lincoln with the winning shot.
Lincoln with the winning shot.

School Days

Johnathan told me there were two new volunteer teachers joining me today. Ben (Australia) and Ron (NY, USA). Ben´s a swimming coach back home and Ron is retired and has just been doing some travelling. Johnathan asked that since they were new, that today in school they would be observing me and the structure of the classes. I told them that tomorrow, since the classes have been growing in size, we will split them up. I´d take three classes while they would split one. Even though Ben`s never taught English before, I was fully confident in his ability to do so based on his coaching experience. Ron´s a whole other story though. Nice guy, means well, but he´s a bit on the odd side. One day when I let Ron have a whole class for himself, I walked in to check on him and I heard him telling the younger class that his dog was dead. He then asked them if they had any dead dogs. What the heck are you teaching them man? Ben on the other hand was really great with his kids and didn`t need any help from me whatsoever. Ron told me he had difficulty because he wasn`t sure what to teach them or what to do with them at times. Poor kids would beg me to please comeback to them whenever I came near. As much as I wanted to, I needed Ron to get some experience because he was going to be doing this for eight weeks. It takes a few classes for a teacher to adjust and find their groove.

New volunteer Ben teaching body parts.
New volunteer Ben teaching body parts.

Cerro de la Cruz

The Hoosiers at my house are studying abroad so they´re a bit really restricted as far as free time, especially over the weekends. Their professors plan everything for them, whether they like it or not. They also have to do homework assignments and report to classes everyday. I cringe every time I hear that. I´m a free bird here, besides the teaching thing. They came with a group of students with the three of them being the only males, so they were put into my house, on the opposite side of Antigua away from the other students and professors from their college. It´s probably the best thing that could have happened for them. We have the best homestay and Carly and I were here to made sure they had a great time outside of their normal school activites by introducing them to our group of volunteers spread across Antigua.  But unfortunately, it was Carly´s last night in Antigua, so we all went out to a nice restaurant called Casa Blanca for dinner. Carina (Wisconsin, USA), another volunteer we met joined us. She’s also pretty awesome.

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Left side: Nic, Carina, Carly. Right side: Me, Lincoln, Hayden.

Normally, when I’m travelling, I always meet other travellers who we can all relate with, by sharing our stories and current plans with one another. I’ve never met a group of students from my country, a good chunk of them being their first time outside of the USA during my travels though. I do notice the difference. Everything they see here is weird, different and amazes them while I was mostly unphased. I’ve been spoiled. My tolerance for the ‘strange’ has grown tremendously over the years. The students, especially Nic, were baffled when I told them I’ve been travelling since July going to pretty much any random country I felt like at the time and have been doing it for a few years now. I got the same questions I usually get when I’m at home, most of them beginning with the word “How?”.

We went around town for a bit more that night in celebration of Carly who had just about enough. She passed out at one of the lounges we went to.

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The next morning, Carly, Hayden, Nic, Lincoln, and I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to go hike Cerro de la Cruz. Hayden came up with the idea and we thought it would be great for everyone to go. I knew the way there and led the pack in the chilly midst of morning. It’s not a long hike at all. It took about a half hour total to walk to the north of Antigua and up the flight of steps to the viewpoint looking over the city.

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We stayed up there for about a half hour while the sun rose and the city came alive. At the view point, we met up with a couple of other volunteers from the Shekina house who were already up there.

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When we went back home, the guys went to school and Carly and I hung out a little before we said our goodbyes “see you later’s”. That was the end of one really great group of volunteers. Jacob, Katie, Uma, Mark, Marco, Valerio, Ellie, Laura, and Carly. Thankfully now, the students were here and I wasn’t stuck in an elderly home by myself. I am also in the stages of planning a new expedition–my biggest one since Kilimanjaro. Up one of the largest, most active volcanoes in this region: Acatenango. It’s about a thousand meters or so smaller than my old pal Kili, but altitude sickness still happens there and I know all too well that altitude sickness is not my friend.

Acatenango is the big one in the backdrop.
Acatenango is the big one in the backdrop.

I’ll update about all this later!

A Guatemalan New Year’s!

The end of 2014 marks the end of another year of worldy travels, but I’m not stopping now! I’m continuing well into the new year, a first for me. I’ve never spent the New Year holidays outside of Michigan and to celebrate the occasion, I wanted to go balls to the wall in Antigua with my comrades here in Guatemala!

I’ve heard Antigua is a pretty special place to celebrate the dawn of 2015. Everyone gathers around the central park and underneath the arch in hordes and bunches. The plan was to spend the night with a nice dinner somewhere and then hit up the squares and see where the night takes us. My housemates Carly, Laura, and Ellie along with Hanni and Abby (Chicago, USA) from the Shakina volunteer house joined me for dinner at a place called Luna de Miel. Before we left the house, Olga warned me to watch out for pickpockets and thieves since this is the night if anything should happen. I brought my big bad Nikon which Olga advised against, but I always protect my camera is if it were my child. I also need it for blogging purposes. At Luna de Miel, we sat upstairs and ordered up a feast. I was feeling fancy, so I stuck with vino tinto (red wine) for a good majority of the night. After a bit, I asked the ladies to say something about their year that they were the proudest of; a moment or something that will stick with them about 2014. They each had some pretty neat things to say, all of them completely different.

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For me? I told them how lucky, fortunate, privileged, and blessed I am to be able to travel the world nonstop on a yearly basis with 2014 being my biggest adventure yet. The stars have aligned perfectly for me to be able to do this and 2014 was another terrific year that bid me well in those regards. I can’t take all my friends and family back home with me on these amazing trips, but the least I can do is share my stories and photos with them through this blog site.

After dinner, we went straight to Jungle Party, a hip hostel bar kind of place with swings at the rail in place of stools. It’s also the place with the cheapest beers that we’ve found so far. The bartenders here are really cool and pretty generous. They hit us up with multiple free shots!

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Cheers to 2014!
Cheers to 2014!

I always mention how I don’t like to talk about our drunken antics on this site, but psshhh…it’s New Year’s!

Carly, Abby, and I at the Jungle Party.
Carly, Abby, and I at the Jungle Party.

At the Jungle Party we met up with a few other volunteers and hit the streets. It was jam packed!

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I knew what Olga meant when she said this was the night of the pickpockets. I was on heavy guard though and thankfully I made it through the entire night with all of my valuables. Hanni, Abby, and I went over to Monoloco to meet up with a few locals who also gave us more free drinks. Beer this time. Antigua you’re too kind! It was about twenty minutes before midnight when we decided we should go near the arch and countdown to midnight. We found Jacob, who came back to Antigua for a visit, and somehow found the others as well and found the perfect spot in front of the fire explosives. As the time ticked closer to midnight, fireworks would go off behind us and all around us from all corners. I had a tube of confetti in my right pocket that was filled with compressed air that I blasted into the crowd!

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Ten seconds! Five…four…three…two…one!……..Nothing happened. Maybe Guatemala’s watch was a minute or two off. Twelve minutes went by, past midnight, until suddenly the New Year’s explosive sign lit and finally went off!

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The crowd was going wild and everyone held their smartphones and cameras up to capture all the action. We were squished arm to arm in the masses of locals and foreigners from all over the world and it was pretty great! The sparks flew and died down after several minutes.

“Let’s go to Parque Central!” I shouted as I pointed in the direction.

We grabbed each other so we wouldn’t get separated and slowly inched our way there. I had sparklers in my left pocket I had bought earlier that I wanted everyone to have and get silly with.

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The mood was just right. We had our sparklers as people around lit stuff on fire and set them into the air. One group had a miniature hot air balloon that they lit into flames and set into the air. However IMG_7430the balloon didn’t go very far and almost sailed right into our group. Kids threw their snappers  into the ground as other locals set off miniature fireworks in the park. There was cups and bottles of beer littered all over the cobblestone streets with people relaxed and perched on the corners of the museums and churches surrounding the square. Dozens and dozens of stray dogs were roaming between everyone, maybe looking for scraps of food or maybe just excited from all the exploding objects that were going off. There were people everywhere dancing and mingling. Everyone was having a great time!

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A few of us went to another bar somewhere near the arch street. At this point, my memory was a little fuzzy so I don’t remember the name of the place or where exactly it was or what time it was. I do remember someone had bought us another shot there. The rule is you can’t refuse a free shot. Abided.

I had the severe munchies.

“I want McDonalds,” I told Hanni. It sounded like a great idea but only if it were open. A few of us left the bar and straggled to the only McDonalds in Antigua. There were still masses of people roaming the street. Bad news was, we could see McDonald’s in the distance…dark, lonely, and absolutely closed. Good news, there was a Burger King right across from us that was completely open! That should do. It was the best Burger King of my life!

I think I got home just a little after 3:30 in the morning. I’ve lost my housemates ages ago and had to walk home by myself. Even though I had a few drinks in me, I was still cautious and aware of my surroundings if anyone had tried to mug me. I got home safe and sound and instantly passed out. I had no idea if the others were home or not yet.

I woke up the next morning with a text from Hanni that she sent when I fell asleep:

“Not even remotely sleepy… Going to hike Cero to see the city at night, want to come? :-P”

Crazy woman. I would have joined though.  🙂

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Bus Trip to No Where

Have you ever been in a torture chamber for almost 12 hours straight?

No?

Well I have. In the form of a packed minibus over hellish roads. To me, it’s equivalent to torture and this was by far the worst ride on wheels ever, all thinks to my stupid ultra sensitive stomach that churns over anything that induces sloppy motion. That really is the only reason. But more so than that, I felt really bad for the kids.

It began with a letter. During first period of classes, a student from grade 8 handed me a personally written letter on behalf of grades 5,6,7,8, and 9 to join them on an educational field trip on an upcoming Thursday. The letter also asked if I could also support them financially, since most of the students families here are poor and can barely afford to pay for their child’s education.

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“Of course I’ll come,” I told them, much to their excitement. “But how much does the trip cost?”

They didn’t know the answer. It depended on how much me and the other volunteers chipped in.

I’m glad to help these kids financially but there’s no way I can pay for every single kid! I’d have to ask Aatma more about it.

Later that day, I asked Aatma how much the entire trip costs. He said $700 including the transportation, food, and admission costs. Each student would have to pay 700 rupees which equals to roughly $7.

“Where are we going?” I asked him.

Aatma speaks so-so English but still his accent is really tough and a lot of the time it’s hard to understand him. So with whatever he responded to me with, I just nodded and smiled. I’ll just ask the grade 9 students again tomorrow. They know everything about everything that goes on in this village.

Around that same time we also met a new volunteer who would be living with us at our home. Her name is Zara (Australia) and she is gonna be here for quite a while. Tim, Emre, and I decided we’d each donate $60 to lower the cost for each student. Now instead of them paying 700 rupees, they each had to now pay 500 ($5).

Upon the news that all the volunteer teachers were attending and each student now only had to pay 500 rupees, still some of the students couldn’t afford to go! I asked grade 9 exactly where we would all go. It turns out this trip is a five hour bus ride to a village called Lamja to walk around and look at temples and stuff and then another five hours back to Pokhara. Instantly I thought, “That sounds like the worst trip ever!” All because of that bus ride. Ten hours on these are sure to kill me. When they told me that, I think my face said it all but I reassured them that I would go anyways only because it would make them very happy. Besides, these kids are great.
Since this was grade nine’s last opportunity to go on a trip before they moved onto high school, I decided I would pay for the ones who couldn’t afford it. That made them really happy!

They only get to go on a field trip like this once a year so this was a big deal for them. I’ll just have to bring along a few motion sickness tablets and I should be alright.

The night before the big trip, my roommates and I, met up with Jess and Natacha and hiked up to Sarangkot that night. Sarangkot is the highest point of the mountain we live on and most people stay up here to watch the sunrise or sunset. It was Thanksgiving back home in America, the first Thanksgiving where I’m not home, so I wanted to do something special. We all feasted on pizza, pasta, and international wines at the top! But we couldn’t stay up long. The sun would rise around 6am and then we would have to hightail it down to the school to meet with everyone around 7am.

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Early that morning, we went up to the viewpoint where Alexis, Billy, and Mats (Sweden or Switzerland…I don’t remember which one of those he’s from) joined up with us. The day began to show and all we could see were clouds. The clouds blocked the sun from showing itself, stealing the view away from us.

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I should have taken that as a bad an omen of things to come. We decided we shouldn’t wait any longer and so we hightailed it back to down to the school. I slipped and fell a few times because of all the grass dew, but I got up unscathed, just a little wet.

We made it down in an impressive 14 minutes and saw all of the students and teachers waiting around. I barely recognized some of these students out of their uniform. All of them dressed like they were going to a club or something. All the girls were dolled up with make-up, purses galore, and shoes that looked like it hurt to walk in. The boys had on loose fitting baseball caps, jumbo sneakers and jackets, and gave off an aura of “swag” that they didn’t have when dressed in their normal school outfits. My hunch was that these students wore their best clothes for this occasion. To look their best in front of their peers on a special trip outside of the village that doesn’t happen very often. This trip was a bigger deal than I thought.

I bought some water at the small store there and took a tablet. This was a new tablet I bought in Pokhara so I wasn’t sure how it would work. The guy I bought it from told me to take it an hour in advance. Almost five minutes afterwards, grade nine eagerly waved for me to come on the bus with them.

“We’re leaving already?” I asked them.

“No,” said Kanchan, one of the students. “We’re just going to pick up a few students up the mountain so they don’t have to walk.”

It’s a bad idea if you don’t give the tablets enough time to settle. It’s also a bad idea to ride on an empty stomach. But still I thought a short bus ride to pick up the remaining students would be okay. Besides, they shouldn’t live that far away.

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Let me remind you, that the roads on this mountain aren’t roads. They are more like obstacle courses for motocross bikes. Take Thor’s hammer and destroy the street in front of your house to smithereens. That is what the roads on this mountain is like. There was only a few of us in the bus. Everyone else stayed behind at the school because we weren’t actually leaving for the trip yet. It took about 15 minutes until we finally gathered another group of kids in the bus. Man, they have a hike to get to school. Soon after, I already started to feel it. My head and stomach were not agreeing with me and we haven’t even left for the trip yet! My instincts were telling me, as soon as I get back to the school, to tell everyone that I am staying behind because I was feeling nauseous but at the same time I did not want to disappoint these students, especially grade nine. They really wanted me to go. So upon returning to the school, I didn’t say anything. I’m gonna suck it up.

I regretted that decision almost immediately.

We had two minibuses. “How in the heck are we all going to fit in these? We had about 60+ students, all the teachers, and then us four volunteers. It was crammed. There were three or four students per seat. No one was able to sit comfortably. Either my legs were dangling over the side of the seat or I had a child on my lap. Either way, this was going to be hell on wheels. Do it for the kids Dan.

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Just as I feared, the way down the mountain peeled me over. Some of the students saw how I was feeling and offered me candy and sweets. Bless their little hearts. I accepted the candy to their approval but kept it for later. The candy in Nepal is a lot different from the candy back home. And when I say different, what I mean is it tastes like $h!t. I put the candy in my bag and decided to lay down on the aisle floor of the bus. It was extremely dusty and dirty but it was a tad more comfortable than sitting halfway on a seat. The students behind me brought a speaker box on the bus and blasted Nepali techno music for awhile, belting out tunes at the top of their lungs. If I said I enjoyed it then that would be a lie. Do it for the kids Dan.

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After a couple of hours of torture and on the verge of vomiting, we finally arrived at a rest stop where the kids could get brunch. I needed to eat. For people with bad motion sickness, it’s not wise to travel on an empty stomach, not should you stuff yourself. Studies suggest not to eat greasy foods though, that can make it worse. The lunches the kids and adults were served here was more like a snack. A giant fried potato snack and I don’t even know what the heck the other thing was. The volunteers finished in two bites. But the kids seemed satisfied and thats what mattered most. I’d just have to grin and bare it. Back on the bus!

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This time, I went on the other bus to escape the loud music and singing. I snagged a seat up front where I shared with two other students. Milan, a student from grade 8, brought the speaker box onto my bus and continued the music and singing here.
Why haven’t my tablets kicked in yet? If it did then, these tablets must be really low strength. I closed my eyes to avoid looking out the window for the next couple of hours. The bus went through a town called Lamji which was great because soon enough we’d be in that village and I’d be on foot for awhile to recover. Our buses drove through and as we did, we were waved my men dressed in military camo who were waving us to park at their station. What gives? As the teachers all went outside to speak to the officers, the rest of us were instructed not to leave the bus. After about 40 minutes, on of the teachers told me that the school was fined because of over seating the buses past their maximum capacity. So the trip to Lamju village was cancelled.

“So what now?” I asked.

“We go back to Pokhara.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. These kids were looking forward to this for a long time and because of bad organizing on the school’s part, it was now a waste. Initially some of these students didn’t want to go on the trip unless it was to Lamju village. These students paid hard earned rupees and dressed their absolute best for a bumpy bus ride. All the money we donated was a bust. Surely, most of that money now was going to be used to pay the fine.

We went back in the bus and drove a couple of hours and had a meal at the same place we had brunch earlier. We also had the exact same thing. At this point, I was really upset. Upset with the principal for over stuffing these buses, knowing full well it was against the law . Upset that all that money we donated was now wasted. Upset that I didn’t follow my gut. I should have stayed back at the village. Upset that I just spent an entire day feeling like death. And most of all, I was upset that the kids trip was ruined…or was it?

Most of the time, the students were singing and even dancing in the aisles and it seemed like they were really enjoying themselves. I bet they were happy to just leave the village for awhile and spend the day with their friends, even if most of the day was on a rickety old bus. I could tell some of them were disappointed but none complained. They just went with the flow. Before it got completely, dark, the buses stopped at a very small buddhist temple where everyone got to walk around and get some fresh air for awhile before we headed back to Pokhara. But Aatma had planned one more thing at least. Dinner near the bus station, which is situated at the bottom of the mountain. What’s for dinner? Chicken! But…this chicken has been sitting in the bus for ten hours, unchilled. It was hot on those buses and this chicken Aatma brought was there, for the whole day. That was the last straw. I was sick, hungry, and needed to escape. This bus still had to go way back up the mountain. I couldn’t find Aatma anywhere, so I told a couple of the teachers that I wasn’t feeling great and was going to catch a cab to Lakeside to rest.

“What about dinner?” they asked.

“I’ll get dinner Lakeside.”

I slipped away and caught a taxi to Lakeside, to Simrik, my usual spot whenever I come here. Arun saw the illness in my face and gave me a private room. I plopped down and stuffed my head into the pillow. I had to force myself to vomit in order to feel decent. Afterwards, I joined a few volunteers who happened to be in Lakeside for dinner at a restaurant called Moondance. I spent the rest of the night sleeping in peace and quiet. I really needed it.

I woke up the next morning feeling like a new man, but left Lakeside early to get back up to school. As I walked back onto the premises, the teachers came up to me and asked if I was okay. I told them I was fine and I just couldn’t bare to be on that bus any longer and just needed to rest. They understood and was just glad I was okay. Aatma approached me and mentioned to me how we had such bad luck yesterday. “It happens,” I told him. I wasn’t upset anymore. It was mostly my sickness talking. Once I’m walking on solid ground again, I start to feel better soon enough.

I asked the students if they had a good time yesterday and most of them said yes. That’s all I needed to hear.

Nepal wins the award for worst roads ever…

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So far at least.

Searching for the Deadliest Bridge in Nepal

Somewhere in Nepal, exists one of the most dangerous bridges in the world. I had no idea about such a bridge until Alexis pointed it out one day. It’s on the top ten list of terrifying bridges and based on the images from google search, the bridge here does look mighty sketchy. Like the one from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. The part near the end when he cut the bridge in half when his enemies were closing in on him. I believe that movie was set somewhere in or near Nepal. I had to see it for myself!

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We asked Arun where this bridge was located and it turns out the stars were aligned just right, that bridge was only fifty-some kilometers away from Pokhara. Let’s go!

Emre, Tim, Jess, Natacha, Alexis, another volunteer named Billy (USA), and I made the trip. Arun worked out the transportation for us and also decided he’d come along since he also had the say off. I had very high hopes for this danger bridge because I was sure the photos would turn out to be amazing once I attempted to cross it.

Even though the bridge was located just 50 kilometers away, it still took a couple of hours to get there because the roads in Nepal are jacked. Because fast vehicles don’t exist here. Because the roads are always congested with other vehicles. And because the mountains are everywhere. The passenger seat and two motion sickness tablets kept me in line for the trip.

Once we finally arrived, we were dropped in a forest and just a few yards away was a rift between two mountains, and just beyond that rift you could see one really long, wooden bridge. But…it didn’t seem so deadly.

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Besides the length of it, it didn’t look very much like the pictures from the internet. This bridge actually looked very stable and pretty safe. The fear factor here would be looking down. Way down below, hundreds of feet, lied a river flowing over boulders that caped around the corners of the mountain foots.

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I would understand the fear for anyone afraid of heights, but even still it seemed okay. We walked across and found that the looks of it weren’t deceiving; this bridge was completely safe. Far outside the rails were two metal clasps, one on each side, to hold the bridge in place in case it did snap. The clasps were a fail-safe.

“We have to be at the wrong bridge,” I thought with an air of disappointment on my face.

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Still, the bridge was pretty cool, but not nearly as deadly as I wanted it to
be. Some locals on the other end, informed us that there was another bridge just on the other side of the mountain. We had all day, so we decided to go there too. Hopefully this next bridge was the one we wanted.

We hopped in our van and rode along to the other side which was about 20 minutes away. The next bridge looked exactly like the previous bridge, except it was only three meters shorter. There was a sign on the bridge that said it was newly renovated just 77 days ago. We were 77 days too late. Somebody take this “dangerous” bridge off that list of dangerous bridges. This bridge is as safe as they come! If this bridge does exist somewhere else in Nepal, someone let me know.

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The Other Kind of Bridge

This blog takes a lot of serious discipline to keep up with. There have been times where I can’t post because I’m in a place with little to no WiFi or I’m just so busy that it’s been hard to find the time to write. Sifting through all my photos and uploading them is actually the most time consuming part. Still even when I fall behind because of restraints, I always manage to get back to the swing of things. The pay off has been worth it with the loads of emails and response I get. Even personally for me, this is something great to show my kids one day. Look at how cool your dad was!

Occasionally, I’ll get certain emails that are from people that relate directly to some of my posts. Just recently, I received a few messages from past volunteers in Nepal and even one from someone from Aatma Thapa’s family. His name is Santosh. He actually ended up marrying a volunteer from Australia awhile ago. One night I got a message from someone who read my blog that actually stayed with my host family in the past. For a short period, she was able to communicate with the family once again using me as a vehicle and they were able to exchange recent pictures of themselves.

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It’s been great knowing this blog has also acted as a bridge between two countries at the most unexpected moments. This has happened before in South Africa a couple of times and also while I was backpacking through Thailand.

I’m happy to reach out to anyone who messages me during my trips abroad, also any first hand advice is appreciated since I personally banned myself from carrying travel guide books and have been winging it ever since!

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My Magical Disappearing Shoes

The five hour van ride north to Luang Prabang was a pain in my stomach! The windy roads up and down the hills made me feel woozy. I was getting sick but luckily the driver stopped many times where I could get out and get some much needed fresh air. But besides feeling like crap the whole way, the views were quite scenic. At one point, we made a stop at the top of a mountain overlooking the countryside. It was here that I saw THE BEST. TOILET. EVER.

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Finally, Lucy, Abe, Tristan, Claire, and I arrived in the city of Luang Prabang. We booked a guest house at Khammany Inn and found that we were in the same room as other backpackers we met previously in Vientienne, Meg (England), Si (England), and Justyne (Germany). Cool coincidence! This guesthouse was big and the rooms were actually pretty decent. But we didn’t stick around for long; we wanted to see the town. So what is there to do in Luang Prabang? Well, the town itself is pretty relaxed. There are markets down the road with tons of tasty food and stalls of freshly made fruit smoothies along the road.

We ate here a few times. Not only was it delicious but also super cheap!
We ate here a few times. Not only was it delicious but also super cheap!

There are temples everywhere here too. I’d say the main attraction are the two waterfalls that everyone must go to when they visit here, Kuang Si and Tad Sae. We decided to only do Kuang Si. The next day, the group of us, including two German girls we met in Vang Vieng, took a minivan about 25km to the Kuang Si waterfalls. I’ve been pretty good about not vomiting from motion sickness so far on this trip…until now. On the way to Kuang Si, I cautioned the driver to pull over! And then it happened, all over the side of the road. But at least I felt better afterwards!

Upon walking to the foot of the waterfall, there was a fenced off area that held rescued Malaysian Sun Bears just playing and laying about.

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Furthermore, we came to a crystal blue pool of water where we could Tarzan swing in and swim underneath some of the falls.

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The water was cool and refreshing and I lost count of how many times I swung and splashed into the water. Every time I made my way out of the water, I could feel fish nibbling at my legs and feet. A bit strange a first but then barely noticeable after awhile. Soon, Tristan and I made our way further up the falls until we found the grand daddy of the Kuang Si! Tristan is great with a camera, much better than me, and was able to take some great photos.

Yes. Yes, it was amazing.
Yes. Yes, it was amazing.

We spent a couple hours at the falls before we headed back. I was worried about the ride back but I sat in the front this time and was able to fall asleep. Falling asleep is the only sure fire way I won’t get motion sick!

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Here in Luang Prabang, the town shuts down at around 10pm. Everything except for a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere! Once all the bars and restaurants close, all the backpackers frolic to this one and only place that remains open to continue their fun there. We made a night of it and all went to Utopia, which is a bar when everyone takes their shoes off and sits on the floor, with pillows of course. The atmosphere was neat as the bar played familiar western music and everything was made of bamboo and stone.

Utopia!!
Utopia!!

It was also here where things got a little crazy. Once again, just like in Vang Vieng, after a few drinks we all accidentally split up! I have no idea where the others went, but I ended up in the alleys of the bar with a German guy who also stayed in our dorm and with one of the German girls who came with me to the waterfalls earlier. Both were hammered. Me, not too much. All I knew was we had to get to the bowling alley! That’s where everyone else probably stumbled to.

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I am skipping a lot of stuff, because I’m sure none of you want to hear the stuff that happened in between getting separated and getting to the bowling alley. Just a lot of a boozy mess. Once I finally made it, I reunited with a couple of the others. Everyone was all over the place, but we eventually early and went to sleep. I am skipping a LOT of stuff here but you can ask me in person and I’ll tell you all about it. It’s pretty funny.

So at our guesthouse, every guest has to take their shoes off and leave it at the door. It’s disrespectful to walk around inside with your shoes on. With all the guests at the guesthouse, there was always 50 pairs of shoes outside, if not more. The next morning after Utopia, I found that my Nike trainers were missing! My favorite shoes that I have had for a long time were gone! I had them on last night and I always take them off at the door. I checked everywhere! Didn’t find them. I was pretty bummed about it, more so than losing my iPhone earlier. It’s hard to find a good pair of shoes that last long, fit perfectly, and never look like they’re dirty no matter what I put them through. I’ve seen places to buy shoes in Luang Prabang, but they were all knock off’s and crap quality. All I had were my hiking boots and my wet shoes. I’ll wait until I get to Thailand to buy some quality shoes. I predict, some homeless guy was walking down the street in the middle of the night and say my trainers and claimed them for himself. Shoot, if I were a bum on the streets, I would probably do the same! What made matters worse was what happened the next day. Now my wet shoes were missing! If you’re not familiar with a wet shoe, it’s a shoe that fits tightly over your foot. It’s basically a wet-suit for your foot. It’s one of the best items I brought with me, as I wore it through hikes where I had to cross rivers and step through ponds, streams, and mud. They were also easy to clean. Just rinse em off. I thought it was weird that out of ALL the shoes laying out front that both pairs of my shoes, were missing. A sick joke. Now all I had were my cheap hiking boots, which were breaking down everytime I put them on. They sucked compared to my old ones. I didn’t want to wear these around for long. I hate these boots but I had to make do.

This was our last full day in Laos with everyone until Lucy and I depart to Chiang Mai, Thailand. As a matter of fact, from here we would all be going our separate ways. Tristan and Claire are heading to Hanoi, Vietnam. Tristan is buying a motorbike while there and biking down the entire country! Abe is staying in Luang Prabang for a couple more days until he heads back south. Before I came to Laos, I didn’t expect to meet a group of friends in such short amount of time. What was great was we traveled through Laos together.

Lucy, me, and my hiking boots said our goodbyes and went to the bus station and waited for a bus to take us through the border of Thailand. Laos has been more than I ever expected, especially with the people I have met.

Thailand time :).

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