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Annapurna Base Camp: Best Trek Ever.

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We found an older copy of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal while staying at Alobar 1000, our hostel in Thamel, a touristy district of Kathmandu. After flicking through different treks, we settled on the trek to Annapurna Base Camp because it was longer than anything we had done, but had guest houses where we could sleep and eat. There was a significant elevation gain and the base camp itself was an exciting destination. While planning, we went back and forth on whether or not to take a guide. We had read on So Many Places’s blog that it was not necessary, but we decided to go for it anyway. We liked the idea of supporting the local economy and it made us feel safe as we were trekking higher and longer than we had been before. Our guide, Pradeep, is a nephew of a friend of a friend, which is typical of Nepali business. If I can’t help you, I’ll find you someone who can. Pradeep took care of all of the details: obtaining our permits, renting gear, booking bus tickets, and choosing guest houses. All we had to do was walk, snap pics and decide what to eat at meal time. The following are a few excerpts from our trekking journal to Annapurna Base Camp.

Day 1 | 5pm | Landruk

Zach: Lunch at Pothana (1890m) after 90 minutes of walking up stone steps and trails. Very hot at times, but great in the shade. Cooler than Pokhara, but definitely still summer. It’s great to walk to villages rather than campsites. Paying a few bucks for fried noodles and veg versus eating in the dirt makes life a lot more enjoyable. No, it doesn’t feel like a backcountry adventure, but it’s great in its own way. We thought New Zealand did it best with their hut system, but Nepal has it beat!

Christina: I just pulled my big toe nails off. They had been dead for awhile and one day of hiking was enough for them. Wrote some post cards and am trying not to write all of my them, but it is hard because it is so beautiful and exciting. We have views of the Himilayas to the north and rice terraces to the south. Tried a glass of roksi, the local wine made from millet. It was horrific. Smelled like rubbing alcohol and I couldn’t finish the glass. Also had our first dal baht experience, which was a solid meal: lentil soup, rice, greens and pickled veg.

Day 2 | 3:30pm | Chhomrong

Christina: Zach’s muesli this morning was so good. Served with warm, sweet milk. I had Tibetan bread with honey, which wasn’t enough for a meal, but tasty and I supplemented it with peanuts from my backpack. Highlight: Nepalese tea (similar to chai). Amazing. Hiking today was killer. Stairs for hours, but passed the time learning Nepalese from Pradeep. It is really challenging to learn just by sound. We were walking single file. Pradeep would say a word, I repeated it, then passed it back to Zach.

Day 3 | 4pm | Bamboo

Zach: Great morning walking. Day began with a steep descent out of Chhomrong and steep ascent to Sinuwa. Long break there, then a few hours of awesome forest walking while white gibbons jumped from tree to tree around us. They are very photogenic animals. I was particularly struck with the beauty of the wild forest. Theres a special kind of order to the completely unordered chaos of old growth. This walk has everything. Pheri betew-la (See you later!)

Day 4 | 1pm | Machhapuchhre Base Camp

Christina: It has been on and off raining all day. The clothes we washed yesterday are soaking wet because of the rain and heavy fog. Not a huge deal, except that I have no dry underwear. After hiking for four hours, we decided to stay at Machhapuchhre Base Camp instead of continuing to ABC. Everyone going out into the rain looked miserable. Lunch was amazing- a huge pile of fried potatoes, egg, greens and yak cheese, followed by a Snickers and pot of masala tea.Didn’t even realize how hungry I was, which is a sign of altitude sickness, so even better that we chill here. Side note: Even though this is the Annapurna Base Camp trek, I think I prefer  looking at Machhapuchhre. It is so steep and so fierce. Not as tall, but that’s ok by me. We can still be friends.

Zach: We’ve met a lot of awesome people on this trek. David and Eva from Australia, Andy and Sam from England, Lindsey and Cody from Chicago via Mongolia. Just caught a glimpse of Annapurna South, Machhapuchhre (Fishtail) and surrounding peaks for about 15 min before the fog rolled in again. Some people have been waiting three days to get a glimpse of the mountains. All the more reason not to rush. Go slowly. Soak it in.

 

Day 5 | 6pm| Annapurna Base Camp

Christina: This morning was SPECTACULAR. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky. We hiked a whopping 90 minutes to Annapurna Base Camp. We had a great photo sesh with Eva, David, Pradeep and Lok. Just as we snapped our last picture, the clouds and heavy fog crept back in. We considered hiking down to Duerali this afternoon, but decided to stay, play cards and enjoy the rest day. It’s not like we’re going to have a chance to come back to this amazing camp in the sky.

Zach:We were just visited by a herd of sheep and goats at Annapurna Base Camp. The shepherds are coming down from the hills for the winter They trek up in the spring and by the time they head down (with help from the monsoon) the grass has regrown in their steps as they return. Pretty cool to see exactly how these shepherds are mimicking nature. Bucks and rams are mixed in with the herd, they “rotationally graze” the valley, and live amongst the herd for months at a time. They don’t own the land, but they use it and manage it. Simple. Why does it have to be so complicated?

Day 6 | 4pm | Himilaya

Zach: It’s amazing how much shorter this trail feels heading down. Knees and toes hurt, but we’re both holding up really well for six days in. This was the first day in awhile that I felt like I earned my dal bhat at lunchtime. Not complaining, the short days were great and we avoided AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).

Day 7 | 7:30pm | Chiule

Zach: Harder day agin into Chiule. When we reached town, cheers of joy were shouted. I’m so glad we hired Pradeep. Having a guide basically means not having to worry about any of the little details or decisions that would be difficult or create tension between Christina and me. Everything from the bus tickets to where we eat lunch is already settled. On top of that, Pradeep is knowledgable, patient and so kind that his attitude inspires the same behavior in the rest of us. It’s been great sitting around the table with David, Eva, Pradeep and Lok trading stories about traveling and trekking. At ABC we sat around for hours spinning a yarn and laughing. That has been a huge and unexpected benefit of this trek.

Day 8 | 8:30pm | Ghorepani

Christina: What started off as a really challenging day turned out to be a really fun one. Early on, I was ready to throw in the towel. The trekking was uphill all morning in the humid jungle, stopping every 15 minutes to check for leeches (I found 3 and freaked out each time). The day turned around though when we stopped for a break and saw a newborn mountain goat, wobbling around on its 10 minute old legs. From there, the day just got better. We hiked along a ridge covered in wildflowers, through gorgeous groves of trees into Ghorepani and got in just as the rain started. We ordered beers and chips, our first of the trek, we splurged on some wifi, I skyped mom and dad and posted a few pics. Mom met Pradeep and Lok on Skype. They said “Namaste from Nepal,” and “You are always welcome to come visit our Himilayas,” which was really heartwarming. It sounds silly to miss wifi after just a week, but makes a huge difference to be able to share and be in touch. Especially when you can Skype from the middle of the Himalayas.

Day 9 | 3:30pm | Uleri

Thank you Pradeep!

Zach: Beautiful trail from Ghorepani to Uleri. Lovely undulating countours along the riverside with a gradual descent. The trail was well formed and wide enough to walk two abreast; a trail made for chatting. Among other conversations, Christina and I discussed the similarities between Nepali trekking trails and Kiwi tramping tracks. The consensus was that they both get an A, but Kiwis have a decidedly more hands-off approach. Where in Nepal, there are bridges and stairs, in NZ there would be fords and scree slopes. I think I prefer the heavy hand.

Day 10 | 4pm | Pohkara

Christina: Our morning trek from Uleri to Birethanti was easy, light hearted, and calm. We sailed down steps as fresh faced trekkers going the other way were experiencing their first dose of steep stone stairs. Our “Namastes!” were cheery even though we were a leaving mountains that I knew we would not see again for a long time. 10 days was the perfect length of time to be in the mountains. From Birethanti, we took the most harrowing taxi ride I have ever experienced back to Pokhara.

 

Zach and I decided that we want to spend as much of the rest of our time in Nepal in the mountains as possible. After a few rest days, we are going to go to the Langtang region and headed out on another trek, this one for just a week. Zach and I looked at our budget last night. We are over what we expected to spend in Nepal, but kind of said the hell with it. The trek will cost us each an extra $300, which is nothing for another amazing, big mountain experience. We also decided to hire Pradeep again. Bring on round 2!

1,622

Eight Tips and Tricks for Traveling in Bali

Crowds at Tanah Lot

We’ve just left Indonesia after spending a month touring around Bali, Lombok, and the surrounding islands. Along the way we’ve learned a few things that we would have liked to know before we went, and because we are nothing if not public servants, here they are:

  1. For travel between the islands of Bali, Lombok, and the Gilis, take Marina Srikandi boats. They’re priced the same as all the other fast boat operators, but they have the largest boats and don’t oversell them. Trust me, getting seasick is a great way to ruin a day of your trip.
  2. Like a lot of Asian tourist destinations, the tout system runs deep. To avoid paying the tax, go directly to the source for things like rooms, boat tickets, airport transfers, laundry, etc. If you ask someone to arrange anything for you or even point you in the right direction, be prepared to pay for the service. Free information is rare.
  3. That said, we found the security and open market competition of Agoda.com or Booking.com helpful for locking down rooms a few days in advance. Proprietors lower prices on empty rooms as the date approaches and the price-shopping power of the web is fully in your favor. You can probably get even cheaper rates if you wait until you get to a place and hit the streets, but you’ll spend a lot of time carrying around your luggage and sweating. Usually it’s worth the few extra bucks to just book in advance – even though it violates rule number two above.
  4. If you like spun out waiters offering you crystal meth after dessert, go to Gili Trawangan. If, not stick to the far more family-friendly Gili Air.
  5. We found the water in Nusa Lembongan and Penida clearest and best for diving, but the wreck of the USS Liberty near Amed was awesome as a historical relic and massive, easy to access wreck. If you’re in the Gilis, snorkeling is a must do.
  6. Don’t bother climbing Gunung Rinjani unless you really dig wading through trash and feces on your way up a miserable, dusty hike.
  7. Catch the Bali sunset at Tanah Lot. There are multiple temples there so you don’t necessarily need to stay at the first one you see.
  8. It’s crazy cheap to hire a driver for a day in Bali and see loads of stuff. Five of us shared a car for US$55 for ten hours and saw way more than we ever would have hoped for if we were on our own.

That’s it for now. I’m sure there are more, (share them in the comments!) but this should get you started on any trip to Bali.

2,770

Friends are the Best

Girls- group water temple-0747

Two of my close friends, Lauren and Melissa, came to visit us in Indonesia. Their trip has been this big, exciting thing on our schedule for the past few months and the time had finally come for real, live hugs.

We split our time between the jungle of Ubud, riddled with tattooed yogis and American Expats sipping detoxifying juices, and Gili Trawangen’s white beaches and Bintang chugging traveler scene. I had planned much of our time, but left a bit of the schedule open so that we could add in adventures or change plans along the way. Zach and I hadn’t been to Ubud or Gili T yet, but we had gotten pretty good at planning, negotiating, and making our way around Bali and I was excited to both explore and use my sassy traveler skills with my friends.

But there were three or four different times throughout the week when a little voice in my brain stomped her feet and whined, “This is not how this is supposed to be going.” Like when I split my forehead open in the pool and had to go to the medical clinic for stitches, or when I couldn’t drink fancy cocktails at the swim up bar because of the antibiotics that I was on. Or when our hotel that looked pretty good online was run by crystal meth addicts. Or when we all got sick and were just barely able to share the one toilet.

The trip was not how I had envisioned. I envisioned a funkier version of a vacation that you might see in a movie. I saw us making cocktails at our bungalow and going to bars at night, kind of like what we might do in New York. But over the course of two weeks, we didn’t finish the booze that the girls brought from the duty free shop or go to bars. We spent our days exploring shops, taking yoga classes, finding shady spots to enjoy a fresh juice and telling stories. And when we talked about the big stuff, we talked about the little stuff and asked about family and got our nails painted. We went to bed early and were awoken by the sound of roosters and iguanas and the call to prayer coming from the mosques.

Our trip had highs and lows just like life does. There was a point every day when I held my forehead while laughing hysterically because I thought I was going to rip my stitches. There was the night we all snuggled in one bed and ate Ritz crackers because that’s all anyone could keep down. Melissa accompanied me to medical clinics to get my bandage changed and take pictures of my wound. Lauren let a monkey sit on her shoulder, somewhat that no one else had the hutzpah to do. We shopped and negotiated. We barfed and drank ginger ale. We talked about Miley Cyrus and Syria. My friends got to experience what our life is like these days and we had the pleasure of their company, which is the biggest thing we miss about home.

 

As Melissa said in an email when she got back,

I had such a good time doing nothing. It’s rare to not have the internal nag saying “you should be going to the gym, you should be doing this that or the other pain in the ass thing you don’t want to do.” I love how no matter what we do, sitting on a beach, snorkeling, hiking, eating, etc. We know we are going to have an adventure, laughs, heart-to-heats with our without wine… it’s always guaranteed.

Couldn’t have said it better, Melis. Thank you guys for coming, we had a phenomenal time. Much love.

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Cool Tools: USDA Food Access Research Atlas

Part of our mission as young farmers is to make a difference in the place that we live. It’s why we’ve chosen this path. Further, Christina and I have a unique opportunity to select where we end up living among almost limitless choices, and we must consider many different factors in picking a place. This means not only selecting a place that we’d enjoy living, but one that needs us. I don’t mean to sound preachy here; we don’t expect to swoop in and become someone’s savior, but we want to work to make a place better and that means finding a place with poor access to healthy food. Well, thanks to the USDA, we can drill down into an immense data set with this awesome new visualization tool.

This mapping tool illustrates the census tracts that have poor access to healthy food. In other words, neighborhoods we can help. If you select a few of the layers on the right, you’ll see a lot of color emerge from the map. This is good news and bad news for us: our options for future home towns are nearly everywhere, but that means that there is poor access to healthy food nearly everywhere in the US. I had no idea the problem was this widespread. Well, time to get to work.

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On the Road Cooking Class: Balinese Chicken Tutu

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We’ve gotten pretty used to people trying to sell us things, so I was ready to say, “No, thank you” when the barefoot owner of Beten Waru pulled up a chair next to us and asked, “You like a very special dinner, special just for you? Six hundred people have my special chicken and not one say any bad thing. A spicy chicken, vegey-tables, rice. And then after, fruits. All different fruits. You must tell me one day ahead so my staff can prepare.” At $25 USD, it wasn’t keeping within our $20/day food budget, but I wanted special chicken. We could skimp on some lunches to even it out for special chicken. “Could I watch you cook?” I asked, as if I made it a learning experience it would make me feel better about blowing the budget. “No problem,” he smiled.

Iluh (pronounced ee-loo) and Ari were making dinner that night. They do just about everything from keeping the rooms to grounds maintenance to making the Chicken Tutu, our special chicken. They kindly let me take pictures while they worked and told stories in impressive English while they prepared dinner.

Chicken Tutu is a whole chicken, steamed first in water and then in a chili and garlic sauce, served with stir-fried veggies and rice. It might not sound like much, but it is. It is indeed a special chicken.

Note: There are several ingredients that you might not have at home. Lord knows I don’t usually have shrimp paste on hand. So either get a new ingredient and have a go at something totally foreign, or leave it out. I’m pretty sure it is going to be good regardless.

Chicken Tutu: a Laid Back Recipe as observed at Beten Waru in Amed, Bali

Get the rice cooking, then the chicken, then work on the veggies.

The Chicken

  • A whole chicken (get a good one, don’t mess around with any old bull shit Perdue bird)
  • A handful of whole, peeled garlic cloves (actually a handful, maybe 10 or more cloves?)
  • 3 or 4 medium-spicy chilis, seeded
  • a knob (2″) of fresh ginger, sliced
  • Small knob (1″) of fresh turmeric, or 1tsp dried turmeric
  • Pinch of brown sugar
  • Enough oil to make everything into a sauce
  • 1-2 stalks of Lemongrass

Blitz the garlic, chilis, ginger, and turmeric into a loose puree. Simmer gently to cook the garlic. Add a pinch of brown sugar and salt to taste. Steam the chicken until cooked, about 30-45 minutes. Drain most of the water. Pour the delicious puree over the chicken and rub some on the inside as well. Add a little water to the pot and submerge the two lengths of lemongrass in water. Continue to simmer until you finish the veggies.

The Veggies

  • Sliced shallots, maybe 5 of them
  • 3-4 sliced spicy chilis
  • Diced garlic
  • Prawn paste
  • Sliced green beans
  • Sliced carrots
  • Roughly chopped cabbage
  • Freshly grated coconut (When in the states, I’ll use unsweetened, dried coconut)

Sautee the first three ingredients in a little oil. Add a small amount of prawn paste. Iluh crumbled what looked like 1/8-1/4 tsp into the pan from a larger block. In a separate pan, steam the beans, carrots and cabbage. Drain the steamed veg and add to the shallot mixture. Add the grated coconut and a pinch of salt and continue to sauté for until the coconut is heated through and nicely combined.

Plate the rice and the veggies and serve the chicken whole, in the center to be shared. Serve with a Bintang or other tasty pilsner. Enjoy!

**Big thanks to Iluh and Ari for my cooking class!

542

Five Things I’ve Learned from One Year on the Road

always bring a snack!

Christina and I have now been traveling for over a year. Holy crap. This trip has been an incredible, life-altering experience for me.  Here are some of the things that I’ve learned:

  1. Patience. I used to be a high-strung New Yorker. Now I’m far more comfortable relaxing. I can better identify when I’m getting irritated because of my impatience and cope with it better. Casual restaurants here in Indonesia are notoriously slow with service, so now I bring a notepad to meals and jot down thoughts. It’s a simple thing but one that improves my life. Easy.
  2. Communication. Christina and I have spent almost every waking moment together for the time we’ve been traveling. This has been a challenge, but one that’s made us stronger. Problems tend to bubble to the surface much faster than when we could retreat to work or out with friends. Now we’re forced to deal with all the little things on a day-to-day basis, which lets us move past them faster. For example, I hate airports. I don’t mind flying, but I have a terrible fear of missing flights or getting stuck in security or customs. Maybe its an authority thing. Christina is much more casual about these situations. This used to create tension when we traveled together, but since I’ve explained my problem she’s happy to leave a bit earlier than she normally would, and I pledge not to check the time after we begin the trip to the airport, confident that we’ve got plenty of leeway.
  3. The Art of Negotiation. I’m no Bill Shatner yet, but I like to think I’m getting better. When we arrived here my way of dealing with people trying to rip me off was to get angry and storm off. Now I can laugh at them, then they laugh back and we can settle on a price. I know I’m still paying the tourist tax, but its a few bucks at most.
  4. Priorities. When you’re inundated with one version of success it’s hard to imagine anything else. In reality, there are many ways to be successful and exposure to those has made me rethink my priorities. I’ll probably never be wealthy in a traditional, money-in-the-bank sense, but I’ll have a rich memory of experiences to recall for free, whenever I want them. I see people all around Indonesia that are “poor” by western standards but still walk around smiling because they have what matters to them: food, a home, and a family. Both here and in New Zealand we met plenty of intelligent, well-educated people that had opted out of the rat race and into a simpler lifestyle. It’s refreshing, and it has shown me that earning six figures is just one version of success.
  5. Reflection. Travel has allowed me time to think, reflect, and write rambling blog posts like this one. On a typical “vacation” you’re pressured to do so much with your two weeks paid that you feel guilty just hanging around cafes or the beach for a week. When you’re thinking in months, a chunk of time writing or staring at the ocean is nothing. And without those moments of reflection how much can you hope to get out of travel?

What’s odd is that even though so much has changed, I still feel the same. I’m the same dude that likes screaming at the television during basketball games (G’Orange!) and has a crippling internet addiction.  These new experiences have brought new things to the surface much faster than they might have otherwise.

 

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Gallery: Diving the USS Liberty Wreck

 

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