I can’t believe we’ve been in Spain for a month already! With the help of very patient locals and the iPhone app, Duolingo, I’ve gone from being able to ask for a glass of wine to being able to talk about the pros and cons of NYC public schools, GMOs, and how to make cookies entirely in Spanish. Granted, I can only speak in the present tense and say things like “I much like it very.”
Our time in Spain has been split between cities that make my heart sing and rural towns where we have been climbing or working. We spent a long weekend in Barcelona, a few weeks climbing in central Spain, then up to San Sebastian in the Basque country where we ate everything in sight, and have spent the past two weeks on a farm outside of Segovia. Work, play, eat. Work, play, eat. In our opinion, that is the most satisfying way to travel.
The week before Christmas we traveled from India to Istanbul, the first stop on the European leg of our trip. But before we left Mumbai, there was some work to be done. We scrubbed off the scent of our last overnight bus, shoved our dingy, Indian traveler clothes in the trash can at the hostel, and went to the Levis store for some skinny jeans so that we didn’t feel like total urchins while dining at flashy restaurants in Istanbul and Spain. I forgot how good it feels to dress up and not be covered in a constant layer of dust!
When we landed in Istanbul, Zach’s cousin Joe welcomed us to his apartment in the center of town, where we indulged in a week of comforts: coffee, a warm bed with fluffy pillows, brunch, bars with atmosphere, street art, high speed wifi, and most of all, cheeseburgers. Visiting Istanbul was the most familiar experience we’ve had in the last 16 months. It was cold, people wore black, no one cared what we were doing, where we were going, and no one was trying to sell us anything. Folks just went about their business and we went about ours.
After so much sightseeing in India, we were a bit torn between Istanbul’s tempting sights or our own, more basic desires like wearing heels and drinking whiskey and going to a drawn out brunch that wastes half the day. The thing is though, you don’t have to choose. Istanbul is a young, modern city steeped in a history that is older than most and is predominantly Islamic, as opposed to most other historically Christian European cities.
In coming to a Muslim country, I was prepared to wear loose fitting, conservative clothes and to be thinking about not offending folks. That may be necessary in rural Turkey, but Istanbul was full of tight jeans and funky leggings. For some, that was jeans with a headscarf. For others, it was lots of layers of long clothing, but in any big city, you will find a variety of fashions influenced by everything from religion to pop culture. There were plenty of indicators, from style of dress to the call to prayer, that we were in a city where Islam is the dominant religion, but that was just one of the many characteristics of the largely secular city. In areas where conservative dress was important, like at a Mosque, there were signs written in English and assistants to help tourists feel comfortable and respect the customs.
We spent a Saturday morning at the organic farmer’s market in Sisli, took the metro home and after dropping our mandarins and olive oil (a half liter bottle for 7 bucks!) off at the apartment, went up the Galata Tower (built in 500 AD) and watched the sun set behind the dozens of minarets that pierce the city’s skyline. We spent a lazy morning Skyping friends, gorged ourselves on a traditional Turkish village breakfast, then had our minds blown by The Basilica Cistern from the 5th century and tasted Turkish wines at one of the city’s newly opened wine bars.
On Christmas Eve morning, I spent the morning at the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam, enjoying a traditional scrub in a gorgeous, renovated Hamam spa. After the exfoliating scrub, you lay in silence on a heated stone in the center of the room and gaze up at the light that comes streaming through the stars carved in the marble domed roof. Now this is the way to experience Islamic architecture. A trip to the Hamam was once a normal activity for Turks, but now is more of a touristy thing to do. A highly recommended touristy thing to do. At 130 Turkish Lira, or about $65, it is one of the more expensive activities in Istanbul, but it is worth every lira.
We lived like kings in Istanbul, a city that feels a bit like a young kid a with an old soul. There are endless historical sights to see, the nightlife is great, and their restaurant scene is well on it’s way. Even though most folks don’t speak English, the city was easy to navigate and people tried to help when we asked them (or had that lost look on our faces). I can’t recommend a trip to Istanbul highly enough.
The Pushkar Camel Fair is a circus and camel trading show that overtakes the small town every year. When I say circus, I don’t mean an everyone sit down in the big tent for a show sort of thing, I mean a festive, chaotic, mob scene in the desert. 50,000 camels, their neon turban clad traders and their gypsy families set up a tent camp outside of town. In the week before the fair, camels are bought and sold while locals set up the stadium and ancient carnival rides. We arrived a few days before the fair started, while the barefoot locals were swinging sledge hammers, erecting a stadium in the sand. Pre-fair Pushkar was filled with anticipation for the biggest week of the year and the heavy flow of tourist dollars.
The main drag in Pushkar is one narrow street, about the width of a car (sometimes at the expense of side mirrors) from one building to the opposite building. A few tinier side streets are home to the locals. There is no space for cars in town as the main bazaar is crammed with international tourists fondling camel statues, Israelis tearing through on Enfields and Hindu pilgrims visiting the holy lake and temples at the center of town. Fruit vendors, stray dogs, chai stands, and pashmina shopkeepers all add their voices to the chaos of the one street that runs through Pushkar.
While on the bazaar, there were so many people that hawkers would shout at you, but quickly move on to the next tourist. At the fair though, they followed you around. “Only twenty rupees, m’am. Twenty rupees for a bangle. Handmade, special.” (Clearly, it was not.) “Photo? Photo? Very nice my photo. Money? Camel ride? You like happy price for camel ride? Give me money? Chai? Chai? Chai?” It was endless. I must have said “No” more in an hour at the Camel Fair than in a month at home.
In the morning, while the sun was still waking up, we visited the fairgrounds and were back for lunch before the mobs of people and camel poo dust got too intense. We wandered through the scrubs to the open space where the camels were held and stood in the sea of beasts, just listening to their dinosaur like noises. This must be what Jurassic Park is like.
In the afternoons, we retreated to the garden at our guest house to edit photos and chat with family. We met some American travelers and enjoyed their familiar accents at tourist-friendly cafes that offered falafel, pomegranate juice and real coffee (!!). We stayed in Pushkar for a week and enjoyed a bit of routine simply by staying in one city.
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
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!
In the last year I have:
Served as a guest judge in a lamb competition.
Delivered pizzas while loudly singing along to classic rock radio.
Learned a variety of food preservation techniques including fermentation, curing, dehydrating, and jarring.
Relaxed in natural, mud-bottomed hot pools after a seven-hour trek across treacherous swing bridges.
Learned how to make butter, cheese, bread, and whiskey (kind of).
Spent hundreds of hours climbing the schist cliffs around Wanaka and the limestone boulders of Castle Hill.
Failed (twice) to solve very simple problems with our van, which in my defense was of legal drinking age in the US.
Saw the sunrise on Mt. Cook/Aoraki with avalanches falling on peaks around me.
Harvested oysters, mussels, and red snapper from the ocean.
Learned how to skin, gut, and butcher poultry, small game, goats, and pigs for consumption.
Met dozens of new friends from all over the world (England, Australia, Argentina, Germany, France, Chile, Israel, New Zealand…) that I’ll share the rest of my life with. (But don’t worry, old friends, I still love you and miss you all.)
Got engaged to be married to the woman of my dreams.
It’s been a good year.
No, this post isn’t sponsored. We just really had a great time with Real Journeys.
Leaving Milford Sound with Zach’s mom and stepmom after having spent the night on the Milford Mariner overnight cruise, we were buzzing with satisfaction and picking apart the highlights of the last 18 hours, much like you might do after seeing an awesome concert. By awesome concert, I mean someone like Pearl Jam. An older band who have been putting on shows for twenty-odd years. For the Real Journeys tour company, rocking out is what they do every day.
The weather was clear, the jade colored water was sparkling, and the dolphins were a-plenty. We boarded at 4pm and were offered a bowl of mushroom soup. I suppose I was getting a little hungry, thanks Real Journeys for realizing that for me. We headed out past Mitre Peak, the tallest sea cliff in the world, while Kendra, our nature narrator explained how vegetation grows on the rock faces without any dirt. The loudspeaker system was set up so whether on deck, in the bar, or the bathroom, you could hear the announcements and Milford Sound trivia.
During afternoon activity time, Zach and I explored the coastline in kayaks while Pat and Lydia zipped around the bays checking out the Mollymorks, a type of albatross (albatrosian?) bird. We met back at the ship for a bottle of bubbly.
As the sun began to set, Kendra told us, “I see many of you are enjoying your cocktails. You might want to take them up on deck with you to check out the pod of dolphins that has come to play.” So, with a glass of wine in hand and the sun setting, we went onto the deck and watched the dolphins zip and dive and flip and swim around the boat until someone announced that dinner was ready.
The staff anticipated every need and provided excellent service. Kendra’s nature talks never competed with the stunning sights of the sound and there were many moments of big, wondrous silence. The boat was immaculate, the food was good, the wine list reasonably priced, and even the 6:45am wake up call was as gentle as possible. We ate breakfast while the sound was still dark and watched the day lighten as we headed out to the feisty Tasman Sea. Adrenaline is never a bad start to the day!
Zach and I haven’t done something like this since being here in New Zealand. I often opt for a romp in the backwoods and write off cruises and tours as touristy. As if touristy is synonymous with tacky. But it’s not. Not when the service is subtle and the staff cares about everyone having a great time. At about $250 a head, the ticket was a special treat, but worth every penny. If you are ever in the Milford Sound area, treat yourself to a Real Journeys cruise. It was delightful.
My parents have been here for two weeks, romping up into the mountains, across the South Island, and down to the beaches in the Catlins. The following post is contributed by my dad, Judd Anderson. Thanks, Dad!
New Zealand is so much more than you can imagine from the Internet or anywhere else. Some of both the silly, serious, wonderful and inspiring are the following:
A Kiwi is a person (New Zealanders actually like being called one), Kiwi-bird is THE bird, which most Kiwis have not seen, even if you go to Stewart Island where you have the best chance of seeing one. More common and beautiful are the Kea which are like mountain parrots, green with bright orange armpits. They meow like kitties when they fly over. They visit you in the mountain huts, looking for camper food. Most common phrases in NZ are, “No worries” (if you say thank you to the person giving you a latte, this is what they’ll say back); “It’s all good”, which can be substituted for “no worries”; or, less common, but fun is, “She-be-right, mate,” which actually means “It will be all right, dude.” Short e sounds in words such as neck, deck, pest or Czech (someone from the Chech Republic) are pronounced nick, dick, pist and chick. So you can actually have a barbecue on your “dick” or store a kayak on your dick (so says Jacob, one of Christina and Zach’s NZ climbing buddies).
There are no big animals in NZ, so possums, rabbits and everything else small are called pists (pests) cause they have no predators. What’s great about hiking and camping is that you don’t have to worry about bears, wolves or anything else that might scare or eat you or your food. NZ doesn’t even have foxes or coyotes which could do a great job on the overabundance of rabbits and other pists. But they have something called a sandfly which is so small and bites without being felt that only later do you realize the ring of bites on your ankles is from their having had you for dinner. But if you walk they are so slow they can’t keep up. The yellow-eyed penguins are unafraid of you, especially the unfledged whom we walked up to, examined, photographed and watched star-struck for 2 hours near Moereki (barely touched on in the guidebooks) as are the sea lions and fur seals which roll on the beaches like large blubber bags, flipping warm sand onto themselves. The Hector dolphins swim around you off the Catlins (the southern most beaches) ride the waves and play by jumping in the air, right along side the human surfers. Of course the sheep are everywhere, both inside and outside of the fences, on the roads and in towns and are herded by tall manly-men in really short adidas soccer shorts like we used to wear 20 years ago. Even the flag men on the road construction crews have tenaciously held to the 4 inch inseam.
The colors of NZ are really striking. The mountain lakes and rivers (which you often cross on beautiful simple suspension cable bridges that look like Indiana Jones bridges, warn you of the number allowed on at any one time – 1 to 5 and sway and bounce as you walk across with your pack) of both the Mt. Aspiring range (we hiked and camped for 3 days there) and the Mt. Cook National Park (4 days) turn multiple shades of blue/green/slate and often look like aqua milkshakes, thick and creamy. No need for bringing your water on mountain hikes: just dip your water bottle into any stream. When you hit glaciers, eat the snow but stop to listen for avalanches which we heard and saw numerous times on our way to Mueller Hut (dedicated by Sir Edmund Hilary in 2003) in Mt. Cook Park. The sound of an avalanche is, first delayed by many seconds and, second, as loud as a sonic boom.
In two weeks of living and traveling with Christina and Zach we have eaten a breakfast out once, split a breakfast (at the Mountaineer’s Cafe at Mt. Cook), dined at Francesca’s (an elegant place where KCA dishes and preps) and Fleur’s Place in the Catlins. Otherwise, we have always eaten together out of our campervans, up in the mountains, on beaches and have never eaten so well. Food is always better at a campsite, especially when you pick your own mussels from your beach walk (Cathedral Caves Beach), or from an unattended roadside vegetable stand where you find new potatoes, that, when cooked, taste creamy even without any butter.
For all of NZ’s incredible God-given beauty (we still have Fiordland to pry open in the next week), wonderful people (or should I say NO people…hardly anyone lives here) it has been the traveling, tramping, hiking, trekking, exploring and “hanging” with Christina and Zach that have filled us with incomparable joy.
While we were in Oamaru, we attended their annual Victorian Fete, a street fair in the historic district. The event was a riot. People come from all over the country to dress up and partake in ridiculous events like the beard judging competition, the Penny Farthing bicycle race, and the stone sawing competition. I’ll let the pictures and video tell the story.