Archive | October, 2012

A Day in the Life of Alan (Note: This is a joke)

28 Oct

I recently decided to bail on two of my best friends. It had to do with a girl. They weren’t pleased. What do they know? I wanted to tell the girl who I dated in Korea that I loved her. Obviously a phone call could not accomplish this. So, paid a lot of money to fly to Adelaide, Australia. It was worth it!!!

Since I left my friends, they have relaxed on the beach, navigated the backwaters of Kerala, floated in the Dead Sea, explored Petra, slept underneath the stars in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, gone scuba diving in the Red Sea, watched the sunset over the desert from Mount Sinai, and visited the 5,000 year old Pyramids of Giza — or so they say.

But let me tell you, it doesn’t compare to what I’ve been up to.

A normal day for me is crazy! I wake up around 8 am. I try to fall back asleep because that’s a bit too early to start my day, but I only sometimes can. After I get out of bed, I check my email. Usually, there is an email from Eric asking if I’ll be rejoining him and Dane in South Africa. I don’t respond right away because I have other things to do. My girlfriend Inyoung is taking English classes at the moment, something I am not capable of instructing her in because I’m Irish, so I spend much of the day preparing for when she comes home.

I spend most of my time trying to figure out ways to impress her. I flew halfway around the world to surprise her, abandoning a trip I had planned for over a year and a number of plane tickets I had already purchased. Anything I might do for her from this point forward can’t live up to that, right? That’s why I am so busy trying to think of things to do to impress her that I can’t respond to my friends’ emails.

I cook. I clean. I make myself presentable. Inyoung has high standards…or at least now she does because, well, we’ve already covered this, I flew halfway around the world to surprise her. That’s why I’ve decided to start learning Korean.

My return to Korea is inevitable at this point, so Inyoung has started to speak Korean to me in our apartment, like an immersion program of sorts. When I greet her at the door everyday, like a lonely puppy, she speaks the lovely phrase jjajeungna which I’ve come to understand to mean “nice to see you” (editor’s note:  actually means ‘annoying’). She’s also come to lovingly refer to me as jubu which means “handsome” (editor’s note:  actually means ‘housewife’).

As you can see, I’ve been quite busy. And, of course, I haven’t even mentioned all the stuff I’ve done in Adelaide…or should I say Badelaide…as in bad actually means good-elaide. It’s a pretty awesome place.

Restaurants are one of the main things to frequent in Adelaide. Unfortunately, Inyoung wants me to save money, so I can’t go to those. The harbor is also cool, but Inyoung doesn’t like it when I go outside. The other things I do, well, there are many of them, so many I can’t list them all here. There are so many very fun things!

So, as you can see, I don’t care at all that my friends have seen two wonders of the world in the last 10 days. It’s no big deal. I’m happy where I am. There’s so much to do. Take my word for it. Inyoung does. She often calls me micheosuh (editor’s note:  means crazy).

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Getting to Egypt

28 Oct

We had wanted to take the fast ferry across the Dead Sea from Aqaba to Nuweiba we had seen advertised and talked about on the internet. This service, unfortunately, had been terminated. Our only option was to take the overnight ferry, leaving just after midnight, in a few hours. There was no choice.

We purchased the tickets at a ticket office from a nice Jordanian man who had lived in South Carolina for some time. He inexplicably gave us a discount (55 dollars off!!) on tickets that had a set price by the government (two governments) and then called his friend who was a taxi driver to pick us up from our hotel at 11 pm and take us to the ferry. His friend wasn’t as nice and tried to get as much money as possible out of us for the ride. We ended up paying way more for the taxi than we needed to, but in the end we still came out ahead thanks to the discount. Sometimes it helps not having a computer tracking every human action. It certainly helped us get a discount, though it would create some nervous moments later.

We were told multiple times at the ticket office that we could purchase a cabin in the boat when we arrived for 10 USD. This would make our journey way more comfortable and allow us to get some sleep. We arrived at the boat and asked about the rooms. We were laughed at. “Not this boat,” they cackled. We would have to sleep on the benches or the floors.

That was the least of our concerns, however, because we were receiving conflicting advice from every person we talked to about receiving an exit stamp in our passport, so we could board the ferry to Egypt. We finally found the building where we were supposed to get this stamp and discovered madness inside. The lines at the windows where the customs officials were were outrageously long and people were often sliding ahead in front of us. Eventually, some Egyptian man told Eric to go to the front of the line. So, he walked right up to the window and I joined him. We got our stamps and no one seemed to mind we had jumped to the front of the line. We got to the ferry and they let us on to search for an uncomfortable place to sleep for the overnight trip.

The term overnight boat also turned out to be a misnomer. The boat seemed to crawl as slowly as possible and still arrived well before daybreak. The overnight part mostly referred to the time it took to complete the circuit through the bureaucratic nightmare that was customs at Nuweiba Port. The ferry pulled into port at a little before 3:30 am. We got off the boat at 5 am. We passed out of the port gates at 6 am. The sun was far from up when we pulled into port but it was in the sky by the time we cleared customs.

While we were transiting across the Dead Sea there were many announcements. All of them were in Arabic. We we tried to disembark the boat the customs officials berated us for not getting an Egyptian stamp in our passport. We asked where we were supposed to get the stamp. They repeated louder, “Where is your stamp!” Our passports were collected, and they walked off with them. We were told we could collect them at the customs office. We weren’t told where it was. All the signs in the port were in Arabic. We were without our passports and had no idea where to go. We started to wish there were computers tracking our passports and telling us where to go. Being strangers in a strange land isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Luckily we were born in an English-speaking country and have almost never had to experience this.

We eventually found the building by following around another person who had had his passport collected. He didn’t speak English, but he did speak Arabic. It seemed as if he had to ask everyone in the port where to go, but he eventually found the customs office and so did we. It probably took another 45 minutes to take care of everything we needed to, but at least during those 45 minutes, we could see our passports. It made us feel better.

When we got our stamped passports back in our hands we joined the baggage inspection line. Here, our white skin color also allowed us to bypass a line others had to wait in. We were waved to the front, dropped our bags on the x-ray machine conveyor belt, and picked them up on the other side, taking one minute to complete a task that rightfully should have taken us thirty. Again, no one seemed to mind.

We cleared customs with our passports in hand. It was a hectic process, but we made it, and even managed to sneak in about an hour and a half of sleep. Flying into Egypt would have certainly been an easier experience, but we don’t have the kind of money or time to afford easy. We take what we can get. At the end of the day, still holding our passports and having arrived in Egypt successfully, we have to chalk that up as a win.

Wadi Rum & Aqaba

27 Oct

After Petra, we headed south to Wadi Rum, a protected desert area where Bedouins have lived for centuries. The scenery was made famous by the film Lawrence of Arabia.

Our guide drove us in his truck through the desert to various sites when we first arrived. There was a water spring that wasn’t “springing” at the time, a few rock formations, and natural bridges.

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When we got to camp, there wasn’t much to do. We had tea and chatted. We sat in silence. There was a large, red sand dune in the distance, so we set off to climb to the top of it.

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This picture hardly does the size of it justice.

As we got closer, we realized it wasn’t large. It was huge. Massive. Gargantuan. It took forever to climb. Each step up the dune seemed to bring you right back where you started. The sand kept sliding underneath our feet. The view at the top was nice, though, and it was all worth it when we got to run down it.

It got dark soon after. We ate a Bedouin dinner and sat by a camp fire the rest of the night smoking shisha. Our guide’s son played a strange sort of instrument that seemed to be a combination of a sitar and a guitar. We chatted late into the night and then fell asleep under the stars.

In the morning, we woke up to find ourselves alone. The jeep at the camp had a flat tire, so our guide’s son had wandered off to the nearest camp to get help without telling us. He eventually came back, though, and provided us with breakfast.

Then, we headed off into the desert on foot. We hiked to the nearest village and then hopped on some camels. Riding camels is quite an experience. We took them a bit beyond the village to see some more of the scenery, but all we could focus on were the camels themselves. We also had to concentrate on staying on them. Camels are not as graceful as horses.

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Around midday, we returned to the village. Our time in Wadi Rum had ended a short twenty-four hours after it began.

We drove to Aqaba. Dan stayed the night there and turned the car around to head north back toward Amman. We bought him a parting beer then hopped on a ferry departing at midnight for Egypt.

In a short few hours, we would be in a new continent.

Petra

25 Oct

Most everyone has an image of Petra in their mind.

It’s just as stunning in person as you would imagine it to be. But let’s start with the previous night and how we got there.

Eric:  We had picked up beers from a liquor store and walked up to the roof expecting to find no one. Our hostel had been empty the day before, but had apparently filled up while we were out exploring Amman and the Dead Sea.

Dane:  There were some Australians, an Egyptian, a weird Scottish guy, and another American. His name was Dan and he had rented a car.

Eric:  Just like high school, we ignored the other losers on the roof and gravitated toward the cool kid with the car.

Dane:  His itinerary matched up perfectly with ours. Luckily all we had to do was buy him a beer to get in his good graces. So, yeah, it was kind of like high school.

Eric:  The next day started our road trip through the desert. First stop, Petra.

Dane:  We stopped for snacks and drinks at a gas station just outside of Petra then hopped back in the car.

Eric:  And like a high school kid, Dan wanted to show off to his new friends, so he pressed the accelerator to the floor as we went to pull back on the highway.

Dane:  That’s when the hub caps went flying. We hit a giant pot hole.

Eric:  Dan scurried out to gather the hub caps off the highway amidst the eighteen wheelers that were speeding by. Then, we continued on our way.

Dane:  It was clear the tires weren’t right, and we were in the middle of the desert, not exactly the kind of place you want to get stranded.

Eric:  The rest of the ride was a nervous one, though we eventually made it.

Dane:  It was clear when we exited the car, however, that the back left tire was completely flat. I’m not sure how long it had been that way, but Dan chose to keep driving on it.

Eric:  He did buy the insurance.

Dane:  That was a smart move. Peeling out into the highway and crashing into a pothole, not so much.

Eric:  Lesson here:  road trips always spawn a good story.

Dane:  So, Petra…

Eric:  It was incredible.

Dane:  It was vast. Never ending.

Eric:  The moment the treasury building — the image of Petra everyone has — emerged through the canyon was breathtaking.

 

Dane:  Nothing really prepares you to see something so intricate and massive carved into the side of a cliff.

Eric:  And that wasn’t even the biggest facade in Petra. The monastery was even more massive. My favorite part, though, was hiking in and around the caves.

Dane:  The entire city stretched on forever it seemed. There were houses carved up and down the mountains through the valleys and beyond.

Eric:  We spent the entire day walking around the grounds. Before we realized it, we had been there for ten hours.

Dane:  Where does it rate compared to all the sites you’ve seen around the world.

Eric:  I don’t know. But it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. The size of it, the age of it, was very impressive.

Dane:  I think I’d put it behind Angkor Wat … but nothing else.

Eric:  I liked it more than Angkor Wat.

Dane:  We can agree, though, that it was absolutely stunning.

Eric:  Besides Everest, it’s the coolest thing I’ve seen on this trip.

The monastery in Petra.

 

Doorway of the monastery taken from the inside.

Amman, the Dead Sea, and Rainbow Street

24 Oct

We were a bit surprised by our initial impression of Jordan. It was very modern. The currency was incredible valuable in relation to the dollar. Things were expensive. With the exception of all the women donning hijabs, downtown Amman resembled many other modern cities throughout the world. 

It was amazing walking and driving around Amman and seeing the ruins of a civilization that stretched thousands and thousands of years. We had seen things like that before, but the sights were given added weight because of their ties to biblical history. 

Our first full day, we hired a taxi for the day to drive us from Amman to the Dead Sea and to a waterfall in Wadi Mujib (we think). The Dead Sea was amazing. We both knew we were supposed to float in the water, but nothing can prepare you for the actual experience. The water pushes you up on your stomach or on your back. It was a struggle just to maintain an upright position. We were given an hour and a half to experience the Dead Sea and that time flew by in an instant. We could have stayed for hours more, especially as our fingers didn’t prune. The Dead Sea was well worth the trip.

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The white at the edge of the water is salt.

Wadi Mujib was really cool too. We had to hike from the point where the stream flowed into the Dead Sea (which was roughly 400m below sea level) to the big waterfall. The only pathway was to walk through the water. There were ropes set up along the way to help pull yourself up smaller waterfalls along the way. It was a blast! Unfortunately, we couldn’t take our cameras with us because they weren’t waterproof. There was no way to guarantee their safety during the trek so we left them behind. 

It was a solid day. We returned to Amman in time to catch sunset at The Citadel.  Afterword we grabbed dinner on Rainbow Street, the most modern, happening place in the city. It was a bizarre collection of Western-imitation restaurants (e.g., Buffalo Wings and Rings and Harley’s Burgers), shisha bars, and clubs. Beers were too expensive in this area for our budget, however, so we headed back to our hostel to see if there was anyone hanging out on the roof.

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It turned out to be a good decision that would pay off for the remainder of our time in Jordan, beginning the following evening when we departed for our road trip through the desert. We’ll get to the rest of the story in the next post.

India Wrap Up

24 Oct

We left India a little over a week ago. It was full of ups and downs, expecteds and unexpecteds, good times and bad. It’s hard to sum up all the things we saw and experienced, but since we’ve had a while to process our experience there, we thought we’d add a few of our final thoughts.

Dane:  The most momentous part of our time in India actually had nothing to do with the country itself. It was Alan leaving.

Eric:  The number one thing I’ll remember was my shock and confusion when he told us he was going to Australia to surprise his girlfriend.

Dane:  Alan leaving completely changed the dynamic of our trip.

Eric:  On the plus side, it forced us to meet more people. Over the last few weeks we’ve met a lot of really cool travelers.

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Jealous, Alan? 

Dane:  We both think he’s a bit crazy, but we wish him the best.

Eric:  Certainly. And we’ll think he’s even crazier if he doesn’t rejoin us in South Africa.

Dane:  As for India, I’m going to start with a negative. People were constantly trying to take advantage of us. They would lie to our faces and when we would call them on it, they would act as if we insulted their mother. It wore me down.

Eric:  I didn’t like the people either, but I look at Northern and Southern India as two different worlds. Northern India was the most intense place I’ve ever been and Southern India was very chill.

Dane:  I would agree. We’ve traveled all through Southeast Asia and chaos is familiar to us, but it was on a different level in Northern India.

Eric:  We certainly jumped right into the deep end by starting in Varanasi.

Dane:  I need to qualify that when we say people, we mean people trying to sell us on things, not Indians going about their daily lives. And the sites were amazing.

Eric:  We definitely saw loads of incredible things, highlighted by the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Dane:  And the India/Pakistan border. That whole ceremony was amazing.

Eric:  After going through the hectic North, it was great to go South to the beach. It was way more relaxed.

Dane:  We did very little besides relax on the beach for two weeks.

Eric:  It was incredible not to do anything on a day to day basis. Very relaxing.

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The view from the restaurant attached to our hotel.

Dane:  India was definitely worth visiting. I wouldn’t say that it affected me spiritually or changed my perspective of the world like so many travelers claim, but what we saw was definitely worth seeing.

Eric:  Alan found himself.

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The moment Alan found himself.

Dane:  I suppose one person changed out of three is a decent batting percentage.

Eric:  I was also glad to have experienced India even with the constant ups and downs.

Eric’s Bday

18 Oct

Eric’s birthdays are often memorable. I’ve been present for three of them now, and each one of them is firmly entrenched into my mind bank forever.

The first one I attended was a booze-fueled romp down the Han River on a sightseeing boat. It wasn’t a booze cruise, but we turned it into one, much to the chagrin of the families with small children onboard. When we returned to land, Eric’s friend, Judy, presented him with nunchucks, allowing Eric to put on a demonstration of his nunchuck skills of which he had none. Frankly, we were all watched the demonstration in the hopes he would smack himself in the nuts. (Humor doesn’t get more highbrow!) He never did. That was the only disappointing part of the evening.

The second one didn’t involve nunchucks or boats, but there was a Wheel of Fun you would spin Jeopardy-style that would land on different pie slices offering suggestions (commands?) of “fun” things to do. (It was provided by, who else, Judy. She’s a terrible influence!) The night devolved into love shots, kisses, and lap dances. Also, a long-term relationship grew out of the carnage of that night in a strangely roundabout way.

The third birthday of his I was present for also delivered in a big way. The crazy and the weird started well before the actual party began. The moment that kicked everything off came when we were approaching a breathalyzer stop on the road from Alleppey to Kochi.

There were six of us in the car, an English girl, Libby, and a South African girl, Kate, we had met on the beach in Kovalam, an English bloke, Peter, who we met on the train platform in Varkala, Eric and I, and our driver, a short Indian man with a mustache that wobbled his head from side-to-side when nervous and who, apparently, liked to throw a few beers back at lunch on Tuesdays.

Our driver was a maniac on the road, passing cars without abandon on blind turns and when being stared down by buses. This didn’t make him any different from the other drivers on the road.

He didn’t seem nervous when he approached the breathalyzer stop. He pulled up, blew into the breathalyzer and let his foot off the brake before the breathalyzer beeped back at him. He stopped, blew again. Beep! The cop told him to pull over and get out of the car.

The rest of us were left in the car running through the possible outcomes of this situation in our minds. Through the windows, we watched our driver fail the breathalyzer again. He returned to the car and pulled a bottle of tea out from under the driver’s seat. He took a swig and swished it around in his mouth. He blew into the breathalyzer again. Beep! The cops talked to him sternly. He shook his head. They berated him again. He acquiesced, shaping his index finger and thumb to signify “a little.” Then, the driver returned to the car. He got in. He turned on the engine.

“What the hell is happening?” one of us said, or perhaps all of us.

Our driver chimed in, “Only one drink and pffft…” He wobbled his head from side-to-side. We had been in the car for too long already for one drink to still be affecting him.

The cops all climbed into their car and had our driver follow them through the streets into the outskirts of Kochi. They allowed our driver, who had just failed his breathalyzer, to drive to the police station.

At first, he tried to pass them, as he had passed so many cars before, but they blocked his maneuver, gesturing with their hands and directing with their eyes for him to follow only. He flashed the police a huge grin. It wasn’t the time for joking, but none of us could hold back from laughing, though for most of us the laughter extended from a place of uncertainty and nervousness. Our driver, however, only seemed to display confidence.

When we arrived at the police station, our diver was escorted inside, leaving us alone in the car. No one informed us of what was going on, so after five minutes or so, Eric went up to the receptionist at the front of the station and asked, “What’s happening?”

The receptionist looked at him with a confused expression. “This is a police station. Nothing is happening.” And that’s about as much information as Eric was able to obtain.

We then contemplated grabbing another cab. We hadn’t paid our fair yet, and we were already an hour and a half into the journey, and our driver was pulled over for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, so we could justify bailing on him. But then he returned.

He climbed in the car and told us he had to pay a 500 Rupee fine. He turned on the car and finished driving us to our destination. After having been busted by the police for drunk driving, he was released from the police station with his car keys and allowed to continue driving.

Incredible India!

Later on, the girls caught a night train on to Goa. Peter, Eric, and I stayed in Kochi. It would be Eric’s birthday at midnight. We had to celebrate.

There was only one bar listed in the guidebook the Fort Cochin section of the city where we were staying. That made planning the night easy but the prospect of a memorable birthday grim.

We never should have worried.

After a few beers at dinner, we made our way to the bar. On the way, we ran into a Scottish couple, Sean and Charlene, in the first month of a year-long trip around the world. They were headed to the bar too. Of course they were, they were Scottish. They asked us to join them. They were celebrating Sean’s birthday today, October 16th. We told them we were also celebrating Eric’s birthday. It was decided then and there that midnight would be the culmination of the night. Eric-Sean 2012 was on! (Say it fast. Eric-Sean. Eric-Sean.)

Out came the beers. Out came the accents. Out came the rats. A rat ran across the floor of the bar. Everyone raised their feet off the ground. Cheers! Keep drinking. The Scots mention they recently bought a flat in downtown Glasgow for 80,000 pounds. Peter, who lives in London, stands up from the table in a huff. “80,000 pounds?! That’s mental!” That would buy him a broom closet in London. Cheers! Keep drinking. The bar manager comes up to tell us the bar closes at 10:30 PM. Sean throws a tip his way, so he’ll keep serving us. Cheers! Keep drinking. The manager regrets his decision and kicks us to the street.

The party moved outside. The remaining bar patrons join our group. We congregated under a street lamp that kept turning on and off with the electrical currents sent in by the power company. Tonight, the breaks in electricity are frequent, going so far as to create a strobe light effect during one or two moments. Perfect.

We start to walk the streets. Midnight is closing in. Where are we going to culminate Eric-Sean 2012? Two locals emerge from the darkness, their timing as impeccable as it is in the movies. They have an open air restaurant where we can hang.

Charlene made an offhand comment about being able to buy anything in India for the right price. She threw some money their way and requested some music. It was a solid move that fell apart when she left the choice of song up to the locals.

Seconds later, Gangnam Style blared over the speakers and the two locals started dancing like PSY in the video. They shout all the words they know (all four of them). Eric has a look on his face that clearly read disappointment. He thought he had left Korea, but it had found a way to catch up with him. But when the locals started to try to get Eric to dance along, he had no choice but to embrace it.

The song ended and Eric and Sean pose for a picture. It was midnight!

The locals, however, not to be left out, run into the frame. They want their picture taken with Eric and Sean too. Altogether, they end up posing for half a dozen shots.

The moment came and it passed. Just after midnight, everyone started exchanging Facebook info. It was time to retire for the night. Just after midnight might seem like an early night for a birthday, but when you’ve been involved in a drunk driving incident, closed down a bar, and heard Gangnam Style, there’s not many more places your night can go but down. It’s generally best to get out while you’re still ahead.

Besides, as the clock struck twelve and the 17th turned to the 18th, Eric became 26. He is getting old. And midnight is plenty late when such fine memories had already been made.