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Awards

14 Dec

We thought we would compile a list of awards for the trip, a “best of” and “worst of” of sorts. We came up with a number of different categories and nominations for each. We voted on the winner of each category to determine a winner (denoted by bold type). Most of the categories resulted in three different votes, so we argued and pleaded to narrow it down to one winner (except in two cases). Here goes…

 

THE MOST SURPRISING MOMENT AWARD

1)  Tahrir Square being peaceful and empty when we drove through it in a cab for the first time.

2)  Being split up at the very start of our trip when Typhoon Bolaven “forced” our flight to be cancelled.

3)  Having the exact same itinerary as Dan in Jordan and him offering to drive us through the country.

4)  Alan telling us he was flying to Australia.

5)  When Alan realized Dane and Eric would not be going to North Korea, and he was on his own.

comments:  It blind sided everyone, even Alan a little bit. Nothing else could top it.

 

THE CRAZIEST EXPERIENCE AWARD

1)  Being driven by a drunk taxi driver in India.

2)  Taking the local bus in Nepal with wooden floors that accelerated through the winding mountain turns that hugged cliff faces.

3)  Having to walk past a cobra in an alley in Varanasi.

4)  The overnight trains in India.

5)  Shark diving in Cape Town.

6)  Dealing with altitude sickness on our Everest Trek.

7)  Witnessing the training of young kids to perform at the Mass Games at the Children’s Museum in North Korea.

comments:  There were a number of crazy experiences on our trip, and any number of them could have been chosen as the craziest. We had to go with shark diving, though for the sheer amount of crazy we personally had to have in our own minds to actually go through with the experience, especially since we had seen a youtube video days before which showed a Great White breaching one of the cages.

 

FAVORITE PLACE AWARD

1)  Varkala, India

2)  Cape Town, South Africa

3)  Petra, Jordan

4)  Namche Bazaar, Nepal

5)  North Korea

6)  Mark’s Parent’s house

comments:  This one was unanimous. Cape Town is beautiful and there is lots to do there. We were meant to stay for four days and ended up staying for eight. We could have stayed longer.

 

FAVORITE SITE AWARD

1)  Mount Everest

2)  Taj Mahal

3)  Petra

4)  Pyramids

5)  Table Mountain

comments:  One of the ties. It’s hard to separate these two. Dane voted for Petra number one and Pyramids number two. Eric voted Pyramids number one and Petra number two. Alan wasn’t there, so he voted for the Taj Mahal number one. We had to overrule him.

 

MOST CONTROVERSIAL BLOG POST

1)  A Day in the Life of Alan

2)  India Wrap Up

3)  The post where Eric drank the finger water

comments:  Alan was in no part responsible for this blog, but it caused quite an uprising amongst friends and family because Dane and Eric failed to fully specify that it wasn’t written by Alan and it was a joke. Our bad.

 

THE “WEIRDED US OUT” AWARD

1)  When an Indian man looked into Eric’s eyes as the sun disappeared below the horizon on the beach and lovingly asked, “What are you thinking about?”

2)  Alan telling us he was flying to Australia.

3)  Ram getting jealous when we were interacting with another trekking group on our way up to Everest Base Camp.

comments:  As Eric said, only his girlfriend has ever asked him such a question. So, it was strange for a man who he didn’t know to approach him out of the blue and ask it. It definitely weirded us out. Still does.

 

THE “INCREDIBLE INDIA” AWARD

1)  Trash everywhere.

2)  The constant lies and the constant cheating.

3)  The drunk taxi driver who was allowed to keep driving after paying his fine.

4)  The overly crowded liquor store in Alleppey at 11 am on a Monday.

5)  The seemingly 496:1 ratio of men to women.

comments:  Unpopular opinion alert:  we didn’t absolutely and totally fall in love with India, which everyone else in the world seems to have, especially the other travelers we met along the way. We didn’t absolutely hate it, but we didn’t absolutely love it. That’s why we picked our “India Wrap Up” blog ended up on the most controversial award list. That said, the drunk taxi driver who was let off with a fine and handed his keys to continue driving has to be the most ridiculous thing we experienced in India.

 

THE BEST NIGHT OUT AWARD

1)  Dane’s birthday in Maun.

2)  Eric-Sean 2012.

3)  Long Street in Cape Town.

4)  The umbrella drinks only night in Kovalam.

5)  The braai and bar crawl in Kommetjie.

6)  Sunday night watching Home Alone and drinking beer in bed at our Cairo hostel.

comments:  Lots of food, lots of beer, lots of friends. A wonderful time that slightly edges out the other nights on the list (except #6, it blows #6 out of the water).

 

THE BEST IMPROMPTU JOURNEY (SITE) AWARD

1)  Australia

2)  India/Pakistan Border

3)  Dahab

4)  Mount Sinai

comments:  We were all there for this one, and it tuned out to be an absolutely amazing experience I would recommend to anyone. There were hype men!

 

THE MOST CHAOTIC PLACE AWARD

1)  Varanasi

comments:  No other place even comes close to making the list. It would be an insult to compare anything else to it. It’s the most chaotic place anyone of us has ever been times 100.

 

THE MOST STUNNING FIRST LOOK AWARD

1)  The Pyramids at Giza

2)  The Treasury at Petra

3)  The top of Mount Everest

4)  Varanasi

comments:  This was a split vote, but again anything on the list easily could have won the top award. The top of Everest is something neither of us will ever forget.

 

THE BEST IMPROMPTU CREW AWARD

1)  The backwater boat tour group

2)  The attendees of Eric-Sean 2012

3)  The A-Team on the first leg of the safari from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls

comments:  There were some great people we met along the way. The A-Team was an odd collection of people that really meshed together. They made the long drives between stops on the safari enjoyable, a hard task to do.

 

THE BEST ALAN REPLACEMENT AWARD

1)  Dan from Jordan

2)  Narelle aka the “oracle” from the safari

3)  Peter from India

4)  Rich from Bangkok

comments:  The chef from London takes this one. It was a heated race, but Peter pulled it out by a nose. He was wonderful company, and it helped that we met up with him days after Alan left.

 

THE BEST RANDOM GAME AWARD

1)  Throwing rocks at other rocks everywhere

2)  Playing catch with minnows in the Okavango Delta

3)  Converting a rugby ball into an American football for a game of catch on the beach

comments:  The reason this idiotic game wins is because we did this in every country we visited.

 

THE MOST DISAPPOINTING MOMENT AWARD

1)  Missing North Korea

2)  Alan leaving

3)  Alan returning

comments:  This one will haunt Dane and Eric. We really wanted a peak behind the curtain, especially after living in South Korea, but it wasn’t meant to be. All we have are Alan’s amazing photos and stories from his time there.

 

THE MOST ROMANTIC MOMENT OF THE TRIP AWARD

1)  Eric and Alan’s one year sleeping in the same bed anniversary

2)  Eric not going on any international vacations without Dane for the last two years

3)  Eric and Dane spending nearly every moment of three months together

4)  Alan flying to Adelaide to surprise his lady love.

comments:  No question.

 

THE WEIRDEST DAY AWARD

1)  The day Alan told us he was going to Australia

2)  Day one of the trip when Eric and Dane were still in Seoul.

3)  Day two of the trip when Eric and Dane were still in Seoul.

4)  Taking the coast road along the garden route and seeing the coast for a maximum of 10 minutes.

5)  Not knowing who the President of the United States was while we were camping in the Okavango Delta.

comments:  The day Alan told us he was leaving was still the weirdest. We went to the southernmost tip of India. It wasn’t worth it, and we were trying to piece together in our mind why Alan was leaving what we saw as a trip of a lifetime. It must be love.

 

THE MOST DIFFICULT DAY AWARD

1)  When altitude sickness hit Eric hard after the second rest day.

2)  The Trek down to Lukla from Namche Bazaar.

3)  23 hours of flight time, not including a four hour layover in Abu Dhabi, on the way back to America.

comments:  For the three of us, the trek down to Lukla was probably the most difficult. It was raining, we were tired, and the distance took us all day to cover. But what Eric went through with altitude sickness has to top it. And he continued hiking!

 

THE BEST OF NEPAL AWARD

1)  Base Camp

2)  Eating steaks in Kathmandu after returning from the Himalayas

3)  Having internet again after 10 days without it.

comments:  An easy choice. It’s where we literally were at the foot of the top of the world. It was the pinnacle of our trek and the reason we went to Nepal in the first place.

 

THE BEST OF INDIA AWARD

1)  The India/Pakistan border

2)  The Taj Mahal

3)  Varkala

4)  The Golden Temple at Amritsar

comments:  There is a reason everyone goes to see the Taj Mahal. It’s beautiful, and it dominates the surrounding sky. If you get the chance, go. You won’t be disappointed.

 

THE BEST OF JORDAN AWARD

1)  The road trip with Dan

2)  Wadi Rum

3)  Petra

4)  the Dead Sea

comments:  Jordan turned out to be a solid destination from top to bottom. We enjoyed everything we did there. But again, there’s a reason Petra is a wonder of the world. It must be visited by anyone who travels to Jordan.

 

THE BEST OF EGYPT

1)  Scuba diving in the Red Sea

2)  The Pyramids at Giza

3)  The Library at Alexandria

4)  Mount Sinai

comments:  Like the first two, there’s a reason people go out of their way to see the Pyramids, and none of them leave disappointed.

 

THE BEST OF SOUTH AFRICA

1)  Noel’s 75th

2)  Coffee Bay

3)  The drive down to the Cape of Good Hope

4)  Seeing old friends and their families and friends

5)  Kruger

comments:  It was nice connecting with people from Korea and Alan’s old friends and family. It’s always nice to know the locals. They give you the best advice about places to stop and visit and afford you the opportunity to do things most tourists miss out on.

 

THE THING WE’RE MOST LIKELY TO DO AGAIN AWARD

1)  Shark diving

2)  See the Pyramids at Giza

3)  Visit Cape Town

4)  Visit North Korea

5)  Go on safari

comments:  Alan, if he had not been in Australia, would have gone on his second safari already. As it is, we all stand at one. We hope, however, to run that number to at least two. Going on safari is terrific. Seeing wild animals is always fun.

 

MVP OF THE TRIP

1)  Dane

2)  Eric

3)  Alan

comments:  Alan disappeared for part of the trip. It’s as simple as that. He got a nice consolation prize, though, as he and his lady will be spending Christmas together in Ireland.

Farewell (For Now)

14 Dec

Our last day was spent in Johannesburg. Eric and Dane fly out today. Alan flies out tomorrow. So, our trip will end as it began, with the group split apart. This time, however, we’re ready for it. It will be nice to get back home. It will be nice to see old friends again and to be with our families for Christmas. We’re sad the trip is coming to an end. We’re sad to be leaving each other’s company for who knows how long. But it’s time.

Eric:  We’ve been traveling for 106 days. Me and Dane at least.

Dane:  Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

Alan:  It will be 109 for me by the time I leave tomorrow.

Eric:  Always trying to one up us.

Dane:  Part of that was spent in Adelaide, though, missing Petra and the Pyramids.

Alan:  I did get a pretty amazing girl.

Eric:  Wow!! What a suck up! You can write that, too. I must say, though, I am happy for Alan and Inyoung. And I’m happy he came back.

Alan:  So am I.

Dane:  So, Alan, what’s your favorite Eric story of the trip?

Eric:  There’s not many good ones.

Alan:  Favorite Eric story? When he drank the finger water.

Dane:  That’s 100% the right answer.

Eric:  Let’s not forget Alan abandoned us and should be the one we are making fun of.

Dane:  Go for it. Favorite Alan story?

Alan:  I didn’t put my foot in my mouth as much as you did.

Eric:  No one does.

Dane:  What about at Noel’s 75th?

Eric:  Oh yeah! When you were asked to say Grace at Noel’s birthday dinner, and you stumbled through it. You looked more nervous than when I talk to women.

Alan:  Now, we have to do Dane stories…

Eric:  Dane is so cool, calm and collected, he rarely does something you can make fun of him for. But, he lost his charm a bit, when he scared away Daisy from Botswana just because she had no shoes. She probably couldn’t afford them.

Dane:  I don’t respect the 47%.

Eric:  Which includes both Dane and myself.

Dane:  Not an ounce of respect.

Alan:  I would be a part of that, too, if I wasn’t Irish.

Dane:  So, it’s sort of the end of an era here. We have all been in Korea/traveling together for the past 2 years and 4 months. It’s been a helluva time.

Eric:  An amazing two year run. Because, yeah, our first trip was together, Hong Kong/Macau, and now, we’ve finished our last trip together.

Alan:  Hopefully not our last trip.

Dane:  When might that trip be?

Alan/Eric:  BRAZIL 2014!!!

Alan:  Or Vegas anytime.

Eric:  Alan’s bachelor party.

Dane:  I’m game. Any final tales of the trip to mention or closing remarks?

Eric:  I’d just like to say thanks to Dane and, even Alan, for everything, for the trouble we got into in Seoul to the drive through South Africa, I’ve enjoyed every second of it!

Alan:  The wolf pack shall be reunited in Brazil. We should tag James Finnie in that statement.

Eric:  Haha… We’re going to need someone to show us around.

Alan:  It really has been an amazing two and a half years. From the orientation class where I asked Dane how the hell does Eric drink like that and still have a smile on his face in class…

Eric:  That’s me, mom.

Alan:  …to being on the soccer team together briefly to the countless barbecues we had together on the weekend, it’s all been good.

Dane:  I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m going to miss you, boys. See you in Brazil or Vegas.

Alan:  Cheers to that.

Egypt

3 Nov

Our first full day in Cairo, we went to the Pyramids at Giza. It was by far the best thing to see in Egypt (though admittedly, we did not make it to Upper Egypt — Luxor, Memphis, and all that). That is no surprise. After seeing the Pyramids, nothing else in Egypt stood a chance to impress us.

Dane:  Highlight of Egypt?

Eric:  Pyramids.

Dane:  Obviously.

Eric:  Obviously.

Dane:  So, what’s number 2 on the list?

Eric:  Climbing to the top of Mount Sinai. Egypt has so much religious history, to experience some of it was cool. You?

Dane:  I would have said the same thing, but in order to avoid getting repetitive, I’ll say scuba diving at Dahab.

Eric:  Scuba diving is always great. I saw some of the biggest, most colorful fish I had ever seen in the Red Sea.

Dane:  Yeah, they were massive and somewhat scary to see swimming toward you.

Eric:  The reef was pretty impressive as well.

Dane:  There wasn’t much going on in Cairo. Tahrir Square was quiet. The Egyptian Museum had a lot of cool things, but there was little to no information about the artifacts present and there was no flow to the museum at all.

Eric:  It was pretty cool to see the mummies, though. One of them even had all of its finger nails still.

Dane:  Yeah, the mummified body exhibit was cool. The King Tut treasures were cool. A lot of the artifacts were cool. The museum could be so much better, though. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

Eric:  Is there anything else to say really?

Dane:  Alexandria.

Eric:  Alexandria was nice because we had a contact there to show us around a bit.

Dane:  The library there is pretty amazing … as much as libraries can be.

Eric:  They have a record of everything they’ve put on the internet since 1996.

Dane:  All backed up on servers. The only copy of the internet in the world.

Eric:  Be careful what you put on Facebook.

Dane:  Have you seen your Facebook profile?

Eric:  I’d be a lot smarter if I took my own advice. College.

Dane:  But again, the Pyramids were the best thing by far.

Eric:  I’d say they were the best thing I’ve seen on this trip … or the coolest thing.

Dane:  They were absolutely amazing. Massive. Huge. Another word meaning mind-blowingly big.

Eric:  We rented horses to take us around the whole complex. Not being from Texas, I think I enjoyed the experience more than Dane. We got to gallop around a bit, which was fun, but also hurt…

Dane:  I enjoyed the galloping more than you because, being from Texas, I knew how to avoid hurting certain parts of my anatomy when the horse sped up.

Eric:  Yeah, galloping was painful.

Dane:  The horses were a good way to get around, though. I didn’t want to do it at first because I thought the price was expensive, but it ended up being well worth it, especially since our guide shooed away all the touts (read:  annoying salesmen).

Eric:  It was nice not having to deal with them for a change. It made the experience all the better.

Dane:  So, that’s Egypt?

Eric:  I’d like to talk about what impressed me about the pyramids.

Dane:  Go.

Eric:  It was fascinating to see something so tall that had been standing there for over 5,000 years. I’m so impressed the Egyptians were able to construct it with such minimal machinery. They were incredibly high. Was it 160 m?

Dane:  Not sure.

Eric:  Well, high. And massive at the base.

Dane:  Yeah, it made having the horses almost a necessity just to get around them in a reasonable amount of time.

Eric:  So, that’s Egypt?

Dane:  That’s Egypt.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the grandest of the pyramids, was completed around 2540 BCE, the others were constructed and completed not too long after. The height of the Great Pyramid is 138.8 meters (455 ft). The width of the Great Pyramid at the base is 230.4 meters (756 ft). In your mind, you have an idea of what to expect when you get there, but when you finally do arrive, you are still blown away.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest building on Earth when construction on it was completed. It held that record for 3,800 years.

Mount Sinai

2 Nov

We took a taxi from Port Nuweibi to a place called Dahab upon arriving in Egypt. We slept a couple hours to recover from the ferry ride then went scuba diving. We walked into the water from the shore. The coral reef was right there. It was spectacular, colorful, and full of fish. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing in restaurants and lounges on the water. We had to allow our bodies to decompress (or whatever) after diving. Our next stop would be Mount Sinai, and, not wanting our ears to explode (or whatever), we couldn’t climb the mountain immediately after diving. So, we waited.

We took a taxi from Dahab to St. Catherine’s in the afternoon. We had planned to tour St. Catherine’s Monastery then return to our hostel to rest before heading to the mountain at 3 am to hike to the top to watch the sunrise over the desert. Things did not go entirely as planned.

There were several military checkpoints along the way from Dahab to St. Catherine’s. We were waved through most of them without a problem. At one of them, however, we were stopped for quite a while. We showed them our passports and everything seemed to be in order till they asked us to step out of the car.

We were walked to the commander of the checkpoint’s office, but they said only one of us could go inside. Eric waited outside. I was escorted in.

I was greeted by a stern-faced man who liked to keep his hand gun on top of his desk. It was half an arm’s length away from him, and the barrel was pointed directly at me. He asked me several questions in a style in which he was trying to be as intimidating as possible (surely the gun was enough to accomplish this). Then, he thought about all of my answers and concluded tourists on the way to climb Mount Sinai and then on to Cairo the following day seemed like a reasonable enough truth. We were allowed to proceed on the condition we took the 6 am bus from St Catherine’s to Cairo tomorrow. We agreed.

Upon arriving at our hostel we were informed we wouldn’t be able to witness sunrise on the mountain and make it back down in time to catch the 6 am bus (as it turns out, it was the only bus leaving for Cairo the following day anyway). Also, St Catherine’s Monastery was closed for the day. We wouldn’t be able to tour the monastery, but we could still hike Mount Sinai and watch the sunset, only we had to leave immediately, and we had to hurry.

We rushed out of the hostel, secured a guide, and hiked up Mount Sinai as quickly as we could. No rests, no breaks. It was worth it, however, when we reached the top just in time for sunset. We took the obligatory pictures with smiles and then Moses-style pictures. And that was about it. It got dark, and we hiked back down. We ate dinner at the hostel and went to bed in order to wake up early the next day for our trip to Cairo.

It was rushed, but it was worth it. Climbing Mount Sinai was great. Sunset over the desert was terrific. It was a good experience.

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.