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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.

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.