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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.

North Korea Day Two (Aug. 29)

4 Oct
Apologies for the delay but between poor internet immediately after North Korea, going trekking and then losing all my North Korea notes while trekking, I’m only getting around to this now.

The second day was a feast of North Korea statues, monuments, museums, galleries and generally being impressed by North Korean building feats. Our tour started by first getting lost. We were going to the National Gift Museum but we took a handful of wrong turns which lead to many U-turns but eventually we made it to a museum where there were a huge array of presents and gifts that Koreans from all around the world had made to country. A lot of them were from China and Russia but there were some random American and Canadian ones too, which interestingly had images of Indians on them. Unfortunately there were no cameras allowed in there.

Then we went back into the city to take the subway for a few stops. Supposedly it’s one of the deepest subways in the world and I was told it’s exceptionally unique, as unlike other subways around the world, this one does not come above ground at any point. For the few stops that I got to see it was well decorated with plenty of murals dedicated to the past President Kim Il Sung. He is the founder of North Korea and still worshipped like a god. I think the biggest surprise for me was that the subway was actually used. Each train was full of people going about their business and a little like the Seoul subway the capacity limit was only reached when you physically couldn’t put another body on the train. Each stop had either statues or huge images of Kim Il Sung on the walls with the other images of people gazing at him.

From there we went to the main statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Jong Il’s statue was only put up in April so they put that together pretty fast considering he passed away in December. I would later discover that everything was made or built in about half the time that they had forecasted…very impressive workers!! The statues are phenomenal though, pictures don’t really do them justice in terms of the size and scale of them.

During the drives between each of the sites, Amy began to ease and i realized that the other two really couldn’t pick up on anything I was saying so I casually dropped into a conversation that I had lived and worked in South Korea. She didn’t really say much at the start but as the day wore on her curiosity grew. I’m sure she’s had people who’ve lived or worked in the South before but I guess the stories never get old.

I was then brought to North Korea’s proudest attraction, the U.S. Pueblo. It was a spy boat that they captured in the 60s. The Americans tried to pass it off as a shipping vessel but that story proved hard to continue when all sorts of weaponry and recording equipment were found on board. The U.S personnel onboard eventually confessed what they were doing and were made write formal apologies to the DPRK but the U.S refused to accept their confessions as truth. The North Korean solider who showed me around the boat boasted of how only a small number of North Korean navy personnel (I think 6 or 7) took control of this ship that had around 60 American ‘spies’ onboard. The American government wanted the ship back but the North refused and held onto it as a trophy prize of their famous victory. On December 23 1968 an official apology was written on behalf of the American Government.

After countless statues and attractions it was finally dinner time where I was able to talk to Amy again. I had to tread carefully because I sensed that sometimes I annoyed my guide a bit, so I’d always followed that up with something boring or silly about the South. But one thing that I did find interesting from all her answers was that she has no ill feeling towards the people in the South. She always referred to the peninsula as one which unfortunately happened to have a line drawn across it. Her main question to me was why America had come all this way to split a country that they had no major interest in. The biggest difficulty I had was that if someone grows up their entire life being told that the colour of grass is red and they’ve never had to question that or were allowed to question that, how do you explain to them that they were lied to? She was always interesting to talk to, though, quite refreshing really. She explained to me that in her opinion both sides had to put away the guns and find a way to re-unify the country but would always remind me that the North would respond to provocation from the South…with lethal force!

North Korea Day One (Aug. 28)

5 Sep

Finally I’m back in a land with internet. Firstly a little bit of back-tracking. That morning when Eric and Dane were stuck in Seoul were the most frantic few hours ever. I was in contact with the tour agency only via email that morning because their offices still weren’t open and Simon had said that they wouldn’t have any information about possibly getting the guys out on a later flight til later that morning. After having my internet connection cut and told that Gmail could not connect (thank you China) I decided to go to the offices and talk to Simon directly. I figured I had plenty of time anyway. My flight to Pyongyang was scheduled for around 1pm and it was still only 8:30am.

I got to the offices to find Simon frantically running around and asked him about how we could get Eric and Dane to join us, when he interrupted ‘Did you get my email?’, I said ‘no’ to which he stopped and said, ‘so you don’t know about the flight’s new time?’. The flight had now been moved forward to 11am. It was now around 9.30am and that’s when we were talking to Eric and Dane about having to make an instant decision. I disappeared out of the office having to get back to my place, pack and get a taxi for the most disorganized start to any trip I’ve done…without my traveling companions.

Unfortunately for me I picked up the most relaxed and clam taxi driver any city could offer, clearly the sweat dripping from my brow and panic clearly written all over my face hadn’t translated but I arrived with a few minutes to spare. I met Simon again and asked him had he heard from Eric or Dane but because of all the extra hoops they now had to jump through in terms of making 26 hours in Beijing into 24 hours and trying to get an emergency visa for China in Pyongyang I had a sinking feeling that I was going to start this tour alone. I eventually got to the boarding gate 2 along with the others who had had their mornings cut short, the gate was opened and boarding for Air Koryo direct to Pyongyang had begun.

When we got onboard we got our daily newspaper of how Kim Jong Un was doing a marvelous job of running the country and a magazine of all the recent accomplishments of the North Korean regime. The flight attendants were dressed in red uniforms and were passing out drinks from a trolly that I’m pretty sure was taken from my grandmothers dining room. I think they had put on some brakes of some sort but every time they had to stop the trolley I saw the flight attendant wedge the top of her shoe under the wheel for assurance. Once I had got my drink it was time to settle into the Pyongyang Times and catch up on all things North Korea. I did find one article, titled “Fact Remains Fact”, that both Koreas would agree on and it was about their colonial past under Japanese rule. One thing for sure that they can come together on is their disliking of how Japan dismisses some of their claims about how their people were treated during that time. Other titles included: “Plotters to pay dearly for crimes”, “Scandals of Lee’s confidants lambasted” (in relation to Lee Myung Bak’s dodgy dealings in the south) and “Mass rallies congratulate supreme leader on attaining top military title” (regarding Kim Jong Un promoting himself to this position). And then there are many pictures of the new leader Kim Jong Un waving, smiling and generally just been a good bloke!

We were also reminded during the dos and don’ts meeting that we should not fold the newspaper over the face of Kim Jong Un if he was to appear on the front page. They told us about a tourist who was smoking in his hotel room and after putting out his cigarette tossed it in the rubbish only for the ambers to burn a hole in the newspaper and of course it’s burned a hole through Kim Jong Un. The cleaning lady found it the next day and he had to write a formal apology and had his tour ended immediately! After finishing the Times, I kicked back and tried to enjoy whatever movie they were playing. Next stop, Pyongyang.

The tip of the typhoon that kept Eric and Dane from traveling had hit Pyongyang so our drive from the airport to the hotel wasn’t much. I couldn’t really make out anything along the drive as the rain poured down. Amy assured me that it would pass during the night and we’d wake up to a wonderful day and take in all the sites the next day. I got to my hotel, checked in and Amy told me to come down for dinner around 7ish. She brought me into the restaurant and there was my table for 10 but just one place set. The guides weren’t to eat with the tourists in the hotel so I was left to my own devices while the waitresses came out, looked, giggled and disappeared back into the kitchen. I met up with an English couple for a beer but as everyone was to be up at cock-shout it was an early night.

There was plenty of room for Dane and Eric had they made it.