A Year of Living Well

Trip Start Jun 25, 2003
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Trip End Sep 2004


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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Thursday, August 5, 2004

Leaving the adventure and animals of Africa behind we boarded our flight for Amsterdam and our return to the western world. This had been something we had both been looking forward to for a long time. Having spent so much time backpacking through the developing world we were both ready for everything we had been missing and dreaming of since leaving home. I wanted buffalo wings and a hot shower, Jan just wanted to finally put away her traveling clothes and wear something impractical and cute.

Once we set down in Amsterdam we were immediately impressed by how well the city ran and how clean everything was. Spending so much time in Africa we had become accustomed to disorder and poverty, seeing a modern well run western city was a complete shock. We could do what we wanted, eat what we wanted, and go where we wanted whenever we wanted to. All the specific cravings that we had longed for vanished as soon as everything was available to us. It wasn't certain food, or movies or clothes that we missed but the immense choice available. On first setting foot in the west after being in the developing world for so long that was the difference that was most striking, the incredible amount of choices.

The other big difference we noticed upon arriving in Europe was it was much colder and rainier than Africa. Despite being July most of the Dutch were wearing sweaters and leather jackets as they walked the city streets. We spent two days randomly wandering around the beautiful canal lined streets, or purposely following historic walking tours. We went to the Van Gogh museum and had drinks in outdoor cafes, all with one common thread - we were always cold. So after a few days, while shivering through a wonderful fondue and drinking overly chilled red wine at a cafe overlooking a canal, we decided it was time to move on. We headed to the airport to look for last minute deals somewhere warmer. We entertained notions of Sicily, Croatia, Cinque Terra, Prague, Vienna, and Barcelona; there was even a cheap flight to Brazil. After several hours of deliberation we had narrowed our options down but still couldn't decide, so figuring it best to leave some things to chance we settled on a coin flip, following which we booked a flight the next morning to Barcelona.

Stepping off the airplane we were greeted by warm weather and sunshine, Barcelona proved to be exactly what we had wanted. We stayed in the old quarter off of Las Ramblas at a wonderful little hostal overlooking a square crowded with cafes. Having traveled for so long we tended to crave routine and we easily fell into a pattern that lasted for the next six days. We spent our mornings reading the Herald Tribune over cafe con leche and bocadillos con queso, at a cafe across the street from our hostal. This was always followed by a several hour long walking tour of either the winding narrow alleys that make up the rabbit's warren of the Barrio Gothic or the imaginative, colorful, Dr. Seuss like architecture of Gaudi and the Modernistas. Depending on how far we had walked we would eat a picnic lunch of fruit, bread, cheese and olives from the local outdoor market, or sit down to a wonderful three course lunch in one of the plazas complete with wine. Then it was time to go to the beach. As it is summer the sun stays out until after ten o'clock and we could lay on the beach from late afternoon into early evening relaxing and recovering from the over indulgence of the day. Then after a gelato and a shower we would head to an outdoor cafe as the sun would set for tapas and a bottle of rioja. It is easy to see why both Jan and I love Barcelona despite the lack of monkeys.

Leaving Barcelona we began our long journey home. Our first stop was back to Amsterdam were we were a bit disappointed to see it hadn't warmed up in our time away. There we met some friends we had traveled with while in South East Asia. It was great to see them and we relived old times going out in Amsterdam and telling stories from our Beerlao days. From Amsterdam we flew to London for a trendy dim sum dinner with good friends who had moved there in the last year from New York. It had been so long since I had eaten at a trendy restaurant I was totally confused by the hip menu. Janice seemed to have no problem, fluidly ordering several multi-colored cocktails. After our short time in London we finally entered the United States through JFK in New York. Part of me expected INS to throw me a welcome back party and another part of me expected INS to throw me in a room for questioning after all of the traveling we had done. In the end, I like to think I split the difference, garnering no more than a grunt from a terse immigration inspector. I guess a welcome back cake would have been too much to ask.

Over the next few weeks we slowly made our way here to Chicago. We had many parties with friends and family in four different cities. It was fantastic to see everybody, and most of you reading this are included in "everybody". And we would like to thank everyone for doing what immigration didn't, for making us feel welcome back home. In seeing everyone certain questions kept coming up, for example: What was your favorite country? What was the worst food you ate? Where were the biggest bugs? So we thought we would end our last Travelpod entry with a list of superlatives from our year off. Thank you to everyone for reading about one of the greatest decisions we have ever made. Being an "International Man/Woman of Leisure" is a great job if you can get it.


What Everybody Wants to Know
Total Countries Visited - 26
Favorite Countries - India, New Zealand, Vietnam and Laos
Best Natural Beauty - South Island New Zealand
Best Cultural Experience - Rajasthan, India
Best Shopping - India, Vietnam
Tallest Mountain We Climbed - Kilimanjaro,Tanzania (5986 meters)
Deepest Dive - 33 meters

Damn, That's Purty!
Best Luxury Beach - Maldives (any atoll in the South Ari Atoll group)
Best Cheap Beach - Savaii, Samoa
Prettiest Lagoon - Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Prettiest Overdeveloped Island - Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Best Dive Spot - Similan Islands, Thailand
Best Day Hike - Tongariro Crossing, North Island, New Zealand
Best Multi-Day Hike - Heaphy Track, South Island, New Zealand
Best Sea Kayaking - Abel Tasman, South Island, New Zealand
Most Scenic Driving - South Island, New Zealand
Best Boat Trip - Milford Sound, South Island New Zealand
Best Sailboat Trip - Whitsundays, Australia
Best Desert - Thar Desert, Rajasthan India
Best Ruins - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Most Unexpectedly Beautiful Place - Turtle Island, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
Prettiest City - Jaislamer, Rajasthan, India
Best Sunset - Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Best Night Sky - The Outback, Australia
Favorite Natural Phenomenon - Lunar Rainbow followed by lunar eclipse, Vic Falls, Zambia

I Wouldn't Put That In My Mouth
Best Food - India, Vietnam, Thailand
Best Breakfast - Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), Vietnam
Most Refreshing Drink - Fresh lime soda, India
Best Beach Snack - TIE - Grilled lobster, Cambodia & roasted cashew nuts, Mozambique
Best Cooking Classes - Chaing Mai Cookery School, Thailand
Most Dangerous Drink - Tap water, India
Best Beer - Valima, Samoa
Cheapest Beer - Beerlao, Laos
Worst Wine - Cheap boxed red, New Zealand
Best Wine - Cheap boxed red, Uganda
Most Wine - Easy Rider backpacker wine tours, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Best Roadside Food - Samosas, India
Best Roadside Drink - Chai Masala,India
Vegetarian Heaven - Northern India
Meat Lovers Heaven - Angaga Resort, Angaga Island, Maldives
Number of Days in a Row We Had Eggs for Breakfast - 26 days, Tanzania

Home Sweet Home
Best Hostel - Matthew and Jayne's house, Sydney, Australia
Worst Hostel - Go Global, Taupo, New Zealand (It is a Brit gap year favorite)
Worst Bed - Bhandari Swiss Cottage, Rishikesh, India
Best Bed - Sheraton, Hong Kong
Worst Bathroom - Three way tie - Betty Moors Guesthouse, Samoa (big spider); Iban longhouse outhouse, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo (rhino beetle); Barafu Camp, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (frozen turd)
Best hostel pets - Jack Russells, Wilderness, South Africa
Best Free Food at a Hostel - vegetable soup, Nelson, South Island, New Zealand
Coolest Room - Mandawa Haveli Hotel, Mandawa, India
Best Upgrade - Master suite on Great Barrier Reef diveboat, Cairns, Australia
Best Floating House - Kerala Backwaters houseboat, Kerala, India
Favorite Beach Bar - Eden Serendipity, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Is This Thing Safe?
Total Flights Taken - Janice=49, Jordan=51 (Hong Kong-Chicago-Hong Kong)
Best Airline - Cathay Pacific
Worst Airline - Indian Airlines
Longest non-stop flight - Chicago to Hong Kong (16 hours)
Shortest flight - Male to Angaga Island, Maldives (20 minutes on sea plane)
Best way to get to airport - dhow boat, Lamu Island, Kenya
Best way to get between cities - kayaking, Vang Vieng to Vientiane, Laos
Worst way to get between cities - overnight bus, Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam
Best Taxi Service - motorbikes in Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Worst Taxi Service - cheating rickshaw drivers, India
Most Dangerous Ride - motorbikes, northwest Vietnam
Worst Ride - "Pokey" the three-hub capped Mazda Familia, New Zealand
Worst Road - Road to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Where's My Passport?
Best Way to Cross a Border - under the blue parasol of Chick-a-dee, the lady boy, Chaing Khong, Thailand into Laos
Most Dangerous Border Crossing - TIE - Uganda into Congo (had to pass big guns), Mozambique into Swaziland (had to hear big guns)
Best Visa - Mozambique
Best Stamp - Laos

How Many Dong to the Baht?
Favorite Currency Name - Vietnamese Dong
Best Value to the Dollar - 24,000 Mozambique Meticals to $1US
Only Money with Expiration Date - Zimbabwe Dollar
Easiest Currency to Use - Thai Baht
Cheapest Country - Laos
Most Expensive Country - England
Prettiest Money - South African Rand
Most Common Face on Money - The Queen

Misguided Guides
Funniest Tour Guide - Tommo, Mulga's Tours, Alice Springs, Australia
Most Musical Tour Guide - Empty Bank, Nice Place Tours, Chaing Mai, Thailand
Most Knowledgeable Tour Guide - Dara, Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angor Wat)
Craziest Tour Guide - Paul, Intrepid Travel, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
Best All Around Tour Guide - Jenny, Intrepid Travel, Rajasthan, India
Worst Tour Guide - Sleeping Lady Tour Guide (we forgot her name), Ayuthaya, Thailand
Most Dangerous Driver - Troy, Northwest Loop, Vietnam
Best Driver - Captain Shithouse (John) - Vic Falls to Dar Es Salaam
Least Likely to Bring Enlightenment - Yogi Mr. Bob, Rishikesh, India
Most Helpful Tourist Info Desks - New Zealand

Hippies and Freaks
Easiest instant friends - Dutch and Scandos
Best way to meet friends along the way - 2 day slow boat into Luang Prabang from Thailand
Most Difficult "English" Speakers to Understand - Northern Scots
Worst Abusers of the Queen's English - Western Australians
World's Most Beautiful Man - Matthew Mumford, Sydney, Australia (currently not available)
Best Acoustic Guitar Brittney Spears-Playing Swede - Fabian, Sweden
Most Likely to Jump Off Something to Impress Girls - Tom (England), Paddy (Ireland), Mike (Australia)
Most Full of Useless Trivia - John Davis, Ireland
Most Anal Man With Dreadlocks - CB, USA
Most Fluffy Yoga Buddy - Jenny Moss, England
Most Random Coincidence - Chris Moss, Jenny's younger brother
Should Never Have Left Home - Ravi (US), Matthais (Germany)
Most Excitable Group - The "A" Team, Kenya-Uganda-Congo
Quickest Reader - Anne Pezella, US
Best Place to Meet Girls - Sailboat, Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Best Place to Meet Guys - Diveboat, any diveboat, anywhere
Craziest Swede/Calmest Swede - Simon/Niklas
Most Likely to Wear Camouflage - Steve Hore, London
Most Deadpan Humor - Stu, Blue Mountains, Australia
Weirdest Japanese - Yuka, Yokohama, Japan

Crazy Enough to Meet Us
Wrong Way Around - Vicki and Arnaud
Most Likely to Put Rocks in Jordan's Backpack - Paul, L.A.
Most Likely to Cheat at Cards - Kim, New York (Kim, Jordan made me put that)
Best Cheer - "Cheating is good, cheating is fun, cheating makes us number one!" - Kim
Most Likely to Buy Jordan Underwear - Ali, Chicago
Most Likely to Start a Fistfight with a Drunk Australian - Jake, San Francisco

Are You Sure That's the Right Way?
Most Likely to Get Lost in the Jungle - Jordan in Borneo
Most Likely to Get Lost in the Mountains - Jordan in the Drakensberg, South Africa
Most Likely to Get Lost in the City - Jordan, everywhere
Most Likely to Get Lost Underwater - Janice in ocean

Creepy, Crawly, Big and Harry
Biggest Unwelcome Guest - BIG, BIG, BIG spider, Samoa
Biggest Worm - 2ft worm, Lake Bunyoni, Uganda
Biggest Beetle - Rhino beetle, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Most Buggy Place - Deer Cave, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysian, Borneo
Best Insect Control - Swooping bats, Camp 5, Mulu Nat'l Park, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Favorite Ape - Chimpanzee
Scariest Ape - Mountain Gorilla
Most Jordan-like Ape - Orang Utan
Hardest to See - Leopard
Dumbest Animal - Wildebeest
Most Interesting to Watch - Elephants
Funniest - Monkeys, all monkeys
Most Difficult to Remove - Leeches, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Most Painful - Fireants, Tanzania and Uganda
Biggest Dog Balls - Guesthouse dog, Sepilok Orang Utan Reserve, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

I Raise You Two Toothpicks
Best Scrabble Winner Ever - Jordan
Best Card Game on a Truck - Hearts
Best Card Game at Altitude - "High Altitude" (Paul's Chinese card game)
Favorite Card Game in Borneo - Poker
Worst Bluffer - Louie, New Zealand
Hardest Lateral Thinking Puzzle - Man eats albatross and kills self...
Most Likely to Stump Lateral Thinking Puzzle - Man pushes car in front of hotel...
Only If Incredibly Bored - Chess

Finding Nemo
Total Number of Dives This Trip - Janice=42, Jordan=43
Scariest Dive - Beqa Lagoon, Fiji
Most Colorful Coral - Rainbow Reef, Taveuni, Fiji
Largest Schools of Fish - Similan Islands, Thailand
Biggest Sea Life - Manta Rays/Whale Sharks, South Ari Atoll, Maldives
Worst Dive - Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
Most Boring Dive - Lake Malawi, Malawi
Favorite Dive Boat - Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia

Celebrate Good Times, Come On
Best Festival - Full Moon Festival ("Monkapalooza") - Vientiane, Laos
Biggest Gathering - Wildebeest Migration, Serengeti, Tanzania
Biggest Grudge Match - 1st place - India vs. Pakistan cricket; 2nd place - SEA Games Vietnam vs. Indonesia soccer (who knew?)
Best Tournament - Rugby 2003 World Cup (who knew?)
Best Continued Tradition - Dressing up for Halloween, Luang Prabang, Laos
Best New Tradition - Bloody Marys and Australian Steaks on Thanksgiving, Hoi An, Vietnam
Scariest Santa Claus - Malaysian divemaster in white-guy mask, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
Lamest New Years - Day after Mt. Kinabalu summit asleep by 10PM, Sabah, Malaysian, Borneo
Easiest to Forget - Our wedding anniversary (who knew?), Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Best Free Breakfast - Jordan's birthday, Denny's, Auckland, New Zealand
Worst Birthday Cake - Janice's birthday, Horlicks cheesecake, Sandakan, Malaysian, Borneo

You Talkin' To Me?
Best Nickames - Jordan-Dr. Evil, Janice-Nugget
Favorite Quote Not In Travelpod - "I don't hitchike at home, I am definitely not hitchiking in Swaziland!", said by Janice to Jordan before hitching a ride

Greatest Number of Days Wearing Same Underwear - 4 days, Jordan; 3 days, Janice
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Comments

paul
paul on

Craziest Guide?
I'll just take it as a compliment. Hope you guys are well and enjoying being back home.

Paul

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