For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to explore new places and experience new things, meet new people. Even from the backwoods of the small town of Bellingham WA, that I grew up in to the various countries I’ve had the opportunity to visit. It’s with that curiosity for adventure that I’ve decided to go out on an around the world trip. Accompanied by my wife Jacquelyne, we will travel to eight countries on four continents, the first of which is Australia where we are headed to meet my best friend Jordan and his wife Candace, who reside in Narabeen Beach NSW. We Left Los Angeles last week for Honolulu just to get our feet wet literally, and figuratively, so we could enjoy a nice climate and settle into a life on the road or boat or plane.
We hit our first snag as there was a problem with my Australian Visa and I wasn’t able to board our flight, but the issue was just a mistake that was corrected by the awesome staff at Jet Star and we had to stay an extra day in Waikiki (we were devastated).
So why the wanderer you ask? Everyone I think has a bit of wanderlust in them some more than others. It’s even become trendy to travel and be an Instagram Influencer. Millions of people liking one photo that someone who had the guts to go there and take the photo themselves, or get there early before the millions of tourists do. Really this trip has all been inspired by my father. We lost him last September to Cancer. In the hospital he exclaimed to me how he always wanted to be the wanderer and I was able to record some of our conversations about where he had been, and what he had hoped to see. I felt a calling that I must go to loosely steal John Muir’s words.
I quit my Job and set out with the thoughtfulness and organization skills of my lovely wife, whom without this trip wouldn’t have been possible or at least I wouldn’t have made it very far. I write to you from a Jet Star plane somewhere over the pacific and I have no idea what time zone we are in on our way to Australia, a place I’ve never been. When we arrive we will meet our friends who are fellow and experienced travelers themselves having caught the bug and seen most of this world already. I am excited to see and spend time with them, hear some places they’ve enjoyed that are on our path. I’ve brought just about all I can carry camera wise in order to make pictures along the way and who knows what lies ahead for us as we wander the planet in search of adventure.
THE LAND… OF OZ
NARRABEEN BEACH NEW SOUTH WALES
After a short, nerve racking delay in customs due to a formality check of my visa, Jacque and I were in the land of Oz. (I introduced myself as Brandon, which I had not done in a long time to avoid confusion) We took the windy tunnel roads to the Northern beaches, where when we arrived we were greeted by my long time friend Jordan. Hw was running to catch up with our shuttle van as he had been anxiously awaiting our arrival and was at the beach checking the surf. I gather this is a common occurrence since they only live steps from Narrabeen beach. This is a place of beauty for sure, despite everyone trying to apologize for the weather and wondering why we decided to visit in the southern hemisphere’s winter. In truth, I’d compare it to the the Organ or Northern Cali beaches in climate for late June. The beauty is impossible to compare though almost as if you were in the positive upside down.We borrowed warm clothing from our hosts, knowing we wouldn’t need any for the rest of our journey. They took us around the headlands of the Northern beaches, West Head look out where I flew the drone a bit, and then down into the basin where we saw Wallabies. We had a nice lunch at a place in Palm Beach called “The Boat House.” Which I was told we were overlooking and drone flying several Km away.
After the tour of beauty, we took our feet to Manly Beach and walked along the boardwalk until we took the ferry into Sydney Harbor. Manly was probably my favorite it has a lot to offer for wanderers. It had a Fremont Seattle, Santa Cruz, with a dash of Big Sur vibe… Write that recipe down and pin it on your fridge.
When we boarded and departed on the ferry towards Sydney, I couldn’t believe the similarities of the Pacific North West, as we porpoised the waves. Right until just off the horizon I spotted the famous clamshell opera house roof. I had seen it a million times on TV but its a little different when you imagine the expanse of ocean between that and the Santa Monica Pier. We wound up the evening with rooftop drinks at “Blu Bar” on the 36th floor of the Shangri La Sydney. The sun was setting over the continent of Australia and with such good company the experience was unforgettable.
When it became time for us to be on our way, we had a nice breakfast at “Ocean’s Narrabeen Bar and Restaurant.” Candace is the manager there and she introduced us to so many awesome people that gave us a sense of belonging in their tight benevolent community.. It also happened to be her birthday and when we had finished our coffees we wandered out to the beach just steps away, we were welcomed by a beautiful rainbow. We hugged, not wanting our visit to end but knowing we all will be back together soon.
Signing off from day one, in Bali Indonesia!
BALI, INDONESIA - PT I
CANGGU, NUSA PENIDA
The cabin doors were waiting to be opened and I had already grabbed all of our stuff from the overhead compartment in anticipation of stepping off in Bali Indonesia. The just under six hour flight from Sydney went quickly, I watched two movies when I should have been working, but I was excited like the night before you go snowboarding or insert anything you get excited about.
We walked around the many taxi drivers outside of baggage claim holding up signs and we started to get a little worried because we couldn’t see our name at first. We had booked a shuttle to the hotel for a stress free arrival but somehow we were stressed trying to find our driver go figure. We eventually found our guy and we departed Denpasar airport to our hotel in Canggu, a town about 40 minutes due west from the airport and recommended to us by Jordan whom we just left in Australia.
Canggu was described to us as the hip, low key part of Bali and it didn’t disappoint. Full of Cafe’s and shops it reminded me of a “Fremont Seattle” or an “Venice Beach L.A.” but on the other side of the Pacific. Motorbikes beeping and passing you on a sidewalk not quite big enough for me, let alone two people. We went straight for the beach to a place called La Briza and had a cocktail in the treehouse style beach restaurant and bar. The waves were pumping on the black sand beaches and I still hadn’t been in the water to surf. I felt the urge to but opted to walk further down where we found a nice meal water front for pretty cheap and later I wandered to catch the Sunset to keep my streak going of photographing either the sunrise or sunset everyday of the trip. As I’m writing you now I’ve stayed consistent through 16 days. We rented a motorbike and cruised around shopping during the day waiting for the Sun to be in position to visit the famous “Tanah Lot Temple.” I must admit sometimes the motor bike felt a little sketchy in traffic especially with Jacque clinching my mid section when I would make a decision to pass or have to hit the brakes hard. We spent the evening walking around the stunning Tanah Lot tourist attraction and then when the Sun had set it was time to drive 35 minutes back. . . In the dark. . . Those that know me are aware I have undergone cornea transplant surgery in my left eye; the ailment has prevented me from driving and especially at night. Despite having a nervous wife on my back who by the way was so awesome and supportive and my inability to see 100% I rallied through instinct and got us home safely earning myself a beer from Jacque who applauded my good driving.
We booked a bus that included a speed boat transport to Nusa Penida, a separate island due east of Sanur on the east coast of Bali. The seas are rough and a few times, even I got a little worried when the boat pitched and struggled to catch back on plane and the waves smashed over the bow. These speed boats seat about 50-80 maybe, and have six 200 HP outboard engines. It was a wild ride about 45 minutes to calmer, beautiful clear blue green waters where we jumped off to a corral sand beach. We hopped on a taxi to our bungalow where we were greeted by the sweetest care taker. We think she ran the place with her mother, only four rooms on a dirt road seemingly off the grid. We had read stories and heard from locals that it was dangerous or even impossible to drive a scooter on the roads to the places I wanted to see and it was recommended we should hire a driver for 800k. We rented a bike anyway for 70k about $5 US anyway and went down to Crystal Bay near our place for the sunset. Credit to Jacque again she hopped on the back of the scooter and said “I trust you, let’s go!”
My mission the next day was to wake up and depart in the dark to catch the Sunrise over Kelingking beach. I was a little apprehensive not knowing how my eyes would cope driving in the pitch dark but I mustered up the courage and I let Jacque sleep comfortably and I took off in the dark no one else on the windy jungle roads. Thankfully there aren’t many roads so I kept telling myself I had to be going the right way. The road does get pretty gnarly in spots for long stretches. Comparable to old logging roads we used to mountain bike down in the Northwest. With deep pot holes and large rocks that you constantly have to weave to avoid, I made it to Kelingking and almost dropped the bike down on it’s side I was so excited. I was the only person there (except for the monkey’s.) I snapped some photos and immediately put the drone in the air just as the sun started to kiss the island with the most beautiful light blues, pinks and yellow oranges. After I got my fill of shots I hopped back on the bike and raced home with more confidence knowing the way and also daylight. I picked up Jacque after breakfast and we went back to the area this time seeing Angel’s Billabong which is breathtaking, as well as Broken Beach. The tourists were out in full force and you have to dodge the parade of selfie sticks and wanna be Instagram hero’s. No joke some put on full costumes and did full on photoshoots. They even have spots where people stand in line to take their photo and pay the locals, 5,000 RP to take a picture with their cell phone. I chuckled inside that I got there all alone not a sole in sight and I got to experience the magic with out having to deal with the circus. The circus I suppose is part of the adventure though and the tourism defiantly drives the local economy which I’m all for. Jacque and I made the climb down to the beach at Kelingking which I did’t do when I was there early in the morning and it’s incredible. Not many people have the nerve to scale the rickety bamboo staircase that is more like a 90 degree ladder in some parts. When you reach the bottom it feels like your own private beach. The waves were hectic and powerful, sounding like two trains banging together when they crash against the rock walls. After taking it in we went back up the face of the cliff which is a pretty strenuous climb and that combined with the work out of driving the motor bike off road through heavy tourist traffic we were wiped out when we finally made it back to the bungalow. The next morning we had plans to hop on a speed boat back to Sanur Bali with Ubud next on our Agenda.
See you out there…
BALI, INDONESIA PT II
UBUD - KUTA
Bouncing along the giant waves back to mainland Bali after having a wonderful time on Nusa Penida, we were excited for our next generation - Ubud. Located interior of Bali it’s more a jungle vibe as you get further from the coast. I downloaded an app called “Blue Bird” which works like Uber or Lyft. It’s really nice because you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off. Later, come to find out, the locals hate ride share apps for obvious reasons. Tourism is one of their primary economic pusher and these ride share apps cut into that significantly. When we arrived in our nice, safe, inexpensive Blue Bird car, we saw signs all over Ubud that had symbols of the apps with crosses through them saying that it was a ride share free area. We stepped up to our accommodation I had made a mistake in thinking three nights was 1.2 million Rupiah total. It turned out to be per night but it was a welcome mistake, this place was amazing called Puri Gardens Hotel and Hostel. Everyone we spoke too said it was nicer than some hotels and it was. Always bustling with young travelers, free breakfast and the room was very nice. Highly recommend if you’re planning your trip to Bali. Even the dorm stye rooms sounded nice from the few people I heard from staying there. On our second night they threw a party with free food, traditional Bali dancers, and a Bob Marley cover band.
The next day I rented a motor bike and we headed out to a waterfall not too far from our hotel. We wanted to take it easy as we had booked a sunrise hike to the top of Mt. Batur for the next day that left at 2:00 a.m. The roads weren’t too bad and I handled myself in traffic. I only got turned around a couple times on the way back. Thankfully my GPS is international. A lot of the roads look the same and aren’t well marked. Kampo Lanto Waterfall isn’t a jaw dropper of a waterfall but it’s plenty beautiful and refreshing to cool down in. Very easy to access, you park your motorbike for free and walk down a few steps to a creek that the falls pours into. Local kids were playing and and splashing and for a few bucks guys will take your cell phone and direct you in your own Instagram photoshoot which I politely declined. We took the motor bike back to our hotel and spent the rest of the evening walking around the core of Ubud looking at shops and having dinner where I finally succumbed to my cheeseburger needs and it was actually quite good.
I was a little skeptical about how Jacque would handle the 2:00 a.m. departure but she handled it and we set out in the dark towards Mt. Batur, a still active volcano that I was told last erupted just three weeks prior. The hike itself was a little strenuous up a narrow volcanic rock trail with a snake of flashlights winding to the top from trekkers who came out in droves. Once you arrive at the top you sit there, the locals will make you hot coffee (which I highly recommend because it’s cold up there even for a cold weather person like me.) They offer blankets and can even buy beer and candy, it sort of removed the glory of hiking up the mountain, but once the sun came peaking over the island of Lombok it was all worth it. Not the most thrilling sunset I’ve ever seen but definitively a contender. We came off the mountain through farmland where local farmers grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other food and headed back to the city where our next stop awaited - the Sacred Monkey Forest. This was by far the most recognizable attraction with many of our friends having been before. It’s a must see but it sounds exactly like it is, lots of cute monkeys and then you’re done. I rented another motorbike for the next day with the thought in my head to go to the Tegalalang rice terraces for sunrise the next day. Even more impressive, that was Jacque’s second sunrise wake up call in a row. Except this time it started raining down on us hard five minutes into our motor bike ride and I was having trouble seeing the road with the drops in my eyes and the lack of light in the streets so we decided to bail. It’s a shame we missed out on it but I was ok having not seen it and it was time to move on.
We packed our bags and I negotiated a taxi to take us to Kuta where we planned to stay just because it was close to the airport and we had an early flight the next day. Our driver was very nice and asked if we had seen the coffee plantation. We said we hadn’t and he insisted on taking us for free and dropped us off where we were met by a nice young gal who gave us a tour of the coffee and tea plants and described the process. The most interesting is the process of gathering the beans that are preserved in the poop of an animal called a Kopi Luwak. Their stomach enzymes don’t break down the bean and this coffee is considerably more expensive and quite good actually. Their shirts have “poo” jokes on them like “Cat-poo chino” the cat in reference to the animals face that is similar looking to a cat. We bought some coffee and tea which our driver probably got a commission on and was likely why he offered to take us for free. We then headed to Kuta, a place known for its marketplace and haggling, we walked along the beach where there are “beach bars” (people with coolers selling drinks) and vendors every five feet. Sometimes they spoke to me in an Australian accent assuming I was from there. At night we did more of the same just strolling around and seeing the sights as we waited to jet off to Bangkok, Thailand the next day where we were going to meet with one of Jacque’s best friends Christie and her boyfriend, Rob. Next stop, Pattaya City to see friends again and another new place to experience new things, until then.
See you out there…
Sunrise on the Over Night Bus
We left Bali with full hearts and excitement for the next chapter in Thailand. As I mentioned before we were headed to Pattaya to meet up with Christie and her boyfriend Rob who live in New York currently. I didn’t do much research on Pattaya, I just knew that’s where we were to meet our friends, others had used words like “touristy” and “crowded,” even a little crazy. We had a scheduled cooking class to learn to cook traditional Thai food, much to my surprise our instructor was an American man in his mid 60’s maybe. He had a slow demeanor about him even though he made sure we knew he was a gymnastics star at the University of Oregon during the Prefontaine years. His Thai family surrounded him as we were doing the prepping and he explained each dish usually with the same story behind it as if we didn’t just hear him tell the joke to the previous customer. Over all a strange but delicious experience that was shared with our good friends and I could see Jacque’s shoulders relax a little to have such good company. We spent the day together sharing stories of travel and old jokes, we shared drinks and walked down the Walking street of Pattaya, which I don’t recommend. It’s like Vegas’ evil twin and that’s all I have to say about that. The following day we traveled inland to a winery, yes Christie our wine connoisseur friend actually found a winery near us all the way in Thailand. It was quite nice though with long stretching grass fields and dutch looking wind mills that were kitschy but still fun. It was sprawled at the foot of a huge rock face that had a gigantic outline of a golden Buddha. My immediate thought was to get the drone in the air despite the signs that say no drones. Needless to say I didn’t have it in me to completely ignore the guide telling me I couldn’t do that so I put it away. If you google image search Buddha Mountain Khao Chi Chan, you can see what I’m talking about. The tour group we were with had a couple curious kiddos that were laughing and playing with Rob and the parents wanted to take photos with Jacque and Christie, they love American and Welsh people I guess (Rob being from Wales.) We shared wine and food before heading back to their resort which was a nice beach front villa where we shared more stories and I took some long exposure shots of the moon. We had to say goodbye as the next day they moved on to Bangkok and Jacque and I arranged an overnight bus to Phuket, Thailand.
Phuket is 976 kilometers from where we were and the thought of a 16 hour bus ride was a little nerve-racking but we could save on a hotel for the night by taking the bus. I was most nervous about the seats because I’m not exactly a small guy. The seats ended up being ok with plenty of leg room but we still didn’t sleep much. I had downloaded Stranger Things season three in anticipation of not much sleep and kept thinking to myself “I’m going to see the sunrise on the overnight bus.” Given the spectacular sunrises I had seen already on our journey you can imagine how magical it was to see the light coming through the cracks of the window shade, snoring passengers surrounding us while we had little to no sleep. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
We arrived at our hostel in old town Phuket city. It kind of had a San Francisco vibe about it with boutique coffee shops and little nick-nack shops lining the streets. We mostly just wandered the streets a little and got our bearings but we took a trip to Phang Nga Bay which is home to some 50 plus islands where we would canoe around and see the famous “James Bond” Island that 1975 “The Man With The Golden Gun” was filmed at. Gazing out on the horizon at all the islands was truly beautiful. This tour was of course very touristy but none the less very cool. I knew at this point going off the grid or doing non-touristy things was not going to happen do to time and honestly it’s all part of the adventure and what you make of it. Jacque got an embarrassing photo of me on the way back because they had a “Lady Boy show” which is exactly how it sounds. They were just having fun with it dancing with all the uncomfortable boyfriends and husbands in the crowd getting tips and taking pictures. The more uncomfortable you feel the more they pick on you and I walked away with lipstick on my cheek and Jacque couldn’t stop laughing at me. A strange yet memorable experience.
We put Old Town Phuket behind us on a ferry for Koh Phi Phi island, one that has a big reputation for tourism and partying. I thought it was worth the stop, especially because the original idea was to hit up the other islands off the eastern shore but because of time constraints and budget we chose a different path. We stayed in a small hostel that was owned and operated by a quirky guy named Jason from the UK. He gave us loads of information about how to enjoy the area but it sounded like he was giving us the old person version, as the most frequent visitors are college age people, we definitely fell in the older crowd category. We hiked to the view point and poor Jacque followed me up steep terrain in 90 plus degree heat and high humidity but the view was worth it. And we saw a monkey steal a Coca-Cola from a tourist which was pretty laughable. We did pretty much all Phi Phi had to offer in the one day and night we spent there. Had good food, kayaked the bay for sunset, and drank a bucket of rum which is the local novelty. You pick your alcohol and it comes with a mixer, usually Red Bull and Coke, and they fill up your little beach pale with ice, booze and mixer of choice. You can imagine a bunch of college kids running around all hopped up on literal buckets of Red Bull Vodka’s.
The next morning we boarded a smaller boat this time for Koh Lanta Island due east of Phi Phi. We had heard good things about beautiful beaches, chill vibe and monkeys in the National Park. Thankfully we lucked out with a nice bungalow because we weren’t prepared for what we experienced. It was known to us already that we were traveling in low season and that the weather probably wouldn’t cooperate but it would be less crowded. We didn’t expect however that Lanta all but shuts down for tourism during the low season thus you’ll find vast beaches of trash and closed down restaurants that have been boarded up to protect against extreme weather. Jacque read that in the low season many of the internationally owned places close down completely and the places that are open you likely will be the only customer of the day. It caused such sadness to see the beaches littered so extensively. The impact of tourism and lack of education about keeping the oceans clean was clear. We learned online that a lot of the trash washes up from Phuket and other places and since there are hardly any tourists no one bothers to clean it up except for a few beach combers looking to turn junk into practical tools. Despite the feeling of it being deserted it is a really beautiful place. We rented a motorbike and drove south to Mu Koh Lanta National Park where the sign read “You’ll never Walk Alone.” This referring to the wildlife that are constantly aware of your intrusion. I took Jacque up a sweltering hot jungle hike yet again and this one was a bit nerve-racking. The trail looked like it hadn’t been walked in quite some time and although I didn’t want to alarm Jacque, we were being followed by monkeys in the tree tops above the whole time, yet we never saw them. It was dark and at one point we came to a bridge that was out which felt like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland but real. We eventually made it out as it started to rain .a little still no sign of the monkeys but you could sense their presence. It felt as though we were trespassing in their jungle and they stayed with us to make sure we exited appropriately. That night was spent enjoying a beautiful sunset followed by a massive lightning storm way across the ocean contrasted by eerie green lights which are shined by the squid boat fishermen. We turned in and set our sights toward Railay Beach, another spot highly recommended to us by friends.
Railay beach is surrounded by huge limestone walls which makes it only accessible by boat, and the high rock faces make it a popular climber destination. The views are jaw dropping, one resort is named “Railay Avatar” because of its geological resemblance to the movie I’m guessing. This would be our last stop in Thailand so we splurged a little on a nicer hotel. I quickly started to mark it as one of my favorite spots so far with its laid back island vibe and although touristy, it was’t as much as I had witnessed in other places. There’s just one strip of shops and restaurants connecting the eastern beach to the western, we got food, window shopped for souvenirs and I was able to take the drone up for sunset without any hassle. Many places in Thailand are following suit with the U.S. for no fly zones but I tried to take advantage when the opportunity arose. One thing that I wanted to do on this trip was scuba diving. And with only one day left in Thailand, this would be my last chance. My next opportunity would be Spain or Portugal and by then we might be out of money (accepting donations!) Those that know me well are aware that I’m pretty outgoing when it comes to adventure, never shy to push the limit. For some reason though, when I got in the water for scuba I started to freak out a little. At first I was angry with myself, when I’d go down I felt a panic sensation like I wasn’t getting enough air. My instructor very sweetly told me to just go at my own pace when she should have explained how to breath properly, which I figured out on my own and eventually we defended down to 12 meters and I was cruising the rest of the time. It sounds strange but once you get out of your head and slow your breathing it’s quite an awesome sensation. Not to mention how beautiful the reef life was. I’ll definitely want to pursue diving in the future, it’s something I always wanted to get into but never got around to. This trip I haven’t really spent much time in the water not surfing once and just an occasional quick dip or kayaking and needless to say the diving got my ocean fix curbed.
We packed up in the normal fashion, stuffing packs full, eating a last minute breakfast and hopping on some mode of transportation towards the next destination, this time it would be a plane to Da Nang, Vietnam. Can’t wait to share more experiences with you, until then.
See you out there…
Well into a month of living out of backpacks in multiple countries we have gotten better at arranging transportation and a place to stay ahead of time when entering a new country. Things however, can still go wrong as it did when we reached our hostel in Da Nang, Vietnam. The very pleasant and apologetic man working behind the counter informed us his deepest sympathy but they had mistakenly over booked and didn’t have beds for us. He invited us to take a seat gave us cold water and started to sort it out. As we waited there was a friendly golden retriever and signs on the wall stating “free breakfast” and “free beer” along with pictures of fun activities to do in the area. We had picked this hostel because of the great reviews and affordability. We learned a valuable lesson when the man came to us and exclaimed he was very sorry but he had booked us a hotel down the street at no extra cost and it was apparently an upgrade. The woman working with him even ordered us a car to take us there, all we needed to do was show our booking confirmation and it was supposed to be taken care of. We gladly accepted with the mentality that everyone makes mistake, but we should have politely declined and asked for our money back to find our own accommodations elsewhere. We pulled up at our upgraded hotel that was in an ally with an older man behind the desk who asked for our passports and kept them, which felt sketchy. When we finally viewed the room there were used towels and shower sandals and we quickly thought they had asked a family to vacate the room just so we could stay there. Those of you who watched Jacque’s two-minute review on Instagram know it was not what we had anticipated. It’s one thing to budget travel if you know the circumstances but this we did not have any control over and we were stuck there. We had trouble turning on the AC unit so we went down and asked the caretaker to help. He spoke zero English and uncomfortably rubbed my belly and grabbed my biceps and making references to how tall I was while laughing in the world’s smallest elevator. He then turned on the AC without any trouble and we were shaking our heads at our situation but laughing about it sort of at the same time. I thought Jacque was going to board the next flight back to California but she stuck it out despite the strangeness. Da Nang, despite the hotel situation, was a cool town we walked along the river where there are bars and restaurants and got a drink at a pub that had someone DJ’ing by using YouTube. It was cracking me up because they were playing “Eye of The Tiger” and songs from Kiss and AC/DC.
The next morning we arranged for a ride to Hoi An where we had a reservation at The Lazy Bear hostel, this time with no mistakes. We were satisfied with our air conditioned room and clean towels. Hoi An has an area called Old Town which is filled with small shops inside of French architecture buildings due to the French occupation there years before. Many of the shops advertise custom tailored suits and dresses. Silk, is one of there biggest markets and to my surprise it appeared to be big business to travel there and have a suit made.
You may have noticed the title of this entry and it comes from this sweet woman who stopped us on the street. Even back home if someone stops you an immediate reaction is to put your guard up because they’re probably trying to sell you something or ask for money. In this case however, the woman commented on my tattoo and asked where we were from. When we rep[lied “California” she went on to say how she loved Obama because he came to Hanoi and ate noodles. It was so sweet sand gives you hope that some people are just nice in character and aren’t all trying to make a buck.
Coincidentally we arrived on the day there was meant to be a full moon lantern festival. I had hoped it was one where you let the lanterns float away in the sky as I have seen photos of similar celebrations. These lanterns however, where colorful ones that were strung on gondola boats that people were selling rides on. There were also many elderly women selling paper lanterns (basically a colorful Chinese takeout box) with candles that you could float in the river and it’s supposed to bring you good luck. Like many things of this nature it has totally become a tourist driven event but none the less very cool to see. I thoroughly enjoyed taking street shots of Hoi An and we made sure to try the dish they’re known for called Cao lau, apparently each Vietnamese region has their own style of noodles, and it was delicious to say the least.
Our friends who had been to Vietnam said one of there favorite things they did was to take a one way motorbike tour where they transport your bigger luggage to your destination and you drive and stop at attractions along the way. We arranged through our hostel to have a local guide who provided a bike for myself and Jacque was to ride on the back with the guide. This way we only had to pay for one tour ticket and the rental fee of the motor back instead of two tour tickets. Jacque hopped on with the guide and I followed as tight as I could because the streets in Vietnam are mayhem and virtually lawless. This obviously was one of my favorite moments of the trip, sometimes peaking at 95 kilometers an hour splitting big trucks on a highway that had beautiful scenery. The guide stopped four times in all, once at Marble Mountain where they make carved Buddha's and Dragons out of Marble stone. The other places were viewpoints along the way, a swimming hole that was refreshing, and we also had some delicious Pho noodles at a local spot along the highway. When we reached our destination in Hue city, our bags had not yet arrived and they offered us to keep the motorbike for the rest of the day. Riding a long distance like that takes it out of you though so we turned it in and just walked around. Due to time constraints again we had booked a flight from Hue to Hanoi that left later that evening so we only spent a few hours in Hue where I showed Jacque some history. A bar called the “DMZ” which stands for the demilitarized zone in reference to the Vietnam war. It was three cocktails for the price of two so it was very educational.
After landing in Hanoi we met our driver that was arranged by the hostel we were staying at, he had to have some other taxi drivers in the parking lot help push start his car and then we drove some 40 minutes from the airport to the old district downtown Hanoi. We arrived late and had already booked an over night cruise to Ha Long Bay early the next morning so we went right to sleep. Vietnam was go go go as we tried to fit as much as possible into the short amount of time we had. Jacque and others had warned me about this that a minimum six days in each country was not enough to take it all in but I still stand firm that although I would love more time in these places a part of me enjoys being on the move never settling in and the thrill of wandering the unfamiliar. This is completely opposite of how Jacque likes to enjoy travel but she has stayed by me with only a few eye rolls and occasional death stares. She truly deserves an award for putting up with me and my “jump first, look later mentality.” She’s pretty amazing and I love her but even I know I can be difficult.
The cruise to Ha Long Bay was two days and one night stay aboard a smaller cruise ship that maybe housed 80 - 100 guests. It was a welcome relaxing trip aboard a relatively new boat, with breathtaking views of small islands that resembled Thailand in a way. The room was nice and the meals were decent. We went off the boat to Kayak for a little bit which wasn’t too thrilling for Jacque but there were puppies on the dock that quickly changed her mood from frightened to joyful. When we went for a swimming break I asked our guide if I could fly my drone because in Thailand there were strict rules and I figured it would be the same in Vietnam. When I asked though, the guide didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about so she just said yes. I launched it from the deck of another boat and did a few laps in the small inlet we were floating in. The captain of the boat took interest immediately and watched on my screen as I flew back and forth a few times. I was nervous flying though, because we were over a massive body of water and if I didn’t get it to land on the boat that was moving I would have lost the damn thing so I didn’t keep it in the air long.
After relaxing on our cruise we returned to Hanoi and were able to store our packs at the previous Hostel to go explore a bit having to wait for our red eye flight to Germany. Again we had limited time in Hanoi but it was one of my favorite parts. The streets were crowded and one cool thing was we got asked by students of different age groups if they could practice there English with us. They were so happy to talk with us and it touched your heart seeing their smiles. They even took a picture with us for their class notes. We had dinner at another soup spot that was quickly overrun with their patrons who were enjoying the outdoor seating due to a sudden downpour and we made our way to fetch our bags to head for the airport. Saying goodbye to Vietnam and ultimately Southeast Asia as we were bound for Frankfurt, Germany to begin our European adventure.
Until then, see you out there…
GERMANY PT I
FINDING JAEGER KASERNE
The pilot came over the cabin intercom per usual, by now it’s almost memorized in different languages. This time a new continent was on the horizon so it was a welcome departure. We were scheduled to depart from Hanoi at 1:30 a.m. In front of us was a six hour jaunt to Dubai for a not long — but way too long layover, followed by another six hour jaunt to Frankfurt, Germany. This was the second time I’d been to the Dubai airport, though I’ve never been out of the Emirates terminal. The first time was when I went to Bangladesh on assignment. It’s basically a large duty free mall and not may places to sit or lay down, although we found out later we failed to see the giant seating area available behind our gate. We were both fatigued and cranky from traveling and dealing with the weird time changes but by now we were getting good at setting up a landing plan in each new spot. Thank goodness we had already setup a hostel to stay in, although Jacque said to me, “This one looks cool with good reviews but they all mention that it’s in the Red Light District.” The attitude has increasingly become “Oh-well, lets adventure.” As budgets get tighter, and the idea to take the packs off your shoulders in a new country waft in front of your moral compass and legitimate ignorance. We later learned through an alternative walking tour about why the neighborhood was the way it was, it’s a complicatedly long story but it’s actually quite interesting and delivered by a nice young college student who you could tell was proud of his city and heritage.
In pre-war Frankfurt, the neighborhood by the train station was the richest and finest. Post-war however, it had become an American occupied region because of its central location and easy transport by rail and air. The locals were poor and war torn and their currency had no value, the Americans had money and, shall we say, needs. Plus all of the soldiers, from both sides, were addicted to the drugs they had been given by the government while fighting. The Germans were given amphetamines daily to march long distances and stay awake for long hours. Thus the drugs and prostitution underworld thrived. The Frankfurt government later struggled to get the problem under control so instead they legalized some taboos that other parts of the world might not understand and the idea was that social workers would be better able to help those in need and of course taxes on. I was so interested in just the short time we had in Frankfurt. When it got added to the list it was just the cheapest and easiest city in Germany to connect from and close to where I really wanted to go which was where my father was stationed in the Army back in 1972. We walked along the river banks and admired the bridges and the unusual modern skyline. Sixty percent of the city was destroyed during the war and the central location made it a banking and stock market capitol so its skyline is unique throughout Germany but still has some old world charm. I had asked more about the destruction after our tour guide kept showing us photos of beautiful architecture that now has been transformed into banks or modern apartment buildings. He explained that the Americans strategy was to air raid with explosives to open up the roofs and then to fire bomb to burn down the mostly wooden structures. The idea was to demoralize the Germans, but he said it wasn’t effective it instead grew more hatred and willingness to fight. It was interesting to hear war explained by the past tense opposition. We had heard more about the American brutality in past wars that they don’t share in AP history. The bottom line is war is shit and both sides have to answer for their behavior even years later.
That evening we ate local dishes at a traditional German bierhaus called “Hand Cheese and Music” the music referring to onions because you make music after you eat them. Followed by a pork schnitzel, potatoes and “green sauce” a local favorite that I can only describe as a lime, pickle, and sour cream sauce. We only had the one full day but its charm left a mark that was greater than I expected which was originally just a stop to recharge from travel and set off again.
I was onboard my first European train leaving Frankfurt behind us. I’d seen it hundreds of times in movies, heard about it from people who’d experienced it. I built it up in my head as this romance of sorts where we throw our packs down, a local strikes up a conversation about the beauty of the land and asked us where we had been and where we are going. Closer to reality was we were unsure of how it worked and had sat down in some seats and stowed our packs in the overhead only to find out we were sitting in someone’s reserved seat. If you pay a bit more you can reserve a seat or if all are taken you have to stand. I’m ok with this having offered my seat to many onboard public transportation but I wasn’t prepared for this and I felt a little awkward worried about the bags that were way down the aisle. Plus we were standing in the way as people passed us but I kept telling myself it was part of the adventure, something we talked about with Jordan and Candace way back when they were telling their travel stories. We managed the hour or so journey and got off at our destination as planned in Aschaffenburg, Germany.
We were in a city with no plan. This is how I tend to do things to keep my options open. I could as I always do feel the tension from Jacque as she looked at me with a “now what?” expression. The truth is I didn’t know what exactly I was looking for. I knew only two things really - the city name and there once was an Army base there. I had vague details I heard from my mom and other family members and of course my father himself. The rest was Google and that didn’t 100 percent assure me we were in the right place. We left our packs in a train station locker and I put library in my Google maps. Being a little old school I thought the library would have records or at least a nice old lady who would remember the U.S. military base that used to be there. I’m using this as proof I’m indeed not a Millennial because not only was there a nice old lady behind the desk who knew what I was looking for but she pulled out a map for me and marked it to a location where there was still evidence of the old barracks that have now been developed into apartments and student housing for the university. After the library we ate a meal and headed up the road in the direction pointed out to me by the nice librarian who apologized that her English wasn’t very good, she remembered learning it in school but never speaks it anymore. (She did better than some Americans I know). It was hot and about a 40 minute walk from the library. I scanned looking for these white buildings that I had seen in old Army photos of my dad and also when I did a Google search. It was strange, I never knew what it was called or exactly where it was. Then, like I had known it my whole life, I saw two college dorm looking buildings with an overgrown empty lot guarded by a police officer and signs that read “Forbidden” in German. I knew this was it but I still have no real confirmation since everyone sort of maintained an “I think that’s it” attitude.
The Polezie vacated his post and I ventured in for a closer look. The two main barracks facing the now modern road looked like they haven’t been touched since my Dad had been there. Graffiti, broken glass and mattresses pressed against window frames were a strong indication of abandoned vagabond hangout, this explained the Polezie patrols. I can’t describe what I was feeling honestly. At first I thought I sure don’t want to get arrested for trespassing in a foreign country, especially in front of my wife who was a champ allowing me to explore as nervous as she may have been. She even got closer than her comfort might have let her and I will always applaud her for that and everything else she’s endured on this trip. Further exploration had revealed more of the same abandoned overgrown structures towards the back surrounded by new developments and even a luxury car dealership next door. It was odd and eerie. I didn’t know what to feel when I finally got there, my Dad both spoke of the best and darkest times of his life in the Army. Being his son, and having traveled all the way to Germany to see a couple old buildings, I immediately knew why. It was the feeling of adventure, being in a place you weren’t supposed to be or that everyday people wouldn’t go to. There was a sense of comfort in an odd way as we walked down the hill back towards the city center which has a beautiful palace Schloss Johannisburg.
Aschaffenburg isn’t a town where tourists often go and yet I feel like it should be. With the river that rolls slowly along with fisherman, wakeboard boats, canoes-kayaks all mixed with the locals gathering with friends along the riverbank shores for summertime picnics under the willows. We had a beer at an old brewery that had been established in the 1600’s and boasted a Bavarian flag that looked just like one my dad had shown me when I was around sixteen years old that he claimed he “borrowed” back in 1973. I can neither confirm or deny this is actually true or if the brewery was actually the same one or not. I felt in my heart it had to be though. I tried to imagine myself in my early twenties and where I would go and this felt right to me. Isn’t photos to my Mom and she replied “That could be it” having not been there in sometime and also telling me a story of ho way Dad had her drink large steins of beer so her memory could have been foggy. I drank a brandy wein that tasted like a potent Belgium style beer about twelve percent alcohol. I thought the whole time about my Dad on leave from his post in the Army having a beer with his mates and walking along the river. It’s as if he was with me trying to tell me the history of the city as if it were accurate and I would roll my eyes knowing that a percentage was his best interoperation. After my mental reminiscing, which I’ve done often on this trip and Jacque quite often asks where my mind is at and I reply that I’m just day dreaming. We headed back to the train station to grab our bags. We had arranged to only spend the day in Aschaffenburg with a hostel already booked in Nuremberg, Germany. The sway of the train felt more comfortable this time as we found our seats. I knew I had been where he was but also knew I was going much further.
See you out there...
GERMANY PT II
HISTORY DOESN”T GUARENTEE A TATTOO
Exiting the train station in Nuremberg under the dark sky we walked our packs to our arranged hostel. The budget becoming more of a concern and the want to meet other travelers was becoming greater need. Funny though we either don’t stay in a hostel long enough to meet travel buddies, or we’re harder to approach being a couple, or more likely we were at the older end of the backpacking “cool” age group. (Although Jacque looks so young and beautiful people assume she’s barely out of college.) Nevertheless Nuremburg had promise as the first thing we saw after we left the train station was a bar in a fucking castle. I believe I made a bad dad joke to Jacque and said “Hey it looks like Medieval times, but for real.”
The motivation for stopping in Nuremberg, besides it being the next cool city on our way to Munich, was that about an hour or so northeast was a little town called Grafenwöhr, Germany. Even Germans we came across on our travels had never heard of it. My dad had a Zippo lighter made there that was inscribed with his name and the city name dated 1973. On the reverse side the portrait of a smoking Native American looking man and a hand in the shape of a peace sign. It again was my thought I could get up to Grafenwöhr, show a picture of the lighter to a tattoo artist and get it tattooed on me. I thought any tattoo artist would think this is such a cool story and I would film it and win a Sundance film award for such an awesome story. In reality, I spent the whole morning trying to hitchhike there. I had read online that hitchhiking in Europe was still ok as years back my experience in the U.S. was that no one did that anymore. I thought of the story as I walked from the city center of Nuremburg for over two hours until I reached a fork in the highway, just past Erlenstegen and just before Spaig. I had all but given up thinking if I went any further I run the risk of not making it back in time for our expected journey to Munich the next day. Every step I took and every time I braved sticking my thumb out I kept telling myself to not give up, but in the end I rationalized that there were probably plenty of tattoo artists in Nuremberg and at least I can say I walked about 12 miles round trip in the German countryside as silly as it seems. It was hot as the rest of the trip had been and I had been carrying my camera pack with me which weighs more than my clothes bag about 8.5 KG or 15 ‘ish’ pounds. I texted Jacque and to my surprise she wrote back as the use of her phone was limited but my carrier had free international. She was planning to go on a free tour of Nuremburg this being a day that we were meant to do our own things. Her tour however got canceled and I was beat so we ended up meeting together and I told her about my failed hitch-hiking attempts followed by visits to three different tattoo shops only to be shut down by the first for not having an appointment (understandable it was the middle of summer and the books were full.) The second place saw the lighter picture and with a cigarette hanging off his lip said in a Russian accent “Why you want this? How Big?” I felt like the story didn’t interest him much. The third shop seemed to be more receptive and offered me an appointment for the next day but he was quoting a price for his colleague sight unseen in a different country I politely declined and decided I would email ahead to Munich to see if I could at least get the tattoo while still in Germany. We spent our last hours having dinner in the heart of Nuremburg surrounded by old churches and facades. A man came to our table and pointed to our almost full bottle of water and said “Bitte Wasser” which I knew by now meant “water please” but this was an interesting lost in translation moment. He was carrying a large bag of empty water bottles, holding an empty water bottle in his hand and coming from Los Angeles where recycling is a full time job for some people, I assumed that he just wanted our bottle. I obliged him by opening the cap and chugging almost the whole bottle right in front of him and when he took it from me he finished the last little swig and said danke… As the man went over to another table and again asked for water and graciously received their full bottle, we then realized we had chugged a nearly full bottle of water in 98 degree weather in front of a thirsty man. We equally felt terrible but also humorous as Jacque and I laughed about the misunderstanding days after the encounter. I must have looked like such an ass handing him an almost empty bottle like I had done him a great service.
The next day the train clacked away from Nuremburg towards Munich we had set up a hostel where the max age was 35 which made me feel oh boy I made the cut. It turns out that wasn’t the case and we picked out a hostel called Jaeger Munich which is just like my dads old army base and a hundred other things. My grandpa had 2 riffles and a dog named Jaeger which means Hunter in German it’s a strange coincidence. I had as. Said before emailed ahead to a tattoo shop so I was fixated on getting this piece done. I picked a shop called “Chaos Crew” because of the novelty that I already had a tattoo chaos on my left arm. The manager wrote me back and told me to come in however I came in too late in the day. They tried to fit me in the next day but I finally conceded that it wasn’t in the cards and that we shouldn’t spend the money. I’d be better off having someone I trust back home with more time and financial planning to get the piece done. It was all just the romance of the story that I was caught up in after all. If you’re wondering how Jacque thought of my obsession with getting a German tattoo, it was her idea in the first place. She wanted me to do what I felt was right and I think she was okay with not spending 300 euros when we still had about 4 weeks of travel left with Switzerland (the most expensive) coming up next.
Munich in its glory felt like Disneyland in a way. We walked past about eight different H&M and Zara stores on our way to the famous Hof Breau. Jacque had taken a Third Reich tour while I was on my tattoo crusade but then we met a young guy from non other than San Bernardino California that we notice stayed in the room most of the time so I thought to invite him out. His name was Harrison and he wasn’t even old enough to drink in the US but I’d put him at 6’5. We walked down to the river together and he exclaimed that he had graduated from high school and hit the road. He lived in Australia and New Zealand for a year working at hostels. His company was refreshing even though the age difference was almost 16 years. I ate to type the word Jealousy but I had immediately wished I had done what he was doing though a part of me felt like he didn’t understand the value yet and maybe I didn’t either, but I guess I finally understand what people meant when they said “Wait til you’re older”
I flew the drone a bit over the river that was flashed by a distant lightning storm we shared grocery store sandwiches and beers from a corner market and headed back to the hostel. The trip becoming more of a tasting rather than a full glass as we had plans to take a bus to Interlaken Switzerland…
See you out there…