1. March 7th, 2013.

    We took the India Railway a few hours from Udaipur to Jaipur, where we spent 2 days.  On our first morning we met a man who convinced us to go on a rickshaw ride to the Amber Fort and eventually through a gauntlet of tourist traps.  This was our first taste of the power and wealth of the Mughal Empire.  Jaipur is known for having skilled artisans and so we found our way to a back alley showroom to procure some gifts.  Em and I pulled off our “good cop, bad cop” routine and negotiated an incredible deal for some silk/cashmere.  We had another couple of delicious meals for a few US dollars.  The next day we relaxed and arranged our first long distance bus to Delhi.

     
  2. Butcher - Agra

     
  3. Here are photos from our 3 days exploring Udaipur, “The City of Lakes”.

     
  4. We traveled between Allepey (Kerrala) and Palolem Beach (Goa) via the Indian Railway system for two weeks.  

    Shami and Laura from London showed up the same time we did to a homestay 20 minutes by rickshaw away from the train station.  We ended up traveling with them for another week.  We had the please of seeing a Thayyam in a village near Canur.  

    We took the advice of some “seasoned” travelers and headed to Ohm beach.  Spent a few days strolling the sleepy beach town past the herds of holy cows, swimming, and hiking.  Met a hilarious self proclaimed Don Juan known as “spider man” (he’s in his 50’s).  

    Hopped on the train north to Goa.  We found the beaches in Goa to be quite a bit more commercialized than further south.  We rented a scooter one day and had a close call but ended up okay.  We said farewell to Laura and Shami in Panjim and hopped on a plane north to the largest indian state Rajasthan.

     
  5. We spent 2 weeks in Kuta, Lombok chillin on the beach, surfing, and eating lots of food :)  Indonesia has been relaxing and the perfect place to end our world adventure. Homeward bound in 4 days, can’t believe it’s almost over. 

     
  6. Alleppey, Kerala 

    We chose to go to the southern state of Kerala for one main reason - to tour the pristine backwaters for a few days on a private houseboat. The small beach town of Alleppey is the hub for accessing the backwaters (coastal glades) of the region. It was highly recommend by a few people we had met traveling and also by our guidebook.  

    Getting to Alleppey was an adventure to say the least. The day we traveled to Alleppey there was a two-day labor strike going on, nationwide in India. We saw posters in Mumbai but thought that it was a citywide strike affecting only the taxi drivers. However, when we landed in Thrivundrum, Kerala’s capitol, we realized the strike was indeed nationwide and most public transportation workers were on strike.  

    When we arrived at the airport in Thrivundrum we were told that no trains or taxis would be in service and to just wait it out there for a few days before trying to go to Alleppey. Outside the airport we were accosted by a swarm of tuk tuk drivers telling us that the trains weren’t running but we argued and made them take us to the train station anyways. To our pleasant surprise the train was actually running and we hopped on board in a sleeper-class car.

    Our train worked its way north up the coast of Kerala through lush rice paddies dotted with water buffalo, thick coconut groves and small grass thatch roofed villages.  When the train finally stopped at the Alleppey train station six hours later, we were again confronted by a group of eager men asking if we needed a taxi. After looking around we saw there were no taxis or tuk tuks in sight, only motorcycles. It dawned on us then that we were going to have to hop on the back of a motorcycle, with our heavy backpacks.  So we did what seemed appropriate and prayed to the Hindu gods that we would arrive in one piece.

    After an exhilarating ride with a few screams and shouts we rolled into town and circled the main drag where the houseboats were supposed to be docked. The place looked like a ghost town – no stores or restaurants were open, everything was closed and locked up. It was like a scene from a western movie, except instead of rolling tumbleweeds and horses there was trash and meandering cows.  

    At that point we had been up since 4am and were exhausted from traveling. One of the moto drivers told us he had a friend we could stay with at his house.  With everything closed, we had little choice but to accept.  The moto drivers dropped us off at a small guesthouse a few blocks away with a bunch of other backpackers (who were also stuck in Alleppey). The place was pretty nice and they cooked us a delicious lunch since all the restaurants in town were closed.

    On our second day we met two young women from Israel who were staying at our guesthouse and they told us about a canoe tour they had signed up for the next day.  After a little more research about the houseboats and responsible travel, we discovered the houseboats are hard on the environment.  Most of the operators dump waste directly into the water instead of offloading at treatments centers.  Being eco-conscious travelers and seeing the already polluted state that India was in, we decided against renting the houseboat. We decided to go the green route and jumped on board with are new Israeli friends. 

    Our tour started at the public ferry harbor on one of the small rivers leading out to the surrounding villages that are only accessible by water. After a short ferry ride the four of us hopped off and were escorted down a small dirt lane to a village house where we were served breakfast. It was our first experience eating idly (spongy, fermented rice cake), coconut chutney and samba (a spicy sauce). Our breakfast was served on a fresh banana leaf where we had the fun of trying to eat with our hands and sipped sweet masala chai tea. The breakfast was superb!

    Afterwards we were shown to our wooden canoe where the four of us leaned back, with our stomachs full to the brim, and relaxed while our driver paddled his way down the river.  We glided across an expansive lake past noisy houseboats and ferries until we came to a narrow passageway only a few feet wide where houses were built on either side.

    As we glided through murky channels we saw people carrying on with their everyday lives; women beating and scrubbing laundry on stones near the edge of the river, men shaving, children bathing, people washing their dishes, their hair and brushing their teeth – all in the same murky water. It was like we were walking straight through their bathroom and they didn’t seem to care at all. The people were all very friendly, smiling, waving and little children yelling hello.  We saw water snakes, fish and turtles. After a few hours we stopped in one of the villages for a fresh coconut and a stroll through the lush rice paddies where villagers were bent over, cultivating the land in sweltering heat.

    The tour ended with lunch at another villager’s house. We were again served our meal on a banana leaf but this time we ate sitting on the bed in the master bedroom. Our lunch consisted of big fluffy Kerala rice (grains about an inch long), mango chutney, fried fish and coconut chutney. Everything was lovely and we asked for seconds!  After we finished, the woman showed us her prized possessions – photos of her family and other visitors.

    After lunch we waited for the local ferry to pick us up and take us back to town. When it arrived a swarm of giddy school children in matching uniforms jumped off as we jumped on. We later found out after talking to one of the kids that they have to take a 30-minute ferry ride everyday to get to and from school.

    At the end of the day, we were happy with our decision to forgo the houseboat and take the canoe tour instead. We got a glimpse into the lives of the local villagers and how they live everyday. It was amazing to see how the water is such an important resource for them. They use it to produce rice and food, for cooking, bathing, laundry and even for drinking (untreated!). It made us grateful for the abundant clean water that we have access to at home and really opened our eyes to how people live in this part of the world. Sometimes we don’t realize how good we really have it until we see life through someone else’s eyes. 

    - Emily

     
  7. Our first week in Indonesia was epic!  Photos from our last few days on Gili Trawangan.

     
  8. Mumbai

    One of the lessons we have learned on our travels is that the expectations you form for an experience can dramatically impact how the experience goes for you. For example, if you are expecting it to be sunny and beautiful on a camping trip and it rains the whole time, then you will likely be disappointed during the trip. However, if you are expecting it to rain the whole time and you get one day of sun, you will be a happy camper. So during the weeks leading up to our departure to India we started preparing ourselves mentally by forming expectations for what we thought could possibly be the most physically uncomfortable and emotionally draining experiences of our lives. Some of our expectations were that beggars/scammers would constantly accost us, the bathroom situation would be a battle zone, for a few weeks we would have severe digestive issues, our physical “bubble” would be reduced daily and general travel/living would be pretty uncomfortable.  

    We both had butterflies the day that we left Madrid for Mumbai. We had done a few hours of research trying to find an affordable place to stay in Mumbai and we were anxious to see how our traveler’s intuition fared in India. On the way to Mumbai we stopped in Amman, Jordan and were blown away by how sketchy the security screening was… the locals were literally pushing their way through the metal detectors and only a few actually stopped to be patted down by the overwhelmed security officers. We arrived in Mumbai at 4:55 AM, exhausted after traveling for 12 hours with little sleep. Surprisingly we made it out of the terminal with our luggage within 30 minutes and easily found a pre-paid taxi inside the airport that could take us to our hotel for a reasonably set price. We arrived at our hotel like zombies and were surprised to find that even though the web photos of the place weren’t completely accurate, it had all the amenities promised (AC, hot shower, western toilet). We crashed for a few hours before braving the chaos of the Mumbai streets.

    We spent our first afternoon walking around the area near our hotel, checking out the beautifully intricate British architecture and absorbing the Indian culture. We watched a pick-up cricket game, saw our first holy cow walking the wrong way down the middle of a busy 3-lane street and posed for about 8 different photos that people wanted to take with us (mostly Emily). It was impossible to ignore the sensory overload - constant horn honking, people blatantly staring at our big white bodies, poor families living with nothing but each other, a dizzying mixture of smells and air pollution… but by the end of the day we had accepted the new environment and started becoming more comfortable with it.

    We were actually surprised how clean the streets were, how few tourists there were and how the vast majority of locals were dressed in western clothes and didn’t pay attention to us. We watched the sun set along with hundreds of other people sitting on a concrete ledge around Mahim Bay. Afterward our mouths were blown away by our first Vegetarian Indian Thali experience – we were served a large dish (the size of a big pizza) piled with two kinds of rice and surrounded by 8 smaller dishes filled with a variety of spiced chutnies, curries and treats. On our way back to the hotel we agreed that it wasn’t going to be too hard to stick with our goal of eating only vegetarian for our time in India and Nepal.

    The next day we woke up and headed over to the harbor with the intent of taking a boat out to Elephant Island, a small island with a bunch of ancient Hindu temple caves. At the harbor we were convinced to save the island for the afternoon (better light in caves) and in the meantime take a private tour around Mumbai. We visited a fishing harbor next to a slum, a communal laundry area (they actually do laundry by hand for all the hotels), a Jain temple, a museum dedicated to Gandhi, and a butterfly garden overlooking part of the city. Throughout the tour Sam told us about his life/family and gave us insight into who/what we were seeing and what life is like in Mumbai. 

    In the afternoon we took the boat over to Elephant Island where we walked around temples/caves built around 600 A.D. and did our best to avoid being accosted by aggressive monkeys. That evening we noticed a ton of posters calling for all workers across India to go on strike the following two days to protest the governments lack of action on some key issues. Before we went to sleep we packed our bags for our early morning flight to the south…

    -Brendan

     
  9. Where in the world are E & B?

    Hello everyone!  

    We know our blog posts have been few and far between since we left Spain in mid-February (almost 3 months ago!) and want to give you an update on what the heck we have been doing in that time.  When we hit India the writing pretty much subsided as our energy was spent perfecting the art of exploring and absorbing our experiences, leaving us pretty drained by the end of most days. But don’t worry; we will continue sharing our stories and photos of our entire journey (most likely after we return to Alaska in mid-June).  Thanks for your patience and being interested in our stories!

    What the heck have Emily & Brendan been doing for the last 3 months?

    WE HAVE:

    • Traveled for 5 weeks through parts of northern and southern India where we learned how to navigate the India railroad system, learned how to cook 12 Indian dishes, canoed through off the grid backwater villages, completed an intense week long yoga retreat, saw the sunrise and sunset over the Taj Mahal, and had a beach bon fire with a herd of holy cows.
    • Experienced the Hindu “festival of colors” called Holi in Kathmandu, Nepal where we were accosted with copious amounts of water and color powder – we were part of a citywide human canvas! (click here for photos)
    • Spent the afternoon and night at 17,598 feet on the Kumbu glacier (at the base of Mt. Everest) after hiking 10 days (66 miles) surrounded by the tallest mountains in the world.
    • Climbed the longest quartz crystal jackknife ridge in the world (at sunrise), saw the sunset over the tallest twin buildings in the world  (the Petronas towers) and ate delicious dim sum with great Ev and Hui Ying in Malaysia’s largest city, Kuala Lumpur.
    • Volunteered for 2 weeks in Siem Reap, Cambodia at The Trailblazer Foundation making bio-sand water filters and working in their gardens weeding, planting and harvesting crops. Visiting rural Cambodian villages to install water filters and the 80th birthday party of our friends grandaunt’s.  We both feel this is one of the most significant experiences of our trip.
    • Snorkeled with hundreds of tropical fish and midnight swam with glowing phosphorescence on a remote island in southern Cambodia.

    What are we up to in the next few weeks?

    • Learning about Cambodia’s heart wrenching history during the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule by visiting museums and historical sites surrounding Phnom Penh.
    • Jet setting to Indonesia for the last leg of our trip filled with snorkeling, island hopping, surfing and chillaxing!
    • Homeward bound on June 15 to Anchorage, Alaska! We can’t wait to see everyone (and eat fresh Salmon). 

    Cheers!

    Emily

     

  10. "The truth is a bully we all pretend to like"
    — Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram