Monday, November 27, 2017

Life After the Gap Year

OMG it’s been a year since my last blog!  What have I been doing whilst I’ve not been blogging?

Answer:  Not travelling nearly as much as I wish I were.  But that’s usually always the case.

After my gap year finished with a little jaunt around the USA, I semi-covertly headed to London to see if I could get a job.  I didn’t really tell too many people I was there so that I could focus on securing employment (because at that point the money was starting to dwindle).  After a few weeks and what seemed like countless coffee meetings with lots of insurance-y people, it became apparent that the whole Brexit business meant that the UK was closed to outsiders until further notice.  And I was like “But I’m totally white and educated and English-speaking – even the Brexiters would probably love me!”  No dice.  The UK wasn’t issuing visas no matter how pale and pasty my skin, and I didn’t have strong enough connections in other parts of Europe to feel confident that I’d find something somewhere else if I stuck around a little longer.  So, I booked a flight out and then entered extreme tourist mode:  I tried to do EVERYTHING in London in a few short weeks.  It was very hectic.  I made exceptional progress, but I still have plenty left to do because London just has so much stuff.  So much.  London is like the world’s largest cornucopia of attractions.

And then it was back to Australia for me.  I was banished to the other end of the Earth like so many people in England before me.  Luckily, I didn’t have to sit on a four-month boat ride like those peasants, though the flights did seem to go on FOREVER.  At least economy on Etihad was mildly better than a long boat voyage with scurvy.

And now I’m back in Australia dealing with all of the terrible things that plague Australia, like free healthcare and beautiful scenery and the world’s best coffee and no guns.  It’s such a nightmare living here!  Ahhh!

But in all seriousness, I came back at the beginning of last summer (already a year ago!) and I was melting.  Severely melting.  And I was cranky about it.  But I had friends put me up for free – thank you Jess and Guy and Barry!  And it all flowed pretty quickly from there:  I found a really good job super quickly, and then a rockin’ apartment super quickly, and then I filled that apartment with all sorts of furniture and goodies which I didn’t have the money for at that point because of all the travel I spent money on.  But credit cards.  Yay for credit cards!  And then I started working and slowly paying off those credit cards and adjusting to life back in the real world.  And then once I was mostly adjusted and had paid off my credit cards, I thought to myself:  “It’s time for a trip!”  Because that’s what I’m usually thinking (except when I’m thinking “Tacos!” or “It’s time for some ice cream!”)

So I started looking at options.

And planning.

And making spreadsheets full of ideas.

Because I love spreadsheets!

And then I went to Canberra because that’s obviously the top of the list, right?

Ok, maybe not, but it’s nearby and I wanted to have some nerdy museum time.  I took a few more domestic trips after that – retracing a few past adventures and exploring some parts of the country that were new to me.  And then I – being all inspired after my trip to Easter Island – decided to start conquering the Pacific islands one archipelago at a time.  Unlike pretty much every other part of the world, the Pacific islands are… nearby!  And affordable, for the most part, and the flights are relatively short compared to traveling to other places (other places = anywhere else in the world except New Zealand).  So my plan is to do at least one archipelago per year from now on.

I also crossed off another of my 103 Things this year (yay!) so the travelling is still coming along, albeit at a much slower pace.

There are a few more trips on the horizon and a lot more ideas in my head.  I’m just waiting for the bank account balance to build back up a bit before I can go completely nuts, but it will eventually, and I will eventually.  In the meantime, I’ll start blogging about a few of this year’s trips soon-ish.  And I’ll keep daydreaming about more trips (and about winning the lottery so I can pay for the trips).

p.s. Colleen, does this blog make you happy?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

103 Things - 47.6% Update

Once upon a time, I lived in Seattle.  And once upon a time I left Seattle to move to Sydney.  It was a big move, and one of the main drivers for it was that I’d get more vacation time living in another country.  While I had travelled a bit before, I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel nearly as much as I wanted to.  I started thinking and thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of things I’d like to do around the world.  It wasn’t a bucket list per se, but it was sort of similar.  My plan was to accomplish the 100 things on the list before I turn 40.  Or maybe when I’m 40.  Either way.  It took me a while to research and compile the actual list, and during that time, I crossed off 3 of the things I added.  I wanted to start from an even 100 things undone, so I added 3 more to the list for a grand total of 103 Things.  I posted the list to my blog about a year later when I finally finished putting it together.  You can read more here: http://phillipdavid.blogspot.com.au/2010/10/103-things.html

So, the question is, particularly after this big year of travel, how are my 103 Things tracking?  I’m pleased to report that I’m just about half way there – 49 things checked off the list since leaving Seattle nearly 7 years ago (47.6%).  That puts me only slightly behind the rate I’d need to be going to actually finish all this off before 40.  Unfortunately, the half that remains includes some of the more difficult ones to check off, such as things in expensive Antarctica, far away Greenland, not-so-touristy Gabon, and recently war-torn Mali.  Political situations can change rapidly in countries, and hopefully I’ll make enough money one day to take the expensive trips.  I’ll get there – whether by 40 or not.

One important thing to note is that my travel plans aren’t dictated by this list.  While many of my trips have centered around checking off one or more of these items, that’s more because those things were ones that I’ve always wanted to do or places I’ve wanted to go.  I’ve taken plenty of trips that didn’t involve any of my 103 Things, including many domestic trips in Australia and even Myanmar in 2014.  On my gap year, I visited Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Rodrigues, Nepal, Malaysia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Easter Island, and plenty more places which aren’t on the list.  People have asked me in the past “Why isn’t ___ on your list?”  The answer:  my list is set in *stone but my travel plans aren’t.  (*stone = spreadsheet)

Here’s a little recap of my 103 Things and a few statistics just for fun!

103 Things by Continent:
-  Europe:  26 (25.2%);  4 completed (15.4% of Europe;  8.2% of total done)
-  North America:  23 (22.3%);  10 completed (43.5% of N. America;  20.4% of total done)
-  Asia:  21 (20.4%);  16 completed (76.2% of Asia;  32.7% of total done)
-  Oceania:  11 (10.7%);  9 completed (81.8% of Oceania;  18.4% of total done)
-  Africa:  11 (10.7%);  5 completed (45.5% of Africa;  10.2% of total done)
-  South America:  10 (9.7%);  5 completed (50.0% of S. America;  10.2% of total done)
-  Antarctica:  1 (1.0%);  0 completed (0%)

103 Things by Regions (mostly defined by the UN Geoscheme):
-  Northern America:  13 total;  5 done
-  Northern Europe:  12 total;  4 done
-  South America:  10 total;  5 done
-  Australasia:  9 total;  all 9 done – yay!
-  Eastern Asia:  7 total;  all 7 done – yay!
-  Southeastern Asia:  7 total;  6 done
-  Southern Europe:  7 total;  0 done
-  Caribbean:  6 total;  1 done
-  Western Asia:  5 total;  1 done
-  Central America:  4 total;  all 4 done – yay!
-  Eastern Europe:  4 total;  1 done
-  Southern Africa:  3 total;  all 3 done – yay!
-  Eastern Africa:  3 total;  2 done
-  Western Europe:  3 total;  0 done
-  Northern Africa:  2 total;  0 done
-  Western Africa:  2 total;  0 done
-  Southern Asia:  1 total;  all 1 done – yay!
-  Central Africa:  1 total;  0 done
-  Central Asia:  1 total;  0 done
-  Melanesia:  1 total;  0 done
-  Polynesia:  1 total;  0 done
-  Antarctica:  1 total;  0 done
-  Micronesia:  0 total;  all 0 done - boo!

I am severely kicking myself for not ensuring that my 103 Things covered every region of the world.  I’m so sorry, Micronesia.  I promise I’ll visit you anyway one day!  Guam has all those studly military men so obviously I want to go there.

Obligatory Map:
Of course I made a map of my 103 Things and everything is colour coded and numbered by order completed.  Click to enlarge.


49 Things Completed (in order of completion):
2009 (2 done):
78. USA – Grand Canyon (AZ)
81. USA – Paula Deen’s Restaurant (Savannah, GA)

2010 (1 done):
88. AUSTRALIA – Sydney Opera House (NSW)

2011 (7 done):
89. AUSTRALIA – Tree Top Walk (Walpole, WA)
83. AUSTRALIA – Barossa Valley Wineries (SA)
86. AUSTRALIA – Penguin Parade (Phillip Island, VIC)
90. AUSTRALIA – Uluru (NT)
15. CHINA – Great Wall of China
16. HONG KONG – Star Ferry to Kowloon
23. MACAU – Casino Lisboa

2012 (4 done):
87. AUSTRALIA – Port Arthur Historic Site (TAS)
62. CANADA – Beaudry Street Metro Station (Montreal, QC)
63. CANADA – CN Tower (Toronto, ON)
74. USA – Ancona Pizzeria (Valley Stream, NY)

2013 (7 done):
85. AUSTRALIA – Parliament House (Canberra, ACT)
84. AUSTRALIA – Great Barrier Reef (QLD)
42. ESTONIA – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Tallinn)
44. FINLAND – Temppeliaukio Rock Church (Helsinki)
27. RUSSIA – Trans-Siberian Railway
24. *MONGOLIA – Museum of Natural History (Ulaanbaatar)
29. SOUTH KOREA – Demilitarized Zone

2014 (1 done):
91. NEW ZEALAND – Rotorua

2015 (14 done):
18. INDONESIA – Uluwatu Temple (Bali)
28. SINGAPORE – Singapore Zoo Night Safari
11. ZAMBIA – Victoria Falls
1. BOTSWANA – Chobe National Park
6. NAMIBIA – Quivertree Forest
8. SOUTH AFRICA – Table Mountain (Cape Town)
5. MAURITIUS – Dodo Bird Exhibit at the National History Museum
32. UAE – Burj Khalifa (Dubai)
17. INDIA – Taj Mahal (Agra)
22. LAOS – Nam Song River Tubing (Vang Vieng)
33. VIETNAM – Halong Bay
31. THAILAND – Full Moon Party (Ko Pha-Ngan)
14. CAMBODIA – Angkor Wat
30. TAIWAN – National Palace Museum (Taipei)

2016 (13 done):
20. JAPAN – Todai-Ji Buddhist Temple Complex (Nara)
40. ENGLAND – Harrod’s Food Hall (London)
67. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Catedral Primada de America
69. MEXICO – Teotihuacan
65. COSTA RICA – Monteverde Cloud Forest Zip Line
70. NICARAGUA – Isla de Ometepe
71. PANAMA – Panama Canal Locks
100. COLOMBIA – Museo de Oro (Bogota)
103. URUGUAY – Plaza Independencia (Montevideo)
94. ARGENTINA – Cementerio de la Recoleta (Buenos Aires)
99. CHILE – La Piojera (Santigo)
102. PERU – Machu Picchu
41. ENGLAND – Lloyd’s of London Building

*The worst thing ever: sometime in between booking my trip and arriving in Mongolia, the Natural History Museum was condemned.  That didn’t stop me:  I walked straight inside, got yelled at in Mongolian, and promptly left.  But I went inside and that’s the key thing, though I didn’t quite see the dinosaur exhibit that I really wanted to see there.  I’ll probably go back one day.  Until then, I’m counting it.

54 Things Still To-Do:
2. EGYPT – Pyramids at Giza
3. GABON – Loango National Park
4. MALI – Great Mosque of Djenne
7. SENEGAL – House of Slaves Museum (Dakar)
9. TANZANIA – Stone Town (Zanzibar)
10. TUNISIA – Ruins of Carthage
12. ANTARCTICA – The Antarctic Peninsula
13. ARMENIA – Tsitsernakaberd Memorial (Yerevan)
19. ISRAEL – Yad Vashem (Jerusalem)
21. KAZAKHSTAN – Bayterek (Astana)
25. PHILIPPINES – White Beach (Boracay)
26. QATAR – Al-Corniche Promenade (Doha)
34. ANDORRA – Caldea Spa
35. BELARUS – Town of Pruzhany
36. BOSNIA – Mostar Bridge
37. CROATIA – Diocletian’s Palace (Split)
38. CROATIA – Dubrovnik City Walls
39. DENMARK – Carlsberg Brewery (Copenhagen)
43. FAROE ISLANDS – Vestmanna Bird Cliffs
45. FRANCE – Palace of Versailles
46. GERMANY – Neuschwanstein Castle
47. ICELAND – Blue Lagoon
48. IRELAND – Blarney Stone
49. ITALY – Grand Canal (Venice)
50. NORWAY – Mack Brewery (Tromso)
51. NORWAY – Viking Museum (Oslo)
52. POLAND – Auschwitz
53. ROMANIA – Bran Castle
54. SCOTLAND – Loch Ness
55. SLOVENIA – Lake Bled
56. SPAIN – Guggenheim (Bilbao)
57. SWEDEN – Volvo Museum (Goteborg)
58. SWITZERLAND – Matterhorn
59. TURKEY – Hagia Sophia (Istanbul)
60. BAHAMAS – Atlantis Paradise Island Resort
61. BARBADOS – Andromeda Botanical Gardens
64. CANADA – West Edmonton Wall (Edmonton, AB)
66. CURACAO – Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
68. GREENLAND – Air Greenland Helicopter Ride
72. ST LUCIA – Castries Public Market
73. ST MAARTEN – Princess Juliana International Airport
75. USA – Biltmore Estate (Asheville, NC)
76. USA – Carlsbad Caverns (NM)
77. USA – Gateway Arch (St Louis, MO)
79. USA – Grand Ole Opry House (Nashville, TN)
80. USA – Hot Air Balloon Ride (Albuquerque, NM)
82. USA – Wall Drug (SD)
92. USA – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
93. VANUATU – Mt Yasur Volcano
95. ARGENTINA – Perito Moreno Glacier
96. BOLIVIA – Salar de Uyuni
97. BRAZIL – Avenida Paulista (Sao Paulo)
98. BRAZIL – Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro)
101. FALKLAND ISLANDS – Falkland Islands Museum (Stanley)

Who wants to come along?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Full Year Recap: Final Lists & Maps

I made up a few more random lists but couldn’t really fit them into any of the other blogs.  These are the last lists of the gap year… noooo!

Best Beaches:
1.  Pointe Coton (Rodrigues, Mauritius; Indian Ocean):  Every beach on Rodrigues seemed abandoned.  I went to several beaches where I was the only person there… crazy.  The beach at Pointe Coton did have a couple and a family of three further down the beach, but I barely noticed them since they were quite far away.  The sand was soft and the water was gorgeous.  It was my favourite of the trip!
2.  An Bang (Hoi An, Vietnam; South China Sea):  The Vietnamese beaches are surprisingly gorgeous.  My friends and I sat down on some lounge chairs and had waiters to attend to our food and drink desires.
3.  Anakena (Easter Island, Chile; Pacific Ocean):  The water was cold but swimming with the moai behind me on the beach was pretty frickin’ fantastic.
4.  Cayo Jutias (near Viñales, Cuba; Gulf of Mexico):  This gorgeous semi-island has a stunning strip of white sand along its northern edge.  The water was fairly temperate and comfortable if I recall correctly.
5.  Playa Negra (Floreana Island, Galapagos, Ecuador; Pacific Ocean):  This was the first time I’d swam off a black sand beach.  Because of the dark sand, the water wasn’t translucent like at other beaches, which gave it a bit of a creepy feeling, but the sunsets were gorgeous so that brings it back on the list.

Best Internet:
1.  Taiwan:  Wherever I went, the internet just seemed to be instantaneous.  I’m sure it’s partly because I had been in Africa and Asia for so long and became accustomed to slow, but it was such a treat.
2.  Japan:  Japan actually seemed slower than Taiwan, I think mainly because many of my Airbnb accommodations had these portable wifi connections which were very popular there.
3.  New York:  My friends in New York seemed to have much faster wifi than other parts of the US.  Maybe it’s because Manhattan gets special treatment or because my friends are rich.  Either way, it was good.

Worst Internet:
1.  Lesotho and Swaziland:  These are the only two countries where I did not have access to the internet.
2.  Cuba:  I was actually surprised that I could get access to the internet in Cuba, but it was a process.  It’s super rare that a home or accommodation will have internet access so you have to buy an internet card which gets you an hour of internet time.  Then you can sit in the main plaza of whatever town/city you’re in and there’s usually one wifi hotspot which everyone is connected to, so it’s not super fast.  I think the internet cards cost about $3 for the hour if I recall correctly.  That’s a reasonable price for tourists, but keep in mind that the average wage in Cuba is $19 per month.  One hour of internet time can take the place of quite a few meals.  Plus, you have to have an internet capable device, which most people wouldn’t have.
3.  United Arab Emirates:  Internet wasn’t slow, but it was pretty terrible with respect to censorship.  They are watching everything and it’s really unnerving.  Facebook and other social media sites are monitored for profanity, and if they see something they don’t like, they take it down and warn you.  Anything gay-related is blocked.  And Wikipedia appeared to be blocked as well (WTF?)  It’s not really a free place by any definition, despite what that guy at the cultural centre tried to tell me.

Countries I was saddest to leave:
1.  Colombia:  I had such a nice time here and met some amazing people.  I was all pouty at the airport when I had to go and I wish I had the chance to stay a bit longer and explore more.
2.  Taiwan:  Did I mention that I love Taiwan?  Of course I was sad to go, especially because my short time in Taipei just wasn’t sufficient.
3.  Argentina:  Taiwan was my favourite country, but Buenos Aires was definitely my favourite city.  It was another reluctant trip to the airport for me…
4.  South Africa:  I had such a nice time in Africa, and the camping part wasn’t nearly as rough as I was expecting.  Leaving the continent and saying goodbye to my travel buddy was a sad morning for me, especially when I realized I’d be heading to Mauritius with no tour, no friends, and no hostel scene to meet other travellers in.
5.  Japan:  I had such a nice stay with my friend Elcid, and everything about the country was beautiful.  The hour-long train journey to the airport and the prospect of 30+ hour journey to my destination made me very sad to go.
6.  Costa Rica:  Costa Rica was fabulous and with a great travel buddy with me for nearly all of it, I was so sad to see my time in the country end.

Countries I was happiest to leave:
1.  Thailand:  After experiencing the dark side of Thailand on Koh Phagnan, I was ready to GTFO.
2.  United Arab Emirates:  There’s just something unnerving about being in the UAE.  It’s actually a really safe country but it just feels so unsafe in so many ways.
3.  Cambodia:  I loved Cambodia.  I really did.  But it was so fucking hot – especially after being in the heat of the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia for around 11 weeks.  I was ready to get to Taiwan where the climate was to be more tolerable.
4.  India:  It’s dirty, loud, and everybody is out to get you.  Get me out! 
5.  Cuba:  Creature comforts aren’t a thing in Cuba.  In fact, many things aren’t a thing in Cuba.  I was definitely ready for some civilization.

That’s a wrap, folks.  I hope you’ve enjoyed following me on this trip around the world!  Here are a few more maps to see me out.  Click to enlarge any map!

Here are the passport stamps I’ve received.  I’ve never received a stamp for the same country in two different passports.  The US no longer stamps US passports so my newer US passport doesn’t contain a stamp from its home country.  Similarly, Australia and New Zealand don’t stamp Aussie passports – it’s all automated and I can use the self-service machine.


Here are the countries where I’ve driven – both cars and motorbikes.


When I couldn’t drive, here’s a map of the countries where I’ve used Uber.  I was surprised at just how many countries they are actually in!


Thirsty?  Here’s a map of where I’ve had Starbucks.


Finally, here’s a map of the asshole countries that have given me food poisoning.  I’m not talking about a little upset tummy – I mean a proper case of food poisoning including fever, terrible bathroom episodes, and – usually – vomiting.  The list is actually a bit surprising and makes me feel like my stomach is stronger than I think it is.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Full Year Recap: Museums & Monuments

My gap year wasn’t just about all of flights and types of accommodation and luxury toilets and offensive toilets.  I also did actual things too.  And just like my flights and accommodations and toilets, I also kept track of these things.  Below I’ve included my Top 10 Museums and my Top 10 Non-Museums.  I’ve compiled the list not based on the absolute best things, because the lists would just be the big ticket items like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu and the Apartheid Museum, but rather based on a combination of how far my expectations were exceeded, how different or unique a museum or activity was, or just how unsuspectingly cool or thorough something turned out to be.  Many of these places were ones that I didn’t really plan on visiting beforehand, but ended up there through a last minute glance through Lonely Planet or by word of mouth.  I’ve also included the top monuments, because I saw a lot of monuments, though not many of them really stood out.

Top 10 Museums (in chronological order):
1.  Singapore City Gallery (Singapore):  This museum is all about Singapore’s urban planning, and I am all about nerding out.
2.  Miniatures Museum of Taiwan (Taipei, Taiwan):  Quite possibly the biggest “museum” surprise of my trip, this whimsical miniatures museum was small but I was there for ages.  So cool!
3.  Mazda Museum (Hiroshima, Japan):  This museum combined with the Mazda factory tour – containing the world’s longest assembly line – was a super cool glimpse into how cars are designed and made.
4.  Edo-Tokyo Museum (Tokyo, Japan):  I love a good history, and I love when it’s presented well.  The Edo-Tokyo Museum gives a VERY thorough but not boring history of Tokyo.
5.  Brunel’s SS Great Britain (Bristol, England):  This museum about a ship was fascinating – charting the ships innovative beginnings, grand voyages, abandonment, and recovery from the Falklands.
6.  Museo Guayasamin (Quito, Ecuador):  I was not familiar with famed Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, but this house-turned-museum and his massive Chapel of Man next door are a grand tribute to his incredible works.
7.  Museo Botero (Bogota, Colombia):  My favourite artistic discovery of the gap year, still-going-strong Colombian artist Fernando Botero has a whole museum devoted to his voluptuous, disproportionate works.
8.  Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, Argentina):  This one was pretty good as far as modern art museums go, but it was the La Menesunda funhouse-type special exhibition that threw this one to the top of the list.
9.  Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Santiago, Chile):  Most fine arts museums eventually bore me, but Chile’s edition displayed select pieces from their permanent collection around themes of sexuality.  The presentation was atypical and I loved it.
10.  Museo de la Moda (Santiago, Chile):  Set in the curator’s mother’s old house, the Museum of Fashion was something unique and unexpected in Santiago.

Honourable mentions:
-  National Palace Museum (Taipei, Taiwan):  This is one of those big ticket museums.  I had great expectations and they were met.  This one gets an honourable mention because it pisses off China.
-  Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan):  I LOVED the special exhibition at the Mori Art Museum, and the roof-top open-air helipad/observation deck was the icing on the cake.
-  Museo de los Andes (Montevideo, Uruguay):  This little museum outlined the real-life crash of a rugby team’s plane in the Andes – the one that the film “Alive” is based on.

Top 10 Non-Museums (in chronological order):
1.  Singapore Zoo Night Safari (Singapore):  By far the best zoo experience I’ve ever had, the Night Safari was something totally unique – getting to see all the animals at their nocturnal best.
2.  Table Mountain (Cape Town, South Africa):  I love a good hike, and Table Mountain lived up to and beyond its reputation.  The views were amazing and I earned my chocolate cake after.
3.  Kruger National Park Safari (South Africa):  I was pretty safari-ed out by the end of Africa, but my last safari in Kruger was a showstopper:  all big 5 in one morning and a ton of other sightings.
4.  Rault Biscuit Factory (Mahebourg, Mauritius):  It’s not often you get to go right into the heart of a biscuit factory and have each worker show you how they do what they do.  I loved the tour… and the free samples!
5.  Reunification Palace (Saigon, Vietnam): After suffering through one propaganda-filled museum after another in Vietnam, the now-terribly-named former South Vietnamese presidential palace was left largely intact from when it fell during the Vietnam War, and propaganda wasn’t the main menu item. 
6.  Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (Phnom Penh, Cambodia):  The saddest thing I did on my gap year, I didn’t know much about the Cambodian genocide, but this historical site – often known as “the Killing Fields” – gave me an education and helped me better understand my favourite Southeast Asian nation.
7.  Monteverde Cloud Forest Zip Line (Monteverde, Costa Rica):  I’m a chicken but I absolutely loved the zip lining at Monteverde… after the first few zips at least!
8.  Palacio Legislativo (Montevideo, Uruguay):  Not many tourists hit up Uruguay’s parliament building – especially not many English-speaking tourists – so my tour was me plus 2 Austrians and an extremely knowledgeable English-speaking guide who took us all around and answered all of my questions.  I think the small size made it one of the best parliament tours I’ve ever done.
9.  Palacio Barolo (Buenos Aires, Argentina):  I visited this old 22-story skyscraper when I realized I’d have to wait ages for a tour of Argentina’s Congress.  I’m so glad I did!  The story of the architecture was fabulous and the little lighthouse on the top offered stunning views of the city.
10.  Inca Trail (Peru):  I thought Machu Picchu would be the highlight of Peru, but it was actually the Inca Trail.  It wasn’t as strenuous as I was thinking it would be, and the views and cultural interactions were great.  It must be true:  it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey to get there.

Honourable mentions:
-  Bois Cheri Tea Plantation (Bois Cheri, Mauritius):  Just like the biscuit factory, the tour of the tea factory was fantastic, as was the tea plantation setting and the on-site museum.  My tour included all of the tea I could taste (and lots of trips to the bathroom) and the on-site restaurant fed me delicious tea-inspired dishes.  Win.
-  Poas Volcano (Poas, Costa Rica):  I took a bus up to the top of an active volcano and got to look down into the crater.  Did I mention I was a geology nerd back in the day?  And still…
-  Real City Tour (Medellin, Colombia):  The best walking tour I did, the Real City Tour shies away from Medellin’s famous drug kingpin and tells the story of… the real city.

Top Monuments (in chronological order):
1.  Hachiko Statue (Tokyo, Japan):  It’s a statue of a dog that the locals erected to commemorate a dog that used to meet his owner at the station every day.  Amazing.
2.  National Peace Hall of the Atomic Bomb Victims (Hiroshima, Japan):  The atomic bomb memorial’s every detail had a specific meaning.  It also didn’t blame the US for the events that led to this disaster, but rather acknowledged that they themselves started the war.  The whole thing was a touching, moving tribute.
3.  Monument to Ferdinand Magellan (Punta Arenas, Chile):  I got to kiss one of the toes on this statue to ensure I’ll go back to Punta Arenas one day.  I love it!

I’m running out of things to blog about now… I’ll have one more blog coming up which covers the best beaches, best internet, and a few other random bits of information.  If any of you, my four readers, are curious for a specific list, then please let me know and I’ll include it in the next installment.  Woooo!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Full Year Recap: Accommodation

I’ve blogged about food and transport already, so accommodation is the obvious next installment.  Without further ado, this is all about the accommodation during my gap year.

Final Numbers:
- # of beds slept in:  134
- # of accommodations slept in:  146
- # of cities/places slept in:  122

The first two numbers do not include seats on planes or buses, but do include the train and the cargo ship because I had flat beds.  The third number (# of cities/places slept in) does not include any form of transport as I was going between two cities/places.  The number of distinct accommodations is higher than the number of beds because of my camping tours:  each campsite counts separately but my sleeping bag only counts as one.

Accommodation Types:
1.  Friends & family:  118 nights (29.3%)
  -  Friends:  77 nights (19.1%)
  -  Family:  41 nights (10.2%)
2.  Guesthouses:  68.5 nights (17.0%)
3.  Airbnb or similar:  57 nights (14.1%)
  -  Private:  38 nights (9.4%)
  -  Shared with host:  19 nights (4.7%)
4.  Hostels:  50.5 nights (12.5%)
5.  Camping:  38 nights (9.4%)
6.  Hotels:  37 nights (9.2%)
7.  In transit:  12 nights (3.0%)
  -  Airplane:  6 nights (1.5%)
  -  Bus:  2.5 nights (0.6%)
  -  Cargo ship:  2 nights (0.5%)
  -  Train:  1 night (0.2%)
  -  Airport:  0.5 nights (0.1%)
8.  Lodge/resort (terms used loosely):  11 nights (2.7%)
9.  Homestay (incl. casas particulares in Cuba):  10 nights (2.5%)
10.  Boat (not in transit):  1 night (0.2%)

Bathrooms:
- Private Bathroom: 283 nights (70.2%) – includes sharing a bathroom at a friend’s or family’s house
- Shared Bathroom:  99.5 nights (24.7%)
- Shared toilet w/ no shower:  16 nights (4.0%) – overnight trains and airplanes, Inca Trail, and the cargo ship
- No bathroom:  4.5 nights (1.1%) – overnight buses and some campsites

Longest Stays:
1.  Coral Springs, Florida, United States:  29 nights (my mother’s house)
2.  Santiago, Chile:  17 nights (I have a friend here)
3.  Tokyo, Japan:  14 nights (I have a friend here too)
4.  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:  9 nights (I was stuck here with food poisoning)
4.  London, England, United Kingdom:  9 nights (I have friends here)
4.  Bogota, Colombia:  9 nights (I was here for a wedding)

And now for some less listy lists. 

Best Campsite:
-  Drakensville ATKV (Drakensville, South Africa):  This made the top accommodation list for Q1 because of its clean bathrooms and massive indoor heated pool.  WIN.

Honourable mention:
-  Camping Tipanie Moana (Easter Island, Chile):  This “camping hostel” was a novel idea.  The staff were super helpful, the bathrooms were clean, the location was great, and the common areas were super social… even if I had terrible Spanish.

Best Hostel:
-  Mini Voyage Hostel (Hualien, Taiwan):  This place was super clean and fancy, and the staff were very nice and helpful.

Honourable mention:
-  Bob’s Bunk House (Johannesburg, South Africa):  The lady who runs the place is super sweet.  The place was clean, had a nice little pool, bottomless rooibos tea, and was conveniently located between the airport and the main tourist attractions.

Best Guesthouse:
-  Villa Mon Tresor (Rodrigues, Mauritius):  I think I’ve already raved about this place enough.  Marie Louise’s hospitality was unequalled anywhere along the way.  A++!

Honourable mentions:
-  Lina’s Tango Guesthouse (Buenos Aires, Argentina):  Great location, cute decor, and very helpful Colombian owner.
-  Golden Lotus (Luang Prabang, Laos):  The guy who runs the joint – “Bill” – was super attentive and totally adorable.  The breakfast was delicious and the location couldn’t be beat.
-  Hostal Monte Cristi (Managua, Nicaragua):  I wish I had booked a relax day at this cute little guesthouse in a nice gated neighbourhood of Managua right near the airport.

Best Other Accommodation Experiences:
-  Airbnb:  I used Airbnb in South Africa, Mauritius, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Colombia, and the United States.  It has proven amazing.  I am quite particular with hosts and have always had absolutely amazing experiences.  I highly recommend Airbnb to anyone travelling!

Honourable mentions:
-  Tambopata Lodge (Puerto Maldonado, Peru):  This lodge was great – no air conditioning but the windows were just screens so a lovely breeze came into our room and we could hear the sounds of the rainforest.  Our guide there was also fantastic and there were a few discoveries just walking around the actual grounds!
-  MS Mauritius Trochetia:  This was the cargo ship that I took for 2 nights and 1 day from Mauritius to Rodrigues.  It wasn’t glamorous – it was about what I expected from a cargo ship.  The food was a bit meh, no other passengers spoke English, and I got seasick.  BUT – it was the same price as the quick flight, included two nights of accommodation and five meals, and everyone was really friendly even if they couldn’t talk to me.  The main reason this is on this list is because I took a frickin’ cargo ship.  How awesome is that?!?!

Worst Other Accommodation Experiences:
-  Expedia.com:  I won’t ever use Expedia (or an Expedia owned company) again.  I had problems on flight bookings and accommodation bookings and getting it fixed was a complete hassle.  Expedia overcharged me for one night of accommodation but blamed it on the guesthouse.  I took a game of ping pong to sort it out.  Also, the cargo ship schedule changed at the last minute so I had to fix my return flight.  It was just so much cheaper and easier to cancel the whole thing and start from scratch than it was to deal with Expedia and pay their fee to change it.  It didn’t make any sense.

Dishonourable mentions:
-  Silvermoon Beach & Jungle Resort (Koh Phangan, Thailand):  Here is an excerpt from my Tripadvisor and Booking.com reviews:  The road down to the resort is terrifying - it's not car-worthy and it's steep and slippery even when it's dry and you're wearing hiking shoes - forget trying it in the rain. I slipped and slid/skid down the hill twice. The staff were a bit too nonchalant about this. They also didn't take out our trash at all or even check to ensure we had new toilet paper - we had to ask when we ran out.  The food from the restaurant was pretty mediocre and overpriced for the island (the exception being the family dinners).  They staff were nice, but they seemed to forget that they had paying customers - they were just a bit too relaxed.
-  La Posada del Tope (Liberia, Costa Rica):  Here is another excerpt from my online reviews:  The furniture looks like it came off the back of a garbage truck. There were holes in my sheets and in the mosquito net - I woke up with a bunch of bug bites. The staff didn't show me where the bathrooms were. When I found it, the toilet seat had a weird texture on it (maybe paint?) The walls were thin and didn't go all the way to the ceiling so I could hear everything coming from neighbouring rooms. The staff also gave me misinformation about the bus schedule for the next day.

Best Bathroom Experiences:
-  Japan and Taiwan:  many of the toilets here will wash your bum and some even will blow dry it for you.  Luxury.

Worst Bathroom Experiences:
Now, to be fair, all of the three campsites below were nice EXCEPT for the bathrooms.

- Aba Huab Camp (Twyfelfontein, Namibia):  I understand that I went camping, not glamping.  Some of the campsites didn’t have any bathrooms, which is totally fine – they were advertised that way and I could plan ahead with respect to my meals so that I wouldn’t need to dig myself a hole to do my business.  But if a campsite says they have bathrooms, I expect bathrooms – not windowless rooms with no working lights, and with walls all painted black to make it even darker.  I also expect an actual seat on the toilet.  Little things.
-  Sugarloaf St. Lucia (St. Lucia, South Africa):  Another bathroom culprit here.  Yes, there were big bathroom blocks, but they mostly didn’t have any running water.  Good luck with the flush.
-  Campo Duro Eco Lodge (Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador):  The actual campsite was lovely, but the bathrooms, particularly the showers, were FILLED with giant spiders.  It was the quickest, most terrifying shower of my life.

Next time I’ll be talking about museums and other attractions from around the world.  There are only a few more blogs of the gap year left.  What will I blog about after that???  Maybe I’ll just post pictures of kittens.  Or ice cream.  Probably ice cream.

Here are two maps relating to accommodation.  Woo!  Map 1 is countries where I’ve used Airbnb.  Map 2 is countries where I’ve gone camping or used Couchsurfing.  Click to enlarge.




Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Full Year Recap: Favourite Foods

I WANT TO EAT IT ALL!  And I did!  Ok, well, not everything, but a lot of things.  And all was good. Ok, well, some was good.  And there was much rejoicing!  Except for that time I got food poisoning from Nepal and it ruined Malaysia.  Thanks, Nepal.

Here are some lists of bests and favourites and honourable mentions and dishonourable mentions for all things food related.  Note that this entire blog excludes the USA because my time there was basically spent going to all of my old favourite joints so it gives them an unfair advantage.

Animals:
I thought I’d just start off with a list of animals that I ate.  I’ve had a few questions on this so I’ll just get it out of the way.  There are the usual suspects and some unusual suspects.

- The basics:  cow, sheep (lamb), turkey, duck
- Chicken:  including hearts and hips (Japan).  They were good but I could see the arteries and it just didn’t look pleasant.
- Fish:  various species including swordfish/marlin (Mauritius)
- Ostrich:  in burger form (South Africa)
- Zebra:  a little bit of steak on a skewer (Namibia)
- Various antelope:  oryx, kudu, and springbok prepared various ways (Namibia, South Africa) and impala cooked as a stir-fry (Swaziland)
- Crocodile (Namibia, South Africa)
- Mopane worms:  dried, crunchy, and nutty (Zambia) and fried, greasy, and disgusting (Namibia)
- Red tree ants:  they only tasted like the soup they were in (Cambodia)
- Alpaca:  in various forms (Peru)
- Guinea pig:  I could see its little claws as I brought the leg up to my mouth (Peru)

I also had my first beef steak during my trip (I’m not a huge meat eater and only started eating beef, lamb, and fish in 2013).  I also had ice cream and a latte made using camel’s milk.  The ice cream was fine.  The latte tasted off.

Favourite Overall Cuisines:
1.  Mexican: if you know me or have read one of my past blogs, you know this is obviously my favourite.
2.  Thai: with noodles and curries and stir-frys and street food and mango sticky rice, Thai food provides great variety at affordable prices.
3.  Malaysian: combining local foods with influences from India, China, and beyond, Malaysian food is YUMMY!

Honourable mentions:
- Costa Rican:  the local cuisine was standard boring Latin American food, but Costa Rica’s variety and quality of cafes and other international restaurants was the best in Latin America.
- Japanese and Taiwanese:  I love aspects of both of these countries’ cuisines, but they also eat some weird shit…
- Indian:  Yes, Indian food is delicious, but it didn’t seem to have as much variety as some of the others.  Or maybe I just order the same damn curries all the time.

Dishonourable mentions:
- Cuban:  Being from near Miami, I do love a bit of Cuban food, and Cuban cuisine in Miami is delicious.  But Cuban cuisine in Cuba was terribly disappointing, mainly because they have limited access to most ingredients.  Even if I hadn’t had high expectations, Cuba would have failed miserably.

Favourite Restaurant Experiences:
1.  Cabrera 7 – Mexico City, Mexico:  Mexican food is my favourite cuisine, so it’s only fitting that my favourite restaurant would be in Mexico City.  Dreams are made of mole enchiladas.
2.  Hanamaru – Sapporo, Japan:  Delicious sushi, reasonable prices, mochi dessert on the conveyor belt, and an English menu.  What more could I ask for?
3.  Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumpling – Kaohsiung, Taiwan:  This little chain restaurant serves dumplings and noodles with black sesame sauce and I ate there several times across four cities in Taiwan.
4.  Madam Kwan’s – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:  Madam Kwan is a real person and I think she’s like the Jamie Oliver of Malaysia.  The menu is expansive and has every Malaysian dish ever.
5.  Makphet – Vientiane, Laos:  Part of the Friends International training restaurant network, my friend and I ordered way too much to share and it was all delicious.  We overate for charity.
6.  Sushiroll – Mexico City, Mexico:  This chain restaurant serves up a Mexican twist on sushi, including a manchego roll.  They also have sake sangria!
7.  Cocina Cartel – Phnom Penh, Cambodia:  This is the best Mexican food I’ve had outside of the United States and Mexico.  Who would have thunk?
8.  Crepes & Waffles – Bogota, Colombia:  This fast-growing empire fed me across four countries.  Excellent crepes.  Excellent waffles.  Excellent prices.  Happiness.
9.  Pier 21 – Bangkok, Thailand:  This is really a food court but it counts as a restaurant because there’s only one cashier.  Stir fry, mango sticky rice, and Thai iced tea for $3.  WIN.
10.  Chez Jeanette – Rodrigues, Mauritius:  Huge portions, great flavour, excellent attention, and a lovely setting really let the light shine on a cuisine that is delicious but rather unvaried.

Honourble mentions:
-  Villa Mon Tresor – Rodrigues, Mauritius:  It’s not a restaurant, but breakfast and dinner were included at this guesthouse and the proprietor, Marie Louise, is an extraordinary chef.
-  African cooking by Jess – Livingstone, Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa:  our trusty guide, Jess, somehow created delicious meals for us while camping even in the middle of the desert.
- Neighbourgoods Market (Cape Town, South Africa) and Borough Market (London, England):  these were the top 2 fancy market visits of my gap year.  Many options.  Much joy.

Favourite Cheap Eats:
1.  Taiwan’s night markets:  every Taiwanese city has a ton of night markets offering cheap eats of all sorts, including some western options and the ubiquitous soft-serve machines.
2.  Thailand’s fried noodle stands:  cheap pad see ew or other noodles are available from little stands all around the cities.  You can feast for 40 baht (under $2).
3.  Vietnam’s banh mi:  The best was hole-in-the-wall Banh My Phoung in Hoi An.  It serves glorious banh mi at CHEAP prices despite being made famous by Anthony Bourdain.
4.  Mauritius’ curry wraps:  faratas and dholl puri are two types meals consisting of Indian flatbread filled with vegetable curry and rolled up.  They cost about $1 each and are everywhere.
5.  Chile’s empanadas:  Originally from Chile but found all over Latin America, this fried or baked stuffed pastry fills you up like a full meal… for couch change.

Favourite Dessert Restaurant Experiences:
1.  Ice Monster – Taipei, Taiwan:  the most well-known Taiwanese shaved ice chain provides heaping portions (probably meant to be shared but I would never share dessert) in all flavours.
2.  Brunch – Salento, Colombia:  famous for their chocolate peanut butter brownie a la mode.  I don’t need to say anything more.
3.  Takano – Tokyo, Japan:  this “fruit parlour” serves up a long menu of desserts incorporating fruits. I normally go for chocolate or caramel, but my strawberry dessert was sinfully good.
4.  The 2nd Delicious Melonpan Ice Cream in the World! – Osaka, Japan:  I don’t know if this is the actual name, but it was so on the sign.  If this was 2nd, I’d surely like to taste the 1st!
5.  Granclement – Panama City, Panama:  On reflection, I think this was one of the best gelatos of my trip.  It’s not Gelato Messina in Sydney, but it hit the spot on a hot day.

Honourable mentions:
- Mango Sticky Rice – Thailand and Laos:  My love for mango sticky rice was cemented as soon as I entered Thailand.  I had it all across Thailand and Laos.  PUT IT IN MY MOUTH!
- Soft Serve – Taiwan and Japan:  wherever you turn, there’s an old Asian couple with a lucrative soft serve ice cream machine, always serving vanilla, matcha, and black sesame.  FEED ME!
- Churros – Latin America:  This isn’t a place, it’s just churros.  Street vendors sell them in Mexico and all over Latin America.  I LOVE THEM!
-  Crepes & Waffles – Colombia and beyond:  Obviously the above-mentioned place has desserts too and they even have ice cream shops in addition to their restaurants.  I went a lot.
- Emporio La Rosa and Heladeria Mo – Santiago, Chile:  I had a hard time choosing which of these two famous Santiago ice creameries was best so I ended up trying them a lot just to confirm…
- San Giorgio Trattoria – Bogota, Colombia:  This is more of a proper Italian restaurant, but they have a takeaway ice cream counter and their Limoncello gelato was unreal.

And that’s a wrap on food!  Months later and I’m still digesting… Here are some food-related maps.  I’ve eaten Mexican food in 35 countries… that’s exactly half the number of countries that I’ve been to.


And because sometimes we all get desperate, here’s a map of countries where I’ve eaten McDonald’s (13) and Burger King (only 1).  To justify this, I’ve had McDonald’s only twice in Australia – once when I was super hungover away from the city and once when I first arrived and was tipsy and just wanted to eat and go to bed.  In Morocco, the McDonald’s had just opened and it was the first and only restaurant in Fes to have air conditioning.  In Mexico, it was late and I hadn’t had dinner and I didn’t feel like walking too far at night on dodgy streets.  So sometimes it’s necessary or an appropriate spectacle.  For Burger King, I’ve only eaten there at the Saigon Airport because the food options were terrible and that’s all I could afford with my leftover dong.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Full Year Recap: Route Maps

The little route map at the bottom of my last blog wasn’t really zoomed in enough to give a clear view, so I decided to include a few more route maps here to paint a better picture of my path.  Click on any to enlarge.  Starting with…

Southern Africa:
Entered via Johannesburg, South Africa, then travelled to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and then continued counter clockwise through Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa (including stops in Lesotho and Swaziland) and ended up back in Johannesburg before flying to Mauritius.


Mauritius:
Entered via the only airport on Mauritius, and then travelled around the entire island (but I’ve only put one dot because the island is tiny and they would look all jumbled together anyway).  I then travelled 600km east to Rodrigues by cargo ship and back by airplane before flying to Dubai.  I’m showing this map just to give an idea of where Mauritius (left dot) and Rodrigues (right dot) are located in relation to Africa.


Middle East & South Asia:
Entered via Dubai, United Arab Emirates, then travelled to Delhi, India, and then zig-zagged through India and Nepal before flying out of Kathmandu to Southeast Asia.


Southeast Asia:
Entered via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then travelled north to Chiang Mai, Thailand, before travelling more-or-less clockwise through Laos and Vietnam, then skipping over Cambodia to go to Bangkok and Koh Phangan, Thailand, then back via Bangkok to Cambodia before flying out to Taiwan.  Notice the stop in Singapore at the very bottom.  This was earlier on my way from Australia to Africa.


Taiwan:
Entered via Kaohsiung, then travelled north to Tainan before heading to Hualien and Taroko Gorge National Park on the east coast, and finishing in Taipei before flying to Japan.


Japan:
Entered via Tokyo, then travelled all the way up to Sapporo and back, and then all the way down to Fukuoka and back, before flying to the UK.


UK:
Entered via London and took two side trips before flying to the USA.


Caribbean/Gulf Region:
Entered via Fort Lauderdale, United States, then did a side trip tour of Texas, followed by another side trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, before heading off to Mexico City and doing a clockwise loop of western Cuba starting and ending in Havana before flying to Central America.


Central America:
Entered via San Jose, Costa Rica, and then slowly headed north overland to Nicaragua.  After departing Central America for Ecuador (shown below), I later stopped in Panama City for a few days before flying to Colombia.


Colombia:
Entered via Cartagena, then travelled south to Medellin (and surroundings) before heading south to the coffee region, and finally east to Bogota (and surroundings) before flying to Argentina.


Southern South America:
Entered via Buenos Aires, Argentina, and immediately took side trips to Montevideo, Uruguay, and Asuncion, Paraguay, before spending a few more days in Bs As.  After that, I flew to Santiago (and surroundings), Chile, before taking two side trips to Punta Arenas and Easter Island, before flying to Peru.


Peru & Ecuador:
Entered Ecuador via Quito and then did a side trip to the Galapagos before flying to Panama.  Two months later, I entered Peru via Lima and travelled counter clockwise around the southern half of the country before flying to the USA.


USA:
Entered via Fort Lauderdale (again) and did two side tours:  one to Seattle, Denver, and Fort Worth, and the other to Washington, New York City, and Boston, before once again flying to London – this time to end my gap year.  Sad panda.


Those are the maps, ladies and gentlemen.  Next blog:  Food! FOOODDDDD!!!!!!!