Friday, September 25, 2009

Let the Cowboys Ride...

It's a really strange feeling coming home after a big trip like this. I remember meeting sooo many backpackers who tried to explain it to me but there's no way to really prepare yourself. I suppose if I were coming back to something it might be different, but I came home for one simple reason: money.

It's been 10 days since I boarded the plane from Singapore. I don't sleep well on planes so I thought it might be a good time to read through my journal and it truly amazed me to see the way my attitude shifted about traveling. I laughed at my initial fears and anxieties of going to India, at my descriptions when I arrived; "people, people freaking EVERYWHERE." When traveling, there are always times when things can seem so bad or so frustrating but you forget about it as fast as it comes. I remember hating every moment of our bus ride from Darjeeling to Kathmandu; the 15 hour wait due to a strike at the ferry crossing, eating rice cooked in river water, sleeping on the side of the road with my backpack as my pillow, the incessant stares that you never really get use to, the constant harassment from the locals who are nothing more than curious about you and want practice their English when all you want is to be left alone. Looking back, it's these experiences that really make a trip an adventure.

Someone real important to me gave me a card before I left with a note saying "Every place has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware." This couldn't be more true. I remember planning and researching so much about where to go but once you get there you discover there is so much more to uncover than what you read in the Lonely Planet or on some website, you just have to get right in there and see for yourself.

I keep finding my self thinking about all the people I met and wondering how they're getting on in Asia or back at home. Backpacker culture is really something else. I get asked all the time how it is traveling alone and I always say that you're never really alone. Leaving the tourist beat, especially in SE Asia, is rather difficult so there is always at least a few other westerners heading in the same direction as you. Countless times I would meet someone or a small group for no more than a few hours, sometimes as little as a few minutes, before deciding that we should share a room to cut costs. It's just the way everyone helps each other out; cheap food here, stay at this persons guest house, take this bus, drink these magic shakes, haha. And of course we all have our favorite places that we tell each other you must go see.

I miss it. I miss it so much and now I'm home, or in Calgary anyway, and everyone is doing the same thing. This is a common theme you hear among the travelers; when you get home you'll find that although you feel like you've changed so much, everyone is still the same, life has gone on and nothing much has changed. They were right, and it's freakin depressing.

This trip really did change my life. I am so happy my best friend convinced me to get the hell out of my office job and come to India with her. I would still be sitting in my office day after day dreaming about all the things I should be doing if it weren't for you, Jess. I think the hardest part for me now will be to remember the way I felt before leaving and to not slip back into the same routine, to continue to recognize that there is so much more out there than working 9-5 for the Man just to make enough to buy things that don't really mean shit to you or your friends in the long run.

As I sit here today I can't help but feeling like my life is in complete disarray. I know it will work out, it always does. If I learned anything in the last nine months, it's that when things aren't going as planned all you can do is embrace the detours.


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Beach Cure

So I think I'm tanned enough to come home now. Although another lifetime on the beach would have suited me just fine. The last ten days on Perhentian Keci, one of several islands that make up a marine park in NE Malaysia, were amazing and so relaxed. My days consisted of laying on the beach, eating fried rice and noodles, diving and snorkeling in the afternoons, lazing in my hammock and drinking beers in the evenings with other backpackers followed by late night beach dancing sessions. Here are some photos from the last month.

Currently waiting for my bus to Singapore, a few days of sightseeing and then home.

The ever so cultural city of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

A lobi lobi in Medan, Indonesia. Basically a motorbike with this weird little sidecar attached. Like a Tuk Tuk. Same same, but different.

Enjoying a good book. Lake Toba, Indonesia.

Some of the dozens of kids waving at me while riding around Samosir Island, Lake Toba.

Traditional Batak style house. Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Indonesia.

One of the few days the sun came out. Pulau Weh, Indonesia.

Garuda beach, Pulau Weh, Indonesia.

Long Beach, Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia.

These massive Montador lizards were roaming around everywhere. They are HUGE!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


They say Thailand is the 'Land of Smiles' but they are way wrong, Sumatran's are the ones permanent smile on their face.

After some serious back and forth contemplation on whether or not I wanted to brave the chaos of traveling in one of the more remote regions of Indonesia, I finally booked a flight into Medan and hopped on the the 'chicken bus' to Danu (Lake) Toba, an enormous crater lake known to be worlds largest volcanic crater. To a geologist, this is pretty freaking sweet. Yes, I'm a nerd.

Lake Toba was incredible. It's massive. In the middle of the lake there is huge island (bigger than the island of Singapore) where I spent just short of a week lounging and swimming, riding motorcycles, chatting with the locals and playing soccer with the kids. The main town, Tuk Tuk, use to be a pretty big party scene back in the mid-nineties but that has long since died off, now it's a quiet place with dozens of empty lakeside resorts, the perfect place for a backpacker on a budget! It did however come across a little disheartening to see so many locals who had established souvenir shops along the strip and are now making almost no money. But everyone of them still had a smile on their face, and were happy to see that there are still some people out there that haven't forgotten about them. It was definitely a nice change of pace to not be constantly called into shops, the only thing I would ever hear them ask me is if I wanted 'magic mushrooms' (they're legal here).

The weather wasn't exactly stellar though, it was suppose to be the dry season but the LP did say it was 'always a little rainy in Sumatra' and at 1000 meters elevation it got pretty chilly at night. I definitely missed having pants, a sweater and a rain jacket in my bag! But it wasn't all bad, I did get out on the bike several times to explore the island, managed to embarrass myself with all my knowledge of the volcanic hot springs and mud pools around and bought some pretty cool Batak souvenirs.

So after some extreme chilling, I hopped back on the chicken bus to Medan and jumped on a cheap flight up to the very northern tip of Sumatra, Banda Aceh, and eventually onto a small island called Pulau Weh. This was my first time in a region that was 100% Muslim. Although there are many Muslim's in Malaysia, there is also a huge Chinese and Indian population as well so it was interesting to see every woman wearing a head scarf and hearing the call to prayer numerous times throughout the day. The mosque's are so beautiful there. Ohh and I almost forgot... It's Ramadan right now. In Lake Toba the general population was Christian so this didn't affect me much, but in Aceh this meant that food is only served in the evenings due to the daily fasting that goes on during this religious holiday.

Pulau Weh was nice, but the rain was relentless. I went on two dives, saw a few sharks and something massive, possibly a whale shark but it was far away and hard to say for sure. The current was unbelievably strong which made the dive a little scary, especially when I saw the dive masters were concerned about it. I also never realized how freaking cold it is in 23C water but it's damn chilly down there after about an hour. All of my dives up to this point had been well over 28 degrees but at 23 I was shivering. I can't imagine how people dive in Canada. I would have liked to do more diving but the ride to and from the sites in pouring rain just wasn't pleasant. I didn't expect to be shivering in the tropics! One stellar experience I did have though was snorkeling with dozens of sea turtles. Many of them lived right off shore so you could swim down and give them a high five. Such beautiful creatures, this really made my time there worth it.

So after four days on Pulau Weh (the sun did show itself for a few hours the morning I left) I went back to Banda Aceh and flew back to Penang, Malaysia. Overall my time in Sumatra was great and although the weather limited my beach time, I would still highly recommend visiting and would definitely go back again, especially to climb some of the volcanoes and chill with the wild orangutangs.

It's funny now thinking about how concerned I was before going about traveling alone there. I read that road travel was intense (it's scary as hell) and the cities were very chaotic (that's an understatement!) but I have to thank a Spanish guy I met in Penang for reminding me that I had traveled India. And it's true, nothing compares to India. Everyone I meet that has traveled the world always says India is the hardest and really is. But that's why I loved it, that's why everyone loves it. I miss that country so much. If I could do my trip over again I would have done SE Asia first because everywhere I go I keep comparing it back to my time in India and it never measures up. Now I know why so many backpackers I met there were on their third or fourth trip around the country. India really is the traveling epic.

I leave for the Perhentian Islands on the NE coast of Malaysia tomorrow morning. Two weeks on the beach and then home.