$7 spent: Balinese Massage at Rose Spa on Jalan Legian
60 minutes of fantastic bodywork for a mere $7. But what made this place different here was that they also understood ambiance. It was clean, well designed and they offered us a nice pre-massage tea and foot soak. It was just lovely.
$10 Accommodations: New Hut, Koh Samui
Like hearing the sounds of waves lapping onto the beach while you fall asleep?
For more on Koh Samui, click here
$25 Accommodations: Sania’s House, Ubud
Lovely calm oasis in the middle of Bali.
For more on Ubud click here
Bar with chill space: Stone Bar at Railey Beach
Imagine laying on pillows next to a huge limestone rock formation, having drinks and great conversations.
Chicken with Cashew nuts: Tropicana Restaurant, Koh Tao
From January 26th - written by Alex
"I ate the best cashew chicken I have ever eaten tonight – the colors screamed vitality. The scallions were crisp Kelly green, the cashews whole and raw, the surprise chunks of pineapple squelched the bite of the deep blood red chilies that were sun-dried and aged. The whole thing was swimming in an oil infused with chili and lime and the explosion of flavors surprised me until the last drop. Okay, so this island hasn’t lost its allure – you just have to look for it and then count on mini surprises. It made me want to walk into the kitchen and acknowledge the artist."
I wrote this that night, instead of doing my diving homework. Glad I wrote it...makes me remember every bite.
Fashion accessory that everyone else already knew about: Havaiannas
Do you wear flip flops? I, Alex, do. And I love them. And I found the best ones on the planet. And everyone already knew about them. And you can get really good copies in South East Asia, but they don't match up to the real thing. My pair, that I bought in Rio, in the rain at Ipanema, 9 months ago, look like new. Not an imprint of my foot in sight - these things are magic.
Pretty sure they are available near you http://www.havaianas.com/
Free Wireless Spot: In the campervan, parked at Paekakariki Beach (north of Wellington)
Yes, this one was fun. We had stopped for a short break at a small shoreline street. On one side of it you had residential houses, on the other the amazing view of the sea and the very short sliver of beach that was separating the road. So from our camper we had great views while sitting at the table enjoying a snack. Well, we soon discovered that there was a free wireless access point and we were online in seconds. The short break turned into hours as we used the time to plan and organize the next few days from this spot.
Fruit smoothies/juices: at Casa Barros made by Livramento in Natal
There is one thing about Brazil that will stick in our minds for the rest of our lives: fruits, fruits, fruits in all forms. Its not that Brazil has that many but we had the priviledge of staying with the Barros family in Natal and they made us try every single fruit they could come up with. Most of them were presented in the easy to enjoy form of a smoothie with the encouraging words "Here try this, its really good. It is Papa's favorite fruit" or "It is Michelle's favorite fruit" or "It is Rogerio's favorite fruit" or "It is Grandma's favorite fruit" and so on. I mean, we even got an Avocado smoothie for breakfast - Alex loved it!. Then there was the fruit that was served with the warning "this might feel very sticky on your teeth". All of it was fantastic and without the Barros' compassion for fruit, we would have had a completely different experience in Brazil.
Gadgets for sale: Sim Lim Tower
For a gadget fan like Patrick, this was heaven! A large 7 story building full of gadget stores. He ended up spending lots of time and a little bit of money in this place.
More about this and Singapore click here
Gift received: Necklace from Sabino
On the Bolivian pampas tour, our guide had found the skull of a alligator and was very excited about it. He told us that it is very rare that one does find such skull and that it meant good luck. Especially the teeth would be very valuable. And with that the head disappeared. On our last day Sabino all the sudden starts pulling out necklaces and one-by-one hands them out to each of us, gently securing them around our necks. Ladies first of course - we are still in South America. He had made them the night before and each one of them had teeth from alligator jaw. We all felt very touched and it was seen by all as a very special gift.
Healthcare system/experience: Clinic in Merida
When Patrick was suffering from the beginning stages of pneumonia in Merida, Mexico we went to the local hospital to have things checked out. The service and the friendliness we experienced were above and beyond anything we expected. Examination, blood work, results, x-rays and diagnosis is less than an hour.
Click here to read more.
Hotel deal: Sea Suites for $99NZ in Bay of Islands
After almost 6 weeks in the camper van it was time for a bit of luxury. Our reserved room was not exactly that, so we went searching. The brand new Sea Suites hotel was offering suites for only $99NZ dollars, instead of the usual $249NZ. It came with a kitchen, a living room, two tvs: large flatscreen in the bedroom and one in the living room. It was pouring outside and we saw nothing of the Bay, but we were unbothered, because we happy as clams just hanging out in our place.
Hot Spring (managed): Termas de Papallacta
Anyone who attended our wedding knonws we love the hot springs. Well Termas de Papallacta, won the “best of “ award of all 8 springs we visited during our 10 month trip.
Hot Spring (do-it-yourself): Hot Water Beach
Take a shovel and a bucket, make sure your time is sync with the tide and dig yourself a private pool with scalding hot water at Hot Water Beach.
Jump here to see the pictures.
Interaction with a true local: Meeting Renta in the rice paddies, Ubud
He started talking to us when we explored the rice paddies of Bali. He wished to practice his English so that one day he can start working in a better paying job instead of breaking his back on the rice fields.
Internet Café Experience: Girl in Otavalo
Sorry, but I have to tell you Facebook is everywhere --- and I mean everywhere. Alex and I almost fell off the chair when we saw this really cute girl sitting in front of the computer accessing her Facebook account. Now, that in it self didn't make this special. The thing that threw us was that she was in full - and I mean full- traditional dress from the Ecuadorian mountains. It was clear that she wasn't dressed like this for tourists or anything. She was most probably from somewhere in the mountains surrounding the city of Otavalo and was like many of the people that came down for the market that day. What a fusion of tradition and modern world, and best of all - it seemed to work.
Click here to read more
Kid behavior: Sona Cunningham
Imagine taking a little 3 year old on a packed full day city excursion. So full that the adults got really tired at the end of it. Now when you do such a thing, you usually expect that there will be at least one total break-down from the 3 year old. Well, Sona, did not make so much as a peep and her sweet nature was around all day! She was a real trouper.
Read more about the last day of our trip in Osaka, Japan here.
Kid moment: Aaron Vanzyl on Christmas Eve
“This is the best gift ever” was the scream we heard from little Aaron (son of Adrian) when he opened the gift that Farther Christmas had brought him. It was a Lego based Star Wars X-Wing fighter. Legos and Star Wars at the same time - it was a fantasy come true. Added bonus, the set included heaps of light sabors -Aarons most favorite thing in the whole universe.
Kids under 5: Bella and her baby sister
The best tour guides for our visit to Wellington!
Kids over 5: Aaron and Ainsley Vanzyl
After 6 months of traveling it was great to be at a place that almost felt like home - a great mid-trip stay - which got enhanced by the presence of Adrian's kids, Ainsley and Aaron. They played with us, teased us and swam with us and we enjoyed every bit of it.
Local Meal: Fish on the Nam Song, while tubing
If you are the only white person at a place, you almost all the time know that you are in for something special. If you sitting on a table in the middle of the river with your feet in the water, its even better.
Long-distance travel: From Cataratas de Iquazu to Buenos Aires
This buses in Argentina was amazing. We had business class seats, fleece blankets and a pillow, as we cruised the 18 hours from the falls to BA. The chairs would almost recline horizontally, which made it easy to sleep. Furthermore, as part of the on board service, they served a dinner meal which was followed up with a glass of champagne.
Name of a town: Need we say more
We made a detour from our route to Queenstown because we couldn't pass on this photo op. With a population of 4,000 and an annual Blossom festival to welcome Spring, I am sure the locals shook their heads when they saw the campervan parked on the side of the road. Tourists.
Most peculiar mode of transportation: Donkey carts to the Cenotes, Yucatan
Enough said, you just have to see it for yourself.
To read more about why we don't have our own pictures, click here
Non-tourist event: Carnival 2008 preview event in Rio de Janiero
Now this was a special treat. Imagine being in (somewhat dangerous) Rio de Janiero and deciding to follow the call of a fellow traveller to go to an unkown suburb to join the very first training session/party of a Samba school getting ready for Carnival 2008. When we arrived, we saw only locals having fun with locals. It was amazing. Somehow the president of the school had singled us out and arranged for a trip to the "backstage" parts of the school, for us to learn about the history, see all the trophies won and to see the picture of president Clinton visiting this school years ago. This was a special night and wow did these people know how to party.
Overall Experience: 10 Day Silent Retreat
Check into a buddist monastary and shut-up for 10 days and see what happens.
Here is what happened to us.
Party: 80’s Night in Melbourne
Sometimes the best nights come along as mere accidents. I (Patrick) had arrived in Melbourne a day earlier than planned but Adrian still wanted to meet me. He told me where he would be and I made my way from the hostel to that street corner. Once I arrived, I must have missed Adrian as he was nowhere to be seen. I checked in all the bars and restaurants around and ended up getting stuck in one that played 80's music. I couldn't have played it better ! It was perfect and so I stayed all night in this one spot. Friday a week later - Alex had come to Melbourne, after her visit to Byron Bay - we went there as a group of 6 friends and had a blast. Both Alex and I got a little homesick missing SF 80's nights.
Plan B: 12-hour Jeep ride from La Paz to Rurrenabague
Our schedule in Bolivia was tight and left little room for delays or mistakes. Kind of ironic considering one needs lots of patience and time whileltravelling in Bolivia. We needed to get to the jungle on the scheduled day, but at the airport in La Paz we were informed that the our flight was canceled due to smoke in the jungle. With three strangers who quickly became our travelling soul mates - Liz, Erin & Maria - we rented a four wheel drive car with driver. Two hours later, he picked picked us up at the airport and we were on our way.
Click here for the rest of the story.
Random act of kindness: Patrick’s new ‘used’ pants from our guide, Claudio
Can you believe this: I asked this guy where he got his pants and he tells me that I can have them! Well, on top of that, they fit perfectly and I was an inch closer to finding the perfect travel pants.
Romantic surprise: Unexpected peonies
While Alex was on shopping duty to stock up the camper with fresh food, I took the van to the flower stand I had seen earlier. They just happened to be selling nothing but her favorite flowers: peonies. When given to her later that day, she was so shocked that tears came to her eyes.
Spiritual moment: Candlelight procession at Vat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang
It was Buddha's birthday (said in laymen terms) and a beautiful full moon lit our way as we walked the quiet streets of this World Heritage town. We came upon the celebration and joined this candle procession that would lead 3 times around the temple.
See a video and learn more here.
Spontaneous adventure: Last Minute flight from Manta to Otavalo
They say one should be spontaneous every once in a while (especially if you are in a relationship). We went to Manta for me (Patrick) to learn Kite-boarding and it was a compromise, as we wouldn't be able to go to Otavallo's amazing Saturday market. Manta is at the coast, while Otavalo is in the middle of the mountains, a 10-12 hour bus ride away. It was Friday afternoon. I was done with my classes and we were in the taxi on the way to our hotel when we thought let's go to the Saturday market in the mountains. We got out of the taxi, ran to the travel agency around the corner and found out that the next (and last plane) would leave in 90 min and we would have to buy the tickets at the airport. So, that left us with 25 min for packing and showering, settling the bill at the hotel, 30 min for the cab to the airport, 10 min. to buy the tickets and then get on the plane. We really had little hopes of this working but tried to dash for it anyway.
And then there we were - sitting on the plane flying from 0 to 2,800 meters, to the capital Quito. Now, it was getting late and we still had to catch a bus to our final destination Otavalo. The taxi rushed us from the airport to the bus terminal in a solid 30 minutes only for us to find out that the last bus had left. That was a huge disappointment and we were just giving up when Alex asked one more booth and sure enough they had a bus leaving in 5 min. It was the tourist-kind-of-buses that had stopped but locals ones were still running. It took longer as the bus stopped at every block but shortly before midnight we were dropped off on the highway on the outskirts of town.
Click here, for the rest of that adventure and our day at the market.
“Staged” animal experience: Blue penguins in Oamaru
Imagine hundreds of little penguins wobbling past you to their nests at the end of a long day out on sea. These penguins (only about 30 cm high) are the smallestspecies in the world and have devised a special technique for returning to land. About 300 meters out at sea, they begin to form rafts by holding on to each other. Rafts can have as many as 80 penguins attached to eachother. Then they float towards land and get spilled all together onto the shore. Once on land the race is on and they run (leaning heavily forward) up the beach towards the area where they all have their nests. The baby penguins are anxiously waiting for the food that there parents have brought from the sea.
The set up in Oamaru is a wooden viewing bandstand that was built on the edge of their natural habitat. It is an old quarry that they inhabited and the town of Oamaru set up to protect them. We had to remain silent, so to not disturb the process and there were no recording devices of any kind allowed...so you'll just have to take our word for it.
For more info click on http://www.penguins.co.nz/
Street vendor food with best entertainment:
Chicken Satay while watching local karaoke at Melaka's night market
Imagine locally made bbq chicken satay and a cold beer. Now imagine sitting on plastic chairs at a sticky table at the edge of a road that is usually open to traffic. Now imagine a huge open air stage and Asian seniors giving the Karaoke performances of their lives. It was a gem of an evening - really the best!
See videos and more stories here.
Taste of home: Seeing Valerie in Sydney
Valerie Avril, a charming French friend from San Francisco, was a fellow world traveler who took 6 months to go explore the world on her own. When we met last in SF we realized that our schedules were unfortunately not in sync. While traveling to some of the same destinations we would always miss each other. At some point all of our plans changed enough and it happened to be that we would be in Sydney at the same time. It was the perfect homesickness cure to meet such a dear friend after 6 months of traveling.
Technology Fix: Home office of Adrian Vanzyl
They stole all our tech gear on Day 7 of our trip (more here) as so we (especially me, Patrick) were deprived of all exciting gadgetry for many months. This all changed when we arrived in Melbourne where Adrian generously gave us access to his high-tech gadget heaven. It came with a very fat pipe to the Internet and so I (Patrick) was able to get the much needed technology fix right then and there. It allowed us to upload all of the pictures some of you readers have been enjoying, while we were still traveling and for that we both want to express our deep gratitude to Adrian Vanzyl.
Thank you, Adrian.
Tour Guide: Freddy Munez with Lllama Path on the Inca Trail
Hands down our most excited and energetic guide of this trip! Take this in: This man has been doing his job for 9 years, taking tourists like us on the Inca Trail. The hike takes 4 days and he does the trail twice a week, every week. After two runs he (sometimes) get one day off and then goes back on the same old trek again, day in day out. Despite that, he was so excited to tell us the stories and legends of the lost Inca world. About their culture and the way of life. It was almost as if he was really proud of them. "You know, Patrick, the Inca's believed in positive mental attitude. What you give out will come back to you so make it be positive".
To read more about the Inca Trail and Freddy jump here
Travel group: The Pampas gang
Without a doubt this crew's energy was contagious and made the sun shine even during the turrential downpour.
Click here for more
Underwater encounter (snorkeling): Whaleshark, Holbox
While it was quite an adventure to get to Holbox, we were rewarded for the effort very much. Swimming with the world’s largest shark in the water is humbling at best. Words can’t describe the majestic impression such an animal leaves as it slowly cruises past you, with all it’s 22 feet.
If you would like to learn more, click on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark
Underwater encounter (diving): Sharks, Koh Tao
It’s sharks again. This time over 5000 miles away in the Sea of Thailand. I (Patrick) went diving off the Island Ko Tau at a dive site called “Chumpon Pinnacle”. On the bottom at about 30 meters we discovered a group of 7 bull sharks circling a coral stone on the floor. Their dance was so amazing that our dive master maxed out the bottom time to 15 min for us to see this. Both dive masters with a combined number of dives of over 4,000 dives had never seen such a great number of sharks this close and even they were very excited when we got out of the water after the dive. Their excitement was so contagious that they convinced Alex's dive teacher to take his class to the same spot for their last dive. She was only in the water a few minutes before she was amidst 4 sharks, swimming overhead.
Use of the English language: Signage from all over the place
If you have ever been abroad, you know how grateful you are when someone speaks your language or has a menu printed. So then you also know the joy of seeing things like this...
Wildlife experience: The baby sea lion being born
Espanola Island's main attraction is usually the Albatross because they mate and build their nests there. Patrick was particularly interested in seeing them start and land (since they are known to be rather cumbersome, hence fun to watch). Little did we know what was waiting for us on the island. We landed at Punta Suarez with the dingy as usual. We climbed over a few rocks and lazy sea lions and came across a very young pup and its mother. Victor, our guide, thought it was pretty young, maybe one week or so. A few meters more and we spotted a whole colony of sea iguanas piled on top of eachother. As we walked on we came across a sea lion mother that was just giving birth to her baby. The little one had just come out and she was laboring on the placenta, while the baby was already making cute little noises and seeking the source of food. Watching this display of nature's most amazing wonder was by far the best wildlife experience we had.
Click here to learn more about the Galapagos Islands and other amazing animal encounters.