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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Istanbul, long term travel, Travel, Turkey

Homecoming…Sort Of



I arrive in Istanbul a couple of hours earlier than scheduled and make my way back to Cheers Hostel via public transport. It’s 6am and the city is slowly coming to life. I feel that welcomed sense of familiarity, which can be rare on the road. It’s a beautiful thing to pass through the same place twice, to be greeted with friendly smiles, to know someone’s looking out for you and to be handed a warm cup of coffee and asked to sit and tell all about your recent travels.
This feeling pushed sleepiness from my body, and a warm sense of being back in a familiar place replaced it. After a couple of cups of coffee, I ventured up to the cafe area, found a quiet corner and took a short nap, so that later, I could try and make something of the day.
Around breakfast time, I headed down to the common area and began chatting to Rodrigo. He asked me my plans for the day and I told him I was headed to Asia to see the other side of Istanbul. He said he would join me. Rodrigo is like the character Fez from That 70s Show – same accent and similar looks. He comes from Mexico City and is currently living in Iceland and working in the art history field. He is a shop-a-holic, a bookwhore and tells me he is addicted to milk and Coca-Cola…I can tell today will be an adventure.
We set out with loose plans to get a boat to the Asian side of Istanbul, walk around, soak it in and get a feel for the “other side,” then head back to Taksim for dinner and to search for an English bookshop- I need a guidebook for Israel.
We head to Asia. It’s a beautiful day on the Bosphorus – typical Autumn weather- clear and crisp. We leave Galata Bridge in the distance, and no more than 20-minutes later, we are in Uskudar, the older side of Asian-Istanbul. We’ve shed our guidebooks and maps and just wander aimlessly.
The first thing I notice are the number of mosques on this side of the city. We begin with a few visits. Each new mosque is like studying the art on a faberge egg- so detailed and intricate. The atmosphere is ever so peaceful, people coming and going and saying their prayers between the ezan, or formal call to prayer.
We stroll through a market that has made its home in a historical hamam. Then, we hear the fourth daily call to prayer and stand outside another mosque as men file in to pray. We stroll through the back streets of Uskudar, which is more residential and less-touristic than all of the European side. We are just wandering and stumble upon a smaller, beautiful mosque, Azi Camimi. The grounds alone and steps leading up to this mosque are beautiful and inviting, but the door is locked.
Rodrigo takes a second look and pulls a chord enabling us to push open the wooden door and enter into the smallest mosque I’ve seen so far. No one is inside and it’s end of day, so the sunlight is filtering through the west-facing windows, casting golden squares across the red carpet. Chandeliers and candelabras hang in each corner of the squared room, and as you follow their cords to the mosque’s domed ceiling, your eyes begin to dance in and around the almost hypnotic blue, green and pink painted designs that resemble musical notes in a way.
It is a treat for the eyes and food for the soul. We spend a few moments taking everything in and leave quietly. I feel moved by this little mosque and I mention it to Rodrigo when we go. He is pleased we found our way in and tells me that in certain churches and homes where he grew up, they used to have the same cord method to open doors. But now he lives in Mexico City and looks at me in the most serious manner and says, “If you have a cord on your door in Mexico City now, you leave for 2 minutes and your whole house would be gone!”
We venture down to the Bosphorus and walk along to get a better view of the Maiden’s Tower, the remains of a Byzantine lighthouse. Tea vendor stalls dot the waterfront. It’s getting cold and the sun is beginning to set, so we take a Turkish tea and sit ourselves on pillows propped along the steps leading down to the water.
From Asia, we watch the sun set over Europe, dropping behind Topkapi Palace, leaving us with only silhouettes of Istanbul’s many minarets.
From here, we make a quick trip through the Spice Bazaar and head to Taksim for a warming dinner of Manti, Turkish Ravioli. We find a brilliant bookshop with a vast collection of Turkish and English Literature. I manage to find a guidebook for Israel and I pick up “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” for reading and to later swap in Nepal (apparently you need good material to swap there). Rodrigo highly recommends it and says it would be a much better read if I knew Spanish (I’m working on it buddy!)
We head back to Sultanahmet, down the many steps to the Galata Bridge- happy with our purchases, full from our meal and content with the days’ adventures. We cap off the night toasting an Efes, and for the first time all day, I feel tiredness creep into my body. I crawl into my bunk and immediately fall into a deep sleep.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Selcuk, Travel, Turkey

Slowing Down in Selcuk


I have three days in Selcuk – probably more than I need, but I’m really looking forward to slowing down and really experiencing Turkish life and culture outside of Istanbul. And, I always welcome a couple of nights of comfort after multiple overnight bus rides.

I score a big double bed in a spotless room with my own bathroom for L30 (about $15) a night. I feel like I’ve pulled one over on someone ? Vardar Pension is family run and the grandfather greets me and walks me up four flights of stairs to show me the room. He then encourages me to take the room with a private bath for 5 lira more, “more comfortable,” he says, and nods to me.
I am delirious, dehydrated and hungry, so I oblige. I think I was in bed within one hour of arriving. Saturday morning, I venture down for my favorite Turkish meal of the day, and then after coffee and a shower, I’m ready to see Selcuk- only local sights today. Seeing as I have a few days, I’m in no rush. I visit the Ephesus Museum St. John’s Basilica, the remains of the Roman aqueduct and the Isa Bey Mosque. This just about summed up Selcuk, but Saturday is market day, so I walk through one of the most sprawling food markets I’ve ever seen, and I think everyone from town is here.
Lunch consists of a mezze plate, or appetizer plate, with hummus, baba ganoush, stuffed vine leaves, spicy couscous, and pita, all for about L10. This is followed by a 3-hour nap and a very uneventful evening. Sunday, I enjoy breakfast with my new 70-year old British acquaintance, Michael. He is the only other English-speaking traveller I’ve come across in Selcuk and pretty much, since leaving Istanbul, so we make plans to meet for dinner and I set out for Ephesus, to see one of the best preserved Classical cities.
My mind has a hard time comprehending times that go back thousands of years BC- you try to use your imagination to picture what life was like in these colossal cities but I have no idea if what I picture is anywhere close to accurate.
After about 3 hours, I am “ruin-ed” out, and I head back to town for lunch and then hop a local bus to Sirince for the afternoon. This is like stepping back in time as well, to a medieval land, where dilapidated wooden houses with smoke-billowing chimneys flank vineyards that produce some of Turkey’s most famous fruit wines.
I needn’t have sampled more than one varietal to know this was a no-go. I suppose my reaction to the mulberry wine was a dead giveaway – it was syrupy sweet. The salesman’s response, in a thick Turkish accent is, “if eet is too sveet, you just meex it with vodka.” Awesome! I decide to move on to sampling some of the olive oil instead. It has a much more pleasant aftertaste and less risk of a sugar crash later.
I head back to Selcuk and wait for Michael in the common area at Vardar. An old school wood stove is pumping out some heat. I huddle close because at this point I don’t realize that the AC unit in my room also functions as a heater. But when we return that night, grandma has been up to my room and got the heat cranking- bless her.
Michael and I don’t venture far for dinner. We head back to where I’d had lunch the day before. Sometimes as a traveller when something works you don’t mind a repeat. We talk about Michael’s upcoming book, The Prodigal Housekeeper, his years in NYC in the 60s working for Warner Brothers, and we talk about life.
Michael currently lives in Brittany, France, but winters in the warmer climates of Turkey – hops over to Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries regularly and also did a long stint in Vietnam. He says to me that at a young age, a “normal” life scared him stiff. He grew up in a city outside of London where, like robots, you woke up in the morning, took the 8:30 train into the city, worked, took the 5:30 train home and hit repeat. He knew is wasn’t for him. I can relate.
In the morning, I take a bus to Pamuchak, a local beach town, dip my feet in the Aegean Sea, drink a Turkish tea and literally have the beach to myself. Tourist season in Turkey is coming to an end, and I realize how much time I’ve spent by myself since leaving Istanbul- more than most people would be comfortable with. And while I realize that there are moments that I would’ve loved the company of other backpackers, or some conversation in unbroken English, I’ve been pretty content with the time I’ve spent alone.
Late afternoon, Michael and I head out to a local cafe for a Turkish coffee and then agree to dinner at the hotel owners’ restaurant nearby. We enjoy a truly authentic and home-cooked meal and some great philosophical conversation. It’s a treat to speak to an older, wiser person about their views on the meaning of life.
When we return to the hotel, Michael takes out a pen and paper and says to me in a jovial manner, “I’ll just write up your prescription.” He jots down the name of his guru, Rudolf Steiner, along with some other things to google- you know, light reading on life. I board my overnight bus back to Istanbul feeling lighter. My three days in Selcuk, while slower, have rewarded me with an encounter with a very thought-provoking person, someone who I know will stick out in my memories, just as much as the places themselves.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Pamukkale, Travel, Turkey

A very short stop in Pamukkale



I board overnight bus #2 from Cappadocia to Pamukkale, and I don’t take an Ambien. I literally watch each hour pass. I also watch the bus’ temperature gauge, which is plummeting. During the wee hours of the morning, it reaches 3 degrees Celsius. I find my ipod, put on some Simon and Garfunkel and try to tune out, but can’t get out of my head. I’m analyzing the two extremes which are my life.

Six months of the year, I am “working” in Nantucket, a beautiful, untouched kind of place, where I have established some roots, a great group of friends and a pretty routine life that involves, waking up, making coffee, figuring out what beach I’m going to go to, working out, and heading to the bar for a 7-9 hour shift, usually followed by some post-shift libations. The following morning, I hit repeat.
The other six months out of the year, I am gallivanting around the world, God only knows where, with no more than a backpack and a camera, no place to call home and very far from family and friends. Only a true Gemini could love both lives. But looking at my life this way helps me realize why I’ve had a hard time adjusting to being back on the road. It’s completely different to the six months that have just preceded it…completely!
I try to switch my brain off, but what seems like just a few minutes later, we’re pulling over and being shuffled off the bus onto a minivan to begin the very short drive from Denizli to Pamukkale. At 4:30, we are dropped off at Artemis Hotel and I decide right then and there that I will see Pamukkale’s sights during the day and take the 3-hour bus ride to Selcuk that same afternoon.
The hostel has this strong odor of wet dog, and the employees are trying to cover it up with air freshners and by opening the door. It is still 3 degrees outside!! I decide to try and take a cat nap on the lobby sofa, so I can feel somewhat alive while seeing the sights today, but it’s bitterly cold. A kind, American guy brings a blanket over to me and this also smells like wet dog, but at this point I don’t care. I wrap myself in it, and I wrap my pashmina around my head so the smell isn’t AS strong and I snooze for about 3 hours. I snag free breakfast upstairs with herds of tourists who have been bussed in for a one-day excursion and then head to the travertines.
I spend about four hours between the travertines and the ruins, wading in the thermal streams and trying to wrap my head around the age of the ruins. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I realize what a sucker I am for natural wonders. I head back to town for Turkish coffee and a kebap and to book my bus to Selcuk…no more wet dog for me, thanks!
I leave for Selcuk that afternoon, desperately looking forward to a hot shower and a couple of nights of comfort.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Travel, Turkey

Cappadocia – Land of a Thousand Phalluses



A few days in and I’m starting to get back into my backpacker’s groove. After parting ways with Marisa and jody, I headed to Istanbul’s main bus terminal and boarded my overnight bus to Cappadocia. I popped an ambien, and proceeded to faceplant directly on the shoulder of the older Turkish woman next to me. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to mind. I awoke around 8:30 to a balloon-filled sky. My first impressions of Cappadocia – bizarrely beautiful.

I found Dream Cave Pension, just outside of town and crawled into bed for 4 more hours sleep. I then ventured out for food and to see the surrounding landscape. I had a harder time getting my bearings in this little town than I did in Istanbul, due to this odd-shaped city center. I had a hearty lunch and made my way to the Open-Air Museum and then hiked up to a viewpoint for sunset. I ran into a few people from Istanbul that evening and we booked in on a tour of the surrounding villages for the following day.
I was up early for the traditional Turkish breakfast, which I have grown to love and then Kasim came to collect me for the daily tour. We headed first to the underground cave network. These caves are about 65-metres underground and were occupied by ancient civilizations, specifically so people could hide from their enemies. From here we drove to Ihlara Valley, where we hiked down into a deep valley, visiting Ottoman and Byzantine churches from the 10th Century. We stopped for apple tea and lunch in a little hut sitting directly on a river.
That afternoon, we visited Selime Monastery, a monastery literally built in a rock. The surrounding landscape is so unique and bizarre. I later found out it was where Star Wars 1 was filmed. From here, we sampled more Turkish Delight, made a quick stop at Pigeon Valley and then returned to Goreme. I ventured to Cafe Safak for their award-winning lentil soup and baklava. It was getting proper cold, so i retired to my cave hotel early.
The following morning, I took my time with breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee. I decided to blow off the museum and instead headed to Rose Valley for some hiking. I spent about 3 hours taking in the landscape and discovering little villages, and I only passed two other hikers the entire time. It was like I had the place to myself. I picked apples from an apple orchard and drank apple tea high up in the “fairy chimneys” next to a Byzantine church from circa 10th Century. It was already cooling off by early afternoon, so I headed back to Cafe Safak to warm up with some Selip, a hot, milky drink that tastes like a cross between chai and tapioca.
I camped out here for a while, warding off the cold and waiting for the next overnight bus to Pamukkale. I thought about Cappadocia, truly like no other place I have seen before. I felt a slight tinge of regret for not taking a hot air balloon ride. But someone once told me, it’s good to leave yourself with a few things you want to do in a place… it gives you a good reason to return.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Istanbul, long term travel, Travel, Turkey

A Tourist or a Traveller?


The past 2 days have been jam packed and I have literally not stopped. I’m not used to traveling at break-neck speeds, but being with Marisa and Jody, who only have a few days to see Istanbul, has lead us to really cramming it all in. I feel like I’ve seen a lot, but I don’t really feel like I’m soaking in what I’m seeing. I’m feeling more like a tourist and less like a traveller, and my favorite moments of the past few days have been when we’ve really slowed down- to sit and smoke nargileh at a cafe or soak in the Turkish hamams (baths).

We have one more day of sightseeing together, before Marisa and Jody leave for Israel and I head east into Turkey. I’m thankful for an additional couple of days in Istanbul at the end of my trip, where I can just roam aimlessly. Until then, I will resort to copious amounts of Turkish coffee to keep up with these two!
Istanbul has such a rich culture and its deep historical roots are still so apparent in what is today a modern metropolis. With 17 million people, it’s no wonder the city feels so big and busy. Yesterday we toured the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, both which left me awestruck. The serenity and peacefulness inside these mosques is difficult to describe, and the cathartic call to prayer has become part of the daily city sounds for me now. The Blue Mosque was especially beautiful and the domed ceilings are so ornate and colorful, it almost seems like you’re looking at a faberge egg.
We toured a few more significant sights and had a delicious Turkish dinner at Cafe Adremos, then ventured to a very authentic open air cafe in Cemberlitas to smoke nargileh and drink apple tea. Groups of Turkish men of all ages gather around small tables and stools, smoking from the hookah and watching the world go by. The only females here are tourists. This is a traditionally male habit. Still, we are all ushered in to a small sofa, and choose from the list of flavored tobaccos, apple, orange, mint, cappuccino ???
The following day, we spend the morning at Topkapi Palace, take a kebap for lunch and then head to the Hamam (or Turkish Bath). This was up there on my list of things to do while in Turkey, and we’ve scoped out a historical bath in the Sultanahmet district. I am ready to be scrubbed and rubbed.
The three of us check in and select and pay for the services we want. We bid farewell to Jody, and Marisa and I head to the changing rooms. We don our pretty black panties (one size fits all), and wrap ourselves in a thin, cotton checkered cloth. We take our scrub cloths down to the entrance to the baths, where two burly Turkish women take us by the arms and lead us to a heated slab of marble, where we are left to sit and relax on the warm surface.
It really is just how I had pictured – a scene from Greek and Roman times, women sitting, or laying in pairs or groups, either lounging or being scrubbed and then doused with water. My lady comes over and sort of grunts at me to turn over and begins to scrub me down with a cloth and soap. I flip and same thing on the other side. After about 10 minutes, this is over and I’m ushered over to a tap, where she fills a bucket with luke warm water and begins to pour it over my head. I’m left thinking, “That’s it?” I had anticipated a real scrubbing, sort of like a grueling, fingernails turning white kind of experience. Marisa and I retire to a pool in the back and share a look of disappointment.
After a soak, we get dressed and head to the lobby to meet Jody, who has the look on his face of a kid who has just seen Santa Clause. He details his experience for us from start to finish, and Marisa and I listen with envy. First the man threw away his scrubbing cloth and said, “This is for tourists.” He then pulled out a real scrubbing cloth and Jody got the real Turkish treatment, with a massage!! He then lets us in on his secret. He tipped the guy before the service. And then because it was so good, he went back and tipped him again at the end. Marisa and I vow to find another hamam the next day and try Jody’s trick.
We head for more apple tea and nargileh at the open air cafe and then part ways for the afternoon. I need to organize some travel for the following day so I head to Walkabout Travel where I meet Ferhat. We spend the afternoon playfully arguing over me buying a bus ticket versus me buying a whole Turkey package deal. One thing that I find so surprising is the number of people who book travel packages and travel in tours. This isn’t my style at all. I decide to go it alone, and Ferhat sells me just a bus ticket. Two hours have passed, and I promise to visit him at the end of my trip to tell him all about my travels and how much money I saved 😉
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Istanbul, long term travel, Travel, Turkey

Istanbul…It has begun

 


I’m only days into my travels, and already I feel like I’ve ended up in the right spot. Any earlier anxieties and second guessing about leaving the States is far from my mind. I left Atlanta and took an overnight flight to London, where I spent a 7-hour layover visiting family. I had time for a quick shower too, so it was a better layover than most. It was then a short flight from London to Istanbul, and I arrived around 11:15 at night.

Let the airport pickup charade begin. I have booked in for 4 nights at Cheers Hostel right in the heart of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s historic area. I also arranged an airport pickup seeing as I was arriving so late in the evening. I get my bags, say a quick thank you to the bag fairy who oversaw my backpack at LHR during the layover, and head for the arrival area. I see the sign for Cheers and I’m handed off a couple of times to different drivers, then told to sit and wait. After about 20 minutes, I am en route to the hostel with Samir and Yousef, who speak next to no English. The conversation goes a bit like this.
Them: “We are speed drivers.”
Me: “Oh good, we’ll get there fast then.”
Them: “What’s your name?”
Me: “Eleanor.”
Them: “I Love You, Eleanor.”
Me: “Oh? Can you speed drive faster?.”
We play the usual game of charades. They point to my finger and ask if I’m married. Glad I read somewhere to always say yes in order to be left alone. They tell me Turkish coffee is good, but Efes, the national beer, is better. They blast Arabic techno, which is either surprisingly good, or I’m just really tired. They deliver me safely to Cheers, and I’m thankful for the in-van entertainment.
I’m soon checked into an 8-bed dorm, laying down but realizing I’m nowhere close to tired. I’m in a new city, at the beginning of a new adventure, good friends are arriving in 2 days. I could get up and go for a run, not tuck in for a night’s sleep. I listen to the chorus of snores around me, dig out earplugs and will myself to sleep.
I wake up around 10 the following morning, wondering what to do. I have a day to kill before Marisa and Jody arrive, so I don’t want to do too much that they will want to do too. I feel a bit out of place. I have to adjust to nomadic life again, get used to the hostel scene, traveling alone, not knowing a soul, being in a foreign place, with foreign customs…wait, all these things that I love and that inspire me, but why do I feel out of my element?
I venture downstairs for breakfast, and Tarik offers me a coffee and says, “We will talk money later.” (For what I owe for the room.) Breakfast consists of a hardboiled egg, cucumber slices, tomato, cured olives, and bread with jam. It’s free, so I don’t bat an eye. Tarik brings a second cup of coffee and sits down to tell me a bit about the area, some watchouts, etc.
I send a couple emails to let people know I’m alive and still have no plan for the day. I stroll outside and get chatting to Abbhaya and Jo who invite me to lunch at a veggie restaurant in Taksim. So we venture out and the day takes shape from there, as it usually does.
We take the tram across the Bosphorous and board the funicular. Istanbul is a sprawling city. The gray and white skyline is dotted with mosques and the blue water looks so bright next to the aging buildings. Turkish flags dot buildings on street corners and shop owners, touts, tourists, commuters, students and workers flood the roads. It’s not a strolling city, there’s a pace to be kept up with here.
We have lunch at Parsifal and share our condensed life histories, mainly bringing us to the point of how we got to Istanbul, why we are here, and what we might be doing next. Abbhaya is a sound engineer who, while doing his PhD part time, travels as a tennis umpire on The Open Circuit. He has just designed a 3-D microphone and is working on selling it to a major US broadcasting station for use during NFL games!! Joanna, or Jo for short, is on a 2-week holiday from London. She recently finished school and is doing charity work, but she’s got the travel bug and wants to throw it all in and plan her around-the-world trip.
After lunch, we head to the spice bazaar to sample some Turkish delight. Abbhaya heads to the airport to catch his flight to Bangalore, and Jo and I head back to Sultanahmet. It’s close to 6:00 so I do a quick loop of the area, soaking in views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, looking at what’s in store for us tomorrow. I grab a kebap for dinner. I’m really impressed with Istanbul. I can only imagine how much fun I will have discovering this city with Marisa and Jody. I can’t wait. One more night’s sleep.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, long term travel, Travel

Cognitive Dissonance – Roots vs Wings

I am borrowing the title of this entry from Elisabeth Eaves, author of Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents. In this book, Eaves shares with us her isatiable desire to travel the world. She can’t stay in her hometown for more than half a year; a house, mortgage and possessions leave her feeling trapped; and her list of places to go is never-ending. I can relate. I’ve been there. I’ve come home from 6-month trips and been on the computer within one week looking for the cheapest one-way ticket back to where I was. I have felt her pain.

In one part of her book, Eaves brings up the theory of cognitive dissonance, not in the same way I’m using it here, but I don’t feel like I can take creative credit for the title. Cognitive dissonance is “a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.” (Thank you, wikipedia.) You see, I thought I was always going to feel like Eaves. I feared staying in one place too long or getting too comfortable. In one of my old journal entries, I actually wrote “embrace uncertainty and fear comfort.” But now, as I get older, I am beginning to realize the importance of roots. As parents begin to age, and the place you grew up is no longer your home, as babies emerge on the scene, and more time is spent state-side in other people’s homes, i realize that i need some roots.

This is not to say I am hanging up the traveling backpack. As I write this, I am actually one-week away from departing on another backpacking adventure, but in the past few years, as my wings have lead me to put down some roots (in order to top up the bank account), the roots I have put down intermittently have also given me a greater appreciation of my ability to fly. Maybe I have found a sense of balance between the two? Maybe roots and wings can co-exist peacefully?

As I searched kayak.com today, and found the same one-way British Airways fare to Turkey that I’ve been looking at since July, I was glad that the price hadn’t increased, but before I clicked through to purchase the ticket, I hesitated. My hand hovered over the mouse, and I wondered what a winter in Nantucket might be like, how cold and windy it really gets. I knew I could convince myself that either decision, to stay or to go, was the right one, but what truly was the right one for me, right now? Which choice was me being true to myself and what I want?

The reality is, the choice to put down roots will always be there, but once roots are planted and secure in the ground, the more difficult it is to go. AND, the choice to go will NOT always be there. This upcoming journey is going to be a special one. I don’t know how many more opportunities I will have to leave for extended periods of time on end. Maybe the future of my travel is longer periods of time at “home” and shorter trips abroad. So I am embarking on this trip with that in mind, and I am forever thankful for making the decision to go and see and do all that I did 2 years ago.

So, I click purchase, with some hesitancy. Just 24 hours ago, I really had myself convinced the right thing to do was to buy a car, drive back to Nantucket, work the winter and stay close to home. I get the email confirmation from the website and then another one from the airline, and I wait for that feeling to set in, that Christmas Eve feeling. I’m nervous. Did I do the right thing? I go out and run errands… I’ve been told I need a head lamp for Nepal and trekking shoes. I receive an email from friends who will be in Istanbul two days after I arrive… it’s happening. The butterflies are back. The comforts of home are the last things on my mind. Where will I stay in Istanbul the first night? I must call my grandmother and organize seeing her in London during my layover? What will the food be like? Will I make it to Israel and stay in a kibbutz?

All of these thoughts flood my mind, but the nicest reassurance is knowing after this big adventure, I have somewhere I can call home to go back to, somewhere I have found, a place where I would be quite content to put down roots, even if it’s not for 12 months out of the year. Until then, stay tuned…

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

“Happiness Is Only Real When Shared” -Into The Wild

 

I arrived back in Manila with a day to spare and decided to spend it at Friendly’s…I was hoping to have one last night to catch up with Guillaume, and well, it was wine night at the guesthouse. I got settled in, got some laundry done, repacked my bags and chilled out. I got chatting to Bruce, an American Unicef worker, whose specific job revolves around disaster relief. He definitely had some stories to share about his job, but we also got to talking about life abroad and how it changes you as a person, and how when you return home, whether it’s for a holiday or a longer period of time, you are never quite the same person as you were when you left.

 

I asked Bruce how it was when he goes back to the states now. He is in his 40s and single, and spends some time at home each year, visiting family and catching up with old friends. He said to me bluntly, “people just don’t get it….you have been on this amazing journey, seen things many people only ever dream of seeing, seen another way of life. You feel you have grown so much, and you go home and your buddy wants to show you his new flat screen TV he just bought. You realize that life just goes on.”

 

This is one reason why I think friendships formed on the road are so special and why they are so easy. I’ve never met one traveller who doesn’t have the time of day for another traveller’s tale. The excitement a traveller has about his or her journey is palpable. And after a conversation with someone on the road, your list of things to do and places to see can double, simply through their enthusiasm for what they have seen and done. These friendships are fast and easy, because you already know that what you have in common with this other person is something so unique…you already know you are going to have a blast with this other person, simply for the fact that you are so like-minded, you crave that sense of adventure, and you are open to anything.

 

I spent my last evening reflecting on the past 3- 1/2 months since I had returned overseas and been travelling solo. I thought about Lorne and Dragan and our crazy scooter excursions in Langkawi. I thought about Jena, my friend in Hong Kong, who took me in and showed me her bussling city. I thought about Flo and Marty, our adventures climbing Rinjani, our happy hours, and our promise to have a reunion one day in Paris. I thought about Aaron and our never-ending journey to seek out this faraway island I had my heart set on seeing, and our conversations about life. I thought about Kate, my boisterous dive buddy from Sipadan, who I continued to run into throughout Malaysia, and I thought about my early days in Borneo with Kat and Doris, the three of us crammed into little bunkbeds sharing our most horrific stoires of stomach problems on the road, and giggling away. I realized that as much as I thought about the places I had been and the adventures I had experienced, I thought more about the people I had met and shared the journey with.

 

I finally found Guillaume around this time, and was glad for his company. I can’t describe the feeling I had my last night sitting in Manila at that guesthouse. It was certainly bittersweet and sentimental. I guess you could say it was surreal. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how the last 3-1/2 months passed so quickly, and what about the last 2 weeks since I had arrived in the Philippines? All I know is that I was leaving on a high note. And although I was sad to leave, I was taking some irreplaceable memories with me.

 

Bruce came back from the store with ingredients to whip up some truly authentic mojitos, Benjie (the owner) was popping open bottles of wine left and right, the music was blaring, and everyone sat around talking over the music, sharing stories and making plans. For some people, Manila was a starting out point, for others, it was a return trip, but for me, it was my last evening abroad (until the next trip), so Bruce, Guillaume and I toasted. This already had the makings of another memorable night!
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Coron, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

Wrapping it all up in Coron

From El Nido, I made my way by overnight boat to Coron. There are a few ways to travel between El Nido and Coron, but the cheapest is the night cargo ship, and seeing as I was at the end of my trip and on a budget, I chose this. I was with a few others from El Nido who were also heading the same way, so we boarded, found our cots and settled in. This was at about 11pm, and at 5am, we actually left the port. What can I say, it was going to be another long, hot boat ride, but it was going to be my last long, hot boat ride for a while, so I embraced it.
After arriving, we made our way to a guesthouse that was situated closer to town and closer to the dive shops, and minutes after dropping my bag and heading out to sit on the upstairs balcony, I looked down and saw Flo walking across a bridge in the distance. I called out to him and ran down to meet him. We had talked about meeting up here, but we’d both had sporadic internet connections and I wasn’t sure if he’d been able to get a flight or not. Fortunately, he had and we had run into each other. Unfortunately, Marty, my other Frenchie had ventured North to the rice paddies for treking, so we were minus one.

 

Still, Guillaume, who I had met in El Nido was also with us in Coron, and I couldn’t wait to introduce him to Flo. We headed out for dinner locally and had a blast catching up on the last few weeks and sharing our past adventures with Guillaume. We adopted Guillaume for the rest of our time in Coron. We arranged some awesome wreck diving, spent the days on the water and spent the evenings at a local grill that we couldn’t get enough of.

 

It was about this time that I wanted to hit pause. My time in Coron was slipping away. Soon it would be time to head back to Manila to begin the journey home. I was envious of those around me who were just starting out, and those who still had months left on their journeys. It was all beginning to sink in that this chapter was coming to a close. Still, I had been adamant about not slipping into “home” mode and had truly milked everyday of my time in the Philippines for all it was worth.

 

On one of my last nights in Coron, Flo and I ventured out to buy a decent bottle of wine. His parents had recently flown over from France to meet him for some diving and they had brought him some foie gras. We decided to pop open some vino, and have one of our traditional happy hours, complete with appetizers. Not too long after, Guillaume showed up with a bottle of Matador Brandy. It was his last night, so we bid farewell and I told him I hoped to see him at Friendly’s Guesthouse in Manila in 2 days time.

 

Two mornings later, I was saying a final goodbye to Flo and making my way to the airport to fly back to Manila. Getting on this flight was more upsetting than the entire journey home because it was the beginning of the end. Everyone else was staying on in Coron and venturing off to the next port of call. I had to part with the group and make my way. It was really sinking in now that this was the end of my journey.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, El Nido, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

El Nido Baby!

 

 

I arrived late in Puerta Princessa, Palawan, but found the really nice, earthy guesthouse that my friend Kate had recommended to me. This place was constructed with the elements in mind. The back patio area was open and airy, and trees grew all around. Hammocks hung in each corner, and even power was optional – translation – the generator wasn’t always working. So I arrived to candlelight, but it sort of added nicely to the vibe . My first day was spent enjoying the ambience. I find myself coming to the end of my trip and being ok with chilling in a hammock at the guesthouse for a day and not feeling too guilty about it.
From Puerta Princessa, I headed two hours west to the sleepy beach town of Sabang. This is home to one of the longest subterranean rivers, which I saw by kayak in the rain. The weather had sort of put a damper on my plans of getting a beach bungalow and having some one-on-one time with a beach towel and the sand and sea before going home. I was running out of time, so instead of wasting anymore time in rainy Sabang, I decided to head directly north to El Nido. I said goodbye to the people at the guesthouse, and began the journey.

 

The journey was a bit torturous. Seven hours on unpaved roads in a van with AC that functioned at about 20%, and about 30K from town, the axel on the van broke so we were stranded while we waited for a new van. Needless to say, I was ready to get there already. But when I arrived, I knew I’d made a good decision to head straight here.

 

El Nido has a laid back beach vibe and affords for some amazing island hopping. I checked into my long sought after beach bungalow, that while aging still had a lot of charm, and then went to meet some fellow travellers for beers. The plan for my last 8 days was nothing. Aside from some island hopping and diving in Coron, I wanted to completely chill out, not see, do or move around.
Five days later and I was still doing just this and I was still in El Nido. The island hopping had become addictive. The vistas are absolutely breathtaking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so blue and clear. Pair this with being able to be dropped on a deserted island for a day, complete with a lunch of fresh grilled fish, fruit and vegetables, and you can see why i started to fall in love with island life. The days were spent lounging on boats and beaches, and the evenings were spent with a newly forming crew of people that had been growing since Sabang. I met my Australian neighbors at the bungalow, and headed out to meet their other friends for dinner, and it turns out to be the same people I had met in Sabang. Small world!

 

Having a good crew of people made for some fun nights, one of which we spent at the local discotheque. Yes, no matter the size of a town, there is always a disco…sometimes you just have to look a little harder. The Filipinos love their current American pop music and they loved that we were at their disco.

 

El Nido was a definite highlight of my trip to the Philippines, but after six days there, it was now time to head North to Coron, for some wreck diving and a reunion…