Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's all about the journey?!

D: So I am pretty behind on updates, as I am in Cambodia and still posting about Bali, but here is a guest post from Patricia, who I have been traveling the last few weeks of the trip with. Travel days are definitely NOT glamorous!
A little background: we had lined up a private driver to take us from Siem Reap to our next stop in Cambodia (Kratie), which is 7-8 hours by car, with a stop to check out Beng Melea (an out of the way temple that we had heard was really cool). At 10 pm the night before we were going to go, he cancelled on us. The bus station was closed, so we decided to get up early and check out the bus options.

P: At 6:30 am we asked the hotel manager if we could still catch a bus to Kratie. She makes some mad panicked arrangements, organizes bus tickets, calls for a tuktuk and tells us the bus is being held for us as we have a 40 min ride to the bus station to accomplish in 25 min.
End of chapter: 10 min bus ride, $4 overcharge on bus ticket and $2 overcharge on tuk tuk. Oh... And we missed out on our complementary breakfast.
Our bus looks pretty decent from the outside. Air conditioning sort of OK. Some seats broken but we find a decent pair.
As we drive, water is leaking from multiple spots from the overhead compartments; Interesting challenge to dodge the drips, some locals putting towels over their heads as if they've done this before.
The Video screen at the front is playing loudly either the most annoying half chanting comedians or the most twisted, badly produced Bruce Lee/ Jackie Chan/ Sylvester Stallone style nightmare movie possible! All in the Khmer language.
And they keep stopping along the way for more local passengers. Three to a seat or sitting on portable footstools. Danni and I figured our butts were the equivalent of four locals so we were already doing our share!
And then it happens...bus abruptly pulls over and smoke (or steam) is pouring from the rear bus engine compartment. The locals on the bus become panicked and frantically yell and push and shove to get out of the bus. Danni and I aren't too sure what's going on ( it smells like radiator to us so no big deal ... yeah the middle of nowhere) so we manage to squeeze ourselves into the panicked throng and get off, not before I have all my belongings of course! :) I inspect the action at the bus rear. A big knife is used to cut all the AC belts and the bus is pronounced as "problem solved".
End of chapter two: We drive in 35+ degrees with windows and bus door open! A 5 hour bus ride becomes 9.
We are now looking forward to switching to a minivan for the last 3 hours of the trek.
The White Mini Van - obviously picked over in a junkyard and then shipped to Cambodia for further use. Not one of the seats actually belonged in it, nor were properly bolted down. Mattresses on any floor space without seats. Danni, myself, and a Swiss doctor really didn't know what to do except get in! The smell of rotting carcass assaults us unbearably (vicks vapo rub anyone?) and only eases after a local woman takes her two grocery bags off 2 hours later. As the front seat passenger climbs in, the whole seat tips backwards before he catches his balance. We then pick up a number of local people who squeeze in. And finally...the last male passenger climbs in with the driver and they share a single seat together!! No seat belts whatsoever, just in case your wondering. No AC. 15 people for an 8 passenger White Mini Van
End of chapter 3: We arrived safely! A beautiful sunset greeted us coming into Kratie, a pretty decenthotel with a river view. Now a shower to get rid of rotting-carcass-smell!

D: AND an update, 2 days later another travel day in yet another minivan:

P: Imagine our pleasure this morning when a clean fairly new looking 12-passenger WMV showed up at the curb. Seats bolted down. No obnoxious odours. Cargo space to stow our backpacks. Two brown bobble-head horses on the dash. No AC, no seat belts but still very tolerable.
Well... Okay....15 people piled in...just a little snug.
First pit stop - major redesign of the cargo space in order to add 3 crates of chickens, 3 pigs, 5 tires, and miscellaneous sacks and bags.......and 9 more people! We are now 24 people in a 12-passenger WMV.
Five more stops for pickups of miscellaneous packages and people!
At the last stop, a middle-aged German lost his temper stating that he had paid for two tickets and should be guaranteed adequate space for leg room. Sounds pretty logical in theory.
He got his leg room! The rest of us just squeezed a little tighter.
We travelled for over 5 hours in a 12-passenger van: 12 backpacks, 3 crates of chickens, 3 pigs, 5 tires, multiple sacks and packages and 35 people!!!!!
For extra good measure, the driver poured several gallons of water over the engine before we left. Nice that maintenance is important too.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Interviewing Those Girls

Ok, so this blog is called Those Girls Travel... so I thought I would give you some information about some of Those Girls! If you read this blog (hey Dad! Hi Karen!), then you know the original 'Those Girls': Danni and Jill. On my current SE Asia trip there are a few different faces, so here is a little about about the first one: My cousin Rhiannon!
Rhiannon and I have now traveled together twice: a two week road trip up the west coast of the US last summer, and most recently for a few weeks in Bali. Due to the success of our last few trips, and also the fact that Rhiannon takes even more time to get ready in the morning than I do and makes me look low maintenance, I'm sure that there will be more to come!
Thanks Rhiannon for doing this interview!

1) Tell everyone a litte bit about yourself - where are you from/what do you do/are you a crazy cat lady?
Hello everyone (who are you??) I am Danni's cousin Rhiannon. I am from a small town in the-middle-of-no-where Alberta called Forestburg (AKA- "the Burg"). I am now working in the mental health field in a small city nearby the-middle-of-no-where. Am I a crazy cat lady? ....Well in theory, but not practice. Although if you ask my brother, he would say that I am only one bad relationship away from having 30 cats. (For the record- I currently have zero cats).

2) When did you first fall in love with travel?
I always liked car rides and road trips (probably as a result of living where I did- see above). But I think I fell in love with travel when I went to the Dominican in around 2005-ish.

3) What is the best food / meal you have ever had on your travels?
Truthfully, I haven't travelled a lot, so my responses are limited. I had some delicious crab at The Crab Pot in Seattle, Jerk Chicken in Jamaica, and some awesome sushi in Bali, but I think Crispy Duck in Bali has grown on me most. I had it 3 times while I have been here.

4) Have you ever had a "those girls" moment while traveling? (e.g. Everyone seemed to know who you were, or had heard about something you did before they met you)
I think I have had a "that girl" moment (probably more) while I have been in Bali. It was the day Matt and I visited the Holy Water Temple and opted to bathe in the holy water fountain with the locals. I have never been so aware of my white skin in all my life. We were the only non-local people in the water and the place was packed! I don't speak Balinese, but it was very clear that people were staring, talking about, and laughing at us. Good thing awkwardness is something familiar to me in my daily life!

5) Do you have an embarrassing travel story?
Hmm, the first thing that comes to mind is a wine tasting tour we took with a great lady in California. On a pretty empty stomach the wine had gone down too quickly and even after calling it an early night, the wine decided to come back up - over and over (and over!). It truly defied the laws of gravity :s

6) Tell us about a great travel souvenir you have bought / aquired?
I am really digging my new jewelry that I made in Ubud, Bali at a Silversmith class I took. I enjoyed it so much, I went back a second time. 

7) Is there one thing you never travel without?
I never travel without make-up. Those who have camped with me can attest to this.

8) What is the nicest accommodation you ever stayed in?
The nicest would have to be the Gran Bahia Principe in Jamaica. 

9) How about the worst?
The worst... I think it was called the Western Inn in Utah. It was an on-the-fly selection on our road trip last summer. The lobby was adorned with many fixins right out of the 1970s. Think browns and oranges, flowery patterns, and grandma’s crafts. There was a large wooden cowboy to greet you at the door. And the rooms! Some vintage wood paneling with the old school lamps on the walls above the beds. And to top it off, the brown rug had a sort of hunters' camouflage pattern in it, not naturally, but in patches of various stains. (Some of those could have been from the 70s too!).

10) What's the coolest place you have ever seen the sunset?
In Bali. Although, in the rainy season this is difficult to do, I have seen it set in the layers of clouds and it is still beautiful.

11) What do you do to keep busy on long trips?
Sleep! And my Ipod! Those are the essentials.

12)Do you have any travel vices?
Desserts! I also like rocks, feathers, and shiny stuff.

That's me... . Nice to meet you!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

10 Reasons It's Great to Travel with Friends

I can travel by myself. I travel by myself all the time for work, and last year I went to France alone for two weeks; my first truly solo vacation. There are a lot of great things about solo travel, but here are some really fantastic things about traveling with friends.

(Note: I know I am behind on Bali posts but seeing as how Rhiannon and Brian have just left me, was feeling this post was appropriate)

1. You can stay out late! When I travel by myself, I usually try to be back to my hostel/hotel by dark so I am not wandering around strange places at night. Or at least you can save money by splitting a cab when you make it back to the hotel in the wee hours!

2. You can eat more dessert. More people = more appetizers and desserts to share and sample.

3. Your back is not as likely to get burnt. Friends can suncreen your back for you! I am way too shy to be asking strangers to apply my suncreen for me - although I guess that might be a good way to meet people??

4. After sun care is easier: If your back DOES get burnt, your friends can put aloe on it for you! And in the case of really good friends (or cousins - thanks Rhiannon!), they can assist you with loofah-ing off the peeling skin from said burn.

5. You can drink more beer! As a solo girl traveler I also think its a bad idea to drink too much in unfamiliar places, so having your friends around means you might get to sample a few more local beverages than you would on your own.

6. You have someone to watch your purse. When you already have to use the sketchy squat toilet while trying not to get your pants soaked, it is really great not to also have to worry about where to put your bags.

7. You do things you would never do on your own. I never would have went white water rafting in Bali on my own, but that was Matt's choice activity for his last day here, and it one of the most fun days I had here. Everyone gravitates to different activities, so your friend's might pick something that you would have missed if you were on your own.

8. You get a better sleep. If I'm traveling by myself I might opt for a hostel dorm if it is the cheapest option, but when I'm traveling with other people a shared room is often the same price but nicer accomodations (and I love a good comfy bed). (Sidenote: If you are traveling with me, YOU may not get a better sleep, since the snore beast may keep you awake at night. MY sleep is usually great though).

9. You can do less work. Split the planning, take turns carrying heavy bags. Even just taking turns on navigating city streets is a nice break for me! Its also a plus to have someone else to blame every once in awhile when you get lost yet again.

10. You have someone to tell 'remember when' stories with! Even though your friends that did not travel with you always ask you how your trip was, they get REALLY tired of hearing about 'that time you got lost in Ubud and had to walk an extra hour home' or 'that creepy guy that made you a carrot rose in Turkey' all the time. Traveling with friends means that you always have someone to talk about your travel stories with (and means that you alienate less of your other friends)!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

NOT getting mugged in Ubud

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud is a pretty popular tourist destination. The forest is managed by thepeopleof a nearby village and it costs the equivalent of $2 CAN to go in, and the money goes to the upkeep of the forest and the sacred monkey temple inside. The Monkey Forest website says that there are about 600 resident long tail macaques (hee) that live in the forest. Having heard stories of rabies from monkeys, as well as being somewhat of a wimp, I was a little afraid before going. Rhiannon had visited with Matt previously and had already been mugged by one of the little buggers (jumped on her, unzipped her backpack and then took off with a water bottle). Knowing this, we prepared accordingly by removing hats, sunglasses and any shiny objects from easy access, and headed trepidatiously into the forest.

A first I was actually too afraid to pull out the camera, thinking that it would tempt a pickpocket monkey to attack, however the hordes of adorable (yet potentially rabies infested??) monkeys begging to be photographed soon changed my mind. I also reassured myself that the tourists buying bunches of bananas in order to have the monkeys climb on them for a photo op may draw them away from me.

The forest was a nice and shady retreat from the 30 degree, motorbike filled, streets of Ubud and we hung out there for a couple of hours with only one minor incident in which a teenager monkey decided to hitch a ride on my back while I jumped around squealing for help. Between bugs and monkeys I am finding myself doing more squealing than is acceptably not embarrassing!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Matt's Last Day

My second day in Bali was Matt's last full day here, so we let him pick our activities. He chose white water rafting on the Ayun River. The river runs through Ubud, and a number of companies offer rafting down the class 2 and 3 rapids. We went with Sobek, who provided us with a raft to ourselves, a guide (Stinky), a two hour ride down the river and buffet lunch afterwards for $80. Once we donned our sexy life jackets and helmets, we started down the stairs to the river.I thought that it was going to be a nice little jaunt down the the river, however it was actually 500 very tall and steep steps down the side of the cliff to the river.

We loaded up the raft and Stinky gave us our instructions, telling us when to row, when to grab the rope, and letting us know that when he shouted 'boom boom' we were to basically dive into the bottom of the raft and hold on. He did not give us any indication of when he might yell boom boom.
Off we went down the river, with Stinky pointing out local plants and animals, as well as carvings on the cliffs on the side of the river.

Class 2 and 3 rapids are not very scary, and after the first couple of rapids where we grabbed onto the rope each time, we had it under control. We would row to the sounds of "One, Two, STOP -  ok Stinky!". I think. It could have been something else, but it sure sounded like Stinky. Although the guide did tell us that in Bali stinky means good music, not smelly. So who knows really. We also discovered that boom boom was when we were about to hit the side of the river pretty hard - luckily this only happened a couple times .

Highlights of the trip included:


Bintang Break (Karen, I'm sure you will agree the joy of riverside beers far outweighs the outrageous cost that said beers are sold for on the side of the river)

Scary moment with locals fishing with electricity (?? this was the explanation we got)

Floating down the last leg of the river to our take out point.

After the rafting they served up a buffet lunch of mainly Indonesian dishes, which was a poor introduction for food safety Danni, as all of the dishes were lukewarm and had been sitting out for who knows how long, and she did not eat anything except a green colored coconut suger cake at the end. Everyone else enjoyed the food though and no one got sick. Then we walked up the 150 stairs to the top of the hill (thank god it was not 500, although in 30 degree weather, on the first full day of vacation, and with hawkers walking beside you trying to sell you teak boxes, wooden elephants and sarongs - only one dollar! - it was still too many!).

That night we walked into Ubud (about 20 min) and ate some deep fried crispy duck (bebek guling) at the Dirty Duck Diner (Bebek Bengil). It was pretty expensive for Bali prices, however considering I don't usually like duck, it was pretty delicious. Rhiannon and Brian have already had it twice now, and have requested it once more before we leave Bali, so looks like some more dirty duck is in our future.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Greetings from Bali!

I got to Bali Wed afternoon and was pretty beat after 36 hours of travel, so we had a quiet night in with pizza from Pizza Bagus, which was pretty delicious. Our place of residence is the Desa Sanctuary, which is at the end of the main road leading into Ubud. It is about a 20 min walk before you get to some restaurants and a grocery market.The walk is slightly dangerous for clutzy people like me since the first part of the walk has no sidewalks and the road is super busy with cars, bikes and scooters. It is the rainy season so the road gets pretty muddy at times. Once the sidewalk does start it is pretty poor and also runs directly over the open sewer dtiches. Rhiannon and I are betting over which of us falls in the sewer first. So far my chances are looking pretty good seeing as how I already fell half in the pool and then broke a beer at the pool today, but she did fall down some stairs a couple days before I got here, so you never know.

The complex is really nice, with 5 little huts/houses in a compound with a pool and tons of vegetation. The staff are really nice and helpful, coming immediately to my aid after I broke both a breakfast plate (falling in the pool) and the aforementioned beer today. It has been pretty quiet with some road noise but not too much, and very little notice of the people in the neighboring huts. I had a slight panic attack my first night due to the sheer number of ants in my bed, and due to a lack of mosquito net in the room that Brian and I were in for the first couple nights, had to macguyver myself a sleeping face turban out of a scarf. Now we are in a room with Rhiannon that is equipped with a lovely mosquito net (malaria is not really a risk, but dengue is), as well as Rhiannon's nightly bug spray rounds, so there is less overall insect distress.
That's it for the first day, more to come on adventures thus far!