Category Archives: Adventure travel

Facts About Travel in 2016 (updated to the second!)

Real time travel stats make it easy to imagine yourself abroad.

Need some interesting facts about travel for your travel blog, school research, or to impress a first date?

The Happy Passport‘s got you covered!

If you’ve been longing for some travel statistics on how many slices of bacon are being served in hotels across the world, right this very second, we can help.

Or if you want to know many people are facepalming themselves because their flight just got delayed, we’ve got the numbers!

Weird facts about travel are not only fun; they put our big, beautiful world into startling perspective.

The other day I was writing a colleague in Estonia who used to live in Wisconsin. He was complaining about how bored he was living in Europe, and how badly he wanted to return the United States.

As someone who is temporarily stuck in the good ol’ US of A, I was flabbergasted! How could someone possibly live in historic, rich, glamorous Europe and be anything less than thrilled with each-breath-they-take-every-second-of every-day, as they drive their tiny cars to non-Starbucks coffee shops wearing designer clothing whose sale could eradicate my enormous student loan debt in an instant?

But I digress.

Of course my buddy is bored with Estonia, just as I’m itching to return to Viet Nam after 8 months away.

That’s because wherever you go, there you are. We so quickly and easily adopt tunnel vision when we stay in the same place for too long, forgetting that there is a wide world out there filled with people doing all sorts of incredible things. (Like eating bacon in hotels and grumbling over flight delays).

“We so quickly and easily adopt tunnel vision when we stay in the same place for too long, forgetting that there is a wide world out there filled with people doing all sorts of incredible things.” Click to Tweet

If we can’t travel (and let’s be honest – sometimes we simply can’t travel), then the next best thing is to remember that travel exists. That people, and travel, and culture, and a wide, wide world of wonders are just biding their time, waiting for us to venture out into the world once more.

One of the most inspiring reminders of this idea was recently created by my friends at Get Your Guide, a booking platform for cool tours and activities all over the world.  They’ve created a real time travel infographic that shows you what’s going down around the world, right this very second.

If you’ve ever craved facts about travel like….

  • How many people are getting busted for trying to sneak pot onto the plane?
  • How many selfies are being taken around the world right now?
  • How many people are waiting in line at the Eiffel Tower?

….this infographic has the answers. Check out a snapshot below, or click this link to see real time travel updates from all over the world.

Because when you can’t travel, the next best thing is to live vicariously through the people who are.

(And who doesn’t want to know how many Americans around the world are completely drunk right now?).
Real Time Travel

Superman Sprains His Wrist

A few weeks ago, after a particularly interesting night in Pai Thailand, I received the following email.

Dear Michael,

This is ____ the girl you helped a lot last night in Pai. my friend ____ now is transferring to Chiangmai lam hospital to have an operation. he got two parts of bone break of his left leg. i haven’t deal with the motorcycle problem yet by now. how is your wrist now ? i’m really sorry that you got hurt your wrist. sorry…

You appeared like a super man to me last night! you followed my friend to the hospital after the accident, you found me, you helped me to push my motorcycle for 3 km, you took me to the hospital and also took me back to the hotel.you did so much! like i said you are the best american i ever known. you are so helpful and nice! thanks for everything you did for me.

thank you Michael !

_____ from China

Now, I don’t think I’m a hero for the events described above. I mean, I’m far from being Martin Luther King Jr. (or even, say, Kirk Cameron).

All I am is a guy who was riding his scooter in the rain, after midnight, on a dark stretch of road leading out of a small town in northern Thailand, against all common sense and to the horror of my mother is she ever found out (which she now will, I suppose).

I saw an opportunity to help an injured stranger, which then turned into an opportunity to help a different stranger in need, and I took it. I don’t believe in karma, I was not looking for a reward.

So why then, you might ask, did I spend four hours after the stroke of the witching hour helping people I didn’t know? I’d like to think of it as common decency; just showing concern for my fellow man.

And frankly, it was exciting.

The setting? Pai, Thailand: a small town north of Chiang Mai filled with friendly locals, laid back expats , and tourists; a town embraced by natural beauty in every direction.

With its rice fields, rolling green hills, tranquil muddy rivers, and big open sky sporting puffy white clouds, Pai is a little bit like what Eden might have been, had it existed.

The people are generally very friendly, quick to smile, quick to help. In fact, by the time I came across the injured stranger (let’s call him German Bob for funsies), he was already being carried into the back of a white pick up truck owned by two Thai men and a local woman who had pulled over to help him.

I gave his crashed motorbike a cursory once over, asked the German if he wanted me to go to the hospital with him (silly question apparently), and followed the truck there on my scooter.

At the hospital, once it became obvious that German Bob was in no great mortal danger, we got to talking a little bit (him through gritted teeth, rolling eyeballs, and in between moans, that is).

pai-thailand-just-a-pack-2

Turns out the crashed bike was not his – he’d borrowed it from a girl he met and was speeding into town to buy a lighter, hoping to return to her hotel as quickly as possible.

He crashed his motorbike on the way to buy a fucking lighter! Smoking really IS bad for your health, ya’ll.

The girls’ hotel was located some ways out of town, and Bob didn’t recall its name. It had two lemons on its sign, however, that much he knew for certain. Bob produced a key to room 202 and told me that the girl was eagerly awaiting his return.

A bit of detective work at 1am sounded like fun, so I grabbed the key and promised I’d find the mystery girl and bring her to German Bob’s bedside.

I drove back to the scene of the accident to make sure Bob’s crunched motorbike was still there.

Crunched motorbike, check.

I then proceeded further down the road into the mysterious night, the single beam of my scooter’s headlamp keeping the darkness at bay as I searched in for two lemons in vain.

Bob’s memory was relatively sound, however, and I eventually came across a fruit-filled hotel sign some 5 clicks out of town. They weren’t lemons at all (passion fruit actually), but we’ll give poor Bob the benefit of the doubt.

Pulling into the parking lot on my hardy little scooter, I mentally prepared myself to knock on a stranger’s door to deliver some bad news.

I took a few deeps breaths outside of room 202, my heart beating a little too quickly, and knocked on the door.

A few moments later it flew open and a  short Asian girl (let’s call her Sue) stood before me in an equally short night gown.

I was obviously not who Sue was expecting as evidenced by the look on her face, which transitioned from puzzlement to alarm and back again within three heartbeats. We stood there looking at one another for a few seconds before I remembered I had to speak.

“I’m sorry to alarm you but your friend was in an accident. He is in the hospital now. Your bike is on the side of the road a few kilometers from here “, I blurted, all while trying to make what I hoped to be cross-cultural calming motions with my hands.

It took her some time to accept the news, but I guess my stammering sincerity made the harsh truth easier to stomach.  We stopped by the hotel owner’s bungalow so she could (much to her confusion) take my photograph (y’know, just in case German Bob didn’t exist and I was actually a deranged lunatic who’d come to kidnap Sue and drag her back to my den of unspeakable horrors).

Photos snapped, our next task was to check up on German Bob’s – er, Sue’s – crashed motorbike.

The bike appeared to be in better shape than Bob was, just some minor scratches on the body. But the keys were missing from the ignition, and there was a shirtless (and mostly toothless) old Thai man standing nearby in the dark, looking at the bike (and us) with some obvious consternation.

We decided that leaving Sue’s bike there was probably not a great idea, so I pushed the fucking thing three kilometers back to her hotel.

pai-thailand-just-a-pack

That sweaty task completed, we set off on my scooter to the hospital. German Bob was medicated and sleeping when we got there, but woke up long enough to chat Sue up through his drugged-out haze.

They’d placed Bob in a room with 5 elderly female patients who were not super happy about our late night visit, so we kept it short. Sue told Bob she’d visit him in the morning, asked him if he had the key to the scooter (he did not), and off we went.

While dropping Sue off at her hotel at 3:30 in the morning, I nearly caused the second motorbike accident of the evening when I dropped the damned scooter and wrenched my wrist trying to keep it from falling. Apparently scooters do no like standing sideways on steep hills, kick stand or no kickstand.

Sue offered to nurse my new injury but I begged off, not wanting my travel partner to freak out due to my long, unexplained absence in the middle of the night.

Saying goodbye to ol’ Sue,  I braced myself against fresh rain as I drove back to my hotel. Stumbling into my room half a hour later I fell into bed, exhausted but content.

I never saw or heard from German Bob again after that night. Sue, on the other hand, sent me about 18 emails in gratitude, bought my travel partner and I dinner and drinks one night, and was pretty much consumed with expressing her thanks for a few days. We still keep in touch, and she still calls me “her superman” in her emails.

I never told Sue, but I think Superman is a dick. I much prefer Batman, but if she keeps it up I just might start wearing really tight spandex pants as my ego swells to unchecked heights.

Michael-Miszczk-pai-thailand

Michael Miszczak is a nomadic Brooklynite and the co-creator of www.justapack.com. He started backpacking five years ago and has thought of doing little else since. He’s spent months in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. One day he hopes to explore Saturn…but only if he can bring his backpack.

Follow Michael here: 

www.facebook.com/justapack

www.twitter.com/justapack

http://instagram.com/justapack1

www.pintrest.com/justapack

Travel Yoga in a Rice Paddy in Vietnam

Travel yoga can be a challenge, especially in remote locations or areas that simply don’t offer yoga classes.

Luckily I’m spending the summer in Hoi An, a town that has managed to create a perfect balance between touristy offerings (waxing! Western-style lattes! Fast WiFi!) and authentic Vietnamese culture (coffee! plastic chairs! swimming in your pajamas!).

That means that yoga studios don’t dot every corner like in over-touristed Luang Prabang, but the yoga classes that are offered here in Hoi An are dynamite.

Stephanie of Hoi An Yoga in Hoi An, Vietnam invited me to do “rice paddy yoga” just outside the city.

The surroundings were gorgeous – you really are in the middle of rice fields, and on the way there I biked past many people working in the paddies. They were wearing traditional hats, raking the land with rusty tools, the whole nine yards.

I had never done yoga outside before, and being able to breathe fresh air while watching the sun set over the river was a truly spiritual experience.

When you’re in Hoi An you can book with Stephanie by visiting http://HoiAnYoga.com.

Click play now to check out my yoga adventure:

Have you ever done yoga in a strange location before?

How do you keep up with your yoga practice while traveling? 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our email list to follow my solo female travel adventures and get your FREE travel guide, 175 Ways to Travel Today.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Travel yoga is a great way to stay fit on the road - you can do it inside during bad weather and outside during great weather!

2. Travel yoga in Asia is a lot cheaper than yoga back home - $5-$7 per class instead of $10-$15 per class or more.

3. In Hoi An, you can do yoga on the beach and yoga in a rice paddy with Stephanie from Hoi An Yoga.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

No Privacy Nepal

The man’s hand is cool on my forehead. The room is dark and his traditional flat-topped hat is silhouetted against the light leaking in from the flimsy, hung tapestry that serves as a door.

Like everyone else in the village, he has waltzed right into my sick room without knocking – not that there is even a door to knock upon.

After the incident at the river, The Mother, and possibly even Deepak, is finally convinced that I am ill and must rest.

And eat. Lots and lots of food.

In addition to plastic bottles filled with warm, stagnant water, women and children parade into the bedroom with dish after dish of what I assume they think will cure me.

I try to explain to Deepak that I cannot eat, that eating is what got me into this mess in the first place.

He’s not getting it.

“You just try” he says.

And I do, knowing full well the little bit of rice and soup I manage to ingest is coming right back up.

I’ve been placed in the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. DeKash, and if I wasn’t about to hurl, might feel a bit strange lying on the same rock-hard slab that serves as their marriage bed. This is where he makes love. With no doors, with people coming in and out whenever they please, with no secrets, no privacy anywhere.

Do they try to be quiet? Are they as loud as they please and everyone hears them and it’s fine because they’re married?

The tall man with the flattop hat removes his hand from my forehead and abruptly leaves the room, shouting something important-sounding to someone outside.

I wonder for a moment if he’s the village medicine man, or the mayor. His towering height must’ve been rewarded with some position of power.

Two humble shelves have been attached to the stone wall above my sick bed. One holds a stick of deodorant, a bottle of lotion, a pink plastic comb, and a tiny hand mirror.

The second shelf holds a carefully-coiled cell phone charger and a photograph of The Mother and Deepak’s father on their wedding day. They are sitting two feet apart from each other, unsmiling, having been positioned in front of an enormous Mount Everest backdrop. I’m certain when looking at the picture that it’s the only one she’s ever had taken of herself, the only one she’s ever kept.

Other photographs and posters dot the walls – Army Brother in his uniform, which makes him look exactly like Bullwinkle; a decorative plate that must’ve been someone’s wedding gift; a poster of a famous Bollywood actress baring her midriff.

The young boy who has remained at my bedside since the Mayor left stares at me expectantly, watching to see if I’m going to die, which he seems to think would be a pretty cool thing to see.

I can’t entertain him, and allow my eyes to close, knowing full well that he’s still standing six inches from me, staring at me intently.

Feeling like shit is a really quick, easy way to let all of your cultural conditioning about privacy and boundaries go out the window.

In and out, in and out they come. There’s a foreigner in the village! An American! A woman! She threw up in Parvarti’s river! And the Mayor says she’s going to die!

I’m the most exciting thing that’s happened since Shiva’s buffalo from two farms over was born with an extra leg. 

When the latest horde of visitors gets bored and decides to go torment the goats (who, by the way, have been in and out of my sick room as well), there is a lone figure leaning against the doorless doorway.

I squint in the din, looking for Deepak’s easy smile, but the lips are upturned in a smirk.

“You are sick” says DeKash, Deepak’s younger, unruly, inconveniently attractive brother.

We are alone in the room and through the stench of vomit and sweat and misery, my body still responds to him, inviting him closer.

“This is my room” says Dekash.

I know. More like this is your bed. The bed where you get naked with your wife after The Mother is finally asleep, being careful not to wake the snoozing buffalo.

His English is light years better than Deepak’s, perhaps that’s why Deepak is nowhere to be found. I’ve been pawned off on the women for health, on DeKash for conversation.

His presence makes something spin inside me, and the last thing my stomach needs is more spinning.  Another wave of nausea overtakes me, and I am sitting up frantically, pushing past DeKash, running for the “toilet.”

Everyone can hear me retching, it is everywhere, I am naked in front of these strangers, these judging eyes. The cement slab beneath the water pump is filled with my mess, and I can’t help but wonder how on earth people shit here.

Cold sweat breaks out on my forehead, I’m squatting in the filth, my nose and face a mess, shaking, tears leaking from my eyes.

Suddenly I feel two dry, warm hands pressed against my forehead, not letting go. They hold me fast, steadying me, calming the shakes. Hands well practiced at soothing, at making everything OK.

I place my hand over the mystery hands in gratitude, saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I cannot look at her but I know they are the hands of The Mother.

Without standing up, I reach my hand up, trying to touch the handle of the water pump with my fingers.

“Please” I beg, gesturing to the vomit, the mess I’ve made of their super weird toilet. “Please.”

She understands that I want it gone, I need it cleaned, I am ashamed.

I sit squatting on wet cement, the buffalo yawning at my plight, while The Mother pumps and pumps the water until all the evidence has been washed through the narrow openings in the grid covering the drain.

At rock bottom, squatting in one’s own filth, the perks of communal living begin to become apparent.

I am one of the flock, I need to be looked after. I must accept the help that’s offered me, for my own good and for the good of everyone here.

Each individual in the community is one limb of a connected body that survives or perishes based on how everyone works together.

They haven’t been barging into my sickroom because they’re curious. They’re naturally interested in my fate because it impacts them directly – in communal Nepal, all illnesses, recoveries, victories and defeats are suffered by all and celebrated by all.

It’s taken the steadying strength of The Mother’s warm hands to make me begin to see the enormous benefit, the enormous power, of living life this way.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

When one takes it upon oneself to get food poisoning in a remote village in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Nepal, one must be prepared to live like the Nepalese do in such a village.

That means whatever is coming up (and/or out) of your body is everybody's business, and that the town mayor may very well enter your sick room, place his hand on your forehead, and utter the curse of the dead to the delight of a dozen gawking children.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Traveling Alone Vs. Traveling With a Partner

Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world, an experience I believe every traveler should take advantage of at some point during his or her life.

Traveling alone enables you the freedom to do what you want, when you want, while showing you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.

As a solo traveler you are normally more social as well, going out of your way to meet locals and travelers alike because you don’t constantly have someone by your side. You end up creating long lasting friendships that defy distance and time.

But what happens when you meet your partner and you begin to travel as two instead of one?

Travel as a couple is supposed to be perfect, right? Visiting romantic, exotic places together, sharing new dishes at sunset, and visiting the world’s tallest peaks or most serene lakes hand in hand.

It’s impossible not to romanticize. After traveling alone for nearly two years, I have recently begun traveling with my partner, and though I wouldn’t exchange the experience for the world, I have realized that each type of travel – traveling as a couple and traveling alone – has its perks and disadvantages.

Our trip together started out rough.

Within a week of my partner joining me in Nepal he fell ill with everything from giardia to typhoid fever. His illness prevented us from cycling (a bummer when you have set out to cycle around the world) and completing a trek I had been waiting six months to do.

I was distraught. How was it that life was no longer going my way, that I was suddenly unable to do the things I wanted to do because of someone else?

But that’s the thing with traveling as two –  you learn to compromise. You learn to put the other person first even when it’s the last thing you truly want to do, and you learn to work around problems together rather than separately, just like you would need to in a successful relationship back home.

Just because we are on the road doesn’t mean that all of our troubles have disappeared, it just means we are faced with different ones than we would be back home.

Now that we have settled into more of a routine, a give and take that I have realized is extremely important while traveling with someone else, I love traveling with my guy.

For the first time, I have someone to share my adventures and stories with, someone who understands how hard the last pass was to cycle over or how great our last camping spot in the mountains was.

Traveling with someone is also a great way to strengthen and improve your relationship as it enables you both to work together through stressful or unusual situations.

Traveling with somebody shows you who that person truly is because you’re with them constantly, and enables them to see you clearly as well. It’s a learning experience, once that requires time and patience to perfect, but one that also provides both of you with an enormous reward, the beauty of traveling as two.

So which is right for you? If you are alone, take advantage of this time to explore the world for yourself in your own way, unhindered by anything but your own imagination.

And if you have already found that special person you want to travel with, then go for it instead, because travel as two is an adventure all its own.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Makalu: Trekking the Himalayas

The last four hours trekking the Himalayas haven’t been that bad. In fact, even though I have gained nearly 1,000 meters of altitude, it’s been pretty fun! That is, until 10 minutes ago….

Unfortunately, the last ten minutes have proven that the rest of the day is about to get a whole lot slower.

For the first time in over a decade there is still snow on the route, snow that has normally melted by the end of February but will clearly be here at least a few more weeks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love snow. I absolutely love the mountains, and usually when I see snow, I feel right at home being from a cold snowy place myself.

But I guess it’s a little different when that snow is greatly hindering your progress up a never ending vertical slope.

After a few more hours of panting and slipping I arrive, completely soaked, to a small house in the middle of nowhere.

This guest house, called a tea house in the trekking regions of Nepal, is run by a Tibetan Nepali woman, and is open throughout the season in order to provide climbers a dry place to sleep and eat on their approach to Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world.

 

trekking-the-himalayas-5

Though there are other trekkers who simply wish to visit the base camp, this area is mostly composed of true mountaineers, many of whom have already climbed some of the world’s most renowned peaks such as K2 and Everest.

I order a “dalbaht,” the typical rice and lentils found everywhere in Nepal, and though it’s much more expensive than usual, I understand why.

As we are now a four day’s walk from civilization, the food has to be carried up here everyday in order for us trekkers and climbers to eat.

In fact, on my way through the snow I met three teenage boys racing down the hill (in flip flops no less!). They were making their way down the mountain to a lower supply village in order to fill up the empty baskets on their heads, and then begin the long trudge back up the steep snowy slopes.

It is wet and cold as I set up the tent, and throughout the next two nights trekking the Himalayas I realize that the weather in this particular area is absolutely miserable.

The clouds are constant and the cold is bone-chilling because everything is so wet. I do get a fifteen minute break at sunrise though, and realize that the giant Himalayas are indeed surrounding us, tantalizing us by staying so hidden most of the time. 

trekking-the-himalayas-2

After talking with the lady who runs this tea house I realize that her family owns the guest houses farther along this trek as well.

While she is in charge of this one, her husband caters to the one on the other side of the gigantic pass in front of us. And beyond that, her husband’s brother is stationed at the next one.

Their children are all in private boarding schools lower down, and one is even going to school in Kathmandu. There is good money in running a tea house such as this, but it is also a lot of work.

trekking-the-himalayas-3
The woman is up at dawn preparing tea and food for the climbers and trekkers who want to get an early start to the day, and then spends the rest of the morning cleaning up in order to prepare for the next group who may or may not be trekking the Himalayas that day. 

It is cold, and in this case, very snowy, and to run this guest house she is forced to live away from her family for months at a time.

I’m thankful she is here though. Even though I am carrying a fair amount of food and am mostly self-sufficient due to the tent, there is no way I could carry enough to last me along this twenty-day trek without being able to buy meals at the mountain tea houses such as this one.

The Makalu base camp trek is a great alternative for trekkers who want something less crowded and popular than the overrun treks of Annapurna and Everest.

trekking-the-himalayas-1

 

Situated in the East, it’s inaccessibility is what keeps most people away as it requires a twenty-five hour bus ride (or half an hour flight) from Kathmandu to reach the last town in the area where the trek begins.

The long travel overland is more than worth it for the beauty this twenty-day trek grants you, and the peacefulness of being nearly alone among the 8,000-meter giants.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Trekking the Himalayas doesn't have to mean over-touristed circuits like Annapurna and Everest.

Head east of Kathmandu to Makalu for isolation and amazing views!

It takes 25 hours by bus to reach the trail head from Kathmandu, so be prepared to be surrounded by hardcore adventure travelers and true mountaineers.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 1

The ride is cold and wet, then cold and damp, then cold and dusty.

No amount of stopping for tea and momo can fortify my body against the onslaught of a Nepalese highway – two maniacal, unpaved lanes choked with motorbikes and trucks and baby goats and bushel-burdened women climbing through the misty morning.

The road curves along the Seti River, which grows in size and power as we descend from the high mountains.

Rolling hills give way to rolling fields and valleys, and as a few warm rays of sunshine bring relief, I feel like Apollo descending Mt Olympus in his chariot.

We stop at Deepak‘s sister’s home, a small convenience store where they sell oranges and cigarettes.

5 men sit perched on tiny, hand-woven stools, Nepal’s answer to the infamous plastic chairs of Hanoi, or the bean bag chairs of late 90’s North America.

They can’t help but stare as we dismount with some difficulty, my legs not wanting to work after so many hours in the saddle.

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

And although he probably hasn’t seen her in a year, and most likely didn’t tell her he was coming, let alone coming with this white woman in tow, there is this wonderful easiness in the way we are received – it’s this very Nepalese way of welcoming guests that says “Of course you’re here, of course you’re welcome, let’s not make a big thing of it.”

Because to make a big thing of it would be to point out how long it’s been since you’ve been gone, and that could get awkward. The Nepalese don’t like awkward.

I nod and smile as best I can, and Deepak offers a few words of greeting in that same casual, nonchalant, “of course I’m here” tone.

chitwan

“We take lunch?” he asks, smiling at me warmly.

Suddenly he stops and looks at me closely, a bit alarmed.

“You wash the face.”

“What?” I think maybe he’s using the wrong word for something.

“We wash the hands and face” he repeats, and I think maybe I’m learning about some new ritual that must be followed before each meal.

“I’d really rather not wash my face, Deepak, I have makeup on.”

One of the loveliest benefits of being around people who don’t understand English is that you get to say somewhat intimate, embarrassing things to your partner without anyone else realizing you’re doing it.

I’ve often wondered if people around me speaking Vietnamese or Lao or Khmer are actually saying things like “I think I have a hemorrhoid, will you take a look?”, or “Just wait til I get you home tonight, you sexy thang.”

chitwan

Deepak looks confused, grabs a bottle of water, and begins pouring it onto the grass. He holds one hand underneath the stream until I offer to hold the bottle for him. He rubs his hands together as I pour, my sense of alarm growing by the minute.

My fears are confirmed when he withdraws his hands from the stream, shakes them off, and says “Your turn!”

My mind is racing as I rinse my hands underneath the water, trying to keep a polite smile on my face for everyone’s benefit.

Is this supposed to count as washing our hands?!

Where is the sink? Where is the soap? Is this how Deepak always washes his hands?

In Pokhara there was always soap in the bathrooms. And toilet paper. And Western-style toilets.

It had never occurred to me that things would be any different outside of the city.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe that was just a rinse.

“Now your face?” asks Deepak, as he pours bottled water on his own.

How is water alone going to wash my face?

“Very dirty” says Deepak.

“I am? Very dirty?” I ask, alarmed.

I scramble for a mirror and can’t believe my eyes – no wonder the sister and her husband and his posse had stared at me like that!

It had nothing to do with my white face, which was invisible beneath a thick mask of black, caked soot. I looked like Zorro, if Zorro had decided to go all out.

No wonder everyone in Nepal wears masks! I thought it was merely the pollution in Kathmandu that required protection. The air Pokhara is clear, but the air on the roads is not.

There doesn’t seem to be any kind of emissions regulations for vehicles here, and I counted at least 5 times when I had to hold my breath as we plummeted through a cloud of thick, black smoke expunged from a careless, farting truck.

Embarrassed, I ask for the bathroom. Deepak may be fine half-assing his hygiene, but I am washing these chemicals off of my face with soap, dammit.

chitwan

The bathroom is back there if you can find it.

I’m lead into the back room of the house via a tour that last about 10 seconds. I realize with some alarm that both husband and wife must sleep in the same room where they sell the coke and the cigarettes and the SIM cards.

I lock myself into the darkened bathroom and take a deep breath – an exercise I immediately regret as I choke on the dank smell or mold and urine.

There is no light, and by the light of my phone’s flashlight I see with much dismay that not only is there no soap – there is no sink.

It’s an indoor outhouse, and I’m on my own. the only water in sight is in a bucket meant to be used for “flushing” the toilet. After you’ve done your business, you must pour water down the chute to send your waste god-knows-where (quite likely directly into the water supply).

It takes an entire package of tissue and half a bottle of hand sanitizer before I begin to feel like it might be safe to eat with my hands.

Unable to remove the mask of Zorro completely, I now look like a preteen who doesn’t realized she’s chosen a shade of makeup 3 shades too dark.

I’m terribly uncomfortable and do my best to hide this fact from Deepak, who apparently sees nothing out of the ordinary with his sister’s set up. He waits for me patiently, sipping tea and chatting with the men.

“We eat?” he asks when I emerge from the soapless dungeon.

“Great!” I say, trying hard to appear cheerful and grateful and non-judgmental.

His sister has prepared dahlbat for us, or more likely for herself and her husband, but is now giving it to us since we’re here.

Found it!

We sit on tiny painted stools facing the interior of the shop, and use a glass case containing coke and cigarette reserves as our table.

It is from this position that I notice the flies for the first time. They are the happiest, fattest, most exuberant band of brothers I’ve ever observed, buzzing joyfully between piles of rice and pots of vegetables and everything in between.

“No big deal” I think.

We dig in to the dahl, and Deepak watches me like a delighted father, correcting my hand position as I form my fingers into a scoop and shovel the rice into my mouth.

I’m amazed at how easy this is for him to do, and watch as he effortlessly mixes the ingredients together with his fingers, spoons them into his mouth, and somehow manages to finish with perfectly clean hands.

I’m able to get most of the rice into my mouth, but the odd grain or 7 still manages to slip through cracks, falling to their deaths on the plate below.

It’s within the first few bites that I feel it.

Something deep within the innermost cavern of my belly saying “Wait, what?!” and then “Excuse me! What the hell are you giving me, here?”

I know it, I feel, and I keep eating anyway.

When Deepak is long finished and it becomes apparent that I won’t be able to, I apologize profusely saying “I am so full” and “I think I ate too much at breakfast.”

chitwan

The only thing worse than being served food by someone who barely has enough food for themselves and then not finishing it, is the way that food is making me feel right now.

I do not want to go back into that bathroom. I do not…..

Crap. Literally. Well, at least it’s coming out that end. Perhaps it was a one-time expulsion and we can continue on our merry way and –

Crap. My stomach is churning and gurgling, and I begin to worry about how I’m going to time all of this. And Deepak is waiting for me….and they all know I’m in the bathroom for the second time in 15 minutes!

It’s official. I rinse the regurgitated dahlbat down the hole, wiping my face with a t-shirt since there is no toilet paper and I’ve used all of my tissue on the first movement in this symphony.

My kingdom for a toothbrush, a shower, a bar of soap.

But back on the bike I go, thanking the sister for her hospitality and whispering to Deepak that I feel “a little bit sick.”

“It’s the weather” says Deepak, a mantra that seems to be repeated throughout all of Asia to explain everything from the migration of birds to sexually transmitted diseases.

He takes the burden of the backpack off my shoulders, and I wrap my arms around my own pack as we bump our way back to the main road. The long road to Chitwan just got a helluva lot longer.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Don't eat food if you see flies, even if it'd be really rude not to.

2. When you eat the food with flies because you didn't want to be rude, don't get on a motorbike afterwards.

3. When you get on a motorbike afterwards because there's no other form of transportation, be sure your backpack is well-stocked with tissue, toilet paper, towels, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Travel Rebel: Far Western Nepal Part 4

“Travel is rebellion in its purest form… We follow our hearts. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We only own what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We sometimes choose to never come back.” 

I’m running down a narrow path through the trees, leaping from rock to rock in an attempt to follow a young girl with pigtails who is leading the way.

Giggling as she runs, she is agile and confident on the small rocky path, scampering down the hillside like a goat.

She takes a sharp left turn up what looks like a wall of steep rock and within seconds is perched on the top, waiting for me with a grin. Her cheap plastic sandals don’t stop her. In fact, I don’t think anything could.

I turn around to look where she has led me and find a two story mud hut, a typical house in this region of Far Western Nepal, where the cows live in the bottom of the home and the family lives up top.

There is a small boy with torn shorts and a dirty shirt, and a girl wrapped in a small shawl waiting to join our fun.

far-western-nepal

It’s 7am and the sun is beginning to light up the valley 2,000m below, announcing another beautiful day in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There are birds chirping and I hear the distant sound of a crying goat, but besides that, the hilly mountainside is peaceful and quiet as it always is.

We take off again, running through a field of yellow flowers on a muddy path towards the next house. There is a beautifully wrinkled elderly Nepali women adorned with a large bull nose ring and a colorful headscarf sitting on the ground amongst five or six goats.

She looks up, her toothless grin turning to surprise when she sees me. She hardly has time to ask who I am before one of the children is tugging me along again.

They lead me up and down the small paths on a tour of the dozen or so mud huts scattered up and down this section of the hillside.

far-western-nepal

We come to the road, an unpaved rocky mess, and the race begins. “Ek, duo, teen,” (one, two, three) they yell, before taking off, sandals flying as they run as fast as they can up to the next house.

A small girl, her bare, stick-thin legs poking out awkwardly from her too-small shorts, is waiting for us and waving, eager to join in the fun as well. Her mother, feet and hands died orange with cow dung, comes out from behind the animals and gives her approval.

We fly down the road, all of us running with our arms out like airplanes yelling, “chitoooo, chito, chito, chitooooo” (quickly, quickly) until a beautiful woman with greenish light brown eyes flags us into her field.

She is holding her eighteen month-old daughter, an adorable girl covered in dirt like the rest of these nature-raised children. She invites me into her home, and I step inside to squat beside the small child’s laughing grandma.

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The baby eyes me warily before breaking out into a grin, extending her tiny fingers to grab onto my outstretched hand. The room is filled with smoke as are all of the houses in the area, and the sunlight pouring in from the doorway creates a cozy campfire feel.

There are a few pots and pans to one side, and to the other, a few blankets on the ground. It isn’t much, but it is home.

A small white kitten walks by and I quickly scoop him up and into my lap. He falls asleep instantly, purring contentedly while I wrap him inside my warm shawl.

The young girl grabs for her grandma, and they sit together laughing and cuddling. Their laughter is contagious, and soon all of the children in our gang are playing games, dancing, and giggling around the fire inside the small mud hut.

Far-Western-Nepal

It is an amazing feeling, running through the village with the children, visiting the different houses and cows, before sitting together around a warm fire.

I am an outsider, born into a world so different from their own, but they have accepted me with open arms and enabled me to immerse myself in their world completely, if only for a few days.

This is part 4 of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal written by contributing blogger Shirine Taylor. 

For Part 1, click here. 

For Part 2, click here

For Part 3, click here

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Backpacking with a Purpose

When you think of backpacking, you probably picture yourself traipsing around Europe or Southeast Asia, subsisting on street food and cheap beer, taking 16 hour train rides, and sleeping in bunk beds next to strangers from all over the world.

For the guys of Veterans Trek, two of the most hardcore backpackers on the planet, backpacking has become more than a way to see the world, meet other people, and achieve a deeper understanding of yourself.

Backpacking has become a way to save lives.

 

In August of 2013, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson strapped on their backpacks, laced up their boots, and took off toward the sunset – on foot.

They began in their hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and didn’t stop until they reached the ocean – you know, the one that’s 2700 miles away. The big one. The one in California.

Talk about hardcore – the guys had no support vehicle, hardly any equipment, and never knew where they were camping until the sun went down. There were no hostels, no hot showers, nothing but two U.S. Army Veterans and thousands of miles of open road.

As combat veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, these backpackers were on a mission to heal themselves from the traumas of war, and to help other veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD –  an affliction both of the guys continue to battle daily.

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When local and national organizations heard about what Tom and Anthony were doing, they started to pledge money.

$10,000 if they finished the walk. $25,000 if they finished the walk. None of the funds went to Tom and Anthony personally, but got poured back into veterans organizations like Dryhootch, which helps vets reintegrate into society after returning from deployment.

5 months later, after nearly 3,000 miles, 150+ days on the road, and countless pairs of shoes, Tom and Anthony arrived at Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to hordes of national press, photographers, and a crowd of adoring fans.

Tom and Anthony found community, comfort, and healing on the road, but a lot of vets aren’t that lucky. According to CNN, a U.S. veteran takes his or her own life every 65 minutes. That’s 22 deaths per day, or 8,030 suicides per year.

But those numbers aren’t accurate. Not all states in the U.S. report veteran deaths to the VA, and many veterans are not registered in the system at all. It’s likely that the numbers are much higher, and that countless men and women suffer the tortuous symptoms of PTSD in silence.

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Tom and Anthony hope to use their backpacking experience to raise awareness about PTSD and its devastating impact upon veterans and their families.

What began as a deeply personal journey of healing has morphed into backpacking with a purpose.

During their 2,700-mile trek, the backpackers were followed by a documentary film crew lead by Emmy-nominated director Michael Collins, the powerhouse behind the multi-award winning film Give Up Tomorrow. 

The production of the documentary Almost Sunrise, which tells the story of Tom and Anthony’s journey, will bring awareness to the plight of millions of American families who are being impacted by PTSD and the after-effects of war.

If the profound impact of Collins’ last film is any indication, Almost Sunrise is sure to inspire monumental change in the way veterans are assisted in this country.

Thanks to the worldwide success of Give Up Tomorrow, a wrongly-imprisoned man named Paco Larranaga was taken off of death row. His life was saved because of a film, and because of all of the people who supported that film getting made.

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It is my hope that your support of Almost Sunrise will be just as effective, and just as powerful at saving lives.

When my brother returned from his year in Iraq, I mourned him as if he’d never come back. The truth was that a part of him died in the war, an innocent part of him that can never be reclaimed.

No matter what your politics are, no matter what you believe about the should’s and shouldn’ts of going to war, we are all responsible for the men and women who volunteer to sacrifice their lives for their country.

Sometimes I ask myself – “Am I willing to give up my life for what I do? Am I willing to die for the book I’m writing? For this website? For an ideal that I believe in?”

The answer, in short, is no. There isn’t much I could imagine willingly risking my life for, and if I found something, I highly doubt that it would be sacrificing my life for millions of people I’ve never met.

I believe in the power of backpacking to change lives, and I believe in the power of this film to save them.

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But this film doesn’t get made without you.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Check out this amazing trailer about the film

2. Share this trailer on your Facebook page, post it on your blog, and share it with your Twitter followers. Copy and paste this link: http://kck.st/1swgjSA

3. Give the guys a few dollars if you have it.

They’re doing a Kickstarter campaign, which means they don’t get any of the money they’ve raised unless they meet their goal.

They only have until Monday, June 9th so if you have a $1 or $5 and the cause sings to you please don’t wait – click here now: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1923228261/almost-sunrise-a-documentary-in-production

Listen, I know there are a zillion of these campaigns going on. I know you probably get bombarded with requests to donate to things on the daily. I know it’s a pain in the ass to get up and go get your credit card and navigate to the site and fill out the stupid form. I don’t like it either.

But I’m not asking for myself. I’m asking for my brother. And I’m asking for all of the “backpacking experts” (AKA soldiers) who have traveled overseas for reasons other than hostels and cheap beer and great beaches.

I’m all for hostels and cheap beer and great beaches. But the reason I’m free to travel and enjoy those things – the reason I’m free to live my life –  is because my baby brother was willing to sacrifice his.

If you don’t have a dollar, you can help immensely by sharing this link with your friends and family: http://kck.st/1swgjSA

Here are some snazzy “click to post” social links as well:

Tweet: How #backpacking is saving the lives of American #veterans @Almost_Sunrise @veteranstrek http://ctt.ec/90HeM+

Share on Facebook

Share on Google+

vt-backpacking-4Thanks for helping to make backpacking bigger than the backpacker.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Between August 2013 and January 2014, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson walked 2,700 miles from Wisconsin to California with nothing but their backpacks.

2. They did it to save lives, and to raise awareness about the growing problem of veteran PTSD in the U.S.

3. Emmy-nominated director Michael Collins followed Tom and Anthony on their journey and is making a film about it. The film is called Almost Sunrise.

4. You can help save lives by supporting the film. Copy and paste this link into your browser: http://kck.st/1swgjSA (or check out the bottom of the post for some nifty "click to post" options).

5. Yes, Tom is my brother, and no, he no longer has that awesome beard. Which is good because I bought him a really expensive shaving kit last Christmas that he hasn't been able to use until now.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

A Morning at Marble Mountain – Part 2

In our quest to see the entirety of Central Vietnam in a single day, Dan and I must move quickly – it’s already almost noon we’re only halfway done!

Having survived a near-death free fall from the top of Marble Mountain to the bottom, it’s time to head south to heavenly Hoi An.

11:47am: Hoi An Ancient Town 

We drop my bags off at my hotel, park the bikes, and continue on foot to Hoi An’s Ancient Town.

The city is set along the banks of the Thu Bồn River, its well-preserved ancient town bursting with colorful buildings and narrow, winding streets that make you feel you’ve stepped into another time and place.

120,000 dong ($6) gains you entrance into the five “attractions,” of your choice.

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Hoi An Ancient Town

We check out….

  • The Japanese Bridge
  • The Museum of History and Culture
  • The Tan Ky family house (200 years old and the ancestors of the original family still live here!)
  • The Cam Pho communal house, where Chinese immigrants held meetings and discussed town matters
  • The Quong Cong Temple, where huge circular spirals of incense are always burning to bless those who have purchased a “place” in the temple
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Quong Cong Temple

The Japanese Bridge, Hoi An

The Japanese Bridge, Hoi An

After a quick lunch of traditional Cao Lau, a Hoi An specialty noodle dish made with pork, fresh greens, peanuts, and mint leaves, we are off to our last destination – the incomparable My Son ruins!

2:12pm My Son

The Champa ruins at My Son date back to the 2nd century. This collection of Hindu temples is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site in Central Vietnam, and according to Dan, is supposed to be “the most beautiful place in the entire country.”

Pronounced “MEE sun,” My Son is about 50 kilometers from Hoi An.

We learn that the site shuts down at 5pm.

“How long will it take us to get to My Son?” we ask my hotel concierge.

“Two, two and a half hours” she says. “You’d better leave now.”

We exchange a look that says “There’s no way it’s going to take us over two hours to go 50 kilometers!”, hop on our bikes, and head southwest towards the sun.

4:52pm My Son?

It’s been nearly three hours since we’ve left Hoi An, and neither Dan, I, or our combined smartphone powers have been able to get us closer to our goal.

marble-mountain

Somewhere between Hoi An and My Son

Names of streets appear then disappear, or change completely, or never existed in the first place.

Highways suddenly end, turns are missed, roundabouts send us back where we came from.

But we’re on the right track now, we think. I hope.

The sun is inching ever closer to the horizon. I’m tired and stressed that it’s so late, but the incredible surroundings make it difficult to succumb to negativity.

We’ve been up and over an enormous mountain that offered sweeping views of endless green fields and colorful towns.

We’ve seen gravestones painted like Christmas presents, bright altars lined up along the perimeter of lush rice paddies.

We’ve descended said mountain into a secret valley where locals plough their fields with the help of beefy buffalo, and children’s eyes bulge at the sight of white skin.

Dan’s GPS steers us down a dirt road that’s becoming increasingly narrow, increasingly rocky.

We pass a group of construction workers and then there is nothing, just us, the road, fields in Vietnamese green and blue mountains like Japanese brush paintings.

The road becomes more of a path – the kind you walk on, not drive a motorbike upon.

We stop to double check our phones. Yep, according to King Google this is the way. And we’re close, maybe just another five kilometers.

If we get there before the strike of 5pm, maybe we can bribe the ticket taker to let us in, if only for a few minutes.

We’ve not lost hope! Let’s go! Let’s do this! Let’s….

Start the motorbike already.

Dan disappears around the bend, and I struggle with the ignition.

It’s not turning over.

I wait a second, breathe, then try again.

Dead.

Am I doing it wrong? This is my first day on a motorbike, after all, and there does seem to be a delicate finesse required as one presses the left handle while revving the right.

I try doing it wrong on purpose. I try doing it backwards. I try waiting. I try again.

Dan is long gone, out of site beyond the curve of the road, and I am alone, all alone in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the central coast of Vietnam.

The sun is starting to set, and there is a chill in the air at this higher elevation. I’m in nothing but a tank top, with nothing else to keep me warm.

Seconds tick by. Then minutes. Dan doesn’t return.

I watch my thoughts with interest. These are the moments in which I thrive. My mind can make a mountain out of a molehill, but when faced with an actual mountain, I become instantly present, instantly calm. Someone cutting in line in front of me at the airport gets me more riled up than this….

marble-mountain-sunset

I wonder if I could camp out in that rice field tonight…

This being the strong possibility of being stranded on a dirt road leading to nowhere, unforgiving rock face to my right, sweeping fields of nothingness to my left.

“I wonder how cold it will be if I have to sleep outside tonight?” I think.

“If I walk back now and try to find help, will someone steal my bike?” I think.

“Dan’s not coming back for me” I think. “I’ve slowed him down all day.”

And truly, I have. Something about Dan made me relax, to point of indulging in solo travel sloppiness. I was so relieved to have a travel partner, if only for a day, that I relied entirely upon Dan for my survival.

He watched as I lost control of the motorbike while parked, the heavy burden crashing to the ground in front of a group of locals.

He saved me when twice I tried to pay for a 10,000 dong bottle of water with a 100,000 dong note (they look so similar!)

Something about Dan made me let go, let my guard down, take a much-needed break from a constant state of self protection.

And now he is gone.

marble-mountain-featured

“Where the hell are we?”

I begin to worry about paying for two hotel rooms tonight – my room back in Hoi An and whatever room I can find after walking to wherever the nearest hotel might be.

My phone is about to die.

I start to shiver from the mountain air, and have resigned myself to leaving the bike and continuing back the way we came on foot, when….

A blue silhouette appears around the bend, backlit by the setting sun, a lone figure against fields of brilliant green.

He is running up the road toward me, an Adonis kicking up dust, a savior from some ancient dimension sent to rescue a maiden in distress.

I almost cry with relief, but Dan would never go for that, so I play it cool and wait patiently as he catches his breath – he’d gotten a few miles up the road before he noticed I was no longer behind him.

The bike is indeed dead, very dead, and just as we’re weighing our options as to what could possibly be done in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Vietnam, we hear a rumbling sound.

This road, this path, is definitely not made for motorbikes, and it’s most definitely not made for cars, let alone giant flatbed trucks.

And yet there it is – this truck that just happens to pull up right when we need help, just happens to be the kind of truck meant for hauling large items, just happens to be completely empty with a bed just dying for a dead motorbike.

With much hand gesturing, we get two Vietnamese construction-worker-angels to load the bike into their truck bed and drive me back to town while Dan follows behind on his motorbike.

They take me to the only motorbike repair shop in town, then drive off into the sunset as if they’d never existed.

“You didn’t thank them” says Dan.

The repair shop owner takes one look at the bike, one look at me, and grabs the key from my hand.

He places it into the ignition, puts a practiced palm on the handles, and starts the bike instantly.

Dan and I stare in shock. The owner – and surrounding children who’ve gathered to gawk – laughs heartily. He turns the bike off and turns it on again, just to rub it in.

 

7:45pm Back in Hoi An

Dan and I commiserate over dinner. Our mission has been a partial failure which, to a Wisconsinite like Dan, is a total and utter travel fail.

Drowning our sorrows in cao lau

“Hey, three out of four isn’t bad!” I say.

“My Son was the only thing I really wanted to see” says Dan.

At least we got to see Marble Mountain. And the charming ancient town of Hoi An. And some seriously breathtaking countryside that we never would have seen if we hadn’t gotten lost.

The moral of the story?

It’s stupid to try and cram a zillion things into a single day. You end up feeling rushed and stressed, and you don’t begin to scratch the surface of what your destination really has to offer.

Plus, you’ll probably end up lost in the middle of nowhere with a dead motorbike.

For Part 1 of A Morning at Marble Mountain, click here

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Technically, can you can see Da Nang, Marble Mountain, Hoi An and My son in a single day.

2. It's better to see less stuff than to try and cram a zillion things into a single day. We didn't have nearly enough time in Hoi An, and were so rushed that we ended up getting totally lost on the way to My Son.

3. I am infinitely grateful to a pair of construction-worker-angels who came to our rescue when my motorbike died in the middle of nowhere.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

High Altitude Climbing in the Peruvian Andes

“Somewhere between the bottom of the mountain and the summit is the answer to the mystery of why we climb.”    

I’m standing nearly 6,000 meters above sea level, near the top of one of the majestic snow covered peaks in the Peruvian Andes. The sun is slowly rising, and with it, an orange glow is dancing on the ice all around me.

There are clouds down below covering the valley, but the high altitude sky is clear of anything but cold, poorly oxygenated air. I’m alone except for the two climbers roped up to me, and standing above the world watching a new day commence.

This is why people do it: why they quit their jobs, leave their families, and risk their lives just to reach a summit. It’s not actually for the summit itself, it’s for moments like these. Reaching the top and looking down is truly one of the most powerful feelings in the world.

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I sit on the summit, taking in the other 6,000m peaks around me. The sun does not play favorites, serenading each and every peak with a shower of vibrant color.

There isn’t a hint of human destruction or creation to be seen, and I’m amazed at how beautiful pure nature can be.

We begin to head back to base camp, and I literally skip down most of the mountain. Though I’m exhausted and have been climbing since midnight, I am beyond happy. It was the perfect climb.

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It began yesterday with the trek into base camp, a somewhat dull and dusty climb, but a beautiful one none the less. After five or six hours of scampering over the rocks and boulders that made up the moraine, we came to the base of an immense glacier and a flat stretch of land which would become our base camp.

I hiked in with five other climbers and one guide, a Peruvian mountaineer. Our diverse group came from different countries, backgrounds, and decades, but that didn’t stop us from quickly becoming friends.

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After setting up my tent, drinking hot tea, and eating a bowl full of spaghetti, I curled up in my warm down sleeping bag and watched the sunset from the vestibule of my tent.

There was not a sound to be heard, and the colors dancing in the sky as the sun disappeared were magical. I quickly fell asleep and awoke a few hours later at 11 p.m. to a star-filled windless night, a dream for any climber.

Then the real fun began. After eating a few biscuits and drinking hot tea I put on my crampons and slowly started to make my way up the immense mountain in front of me.

The moon shone brightly, illuminating the way so clearly that I didn’t even have to turn on my headlamp. It is a beautiful thing, climbing at night, when you can’t see where you are going or where you have been. The only thing that matters at a time like that is the present.

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It was an easy climb, nothing more than a slow trudge up the glacier, and before long we reached an absolutely astounding summit. There is no way to describe the feeling of power yet powerlessness when surrounded on all sides by 6,000m peaks.

The night climb, the sunrise, and the summit culminated into the perfect climb, a climb that further strengthened my growing affinity for mountains – any mountains.

Of course, climbing isn’t always fun. In fact, “fun” is not a way I would describe most of my climbs. There is nothing more treacherous than putting one foot in front of the other at high altitudes. It’s amazing, really, how altitude can reduce even the strongest humans to nothing.

Your digestive system fails first, meaning that you set off to climb all night with hardly anything in your stomach. And though it is important to stay hydrated, peeing and even taking a sip of water requires such an effort that you would rather not.

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You spend hours slowly climbing uphill, sleep deprived, hungry, either too hot or too cold, on the way to a summit which never seems to get any closer.

You are constantly out of breath no matter how slowly you inch up the mountain – high altitude creates an atmosphere in which humans can’t survive for long.

By the time you do manage to reach the top, you don’t even care. You want to head back down, forget about ever climbing again, and sleep for the next two days straight.

And yet somehow, even after the worst climbs, you find yourself dreaming of standing atop a glacier once again.

Ambition, ego, and testing human limits fuels mountaineers to the top, but that’s not all. There is a side to mountaineering that has nothing to do with the summit, but rather with the experience of living in the mountains.

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You leave behind everything – your possessions, your troubles, and your life, to live fully enveloped in nature, if only for a few days.

Climbers struggle to survive through treacherous conditions just for the moments that make every hardship worth it. They do it for the beautiful sunrise above the clouds, for the star filled sky that portrays the immensity of our universe, for the comradery that is created between climbers as they struggle to test the limits of human endurance, and for the feeling of solitude and isolation only a fierce mountain can create.

There is nothing more physically demanding yet immensely rewarding than moutaineering, and once you have received your first taste of high altitude climbing, there is no going back.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. High altitude climbing is challenging even for the most experienced mountaineers.

2. Many climbs are difficult, exhausting and unpleasant, but the hardships are immediately forgotten the second you reach the summit.

3. There is much more to high altitude climbing than the physical challenges - climbing allows you to commune with nature and reach the summit of your soul.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!