Flashback Friday: Summer in the CO Mountains!

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our memories – from either from our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances! 

Recently, we wrote about our time home for the holidays in Denver. We managed to take a wintery trip to our cabin in the mountains which was beautiful, but somehow we still prefer the summer! We love spending time in the beautiful CO mountains when there is less snow =)

This picture was taken on our first and last summer trip to the mountains before we left on our RTW trip in summer 2014!

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Della views James Peak

 

Enchanting Inle Lake, Myanmar

After exploring a billion pagodas at Bagan, we were ready to try something a little different. We headed to Inle Lake!

Getting There

We booked a bus to Inle Lake through our hostel in Bagan. They sold us a ticket, assigned us seats, and then told us the bus would pick us up at 7:00 am. We had dealt with a few other early pickups (ah the joys of dorm living) and so knew the drill. It seemed as if minibuses picked people up and whisked them away almost every morning. We were content, feeling like everything would be easy. Our first inkling that something was a little weird was when a roommate from our dorm came in explaining that she was doing the exact same trip the following morning. She had a different colored ticket, and her shuttle was coming to pick her up at 7:30 am. So after comparing our tickets and departure time, we just figured we’d all go with what we had been told. Secretly, we thought she must have misunderstood and was going to get left.

To us, this bus ticket implies that we will be riding on a real bus...

To us, this bus ticket implies that we will be riding on a bus…

We caught our shuttle the following morning with several other people from our hostel and we were off! We were crammed in the back and we saw that we were clearly picking other people up, though there seemed to be some confusion about where. We went to another hotel in New Bagan (the town where we were staying) but no one showed up. So, we drove all the way toward Nyuang U (30 min away and where we thought were going to catch the main bus). We went to another hotel and no one showed up… So the minibus promptly turned around and headed all the way back to New Bagan where we went to another hotel and did finally pick up another couple. By this point it was about 7:45. We saw on our ticket that pickup had been at 7 am but the bus departure time was at 8. We were starting to worry about making the bus. Our minibus headed back toward Nyuang U again! We stopped and picked up another couple. By this point, it is 8 and we are really concerned about making the bus! All of us in the minibus discuss and assume that our drivers have to be in communication with the bus and that it will wait. Then we toodle to a final place where we pick up a final person. We now have a completely full mini bus with 12 people crammed in.

We figure we must be ready to head for the bus! We arrive in a dusty parking lot where we see a couple of large buses, so as soon as our driver stops, we all start to tumble out of the minibus. Our driver runs back and gestures no no to get back on the bus! Finally, we were able to communicate a little that the small minibus was indeed the bus we were to take the 8 hours to Inle Lake. This is where the dread set in for us… We had been ushered into the very back in the corner. It was hot and stuffy back there and we could hardly move as our knees were shoved into the seats in front of us. And that’s how we rode…. all the way. Ugh.

Luckily, when we did finally arrive in Inle, the minibus dropped us off directly at our new accommodations and by some great luck, we were the first ones off! Phew!

Where We Stayed

Remember Inn – We had picked this place based on a recommendation by another traveler and from the Lonely Planet. We had also found it on agoda.com. We booked one night using that site as we kept hearing how everywhere would be full, but we were unhappy because we felt like were paying way more than we should. Luckily, when we arrived they said that if we wanted to stay extra days and pay for those in cash, we would get the more normal rate of $25. We were happy enough as our room was quite large. Though, there were some ants in the room and the Wi-Fi was extremely slow and only sometimes would let us connect (and only from near reception, not up in the room). This made it difficult when we were trying to book our accommodation in our next stop, Yangon.

The best part of our stay here was the included breakfast. It was served on the roof top with nice views of the surrounding area, and it included a menu where you could choose a variety of things. There were western style options like eggs and pancakes, but also two delicious local options, a Shan Noodle Soup (which Della had every day) and a Mohinga (a traditional fish soup breakfast here in Myanmar).

Shan Noodle soup in the front with Mohinga in front of Eric

Shan Noodle soup in the front with Mohinga in front of Eric

 

What We Did

Bike to the Red Mountain Winery – On our first full day in Inle, we rented bikes and headed out of town toward a winery! The Red Mountain Winery is about 5 miles outside of Nyuang Shwe (the main town for Inle which we were staying in). It was a glorious day and we really enjoyed the ride. It was quite a push up the hill to get to the winery, but it was so worth it. You can get a taste of 4 wines for about $2. The wine was OK though not fabulous. We each found one we liked well enough to enjoy a glass of while we nibbled on an appetizer and took in the view. We waited around for the free tour and ended up being the only 2 on it for a little while. It was a short tour and we learned how the winery is quite new, imports most of its plants from France, and has mostly broken machines so they do things like label by hand. We also ended up eating lunch there. The food was pricey (by Myanmar standards) but good and the view was hard to beat.

The Aung Traditional Puppet Show – We were excited because we got to meet up with some new friends from Mandalay again in Inle. We met them (and another couple from Switzerland that they also knew) for the traditional puppet show. The show was only 30 min but was thoroughly enjoyable. It was run by one man and his son. They have been in the puppet business for years (the man showed us a picture of his grandfather doing the same). It was quite amazing to watch the intricate movements the puppets made and to see some of the puppeteering action. The man was dancing as much as his puppets were! We definitely enjoyed this and recommend it!

Boat Tour of Inle Lake – We organized through our hotel for a boat trip on the lake. We asked then to pair us up with some other travelers to share the cost, plus it is always nice to meet new people as well. The 5 of us met our boat driver at 8 am and headed to the water. We entered a long, sort-of canoe like boat. Our driver make sure we each had a wooden chair with a cushion, a life jacket, and a blanket.

We then headed out down the canal! Watching the life on the water was just amazing. It was a major thoroughfare and we saw tourist boats along with boats transporting produce and many other goods. After stopping for quick gas up, we make our way out onto the big part of the lake where we got to observe the fisherman rowing their boats in the traditional fashion, using their leg to move the oar. We rode all the way down to the far south end of the lake and then through a village floating on the water. It was interesting to see how the people who lived in these houses used the water as a kitchen sink, washing machine and shower.

Past the village we found the floating market. The market rotates around to different locations. We understand that there are 5 locations. The day we went, it was near Thaung Thut. We didn’t shop much, but we were very happy to find a bathroom after a few hours on the boat. Luckily, if you keep walking through the market and up the hill, you end up at a fabulous pagoda. We enjoyed the views at the top before heading back down!

We hopped back on the boat and drove back through the floating village and then to a place that did traditional hand weaving. None of us was interested in buying anything, but felt pressured to get out. Watching the weavers at work was actually quite fascinating, as they use these old machines with hand cranks and foot pedals. After this we paused for lunch at a restaurant over the lake.

After that, we headed to the big event: Indein. We had heard that this was best stop on the whole lake. To get there we drove upstream on a river – even up over a few waterfalls! Once at the village, we spent time walking through the very long tourist market, through some old pagoda ruins, and up to a beautiful pagoda at the top. It was quite lovely but we weren’t sure if it was that much better than the pagoda at Thaung Thut.

Back on the boat, we rode through the floating gardens, where it was fascinating to see how produce is grown and cared for in the middle of the lake. Our final stop was the Npa Hpe Kyaung Monastery, also known as the Jumping Cat Monastery because a monk once trained cats to jump through hoops on command! But that monk died and the tradition died with him. So now the main thing to see is the large wooden hall with many different Buddha images. There was a large clowder of cats that we watched for a while, but none of them ever jumped through hoops.

Explore the Market and Town – On our final day in Inle, we checked out of our hotel but had several hours to kill before our overnight bus for Yangon left. We decided to go out and stroll around the market and town. The market was great, with almost everything you can imagine. It was bustling with people, mostly locals. There were tons of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and clothes. Of course there was the occasional tourist trinket booth as well! Della was particularly excited because she found a seamstress in the market. After buying some “banana pants” (this is not a real term at all… just what Eric calls them) the day before, she had been disappointed when the elastic in one leg broke immediately. It was awesome though, because for $0.50 the woman in the market fixed the elastic, re-hemmed the leg, and did some additional strengthening of all the seams! The pants are now fixed and even fit better! On the rest of our wanderings through town we also found the old sports field and slightly dilapidated independence monument.

 

Where We Ate

We’ve already mentioned two of the places: lunch at the winery and lunch on our boat tour. We did also eat out in Nyaung Shwe two nights. Our first night in town we ate at the Lotus Restaurant, which had been recommended by Lonely Planet. Eric’s meal here was a little bit different in that it was a multi-course set meal which came with a soup (with maybe some pumpkin in it), a tomato and cucumber salad, and a pork and potato curry. He also got a fruit plate for dessert to share. Della went with her standard noodle plate.

 

The night we went with our friends to the puppet show, they suggested going to a Nepali place. We had already eaten some snacks so we just shared two small plates: fried vegetables and avocado salad (which turned out to be more like guacamole).

Nice dinner with new friends!

Nice dinner with new friends!

The last day, we ate lunch at the Unique Superb Foodhouse (yes, that was really the name!) Della stuck with her delicious friends vermicelli and Eric tried fried rice.

Fried vermicelli- YUM!

Fried vermicelli- YUM!

Final Thoughts

Inle Lake was a great place to visit with a lot of things to do in the surrounding area. The lake had a great laid-back vibe that we really enjoyed. The town of Nyuang Shwe was hectic, but enjoyable, but it was easy to get out on to the lake or up to the winery for some instant relaxation.

E-Biking Through the Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

The area of Bagan in central Myanmar is a large plain next to the Ayerawaddy River that is covered with over 3000 Buddist temples built from 11th to 13th century. After years of neglect, many of the temples have been restored and Bagan is one of the highlights of any itinerary in Myanmar. Given how many other ruins we have seen along our trip, we were especially excited to see these and compare.

Getting There

Since Bagan is such a big tourist destination, we had quite a few options to get there from Mandalay. Based on recommendations from fellow travelers, we decided to go via boat down the Ayerawaddy River. It was much more expensive than the bus would have been, and slower (even though this was the “fast” boat, it was scheduled to take 10 hours) as well, we decided to splurge and see what life was like along this wide and slow-moving river.

The boat left bright and early from the dock in Mandalay at 7 AM. We had an assigned seat in a lower-level area with airplane-style seats, but as soon as the boat pulled away from the dock we were free to roam around the three different levels. There were a few different open-air decks where we could grab a chair and look out. Unfortunately the day was overcast, so the scenery wasn’t as beautiful as it could have been. Also, there wasn’t quite as much activity on the river as we expected. Nevertheless, this meant that we had plenty of time to catch up on some reading and just relax, so we still were glad we chose this method.

Where We Stayed

The first choice one has to make when visiting Bagan is which area to stay in: Old Bagan – the easiest access to the temples but the most expensive, New Bagan – further away from the temples with midrange options, or Nyaung U – furthest away from the temples, but the biggest town and with the cheapest options. We chose to go for the midrange option in New Bagan.

We had read that booking ahead was preferable, so we used agoda.com to find a place to stay a few days in advance. Here we found the At Bagan Hostel, which seemed new and had good reviews. There were only dorm rooms available, but we figured we could rough it for a bit and booked two beds in a six-bed dorm.

Getting to the At Bagan from the boat dock proved to be a challenge for one big reason: the name on the building it is in and the name the taxi drivers know it as is NOT “At Bagan!” The building is still called the Thiri Sandar, for unknown reasons. If we hadn’t been warned about this by fellow travelers we happened to meet we would have been even more confused.

For this and other reasons, we had mixed feelings about the At Bagan. The facilities were definitely new; it almost seemed like you could smell the fresh paint drying, the beds were quite nice and the Internet was by far the fastest we have had in Myanmar. Breakfast was also nice, in a restaurant across the street, with a local fried rice option. But, the staff was a little hard to get an answer out of sometimes. They certainly weren’t mean, but there were a few times where we felt like we were slightly misled or just couldn’t communicate well with them. So we enjoyed our stay but it won’t get as strong of a recommendation as the other places that we have stayed in Myanmar.

What We Did

We took our two full days that we had in Bagan to try and fit in a good selection of the thousands of temples in the area. We decided to follow the basic path laid out in a sample itinerary in Lonely Planet, which we felt worked out pretty well.

There are a variety of ways to get around Bagan, but we had heard good things about renting an e-bike so we decided to give it a go. For $6 a day each, we were able to rent nice e-bikes from a place just across the street from At Bagan. We were expecting them to look more like bicycles, but we felt they looked and behaved more like scooters. At first we were nervous, but it was very easy to operate and pretty quickly we got used to zooming around on paved and dirt roads like pros. We would highly recommend them as a way to get around!

We could list out all of the temples we visited, but you might get “temple fatigue” just from reading about them all! So, we’ll try to stick to some highlights.

Top Choices

Our favorite was the Sulamani Pahto, which we found to be beautiful both inside and out. It was built in 1181, so it is one of the later ones built and seems to be a little more refined than some of the earlier ones. We enjoyed the stucco ornamentation on the exterior and the extensive murals found in the interior. We also kept wanting to call it the Suleiman, since the name sounded so much like that of the famous mosque we visited in Istanbul :-).

Another favorite was the mysterious Dhammayangyi Pahto. From afar, we felt like this one was reminiscent of an ancient Mayan temple since its spire at the top is no longer there. Inside, this one felt much more abandoned than the others as well. It had very high ceilings, and you could hear birds flying around between the chambers. The interior part of the temple is blocked off with bricks that were supposedly added after the king who built the temple died, as payback to dishonor his memory. All of these factors made this one a spooky one to walk through.

Others of Note

Ananda Pahto felt like the most actively used one – Della was happy that she was allowed to place gold leaf on a statue (not like in Mandalay). Thatbyinnyu Pahto looks impressive from a distance since it is the tallest in Bagan (especially from atop the old city walls which are climbable nearby) but is not very interesting inside. Nathlaung Kyaung was interesting because it is actually a Hindu temple – the people of the area have not always been Buddhists.

Shwesandaw Paya and Pythada Paya have excellent terraces for views over the temples, which mean they are great for sunset viewing – but it also means they get pretty crowded so we avoided them. The first day we saw some other people atop a small temple south of Shwesandaw, so we went to check it out. A local attendant showed us the narrow staircase up to the top. Unfortunately it was almost completely overcast so we didn’t see much and ended up leaving early. The second day we intended to watch the sunset at Dhammayazika Paya. It was a nice and serene area, but under renovation. A friendly local pointed us to a neighboring small temple with a terrace, so we went there thinking we had found a hidden gem. When the first of three tour buses pulled up we realized we were mistaken! The colors were nice but we ended up watching the last parts of the sunset from below because we couldn’t stand the crowds of tourists.

We also enjoyed a few moments where we ventured into areas with only smaller temples. Many of the popular temples felt overwhelmed with crowds of tourists, locals, and vendors, so it was nice to find some spaces to just wander around and feel like we had the place to ourselves.

Where We Ate

There was a stretch of restaurants just across the road from our hostel which we visited for a quick easy dinner on two of the nights. They were all about the same, serving your standard curries and noodle dishes. Della got her favorites fried vermicelli at both places. Eric tried the curry at one and was disappointed that it didn’t come with any sides like we thought was standard!

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One of the days we were out visiting the temples we decided to eat at a restaurant that we had been given multiple recommendations for called Be Kind to Animals the Moon (no, that is not a typo). It is a vegetarian restaurant, so a bit different from what we had been eating so far. We shared an appetizer of spring rolls, and then each got a curry with special rice: Della a coconut curry with brown sticky rice and Eric a garden vegetable curry with coconut rice.

Final Thoughts

Bagan was an interesting place to visit, but two days was probably sufficient for us at least. We definitely recommend using the e-bikes to get around, both for the amount of ground you can cover and for the fun factor! We wish the weather had been a little less gloomy while we were there, but we still were able to find a bunch of different places with great views.

Traveling Then and Now Part 2

Hope you enjoyed the first part of our interview with Della’s parents about what it was like when they traveled around the world back in 1979-80. Here we will continue to hear more about their life on the road then and compare it with ours on the road now!

How hard was it to communicate with the local population at every stop?

Peggy and Wayne (P&W): In some countries like Egypt, Turkey, Taiwan, Greece and even, Germany, there was not much English spoken or understood (and needless to say, we didn’t speak their language). Taiwan was especially rough because we didn’t understand the weights, measures, or street signs because they were in a different script. Even if someone wrote the street name on a paper, we found it impossible to compare the two different renderings of the same name. A lot of countries were easier because they were former British colonies. That meant there were English speakers and even English language newspapers. We found more English spoken in India 35 years ago than during our 2008 visit.

Chatting with a local in Burma

Chatting with a local in Burma

Della and Eric (D&E): For the most part, it has been incredibly easy. English is the universal language and there have only been a very few times where others didn’t speak it. We feel quite lucky (and lazy) that we never have to work very hard to communicate.

How did you get money?

P&W: Except in Europe, almost no place we stayed, ate, or shopped accepted credit cards and the only card of any value at all abroad, was American Express. Each of us had an American Express card and it was important to be one of their customers. Once every 30 days you could use the card to cash a check by going in person to the American Express office. Not many places had such offices however. We carried some US cash and $4800 in American Express travelers checks in relatively small denominations. We would carry these in our money belt or in pockets we had sewn inside our pants both at our waist and near the cuffs. Halfway through the trip, we had American Express re-issue some travelers checks, since they were so sweaty and worn out. At airports and near border crossings there were always currency exchanges They usually took large commissions so we would only use these to get a minimal amount of local currency, sufficient to tide us over until we could get to a bank. Exchange rates were better there, but foreign banks often kept short and sometimes erratic hours and the money exchange process was tedious and time consuming. Most countries had established exchange rates (rather than market driven ones). You could almost always get a much better rate on  the “black” market, on the street. Doing so, however, was illegal. As part of your entry and exit, you were supposed to declare all your cash and then show official receipts demonstrating official exchange for the difference in dollars between the amount you came in with and the amount you left with. Some countries required that you exchanged at least a minimum amount. We never ran out of money, but other travelers did. And that was a big deal. They had to send home for money to be wire transferred to a bank. It cost a lot to do and could take a long time.

At the beach in India

At the beach in India

D&E: We almost exclusively get money from ATMs along the way. It has been easy to find them at almost every stop. We make sure to use debit cards from accounts that charge no foreign transaction fees. Eric uses Charles Schwab and Della uses Fidelity. Many places also accept credit cards and we use those as often as we can. Again, we have ones that have no extra foreign transaction fees.

How did you budget / find inexpensive options?

P&W: We didn’t have a budget, we just tried to be as cheap as we could be. We had enough in savings that we knew we wouldn’t run out before the end of the trip. The bigger worry was always having access to cash if we should need it and not having our cash and/or airline tickets stolen.

We wrote down all of our expenses in the back of our journal. We would keep tabs by category of spending for each country and divide by the number of days. Our records show that  it cost $12 a day for two people in Nepal (and about half that while trekking).

We spent almost $13,000 overall during the nine months we traveled. Airfare figured prominently in our budget – costing almost $3500. We spent about $1600 on things – souvenirs and gifts. Excluding airfare and these purchases, we spent about $30 per night. That includes $1700 spent on internal transport. We had relatively high costs in Europe and in Hong Kong. We also had high daily costs in Burma because the visa there was very restrictive and required that internal transportation be done by air, rather than by boat, train or bus. When looking for lodging, we usually started by looking at recommendations from Lonely Planet or other travelers. We would go to the area where the recommended guest house was located. If the recommended place was full or was no longer cheap, we could usually find other cheap places nearby. Booking ahead really wasn’t an option since there weren’t many phones. Sometimes we would follow touts. Perhaps most important to keeping costs down was that Wayne loved bargaining with everyone and about everything. Even when he didn’t want to buy, Wayne would bargain just to get a sense of what things really cost.

Negotiating over something in Greece

Negotiating over something in Greece

D&E: We try to say we have a general budget on average of about $100/day. However, that is a pretty arbitrary number that we have chosen for ourselves. Our general rule is to be as cheap as possible. It is often easy to pick affordable accommodation because you can compare all prices in one sitting on the computer before you book. Sometimes it is even the same with restaurants, though we count more on fellow travelers and outside menus generally. We try to eat out only as much as is necessary, cook for ourselves occasionally, take public transit as much as possible, and stay in dorm rooms when we feel like we’re spending too much! Check out our budget posts to see how much we’ve been spending in each location.

Were there opportunities to work or volunteer abroad?

P&W: In Greece, we think we picked oranges for one day for $5.

We worked as volunteers for about two weeks in South India and it was an incredible experience. A graduate school friend had prior experience working with NGOs in India and he arranged the experience for us. It was at a clinic/farm, run by an elderly British lady and a Hindu couple.  They provided health care services in a rural area. Often patients had to travel hours to get to the clinic, so if they had an injury that needed ongoing care, they would stay and if able, work on the farm in exchange for their room and board. We did a building project for them and it was quite an experience to take the oxen cart to get our supplies. This place was so off-the-tourist track that locals would surround us and just stare.

D&E: We haven’t volunteered or worked yet, but we see a lot of other travelers who do. Many travelers use a site called workaway.com where you can find opportunities abroad. There are also a ton of volunteer opportunities through different non-profit organizations. We hope to do some volunteering with elephants in Thailand!

How did you record the memories from your trip? Pictures? Text?

P&W: We took about 2000 pictures during our trip. Wayne’s walk-around day bag was the camera case with a 35 mm SLR camera and two big lenses: a wide angle and telephoto lens. We bought an additional zoom lens in Hong Kong. Peggy had the original “spy camera,” a small 35 mm Minox. We had to ration our picture taking because we brought all of our film from home and because film and processing were relatively expensive. We shipped our film home whenever we sent a package and had it developed there. As a result, we didn’t know whether any of the pictures we took were any good. Going through airport security was tough because the old x-ray type machines used for security could ruin film, so we carried a  lead bag to protect it. We kept index cards for each roll of film to take notes on where pictures were taken.

We also kept a journal. We wrote our experiences down every couple of days. Peggy used carbon paper to make a copy as she wrote each page in the journal, and then send those pages in lieu of letters to our families. They were to keep the letters just in case our journals got lost. We remember having to be really careful using the carbon paper. Sometimes it would end up folded and you’d lose half a page, or worse yet if you put it in the wrong way, you ended up with backwards script on the back side of the journal page and nothing on the paper to be sent home! We also bought souvenirs, which contributed to our memories. We shipped items home from several of the countries we visited. Shipping was a little difficult. We varied who we sent packages to because you would have to pay tariffs if you sent too much to the same address . It sometimes took several days to put together a package. Finding boxes was quite hard, especially in Africa. Also every country had a different process. In India, you had to find a tailor to sew a cloth around the entire box and put wax seals on seams. We shipped 13 boxes in total, including a small marble table top from Agra and Tibetan rugs from Nepal. Despite dire warning that stuff would be stolen or lost in transit, every one of our  boxes made it home eventually! We waited over a year for the Agra marble. We had a friend going to Agra and we asked him to visit the  shop where we bought it. The guy told him he had only recently completed the inlay of the semi precious stones (it was a special order) and it was in the back room ready for shipping. To be on the safe side, our friend accompanied the craftsman to the post office just to make sure that it was sent!

Peggy as the Pied Piper in rural India

Peggy as the Pied Piper in rural India

D&E: Obviously our biggest tool is this blog! However, we also keep a more personal more detailed log of every day travel. We have taken thousands and thousands of pictures – sometimes more than we know what to do with! Keeping everything digitally makes it easy to have way more than you really need. We have also sent quite a few postcards home. We have purchased a few souvenirs which we have sent home with family members when they have visited and we took some home ourselves on our break over the holidays.

How did you keep in contact with home?

P&W: We sent letters and postcards to family and friends fairly often. We would send things called airgrams. They were pretty affordable. The paper was really lightweight, almost like tissues. We had to be careful, as they could get ruined easily!

We made one or two phone calls. You would go to the center of town where there was a bank of phones for international calls. You would wait for them to get set up and then they would assign you a booth. We called our families around Christmas. We would generally call collect. It was difficult though, because there was no way to prearrange the call, so we just hoped people would be around.

We had given people a general itinerary of where we expected to be, each time we bought a batch of air tickets. We asked them to send us letters “post restante” or general delivery to the larger cities. They could also send things to the American Express offices or the American embassies. People would send us letters fairly often. When we arrived in major cities, we would check in all three of those places to make sure we didn’t miss a letter.

We traveled with Peggy’s parents in Italy at the start of our trip. Other travelers in Europe seemed quite a bit younger than we were. Later on, in Africa and Asia, we connected with quite a few other travelers and most were our age. We also managed to see some friends from home along the route. In Kenya we celebrated Christmas with a friend from the US who was working as a teacher in a small village near the Uganda border. In Delhi we stayed twice, for a week each time, with graduate school friends who had a real house, with a guest bedroom and servants who offered us “bed tea” each morning.

We  would try to stay abreast of what was happening at home through newspapers or radio. In larger cities, we we could find the International edition of the Herald Tribune and sometimes Time or Newsweek Magazine. Back then, US embassies weren’t quite so barricaded and some had reading rooms you could visit. Occasionally we would hear English speaking radio stations. We remember staying in an old hotel in Rangoon and hearing a radio playing The Voice of America in the room next door. We heard about the failed attempt to rescue the hostages held in Iran.

Peg holding up the wall in Mycenae

Peg holding up the wall in Mycenae

D&E: It has been quite easy to keep in contact with home. We have email of course. We also use some other internet sites like facebook, Instagram, and this blog to stay in touch. In addition, our cell phone plan allows us free texting and data in many countries so we have been able to text home often. We have also called using online tools like Skype and Viber. We are in touch so much it is like we have hardly left! =p

What kind of contingency plans did you have for when/if you got separated?

P&W: Our contingency plan was to go back to the place we had last seen each other, or if that failed, to go to the place where we were staying. Our big fear was getting separated when we were in transit or first arriving in a new place. Our fall back plan was to go to the main post office in our destination city at noon and to do so for repetitive days. Fortunately we never lost each other for long, but we each had some nightmares in which even our fallback plan didn’t work.

Our friends almost got separated on a flight. There was room for 3 of us but not all 4 to fly from Kenya to Bombay. The ticket agent saw no issue with a couple being separated. All 4 of us stood at the counter refusing to move until the manager figured out a solution that would allow a couple to either stay together or leave together.

Didn't want to get too separated!

Didn’t want to get too separated!

D&E: When we head into a very crowded place, we typically set a point like the entrance or exit. The general rule is to go back to where you last found a person. However, we don’t really worry too much given that we both carry cellphones and have the option to call or text if need be.

Who else did you meet while traveling?

P&W: We met a lot of Germans traveling, usually in a slightly fancier style and heading to beach destinations. There were also a lot of Aussies, spending a year getting to England, then working, then travelling for another year returning home. There were fewer Americans overall but it was usually Americans that we hooked up, sometimes travelling for several days together. There were no large Asian tour groups except in Japan.

While we enjoyed the time spent with the people we met while on the road, we didn’t really maintain contact with anyone. On a visit to Alaska, Wayne did see some folks we had spent time with in Nepal.

Peggy hanging out with a travel friend... and a car that crashed into their bus!

Peggy hanging out with a travel friend… and a car that crashed into their bus!

D&E: We meet a lot of travelers from Europe – specifically Germany, the UK, and Belgium. There are also a lot of Australians on the road! We meet people from the US fairly regularly, though it depends a bit on the place. We also meet lots of Canadians. Facebook has made it quite easy to stay in touch with our new friends from the road!

What (besides friends and family) did you miss from home?

P&W: We really missed our morning coffee. Even places that said they had coffee were actually serving instant Nescafe . . .Yuck. We also missed beer and wine. Adding a drink (if available) doubled the cost of any meal, so we usually refrained.

Peggy and a monkey

Peggy and a monkey

D&E: Good Tex-Mex/New Mex-Mex food and craft beer!

What advice do you have for the travelers of today?

P&W: Go and travel the world! Appreciate how easy it is to do in an age where there is modern communications, an international monetary system and ways to get points for cheap airfare. Despite it being logistically easier, there will still be challenges and in overcoming them, you will increase your self confidence. You need to prepare and to plan, but you also need to be flexible and to change your course as you go. You’ll develop and enhance your appreciation of different cultures and of diverse people. You’ll take home images and impressions that will make world events that occur later more meaningful, though not always more understandable. And you will have memories that will last a life time! (And may even inspire the future generations to travel as much as you did through your awesome stories! – Added by Della)

Family jelfie in Greece - seeing a place for the first time (Della, Eric, and Dana) and for the 2nd 35 years after the first (Peg and Wayne)

Family jelfie in Greece – seeing a place for the first time (Della, Eric, and Dana) and for the 2nd 35 years after the first (Peg and Wayne)

Exploring the Past in Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Most people visit the town of Pyin Oo Lwin in the hills to the north of Mandalay to revisit its past history as Maymyo, a “hill station” founded by the British to escape the heat of the lower elevations and later the location of the colonial summer capital. While we were interested in visiting the sights associated with this history, we were also interested to visit because Della’s parents had visited Maymyo on their RTW trip as well. When home for the holidays, we had come across a few pictures of their time in town and wanted to try and see how they had changed in 15 years.

Getting There

On the advice of our guesthouse, we took a shared taxi to get to Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay. This is basically the same thing as a normal taxi, in that it picked us up at our guesthouse and dropped us off at our new one, with the only difference being that there were two other passengers that were in the car at the same time. It wasn’t too expensive ($10) so we were happy with the service. The road to Pyin Oo Lwin is narrow and windy, so we definitely held on tight as our driver passed the slower-moving trucks.

The road with no lanes, passing the slow trucks up the hill!

The road with no lanes, passing the slow trucks up the hill!

We also took a shared taxi to get back down to Mandalay after our stay was over. This time we noticed something interesting: halfway down, the driver pulled over to the side of the road and poured buckets of water over the brakes, which produced a good amount of steam. Guess the brakes were in danger of overheating!

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Can hardly see, but the driver is pouring water over the back brakes!

 

Where We Stayed

We found the Royal Flower Guest House on tripadvisor and called them from our place in Mandalay to make a booking. We got a double room with an ensuite bathroom for $30 a night (breakfast included). The room was nice, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. Also, it had a very nice patio on the roof where we could watch the sunset.

What We Did

Most of the activities we chose to do were driven by our desire to try and see how the places had changed since Della’s parents had visited them. But, these were also the most popular activities so we didn’t go too far off the beaten track.

Pwe Kauk Falls – Our first day in town we rented bicycles from our guesthouse and rode in the direction of these small waterfalls that we thought Della’s parents had visited. This was about a 5 mile ride along a highway, which was a little scary but we were able to hear big trucks coming and get over in time. We had gotten general directions from our guesthouse for the turn-off to the falls, but almost missed it because there is no English sign. If you are trying to find the falls, make sure to take this road:

Turn down here off the main road!

Turn down here off the main road!

Once there, we paid our entry fee and camera fee and then explored the different small falls. The infrastructure around the falls makes it feel like it is a nice local getaway, with different restaurants and souvenir stands, and concrete paths and bridges between the different parts. We were the only foreign tourists there for a while as well. We wandered through both the lower and upper part. We think we found the area in the upper part where Wayne swam, but aren’t sure. We also purchased some local wine: both strawberry and something we had never heard of called damson.

Candacraig Hotel – This former British guesthouse is actually where Della’s parents stayed when they visited Pyin Oo Lwin. Our guesthouse listed it more as a local attraction than as a place to find accommodations, but the Lonely Planet does say it’s possible to stay there. We again rented bikes and set out to find it and see how much it had changed. A word of warning to anyone else trying to do this: make sure you know where you are headed! We trusted a map given to us by the guesthouse, and where that map put the Candacraig was wrong and where the owner told us to go was wrong. We investigated multiple old colonial houses in the general area before finally asking a few locals who pointed us in the right direction. (Looks like the location on the Lonely Planet map is correct but we didn’t have that along…).

Finally found it! Phew!

Finally found it! Phew!

The hotel had a very mysterious and slightly abandoned air about it. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around and the garden was somewhat overgrown. It definitely feels like something that would have been built during the colonial era. We took a few pictures of the outside and then headed on.

National Kandawgyi Gardens – This large botanic gardens surrounding a lake also dates from the colonial era and is the main highlight to be seen in Pyin Oo Lwin. After finding the Candacraig, we rode our bikes down to the park and spent the rest of the day exploring the different areas and just relaxing. There are quite a few different areas to visit, so we followed the map to make sure we didn’t miss anything. The highlights included the town name spelled out in flowers, a petrified wood and fossil display, an elevated walkway through a swamp, a bamboo garden, a pine forest, an aviary, an elevated walkway through a forest, an orchid garden and a butterfly museum. There was also an observation tower, where we climbed 201 steps to an observation deck for views back over the park.

Also in the middle of the lake was an island with a pagoda which we think was in one of Della’s parents’ pictures. It doesn’t look exactly the same as before, but we think it has to be it. We were disappointed that we didn’t see anyone strolling around the lake with a parasol either like there was before.

Where We Ate

Our first night in town, we ate at a place on the main road very close to our accommodations called the Seezar Bistro. They had a huge menu so it took us a while to figure out what we wanted. Della got her standard fried noodle plate and Eric ordered a “Seezar” fried rice which ended up coming with an omelet wrapped around the fried rice – pretty neat!

Our second night in town we decided to branch out from Myanmar food and check out a South Indian restaurant called Aung Padamayar that had been recommended in the Lonely Planet. There was no menu, just a choice between chicken or mutton for a curry. The meat (we both chose chicken) in the spicy sauce came with rice, a lentil soup, curried vegetables and freshly made papadum. We were plenty full by end! It was a little more expensive than the previous night, but not so outrageous, so we were pretty annoyed to hear the tourists at the next table over loudly complaining to the waitress about “how expensive” it was (the meal cost $4 each).

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Our expensive meal!

 

Final Thoughts

Pyin Oo Lwin was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days! We had a lot of fun on our “scavenger hunt” for items from Wayne and Peggy’s trip, but even beyond that enjoyed the vibe of what this former colonial town had to offer.

 

Packing Update: Eric

We were happy to spend some time at home during the holidays in part because it gave us a chance to reevaluate what was in our packs and change some things up.

This post will focus on Eric’s pack. See our previous posts about packing to learn what he brought before. You can also see Della’s packing update here!

On the first half off the trip, Eric didn’t have any major issues with how his packing list worked out. There were a few things he decided that he hadn’t used much, so he took advantage of being home and dropped some items off. The main things he left out this time were a merino wool sweater (which had shrunk in a laundry and hadn’t really been used since Africa), a wide-brimmed hat that had only been used on safari and a belt which he never used.

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Eric’s pack, a Go-Lite 65 Liter pack, has one big section and a small detachable top section.

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In the main section:

  • A cotton sleeping sheet. This was hardly used in Europe, but Eric thinks it may come in more handy in potentially seedier Asian accommodations. The fabric was originally off-white, but after washing with other fabrics is no more of an off-blue.

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  • Two swimsuits and two miniature microfiber towels, stored in a Ziploc bag
  • Two fleece tops (a thinner gray one and thicker brown one), two long underwear tops, one long underwear bottoms and a workout shirt. Stored in a soft-sided packing cube.

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  • A large toiletry kit containing overflow items from the daily one that Della carries. Items include extra floss, extra soap and shampoo, extra razor heads, extra anti-malarial drugs, other extra drugs such as probiotics, and a pair of small scissors.
  • Utility items – rope for a clothesline, an over-the-door hook, duct tape, gorilla tape, wine/bottle opener (bought in Greece), super glue, tape measure (also bought in Greece), extra dirty clothes bags – stored in a Ziploc bag

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  • Extra computer items, stored in one of the bags the travel underwear came in:
    • Flash drives
    • Camera charger
    • Old camera and its charger to be used as backup
    • SD card
    • Cord to connect camera to computer
  • Everyday tops and bottoms, stored in a packing cube:
    • two long-sleeved collared shirts -one Ex-Officio travel shirt as a gift, another a generic polyester shirt from the thrift store
    • three short-sleeve collared shirts – all found at the thirft store
    • one t-shirt – poly-cotton blend, a gift from our friends at The Real Dill
    • one pair zip-off pants from the thrift store
    • two pair of polyester slacks, one khaki and the other gray, both from the thrift store
  • Underwear and socks, stored in a small packing cube:
    • Five pair of travel underwear, all received as gifts
    • Two pair of SmartWool ultralight socks bought on Sierra Trading Post
    • Two pair of SmartWool medium socks received as gifts
    • One pair thick merino wool socks
    • Two pair polyester socks from the dollar store

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  • Pajamas, stored in a random stuff sack that a promotional blanket came in:
    • Poly-cotton blend shirt from kickball league
    • Workout shorts
    • One pair thick merino wool socks
  • Extra books
  • Pair of strap sandals from the thrift store
  • Black flip-flops for the shower

In the top section:

  • Two bandanas
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  • Swiss Army knife
  • Flashlight and headlamp, stored in an underwear bag

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  • Cover for bag, which Della’s family created out of a gate check cover for strollers
  • Extra water bottles

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In his day pack (a Go-Lite pack as well):

  • Raincoat borrowed from Eric’s dad, plus a dollar store poncho
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  • Rice University hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and bug spray

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  • Primary reading material
  • Primary water bottles
  • Steripen (UV-based water purification tool)

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  • Computer (ASUS Transformer Book T100TA)
  • Computer accessories – power cord, USB connection cord, small mouse, stylus – in a Ziploc bag
  • Cell phone charger plus car charger
  • Zipper bag with a deck of playing cards and a notepad and pen

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  • Headphones
  • Tupperware (usually filled with granola bars)
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In his pockets:

  • Unlocked GSM cellphone with T-Mobile Simple Choice International plan (the included texting and data in most countries is awesome)
  • Wallet
  • Camera (Canon Powershot ELPH 115 IS) in case

Eric’s large backpack weighs only 27 lbs! However, like Della, he also carries a day bag. His day bag is slightly heavier due to its bigger size and the computer. The weight of the day bag depends on how much water he is carrying!

Flashback Friday: Holidays in Houston, TX

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our memories – from either from our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances! 

When we were home for the holidays, we had a chance to visit Houston and reconnect with some great old friends! This picture was taken during a secret Santa gift exchange back when we were seniors in college. Also, we want to give a shout out to some dedicated blog readers who are in this photo! (Thanks guys!)

Secret Santa eric jon cait jenny