Growing Out of Backpacking but Still Going Around the World

I am an introvert. I don’t party and being in the middle of a large boisterous group of people is basically my version of hell.  If I could travel while invisible, I would (stupid lack of superpowers). I guess my point is that there is no one way to travel. 

I remember the moment that my now husband and I gave up on shared room hostels.  Luxembourg. 200 Dutch middle schoolers.  I am still recovering. I remember the moment we gave up on hotels altogether. Budapest. 100 degrees, no AC and 24 hour partying. We moved into a hotel the next day. The fact that I did not lose my mind and start screaming at people should impress you.

Sometimes, I feel pressured to go back to the days of staying in hostels.  As if that is the only way to authentically travel.  But I am not 17 years old.  Thank God.  I have a travel companion (yay, for husbands) and I have a job that pays me money.  Which I am willing to throw in a dozen different directions while traveling.  Because comfort is not a dirty word. 

While in Indonesia we switched Airbnb homes.  Not on purpose, but neither place was available for the whole time that we planned on being in Palau Weh. The first place was isolated on a cliff behind a tiny little village.  Aside from a political rally one night (seriously, we confirmed that was what was going on) the frogs were the loudest thing we had to deal with. 

The second place was still a very small one room “house” but had access to a beach and was six feet from a restaurant.  Score, as we were getting tired of boiled eggs and cup noodles. Having spent four days in complete seclusion our exposure was a bit of a shock.

Everything was fine until about halfway through dinner. More and more backpackers arrived.  I swear I don’t hate other backpackers on principle. Usually, you can have a decent conversation or simply exist in the same space with them.  But, oh, my God, the loud and screaming drunken obnoxiousness that followed.  I have a travel truism that is people who are more than two meters away from you know your nationality then you are being obnoxious.  Also, shut up.

We were both obnoxious but unfortunately, the new bungalow was hotter than the surface of the sun.  There was a ceiling fan but it was turning the wrong way so all the air was being blown at the ceiling.  I am sure that there was a way to switch the fan but we couldn’t figure it out. Consequently, the room was at least 15 degrees warmer than outside. The first bungalow hasn’t had ac either but a couple of night we were actually on the verge of being cold if we woke up in the middle of the night (score). Overheated already because every time we almost drifted off someone would shriek with laughter or just shriek.  Since they were less than two meters away from us it was pretty hard to ignore. At 3:45 am we finally yelled at them which miraculously make the leave and the lights outside finally turn out.

We tried to get over our middle of the night fire (We are moving!  Dramatic.) but a huge cockroach crawling up Carsten’s leg while he showered did nothing to improve our mood but breakfast calmed us down. The actual people who own the place are super nice. Our room is comfortable and we were promised a fan.  The view is stunning. We have a hammock in our porch less than two feet away from the surf and at the moment things are peaceful.

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An Underwater Adventure in Indonesia

An Underwater Adventure in Indonesia WWW.ONEMORESTAMP.COM

We decided not to SCUBA dive but to just snorkel on this trip. We have dove before and liked it but there are quite a few flights coming up and we wanted to be on the safe side.

We were just on a little speed boat. Actually, speedboat implies far more fanciness.  We were on a rowboat with an outboard motor.

We ran into a pod of dolphins straight off.  The entertained themselves by swimming over and around our boat but were elusive when I tried to photograph them.  They were also not enthusiastic enough to follow us, although they were close enough to touch id you could predict where they would come up.  We definitely couldn’t.

Our first stop was a dive shop. It is important to get a mask that is fitted properly or it leaks.  Carsten found this out the hard way on our honeymoon when while we were diving he had to blow out his mask every few minutes. Usually cleaning your mask involves spitting in it (the greening the cleaner) to preven it from fogging up. Here there was a special leaf that you crush and wipe your goggles with. Much less gross.

I thought that we would have to do some travelling to get to the site but the longest we were in the boat without stopping was 15 minutes and that was at the very end of the day.  All the sites were very close.

The sheer amount of fist that we saw boggles the mind. Hundreds in every direction. Dozens of different species. We were in shallow water exploring coral reefs so we say exactly what we sould have see while diving. Palau Weh was also hit by the Tsunami in 2006 despite being the westernmost point of Indonesia. Many of the reefs were damages or destroyed and the overfishing hasn’t helped.

Most of the snorkeling took place around an even tinier 100 meter teardrop shaped island that we could see from our home. It wass uninhabited and protected. There were no beaches as it is an underwater mountain. There was a skirt of coral reef around it and then it abruptly dropped off. We moved from various places around the island eventually circling it. There were angel fish, dory fish, silversides, a shoal of 18 inch clack fish I didn’t recognize and another of dazzlingly electric blue fish. There were sea slugs, parrot fish, huge clams with glowing purple lips that were all you could see.  These kept spewing while cloud.  Were they spawning?

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We visited a speot where the coal reef was particularly healthy. Rebounding as well as it could from the damage of 2006. Coal reefs are hundreds or thousands of years old so it was take some time for them to recover. There we say a tiny black and while striped sea snake. It was beautiful and also one of the most venoumous snakes in the world. They are pretty gentle but when it started to come towards us on it’s way to breath we got out of it’s way in a hirry.

We followed a green turtle for about 20 minutes. They are so graceful. The way that it flew through the water was endlessly fascinating. It even surfaces to breath at one point stating at the surface far longer than I imagined it would.

There was the spiny lionfish drifting along the bottom with the current. It’s spines are venomous but the worst that happened to us were tiny jellyfish stings. I got one on my wrist and Carsten got one on his back.  The jellyfish were itty bitty and the sting only hurt for a few minutes and even then it wasn’t much.

Out last stop was an underground volcano. In the boat you could identify it by the stench of sulfur but under water it was a curtain of bubbles and bathwater warmth. There were a coupld of fish around but no where near as many as we had gotten used to.

Heading back to our timebase, the harbor water has one last show for us as a water monitor decided that the boat was something to follow for awhile. Water monitor;s are the second largest lizard in the world and apparently pretty brazen. Feeling as if a giant prehistoric lizard is chasing you is a pretty good incentive to get out of the water.  After we got out if the water we finally noticed that both us us had managed to burn. Carsten because he spurned all sunscreening me even through sever layers of SPF 100 because I am a delicate flower.  Who can't handle direct sunlight.  Having Fun sometimes leaves a mark.

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Take a Break- Pulau Weh, Indonesia

Take a Break- Pulau Weh, Indonesia www.onemorestamp.com

We flew out of Medan and have arrived on Palau Weh, a tiny island off the western coast of Sumatra.

We stayed in a bare bones Airbnb (the toilet doesn’t even automatically flush) There wass a bed and some plastic chairs. It was a traditionally raised home and was surrounded by a small village. The larger town was used to tourists and backpackers but here we are it.  They aren’t used to foreigners so it was important to be as respectful as possible of local culture.  Since I basically have to cover every piece of skin because of the sun it wasn’t an inconvenience.

We rented a scooter. It seemed like the thing to do and a way to stay independent. Neither of us had ever driven one before and it had been about a year and a half since Carsten had driven at all and six months for me (after ten years). The island was hilly and the roads are quite windy and steep. I rode on the back and was overly aware of of every bend and twist. The hardest part was forcing myself not to overcorrect the balance by shifting my weight.  It is something that you do automatically but it makes steering about ten times more difficult for the driver because they then have to steer against you.

The big thing about going uphill and around hairpin turns (at the same time, mind you) is momentum. Or so we found out. Ten minutes into our first ride, Carsten carefully tried to maneuver us up a hill. Unfortunately, scooters seems to be a bit like boats.  The slower you are going the less steering you have. Add to that that my leaning the exact wrong way on the turn and the fact that the road basically bent back on itself and went straight up and it is easy to understand how it happened.  It was practically predictable.

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We crashed.  Or more accurately tipped over since the slope slowed up down even further before we fell.  We hit this foot-high wall and took the tumble.  I only hit the soft ground.  Carsten skinned a knee and his shoulder and I managed to skin the knuckle of my big toe directly where my flip flop sat.  On the side we had not fallen on somehow. I also lost the other flip flip. 

Carsten’s first reaction was to find out if I was okay. My first reaction was to lie there and stupidly try to figure out what just happened and why was I missing a shoe.  I am useful in a crisis like that.

We weren’t hurt. The bike wasn’t hurt. No one else was around so we weren’t even weirdly embarrassed. We had to search for my shoe for awhile, though. I have no idea how it got under the underbrush.

I might have freaked out if I was driving. Or at least made Carsten driven from then on. But Carsten is a trooper and just drove up on to dinner.  Which was in a beautiful location but was sadly the food was not worth the effort of getting to. The rest of the drives were uneventful but I don’t imagine that a scooter in Beijing is in our future.

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Things have been kind of stressful the last few months.  The last two school breaks have been a pretty intense sort of travel and you don’t need to me to tell you the state of the world and my country in particular.

The top of the wall were open. It was a simple wooden house. Give me the wood and I could have built my own (OMG hubris. I in fact could not and would cry in challenged to. Because I have no practical skills which is why I know that I will die in the first wave of a zombie apocalypse)

We needed a break.  Which is how we ended up in a tiny house on the Andaman Sea on a small tropical Indonesian island. I could hear the waves on the rocks, insects, and frogs. After the sun went down we lay under a mosquito net which until we turned the light off was an invitation to spec sized ants and the room filled with dozens of moths from tiny little ones to one that I estimate to be the size of my hand. Ew. There were also a number of geckos hunting on the walls and ceiling.  Is it me or are geckos 70% cuter than other kids of lizards?

The world has so many distractions. My phone is chief among them. I banned myself from twitter and Facebook while in Sumatra.  Facebook was easy. Getting decent access to is is so dicey in Beijing that I am used to not checking it. Since the US election going on it has been painful because of all the nonsense that people post.  It hurts and makes me angry. I just can’t.

flower indonesia www.onemorestamp.com

Twitter on the other hand needs a much less stable connection so I can use it easier in China.  It has been a harder nit to crack. I think that I follow precisely two people that I know in real life. Mostly, it is authors, bloggers, and people related to Hamilton. It has helped keep me up to date , figure out how and when to call my representative and Senators (Plug celeste and Emily) But my God, is causing me anxiety.  Well, not twitter itself as the situations that twitter is reporting. Remember that I live in Chana. I can’t go outside to check that my country isn’t on fire. Pretty much everything that I have read in the last three months has indicated that it is.  It is literally keeping me awake at night.

So no twitter.  Except that I kept cheating. Shit was going down. The data connection in my Indonesian sim card wasn’t strong enough to support skype (I tried a lot). Being unable to call I constantly updated twitter to at least feel as was I was doing something.

But I needed to pull back. I was on vacation on a goddamn tropical island. And I was missing it because I was not staying present. I was missing the sun shining on the sea, the sound of the waves and children playing, the smell of salt in the air and the moments when I could hear the call to prayer. If I listened I could hear frogs singing their nightly love songs. If I looked I could peer out from the mosquito net and see 30 different kinds of bugs on the walls. The room was lit by a single bare electric bulb that geckos used as hunting grounds. It was time to pay attention to where I was.

We went four days without seeing another foreigner.  There is a backpacking community someone on the island but we weren’t clamoring to find it. The village was sweet.  There was much staring and nobody there was able to speak with us. #storyofmylife #liguisticallychallenged

Things there were slow. We went to the local convenience store (stand) and survived on cup noodles and eggs. I read 13 books. We had all the time in the world. We were on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the sea. No beach to distract us. We just relaxed and pretended that for those days that the rest of the world didn’t exist. Reality doesn’t need my help.

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