New Zealand : Family Time in Waikanae and Wellington

Picton was absolutely amazing which made it even harder to pack up and leave, but that is the name of the game. Bags packed we grabbed some breakfast and jumped on a ferry headed to Wellington. Once we arrived in Wellington we grabbed a train headed north about a hour to a small town named Waikanae.

Side note : Andrew has family in Waikanae, which prompted our adventure extension to New Zealand in the first place. Kevin is Andrew’s second cousin and has been in New Zealand for about 7 years. His lovely wife Melissa brought Kevin back to this amazing country shortly after they got married. Since then they have started a family and have three wonderful boys! We Skyped the family before our arrival and feel in love with their kiwi boys.

In Waikanae Melissa and the boys picked us up and cruised us through their cute beach town. Touring us through the town and by the boy’s school. The boys were amazing from the time we jumped in the car. They were so personable asking questions and telling stories, it didn’t seem like we were meeting for the first time.

Our accommodation during our time in Waikanae was a tourist park located on the backside of Kevin and Melissa’s property. Melissa had recommended it for us upon arrival. After the tour of the town we headed to our room to drop off our bags. The boys helped us check in.

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We piled back into the car to grab some ice cream and head to the beach so the boys could swim!

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Pictured left to right : Sam, Caitlin, Finn, and Nelson.

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Nelson the comedian.

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Sam the dreamer.

After the beach session we headed to their cute house to play soccer in the back yard and jump on the trampoline!

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As the first day with the coolest Kiwi Family wound down. We all sat around the dinner table and had a Chinese Food take away feast!! It was great!

Our first day was such a success that we were super pumped to wake up the next day for our next adventure with the fam. A road trip to Wellington to visit the famous Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. 

After breakfast and quick snack we packed the car and headed south for a hour to Te Papa in Wellington.

It just so happened to be Waitangi Day (see below for description) so Wellington was a popping place.

Waitangi Day named after Waitangi, (where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed) commemorates a significant day in the history of New Zealand. It is a public holiday held each year on 6 February to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi New Zealand’s founding document, on that date in 1840.

We posed for some quick photos and jumped in the Museum to see the giant squid.

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This is what happened in the Museum. (I thought we had a picture of the giant squid… Oh well there is one.)

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We spent about 2 hours or so roaming through the first level of Te Papa Tongarewa. I beleive there is like 6 or 7 floors there. We barely scratched the surface.

Once we got out the front doors we had to pose for another picture. Duh. Finn suggested we form a pyramid. So of course we did.

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The boys took interest in the many cameras we had been traveling with. So of course we showed them how to work them and gave them creative control.

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After a quick photo shoot we headed to the water front to take in the festivities of Waitangi Day and eat hot dogs!

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After putting around the water front eating and people watching, we decided to head out of Wellington. But not before we took a quick tour in the car around the town. Melissa and Kevin were such great hosts they didn’t want us to miss anything! So we cruised around the town and headed for the beach so the kids could jump in the ocean.

Nelson took photos the whole way there!

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Once we arrived at the beach Sam and Finn took off straight to the ocean for a dip! Nelson hung back with the adults and took photos of the beach and the people. It was a beautiful day, but the wind was blowing and the ocean just seemed like a cold idea..

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Nelson is a photographer at heart.

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Nelson put the camera down for a quick photo with Caitlin.

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Sam strapped on the GoPro and ran around the beach.

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Photo by : Nelson Landacre

Once we arrived back at the house Melissa began preparing dinner, a homemade lasagna. Which was to die for. Honestly the meal was amazing we were so grateful to be invited to eat at their dinner table with such an amazing family.

The realization that this was our last night with the family started to sink in. Our time with them flew by. We stayed up late one more night with Kevin and Melissa as the boys went to sleep, enjoying tea, some cake and great conversation.

We will never forget our time in that cute little beach town of Waikanae. It was a blessing to be able to travel across the world and visit family, I know how much it meant to Kevin that we showed up. I just hope he knows how much it meant to us.

New Zealand, South Island – Christchurch, Kaikoura, & Picton

Christchurch, NZ

We landed in Christchurch around 12:30am and didn’t get to our hotel after customs and the shuttle until about 2:00am. No time for sleeping-in however, the next day we booked a bus up to the coastal town of Kaikoura so we only had a few hours to get out and explore Christchurch! We were up and at ‘em and headed to a breakfast spot that the shuttle driver had recommended the night before (after advising us not to try and make the trek to Burger King even though we were starving). It would be our first, real, portland-like breakfast in a while and we were pumped.

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It was a pretty great breakfast to welcome us to New Zealand. After our meal, we set out to see the sights and sounds of the wonderful city of Christchurch. Christchurch has a pretty melancholy past. Just a few years ago, the city which is the second largest in New Zealand, experienced two life-shattering earthquakes which killed almost 200 people and seriously altered the structures of the city. Although these earthquakes were devastating and still cause distress, they have also given the city an opportunity to recreate itself. Christchurch has embraced this transition as far as I’m concerned and amid the construction and still abandoned lots we found amazing, energetic activities, buildings, and people which left us with very fond memories of the quake-stricken city.

First, we came across this newly created tourist hub which included cute shops and restaurants along with historical accents and a cute, working city trolly.

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Then, we headed over to the Re: Start Mall. This is a great sustainable building concept that made me smile ear to ear. The whole mall is made of old shipping containers!

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At least lululemon has a sustainable store here in New Zealand…that should gain them some points!

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Awesome shipping container coffee shop!

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After checking out the mall, we got to see a street performer and of course Andrew was invited to participate!

Next, it was off to the Christchurch museum which was actually pretty amazing even though we aren’t usual museum-goers. We got a great introduction to the history of New Zealand including that of the indigenous people, the Maori. We also got really lucky and got to see a Banksy exhibit.

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We also came across quite a bit of the aftermath of the quakes in addition to the cool new attributes of the city. It was pretty eerie.

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After a quick lunch, it was unfortunately time to go back to our hotel, grab our bags, and jump on the bus to Kaikoura. On the way we came across another cool refurbished item and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take pictures. Also, in case anyone is curious, this is what we look like when we have all of our bags on…

“So Dad, I some how ended up in England and I’m going to need more money….”

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Kaikoura, NZ

The bus drive to Kaikoura was a pretty good indicator of the wonderful ocean views we had to look forward to. Kaikoura is famous as one of New Zealand’s best coastal spots to venture out into the ocean and see the many wonderful sights and animals. After arriving and dropping our bags at our newest “home” for the night, we headed to the i-site (New Zealand’s extremely helpful information and booking centers).

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to swim with dolphins. In the states, you can go to vacation spots like Florida and Hawaii and jump into a pool with dolphins while they play with you and even let you ride on their backs. Although I’ve been to both of these places and was always very interested, it just hadn’t been in my cards to participate. Of course, being in Kaikoura, the dusky dolphin capital of the world, I wanted to finally get my chance to swim with dolphins. Not only were these dolphins, they were wild dolphins out in the middle of the South Pacific. Pretty awesome if you ask me!

However, we checked in with the booking agent, and due to small numbers of swimmers allowed in the water each day for each boat, all of the boats were already fully booked for swimmers. Although I was severely bummed, since we only had one day to book a tour in Kaikoura, Andrew and I decided to book a tour as spectators since we had heard such great things from other travelers.

The next morning we were awoken to absolutely perfect weather and were immediately happy that we had booked a boat trip for the day, even if it didn’t include jumping in the water. We headed over to the Dolphin Encounter offices for some lunch and a pre-boarding information session.

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Soon it was off to board the boat!

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Andrew and I quickly figured out that we were the only spectators on the boat…bummer. It was sort of hard to forget my urge to get in the water when literally EVERYONE else was getting in the water to swim with the dolphins… Oh well….

We jumped up to the front of the boat to get the best dolphin views once we had found a pod that seemed to be interested in hanging out with our boat. Since the company does not entice the wild dolphins with food or any other means, they must simply find a pod that seems to be interested in interacting with the boat. It was absolutely AMAZING!!!! We literally saw HUNDREDS of wild dolphins jumping and flipping around our boat! We had never seen such a thing!!

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One of the boat crew, Jess, spotted our GoPro and was quickly helping us get the best shots as she was a GoPro aficionado herself. Thanks to Jess’ instruction, we were able to get some great shots of the dolphins racing the boat between swimming stops.

Here is some footage I caught on my camera (not quite as good as the GoPro).

As we were admiring the dolphins with Jess, I started noticing some of the simmers coming into the boat without their wetsuits. I asked Jess if they were done swimming…ya know, just out of curiosity…and she said yes, they were over it. I quickly added, “Well, I’d love to swim if I could.” I mean, why not throw it out there right??!

Jess told me she really wished she could, but she would be in so much trouble. Okay, dreams crushed again, time to give up Caitlin. What you are seeing right now is amazing, live in the moment and enjoy it why don’t you?!

We continued to take in the wonderful sights of jumping dolphins and soak up the sun on the front of the boat as the swimmers hopped in and out of the water from the back.

After a few minutes of being inside, Jess came back out to the front.

“So Caitlin, do you want to go for a swim?”

OH MY GODDDDDDDD!!!!!!! I barely had time to scream yes in my high pitched voice before I was squeezing into an already wet wetsuit that was probably too small in the first place. Thank goodness I brought my swim suit! I put the snorkel over my head, stuck it in my mouth, and got ready to jump off the back of the boat as soon as we stopped, but not before hearing the other crew member, Josh say to me over the wind, “You’ve got someone watching over you today, Caitlin!”

Josh said that because I really did get extremely lucky. With very strict swimming permit restrictions and usually more than one couple of spectators on each boat, people who have not signed up previously (or paid) to swim do not usually get to. However, when Josh said that I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am in general. There is one person in general that I think is always looking over me, but weather its him or not, I am so very lucky everyday to be doing the things I’m doing and being who I am. Okay, enough with the mushy stuff, lets swim with the dolphins!!!!!!!!!

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As I’m sure you guessed, it was AMAZING. Definitely one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life! The dolphins get extremely close and are so curious! To be honest, I felt like the dolphins were paying extra attention to me, circling around me and coming so close we actually picked up their communication on the GoPro! I figured I was imagining it, but after getting back on the boat Jess assured me that the dolphins are very curious about the poles like the one that we had mounted our GoPro on, so cool! However, in case you are wondering if I touched any, I did not. Being wild dolphins you are advised to never touch them as we are not there to get in the way of anything, but simply observe and interact if they are willing.

As I mentioned, we did get some awesome video with the GoPro, but we are saving that for a video about the whole trip, so stay tuned!! :)

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Picton, NZ

Next up was Picton, the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds. Again, we got extremely lucky with beautiful weather! We showed up however and went straight to the bar to watch the Seahawks absolutely obliterate the Broncos, aka the Superbowl.

However, we soon set out to explore the Picton harbor and headed off on a short hike to seek out Bob’s Bay. It definitely did not disappoint. We were getting used to New Zealand exceeding our expectations.

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The next day, it was off for a 10k hike on the famous Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds! The hike started with a sunrise boat-ride to our starting point during which the sea sickness pills made me fall asleep…1 point for Andrew.

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I think Andrew and I can both agree that this was the best, most beautiful hike we’ve ever been on. There were beautiful views at just about every turn that were punctuated with some of the clearest waters we have ever seen! Absolutely beautiful.

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After finishing the hike, it was time for our rewards; beers and our included meals which ended up being amazing! Fresh, local mussels and a lamb burger!

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The South Island treated us extreemly, extreemly well. Good weather, beautiful sights, and a strike of very good luck for me. Next, on to the ferry to get up to the North Island!

Airlie Beach & Brisbane Australia

We rolled into Airlie Beach via a train from Cairns around the hour of 7pm.

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We have this game where we take a photo of the sleeper. (Score one for Caitlin.)

Quickly strolled through the main strip of the beach town scoping out possible hostels for the next few nights. Bought a box of wine some fried chicken and fries and tuned into the news. Justin Bieber had the world up in arms over his recent drag racing stunt/DUI. We then prayed for poor Justin, in hopes he would turn his life around. Actually no we didn’t, we drank wine and passed out in our room that had bunk beds. photo (75)

Next day we packed up our bags and headed down the road to another Hostel, Magnums. We had checked it out the night before and it was cheaper with free wifi. We had no idea what we were in for. When we booked the accommodations we also booked a day trip boat out to the legendary Whitsunday Islands (the reason we ventured to this beach town).

During our first nights at Magnums, we experienced what I would like to call my college years. Imagine 18-20 year old partiers drinking and dancing to loud music till the late night. I knew we were in trouble when on the first night of our stay I heard a yell “I AM 18 AND I LIKE TO PARTY!!!!”

We spent the next few days before our boat trip hanging out at the lagoon. The lagoon is a man made beach like environment/pool that sits right by the ocean. It was beautiful. Since it was stinger season during our time in Australia people shied away from the beach and ocean.

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The weather started to change drastically as Australia Day approached. The rain had picked up and the wind was throwing the rain sideways. We had heard a little here and there about this country’s holiday, but had no idea what we were in for.

According to Wikipedia : Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, and raising of the Flag of Great Britain at that site by Governor Arthur Phillip.

Either way it is an excuse (as if the Australians need one) to drink themselves dumb. I mean I haven’t seen this kind of drinking ever. Aussie’s love to drink.

Caitlin and I had no set plans for “Straya Day” as the kids say it. So we said to ourselves if we can’t beat them (as in the kids that ruled our Hostel) might as well join them. So we did. We made some friends and had some drinks.

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We picked up on some of the lingo while drinking with the Australians.

Beer = Piss

Cooler = Esky

Drunk = Pissed

Chug = Skull it

Believe it or not we actually ended up in bed around 930pm. Due to the weather, before we made it back to the room we checked in with the front desk in regards to our boat in the am. Unfortunately mother nature was brewing a cyclone and she kept us from seeing the Whitsunday Islands. We were bummed.

The weather turned for the worse and we just tried to keep dry the remaining two days in Airlie Beach. We rented movies from the font desk and had a movie day and did push ups. The last couple days in Airlie Beach for the first time in our Adventure, we suffered from multiple days of boredom and nasty weather.

We left Airlie Beach a little disappointed and ready for some excitement.

An over night train took us to Brisbane. The train was an experience. We met a nice backpacker from Switzerland with some advice on New Zealand and actually slept well, thanks to Mr.Benadryl.

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Due to our Hostel experience in Airlie Beach we splurged in Brisbane and got a nice hotel/apartment with a city view.

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Our two days in Brisbane were lovely. We explored the town walking over the footbridge to the South Bank onto Streets Beach through the farmers market back to the main mall area. The Streets Beach is a man made beach set in the city on the water front. It looks real, equipped with sand and all!

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Second day in Brisbane we ventured to the Koala Sanctuary, where we encountered Koalas and Kangaroos and many other animals native of Australia.

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Funky bird.

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Wombat.

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Hand feeding a Wallaby.

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Check out his biceps!

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Sheldon the HOMIE!

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These lizards were very brave just hanging around the park waiting for someone to drop some food.

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Kookaburra Bird.

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Tasmanian Devil nap time.

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We had a blast at the Koala Sanctuary! Meeting Sheldon was amazing and feeding the Kangaroos was epic. Oh yeah, when we put our order in for the picture with Sheldon, we somehow got bumped up to the best package that included a calendar! HA HA!! We were pumped for that!

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It was exciting to get out and explore the city and escape that cyclone weather! The next day we had our last destination of our Adventure ahead of us. New Zealand here we come.

Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef

We arrived in Cairns very tired after our terrible night of sleep and 6am flight, but so happy to see the sun! We took the airport shuttle to our hotel, the High Chaparral and were pleased to see that Cairns looked like a nice, inviting city for our next 5 days stay. We arrived at our hotel and came upon our room with air conditioning, a large, clean bed, and a kitchenette…we were in heaven. This was much better than a damp campervan.

Although we were tired, we decided to explore some and find lunch. Cairns like I said is a nice, inviting city which is small but packs in many things; mainly restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, and of course the oceanfront esplanade complete with a swimming lagoon (you can’t swim in the ocean due to deadly jelly fish). Being that this is Australia and we’ve gotten our fair warning that everything is designed to kill you, deadly warnings against such things as jelly fish, snakes, stingrays, sharks, etc. are expected by now.

The next day we had to find a place to watch the 49ers vs. Seahawks game as Andrew is a huge 49ers fan. Accounting for the time difference, he made me get up around 6am and paraded me around the city to find a place playing the game. We finally found the Casino which didn’t open until 9 so we had breakfast while we waited.

Once we got into the Casino to watch the game, it was quite the setting. A movie theater type set up made for a pretty comfortable game and we were later joined by some fellow NFL fans to watch the game with.

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Our next day in Cairns was fit to be our best, and boy did it deliver. We booked a Great Barrier Reef tour with a company called Reef Experience which included not only snorkeling, but also an introductory dive for anyone who wanted to try. The trip promised 2 locations and pretty much a full day of reef exploring along with breakfast and lunch.

We woke up bright and early in order to catch the 7:10 pick up shuttle outside our hotel. After arriving at the dock, we were ushered through their wonderful on-boarding process which included help every step of the way: signing the waiver, picking a wet suit, picking flippers, finding a seat, and even a run down of what was to come. Needless to say we weren’t used to this type of service coming from SEA, but either way it was astonishingly efficient and helpful.

We then departed with a great breakfast and coffees in hand. The way out to the reef there were many presentations including snorkeling instruction, dive introduction, camera introduction, and even a marine biology lesson about what you would see out on the reef. We were also welcomed to explore the huge, beautiful catamaran that we were riding to the reef (so of course we took some photos).

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Once we got to our first location, it was time to suit up because Andrew and I were in the first scuba diving group. Everyone (including snorkelers) were given wet suits, or as they call them stinger suits. Andrew and I got into ours, put our masks on and we were ready to embark on our first ever scuba dive.

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We headed back to the dive deck and the staff outfitted us with weight belts and air tanks before we plunged into the water for our lesson and skills test.

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We “rolled” into the water and held onto the rope next the boat in order to begin our lesson. Our instructor took us underwater one at a time to practice breathing and skills including emptying our snorkel masks of any water and how to clear our mouth piece if it gets water in it as well.

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After the lessons and skills tests, it was time for the 20 minute dive. I’ll admit, I didn’t last. I only did about 10-15 minutes and decided it was time for me to say sayonara and opt for some comfortable snorkeling. The feeling of being weighed down so far underwater just wasn’t something I could feel comfortable with for very long.

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Luckily Andrew took to the diving and stuck it out for the whole time. He was rewarded by seeing a shark on his first dive. At the second location Andrew opted to dive again. Andrew was the only person on the boat who was brave enough to take a second dive which made for a great experience. The dive ended up being a 40 minute one-on-one dive and they went about 40 feet down. The instructor was even impressed and couldn’t believe it was only his second time diving!

Now for the actual sights of the Great Barrier Reef. I hate to disappoint, but it is honestly very hard for me to put into words. The sights you see are just like the pictures and videos, only better. The colors are the most vibrant you’ve ever seen, the animals are incredibly intriguing, and to sit and watch this beautiful living system at work is honestly one of the most amazing, if not the most amazing, things I’ve ever seen in my life. We didn’t get many pictures of the animals that would really do them justice and I apologize for that. However, it was a wonderful feeling not to worry about taking pictures or talking to your partner about what you were seeing, but rather to just plain experience what was happening in front of us. It was magic and definitely an experience neither of us will ever forget. To top it all off, I saw a sting ray which is something even the boat staff couldn’t say that they had all seen!

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However, not to completely disappoint, there was one reef animal that pretty much stole the show. This is Frank and he is a huge, cuddly fish who lives at the reef and greets the Reef Experience crew every time they visit. I was even able to pet him!

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All in all, it was a wonderful day that actually lived up to all of our expectations. If our excitement and awe could be captured in one picture, I think this would be it…

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After a very exciting and long day, we were headed back to Cairns. An added bonus of our trip was the wine and cheese they served on the way back to town.

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Our trip to the reef ended up being one of the best days of our whole trip, no question. If you’ve ever had one of those days that make you look at your life differently while being speechless at the same time, then you know how I feel about visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Its just something you have to do!

Darwin, Australia – Reverse Culture Shock, a Campervan, and Beautiful Sights

We arrived in the Darwin airport around 6pm after a flight from Bali and a 2.5 hour time change. Being our 12th flight during this trip, we basically have the routine down; bags, passports, boarding passes, transport to hotel. What we weren’t prepared for was the feeling of being back in a first world country.

I’d heard/read the phrase “reverse culture shock” many times, but to be honest I didn’t really understand how coming back to the familiarities of our society would be any sort of shock. Coming back from Ecuador when I studied abroad in college, I didn’t remember feeling that way. Maybe it was where we had been, or the lack of Americans we had hung out with, or maybe even we were just getting used to the way of life in Asia; whatever it was, we got hit hard in the Darwin Airport.

As I know how weird this concept sounded to me when I read about it prior to this trip, I will try to explain it as best I can. To be blunt, I was disgusted. Smiling at one another was much less common, I could hear all of the stupid, self-centered, and materialistic conversations around me, and to be honest, it felt very strange to no longer be one of the only white people in the room. I’m hoping that these realizations are a reflection of at least some of the lessons Andrew and I have learned from this trip and I don’t mean to offend anyone. Bottom line, I want to make a point to smile at people more, focus on what is important, and be more aware of the norms which we have become so accustomed to which often make others feel out of place or even unwelcome.

After reeling a bit from the change, we were still happy to be back in the land of water we can drink and signs and people that we can understand! We had booked a hostel for our first night and we caught the $28 airport shuttle (outrageous!) to our destination. We were greeted with a very dorm-like room in a hostel on the main bar street in Darwin…which cost $60…back in the western world indeed.

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After hearing some great things about the nearby National Park, Kakadu, we had planned on renting a campervan and exploring the park for the 3 days we had before flying on to Cairns. After some expensive dinner, we set out to talk to some locals about what our best bet would be as far as rental companies and routes. We quickly found out that being currently wet season in Darwin, Kakadu might not be the best idea for a self-guided tour since much of it would be flooded…our plans were foiled.

However, only about an hour outside of Darwin was another beautiful park called Litchfield. Although Litchfield is smaller, we were told we could see many beautiful landmarks and run much less risk of being stuck somewhere due to flooding. Problem solved!

The next morning we woke up nice and early and headed over to the nearby Travelers Autobarn to rent a campervan. Luckily, they had 1 van left, the “Chubby”. After paying the equivalent of 1 months rent in Thailand, we were off in our campervan to explore the Australian Outback!

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We made a quick stop at the grocery store and stocked up on essentials for our 3 day adventure. Then it was off to navigate to Litchfield while driving on the wrong side of the road in a manual van from the 70s…good times. :) (Hence Andrew’s slightly uneasy smile in the above picture)

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After making it to Litchfield, we found a nice campsite to stay for the night. It was already about 5pm so we decided to set up camp for the night and take on the park the next day. It rained most of the night, but we were lucky to have cover and a cement slab to camp on…so luxurious! ;)

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(Cooking dinner…ignore the burnt grilled cheese :) )

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(Our chicken friend who we fondly nicknamed Rosie.)

After our first successful night of camping, it was off to explore Litchfield the next morning. The first stop was the Magnetic Termite Mounds. Although this may sound boring, it is pretty crazy that these small animals build such huge mounds as homes. All of the mounds are faced North-South so that there is always somewhere that the sun is not hitting and the termites can stay cool…pretty genius for a blind animal the size of an ant.

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(Fields of Termite Mounds make for a cemetary-like setting)

After a downpour started (as often happened with the monsoon rains of Australian wet season), we headed off in the Chubby. Next up was Buley Rockhole, with beautiful waterfalls and pools.

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After admiring Buley, we hit up Florence Falls. After seeing the view from the lookout, we headed down to the swimming hole and watched some brave souls climb the rocks in order to jump into the huge, pool below the falls.

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As it got later in the day, it was raining more and more and some of the roads were getting slightly flooded. We decided to head over to the west side of the park to a campground we had heard good things about just to make sure we found it before either we couldn’t get to it, or it got dark out (it is advised not  to drive in the outback after dark because that is when the Wallabies and the Kangaroos are known to wander onto the road looking for food).

We drove through the park to the other side and as we did we got to see our first Wallaby! Unfortunately, it hopped away too fast for us to get a picture, but it was pretty awesome! We ended up seeing quite a few more during our time at Litchfield, but the first one is always the most exciting.

Then, we found our campground, Litchfield Safari. We pulled up to a quiet, almost abandoned looking campground to be greeted by Don and his two dogs. Don was a character, as I guess anyone would be if they lived in the middle of nowhere… Don’s large dog did not seem very welcoming, however Don assured us that he had never bitten anyone in his whole life and invited us in. Luckily, the dog was a lover and we ended up getting to pet him a bit. We asked the dog’s name and Don replied, “Twodads, like 2 dads.” Andrew and I laughed, confused. Don said, “Ya know, cuz he has 2 dads.” Again, confused laughs. I assumed that Don must be telling us that he is gay…not something I was expecting. However later Don cleared the confusion by telling us that he was a mix of so many breeds he had to have at least 2 dads, if not 4 or 5. Still did not completely make sense, but at least we had cleared up the sexual orientation mix up…lol.

Don sent us off to pick whichever site we wanted since we were the first ones at the campground that night. We picked our spot and started making dinner. Tonight, it was spaghetti. Almost as soon as we opened the back of the van, it started raining which made for an entertaining dinner preparation as we had no cover this time. We quickly made our dinner and jumped in the van to enjoy it along with a glass of cheap wine.

Sidenote: Alcohol is really expensive in Australia, especially beer. We recently saw a case of PBR-type beer going for $42…guess we’ll be waiting until we get home for another good beer.

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We spent the rest of the evening reading and watching my new favorite show, Scandal which I downloaded on my kindle. It was a classic, relaxing camping night.

The next morning as we were making breakfast, Don came over to bid us farewell and give us a little bit of warning and advice. The heavy rains overnight had caused some of the waterways to rise and make some of the roads flood. Don let us know how to tell how high the water was and how much water he thought our van could get through. With this warning in mind, Andrew and I decided to pack up and get a move on it to see our last couple of sights so we could make sure to get out of the park and back to Darwin for our 6:00am flight the next morning.

Our first stop was Wangi Falls.

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Since the wet season had flooded most of the area and there were croc warnings all over the place, we made the stop pretty quick and headed off for Tolmer Falls. Unfortunately, it started to rain pretty hard while we were there which cut our visit short and we agreed this was the most beautiful waterfall of them all. Either way, we still got to see it in all its glory!

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After departing from Tolmer, we were off to make our way back to Darwin. We crossed a couple places where there was water in the road, but nothing too big.

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I had no idea what we were up against until we started approaching Aida Creek Crossing. The road looked like a river was running over it. However, we had run into a park ranger earlier who had told us that there was a small car in front of us waiting to cross Aida when it went down. The car was no where in site, so we figured it had crossed. Before I had enough time to object, Andrew started driving through the water as I covered my eyes and prayed that we made it though. Luckily, we did. I can honestly say that was one of the scariest moments of my life and I’d gladly never do it again.

Of course that wasn’t the end though. Shortly thereafter we came across another flooded road with even more water that looked like it had a cross current. Again, I panicked, Andrew drove, I covered my eyes, and we somehow made it though. I will repeat, I never want to do that again.

We made it back to Darwin and had time to go grab dinner and hang out downtown for a while. Since you could only rent the campervan for a minimum of 5 days, we had asked the rental company if we could just sleep in the parking lot that last night since we had such an early flight. They let us know that it was in fact illegal, but that wasn’t to say that people hadn’t done it before. We decided to be rebels and go ahead and get our short nights sleep in the van before our 4am airport shuttle pick up.

It ended up being the worst night’s sleep either of us had ever had. We were so paranoid that we were going to get caught, it was hot and muggy, and being Saturday night there were drunk people walking by and yelling all night. We gladly packed our things up at 3:30 in the morning and jumped in the shuttle after having a hilarious conversation with a drunk Australian outside our van. Needless to say, I don’t think we’ll be doing that again.

Next up, off to Cairns, the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef!

Lombok and Gili Air – Farwell to Asia and New Travel Plans!

After a wonderful time in Ubud it was time to leave again in order to make it to the famous Gili Islands. The Gili islands are known for their beauty and we had heard many great things about them from other travelers during our trip.

The weather had been unpredictable for the past week or so and we had to decide to either take a fast boat from Bali to the Gilis (takes about 3.5 hours), or to take a plane (30 minute flight). We decided to go with the safe route and booked plane tickets to and from the airport in Lombok, after which we would continue onto the Gilis via a much shorter boat ride (about 25 minutes). The plane tickets were only about $25 each, so for us it was a no brainer to go the safer route.

We were lucky enough to meet up with our wonderful friend Mia in Lombok as she had been in the Gilis for about a week by this point. We only stayed one night in the sleepy, surfer town of Kuta (not to be confused with the Kuta on Bali) on the island of Lombok. However, in one night we were able to meet some great people staying at our guesthouse and take in a beautiful sunset.

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The next morning we were up bright and early to take a car to the boat ramp in order to get over to the beautiful Gilis. Mia had also met a friend while in the Gilis named Eskild from Norway and he wanted to join as well, the more the merrier!

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(Andrew and Eskild waiting for the boat)

The Gilis are comprised of 3 islands; Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T). We decided to head to Gili Air. Gili T is known for its parties, Gili Meno is very quiet and nicknamed the “Honeymoon Island”, and Gili Air is rumored to be somewhere in the middle. We hopped on the public boat which cost less than $2 each and were lucky to have a smooth ride over to Gili Air which only took about 20 minutes.

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As the only way over to the islands is via boat, we were joined by many locals hauling all sorts of products over to the islands. We were also joined by a few chickens!

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After arriving on the island, we were off to find lodging in true backpacker style; everything on our backs and no shoes…

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After a long, sweaty walk around the island getting prices we decided to splurge since this would be the last time we could get a beautiful room at such a low price. A pool, air conditioning, a beautiful shower with hot water…its the little things :)

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After settling in, we had 3 days of vacation to enjoy this beautiful island. We made no hard plans, slept in, tried new restaurants, and went to the beach every day.

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(A “Gili Ferrari”)

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(Gili Paradise)

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(Being goof balls on the beach)

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(Having beers and fun times as always with Mia)

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(Sunset watching despite the clouds)

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We found some locals who wanted to hang out even though we wouldn’t buy their magic mushrooms…hahaha.

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After a lot of relaxing and a sad “goodbye for now” to our friend Mia, it was time to head back to Lombok in order to catch our flight back to Bali and then on to the next adventure, Australia! Our boat ride back over to Lombok was considerably less calm and even scary at times which made us very glad that we had gone with the flight option back to Bali! Luckily, we made it back safe and sound.

We stayed one last night in a super cheap homestay in Senggigi, Lombok complete with 2 amenities we had yet to experience in Asia; a mosquito net and an outdoor bathroom.

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Leaving Asia was bittersweet; we knew we would miss the low prices but we were definitely looking forward to western comforts. Knowing that the first and largest portion of our trip was complete was pretty sad. However, we’d been throwing around the idea of adding New Zealand to the end of our trip and guess what…we did! Andrew has some family outside of Wellington and once we had gotten the okay-to-go from them via email, we took the jump and changed our tickets home!

So bye bye Asia, hello Australia and then, New Zealand!!!

Ubud, Bali (Round 2) – Books, Crafts, Dance, Bikes and a Wedding

After walking back and forth on Legian Road in the rain with our packs on, we finally found the Perama Tours stand that offered the bus back to Ubud. We booked the hour or so ride back and got the last two seats on the bus, we were more than pumped to get out of Kuta, Bali.

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Being that we were just in Ubud four days ago, we knew exactly where we wanted to be and how to get there. Lucky for us the bus stop wasn’t a far walk from the Jembawan House, the guesthouse we stayed in our first go around in Ubud.

It rained on and off the first few days back, we ventured to a local bookstore, and I got a book. The Black Box, by Michael Connelly, Caitlin had been reading Eat, Pray, Love on the Kindle. We both finished our books in like three days or so. Since then Caitlin is now reading The Black Box, and we picked up another book at the store, The Racketeer by John Grisham. Reading at night has become one of our favorite past times.

In between rainstorms we did explore Ubud and visited this temple, Puri Saraswati.

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I had been wanting to take a painting class since Chiang Mai, Thailand, so we did some research and Caitlin found a studio that offered all sorts of arts and crafts, and dance… Caitlin hearts dance if you don’t know… So of course we signed up for some classes; Silver jewelry making class together in the am, painting and dancing classes in the afternoon.

Caitlin made an infinity ring.

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I made a Buddha Pendant.

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For the afternoon session, Caitlin took the traditional Balinese dance class which included wearing traditional Balinese attire. She said it was very different from all of the dance she has taken in the states as the positions are very different and it involves a lot of eye and neck movement. I think she had a wonderful time and the smile on her face is a pretty good indicator.

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I finally got my wish to take a painting class. It happened to be a one on one class, due to the fact that I was the only person to sign up for that class that day. Although I enjoyed the class, the instructor painted the picture along with me, and due to his little english, the direction wasn’t really there. I had a better time in the jewelry making class, due to the fact that I could be creative and complete the project myself for the most part. The lady did solder the pendant together for me.

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We had heard great things from other travelers about the biking tours in Ubud and being back in the town we decided to find out. After a couple google searches we decided on Bingtang Tours. The tour included a visit to a coffee plantation to drink “special coffee” and biking through rice fields with a tour guide.

Our tour guide Oki picked us up in the am from our guest house and drove us out to the coffee plantation. (Oki was a great tour guide and a awesome person. We are now facebook friends.) At the plantation they had many plants growing and it was really cool to see up close and in person. From cinnamon trees, pineapples trees, jackfruit trees, vanilla, black pepper, and coffee berries.

The main attraction at this plantation and what Caitlin and I had come to see was the Luwak. The Luwak is a furry little creature that lives in Indonesia. Best described as a nocturnal, small possum/ferret combo. They love to get jacked up on the coffee berries and the locals love to make coffee from their stool.

We have been drinking instant coffee for the majority of this trip. So when I had heard of this coffee as described as “strong and good” I was more than excited to get my hands on it.

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In addition to one cup of “poop coffee” each, we sampled a flight of the many other flavors they produce. We were now jacked and ready to bike through rice fields and the rural towns of Ubud.

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We continued to the Kintamani restaurant where we had a snack and picked out our bikes and helmets. With Mt. Batur visible in the distance we took off through the rural landscape and headed toward the rice fields. The biking tour was very enjoyable we saw apart of Bali that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Oki’s main goal from the beginning was to make “sweet memories” for us. He did just that.

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After about 2.5 to 3 hours downhill, uphill, through small villages, rice fields, traffic and many high fives to passing children on the roads we were exhausted. Lunch was included and it tasted like heaven, actually it was a great meal. We highly recommend the bike tour with Bingtang Tours. Do it! It is fun!

Our last day we woke up earlier than usual and got out of the guesthouse to track down a flight to Lombok. As we walked out we ran into our guesthouse owner she was all dressed up looking beautiful. After a quick chat she mentioned she would be attending her cousin’s wedding later in the afternoon and invited us to tag along. We were excited and accepted her invitation agreeing to meet back at the house around 1:30pm.

After some mushroom scramble eggs, quiche, coffee and a lassie we figured out why our attempts at purchasing flights have failed. Due to the airline’s website being down and not being able to book less than 48 hours in advance we booked a flight through Perama Tours. Since we had done so much research aka tried to booked flights on our own we knew what price we should get. Surprisingly Perama didn’t tack much on top of the ticket prices at all. Flights booked. Lombok see you soon.

Back at the guesthouse we found our Bali family home with traditional Balinese outfits for each of us to wear at the wedding. WE WERE PUMPED TO HAVE TRADITIONAL OUTFITS!

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They hooked us up with a motorbike as well to follow them to the event.

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Attending the wedding was a great cultural experience. We enjoyed it very much and were honored to be able to attend such an event. Here are some photos from our experience.

The priest blessing the bride and groom.

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Our view from our seats.

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We made new friends that were sitting by us. Everyone is so friendly!

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With the bride and groom.

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With the bride.

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Overall the wedding was such a treat to attend. It is crazy to think of strangers being so welcomed at a wedding in the states. That just wouldn’t happen. People are just so awesome here, I mean we got photos together with perfect strangers on their big day! That is mind-blowing.

Kuta, Bali – Stinky Room, Loud Neighbors, Happy New Year.

We packed our bags and jumped in the car headed to Kuta. Our guest house owner offered to give us a ride to Kuta the night before, we agreed to ride with him for about 15 bucks. The drive was a little over a hour, so of course I fell asleep.

I woke up around the time we pulled up to Wrung Coco, our next so called home. We checked into room 6 located next to the pool, we were hypnotized by the pool. It took awhile for the stench in our room to reach deep into our noses. About the time we noticed, the employee showing us our room cut the “entrance tour” short and rushed back to the reception. Yup our room smelt like shit. At first we were like maybe someone dropped one off right before we arrived. That was not the case. Our bathroom was damp, gross and had a smell that would knockout Mr. Clean.

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Everything we heard about Kuta before we arrived was bad. We tried our best to always keep in mind that others might not enjoy places that we would or will.. We got bad reviews before we arrived in Phuket and unfortunately we agreed with them, so we were keeping our fingers crossed about Kuta.

During our time in Kuta we swam in the pool, ate from the restaurants around the hotel, and met up with Mia (our swedish friend from a ways back in our travels) to ring in the New Year. She was staying in Seminyak (a beach down the way from us) with her sister and her boyfriend.

After a couple failed attempts to connect with Mia, due to traffic and cab drivers not wanting to go out to our spot or hers. Mia finally showed up via a motorbike taxi the night before New Year’s Eve. We exchanged stories with each other of our travels over some brews. We had been in Malaysia and she had been to KL to pick up her sister and then headed to Bali. Anyway, we ended up checking out the night life after that chat. We checked out some of the clubs with the live bands that cover popular American songs, it is hilarious. They butcher those songs all night. Incredible sight. I was embarrassed for them, and in aw that they thought they were good, they were rockstars that night..

We checked out a couple more clubs and danced our faces off, this place is an Australian frat boy get away destination. These dudes really drink smirnoff ice (vodka mixed drink in a bottle) with straws in them. I could only handle so much of this. Leaving the club Caitlin stiffed armed three young children as they tried to put their hands in our pockets to steal our belongings, as their mother tried to distract us with some bullshit item in her hands. We were warned ahead of time that this would happen to us. Thank you Mia for the advice. Before arriving at the hotel we stopped for a BBQ sausage dog, it was amazing. I remember taking notes on what was used to create the wonderful snack.

New Years Eve we planned to spend it with Mia, she invited us to a dinner out in Seminyak with her family and some swedish friends. In order to get to this dinner party we had to take a motorbike taxi to Mia’s place and then grab a taxi to the party, it was raining and we had slammed three people on it, Caitlin, me and the driver. The whole time I was hanging off the back of that motorbike laughing wet, thinking my mother would be so mad at me right now.

We made it safe and sound and enjoyed our time very much at the dinner party. The sweet bungalow/pent house was amazing. They kept the good music bumping throughout this beautiful space. Oh yeah the food was amazing, they had a professional chef come over a whip up the best meal we had had in a long time.

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The plan seemed to be taking us to a newer night club in the town called Town House where most of the party had a table in a VIP room… So we headed to the club racing the clock to ring in the New Year. Turned out myself, Mia, and Caitlin didn’t have tickets to attend this cool table, (would have been cool if we were told that tickets were purchased) oh well we rang the New Year in with the staff at the front door in the rain. The staff pulled out some crazy fireworks and passed out bottles of champagne and we yelled “HAPPY NEW YEARS!”

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We planned on ringing in the New Year with a buzz and booked one more night in advance in Kuta (this was before we made it to Kuta) figuring we wouldn’t want to have a travel day with a hangover. We didn’t even party like that, since we didn’t want to party hard into 2014 we headed back to the hotel.

Overall Kuta wasn’t the best experience for us. It rained like 90% of the time we were there, and we found ourselves in a spring breakers destination, too much partying and loud music. Our neighbors were the lovely type that woke up around 3pm and got back to their room around 6am yelling “We Are In BALI!” We did bump into them at a club one night, and I made it a point to mention that they were loud. That didn’t get across to him apparently..

(Sidenote : Caitlin’s words)
Oh yeah the beach was trashed. Rubbish everywhere, it seemed to wash up in the ocean. Unfortunately Bali is a destination which is literally being “loved to death”. The large influx of tourists means that 1. different types of products are being shipped in to meet their (our) needs (i.e. plastics, glass bottles, etc.); and 2. the businesses not having the infrastructure to take care of such large amounts of trash that include very foreign and non-biodegradable items, resort to dumping the trash in the rivers. The island of Bali is in dyer need of eco-tourism practices on a very large scale and unfortunately the trash all over the beach is a HUGE blinking sign of the destruction to come.

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We did have one of the strongest wifi connections ever in the adventure. So we took advantage of it and watched a movie. Oh yeah I woke up early one morning to catch the Duck game as well. Don’t question my fan-hood. Go Ducks!

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Our time in Kuta had came to it’s end. We couldn’t of been happier. We decided to head back to Ubud, that creative, cool, happy town we fell in love with. But not before we packed our bags on our backs and hike/get told the wrong way a couple times to the bus station in the rain. You know the “back packer” thing.

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Ubud, Bali – Soulshine Festival and Positive Vibes

After about 2.5 hours of shut eye, our alarm yells out, reminding us we have a travel day ahead of us. Travel days are the worst days, especially with little sleep. Since we lived on the top of McDonald’s we crawled downstairs with our packs on and settled for egg mcmuffins and coffee and headed for the sky train. This particular morning we headed out early, in order to ensure we made it to the airport on time, this would come in handy. We were instructed by our hostel owner or dude that sits at the front desk, to take the sky train to KL Sentral get off there and catch a coach bus to the airport. Lucky for us the sky train stopped right in front of our wonderful hostel (joke) we jumped on board and had about 5 stops until KL Sentral. About the time we arrived at KL Sentral, Caitlin had finally started to wake up and reached in her pocket for her phone to check our flight info. Yeah you guessed it, she left it on the bed when we left for coffee. At first I pondered the idea of just leaving it and chalking it up to the “travel” game, but the look on Caitlin’s face said otherwise.

We were about 25 min or so into our travel day, and had time to spare so we rode that bad boy back to the hostel. Caitlin waited at platform with the bags as I ran down the road and back up on top of McDonald’s to that lovely hostel we spent two nights in.

Fast forward. We got to the airport with plenty of time, but probably ordered some food that took longer than expected and might have went the wrong way down the run way but turned around and ran back in time to catch our flight.. Off to Bali!!!!!

Flying into Bali was beautiful.

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Caitlin had booked our next spot on hostelworld.com and when we confirmed they offered to pick us up at the airport, I love being picked up, looking for your name on that paper in your driver’s hand is always an exciting game. Caitlin’s name was on the paper when we arrived.

The car drive from the airport had took about a hour or so, when we arrived in Ubud our driver took us to a hostel we weren’t familiar with. Turns out he was taking us to his brother’s guest houses instead of his (the one we initially booked online) due to over booking.

Lucky for us this guest house was awesome, and a huge upgrade from the last spot we called home. If we were going to get bed bugs I swear it should of happened in KL. This Bali bungalow was heaven with a courtyard take a look.

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Our first day in Ubud we rented a motorbike to get to the Green School for the volunteer meeting the day before the event. After getting some directions from what seemed like everyone in the town that would listen to me and pretend to know what I was talking about, who all offered me a “yeah go straight” and pointed onward. After we had gone straight for about a half an hour weaving around traffic and dogs, a fellow motorbiker and gentleman pointed us back into the correct direction and even lead us most of the way to the school. We pulled up with another couple on a motorbike, about 15 minutes late to the meeting, but hey they were Oregonians too.

During our three day stay in Ubud we volunteered at the two day Soulshine Festival. A music and environmental festival dedicated to sustainability for Bali and the world which benefited Bumi Sehat, natural birthing clinics in Bali and Aceh, Indonesia. Held at the world-renowned Green School Bali. Funds raised were contributed to the Green School’s Indonesian Scholarship Fund, which provides free education for Indonesian children.

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At the meeting we were introduced to the other volunteers and were given our assignments/groups and met our group leaders for the festival. Caitlin was assigned to the Speakers group, and I was assigned to the Yoga group. Caitlin had a cool and useful position, she met with the speakers before they went on and uploaded their powerpoints to the computer. She met some very interesting people doing very interesting things, one gentleman was working with a company to turn garbage into low income houses, and the director of the Green School spoke, Caitlin really enjoyed his talk, and might have got star struck by him. Just a little.

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Oh yeah we met Michael Franti as well. The headliner for the festival. He is amazing.

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The next day aka the first day of the festival, we decided to ditch the motorbike and take the shuttle to the Green School, this would allow us to drink if we choose too, and kept us from driving the motorbike home in the dark. We got up early that morning because Caitlin’s shift started at 10am, we figured we would just walk to the shuttle… Ha Ha. After a venture around monkey forest and a hour later we found the shuttle. To say the least it was a journey neither of us will forget..

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The festival was super fun, we are both glad we were apart of it. Here are some photos from our time at the event:

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Caitlin posting the line-up of speakers.

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Michael Franti kicking it in the lawn participating in the drum circle.

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That day was super long for us starting with our morning hike to the shuttle, and returning home late in the morning. We were super exhausted from being on our feet all day, and then dancing our faces off when the music started. Since we were so exhausted we decided not to show up to our shifts the next day at the festival, shh don’t tell anyone. Instead we slept in, rented a motorbike for the day, had lunch next to some rice fields, explored some more and got stuck in traffic. Caitlin and I fell in love with Ubud at first sight, I will never forget the feeling we had when we arrived. Ubud is magically, positive, and beautiful. We promised ourselves we would be back for some more, only after we head to Kuta to meet up with Mia for New Years.

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Penang and Kuala Lumpur – Eating Our Way Through Malaysia

After our wonderful time in Koh Lanta, we had a journey ahead of us in order to get to Penang, Malaysia. We jumped in a minivan around 8am and just hoped to get to Penang by midnight. Per usual, we took a few different minivans with many transfers, sat very uncomfortably for a few hours next to the luggage, and luckily made it across the slightly sketchy and very stinky boarder to Malaysia.

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We arrived around 11pm and nothing was open so in true backpacker style we ate our last cup of noodles and a lara bar for dinner. Luckily, being in the food capital of SEA as some deem it, we were able to eat some amazing food the rest of our time in Malaysia which is why the rest of this post will mostly focus on just that, food.

Before we get into the food, I would like to mention that we didn’t have the nicest rooms in Malaysia. I’m sure this is not indicative of the whole country, but for some reason our lodgings just weren’t very good at all. However, this as well is part of the backpacker life and we managed to survive a very small room (Penang, below) and also a very crappy room (KL, didn’t take any pictures of that one).

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We did however have a sweet Christmas tree which was pretty much the first piece of Christmas we’d seen so far. Merry Christmas 2013!

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Now on to the food! From the first hour of exploring Penang we were already very aware of the Indian presence. Being that Penang was once a British colony, the area attracted many Indians which has a heavy influence on the food scene. So fittingly, we went to a traditional Indian restaurant, had Tandoori chicken and garlic naan and ate with our hands. It was amazing!

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Later that day, we visited a beautiful mosque in the middle of the city during our exploring. We learned a bit about the muslim faith as the museum guide was extremely helpful and informative. He also dressed me up in their version of the temple attire I’d become oh so familiar with in Thailand. When I asked if I needed to cover my head he replied, “No, but we will put this on you so that you can take a picture in it.” Love it!

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Next, for dinner we went out to the food carts to explore. I will confess, we watched the Anthony Bourdain ‘No Reservations’ episode about Penang for some cues. However, food carts are so big here in SEA, I’m sure we would have ended up there anyway. One of the more interesting things we tried included self-cooked jellyfish from one of the carts.

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Next, we followed dear Anthony’s instructions (along with my friend Carly’s!) to go to a little place called Line Clear. This Nasi Kandar restaurant, which is really more of a glorified food cart, has been around since 1930 and is a whole foriegn experience in itself. You walk in to be greeted by a large line of people waiting to get in, which is usually a good sign in my book. Once you reach the front of the line, you are shepherded through the “ordering” process which includes choosing from the wide array of rices, meats, seafood, and vegetables. It is like a potluck style dinner, except they are spooning your food for you, and for us, you have no clue what you are choosing. After all is on the plate, the sauces from all of the different dishes you picked are poured on top.

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This turns out to be a HUGE portion and unfortunately Andrew and I didn’t quite bring enough appetite for it. (I recommend sharing) Also, I’m a little ashamed to say that I wasn’t a huge fan….However, everyone else in the restaurant seemed to love it and finished every bit, so Line Clear will always have business in Malaysia!

On our last day in Penang, we made it our mission to find the famous Laksa; a fishy soup that is unique to Malaysia and was of course featured in ‘No Reservations’. We asked our hostel owner and being a huge Laksa fan, he took the day of the week and time of day into account before sending us over to his favorite Laksa restaurant. He also urged us to try the Chendul.

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We arrived at the restaurant and ordered Laksa, Chendol, and a bonus Banana leaf dish. We basically enjoyed a Malaysian party in our mouths for the next hour. First, the Laksa. This soup has such a distinct and forceful taste that there is no question as to why it is so unique to Penang. We came to find out later that most foreigners don’t actually like Laksa because of the strong fish taste and smell, but we loved it! (For this, I think I gained back my points from disliking Line Clear.)

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Next, we dove into the banana leaf dish. I’d describe it as a custard or pudding consistency with chunks of white fish and a distinct tamarind taste.

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Then for the chendol. This sweet treat was delightful and consisted of a milky liquid, green noodles, kidney beans, sugar, a tapioca-like substance, and shaved ice. It was like a dessert noodle soup. It was a delicious end to our meal!

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After this lovely and very Penang meal, it was time to strap on our backpacks and head to the capital, Kuala Lumpur. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that this is the first time that we had to walk any more than a few hundred feet with our bags. I guess we finally took part in the backpacker right of passage; carrying everything you have on your back through a foriegn city.

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After navigating Penang’s public transit system to the airport, we boarded the plane to KL. Once we arrived, we were greeted by the busy, hectic, and chaotic streets of Kuala Lumpur. To us it resembled the downtown area of New York or LA. Needless to say this wasn’t something we were used to seeing at this point in our travels. The city was littered with huge McDonalds and KFC signs.

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We bypassed the fast food restaurants and headed out in search of some good ‘ol Malaysian food carts. Of course it didn’t take long to find them and in true Anthony Bourdain style we sat down and ordered a couple of Tiger beers along with some sea snails and satay.

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If you couldn’t tell from my face, sea snails are pretty hard to suck out of their shell. I was basically unsuccessful, but luckily the sauce they are in is delicious so I got to enjoy that perk!

That night we continued on our food tour by trying barbecued frog. Honestly, it wasn’t something either of us would buy again, but it didn’t taste bad with some hot sauce.

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The next day, we woke up, grabbed some nearby starbucks and decided to go find the famous twin towers of Kuala Lumpur.

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Our room was terrible, but it was smack in the middle of the city which made the towers pretty easy to find. We joined many tourists in marveling at the beautiful towers from the nearby courtyard.

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We then decided to get some refuge from the heat in the nearby mall. Being Christmas Eve, the mall was in full last-minute-shopping force. Even though Malaysia is overwhelmingly Muslim, they do celebrate Christmas and many people buy gifts for each other. Even though it was kind of a pain to navigate through the crowds, it was nice to have a little taste of Christmas cheer.

That evening, we met up with my friend Elaine, a Malaysian native who I met in Portland but has since moved back to KL. Elaine picked a fancy restaurant where we could have drinks and admire the twin towers from a little closer up. Unfortunately when we all arrived, they wouldn’t let Andrew up because he wasn’t wearing long pants. Andrew offered to go back and change while we sat down and had a drink. After a couple of times offering, I obliged and Elaine and I went up to grab a table.

Andrew ended up going on quite an adventure aka getting lost in a huge town while dodging ladyboys and what seemed like millions in the streets shooting silly string in each other’s faces.  Luckily he made it back and joined us in the swanky restaurant.

From the 57th floor, we admired a wonderful view of KL and the twin towers while catching up over beers. It was a great way to ring in Christmas Day which even included midnight fireworks!

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Elaine and I had some fun reenacting some of the awesome Malaysian photo poses :)

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On our drive home we had one of those unexpected and unplanned travel moments that ends up being just as memorable, if not more than all of the planned ones. The town of KL was in absolute CHAOS now that it was Christmas. The streets were packed with people running around spraying each other with fake snow. Poor Elaine kept driving us home through the madness even though we objected, however I’m glad she did as it would have been a long trek otherwise. Although the situation was a little scary being that it seemed like a riot could break out at any moment, everyone seemed to be having fun and smiling as they sprayed each other. All in all, to me it seems that Malaysia celebrates Christmas even though it is a Christian holiday, they just celebrate it with more social activities rather than being a more family-centric that day. I apologize, we didn’t get any pictures of the craziness.

We got home and with the crazy shenanigans outside including 3am fireworks, we got about 2.5 hours of sleep before we had to wake up to make our flight to Bali.

Highlights:

  1. The Food, Of Course! With Anthony as our guide, I really feel like we broadened our palates by trying every unique Malaysian dish we could. I must say my favorite was the Laksa!
  2. Backpacking in the “Real” Asia – Malaysia is known to claim to be the “real” Asia. I’m not going to weigh in on that claim, however Andrew and I definitely felt like “real” backpackers while we were there complete with crappy hostel rooms and treks with all of our belongings on our backs.
  3. Malaysians- As we’ve said many times before, we have encountered so many friendly people on this trip and Malaysians are definitely no exception. Also seeing my favorite Malaysian, Elaine, was an added bonus!