8 Months in Taiwan

Our journey to Taiwan began in the most unlikeliest of places. A simple conversation with fellow travelers as we warmed ourselves fireside one evening at a tea house while trekking part of Nepal’s snowy Annapurna mountain range.

“There’s a small city in Taiwan called Hualien that we’ve been living in….”

The words seemed so innocuous at first, but as we began talking with our new found hiker friends, the idea of a beach town surrounded by green mountains in the tropics sounded better and better. The cold wind whistling through the tea house as we spoke certainly helped! Ah the tropics. It had been a year on the road already, and we were growing keen to the idea of stopping to rest and work for a spell. Two months in India had certainly taken their toll and our bodies and stomachs were due for break. Living out of a backpack and moving every few days is adventurous, sure, but after a while the journey can grow weary. A condition we had found ourselves slowly approaching for months.

Which brings us back to the conversation in Nepal. As time went on and we eventually made our way to China, we thought more and more of the description of Hualien we’d heard from the fellow travelers and kept in touch with them via email. After some research and deliberation, we finally pulled the trigger and decided to give it a shot. Months had gone by and we were already in China, Taiwan’s closest neighbor after all. So a short flight to Taipei and a train ride down to Hualien later, and we arrived unwittingly at our future home.

“We’ll stay three months,” we told ourselves as we settled into the local community, rented an apartment month to month and began to explore. We quickly found jobs teaching English to local Taiwanese children, an easy job for foreigners to get that pays well and offers great hours. We soon found our lives and our lifestyle transforming completely. Our typical work day lasting from 3pm-7pm, our mornings were left open to explore the amazing mountains, beaches and rivers of the spectacularly beautiful region.


On the train to Hualien.


Hualien waterfront at Chishingtan beach.


Downtown Hualien.

With so much new found time available, Daniel began writing his first novel while the local expat foreigner community embraced us with their kindness. It wasn’t long before we were hooked.

Laura’s father came to visit us just a few months after our arrival and, after a few days in Taipei, we traveled to the dramatic Toroko Gorge about twenty minutes from Hualien and various other sites in the area. The trip only helped to solidify our instant love of the unique beauty of the region and the warmth and hospitality of the people.


Laura and Dad in Taipei




No trip to Taiwan would be complete with out visiting the night market!

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Temple in Toroko Gorge


Toroko Gorge = EPIC


Bike riding to the beach through Hualien with Lauras dad.

The three month deadline came and went and after a visa run to Hong Kong we returned to new job offers at better schools for more money… the deal was sealed. Our new plan became to stay in Hualien indefinitely as Daniel would write his novel and we would use Hualien as a jumping off point to adventures throughout Southeast Asia. And why not after all? Yes we missed our friends and family greatly but neither of us missed the 60+ hour work weeks and accompanying stress that a return to America would bring. Working 20 hours a week gave us ample to time to write, work on other pursuits and also have enough time to enjoy hanging out at the beach, swimming in the crystal clear rivers and waterfalls and hiking in the mountains, ALL a fifteen minute drive from our apartment. Daniel spent 3-4 hours each morning working on his book and by July, a 900 page first draft was completed! Yes, you read that correctly. 900 pages. Here are just a few pics from our first 8 months in Taiwan. They don’t do it justice!


Cow Mountain beach. 30 minutes from Hualien.


Taking a dip.


Incredible drummers at the Toroko music festival.


Dragon boat races at Liyu Lake!


Fireworks over Hualien for Chinese New Year.


One of countless places to swim within 15 minutes of our house.


Hualien nights


Temple by our house.


Hualien oceanfront park. Our favorite thinking spot.


A parade today! And many days.


Liyu lake on a warm quiet rainy evening. So tranquil.


Another epic swim spot nearby.


Jici beach just south of Hualien.


Rinsing in the fountain with friends after a great beach volleyball game.


BBQ in the park. Makes me happy.

After a wonderful 8 months, it was time for new adventures and the proximity to so many unique countries made our decision hard. Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, the Philippines, etc., etc.. But two places had LONG been on our wish list and stood out now for being in a good weather season for visiting. The jungled island of  Borneo in Malysia and the archipelago nation of Indonesia. With flights to Borneo costing a mere $80US from Taipei and flights to Bali even LESS at $67 our decision was made. BOTH! We had six weeks off for summer break and we were going to use every last minute of it. When class ended on July 2nd we jumped a train for Taipei and flew out that night. The orangutans of Sarawak, Borneo were calling, and we were listening. To the jungle!


Kylie and Bowman who first told us about Hualien back in Nepal. Thanks Guys!

When Push Comes to Shove, From China with Love

We left Kathmandu in the early afternoon. We knew we would be crossing the entirety of mainland Asia that day, but we were ready for it.  After seemingly endless, hot and cramped multiday bus and train journeys across India we could handle anything. By early evening we were on our first flight, a three hour jaunt to Kunming. No problem. That was followed by a twelve hour layover in the airport. No problem. We found a restaurant that had closed for the night, sneaked in and slipped into a booth for a few hours rest.

wpid-p9296770.jpgSleeping in an airport restaurant booth. Classic L&D.

After being awoken at 5:50am by morning patrons we jumped our next three hour flight to complete the journey to Chinas East Coast. Easy peasy.

24 hours after leaving our hotel in Kathmandu we reached our next destination. Xi’an, China. Home of the infamous Terracotta Warriors.

We met our good friend Jillian and immediately set about refueling after the long haul, stopping at almost every street stall we passed on the way to the hostel. Meat on a stick? Check. Spicy tofu? Check. Fried potatoes? Check? MSG headache? Check.

wpid-p9306781.jpgBest fried potatoes ever!

Nepal had been especially great to us. With a developing economy, we had been lucky enough to get wonderful mountain view hotel rooms for $8/night. We soon learned that China was a whole different animal. After checking into our $60/night hostel room with wall views, we set about spending several days visiting the markets and sights of beautiful metropolitan Xi’an. An interesting and modern city, Xi’an was a pleasure to the senses and we enjoyed soaking up the modern culture for a spell before taking our next trip back in time.

No trip to Xi’an would be complete without a visit to the famous Terracotta Warriors. Built in 209 BC by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, the unbelievable LIFE SIZED statues of 8,000 Warriors, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry were built and then buried to protect the great emperor on his journey into the afterlife. Accidentally discovered by farmers digging a well in 1974, the massive army is one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.  We were excited to see them up close but had no idea what was coming next.

Though we had encountered pushy and loud Chinese tourists throughout our travels, nothing could have prepared us for visiting a Chinese tourist destination on their own soil. It’s kill or be killed out there and we found ourselves routinely shoved, intentionally elbowed and nearly crushed by Chinese tourist of all ilk looking to take pictures. From children to the elderly, it was a free for all unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We literally had to fight our way to the front of the crowds to take a picture and once there we were yanked and pulled from behind by people trying to take our position. Wow. Really? We were also fascinated by the fact that when many of the Chinese tourists finally made it to the front… they didn’t take pictures of the Warriors… they took SELFIES! And not selfies with the warriors behind them mind you, but selfies pointed the other way with the crowd behind them! A picture of them “looking” at the Warriors! So strange. The warriors were incredible. Seeing them is an experience we had craved since having first read about the incredible find decades earlier. But we will most remember our trip (unfortunately?) as the place where we got our first glimpse of Chinese tourist culture.


Terracotta Warrior time. Brendan Fraser eat your heart out!wpid-img_0412.jpg wpid-img_0422.jpg wpid-img_0438.jpg wpid-img_0481.jpg wpid-img_0493.jpg

From Xi’an we made our way back to Luoyang and our friend Jillian’s great apartment. We would spend several weeks unwinding after a full year on the road, living out of backpacks and moving every week. It was a wonderful thing. Having a private bedroom. Having a living room. Having a private bathroom. Having laundry. Having reliable wifi. Having a kitchen and the ability to cook. So many things we had done without for so long we had all at once. And it was good.

At night we would walk through the public squares and parks of the large city to see where the people gathered every night. Children played games. People practiced Tai chi. Others practiced sword techniques. Some teenagers breakdanced. Kids rode by in groups on rollerskates. Others practiced calligraphy or interesting string instruments. Classical music played as dozens of couples ballroom danced in the center of the large plazas.  Every night the residents of the city would gather outside after dinner to have fun together. It was a wonderful experience and somehow held a small town charm to it amidst a sea of huge neon lit skyscrapers.


Tai Chi and calligraphy in a Luoyang plaza after dark.

This was one of the greatest things we learned about China. Here, amidst this rapidly growing, technology driven economy, there was a preservation of tradition and community unlike anywhere else we had visited. It was unique in so many ways. And also very, very smoggy.

wpid-img_0547.jpg Luoyangs lovely air quality.wpid-img_0553.jpgOff to Beijing!

From Luoyang we headed to mighty Beijing.  We would spend a week in Beijing soaking up both the history and the modernity of Chinese culture.

We began our exploration with a visit to the massive and beautiful Forbidden City. The beautiful walled palaces of the emperors of China for over 500 years from Ming to Qing.  wpid-img_0576.jpg Into the Forbidden City!wpid-img_0621.jpg wpid-img_0661.jpg wpid-img_0687.jpg wpid-img_0800.jpg wpid-img_0805.jpg wpid-img_0831.jpg wpid-img_0777.jpg

Carved Jade


From there we visited the infamous Tiananmen Square. There we learned about its rich and dark history including the protests and subsequent massacre of 1989.wpid-img_0587.jpgTiananmen Square today.

We walked on the Great Wall. The 5,000 mile long stone and earth barrier built to protect China from Genghis Khans Mongols and the northern hordes. We were nothing but awestruck by its enormity and beauty rolling along the mountainsides.

wpid-img_0876.jpg Up we go to the Great Wall!wpid-img_1003.jpg Out for a stroll on an unrestored section of the Wall.

wpid-img_1010.jpg wpid-img_1055.jpg If you’re going to leave old timey straw brooms lying around we gotta take em for a spin.wpid-img_1135.jpgJust, wow.wpid-img_1123.jpg wpid-img_1152.jpg wpid-img_1160.jpg

Our next stop would be a trip to the great, crowded night markets of Beijing. We saw (and sampled) everything from live scorpions on skewers to stinky tofu and more. The sights, sounds and smells of the 20 block Beijing night markets is something everyone should experience at some point in their life.wpid-img_1182.jpg Into the night market we go.wpid-img_1195.jpg wpid-img_1176.jpg wpid-pa117123.jpgwpid-img_1201.jpg wpid-pa016841.jpg wpid-img_1212.jpg

Then, for a look into modern China, we spent an afternoon in the hip, chic 798 Arts District. We visited countless galleries throughout the day and got a glimpse of what Chinese modern art is all about.wpid-pa117090.jpg wpid-pa117062.jpgwpid-pa117091.jpg wpid-pa117096.jpg

After a stop at a craft beer festival (yes a craft beer festival in China!) and countless good and greasy Chinese meals, we made our way back to Luoyang to prepare for departure.wpid-pa016838.jpg Wandering Beijing.wpid-pa076930.jpg wpid-img_0558.jpg wpid-img_0572.jpgwpid-pa107025.jpg Learning to make dumplings!wpid-pa096944.jpg Jillians favorite burger joint in Beijing.wpid-pa096939.jpg wpid-pa076936.jpg wpid-pa076912.jpg wpid-pa117107.jpg Craft Beer Festival?! Don’t mind if we do!wpid-pa117110.jpg

Though we didn’t do nearly as many “sights” as in other countries during our month in China, living there and soaking up the culture and daily life of the place was an amazing experience unto itself.wpid-pa207151.jpgDelicious Peking Duck. Yum!wpid-pa096990.jpg wpid-p9306833.jpg wpid-p9306793.jpg

Our next stop would be Taiwan and the small beach town of Hualien. Our friends we had met in a small Himalayan tea house deep in the mountains had told us about it. We planned to stop for just a short time…. but if this trip has proved anything, it’s that planning on the road is oh so often nothing more than a fools errand.

Nepal: From the Jungle to the Mountain Tops.

Nepal… For many, the name alone brings up images of the mighty snowcapped Himalayas, serene Buddhist stupas adorned with strands of multicolored prayer flags flapping in the wind and a sublime combination of solemn, almost mystical tranquility and unparalleled natural beauty seen nowhere else in the world. I love Nepal. The people, the nature, the spirituality, the food and every ounce of every little thing in between. As we crossed the border from the chaos of northern India into Nepals southern Terai, a general sense of calming and slowing down washed over us. It’s hard to describe the sensation precisely but I guess it’s easiest to say that it felt a lot like exhaling a long, deep breath you’d been holding in for too long. It felt good. Really, really good.

Just a few kilometers past the border our first destination would be to the small, hot southern town of Lumbini. The birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama in 623 BC, the original Buddha and the founder of Buddhism. The actual spot where Siddhartha was born had been historically marked with a large flagstone and years later a stone temple was erected atop the sacred spot, one of the five most sacred locations in Buddhism. These days the ancient crumbling temple is protected from the elements by a modern structure but it is still a pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world and a unique and spiritual place to visit. The crumbling temple and the stone slab where Buddha was born gave me an almost tingling feeling being in its presence. Itself the epicenter of the profound belief of millions of people around the world. Over the past few decades the forested land around the temple has been donated by the Nepalese government to the global worship of Buddhism. And in turn, each country that practices the religion widely has built, or are currently building a temple nearby in tribute to the sacred birthplace of Buddha. It was fascinating for us to spend a day walking along the tree lined paths visiting beautiful temples built by countries from Burma and Indonesia to Korea and China and even Germany and Canada. There are around two dozen beautiful, ornate temples in all. Each one different and striking in their own way. Buddhism is a beautiful, peaceful religion and one that Laura and I feel very strongly towards so seeing where it all began was amazing and a highly rewarding experience for us.

wpid-img_9610.jpgView from Buddhas birthplace

wpid-img_9605.jpgIn the beautiful German temple complex

wpid-img_9558.jpgBurmese temple

wpid-img_9549.jpgMany temples throughout the forest


Moving on from the hot farmland and jungle of Lumbini, we headed north to the lush green foothills of the Himalayas and the jumping off point to the Annapurna range… beautiful Pokhara. Nestled between fertile green mountains on the shores of a lily covered lake with snow-capped peaks in the distance, Pokhara is the type of place that grabs ahold of your soul immediately and doesn’t want to let go. It is a special place with an unparalleled combination of adventurous outdoor activities from trekking to rafting and yet it somehow maintains a calm tranquility in its idyllic mountain landscape. Needless to say we were hooked and hooked hard.

wpid-p9066081.jpgIncredible Pokhara

For eighteen days we made Pokhara our home away from home. Spending incredible days wandering along the majestic lake, watching rich local cultural shows, going on motorcycle adventures into the mountains, lounging deep in thought at lakeside cafes reading and writing and so much more. I already look back on those days as some of the finest and most peaceful we’ve had on this epic adventure.

wpid-p9076175.jpgTraditional dance in Pokhara

wpid-p9076137.jpgMomos! If you are in Nepal, you must eat momos.

wpid-p9176460.jpgBiking into the Himalayas!

wpid-p9176477.jpgBeautiful roads…

wpid-img_9640.jpgEpic views

Among many memorable highlights in the Pokhara area, one of the greatest both in the region and on our trip as a whole was a five day trek into the Annapurna range. Wild and inspiring on so many levels, the sheer magnitude of the stunning beauty we saw along the winding climb through the mountains left our jaws agape at every turn. Absolutely breathtaking. Climbing the “Stone Steps” our second day, a collection of over 3000 muscle testing stairs carved straight up  the mountainside was both exhausting and thrilling.  Knowing that at the end of the day we’d possibly catch a glimpse of snow-capped peaks all around us, some of the tallest in the world, made the pain of the days hike almost disappear. When we finally reached the apex we found ourselves wrapped in a thick blanket of clouds with no views to be had. But after an evening relaxing our aching feet and warming ourselves by the fire in our mountain teahouse, we rose again at 4am and climbed to the top of Poon Hill and watched…. in awe… as the sun rose over the snowcapped Annapurna range. Its snowy peaks framed majestically by the layers of silky clouds around us. It was magical and one of those experiences whose memory will be with us for a lifetime.

wpid-img_9847.jpgInto the Himalayas we go…










wpid-img_9750.jpgLooking good Mode… okay not really. Definitely happy though!


wpid-img_9747.jpgSunrise at Poon Hill



As we continued our hike in the Annapurna range walking along trails through farms and past beautiful handmade stone homes adorned with flowers and fruit trees, we were taken aback not only by the incredible setting in which these people live, but also by the friendliness we encountered from local villagers we passed along the way. It was inspiring and heart-warming. At one point some local farmers even gave Laura a “mountain cucumber” which was about the size of a watermelon. They sliced it into pieces for us and put some fresh crushed green chili pepper on it and it made for an excellent cool and spicy snack on the trail. After several amazing days hiking we finished our trek off with a visit to a natural mountain hot spring and soaked our weary bones in its warm waters for an afternoon. The perfect end to an epic adventure. The Annapurna trip was one of the best experiences we’ve had on this trip so far and possibly ever. As soon as we returned to Pokhara we decided that we would definitely need to come back someday and trek deeper into the Himalayas, likely to Everest Base Camp and quite possibly sometime in the near future. More trekking in the Himalayas has a new esteemed place at the top of our must do list.




wpid-p9136229.jpgLaura leads a morning yoga group on our teahouse roof in the mountains.





Hot water after a long cold trek. Nothing better!

Leaving Pokhara after several incredible weeks was about as hard of a departure as we’ve had on this trip. To make it a little easier we decided to make our way down to our next destination Chitwan National Park, by whitewater raft. Why bus when you can raft I always say?! We found a rafting company that agreed to shuttle our backpacks down to us in their pick up van (talk about service) and we set out to spend an incredible day rafting through the mountains south towards the Terai jungle. Rafting really is so much better than a bus (understatement). For four hours we found ourselves on an absolutely gorgeous wide river winding through rolling green hills and past waterfalls and scenic village after scenic village. Local village children would run out onto suspended foot bridges above us to wave to us as we passed by. Smiling and laughing when we waved back. After a long day rafting and swimming in the cool river, we reached the exit point and ate a late lunch at a riverside shack, eating home cooked Dal Bhat, Nepali all-you-can-eat curry and rice. Warming to both our tummies and our souls. After lunch we piled into a local public bus we flagged down to take us the final hour down to Chitwan and sat packed in on top of bags of rice with barely enough space to turn our heads. Never a dull moment on the road.


wpid-p9216587.jpgA break between rapids


Seven years ago I spent several months in the Chitwan area working on a documentary with my friend Michael about the endangered One Horned Asian Rhino so I was very excited to return to the area and experience it again with Laura this time. Boy how things can change in seven years. For one thing the area has developed a much more involved tourist infrastructure and where there previously existed just a handful of hotels we now found probably a hundred. Also the river that defines the border of the national park has moved and so the landscape itself has actually changed from when I was last there. It was interesting to see but far less familiar than I was expecting. That being said as we headed down a dirt road to our guesthouse and several large tusked elephants walked by I knew we were back in the jungle I fell in love with years ago. That night, as we sat on the porch of our guesthouse, the palm tree lined field next to us came alight with the twinkling glow of hundreds of fireflies. Then in the moonlit darkness we saw several elephants walking through the field and parking themselves a mere 20 feet away from us to sleep for the night. Their trumpeting calls lulling us to sleep that night, I heard Laura quietly giggle every time the silence was broken by our massive big eared neighbors. Have I mentioned how much I love Nepal? The next morning we decided to go on a long jungle hike. Our two guides (one in front, one in back) brandished large heavy sticks to use for defense if we found ourselves threatened by the Rhinos, Tigers, Wild Elephants and Sloth Bears that make this jungle a dangerous place to wander into on foot. Though we didn’t run into any of those large animals (unfortunately?) we did see loads of different types or deer, monkeys galore and a huge variety of interesting insects and flora. The green beauty of the jungle and the sounds of its millions of inhabitants is itself an enchanting experience.










After returning back to the village we decided to go back into the jungle with a different mode of transport. On elephant back of course! That afternoon we climbed aboard our elephant and our driver/guide led us back deep into the jungle with several other elephants. For an hour or so we lumbered up and down uncomfortably on the beasts back through rivers and jungle, getting whipped in the face more than a few times by tree branches. All part of the charm I say.  As we got deeper into the jungle we finally found what we were looking for. We came into a clearing and there… in the green jungle… was a massive Asian Rhino. The Asian rhino is much different in appearance than the African rhinos we had seen months before, larger and darker with a smaller horn but still incredibly intimidating. We followed it for a bit in awe of its sheer size and uniqueness before slowly making our way back to the village for the night.




The next day we decided to explore the jungle a different way, canoeing in a long shallow dugout canoe down the river for a bit. Along the way we spotted many crocodiles, fish and large colorful birds along the riverbank. Oh the wildness, diversity and beauty of the jungle.




That night, our final night, we visited a Tharu stick dance show. The Tharu people are the indigenous villagers of Southern Nepal and their incredible rhythmic dance style which involves hitting baseball bat sized sticks together while dancing in unison is indescribable. One of the most enthralling dance shows we’ve seen on this trip. We would spend 3 days total in the Chitwan area before heading back north towards the Himalayas… but this time to bustling Kathmandu.

Kathmandu is a rambunctious and lively city, especially by typically mellow Nepali standards. It’s easy to lose oneself wandering around the vibrant and colorful streets, taking in the sights, smells and sounds that surround you at every turn. And that is exactly how we spent our first few days in Kathmandu. Just enjoying it and trying to take it all in. But there is so much culture and history to see in the city and in the greater Kathmandu Valley that after a few days we finally gave in and had to go spend some time sight-seeing. What a time it ended up being. First up on our hit list was the incredible Bodhnath Stupa, the largest Buddhist stupa in the world. We spent several hours in the surrounding square, walking slowly around the massive domed shrine with local Buddhists, sliding our hand over spinning prayer wheels and smelling the aromatic incense that burned all around us.

wpid-img_0207.jpgBodhnath Stupa



Next up we headed to the ancient capital city of Bhaktapur, wandering its old narrow stone streets filled with temples, artisan crafts and amazing traditional wood carvings unlike anywhere else in the world.

After Bhaktapur we would visit another of the ancient Kathmandu Valley capital cities, Patan, and take in its incredible temples and age-old beauty.

wpid-img_0276.jpgBhaktapur and Patan





Our final major sight to see would be the massive hilltop “Monkey Temple” of Swayambhunath. Perched atop a large hill in the middle of the valley, The Swayambhunath Stupa and temple are truly spectacular beyond all explanation. With thousands of prayer flags suspended between the temples and surrounding trees, 360 degree views of the surrounding valley and hundreds of monkeys playing all around you, it is one of those places that you just have to experience to truly understand its aura.





Kathmandu Valley is an incredible place full of unique and beautiful cultural and historical sights. It well deserves a visit from everyone if possible as does Nepal as a whole. It is that special a place. After a few more days in Kathmandu it was time to head off yet again to another country and a whole new world. As we made our way to the airport for our first flight in nearly 3 months (a new record on this trip) we felt sad but also began to get excited for China, the Far East and the new adventures that lie ahead.





While in the mountains of the Himalayas we met our new friends Kylie and Bowman. Meeting them would change the course of our trip in a most unexpected way….

wpid-p9186492.jpgEating with Kylie Bowman in Pokhara.

India Part 2: The North – Goa to Lucknow

We arrived in the lush beachside town of Ajuna, Goa after a long haul from distant Hampi carrying dreams of white sand beaches and swimming in the blue ocean. We hoped the southern monsoon we’d run into down in Varkala had not made it this far north but maaaaan were we wrong. Dead wrong. The beach, as in Kerala was completely and totally engulfed in raging brown waters and the rain was relentless. Ah monsoon season. Our plans for enjoying the mythical beach paradises of Goa were not to be. Trying to make the best of it we spent a few days going out for walks whenever the rain stopped for a few moments but would inevitably be caught in the rain on our way back to the hostel. We spent one day venturing out to the local market town of Mapsa where Laura bought about 100 bengals (beautiful thin Indian bracelets) and various other knickknacks. After a few days of nonstop pouring rain though we decided enough was enough and headed inland to Panjim to visit the historic town of Old Goa. It proved to be quite a lovely area to walk around and we spent the day wandering amid old Portuguese churches and forts, getting caught in showers all along the way of course!  After a week in the rain we’d had enough and we gave up on our several additional weeks of loose plans for Goa and took off for Bombay.

IMG_9005Another sunny day in Goa…take shelter!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld Goa gate with statue of Vasco da Gamma





Bombay (Mumbai) is a terrific, though expensive city combining beautiful, classic architecture with elements of sleek, modern design. Though large swaths of the city are massive slums and home to millions of poor and unemployed Indians, most of Mumbai feels very contemporary (especially for an Indian city) with loads of world cuisine, shopping options and modern western pleasantries. From a mass transit system to Starbucks it almost felt like we weren’t in India at times. We only had a few days to spend in Mumbai (since basic accommodation charges are easily more than twice what they are anywhere else in India) so we tried to make the most of it by spending our days exploring and eating cosmopolitan cuisine.  We visited as many sites as we could in two days including the beautiful Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the National Gallery. After a few days wandering Bombay, our next move would prove to be our greatest folly of this trip so far. We decided to visit a travel agent to book a series of train and bus transfers, hotel stays and tours to cover us for the next week. We desperately craved a break from our typical DIY lifestyle and hoped that the agent would get everything set up so we could take a breather from the constant planning, researching and booking we have become so accustomed to on the road. What we got for our money though was ripped off, royally. The first bus from Mumbai was actually correct but then when we landed at the first town on our itinerary the hotel we were supposed to stay at was fully booked and had no reservation for us… and this was just the beginning. The tours weren’t booked or paid for, the rest of our bus and train tickets were fakes, etc. Needless to say we had been rooked and learned a valuable lesson. Never do things the easy way, do them the right way. Our case with the India tourism board is still under review but we lost a significant amount of money that we just didn’t have the wiggle room to lose. When you’re travelling as long as we are, even $150 is a huge trip affecting loss.




Trying to put this behind us, the next stop on our trip was to Aurangabad to visit the amazing cave temples of Ajanta and Elora. Built between 200 BC and 700 AD, the amazing Hindu and Buddhist temple structures are carved directly into the stone mountainsides. Intricately carved and painted ceilings, columns, statues and reliefs adorn the painstakingly excavated cave spaces that feel straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. The breathtaking massive central temple at Elora took over 200 years to carve and includes life-sized elephant sculptures and multi-story temples (connected by bridges!) carved directly out of the bedrock right where they stand. Absolutely remarkable. We’d never seen anything like it anywhere.

IMG_9032 On the road to AjantaIMG_9015


IMG_9050Magnificent Ajanta!



IMG_9065 IMG_9068

IMG_9101 IMG_9108 IMG_9115 IMG_9141 IMG_9061

IMG_9151 Incredible Elora!IMG_9167 IMG_9183 IMG_9190 IMG_9208

From Aurangabad we decided to make our way towards Udaipur, much further north in the state of Rajasthan along the Pakistan border. With our travel agent having cheated us out of our bookings, we ended up having to endure 40 hours of buses (some without air-conditioning in an extremely hot climate) over the course of 72 hours. Following Murphy’s law to a tee, we both got sick on the journey as well, which on buses without bathrooms was a challenge of endurance. We finally arrived in Udaipur tired, very ill and angry at the ordeal we had to go through because of the greed of that travel agent in Mumbai. We took some solace in knowing that karma will eventually get the best of him though, especially in this country! Udaipur, known as the “White city” because of the color of its buildings, is a beautiful, historic, lakeside town often called the most romantic place in India. With multiple grand palaces including several built on islands in the middle of the lake, Udaipur has an air about it that is hard to describe and it notably was a primary location for the 1983 James Bond classic Octopussy. We were in some desperate need of some recovery time and Udaipur, though quite chaotic, was as good a place as any in Northern India. We soon discovered that in stark contrast to the green and relaxing towns of Southern India, from Alleppey to Goa, Northern India was much more of what I was expecting India to be like. Hot, dusty, unsanitary (understatement), loud beyond all reason, over populated and generally a fairly stressful place to travel. The differences between the south and north could honestly not be more dramatic.

IMG_9217 Udaipur IMG_9225 IMG_9247

The manic nature of Udaipur however could be escaped briefly with day trips to the countryside and after a few days of trying to get some R&R in a town with constant horns honking, dogs barking, power outages, choking pollution etc. we decided to take a break and headed out to visit some distant historic sites with our new German friends Dennis and Rebekah. The first site we visited was the massive Khumbalgarh Fort. An incredible structure with a 20 meter high, 10 meter wide and 35 kilometer long perimeter wall which is the second biggest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. Walking on the wide wall alone as it carved through the green countryside was reason enough to visit the fort but the massive interior structures also gave spectacular views in every direction. It was really something impressive to see and one of those spots that you never hear about back at home but if you’re in Udaipur, India you hear about it from everyone. It is well worth the hype. The next destination was the same in its local hype worthiness and equally mind blowing. Ranakpur, a giant domed Jain Temple from the 15th century carved entirely out of white marble! Words can’t describe the intricate detail work that went into the temple as it was built over 100 years. Each of the 1444+ intricately carved white marble pillars (it is said that it is impossible to count all the pillars) supporting the five massive carved domes are each a unique piece of art. The Tree of Life growing in the center of the temple is 500 years old and the whole thing is absolutely stunning. It truly takes your breath away.

IMG_9251 The road to Khumbalgarh FortIMG_9254 IMG_9259


IMG_9263 Epic Khumbalgarh FortIMG_9275 IMG_9276 IMG_9284Second longest wall in the world


IMG_9304Heading up onto the wall



IMG_9308 IMG_9310


IMG_9332 Unbelievable RanakpurIMG_9333 Carved white marble… they don’t make em like they used to!IMG_9340 IMG_9342 500 year old Tree of lifeIMG_9351 One of 5 massive carved domesIMG_9353 IMG_9356 IMG_9363 IMG_9371 IMG_9372 IMG_9380 IMG_9393

That evening we returned to Udaipur with lungs full of fresh air to find the city in full on festival mode as the birthday of Krishna filled the streets with revelers and music. We made our way to the central square where thousands of people had gathered for the main event. A paper ball containing 21,000 Rupees was suspended by string some 20 meters (60 feet) above the crowd. The challenge? Teams from around the region (all male) had to try and reach the money filled ball by forming human pyramids in the center of the stone square! When they came crashing down it was terrifying as in the past people have died falling from the heights these pyramids go. But not today. Today victory would go to a team with about 15 brawny men; arms locked making the base circle, then about 10 tall barefoot men climbed onto their shoulders, then about 5 more young lanky barefoot guys climbed to the top of them, followed by two more, one of whom leaned over to make a human table while the last guy climbed up onto his back and grabbed onto the ball over his head! 60 feet in the air! Then as the pyramid began to collapse beneath him he held onto the ball and rode it and the strings down into the crowd which immediately erupted into a dance frenzy! The whole square went absolutely bananas. After a bit the crowds dispersed and I made my way to the winning team and shook a few congratulatory hands before the local TV crew came up and interviewed Laura and I for the evening news. What a night and just another crazy experience that we always seem to find ourselves having on the road.

IMG_9416 Killer view of the Krishna FestivalIMG_9427 Getting ready for the pyramids! IMG_9443Hitting the streets after Krishna Festivities

After a week in Udaipur we headed north to its sister city, Jaipur, the “Pink city”. Still trying to recover from the bus odyssey to Udaipur and the still lingering sickness that resulted from it, we found a nice quiet guesthouse in a suburban neighborhood, away from the incessant honking, barking, mosque chanting over loudspeakers, etc. that had kept us from getting a good night’s sleep in weeks. Sweet, sweet quiet. Something we had truly learned to appreciate in India as it can be hard to come by. Jaipur was the reboot we needed. We spent our days reading and writing and only stepping out occasionally to walk the loud streets of the old town (the walled pink city) and to watch the camel carts walk by. Health reestablished.

From Jaipur we headed east towards our ultimate destination and Laura’s main goal when adding India to our itinerary in the first place….the Taj Mahal in Agra. As we entered the city of Agra in the midst of a combination dust and rain storm (I still have no idea how that was even possible, absolutely bizarre; choking AND soaking!) we immediately noticed the city wasn’t anything like either of us had expected.  From seeing pictures of the lovely Taj Mahal throughout our lives we had for some reason expected a clean, tourist friendly, well-kept town surrounding what is obviously the top tourist attraction in India.  What we got was a ramshackle shanty town with practically no tourist infrastructure whatsoever and crowded narrow dirt and rock street corridors between crumbling buildings. We were there three days and the electricity in the town was out at least half the time. Seriously Agra? It’s the freakin Taj Mahal! We departed our guesthouse just before sunrise the next morning to visit the Taj and in the predawn hours the town is actually quiet and our bicycle rickshaw ride to the gates was mellow and enjoyable. Walking through the massive gates that morning and seeing the immaculate white marble Taj Mahal glowing in the orange radiance of sunrise was breathtaking. We spent the entire morning walking around the well-manicured lawns and plazas that surround the beautiful building. The reflection pool in front was empty but besides that it was just as we had imagined. Because we had begun to feel like we did not want to come back to Northern India, likely ever, we spent a significant amount of time at the Taj, really enjoying and taking in this jewel of India from every possible angle. It was a great experience and we left Agra fulfilled.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking out over Agra. What’s that in the distance?!

IMG_9453 Entering the gates at sunrise….IMG_9457 The postcard perfect Taj Mahal!IMG_9470 IMG_9499 IMG_9543

At this point we had spent 6 weeks in India already and the three weeks in northern India had felt like ten. We were ready to move on. Previous plans to visit Delhi and Varanassi were discarded and we began plotting a route directly towards Nepal. This is one of the beauties of travelling without plans. From Agra we headed to the seldom tourist visited state capital city of Lucknow. We immediately fell in love with the city our first night when we ventured out on a bicycle rickshaw through town and ended up riding through an almost magical bazaar street full of vendors and people that was illuminated with hundreds of strands of Christmas lights and hanging chandeliers. That night we visited Tunday Kababi, the most famous kabab house in a city known countrywide for its amazing and unique kebabs. The mouthwatering, melt in your mouth, mincemeat mutton kebabs were cooked out on the street over open fires and have almost the consistency of pate when you spread them on the delicious homemade flatbreads. The legend goes that many years ago, the elderly and toothless “Nawab” or prince of the region instructed his royal chef to make kababs in such a way that they would literally melt in your mouth so he could eat them! Mission accomplished. That first night eating with the locals at the packed locals only spot sealed the deal. We would stay in Lucknow a bit longer. For several days we visited many historic sites in Lucknow and enjoyed its well-manicured green spaces and incredible cuisine. We tried every kebab variety we could get our hands on and savored the unique Lucknow food.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACooking mouth melting kababs streetside


From Lucknow we would take an uncomfortable overnight bus to Gorakhpur way up north and then jump a 5am collective jeep three more hours up to the border. As we made our way through the Northern Indian countryside towards Nepal at sunrise, we felt an incredible sense both of relief to be leaving India behind and excitement to be entering a new country for the first time in nearly 2 months. Continuing our global journey. Overall we found India to be a fascinating and diverse country that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. It’s THAT unique. That being said while we absolutely loved the southern half of the country, the much more chaotic north is a place I think we’re likely never going to return to as beautiful as parts of it are. It was a heck of an experience but the enchanting Nepal awaited.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStopping for a final Indian Masala Chai tea on the road to the border at 6am

India Part 1: The South – Kerala to Hampi

It was really quite sad to say good bye to Sri Lanka as we left beautiful Unawatuna beach for the airport at 4am. Such an amazing time we had had but it was time to make our way to the subcontinent of India. A long bus ride and a short flight from sunny Colombo and we landed in the southernmost Indian state of Kerala around noon. It was grey and rainy. Ugh. Our first destination would be the beach town of Varkala, a place often recommended by fellow travelers, guidebooks and fiends alike. But it was monsoon season you see and we arrived to a near deserted ghost town in heavy rain and soon discovered the beach was under 10 feet of raging brown water. As it is this type of year. Whoops. “UNAWATUNA!” we yelled, our arms reached outward to the sunshine and sparkling waters in Sri Lanka a few hundred kilometers away.  Continue reading

The Emerald Isle: Spectacular Sri Lanka

We arrived in the amazing country of Sri Lanka after an enjoyable but long overnight flight from South Africa. An island off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is an enchanting country with gorgeous white sand coastlines and an emerald green mountainous interior. Known for being one of the worlds top tea growing countries, the primarily Buddhist country is emerging from decades of civil war and travelers are just now able to truly discover its incredible richness of culture and beauty. We landed in the capital city of Colombo excited to take our first steps in Asia on this journey but sad to have said goodbye to Africa. Continue reading