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October 30th 2017
Published: October 30th 2017
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The New AdditionsThe New AdditionsThe New Additions

Meet O.G. ("Original Gangsta") and Pikachu, our foster failures. O.G. was the first of her siblings to make her way to us. She earned her name because she fearlessly explored our house on her own even though there were four big kitties around. O.G. was snatched from her mother by a clueless sixth grader. Pikachu came to us later with her brother Ninja when they were found abandoned. Ninja was later adopted. Pikachu has two kinks in her tail, similar to Pikachu the Pokemon, hence her name. They're two too many but they've wormed their way into our hearts.

Coming Home




I landed in Honolulu on the afternoon of September 30th. I took one look out the window, and thought to myself: "ugh". It was very hazy, about as bad as I have ever seen it. In Hawaii, haze means vog - a nasty concoction of smog and volcanic gas. It usually happens when the winds stop blowing. I stayed in Honolulu until October 6, when Jeff and I departed for Cuba. Fortunately, the vog cleared after a few days when the winds started up again. I had respiratory issues for a couple of days while the vog lingered. The transition home had a few minor kinks. I kept walking to the wrong side of the car. I forgot things that were routine, like setting the house alarm, bringing my keys with me, and bringing a lock for the gym. After Cuba, I returned to Honolulu again on October 15.

One big thing happened while I was away: we added two kittens to our household. During the prior school year, there was a population explosion of feral cats at the elementary school where Jeff teaches. Five kittens made their way to us - three apparently abandoned
The Highs - SingaporeThe Highs - SingaporeThe Highs - Singapore

I love it when my friends and I can just pick up where we left off. This was at my 30-year Junior College (equivalent of High School/College Prep) reunion with my classmate Rachel. Photo Credit: RT.
by their mothers and two snatched by a well-intentioned but misguided sixth grader. We found homes for three of them, but the last two remained unadopted, even with help from a local animal rescue organization. We gave up and took them in. Our house is now even more chaotic with six cats (all black or predominantly black). Building a catio is now top priority for our home renovations. Jeff has since trapped, neutered, and released most of the feral cats at his school.

The Highs



Here is my list of highlights, organized by country, in no particular order.

Singapore: Family, food, and friends. Some bonds just withstand the test of time. I love how you can meet up with someone you haven't seen in years and just pick up where you left off.

Indonesia:


Seeing Komodo dragonsup close.
• Getting accosted by teenagers in Ruteng, and going to their school's talent contest rehearsal after.
• Decompressing in an amazing eco-resort near Maumere after a stressful few days getting to Moni/Kelimutu and running away as fast as I could from there.
Pura Lempuyang in Bali.



Thailand: The aircraft graveyard. I was so excited to see this sight for myself.

Australia: Hanging out with my friends in Adelaide.

Myanmar:


Bagan. Wow. What an
The Highs - MyanmarThe Highs - MyanmarThe Highs - Myanmar

Bagan. Wow. Over 4,000 temples scattered across a plain. Words fail me.
amazing place. It was hard not feel overwhelmed by all the history around you. The only other places where I have felt this overwhelmed were Istanbul and Rome. Yet, both these places are curated and organized. Bagan, not so. There was a certain rawness to the place that made it even more special.
• Many people wrote that Mandalay is hot, dusty, and charmless. Maybe the name Mandalay conjures such images that people build unrealistic expectations. I actually quite liked Mandalay. I thought the palace and its moat right smack in the city gave it a lot of character. I liked all the places I visited, with the exception of Inwa because of their pushy souvenir sellers.
Hiking in Hsipaw in areas controlled by the Shan State Army.
The Gokteik Viaduct.
• Making new friends when I stayed in hostels. True, I didn't sleep enough when I shared rooms, but I made so many friends. I love being around people afflicted with wanderlust. They're a special group. They're curious about the world, and they want to put their feet on the ground to experience these places themselves. The conversation flowed freely; differences in language, culture, and life experiences aren't a barrier when one interacts with such people. I've been privileged to
The Highs - CubaThe Highs - CubaThe Highs - Cuba

I love, love, love this photo. Two people of different races having a friendly conversation on the street, with cool contrasting colors all around. The biggest highlight of Cuba for me was learning about the complicated history of US-Cuba relations and how they impacted the ordinary people. I heard many sad tales, but I also saw much evidence of human resilience.
meet many such people over the years.



Japan: Robot Restaurant.



Cuba:


• The time warp cities of Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos.
• Getting some insight into how US-Cuba relations developed, and how those relations impacted ordinary people, from shortages of essentials, to rationing, to having to take extreme measures to adapt, to Operation Peter Pan.



Flying: Flying First and Business Class on Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, American Airlines and United Airlines. I did splurge a little using miles and using cash to secure some cheap Business Class sale fares on Malaysia Airlines. Yes, American carriers get a bad rap, but when they are good, they are really good. My American flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong was phenomenal. My flights on Thai were all great. The Malaysia flights were a mixed bag.


The Lows




There have been many places I have been to that I have been indifferent about, especially if the place is overly curated and sanitized (e.g., parts of Singapore) or just plain inauthentic, like much of Las Vegas, Dubai, and Waikīkī. But, I have never detested a place until now. The place I came to detest on
The Lows - AustraliaThe Lows - AustraliaThe Lows - Australia

I actually liked Sydney a lot, but unfortunately Sydney was a low point in my travels as I was tired, missing home, and feeling isolated. This coastal scene is quite apt for how I was feeling - cold, rough seas and desolation.
this trip is Moni in Flores. I know a big part of it was because of Control Freak Homestay J Lady, but the whole town just had a bad vibe, from Homestay D guy stringing me along with promises of a room, to restaurant staff not even bothering to look up when I ask a question. I initially refrained from posting pictures of the room I stayed in, but some people have urged me to post them so that they can visualize what I experienced. The pictures are after the text in this blog. You have been warned. It isn't lost on me that the villagers in Moni live in the same conditions as the room I stayed in, and that they are poor and they have a limited time period to make money off tourists. I get that. What is unacceptable is the pushy, unethical behavior of the people I came across.

The other low for me was Sydney. It didn't have anything to do with the city. Rather, I had just spent a wonderful week with friends in Adelaide, and Sydney just felt so cold and lonely in contrast. I was also starting to get worn down after six
The Highs - IndonesiaThe Highs - IndonesiaThe Highs - Indonesia

Pura Lempuyang is simply amazing. This scene has since been made more famous by major news outlets reporting on the Mt Agung eruption.
weeks of travel. I am so glad I found my groove again before I left for Myanmar.



Travel Tips




Indonesia:


• I cannot stress how important it is to book your accommodations in advance in Flores, other than Maumere and Labuanbajo, during the high season in July and August. Pretty much no accommodations in Ruteng, Bajawa, and Moni are bookable online, and only a handful have email addresses. Do not trust Homestay D when they tell you they have rooms available. For reasons I can't fathom, they're recommended in the Lonely Planet.
• The Lonely Planet is very skimpy on how to navigate Flores. Supplement your information with Travelfish.
Pura Lempuyangin Bali is a must go. It is one of the rare spots in Bali not yet overrun with tourists. I believe it is in the evacuation zone for Mt Agung's eruption, so I'm not sure if it can be accessed at the moment.
• It may be challenging to book internal flights in Indonesia on the airlines' websites. I had trouble with Wings Air's booking site. Try kiwi.com. Bookings were easy and payments were processed quickly.



Myanmar:


• Go. Now. Don't wait.
• Travel
The Highs - MyanmarThe Highs - MyanmarThe Highs - Myanmar

I am so glad I veered away from the "big four" tourist sites. My hike in rebel-held territory in Hsipaw and my ride over the Gokteik Viaduct were definite highlights.
agents seem to have better fares for internal flights than the airlines themselves.
• Some US banks seem to think that the US sanctions against Myanmar are still in effect. Barclays USA refused to allow my credit card to be used, citing sanctions. I did not have issues with Citibank.
• ATMs are plentiful in the places I visited. If you plan to pay with US dollars, it is true that businesses will only accept pristine USD. No creases, no marks, no folds.


Cuba:


• Go. Now. Don't wait.
• You never know what may be in short supply in a centrally planned economy impacted by sanctions. Bring toilet paper. Understand that toiletries and even toilet seats can be scarce.
• Don't waste your hard earned money on sim cards. They barely work.
• Come with an open mind and try to wrap your mind around how both the US and Cuba viewed their respective situations, and how it gave rise to the various events in history.



General:


• The best move I made was to purchase Airism shirts and underwear from Uniqlo in Singapore. These were a lifesaver in hot and humid Indonesia, Myanmar, and Cuba.
The Highs - Traveling in StyleThe Highs - Traveling in StyleThe Highs - Traveling in Style

Caviar on Thai Airways. Note the mother-of-pearl spoon.
They absorb sweat and don't smell. You can wash them in the sink in the evening and they'll be dry by morning.
• Bring a sarong when traveling in Southeast Asia. They come in useful in many situations.


By The Numbers



All stats are approximate. Where noted, I excluded Cuba as this trip was sponsored by my parents-in-law.

Flights:


• Amount spent on airfare, including taxes and upgrades (excludes Cuba): $3,390 + 132,500 miles.
• Miles flown: 50,300
• Segments flown: 33
• Segments flown by class of travel: First (1); Domestic US First (4); Business (15); Economy (13).
• Types of aircraft flown: ATR72 (6); A321 (3); A330 (2); B737 (12); B747 (2); B757 (1); B767 (1); B777 (6).


I use openflights.org to track my flights. You can view my profile and flight record here.

Money:

Approximate amounts spent, broken down by country, in USD. Includes accommodation:


• Singapore: $650, $35/day. Excludes accommodation as I stayed with my parents. Excludes repairs to my dad's car and another car I hit. In America, parking lots are long and wide. You can pull out of a lot, turn your steering wheel, and not hit anything. Not so
The Highs - AustraliaThe Highs - AustraliaThe Highs - Australia

Trixie helping me with my fitbit stats during our hike in Adelaide.
in Singapore.
• Hong Kong: $60. Excludes accommodation as I was there on a layover.
• Indonesia: $1,200, $60/day. My numbers were blown by my $200 splurge on three nights of accommodation in Maumere.
• Thailand: $25. Excludes accommodation as I was there on a layover.
• Australia: $840, $93/day. Australia is expensive. I stayed with friends in Adelaide so this kept costs down.
• Myanmar: $1,200, $63/day. This came as a surprise. In hindsight, I loosened the purse strings when I realized I had a strong job prospect. Accommodation wasn't cheap in Myanmar and that was low season prices. I shudder to think about what I would have paid if I had visited in high season.
• Japan: $370, $124/day. Not bad at all, considering all that I did there.


Fitness Tracker:


• Average Number of Steps Per Day: 15,131. Average per day excluding Cuba and Singapore would have been 16,714.
• Average Number of Flights of Stairs Climbed Per Day: 36; excludes Cuba.
• Most Steps Taken in Any One Day: 46,316, during my hike in Hsipaw. Surprisingly, this hike only logged 84 flights of stairs.
• Most Flights of Stairs Climbed in Any One Day: 195 on the day I climbed Mt Popa outside Bagan. Most of the climb was barefoot and the floor was wet and nasty.
Where I Have Been So Far This TripWhere I Have Been So Far This TripWhere I Have Been So Far This Trip

As tracked by openflights.org. 50,300 miles flown so far during this flashpacking trip. I'm going to be adding more real soon!
We were probably walking in monkey poop.


Souvenirs purchased: None for myself, one silly little cat trinket for Jeff, purchased at Daiso.

So, What's Next?



While I was in transit in Singapore between Australia and Myanmar, an executive from a Hawaii company contacted me. He had hired me once before and he heard I was back on the job market. We had lunch the day after I returned from Cuba. I'm reasonably certain that I have my next job lined up, but it will take some time to work out the specifics. We discussed a January start date. So, I can't think of a better thing to do for two months than travel. You heard me right: the Midlife Crisis Flashpacking Trip is extended! I leave again in two days. I will be away for 5.5 weeks this time. Watch this space...

Acknowledgements




Much gratitude to Jeff Sr. and Peggy for sponsoring our family trip to Cuba. Even more gratitude to the most supportive spouse one could ever ask to have. Poor, longsuffering Jeff. He likes to travel but he doesn‘t have the same deep wanderlust as I do. But, he understands that I need
The Highs - IndonesiaThe Highs - IndonesiaThe Highs - Indonesia

I'm looking forward to more beautiful sunsets as I extend my travels.
to get this out of my system.


Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


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The Highs - IndonesiaThe Highs - Indonesia
The Highs - Indonesia

So many people asked how close I was when I took this pic. Let's just say I stayed behind the ranger and I made sure I wasn't the tourist closest to this critter. No minimum safety distances were communicated or enforced.
The Highs - IndonesiaThe Highs - Indonesia
The Highs - Indonesia

Imagine all these eyes, and more, fixed on you as you make you rentrance. In Ruteng, Flores, a bunch of high school kids on a vocational track to become tourist guides brought me to their school. They told me they were having a talent contest rehearsal that day. They did not tell me that the whole school would be there.
The Highs - ThailandThe Highs - Thailand
The Highs - Thailand

I've wanted to visit the Aircraft Graveyard ever since I learned about it. I finally got to do it!
The Highs - JapanThe Highs - Japan
The Highs - Japan

Outside Robot Restaurant, in the rain. I love, love, love this shot. Very Blade Runner-esque, don't you think?
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The Highs - Cuba

The Havana time warp.
Where I Have Been So Far This TripWhere I Have Been So Far This Trip
Where I Have Been So Far This Trip

Boarding passes for my flight to Singapore, and my Indonesia and Australia trips. I'm missing the Maumere-Denpasar boarding pass.
Where I Have Been So Far This TripWhere I Have Been So Far This Trip
Where I Have Been So Far This Trip

Boarding passes for Myanmar, Japan and my return to Honolulu.
Where I Have Been So Far This TripWhere I Have Been So Far This Trip
Where I Have Been So Far This Trip

Boarding passes for Cuba.
The LowsThe Lows
The Lows

My room in Homestay J in Moni. Other guests who stayed more than one night said they did not change sheets between occupants.
The LowsThe Lows
The Lows

The toilet at Homestay J in Moni. It rivals that toilet in Trainspotting, doesn’t it? No toilet seat, no flush, no hot water, no flowing water even. The taps did not work the whole time I was there, until minutes before I left... the water started flowing as I was literally walking out the door.


31st October 2017

The Summary Part 1
How amazing that you get to extend your trip! Enjoyed reading your summary of the places you travelled, and look forward to seeing what's on the new itinerary. Can you send me your Melb dates in a private message? I'll definitely be back home in late Dec, but work meetings may take us there earlier as well... would be super cool to catchup for a drink :) Safe travels! xx
31st October 2017
The New Additions

Kitties!
Nice to hear of your feline family... a friend who works in cat rescue is always so happy to see black cats adopted, apparently the superstition about black cats means they are the hardest to find homes for :(
31st October 2017
The New Additions

Black kitties
Yes, I suspect that is why we had such a difficult time finding homes for them. Ah well. They’re going to have a good life with us.
4th November 2017

Thank you!
A big big thank you for allowing me (and many others) to share this amazing journey with you. I loved reading this summary, it reminded me of all your other blogs which I started reading on my own summer travels in West Africa, then which inspired me to plan my trip next summer to Japan (and Korea), and which I have continued to read as I have settled down once more into a new academic year again back in London. And what is more, your trip is extended! I'm looking forward to reading more! I love your photos also of the two local people chatting in Cuba, and the Blade Runner-esque scene in rainy Tokyo - wonderful :)
5th November 2017

Japan and Korea
I can’t think of a bigger contrast with West Africa! Your West Africa trip was certainly one of the more unique and adventurous ones on this site!
30th October 2020
The Lows

Disgusting!
Never been in such a place...

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