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Published: October 30th 2017
The 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.
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 - 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.
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 dragons
• 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
. Wow. What an
The 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 - 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
• 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 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.
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 - 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 - 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 Lempuyang
in 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.
The 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 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
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 - Australia
Trixie helping me with my fitbit stats during our hike in Adelaide.
• 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 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...
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 - Indonesia
I'm looking forward to more beautiful sunsets as I extend my travels.
to get this out of my system.
Tot: 2.765s; Tpl: 0.037s; cc: 16; qc: 53; dbt: 0.0257s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb