Thursday, April 28, 2011

Costa Rica

 After many hours of flying and watching too many in-flight movies, I finaly arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica. The second I stepped off that plane, the memories of my two other trips to Costa Rica started flooding my mind. Everything was a happy memory, from the big jungle paintings on the walls of the airport with colorful tucans and macaws flying around, the taste of Imperial beer at the bar, and especialy the "pura vida" greeting by everyone I came in contact with.
On the plane I met an English dude that was going my direction, so we paired up and took a free shuttle to the nearest hotel. The next morning, I was on the hotel computer looking up bus scheduals to Manuel Antonio, my old stomping grouds, when the guy showed up and told me he had rented a car, and I could ride along if I liked. Free ride sounds good to any backpacker. As we headed out for the three hour journey to Manuel Antonia, I was quickly reminded that Brits don't drive much back home. I was comical to me and the hotel patrons and workers alike, seeing him try to work the gear shift, killing it a few times before ever leaving the parking lot. More than one reminder was in order, that we where now driving on the right hand side, not the left.
About an hour out side of Manuel Antonia we stopped for lunch in Jaco. The last time I was here I had eaten the best sushi in the world at a little place called Tsunami. It was closed however, so we went to a fish taco place mentioned in the Lonely Planet.  From then on, it was a majestic coast line to our destination, much to our delight, especialy for my English friend who had never been to the country.
I am not sure if it is because Costa Rica was my first traveling abroad experiance, or maybe it's all the memories from living here alone for three months, but this country is still my favorite. Maybe it's the unparraleled beauty of beaches and country side alike, maybe it's the layed back tropical feeling you get while hanging out in a hammock on the beach at the edge of a rain forest. Could be the tiny capuchin monkeys that try stealing your beverage any time you are drinking at a beach town. Might have something to do with waking up and realizing theres a sloth and it's baby hanging on the rafters of your balcony, just kinda staring at you. Maybe it's the great experiances you get climbing up the side of a smoking volcano, zip lining through cloud forest canopies, rafting through jungles, walking over narrow suspention bridges overlooking water falls, snorkeling with whales, dolphines, octopi and turtles. This country has all those things and more. I can not say enough about my time here, but like any local would, I'll sum it up with two words; Pura Vida.
Back to the story. Once in Manuel Antonio, and settled into my dorm room at Big Mouth Frog hostel, it was time to go find my friends. I had not talked to them in the two plus years I had been gone, let alone seen them, but had a good idea they where wtill aound, doing the same old things. Life moves at a slow pace here in CR, and I figured I would find 'ol Lennin down at the beach, renting snokeling gear to tourist, sipping on his fifth Imperial.  Sure enough, I had to look all of eight seconds before we found each other, and the supprise was thoro on his part. After a few rounds of hungs and beer openings, he took me to find the rest of the buddies from back then. Soon a party was planned, it was easter weekend as well as a reunion, and a big camp fire was built on the beach. After a liquor run, the Cazeche (sp?), Guado (sp?), and Imperial where in abundance, and after the last tourist was gone, the night began. I remember late that night, or was it early I don't know, my boating friend wanted to take me to the harbor by my hosel in his boat, but due to frequent breaks for some singing at the moon and swimming in the dark, it took a drunken 2 hours to go the one mile home.
The rest of my time in Cost Rica was not waisted either, and was alot of fun. I am working my qway home now, following the Pacific almost all the way home. Where Manuel Antonio/ Quepos area holds special places in my heart, the whole coast to Nicaragua are equaly serene. Jaco, Puntarenas, Montezuma, Tamarindo are just a few great beach towns along the way. For now, it is adios amigos, I'm bound for home, with a whole lot of bus time in my future.

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Hunting for poisonouse dart frogs in Arenal
Manuel Antonio

Hiking up the volcano

Sunset at Manuel Antonio
The smoking Arenal volcano.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bali, Indonesia

Ubud, Bali

Kuta, Bali

I've learned that the countries that charge you for a tourist visa, are also the countries that have full page visas that take up presious space in the passport. Indonesia is yet another one of these countries. In all reality, this is just a coincidence, because I am an American, and I ussualy pay more for visas. My English friend didnt have to pay for Mozambique, but still got the full pager... So I guess it's just a reality for me, but I am running out of pages in the 'ol passport.

Kuta, Bali. I think everyone visiting Bali ends up in Kuta at one time or another, as it is close to the airport, and you go through it to get to most of the rest of the island. It has a wonderfull beach, though it has to be raked every morning. If you can stand about a million vacationing sufer dudes from Australia, this is the place for you. I've heard Bali referd to as Australia's Cancun, and nothing is more true. It is a very differnt, all be it welcoming, scene from the rest of this trip, as everyone I meet are partying until 1 or 2 in the morning, yet can somehow be out the door, surf board in hand, by 6 am to catch the best waves. I do not go a day with out an Ozzie or ex pat of some sort trying to describe the brilliance of the sunset while doing mushrooms, on this beach and that. Everyting is so laid back here, I can definitly imagine living here on nothing but a retirement pension and a sun tan. One out of every three scooters in town has a surf board rack, making traffic look pretty funny night and day.
On down the coast from Kuta beach, you have very simular beaches like Legian, Seminyak, and Echo, all surfer scenes, though maybe a little less crowded the farther north you go. Though surfing and diving is the main reason anyone goes to Bali, there are also some pretty cool jungle treks and elephant safaris. for $60 a person can get free shuttle to the jungle area around Ubud or Celuk, and ride an elephant for a few hours.
Everyone I talked to or met in Kuta was doing generaly the same route. After scooting, surfing and drinking up enough of Bali, everyone seemed to head to the Gili islands and Lombok, for some rest and relaxation, just a fast boat trip away. Gili, besides it's beauty and great diving in bath tub warm water, with reefs teeming with sharks and turtles, is probably best known for it's serenity. It has no motorized vehicals, no bikes, and supposedly no dogs. the Gili Trawangan island is the furthest from Bali, and is tagged the party island. It has tons of beach bars and weekly parties, and with tourists constantly rolling in, the music and drinking never really stops.
The Gili Air island is more laid back, and surfer and other beach bums like to go there and just relax or do mushrooms where no one is around. The beach is dotted with cool little bungalos, and a few watering holes. It has a small expat comunity, and I can definitly see the appeal in living here.
I love the ocean, and will, I'm sure end up living on a beach somewhere, and if the rest of Indonesia has the same to offer as Bali does, and I hear that it does, one could spend years here and never get bored. If the money would allow, I could definitly see myself diving off of every island I could find. Sulawesi, Java, Sumatra, and the thousands of other tiny islands around the country are a scuba diver's dream. I will undoubtidly be back in this region, but for now, it's time for Singapore, then off to Central America.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nomad Chronicals III

Due to unforseen circumstances such as losing my last bank card to a faulty ATM, getting robbed twice, and getting denied an Australian work visa, all in the same week, my plans and itenerary has changed once again. The losing of the bank card happened a mere 3 hours before my flight to Brunei, so with no money, and no way to get any, I was forced to abort any plans of leaving Kuala Lampure until monday. Of course, I had no flight insurance, hense no refund.
Come Monday however, I booked a flight to Bali, where the plan had me going to Oz from there, working, then traveling on to Russia and europe after that. Of course I took it for granted that my working holiday visa for OZ would be approved, I mean common, everyone I met on the road was doing the same thing, and had all been approved over night. The difference? They weren't American. "No working holiday visa agreement with the American government at this time", was not what I wanted to hear. Then a robbery, and a pickpocket within two days, left me few options, since working was out of the question. What a week. I am not quite sure how many miles I've covered in this trip so far, but can assure you they are many. The train ride accross South Africa alone, was a 31 hour ordeal, covering more miles then I pobably did in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos all together, and I covered them pretty thoroly.
My point is, that in all this time and distance, my luck has been superb. Hardly a thing went wrong up to now, making me think that I started to get careless, for a minute atleast. Will it stop me from ever traveling alone in a third world country, with hardly enough funds? Hell no! Family and friends back home might say it was bound to happen, I tempt fate. Well if it's true, then I'll chalk it up to an occupational hazzard, and will continue tempting fate, or whatever, for the rest of my life. I have not got one regret in this trip, and wish i could extend it another year or two, but as far as that goes, I'll unfortunatly be shortening it some. As I have just enough money to get home, that is what I'll be doing, in a round about way. Tomorrow I fly to singapore, and after a layover in Tokyo, will find myself in Costa Rica. After dropping in on some old friends, I'll be working my way home from there, on an even more strict backpacker's budget; jsut the way I like it.
I feel something kind of dreadfull, leaving Asia, and getting closer to home. I have so many fond and long lasting memories here. memories like the excitement of Khaosan road in Bangkok, after a long few months in Africa, finaly seeing tons and tons of fellow backpackers to hangout with, the shock being very exciting. Unexpectedly meeting a child hood friend on the shores of Thailand, that I hadn't seen in 12 years. Seeing the Killing fields and troublesome history of Cambodia, and at the same time meeting the most amazing girl ever to be named Hannah, in Phnom Phem. Meeting a long lasting friend Sebastian on the beaches of Sihanoukville. Traveling around Vietnam with amazing people like Jay and Andy and Joelie, and later Laos. Meeting so many cool swedish, Finish and Irish people in Vang Vieng with Joe, that it makes me want to go to those countries very soon, if there are more people like them there. Riding monorails around Kuala Lampure, reuniting with the crazy cool Sophia from Toronto in Bali. These memories will keep this journey fresh and exciting in my mind.
Although feeling somewhat down, someone also pointed out that I am far from done with my adventure. Yes I am going closer to home, in order to accualy get there, but backpacking through Central America is going to be a whole new set of great memories and adventures. I still have fond memories of my first time in Costa Rica and Panama. This time I can do it right, and see much more, being the older, wiser backpacker that I am now. The journey between Costa Rica and the US has lots to offer an adventure bound nomad, and is not to be scoffed at. What do I have to offer the world? I do not yet know, but I do know what the world has to offer me, and I'm not going to miss out on it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kuala Lampur

Taking the bus from the international airport to the center of Kuala Lampur takes about an hour, and the main thing that will be noticed is the vast amounts of palm oil trees. It is sort of a cool sight seeing all the big, over grown trees standing in rows, planted in just about every open area in view. Apparently huge amounts of indigenous forest were cut down to make room for the trees, but at least they are not an eye sore. Rubber trees can sometimes be seen in the mix as well.

After a while, the view turns from green, into an awesome assortment of skyscrapers, such as KL tower, kind of resembling the space needle in Seattle, and the famous Twin Towers. I followed the cheapest recommendation for accommodation in my trusty Lonely Planet Southeast Asia guide book, and found myself in the center of KL, in Chinatown and Little India. There are a whole lot of vendors on the street, much like any Chinatown, and lots of things going on. I found myself in Wheeler's guest house, costing me 25 ringit a night, about $8.

The next day, I walked about 4 blocks and caught my very first mono rail; first stop, Twin Towers. It only took about 5 minutes, and cost only 1.60 ringit, beating out any taxi by at least $5. The mono rail drops you off in the bottom floor of the towers, and from there elevators and escalators take you to where ever you are going. Apparently, getting to the bridge that connects the towers, and experiencing the views, can only be achieved at certain, ungodly times of the day. The minute the words '8 am' were thrown around, I knew this backpacker would just be using his imagination. The views from as high up as I got where pretty darn spectacular anyways. Every floor contains multitudes of shopping centers and restaurants, even familiar ones like McDonald's and Chili's. The Towers were pretty busy, and one reason for this was that the Malaysian Grand Prix was going on, and they had an expo set up in the center of the ground floor. Since it was my birthday and I do love my movie watching, I hit up the cinema on the third floor to watch "Rio", my first solo cinema experience to date.

The rest of my time in KL was spent doing absolutely no tourist activities, as I am running out of funds fast, and have a ways to go yet, before I start looking for work in Australia. Many things can be experienced however, by just hoofing it around a city for a week, and not abiding by any itinerary in a guide book. I always recommend it to any traveler.
I did manage to book a flight to Brunei however, and am leaving on the 9th. From Brunei, my general plan, scribbled out on a napkin somewhere, is to take a ferry to Kota Kinabalu, back in Borneo Malaysia, from there fly to Singapore, then Indonesia, then some much needed reviving of the back account in OZ. I plan on working and saving for a few months, then taking the trans-Siberian rail from Beijing to Moscow. I do not have a plan as to where in Australia I should start looking for work, but I've always been on the non-plan plan. (any help on the subject is welcome)


Inside one of the towers


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some of my favorite pictures from this trip

Scuba diving in Mozambique. Diving photos taken by Chad Thatcher

Penguins at Cape Point, South Africa

Table Mountain, South Africa

Tofo, Mozambiqu

Livingstone, Zambia

Swimming at the top of Victoria Falls: Devils Pool

Vic Falls, Zambia

Cage diving in Cape Town. Taken by Chad Thatcher

Taking a ferrie up Lake Malawi

Dug out canoes in Monkey Bay, Malawi

Zanzibar, Tanzania


Killing fields of Cambodia

Forbidden Palace, Hue Vietnam

Vietnam DMZ

Vang Vieng, Laos

Many more to come.....