Category Archives: Traveling

On Malawi Vacation

Bounce around in the back of the truck, wind blowing through your hair. Pause the truck to let the baboons cross the street (why did the monkeys cross the road?), more like a tiny dirt road. Pick up some people, drop some off. Stop for a hitchhiker: a forty-five minute ride can take three hours.

Malawi is beautiful. Small hills covered in big rock faces and newly green trees. Gardens and farms line the road, soil prepped and ready for the rainy season to come in full force to grow the maize. White sand beach, small islands popping up in the middle of the lake which looks like an ocean. Clear blue water lapping the edges, the amaamas washing the clothes and the dishes in the lake, little naked kids diving in and out of the water.

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Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.
Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.

Its dry here still, like in much of south eastern Zambia, where the rains are still just starting, a month later than they should have. You can see it in the trees and the fields and in the rivers thirsting for water. You can feel it in the heat, which constantly needs a good rain to break it up into something more bearable. Something less heavy feeling. The hot season has gone on way too long here.

Of course, being from Northwest, I am not used to the heat. Our rainy season has been going for at least a month or two now, and I worry more about the hole in my roof than about my neighbors’ farms not being able to grow food. I worry about the snakes that might come in through the forest of ferns that grows up around my house before I ask someone to come and slash my yard. Dry is a foreign concept at home when I cant get my clothes to dry, when I am in bed in my sweatpants and a sweater.

Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi
Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi

But, then again, this is our beach vacation, and what is a beach vacation without too much heat and sunburns and skipping over the burning sand into the cool water to cool down?

And here we are: in Malawi. On the lake, the crystal clear lake that is so big it seems like an ocean. We lie on the beach and read our books and drink our beers and life on vacation is good. We wait while the morning clouds clear out, we catch a ride into town to get money from the atm. The breeze in the truck bed cuts the heat for the moment, and is a nice break from the rest of the day.

And we return to the beach. We watch the boats in the water, multiplied at night while they shine their lights and go fishing. We watch the amaamas go down to the edge of the water and wash the clothes and the dishes and themselves. The little boys run down to the edge of the water, strip their clothes off on the way and dive into the waves. We count the chickens running around in the sand with the kids, and it is so much like home, like the village, but with sand instead of dirt and lakes instead of streams. It is vacation.

Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.
Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.

Ndenu, or, Why You Should Travel

How should I describe this place to you, a friend, family, a stranger? How should I describe the run down buildings, the vendors selling the same things, the broiler chickens rustling and crying in their cages, ready for selling. The dusty streets, the chipped tarmac running through the middle? How do I describe the gas being pumped into old liter sized plastic beer bottles to sell for people’s motorbikes. The smell of dust before the rainy season descends. The winds that pull in just as the sun is getting a bit too overwhelming in the long afternoon.

What can I say, but travel. See the streets and the vendors and the dust. See all of the dust, different each place you go. Go anywhere. Go everywhere. Go different places so that you can start to say that it felt a bit like those rural towns in Vietnam at times, and then realize how little you really know about these places that you have gone. And how much more there is to see. Then tell yourself that someday you will go back.

Travel so you can see your life through new eyes. So you can see your world in a new way. Travel so you can meet others who have traveled too. Who have traveled more. Who can teach you. Who you can teach, too.

Travel so you can hear the songs in the different languages. In Hindi and Swahili and Bemba and Lunda. So you can ride the crowded buses pushed in with the mothers holding screaming babies and farmers and sacks full of things that will be for sale in the next town, and truly appreciate your seat on your crappy Greyhound bus when you go home.

Go where you are scared to go. Where you are uncomfortable. Stay until the discomfort subsides or until you find peace within it. Take that strength back with you when you return home.

Travel so you can meet people. So you can see the little girl in fourth grade in her hand me down dress and ripped rubber shoes who says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Hope that she reaches that goal. So you can talk to the thirty five year old man in his school uniform, back learning after so many years so that he can retake his secondary school exams and go back to be a nurse in the village where he has lived his entire life. Talk to them. Eat with them. Wonder about their lives. Wonder about your own life. Keep traveling.

Travel so you can learn. Travel so you can realize how much there is to learn. How much you have to learn. Pledge to try.

Go where you can’t communicate. Where there are no common words. Where it is imperative that you simply make it up. Learn to take it slowly. Then even slower. Learn to be patient with things you don’t know. Learn to make common ground. Learn to make yourself understood. Learn to understand.

Wake up in a new country, in a new city, in a new life. Never get tired of that feeling, of that feeling of curiosity and amazement that pulls you out into the day. Travel without plans, without goals or destination. Travel for the thrill, for the wonder, for the adventure, for the excitement of it all.

Travel so you can see all the different sunsets and star filled skies. Wonder at them. Realize how amazing it is that each one of those sunsets and each one of those star filled skies are the same. No matter where you go, or how things change those skies will always stay the same.

Trekking in the Solukhumbu: Part II

Continued from Part I: we made it to Lobuche!

The next two days were shorter: I had been getting sick for the past week or so (I had a bad cold and cough which went to my lungs on the day we crossed Cho-la pass, and was having trouble breathing while hiking in the cold air), so I decided to take a rest day. This worked perfectly, because the plan from here was to hike to Gorakshep, and from there go to Everest Base Camp one day and to the peak of Kala Patthar the next day before coming back to Lobuche. So I stayed in the lodge and Danny and Melissa went up to Gorakshep. They decided not to go to Everest Base Camp (Because there’s really nothing there, especially now since all the Everest expeditions this year were canceled), but went up Kala Patthar the next morning before coming back to Lobuche to meet up with me again! After 1.5 days of resting and taking tons of cold and cough medicine I was much better than before, and ready to keep hiking!

Prayer flags during the one clear part of the day on the way to Chhukhung.
Prayer flags during the one clear part of the day on the way to Chhukhung.

Day 11! It was extremely cloudy and overcast, and we decided to, instead of going over the Kongma la pass and not getting any views, we would just go around and take it a bit easier on ourselves. We already got one amazing pass experience, so we were content with that. This brought us to Chhukhung, at 4,730m/15,500ft. Here we rented equipment for ice climbing and got ready to go to Island Peak!

Day 12 we had a short hike to the Island Peak Base Camp, at 4,970m/16,300ft. Here we were going to be camping, so we set up tents and settled in. We were supposed to take day 13 as an acclimatization day at Base Camp, but we decided that, since we had been at high altitude for a week already, we didn’t need it. That meant that we would be waking up at midnight that night to do the climb to Island Peak!

At Base Camp we also met our climbing Sherpa who taught us how to clip into fixed ropes and use the ascending and descending clips to go up and down the slope on the rope line. At the top of Island Peak there is a period of time where there are fixed ropes on the ice, and you use those plus heavy-duty plastic boots with crampons to ascend to the peak. So we spent some time that afternoon getting used to climbing up a steep slope on lines, harnessed in and everything!

That night we went to sleep early and woke up at midnight. We had some oatmeal, as much as we could eat at that hour and then set off: day 13 was officially under way.

Sunrise at Island Peak.
Sunrise at Island Peak.

The first few hours were brutal. They were switchbacks covered in a thin layer of snow, and above all we could see were the headlamps of hikers who had started earlier than us constantly rising higher and higher. If you have never done this (gone up to a peak in the middle of the night), it basically sucks. Every time you look up you think that the end of the lights must be the top, and that that is where you are going! But in reality that is just the end of the line of hikers, and it keeps rising higher and higher. You cant tell how high you are, how high you have gone, and all you have is the monotony of switchbacks up a steep hill on little to no sleep, in the dark, in the cold.

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The view from Island Peak

Finally, after a few hours of the switchbacks we got to something new: icy rocks! Again, not ideal in the dark, in the freezing cold. Because it had snowed the previous afternoon (like it does pretty much every afternoon up there) there was an inch layer of snow and ice on all the rocks, and so for the next hour we climbed up boulders and across rocks, balancing on the snow.

Finally, at around 4:30 or 5 in the morning it started to get light out.

Rocks, the glacier, and the top of Island Peak.
Rocks, the glacier, and the top of Island Peak.

We spent another two hours climbing up the rocks over the snow, finally with a bit of light, and by 7am we had finally reached the top of this part! We could see the top from here, and we could also see all of the amazing views that the top had to offer. It was really a perfect spot. We could have kept going, another four hours across the glacier, to the top, but at that point we had been climbing for around six hours, were completely exhausted, and overwhelmed by the climbing that we had been doing. So we decided to end the climb on a high note, sat around eating some snickers bars that we had brought with us, before starting the long climb down.

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Myself and Danny at Island Peak

By the time we finally got down from the mountain it was nearly 10:30 in the morning. We sat around, ate some instant noodles as a sort of breakfast, and basked in the brief period of warm sun before packing up our things and hiking back down to Chukkung. By the time we got to Chukkung it was almost 3pm: we had been hiking nearly 12 hours that day on very little sleep, and all we wanted was to go to bed. We made ourselves stay up till 5pm, and then ate a light dinner before going directly to sleep.

Day 14! By this time it was mostly downhill, but we had a long day in store. The plan was to hike all the way to Namche Bazaar in one day, a hike that is close to 8 hours long, and includes both a good amount of downhill and a few intense uphills. So, we set off early, stopping only once or twice the whole time (including a lunch break in Tengboche consisting of slices of cake at a great bakery there), and made it to Namche Bazaar by around 3pm. We put down our bags and immediately went to a pub for beers and buff momos to celebrate the (near) end of our hike! It really was pretty great going down so far in altitude: we had much more energy, and the hiking felt easier because of all of the extra oxygen in the air! After being at high altitude for so long we were sure we could do anything with all of the air going to our lungs.

One last view on the way down!
One last view on the way down!

The next and last day we hiked from Namche Bazaar to Lukla: our hike was done, all that was left was to get off of the mountains!

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.

For the past few days no flights had been getting in or out of Lukla. There were too many clouds between Lukla and Kathmandu and so it wasn’t safe to fly in. The way it works is that there are a fixed number of flights going in and out, and if your flight gets cancelled then you get placed at the bottom of a waiting list for flights the next day. But there were already nearly four days worth of people on the waiting list trying to get flights because theirs had been cancelled, so the chances of getting a flight out soon was getting pretty grim.

Helicopters landing in Lukla airport
Helicopters landing in Lukla airport

In addition to this, instead of having a flight time the flights just have an order for takeoff. They fly four flights an hour (one from each of the four airlines), and so the flights in hour one are flights 1-4, the second hour they are flights 5-8, etc. So if you have an early flight number (like 1 or 2), the theory is that you only need one or two flights to actually land in Lukla from Kathmandu, and you’ll be able to fly out.

We were flight number 15.

Of course, none of this matters if no flights at all land in Lukla that day. Which is what was happening the morning that we were supposed to be flying out. Danny and Melissa had a flight back to the states in a few days, and on top of that we really didn’t want to be stuck in Lukla, since it was a pretty miserable town. So when the flights weren’t going out we had to look at our other option: a helicopter! This meant having our trekking guide follow some leads, find a helicopter with spaces on us for a reasonable price, going to the western union to take cash out to pay for it all, and then wait on the tarmac until the helicopter landed, sprint to it, board, and we were on our way. All in the course of approximately an hour. It was a hectic way to leave, but at least we got out! And with that we ended our trip: fifteen days of hiking later!

Last day of hiking!
Last day of hiking!

Trekking in the Solukhumbu: Part I

Two weeks ago I got back from a hike to the Solukhumbu region of Nepal, which is the area of the Himalayas where Mt. Everest is located. A lot of people who go there just go straight up the Everest Base Camp trail (we call these people EBCers), and then they go straight down. While cool, there is so much that you don’t get to see while doing this. So, my brother, Danny, and his girlfriend, Melissa, and I went on a 16 day trek up to Gokyo-Ri, across the Cho-la pass, and then to Island peak, and then back down. (A lollipop route, as Melissa pointed out: we overlapped just the very beginning and the very end.) This way we were able to see incredible views of Everest and Lhotse, as well as incredible, diverse landscapes and peaks.

For reference, a map of our route through the region.
For reference, a map of our route through the region.

To get to the area you have to fly into Lukla airport at 2840m/9,300ft. It is one of the highest airports in the world, but, more importantly, holds the record for being the most dangerous airport in the world. Good things to know before flying in there! Why is it so dangerous? Well, the airstrip is on the side of the mountain, and when landing the plane flies onto a short, uphill runway that points directly into the mountain. And when taking off, well, you are flying off of a cliff. The flights are extremely weather dependent, too, and so if there is too much wind or too many clouds anywhere between Lukla and Kathmandu the flights cant fly. Because of this we were extremely lucky that our flight there not only took off on the day that it was supposed to, but it took off pretty much on time, too! It was a good start to the trip!

Me, Danny, and Melissa on the first day of hiking.
Me, Danny, and Melissa on the first day of hiking.

After landing at Lukla we had a quick lunch before setting off on the first leg of the hike: a four hour hike to Phakding, at 2,610m/8,500ft.

There are long bridges that run between the mountains, high above the river.
There are long bridges that run between the mountains, high above the river.

Day 2, a bit longer, took us up to Namche Bazaar, at a more respectable 3,440m/11,200ft. This was the last town where we were able to eat meat (above Namche Bazaar the area is a national park and you are not allowed to kill animals. Because of this, any meat on the menu is carried in by porters from below and therefore is not very fresh), so we ate plenty of buff momos and yak steak, and also took the last hot showers we would take for another week or so! It was quite luxurious.

Namche Bazaar, nestled into the mountainside.
Namche Bazaar, nestled into the mountainside.

Day 3 was an acclimatization day, so we did a day hike from Namche up to the small towns of Khumjung and Khunde.

Our first view of Everest, behind the Lhotse Wall, from a view point near Namche Bazaar.
Our first view of Everest (L), behind the Lhotse Wall (R), from a view point near Namche Bazaar.

Day 4 was another short day, a few (beautiful) hours to Dhole (4,200m/13,800ft), and day 5 was short, too, from Dhole to Machhermo (4,470m/14,600ft). Both of these days were beautiful, taking us around the sides of gorgeous mountains while also following the Dudh Koshi river north up towards the higher mountains and towards Tibet!

Following the river towards the whitecaps.
Following the river towards the whitecaps.

One more short day on Day 6, from Machhermo to Gokyo (4,790m/15,700ft). Gokyo is surrounded by five high altitude lakes, three of which we got to see on our way! They were beautiful, settled into the mountains surrounding them, some frozen over some not.

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Day 7 we finally got some of the really amazing views! In the morning we hiked from Gokyo up to Gokyo Ri (5,360m/17,585ft). From there we were able to see amazing panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and surrounding mountains.

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A view from Gokyo Ri

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In the afternoon we hiked from Gokyo, across the Ngozumba Glacier to Dragnag (4,700m/15,400ft).

The glacier, as seen from Gokyo Ri
The glacier, as seen from Gokyo Ri

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Day 8 was another big day: we woke up early and set off to cross Cho-la pass! This involved a hike to the base of the mountains, across a large snow field, and then up a good deal of boulders and large rocks until we got to the pass. It was difficult, but fun, even though it took a really long time to get to the top. When we finally reached the top of the pass at 5,420m/17,782ft we got views out onto the ice glacier in front of us, and down the steep rocks and snow below us.

Us, at the top of the pass.
Us, at the top of the pass.

 

Looking back towards Dragnag
Looking back towards Dragnag

The glacier was fun to cross, though difficult at times. It consisted of a lot of testing the snow in front of us, stepping on it and hoping to not fall down into the snow! A lot of times we could take a good number of steps on top of the snow and everything would be fine, and then all of a sudden we would take one more step fall knee- or hip-deep into the snow! I missed out on getting snow this winter, so I personally loved getting to fight my way through the massively deep snow.

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Finally, after nearly nine and a half hours of hiking, we made it to our destination: Lobuche (4,910m/16,100ft).

More later on the second half of the trek, and Island Peak!

Moving on, from Lobuche to Chhukung.
Moving on, from Lobuche to Chhukung.

On the Road, Again

It’s 5am and the people are starting to come out. These people who disappear all night, from when I land at midnight until now, start to appear again, come out from their corners, again. Some of them are just arriving at the airport, and I realize that it is already time for some of the flights to start taking off again. 5am. A normal time to get to the airport. For some.

And as for me? I am just happy to be in an airport again. I am just happy to be traveling again. I am excited to be somewhere new, again. Layovers aren’t really so bad once you get used to them. Wander the airport some; find a nice corner to sit in. In Singapore, where I am now, there is even a koi pond and I can walk over and watch the fish swimming around while the rest of the world flies by. Literally.

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Early morning on the bridge to San Francisco

I spent a while back home rehabbing my ankle after my accident in Vietnam. Which was a good thing to do. I wasn’t really able to walk on my ankle after I sprained it, so coming home made sense, so that I didn’t have to travel on it. But now it has been over a month and, while I loved getting to take hot showers whenever I wanted and getting to eat any type of food that I wanted  (though I did mostly stay away from Asian food. I wasn’t ready for American-Asian food yet), I have gotten pretty antsy being home.

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My dog took good care of my while I was bed ridden

It is hard to get used to sitting still when you have been moving for so long.

It was really hard getting used to fitting in again at home. Reverse culture shock. It was one thing getting used to the giant grocery stores and paved roads and everyone speaking English.

It was another thing going back to my university for homecoming and trying to fit into situations where a year ago I would have felt so comfortable. Seeing people who I recognized. Seeing people who I hadn’t seen in a year. Seeing people who weren’t, also, traveling.

I didn’t know how to act in a room full of people. I felt like a stranger. Well, not with my closest friends, but it was odd trying to trade stories from the last year with acquaintances. How to sum up my past year when people asked? With a list of places? How to put it into one word? And so I kept feeling like I was falling short of what people wanted to hear. Which just made it feel that much more awkward.

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A perk of going back to Baltimore: seeing my old friends and roommates!

So maybe that is one reason why I am so excited to go back. I don’t feel like I have finished my time traveling. I don’t feel like I can sum it up yet. I can tell stories, stories about the times I took a bus across the border of one country into another. Stories of when I climbed up into the mountains in Nepal. Stories of the first time the smog cleared in Kathmandu and I could really see the Himalayas and how magical they looked standing above the ridge of the valley.

And stories of all the amazing people whom I met along the way. People and friends who I would never meet in any other place at any other time. And how they are the people who I have become so comfortable around. And how maybe it just takes time to get used to new things, and how maybe it takes time to also learn to get used to old things, too.

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At the homecoming game: JHU vs UMD

This time around I am heading back to Nepal so that I can go trekking, and then head over to Tibet with a friend of mine! Trips that I have been waiting for all year, but that I had to put off until my ankle was healed completely. I am so excited to get to see new places; I am so excited to be traveling again. I am so excited to be back, on the road, again.

When You Fall off Your Bike…

Around here no one speaks English. Not a word, not hello, not goodbye. Not north, not south, not hospital.

So when I crash my bike going around a corner through the sand that is the road it is hard to translate what we need. What needs to be done.

Bikes parked along the road.
Bikes parked along the road.

I remember seeing Jordan coming sprinting from his bike pulled over ahead to pull me out from under mine, I remember being in pain trying to get up. I don’t remember how everyone else got to me, but soon everyone is around. They get my bike out from the middle of the sand patch that stands for a road and slowly I try to drag myself up and to the edge. I can’t walk.

We understand the hand gestures from the family whose store is right next to the sandpit to carry me down the hill to their house. The guys, Jordan and Ian, loop two arms around me and I am half carried to a chair where they set me down and tell me to put my foot up. The woman starts spraying my cuts with hydrogen peroxide and the man dabs around my ankle with some green oil with Chinese symbols on the bottle.

It feels like the oil is helping but I can’t tell if that is in my head.

My head. My head is spinning and thick. From shock. It is hard to get words out but I also don’t need so many words to get across what I need. I point to a spot on my ankle, I try turning it different ways. I attempt to curl my toes. I can curl my toes, I can’t move the ankle though. I can’t stand up on it. It hurts and it hurts, and there are some things that cross language barriers, and one of those is that I need to get to a hospital. I don’t fully understand what happens around me as it does. I drink the water I am supposed to slowly. I try to stop crying. I keep crying, because the pain really won’t go away. It keeps coming back in waves to replenish the supply of tears coming down.

We need to go to a hospital.

Views of the ocean from the road.
Views of the ocean from the road.

The drive today was beautiful. The scenery was amazing. The roads were incredible. Well, until they weren’t. We drove through the mountains and across rivers and wetlands. We slowed down for trucks and for tractors and for small towns that we would drive through with their groups of children running along the road to shout at us hello. We drove through all the colors you could imagine. Oranges and purples and blues making up the mountains in the distance, Greys and browns and yellow ochre dotting the ground with trees and bushes and little white flowers to accent it all. The speed was exhilarating, the sun was shining down and it was the perfect day and the perfect place to drive.

It was so perfect until it wasn’t.

The roads switched between beautifully paved ones racing through the scenery, past the mountains and the rivers and wetlands, to small ones filled with potholes and rocks. Ones still in the middle of being constructed, and ones that were still gravel or rocks. Or sand. Ones that weren’t roads at all, but connected the real roads together, and helped to map the course between the small towns and the larger towns and the different colors dotting the skyline.

The mountains, the rivers.
The mountains, the rivers.

Soon I am brought to a Vietnamese hospital. It is bare, so bare, but there is a nurse there who speaks some English, and she walks with me to the x-rays where they take pictures of my ankle. They try to take x-rays of my knee, too, which is wrapped in napkins from where the woman had treated it, but I tell them that it is fine, just bruised and cut, and that what really needs to be looked at is my ankle.  He takes the x-rays, looks at them, convinces me that it is not broken, and after some haggling I pay them 100,000 dong (~$5) and get my ankle wrapped, and my cuts cleaned up. I am lifted onto the back of a motorbike, and we go to a hotel for the night. There is no way we are making it to Nha Trang today, and it is debatable if I will even keep driving south.

I want to keep driving, though.

It is already day three of our drive. It was supposed to take two days to drive from Hoi An to Nha Trang, but with all of the stops we have made, including two hospital visits (mine plus another cover-up hospital visit when Jordan got into a smaller accident with a local), and some falls (Kateryna in sand, too, Ian and Joe when they ran into each other while stopping) and lots of stops for photos, it is taking what now looks like four days to get to our immediate destination.

Kateryna and me, pre-falls
Kateryna and me, pre-falls
Post-falls: Kateryna with her scraped up knee, me with my knee and sprained ankle (and hospital wheel chair)
Post-falls: Kateryna with her scraped up knee, me with my cut up knee and sprained ankle (and hospital wheel chair)

 

 

 

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So in the morning I get up, I try to put weight on my foot, and I find I can limp along. It hurts, but if I take some drugs and bear through it I figure I should be fine to drive. I don’t use my feet to drive my bike, after all, so I figure there should be no reason for me not to keep biking. I also know that if I don’t get back on my bike in this town then I will stay scared of driving. And I don’t want to be scared of driving. So I go for a test drive in a circle, prove to Kateryna that I am able to drive, and we go.

Getting back on the bike is easy, and it is also difficult. Starting it initially is scary. I don’t completely trust my hands and my legs to do what I need them to. I don’t trust my balance, and I don’t trust my mind to keep my bike steady. On the good roads, though, I feel fine. It is not difficult, it is fun, it is almost as fun as it was before. But soon we hit the bad roads, the ones that are still in the middle of being paved, and the large patches of gravel. All the things that need to be negotiated. The roads that bump along and scare me. Those are harder to navigate because I doubt myself on them. I keep remembering that I fell once on rough terrain, so what is keeping me from falling again? It is hard to stay steady, and it is hard to go fast.

Kateryna tells me multiple times that it is just not going to work if I keep going this slowly. The boys wont wait up, the whole group wont be able to wait up. Something is going to change, and that is going to have to be my speed.

And so, slowly, I start getting myself to go faster. It is scary: it is scary going over the rough patches, and it hurts, too, when my bike bumps against my ankle. I am slightly less sure of my handling of the bike around turns and sharp corners, and I am worried I am going to make a stupid mistake.

I do make mistakes. I go through potholes I could have avoided, I stay in a spot of the lane I didn’t need to. It takes a little bit for me to hold all the pieces of driving together in my mind in the same way I was doing before. But I am driving, and that is what matters to me. It hurts, in my ankle, and when I bend my knee, but I am going. And I force my bike up to high speeds again, like I was doing before, and I make the turns safely again, like I was doing before, and little by little we make our way to our destination, to Nha Trang. And slowly slowly my cuts and my sprained ankle are doing better and better to heal.

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In the Bermuda Triangle

I am so hungry. I have this pit in the bottom of my stomach because every time I start to eat I get full too soon to really fill it up.

It has been accumulating for days now. Maybe weeks. I have no real sense of time here, so I don’t know how long I have been hungry. I don’t know what day it is or what month or what week. I forget sometimes where I am, what country, what city, because they all start to blend together after a time. One city and then the next, one cuisine and currency and language follows the next.

The hunger is a side effect of traveling. Well, for me, of taking malarone. I know it does this to me, makes me lose my appetite, but I have it and I was told to take it and I am paranoid of getting sick from all the bug bites that I get every day, so I don’t stop taking it. I don’t stop taking it and I learn to eat as much as I can before giving the rest of my meal to the guys that I am traveling with. That is one of the perks of traveling with guys: they are always happy to finish my meal when I cant, so I feel less bad about not finishing my food.

Lunch: rice, pork, veggies and egg!
Lunch: rice, pork, veggies and egg!

There are moments while traveling where I forget what real life is. Where I forget that I have a home and friends and family besides the bed that I am renting in an eight-person dorm and the people that I am traveling with. I forget what I did before, what I am doing after, what month it is, what year. I forget how old I am and where I come from, all I know is that I am on the road and I have been for months and I will be for months to come.

It is a calm feeling, but confusing.

The empty, yet beautiful, beach in Vietnam
The empty, yet beautiful, beach in Vietnam

But then we rent motorbikes and make our way down the coast of Vietnam from Hue to Hoi An and it is the most beautiful and exhilarating things that I have ever done. And I am giddy with the adrenaline brought on by the speed and the wind swirling around and against me and the views that pass me by as we make our way from the jungles and the rice paddies to the mountains and the stunningly white sandy beaches and the views of the trains weaving their way through the valleys at the base of it all.

And while we are doing this I forget how hungry I am just for the time being. And everything else slips away from me. It is me and this country and the wind on my back. It is the sun when we stop, beating down on my bare shoulders. It is the bright greens and blues and browns lining the view. It is the curves as the road hugs the mountain and the sound of my bike as we climb higher and higher over the pass. And it is the speed as we race along the straight city highways, going faster and faster until we can’t go any more and we finally stop.

From left to right: Jordan, Kateryna, me, Stephen, and Ian
From left to right: Jordan, Kateryna, me, Stephen, and Ian

When we stop this time it is just for one night in Hoi An. One night turns into two, though, and then three and then four as we lie by the pool in the sun, taking the time to relax in a sort of vacation and holiday from the traveling.

It is easy to stay in Hoi An. Everyone who comes to the hotel there (the Sunflower Hotel, the only hostel in town, and where all of the backpackers end up staying) stays for longer than they mean. Kateryna refers to it as the Bermuda triangle. Because everything is lost there. Days, time, everything. Every morning we eat the buffet breakfast before going and sitting by the pool and promising that we are going to do something that day. Instead though we end up lying by the pool, meeting new friends, soaking up the sun, reading our books. And we leave again when the sun leaves and we go to eat.

The other thing we do is we go out and we buy motorbikes. Because we can’t get over how beautiful the drive from Hue to Hoi An was, and so we are blaming staying in Hoi An for so long on the fact that it is taking us time to buy the motorbikes, and we cannot leave until we do.

And so when we finally leave Hoi An we have lost more days, again, and the week has started to fly by, again. The time here gets lost into the sinkhole of traveling, and once again we will head off to a new city, to new things, to new people, but also to the same people who are traveling in the same direction. And new meals and new foods and new sites. And more days flying by, cities and countries flying by and getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle of traveling.

The mountains, the coast