and Mayhem: Best and Worst of Wanderlust 99
are all over the board on this one, but such a long journey has definitely
a lot of highs and lows, so here's our picks:
of narrowly missed natural disasters: Three
1. Earthquake in
Northern Turkey, epicenter just south of
Istanbul. We were in Istanbul about three weeks before the earthquake, our
friend Attila was not so lucky. His
carpet shop in central Istanbul, was destroyed not in the original quake
but in a major aftershock a few days later.
He is currently rebuilding.
Cyclone centered in eastern India, around Calcutta and
the state of Orissa. We were originally scheduled to fly
out of Calcutta on October 30 to Bangkok, but after
having such a great time in Nepal, we had no desire to
return to India and had our tickets changed to fly from
Unfortunately, the cyclone struck Calcutta
on October 30 and left thousands dead in its wake.
Avalanches in the Himalayas, along all trekking trails. The
cyclone in India changed the weather patterns dramatically
for the entire region, and the Himalayas received an
unusual snowfall for that time of year and caused a massive
buildup of snow high in the mountains. A week after we
finished our trek in the Annapurnas, the trails there were
closed due to avalanches, but not before some trekkers were
caught in avalanches and stranded along the trail.
they finally caught up with us...
of times actually caught in a natural disaster:
central Vietnam, the monsoon struck late and lashed
the central highlands with torrents of rain. First, in early
November, the imperial city of Hue was completely
underwater and thousands died. When we arrived in
Central Vietnam, it was the second coming, and we found
ourselves being evacuated out of the tiny town of Hoi An
which was under siege from the advancing waters.
Storefronts along the river were underneath 14 feet of
water, and we spent a good week wading through hip
high water in our good old tevas.
Weather Forecast: Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic
Each evening at 10:00, the
much-anticipated weather forecast
comes on. It begins with a completely naked man or women.
From what we were told, it's usually a women but we were
graced this evening with the full frontal nudity of a man. He
first does a twirl to bear his behind, then reaches down to grab
underwear. On it goes, then an undershirt, a pair of shorts, followed by a
polo shirt. And lastly he pulls out a sweater,
jauntily throws it over his shoulder and grabs an umbrella
before exiting stage left. A striptease in reverse for the day's
time to rebuild a bridge that has washed out in front
of us: Hour
and a half, Northern India, en route from
Amritsar to Dharmsala. Plenty of earth-moving equipment. Runner Up:
Three hours, DMZ, Vietnam
of times a bridge has washed out in front of us: Four
ride: From Dharmsala to Delhi, when even the Tibetan
Monks aboard were chanting, their prayer wheels spinning
frantically as we careened around the mountain passes.
uncomfortable ride: This is a tough category, as almost
all our trips seemed to fit the bill, but the worst had to be the
ride through Nepal to Pokhara, coming back from our rafting
trip. Our seats were spring-loaded, the backs broken and laying
in the lap of the person behind us, and our knees bunched up
in our face from sitting over the tire wheel. That trip alone, we counted
six times that our heads made contact with the roof.
One particularly bad bump, we went up, but Doug's foot was
caught under the seat in front, so that while his body went up
with the momentum, his foot did not, leaving a pretty bloody mess.
Up: The journey from Amman, Jordan to Petra, deep in
the southern desert. We hired a taxi along with four other people, but as
they were Jordanian, they grabbed the best seats in our
vehicle, which was a converted station wagon, leaving Doug
and I with the trunk, converted that is. Our seat was ten inches
higher than normal, so we sat with our heads against the roof, for a five
hour journey through 120 degree weather, with no
air con, save for the open windows that felt like a gigantic hair
dryer set to hotter than hell. It didn't help to have a spare engine
right behind our heads. To give our necks a rest, we used the
engine manifold as a pillow.
of times our vehicle met another object: Six
Another car: Once, Istanbul,
A Motor Scooter: Once, Varanasi,
A Crowd of people: Once, Cairo,
A Cow: Twice, Delhi &
A Water buffalo: Once,
of narrow misses: Too many times to count
of flat tires on a single journey: Three on the
trip from Varanasi, India to Pokhara, Nepal. Technically, a broken axle is
not a flat tire, but it was definitely the last straw.
methods of transportation used around the world:
Car, bus, train, minivan, jeep,
4x4, trunk of a station wagon, auto
rickshaw, cycle rickshaw, cyclo, subway, cable-car, travelator, trolley,
tram, motorcycle, motor scooter, airplane,
ferry, Nile cruiser, felucca, paddleboat, tarred basket
masquerading as a boat, camel, elephant, horse, water buffalo, own two
feet and occasionally hands as well as feet.
unusual first world method of transportation: Travelator
latest transportation scheme, a bizarre futuristic chain
of elevated escalators and moving walkways enclosed
in translucent tubes snaking up the surrounding hills. More
vertical than horizontal, it has helped to alleviate the horrendous
traffic by getting people out and walking.
unusual third world method of transportation: Top of the bus, anywhere
in India and Nepal.
metro: The St. Petersburg Metro, not only the grandest
metro filled with 'socialist workers unite' art, but also the
most efficient system, where trains come exactly three
bus travel: Turkey. Every bus is state of the art, equipped
with deluxe seating, overhead luggage racks, fold-down tray
tables and even your very own hostess, who serves tea, coffee
& snacks, followed by a quick splash of light cologne for
scenic train ride: From Salzburg to Venice through
the Austrian Alps. Also winner of the most comfortable ride.
Border Crossing: From Russia into Estonia. The border guards seem to
derive great pleasure in taking their frustrations
out on Americans. Think strip search...
Up: Ferry from Aqaba, Jorden to Dahab, Egypt. We
a four hour ferry that was overcrowded and sweltering,
but the worst was an older man with a horrible, phlegm-filled hacking
cough that came up and sat right next to us. We had
found a nice bench and was settled in nicely and then he came
and squeezed in. The cough was so horrible it had to be
masking some exotic disease like ebola that was no doubt,
highly contagious. Within minutes, everyone in the near
vicinity had packed up and moved out, leaving a wide ring
around him, but he couldn't settle down in one place and kept
getting up and moving around, whereas we had to keep moving
as well to avoid him.
en-route entertainment: US Marshals dubbed into
Russian by a single monotone male voice for the journey
from Tallin, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania. The love scenes were a riot
... huh, huh, ooh, ooh!
en-route entertainment: Ear-splittingly loud Hindi music
on any bus ride in India. When we queried as to the possibility
of turning it down, the other passengers glared at us, til we
that the music was responsible for keeping our driver
First class on the Cairo to Luxor train, playing
appallingly high-pitched Egyptian musical videos and even
a very annoying Arabic variety show.
London Musical seen:
Shock-headed Peter seen in Tel Aviv
London Musical seen:
incredible economy in-flight service: Thai
Airways, on a short hop from Bangkok, Thailand to Saigon, Vietnam, total
air time of fifty minutes, the amazing flight attendants managed to serve
a delicious meal of chicken curry with
complimentary wine and beer. This was followed by hot
towels and on our descent, ladies were presented with
beautiful magenta orchids.
meals not served on a plane ...
roadside snacks: Meat
pies in St. Petersburg, perogies in Poland, namkeens and
savory vegetable pakoras (fritters) in India, bhel puri in Bombay only,
bologne balls in Thailand, dumplings of steamed
meat & quail eggs in Vietnam, and
gelatinous bean & rice curd patties in Hong Kong.
ice cream flavor: Rice
Pudding, in Budapest, Hungary (Ann-Marie) Mauvic Magic in Kathmandu, Nepal
Runner Up: Cottage cheese, also Budapest, in fact they had
the best ice cream of the entire trip!
beer: Budvar, the
original Budweiser (no relation to the
American swill) brewed in Cesky Budjovice, Czechland.
Runner Up: Tiger Beer, brewed in Saigon, Vietnam
beer: Baltica No.4,
served warm, brewed in
St. Petersburg, Russia
Wine: Hungary, their
#6 is incredible!
drink to be called wine: Raksi,
local grain alcohol brewed in the foothills of Nepal. Highly flammable
horrible drink with a name similar to raksi: Raki,
a licorice-flavored grain alcohol brewed in Turkey. It also brings up bad
memories of drunken college kids screaming Raki in the middle of the
of times we ate mystery meat:
More than we should have!
meal that we had to choke down:
Goat intestines, heart, brain, tongue, liver and other internals along
a side of blood soup, served to us, the guest of honor at
a ritual slaughter during the Dasain festival in Nepal.
eclectic food cart: the
insect lady in Bangkok. She
pushed her cart along the streets peddling mealworms, fried
grasshoppers, and a whole bevy of more-than-four-legged
of countries we visited that served the ubiquitous
Banana pancake: 19 out
Cuisine: Tie between
Indian and Vietnamese
Country for Vegetarians:
special of the day: Steamed Crap, Cat Bau Island, Vietnam. When we
asked if it was crab or carp, the waitress replied that we could also have
our crap boiled or fried. mmm mmm
free meal deal: The
Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, dedicated to the ideal of offering
hospitality to every pilgrim
drink in cold weather: Hot
drink in blazingly hot weather: Hot
tea, at least that's what they say in the Middle East
tea variation: Chai,
served throughout India and Nepal,
is a lightly sweetened blend of black tea, cinnamon, clove,
ginger, cardamon, and honey, brewed into milk
Vietnamese Iced Coffee, Ask for café sua da, and they bring you a glass
of ice with
sweetened condensed milk in the bottom and a mini French metal filter atop
the rim, brewing fresh into your glass.
most likely to wreck havoc on your stool if taken in vast
Hummos, Hummos. Three times a day in
the middle east and we were not solid for months!
Worst Variety of Food:
Nepal: dhal bhat tarkari ad infinitum
of times we broke down and had McDonalds:
Four, all in the Egypt, at the end of a long run of hummos, hummos, hummos.
Digestive Woes: Israel
is probably a good segue ...
unusual bathroom experience:
Nepal, somewhere in the Annapurnas range in the Himalayas. We were tired,
at one of the many homes along the way. I asked the homeowner
if I could kindly use her restroom. She pointed back down the trail and
motioned into the trees where there was a break. I went
down, found the gap in the trees and went in hoping to find at
least a hole in the ground, some semblance of a toilet. What I got was far
better, well at least far more unusual. In front of me
was a woven bamboo screen. I went around it and was shocked
to find myself on the edge of a cliff. Next to me was a metal
bar lashed to two trees. Judging by the residuals along the cliff
face, I was to hold on to the metal bar, hang my exposed tushie
over the cliff face and let her rip. I have never been so frightened
by a bathroom, but when you gotta go, go as the locals go.
Up: A wood modesty
shack built around the gutter by the
side of the road in Udaipur, India.
is where the heat is ...
The ATM booth in
Siauliai, Lithuania. We had arrived in the middle of the night,
trying to get to the Hill of Crosses, basically the middle of
nowhere. Everything in town was pitch black and it was
FREEZING outside. With the bus depot locked, and too cold
to sit outside, we looked around frantically for a shelter and
spied an glass enclosed fluorescent lit ATM island. We curled up inside
hunkered down for the night, feeling like fish in a bowl on
Up: Campground cabins
in Oludeniz, Turkey where we
were the feast du jour for the swarms of mozzies. We even left
blood splats on the walls as testament to our misery.
Lodge Owner: Our
Nepali big sister "didi" who owns
the first lodge at
Machapuchre base Camp (altitude 13,850 ft) A lovely, ample women who
spends all her days in a down
parka is one of the few female lodge owners in Nepal. She runs
a fabu place: the beds are comfy, the bucket of water for
showers is really hot, she makes a mean dhal bat, greets everyone with a
huge hug, cracks bad jokes and celebrates
her guest's birthday with a candle in a snickers bar. LUV her!
unusual location for a cyber café:
Up in a tree house in
the treehouse town of Olympus in southern Turkey on the Mediterranean.
Basically in the middle of nowhere, two
hours from the nearest semblance to civilization, we found
a computer terminal high up in the treetops.
Up: In Vilnius in
someone's private office! We had a listing for a cyber café and went
in search. Found a small office building, went in and starting
'internet?' Finally someone said that there was internet
at this one place and we went in, and the woman was so nice,
she moved her stuff from the desk and sat us down at her terminal and let
email. When we finished, she wouldn't take any money. Duh, this was no
surfing the net, we went in search of ...
unusual service performed by the side of the road:
Dentistry, performed by a large heavy-set man squatting
next to a blanket spread out upon which is laid an assortment
of tools and dentures and fake teeth. Found throughout
tool in his assortment: Rusty
Barbers, armed with a
folding chair, a mirror to be
hung from a tree, and scissors.
Laundry: Anywhere in
India, even your undies come
back with creases in them.
Shave: In Aurangabad,
Shave: Hanoi, Vietnam.
As Asians have very little body hair, they seem to be unused
to Western faces. Doug stopped by an outdoor barber, and
while he did a wonderful job on his hair, the face did not fare
so well. Completely done-in by the copious amounts of facial
hair, the guy sliced and diced his way through a shave, until
Doug could not take the pain any more and took his butchered
face back to the hotel to clean and bandage.
place to take an after-shave dip:
the Dead Sea
Thailand (Ann-Marie) The
women combed my hair out dry, took one swipe across
with the scissors and pronounced me done. It took all
of thirty seconds.
site that was better than the hype:
The Taj Mahal. Absolutely breathtaking!
site that was actually worse than the hype:
The Pyramids. Over-blown, completely over-rated pile of rocks!
crumbly: Karnak Temple
in Luxor, Egypt
Runner Up: The Library at Ephesus Turkey
crumbly: Temple of
Artemis outside Ephesus, Turkey. One of the original seven wonders of the
world, now reduced
to a sad lone pillar in a muddy bog off the road.
that opens a can of whoop-ass on Chicago:
Denser than dense, the futuristic skyline in Bladerunner was
modelled after the view from Victoria Peak, but the future has
arrived and Hong Kong has elevated the Chicago projects to
new heights. Look for the incredible building-taking-flight
swoops of the new convention center designed by Sir Norman
Foster as well as the Bank of China by I.M.Pei, and other
Experience: Hill of
Crosses in Siauliai, Lithuania.
Arriving at the crack of dawn, the place was deserted and
quiet, save for the wind blowing through the myriad of rosaries strung
around the crosses, tinkling, tinkling ...
inspirational mosque: The
Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Kosciol Mariacki (St. Mary's
Church) on the Rynek Glowny in Krakow, Poland & The Cathedral in
inspirational Buddhist stupa: Boudanath,
inspirational Jewish temple: The
ruins of the bombed
temple in Jerusalem. All that remains are four short walls and
a single arch, but we came upon an orthodox wedding one
night. Celebrating the joyful union with singing, dancing and
merriment proved that it's the people that stand testament to
the endurance of religion not the buildings that house them.
inspirational Hindu Temple:
Don't know, not allowed in.
building to get into besides a Hindu temple:
The Hungarian Parliament - Strange hours, grumpy guards, sold-out tickets,
and a state visit by
the President of Latvia all conspired to keep us out.
like it was 1999 ...
we managed to hit en route:
Festival of the Trinity - Krakow,
Five Petal Rose Festival - Cesky
Krumlov, Czech Republic
Dasain - throughout Nepal
Loi Krathong - Ayuttaya, Thailand
moment of spontaneous bursting into song:
our guide to the Perfume Pagoda belting out 'Let it be'
surreal moment: Discussing
the British judicial system
with an ex-barrister turned Bangkok-sex profiteer under the
unfocused, glazed eyes of Thai go-go dancers.
told how long you are going to live
during a Tibetan astrological reading. Thanks Nyima ...
most likely to hang out with cast members of the
New Adventures of Robin Hood: Vilnius,
a night at the Krakow Symphony set us
place to get lessons in backgammon from a champion:
Galeria Anatolia our friend Attila Kosker is the Cappadocia
place to buy a carpet: Galeria
Anatolia, Attila's shop,
Buy a carpet and he may throw in a free lesson.
Place to buy a carpet:
Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, unless
you enjoy getting fleeced.
the way, beware ...
Lie told around the world:
and gentlemen, on your right is a tower of Babel ...
communications conundrum: On
a trip through the
Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan, we hired a driver and hooked
up with two Israelis for the day. Our driver, Ibrihim spoke
Arabic only. Mustafa, an Israeli Arab spoke Arabic and
Hebrew. Benny, an Israeli Jew, spoke Hebrew and English
and we spoke only English.
countries for English only speakers:
India, Israel and
Hungary (their language is so bizarre that they must learn
English to talk to anybody else)
country for English only speakers:
of languages we learned to say "hello"and
unusual way to keep in touch with the in-laws: Using
a megaphone at the so-called 'shouting fence'
Purple Line, DMZ Syrian /
of nationalities Ann-Marie was mistaken for:
Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Tibetan, & Nepali (specifically
the Thakali ethic caste)
of nationalities Doug was mistaken for:
money, money ...
currency name: the
ridiculous rate of exchange:
the Turkish Lira which
currently stands at 1,400,000 lira to the dollar. Indicative of the
weakness of the currency, it was 415,000 when we were there.
We were Turkish billionaires!
The Netherlands guilder (Dutch design)
The Hong Kong Dollar because the
government doesn't issue the currency, but instead allows the
three largest banks to issue their own. So each denomination
has three different designs. This initially caused a lot of
problems when we thought we were being passed fake money.
the Australian dollar. Even though we didn't travel
to Australia, Emma showed us the strange plastic coated bills.
We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to tear it up.
expensive country to travel in:
Austria (thankfully the parents were with us; it might have been a
very short stay at those prices)
country to travel in:
(I think that we could live here forever on our current savings)
the other hand, the barter system is alive and well ...
of times Doug was offered camels for Ann:
500 million camels
of times Doug was asked how many wives he had:
danger, will robinson ...
most likely to get run over crossing the street: Cairo,
where crossing the street is a real-life game of frogger,
ala fast, fast, fast Ms PacMan
Vietnam, death by pink & grey Honda Dream moped
most likely to be in the line of fire:
Metulla, Israel, on the Israel / Lebanon border. From there, scuds kinda
like fireworks. Also one of the best places to meet cute
Israeli soldiers. Today, while Metulla is quiet, sadly the rest of Israel
seems to be in the line of fire.
Israelis, for very good reason
Security Check: Getting
into Israel, visiting the
Wailing Wall, visiting the Dome of the Rock.
M-16 slung around your back...
But mom, all the other
girls have one!
most likely to spiral out of control:
When our driver
pulled a foot long dagger another driver after a minor
fender bender in Istanbul, Turkey.
of times offered drugs: 134
goes up, must come down ...
moment of the trip:
Birkenau Concentration camp outside Krakow, Poland. Fully realizing the
enormity of the evil while standing out looking over barracks as far as
the eye can see.
Agra, India at the Cantonment Railway Station.
We were sitting waiting for a train when a young child beggar
came up and tugged on my sleeve. Every traveler to India has
to develop a method for coping with the non-stop in-your-face
begging just to stay sane. We decided to ignore anyone that
seemed capable of working and young children, as that only
encourages begging and not education. I didn't look his way. He
kept standing there, barely tugging. Finally I noticed out of the
corner of my eye, his right leg. It was horribly disfigured by
elephantitus. The limb was ballooned to four times it's size, and his foot
looked like a rubber glove blown up to bursting, each toe the size of a
tennis ball. I gave what I had, and spent
the entire train journey back to Delhi crying, thinking of this
young homeless child and his future. India had finally
gotten to me.
friends we made ...
t travelling buddy:
Saggers of Wagga Wagga, Australia
travel buddy moment:
Lying naked (just Ann and Emma) on a marble slab being simultaneously
shooting the breeze.
travel buddy to talk about the meaning of life with: T.
Pringle of Chicago, USA - At least we'll always have that
Dharamsala 'Art is Crap'
Best host and hostess: Balazs and Zsuzsanna of
Budapest, Hungary. Her homecooked meals, mmm ... when can we come
guide and porter combo: Devi & Euro. Devi taught us Nepali,
explained flora and fauna of Nepal, carried my backpack when I got tired,
ran ahead to secure lodging, celebrated Dasain with us, and Nepal became a
more beautiful place for it. And well, Euro, he is the Human Metronome.
people we met along the way:
Michael of Belgium,
Thupten, Yeshi & Sangye of Tibet, Huong, Minh & Thi Vu of
Vietnam, Mustafa, Mohammed & Murat of Turkey, Rajesh & Mazidkhan
of India ...
and last but not least, truly our highs and lows
Highest altitude reached: 4595m (15,071 feet)
Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalayas, Nepal
Lowest altitude reached: - 408m (1338 feet
below sea level)
back to the Wanderlust 99 Index
Dead Sea, Israel