Friday Chewable: Keeping Our Planet Clean

Welcome to our all-new series called Friday Chewable: Food for Thought. Once per month we will post a new topic to open your mind, challenge your ideas or just give you something to think about over the weekend.

The first installment of Food for Thought deals with litter.

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For many, littering is absolutely unacceptable and unthinkable. We, Mike and Tara, fall into that category and always hold onto our garbage until we find a trashcan to throw it away in. However, the people of many developing countries we visited do not share that mentality.

If garbage cans even exist throughout a city, they are completely ignored, as evidenced by the left-side photo (This is not exclusive to India, where this photo was taken. We witnessed this in many countries.). Countless people throw plastic bags of waste into waterways, out bus windows and onto the street. Numerous reasons could come into play, but mostly it comes down to education, attitude and enforcement. Continue reading

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How the Heck Did I Lose 35+ Pounds on This Trip?

Little by little, I have been shedding weight. It was not a dramatic overnight change, but rather a healthy yearlong transformation. I would like to say exercise and a balanced diet were the reasons, but there is more to it. I suppose you could say the additional weight was a literal and metaphorical burden that I left in the United States. A more scientific approach would say that my portion sizes have shrunk and the street, hawker and restaurant food is generally (and surprisingly) healthy and fresh with few or no preservatives.

This is me on my wedding day.

This is me on my wedding day.

Before I address my weight loss, I first have to answer how I got to be overweight. In June 2012, just as Tara and I left the U.S., my weight hovered around 200 pounds, but I was not always this heavy. In high school, I had reached my current height of 5 feet 11 inches, but was a slender 135 pounds. Running track and playing soccer kept me slim, but this was also years before I knew what a pilsner or porter beer was. I maintained this weight throughout high school, and it only slightly increased during my first two years of college. During my junior and senior years, I studied film in the Czech Republic. Over that time I gained roughly 50 pounds. Continue reading

Reasons We’re Excited to Return to the USA

M&T's Before/After Photo

Mike and Tara’s before and after photo.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this message: In one week our adventurous 14-month global honeymoon will be over. Can you believe it?!

We have been thinking about our return to the U S of A, and you know what? Even though we’ve complained about it in the past, we are excited to go home. Sure, life on the road is a constant adventure, but our life in DC was by no means boring. Mike and I are looking forward to seeing family and friends again, and we’re not just saying that because we’re supposed to. We miss the people we love!

In addition to the fabulous people in our lives, there are things we miss, things we do not have access to and things that we flat out crave. Like anyone who has spent a lot of time outside of their comfort zone, thinking about the comforts of home makes us excited to, well, return home. Can you imagine spending more than a year away from the luxuries you enjoy most? Our list has changed as we’ve traveled from country to country and continent to continent, but some items have remained constant. These are the things that have been on our minds the most lately:

Continue reading

Taking a Long-Distance Public Bus in Laos

Eating on a Bus

Mike tries to eat sticky rice with chopsticks on the bus.

Travelers through SE Asia all have their own long-distance bus horror stories. Some of them involve pothole-ridden windy roads and vomiting passengers. Others involve real danger, like an engine catching on fire or the driver falling asleep and running the bus off the road. Many people warned us about Thai and Cambodian drivers, though we never felt they were that bad. After way too many white-knuckle drives through India, everyone’s driving seems an improvement.

And then we reached Laos. They are a little more reckless than the rest, and we read a few accounts of overturned night buses. We had decided back in Cambodia that we would avoid overnight buses at all costs, and we’re trying our best to continue that in Laos. To do that, we made more stops along the way instead of just hightailing it from the south (where we entered from Cambodia) to Vientiane, Laos’ capital.

One such trip was a 10-hour bus ride from Savannakhet to Vientiane, which we were told could actually take anywhere from 8-14 hours. Many routes offer VIP tourist buses, which are supposed to be faster, more comfortable and have working air conditioning. But this route only offered a VIP overnight option, so we jumped on the public bus at 8am with the locals. We were the only foreigners onboard throughout the whole ride. Continue reading

Encountering Beggars in Developing Countries

Children Beggars in India

In Bikaner, India, these children were asking this woman for money, then harassing her after she said no and tried to ignore them.

Third-world poverty isn’t easy to mentally deal with. Besides the upsetting sight of seeing fellow humans living in horrid conditions, it is hard to grapple with the thought that they earn so little (even by local standards) and somehow survive.

We haven’t tackled this topic on our blog yet, but it’s well-known that third-world countries are riddled with beggars and … let’s call them entrepreneurs. Most of our RTW trip has been throughout developing countries, so we’ve encountered our fair share of people looking for handouts.

No matter where we travel, our outlook remains the same: Do not encourage a begging culture. It is hard to look into the eyes of those who approach you and say “no.” It is even more difficult to completely ignore them. But it is much easier after you see how pushy some of these people can get because they expect your money. We have even had young children in both India and Cambodia hiss at us when we said no. Continue reading

Sharing Beers With Cambodians on Rabbit Island

Lounging on Rabbit Island

Mike was lounging in a hammock when the locals arrived. Little did we know at the time of this photo that we’d all soon be very close!

We were buzzing before noon. Alcohol wasn’t on the itinerary until at least 2pm, but here we were, drinking with Cambodians from the mainland. They came to Rabbit Island the same way we did — via boat — but a few hours after we arrived. During those prior hours, we viewed a few bungalows — and decided to take a $5 “luxury suite” — swam, read and took a snooze on hammocks. Right before we planned to have lunch, three generations of men approached us with beers in hand. Tara was reading in a hammock and Mike had just sat down next to her. The men smiled and thrust two beers toward us. We have learned many things during our travels, and one is to never turn down having a drink with the locals.

The men represented three different generations of Cambodians, a man in his twenties, his father in his fifties, and an older uncle in his sixties. They spoke nothing but Khmer to us, thinking that, for some unknown reason, we could speak or understand Khmer. Everyone sat crossed-legged and demanded that we sit the same way. We were quite surprised to encounter an old man since the Khmer Rouge committed genocide to about 2 million people in the 1970s. He and Tara drank at the same pace (slow), which the second-generation man didn’t like much. Comparatively, the two “younger” men guzzled beer like college frat boys. We hadn’t eaten since earlier that morning and didn’t think that keeping pace was the best idea, but we were forced into it. Continue reading

5 Ways to Make the Most Out of Myanmar

The best way to understand Myanmar is to clear your mind of any other place you have visited and let it stand on its own. Forget that time India. Ignore that week in Morocco. Do not even bring up Thailand. Myanmar is different, not same same.

Myanmar Monks on a Motorbike

Myanmar monks on a motorbike at a cave temple.

Myanmar was a nice surprise and a welcome change of pace. Since it only recently opened its borders to mass tourism, many of the things we find unpleasant about other SE Asian countries do not exist here. Touts are not very prevalent, but where they do exist they are neither pushy nor persistent. We did not have to bargain hard for things like local transportation, and sometimes for food we paid the locals’ price (in many countries, foreigners are wildly overcharged). If a local does something nice, they are doing it because they want to, not because they expect a handout in return. When we were at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bagan, one of the locals wanted to put thanakha on Tara’s face. She took Tara to a nearby hut and showed her how to grind the bark from a piece of wood against a stone tablet to create the paste. As she was doing it, she asked if we wanted a fan or longyi, but there was never a hard sell. She did not ask for money afterward and seemed as happy as Tara to have this type of interaction. Continue reading