We’ve Been Gone NINE Months!

It feels like ages ago that we sat in a beer hall in Zagreb with our Couchsurfing host, Tanja, talking about how much we love Croatia and could live there. We never wanted to leave. Africa and India seemed like years away, and now both are already behind us. It’s sad for us to think that in mere months our grand adventure will be spoken about in the past tense. Can’t we continue on for a little longer? We’re looking for a way.

Mike and Tara's WeddingIn the meantime, we’re still excited to celebrate our nine-month travelversary since it means we’ve had so many great experiences since getting married just one year ago on 3/3/12! Yes, you read that right. We are celebrating not one but two anniversaries. This calls for a celebratory beer and an upgrade to a room with AC! Ah, the little things that make long-term travelers happy. 🙂
While we celebrate, enjoy our latest stats: Continue reading

Advertisements

5 Things to Carry When Traveling Through India

After two and a half months traversing India, we left with a good idea of what other travelers will want to have on hand. Some of these items might already be in your travel bag, but knowing why you need them might persuade you to buy a different brand, amount or, well, two-ply instead of one.

Squat Toilet Spigot

Your toilet paper alternative.

Toilet paper
You might have heard of “Indian-style toilets,” also known as squat toilets. We don’t think they’re that bad, as they put your body in a more natural position than Western toilets. However, the advice to bring toilet paper doesn’t stem from attendants forgetting to replace empties. The truth is that Indians use the rinse method to clean their behind instead of toilet paper. In each stall, there’s either a hose or a spigot with a bucket. (This is also one reason why people say the stalls are gross — there is often a layer of brown water surrounding the squat toilet.) If you don’t want to “go local,” you’ll need to bring your own TP (and sometimes small coins for the WC fee). Baby wipes may come in handy as well.

Cash, especially small bills and coins.
When traveling through India, you just have to accept that credit card readers are as rare as a decent coffee. Cash is king, but smaller bills rule the kingdom. Continue reading

Packing For Long-term Travel: His/Her Top Six

Last year we put a spotlight on six odd items we were packing for our round-the-world trip. Now that we’ve been on the road for eight months, we have a pretty solid idea of what is useful (i.e.: the things we kept) and what had to go (and did!). To keep to the theme of short and simple, we each highlight six items we can’t imagine having traveled without. One common theme you’ll notice – and that we stress the importance of – is that most of the items have multiple functions. And this is true for other things we packed as well (even the souvenir we bought in Malawi!).

Mike’s


1. Moroccan Scarf

Early in our trip, I got the idea that I wanted a scarf, but it was not until Morocco that I seriously started looking for one. Out of all the items picked up along the way, this has definitely been the best return for the money. Considering we have had many desert excursions, with a few sandstorms thrown in for good measure, this scarf has been a lifesaver. Currently, it aids in my ability to breathe in India.

Mike's Moroccan Scarf

Mike’s Moroccan scarf.

2. Universal Travel-sized Power Strip

Compact, but offering three U.S. outlets in addition to a USB outlet, this is a great charging unit. Most importantly, it is dual voltage compatible so all you need is a plug adaptor for use overseas. It is hands down one of the most important items in our bag. (As we suspected it would become!) Continue reading

Kayaking Through Alleppey’s Backwaters

When we arrived in Alleppey, India, we were bombarded with offers to board a houseboat for a night or two. That’s what tourists do in Alleppey: cruise the backwaters on a private boat. But after arriving here, we were just not impressed by them. The houseboats have a bedroom, kitchen and outdoor sitting area, and the price is inclusive of meals. You essentially never need to step off the boat, which was one of the reasons we decided against staying on one. We aren’t traveling around the world to distance ourselves from locals – we want to interact with them.

Kerala Backwater Houseboat

A Kerala backwater houseboat, locally called a kettuvallam.

But you certainly can’t come to Alleppey without seeing the backwaters, so at the suggestion of a local, we jumped on board the public ferry. A roundtrip cruise through the larger backwater channels took two and a half hours. It was a great way to view the beautiful landscape and watch village life unfold as we pulled over to pick up passengers at various ferry stops. But as we cruised along the larger waterways with other ferries and houseboats, we noticed small canals branching off. It reminded us of walking through a medina in Morocco: Maybe there is a main market street, but most of the local treasures are hidden along the snaking alleyways. Continue reading

Tara Chops Off Her Hair

If you’ve been following our blog, you know that I’ve been toying with the idea of cutting off my long locks. I’ve only had my hair cut shorter than chin-length once in my life — third grade — and I hated it. But I thought that in the spirit of our “this will be the craziest thing I do in my life” trip, I should do something wildly different with my hair as well.

I wanted to get it cut before leaving the States, but we ended up  being so busy between our last day at work and heading out of town that I never got the opportunity. So I said that I’d test out traveling with long hair while we were in Iceland, then decide whether to cut it in Finland. I thought that with the Finns being so stylish I’d probably get a good cut. But it was too expensive there. Russia and Turkey didn’t fit the bill either (for their own reasons).

Then in Croatia, I read that the frizerski salons are cheap and give stylish cuts. In Rijeka, after lunch, we went up to one salon, but they were closed. A sign on the door indicated they went sailing. Then we came upon another, closed. We were about to give up and do touristy things when I hesitantly pointed one out, “That might be open.” I say hesitantly because while I wanted it done, I also didn’t want to do it and really just needed a push. Mike led the way into the salon, and before I knew it, I was getting my hair washed without even knowing what kind of cut I wanted.

When I sat in the barber chair, we signed onto WiFi on the iPhone, Googled “short haircuts” and chose one. The hairdresser didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Croatian. Fake sign language and Google Translate got us through it. And voilà! Here it is:

Tara Before Haircut Continue reading

Out of the Sauna And Into the Bath

A single exposed fluorescent bulb hangs 20 feet from the center of a large rectangular atrium. The bulb is not illuminated, as it is four forty-five in the afternoon and the sun’s rays pour in through the open doorway. Several horseflies purposely circle the light; their buzzing waxing and waning in intensity as they loop closer in my direction then continue their never-ending circle. They seem unfazed by the bulb’s lack of electricity; instead, they act like stock cars, roaring around each turn at terminal velocity with no end in sight.

Lower to the ground, a soccer ball is blasted around the room by a small boy. Playing by himself, the air is punctuated by each echoing kick and the ricocheting sounds that quickly accompany it. Two old men lazily eye the boy’s movements, but like a stronger magnet, their gaze is drawn to the television in the center of the room. Turkish music videos fill the screen. A female vocalist seductively dances, but her body is constrained by flowing clothes. It is a love story in the ultra-compressed timeframe of her three-and-a-half minute song.

Frustrated that everyone in the room is paying more attention to the television than him, the young boy squares up and aims a kick toward the TV set. The force would have been enough to knock the television over, but his power overtook his aim and the kick goes wide. One of the old men jumps to his feet and berates the child. Yet, he sees the entertainment in the situation and gingerly releases the boy to continue to play.

More minutes pass, and the boy shyly makes his way over to me. Speaking in Turkish, he clearly wants me to play with him, or maybe give him money, or toss him around the room. For a split second, I mentally rotate through the languages I know how to say “I can’t speak your language” in. Since Turkish is not one of them, I blankly stare back. He continues to talk. I continue to stare. Clearly, he is hoping I am not as dumb as I look. As the boy’s hopefulness withers, his interest in soccer becomes renewed and he bounds off to pass to imaginary teammates and score on invisible goalies.

Mike in HamamSweat beads on my body, slowly at first, and then after combining together forms small rivers that collect in a pool just above my stomach. I stare at the ever-growing ocean before dabbing it with the towel that I had swaddling my head. My wife should be finished at any minute from her hamam experience, so I suppose I should wrap up here, I thought. Yet, the battered couch that embraced me was unwilling to give up its grip on my body, and since I did not see her hovering outside the entrance, I figured I had a few minutes longer to wait. Continue reading

An American in a Turkish Bath

It was midday and I was sitting naked on the edge of a square marble countertop unsure where to direct my gaze. A topless Turkish woman held my left hand as she scrubbed the length of my arm with more vigor than I ever had before. As the two of us locked eyes, she forced a smile below her light mustache, and I wondered what would come next.

An hour earlier, Mike and I sat in front of an overworked fan at Mavi Guesthouse in Istanbul. We gave Ali, the owner, the thumbs up, and moments later he ushered us into a cab outside the hostel.

The car cruised down the cobblestone roads and sped up occasionally with magnetic attraction to pedestrians. Looking out the windshield was reminiscent of the city course in arcade racecar games, so I turned my head and watched shops whip by outside my window.

Outside the Hamam

On the sidewalk, outside the hamam

In no time, not surprisingly, we were there – at the hamam, or Turkish bath. Mike and I walked inside, and as quickly as we came in, I was escorted out by a balding overweight Turkish man. He slowly led me down the narrow sidewalk and into the women’s hamam.

Two older Turkish women sunken on couches in the middle of the room lazily greeted me. After a quick exchange with the man, they realized I was a paying customer and looked at me with a newfound glow in their eyes. With great effort, the younger of the two pushed herself off the couch and showed me to one of many changing rooms that encircled the lobby.

Mike and I had prepped ourselves by reading online a little about hamam etiquette and what to expect. My eyes scanned the 4’ x 6’ changing room. There was just enough space for me to walk in, stand, and turn my head to see what resembled a small pleather therapist’s couch. On the wall was a mirror and two hooks, one occupied by a white towel. A pair of sandals that have surely seen better days sat on the floor flush to the wall. Continue reading