PJK's Blog

Philosophy, the Internet, the World, and I

Menu Close

Category: Travel (page 1 of 2)

12 Days in Japan

In mid October I flew to Japan with my girlfriend to meet a few friends flying over from Colorado.  I’ve long been fascinated about Japan for a number a reasons – namely their ways of thinking, their history, their rapidly declining population, the food, and the beauty.  It’s fair to say Japan is quite a unique place.

A few quick interesting things about Japan:

  • Japan has the fastest population decline in the world (people aren’t having kids) (?)
  • Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, with over 38 million people.  It also has over 900 train stations in the city (all are pretty much on time)
  • There are cuddle cafes where men pay a fee to only cuddle with a woman.
  • Japan has the 3rd highest GDP in the world.
  • Trains regularly train 320km/hr, making transport around the country very quick and easy.
  • Having crooked teeth is seen as a positive imperfection, so many people make their teeth crooked to look better.
  • Tipping is considered rude.
  • Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world. Nearly one quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, according to a 2016 government survey. (?)
  • Japan has the longest live expectancy in the world.
  • There are nearly 70,000 Japanese people over 100 years old, 88% of them are women.

To start our trip, we flew from Bangkok to Tokyo, leaving Bangkok at 2am and arriving in Tokyo around 10:30am.  After taking the train into central Tokyo, we went to the hotel and were told we couldn’t checkin until 3pm.  One thing to note off the top is how expensive Tokyo is – an average hotel will run $200+/night, and an above average can easily run $400/night.

After dropping off our bags, we grabbed something to eat at Shinagawa station and then ate back at the lobby of the hotel.  3 other friends were meeting us in Tokyo to travel together, arriving a bit later.  The 3 others coming from Colorado arrived in the evening and we grabbed dinner before calling it an early night.

One of the cool, aerodynamic high-speed trains around Japan.

The next morning we caught a train to Kyoto for about 2 hours.  The train system in Japan, without a doubt, is one of the best in the world.  Some go upwards of 350km/hour, are clean and spacious, and are on time everywhere.  It is a remarkable achievement.  We arrived into Kyoto mid-day, took a shuttle to our AirBNB.  We then walked around the fish market, checked out a local brewery, and had some fresh sushi.  Kyoto was much larger than I expected, and reminded me of the streets of a city in America.  In the evening we explored some different bars and sampled a variety of Japanese beers.

The next day we took a train to the monkey park (Monkey Park Iwatayama) about 30 minutes away.  It was a short, fun hike, and got to walk around the hill top with lots of monkeys.  Afterwards we hiked back down and walked through the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, the infamous big red gates.  From there we walked to a couple other temples, and then caught the train back to central Kyoto.  We bought some food and drinks at a local grocery store, and headed back to the AirBNB to relax for the evening.

The following day was rainy, as expected, but we walked around early enough that we avoided the rain for most of the morning.  We went another nearby temple and pebble garden.  We then walked in the rain to a sake distillery and read about the history of sake and got some free samples – it was quite interesting.  In the evening we relaxed at the AirBNB with music and sake.

Overlooking Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

The following day we took the train back to Tokyo, arrived in late afternoon, checked into the accommodation, and relaxed.  The place had a rooftop patio, so we had sake on the rooftop and chatted about what to do next.   We walked around central Tokyo and explored, visited an owl cafe where you buy beer and pet owls (true story), and after ended up at American bar for some snacks.

The next day we visited Tokyo Tower for some great views overlooking Tokyo, and in the evening went to an infamous robot show.  The robot show is strange, but quite entertaining and they serve beer so overall it was quite enjoyable.  At around $80/ticket, it was expensive but worth it for the couple hours.

On our friends last day in Japan, we took the train to a massive outdoor market which had lots of food, souvenirs, and people.  There were a lot of Thai people, I’m guessing from a large tour group of something else but it seemed half of the people there were speaking Thai. We had lunch near there, bought a few souvenirs, and then took the train to Tokyo station.  We roamed around the massive park near the station and saw Imperial Palace.  It was quite a fun place to hang out.  From there we took the train to Akihabara to checkout some of the electronic stores.  We ended up in one of the countless claw machine stores playing on the machines for an hour (throughout the trip they were everywhere and we spent many hours in them).

Overlooking Sagami Bay from the hotel south of Odawara.

Early the next morning we walked around the park near the AirBNB (Shinjuku station), checked out of the accommodation, and grabbed breakfast.  The others heading back to the US had to make their way to the airport, while my girlfriend and I had a couple hours to knockout some work before getting the train to Hakone area.

In the afternoon, we took the train to Odawara station to stay in that area for a few days to relax, onsen, and explore the small towns around Mt. Fuji.  In the shuttle from the train station to the hotel, we may 2 other women from Colorado who had taken a bus from the Tokyo airport straight to the hotel and were relaxing for a week.

Taking a cable car over a sulfur mine near Hakone.

Over the next few days we did a loop around the area seeing Mt. Fuji (though quite cloudy), boating across Lake Ashi, taking the cable car from Gora, walking over the Mishima Sky Walk, and relaxing in the Japanese style resort overlooking the ocean.  Since tattoos aren’t allowed, my girlfriend had to hide her tattoos in order to use any public facility, but it worked out okay.  I was able to get a few hours of the sauna in and overall it was relaxing to be there.

I made a list of observations which make Japan somewhat unique:

  • Very few white people around – we rarely saw other foreigners walking around.
  • Toilets are very modern, often heated seats with auto-bum sprayers with varying pressures and temperatures.
  • Toilets are often in a separate room as the shower.
  • Everything is very organized and clean – all the way down to how stuff is placed on a plate, to positioned in a room, to laid out in a city.  Even with 38 million people, Tokyo isn’t super crowded and there is little to no trash.  Organization is clearly a key to their culture.
  • At the cashier, coins are automatically dispensed to the customer so the cashier doesn’t have to manually count coins.
  • When paying with a credit card, signing is not required (at least from my experience).
  • Vending machines are everywhere, for everything from drinks (hot and cold), to food, snacks, rice to toys.
  • People stop walking when they use their phone.
  • In trains you can’t talk on the phone loudly (there are signs showing this too).
  • Microwaves aren’t set on time but on temperature.
  • Trains are spacious, clean, have good wifi, serve drinks, have luggage space/locks.  Very well made and maintained.
  • 7/11 (a Japanese company) has high quality, healthy food.  Avocado, sushi, etc.
  • When you have trash, you are expected to carry it around with you.  Trash cans weren’t common to see.
  • The food quality of Japanese food in Japan seemed normal compared to Japanese food outside of Thailand.
  • Japan is expensive, $15-30/meal wasn’t uncommon, especially in tourist areas.  AirBnB was often $250/night for an average apartment in the city – accommodation is expensive (Tokyo is one of the most expensive places in the world – in 2013 it was the most expensive in the world).

Overall, it was a great trip.  I’ve long wanted to visit Japan and explore a bit of the culture.  I’d like to go back and explore the autumn and winter there, and perhaps do some skiing.  The culture is incredibly unique and society seems well thought out and rational, unique to few places in the world.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of Japan with the population and work environment issues.

17 Days Rafting the Grand Canyon

This is a trip report of a trip from May 14th-June 4th, 2018 – rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Earlier this year I had the privilege to be invited on a private rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. So, on May 12th, I flew from Bangkok to Denver, arrived late in the evening, woke the next day to prepare gear and see friends/family, then the following day headed south towards Flagstaff, Arizona to raft the Grand Canyon.  A busy 24 hours to say the least.

The first stop was Salida, Colorado to help pack up gear and meetup with the group.  We spent the following day driving towards Flagstaff, camping an hour outside in Navajo National Monument under a clear night of bright stars.

We woke early and arrived into Flagstaff, met up with the rest of the group coming from California and Las Vegas, and packed/loaded the trailer.  Unpacking vehicles and coordinating how to repack things onto the trailer took most of the day.  There were 8 people going on the rafting trip: my friend Andrew, his brother, his dad, his aunt, his 3 cousins, and me.  A few other family members were there to help pack and checkout the area.

When everything was loaded, we grabbed dinner and drove the 2 hours to Lee’s Ferry, the put in spot to start rafting the Grand Canyon.  We spent a few hours preparing the rafts and loading them, then resting by the river eating dinner, and eventually sleeping under the stars along a trail to the campground near the river.  Many others were camped out all over the trail.  There were several large commercial, 35 ft+ pontoon boats packing nearby, but we were the only raft group for the day.  Each day the park limits the amount of people who can put in, and if I’m not mistaken, it is 1 private group each day, plus whatever commercial limits there are.

The put-in at Lee’s Ferry facing downriver

The next morning we woke with the sun, did the final preparations on the boats, and left mid-day after the ranger checked out gear and lectured all the people departing from Lees Ferry that day (was probably ~40 people).  We had a few lifejackets that didn’t meet the quality needed so had to rent some from the outfitter, which they luckily had nearby.  We saw a dory boat being loaded off a trailer the following morning as well, which reminded me of the “Emerald Mile” (see below).

From the beginning,  it was stunning scenery.  Even from Lees ferry it is a remarkable backdrop with the tall, red canyon walls shading the put in point.  We had 3 boats across 8 people, 18′ rafts plus 2 extra kayaks.  Andrew mostly kayaked the canyon, while the other 7 of us split amongst the 3 rafts and rotated at the oars. It was a strange feeling leaving Lees Ferry, as the water was so calm and peaceful, but in just a few miles up stream, it would get a lot more violent and intense.

The first day was mostly calm, getting into the routine of rowing and switching, getting comfortable with where to put water bottles and sit, etc.  The canyon walls were stunning for the entire 17 days straight, it is hard to describe and really quite hard to capture in a picture how remarkable the canyon is.

We stopped at various spots to hike into some canyons and cool sights.  Andrew’s dad had rafted the canyon 5 times prior in the early 1980’s, so he knew a lot of the geology and features to explore.

The policy at the canyon is leave no trace, meaning we have to bring out everything we bring in, including human waste. This meant we had to mount a toilet seat onto an old military ammo cam, or “groover box”.  We also had to urinate separately from the groover, which meant we had a bucket we had to piss into simultaneously while shitting.  It was a slight challenge but got used to it after a day or two.  The pee could be dumped into the river as long as it only went into the water (and not the beach), but the poop had to be carried out in the groover boxes. I’d say we had some incredible scenery for taking a shit, to say the least.  Often we put the groover box facing beautiful canyon walls or beautiful sunsets overlooking the river – it was almost magical.

It took a couple days to get into a sort of routine, but it worked out well. Each day the same people got on the same rafts; this way those people knew exactly what was on the rafts and where it was.  It also meant that we had somewhat of a routine for setup and takedown.  For example, one raft had the kitchen tables and the tarps underneath to catch any waste, another boat had water buckets for washing dishes and hands, and another boat had groover boxes, etc.  Each night one or two people would setup the bathroom while others started cooking and preparing the chairs.  We ended up having quite comfortable settings and great food.  There was no rain, clear skies pretty much every night, and excellent temperature.  I didn’t use a tent once, and just slept on my sleeping pad with my sleeping bag each night, it was perfect.

While Andrew kayaked most of the trip, I joined a couple times in some of the calmer water, as did others.  The normal routine for the day was to wakeup with the sun, pack our gear, eat breakfast, pack the kitchen and repack the boats, pack the groover, and row around 20 miles, stopping for lunch midday.  We’d typically be on the water in the morning by 8:30am and be off the water around 5pm.  After getting off the water, we’d setup the kitchen and groover, and setup our camp site.  We’d rotate cooking each night – 3 people would cook one day, the other 3/4 the other day.  Whoever didn’t cook would setup the bathroom and then have some down time.  We had a speaker so we had some good music, and we had a lot of bags of red wine which was also nice.  We’d typically be in bed by 9pm most nights after a good dinner.  Most nights I’d stay up chatting with someone about the stars – it was beautiful.

Where the Little Colorado meets the big Colorado River

Throughout the trip, there were several dry bags that were ruined when mice chewed tiny holes in them at night.  Most of this was caused by leaving food in the dry bag at night.  Also during the nights, we had a UV light which would turn scorpions bright glowing white (this was Tim’s idea and it worked like a charm).  It was fun walking around and seeing tiny 2-3″ scorpions, mostly on the rocks.  One night we saw a 5-6″ one, though hidden in a hole in the rocks.

The water flow in the canyon runs between 7-15,000 cfs (cubic feet per second), depending on the day and release from Glen Canyon Dam upstream.  We were told the release times from Glen Canyon Dam, and as the trip progressed and we got further from the dam, we had to calculate how long it would take for the increased water levels to reach us.  We then planned our how tie the boats for the night to ensure the boats didn’t ensure up too far on shore or too far off shore.

For the first 4-5 days of the trip, I didn’t take notes, and have limited pictures.  On the 22nd of May, I started writing a bit. Here was the dairy I made during the trip, with some added notes along the way:

May 22 – Was a long day. Camped at Kwagunt Creek Rapid just below Mile 56. Great spot. Burritos for dinner with canyon in backdrop. Remarkable. Last night slept at mile 38 at Tatahatso Canyon. Nice spot. Saw huge 6″ scorpion with UV light.

Yesterday saw arc and huge cave like thing – Redwall Cavern. Hiked into Dolomite, and Shinumo Wash. Stars out are very clear, can see milkyway.  One of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen in the sky.

Typical evening setup for dinner

May 23: A lot of rapids. Nearly flipped on a class 2 as Alberto bumped boat in front of us and put us into a hole. Recovered though Alberto ejected.  The other boat had a jacket and solar charger get lost to the rapid (or ripple). Camped after Nevills Rapid, mile 76.

May 24: Dave’s birthday, made a cake and had a little celebration. Camped at mile 94 above class 8/9 Granite rapid. Yesterday the first rapid drained me and went into a hole sideways. Also stopped at Phantom Ranch – lots of hikers there – was the most people we saw all trip, felt a bit strange being so far from civilization yet seeing so many people. Overall challenging but fun day.

May 25: Hit a lot of big rapids, rowed a couple class 8s and 9s (scale on Grand Canyon is 1-10, 10 being the most difficult). Learned a lot and improved confidence. Had a beautiful camping spot at Garnet Mile 114. Saw many lizards throughout the trip.

May 26: A few more big rapids. Hiked up two different canyons. Camped after a rapid in a rocky spot. Layover day tomorrow so we can hike. Mile 134, Tapeats. Stayed up and chatted with Curran, and saw mice running around. Lots of lizards here too.

May 27: Camped near Tapeats Creek again, hiked all day (steep, full day, but beautiful). Crossed the creek twice to Thunder falls – incredible views up there. On the way back, Dave, Alberto, and I stayed right of the creek and got back to camp an hour earlier.. Amazing hike with stunning views. See many other hikers. Mile 134 still.

May 28: Raft 3 miles and hiked up Deer Creek. Then 11 miles to 145 mile to camp. Great spot with big beach. Olo canyon camp.

May 29: Wake up and get ready, Andrew and Dave and Drew go climb. I read on the shade. Then we raft to Matkatamiba Canyon and hike there. Camp at 156.5 mile at Last Chance. Tomorrow will be another short day and we hike Havasu.

May 30. Hike Havasu. Nice waterfalls, good hike. By crazy coincidence, I run into an ex-girlfriend from Thailand who was hiking there (hadn’t seen her in years).  Perhaps one of the craziest coincidences I’ve ever experienced.  Camp at Mile 158.7 on rocks. Very hot.

Hiking up to Thunder Falls

May 31: Raft quickly to near Lava falls, camp mile 178. Drink wine by water, then hike. Get stuck at cliff, Andrew climbs it with Dave at top. Amazing stars, satellites, and shooting stars.

June 1: Wake up and run Lava rapid (class 10) early. Flip boat and go through two rapids off boat. Row all day, 27 miles. Camp at mile 205. Great spot with great stars.

June 2: camp at 239. Long day of rowing. Sandy camp. Windy too.

I did some kayaking with Andrew on the last days, running through a ripple or two and almost flipping.  The water became much more calm the last couple days and the canyon walls began to decline, eventually ending up a slowly moving, super wide river, which is now Lake Meade (down 120 ft from 20 years ago).  It’s a bit scary to think of such a water drop in just 20 years.

On the last night, we played frisbee on the beach and drank some wine.  Throughout the night we could hear the sand bars falling into the water.  We woke early the next morning, rowed for 15 minutes to Pearce Ferry.  Once there, we spent a couple hours unpacking, deflating and folding the rafts, and loading it onto the trailer that was shuttled to us at Pearce Ferry.  We then grabbed an early lunch at a diner in the closest town, and then to Las Vegas.  Half of the crew drove back to Flagstaff, while others went back to Las Vegas.

Overlooking the Colorado River

Overall the trip was remarkable.  It is an intense adventure, with more remarkable beauty than almost anywhere I’ve seen in the world. The combination of incredible weather, steep canyon walls that are billions of years old, crystal clear skies at night, and amazing company, it is the trip of a lifetime. And one I’d love to do again.

Sleeping under the stars for 2 weeks without any insects or rain at a comfortable temperature surrounded by the marvels of the grand canyon is beyond explanation.  Going to sleep with the sun and waking with the sun made for good rest.  It was interesting how easy it was to wakeup at 5am not tired, as if I sleep indoors it is much more difficult.  It just reassured me the value of being outside and how we as humans evolved to wake and sleep with the sun, not be indoors shaded all the time.

I recently finished reading the book “The Emerald Mile” which documents the history of Glen Canyon Dam and the ability for humans to control the Colorado River, and is based around the story of the fastest boat ride through the Grand Canyon during the summer flood of 1983.  Three guides decided to get on an infamous dory boat, named “The Emerald Mile”, during the high water floods of 1983 when the water level went from 15,000 cfs to 90,000+ cfs.  In turn, they set a new record for the fastest trip down the canyon, around 38 hours (it took us 17 days).

It is an incredible book and well worth reading, especially before or after a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.

To see all of my pictures from the trip, click on the Google Photos album here.

2017 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 201020112012201320142015, 2016 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2017.

Summary

  • I rang in the new year in Pai in northern Thailand at a music festival.  After Pai I visited by friend Vy in Chiang Rai for a few days. Later in January attended a small Art Festival on Onnut road.
  • In February I completed a 10 day water fast.
  • In March drove to Cambodia, flew my drone, and attended a wedding in Sa Kaeo.   Also celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Bangkok with some friends.
  • In April celebrated Song Kran Water Festival in Bangkok.  A few days later I flew to Nepal for a month to hike the Himalayas, climbing the Dhaulagiri Circuit, bungee pumping, and paragliding which were all firsts for me.
  • I arrived back into Bangkok from Nepal on May 17th, had a goodbye party for a friend, and a going away party for Kemji and I at Y Spa.
  • In June I headed to Colorado to visit family and friends, went camping near Gunnison at the Kelly campout, attended the Renaissance Festival, and relaxed with family and friends.  In the later part of June my girlfriend Kemji flew to the US to meetup with me.
  • We celebrated July 4th in Lakewood at a relatives house.  On July 6th we drove up to Mt. Evans with my uncle, which is the highest paved road in North America.  In early July we went to a Colorado Rapids game, and a Colorado Rockies game, as well as up to a friends cabin in the mountains for the night.  On July 14th, we flew to Medellin, Colombia to begin our 5 month trip around South America.  We visited Medellin and Cartagena in July (future trip writeup coming).
  • In August we went to Bogota, Colombia and spent several days there exploring, working, and relaxing.  We met a lot of interesting people and had many interesting AirBNB experiences.  In mid-August we flew to Lima, Peru to begin exploring Peru, and to meet with a Peruvian friend Luis who was also there. In the later part of Peru we took a bus south to Ica, explored the sand dunes, then went to Nazca for a night, then took an overnight 18 hour bus ride to Cusco, Peru, arriving at the end of August.
  • In September we did a day trip and climbed Rainbow Mountain at 16,000ft, and visited Machu Picchu via a night in Ollantaytambo.  We ended up spending over 2 weeks in the Cusco area and loved it. In the later half of September we flew north to Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world without roads to it, along the Amazon River and Amazon jungle.  It was a fascinating experience spending 2 weeks there and in the jungle.  I did 2 ayuhasca ceremonies.
  • In early October we flew back to Lima and bussed north to Trujuilo, then to Piura, and into Ecuador to Cuenca over the course of several days. We spent several days in Cuenca, and from Cuenca we took a bus to Banos for the hot springs.  From there we bussed to Latacunga for a couple nights to visit the infamous Quilotoa volcano and lake.  It was a fascinating experience. We continued north to Quito, the capital of Ecuador where we explored until the end of October when we flew to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
  • Early November we spent in Zihuatanejo, and then to Ixtapa nearby for a friends wedding, which was a lot of fun and beautiful.  From there we headed back to Zihuatanejo for another week, then flew east to Cancun.  We immediately headed south to Playa Del Carmen with the idea that we’d explore Cancun later before we fly out of there.  We spent a week in Playa Del Carmen, and did a trip west to Piste to explore Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan archeological sight. We then headed back to Playa Del Carmen in late November.
  • Early December we went to Cancun for a few days, relaxing on the beach and in the pool, getting some work done throughout.  We flew out December 9th to Tampa Bay, Florida to meet my mom and brother to embark on a 7 day cruise back south to Key West, FL > Cozumel, MX> Belize City, Belize > Costa Maya, MX > Tampa Bay, FL.  It was a fun and interesting experience seeing such a massive object moving around the ocean.  We got back to Colorado late on Dec 17th, and celebrated Christmas and New Years with my family in Colorado.

WHAT WENT WELL THIS YEAR?

It was an adventurous year.  About 7 months of the year were spent on the road, starting with a month in Nepal in April/May, a month in the US, and 5 months in South America.  This made routine tough to follow, though I was able to keep my 5 tasks each day for most of it: meditate, read, study Spanish, work, and exercise.  Work-wise, I made a lot of progress and setup quite a few processes, learning a lot along the way.  I spent a lot of time and money learning the modern FB Advertising game, and several sites I’ve had setup for years were expanded.  Health-wise, it was a neutral year.  I feel I’m in better shape than I was a year ago but definitely have a lot of room for improvement here.  Knowledge-wise, I read around 30 books, and have learned a lot this year.  A few of the top books that stick out are: Sapiens, The Beginning of Infinity, Tribes, and Homo Deus.

WHAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL THIS YEAR?

I don’t have a lot of complaints this year.  I felt like this year was overall a huge step forward in my life in all the aspects that I’ve been working on. I can definitely improve my health and routines, but I’m quite satisfied with that considering how sporadic my schedule was in 2017.

WHAT AM I WORKING TOWARD?

Next year I have a few goals: read more pages than I did this year, spend a lot more time working on flexibility and mobility and simply spend more time working on my health. Travel wise, not sure yet, but Australia and Japan are on the radar, as well as perhaps hiking the Colorado Trail. I signed up for a 10 day meditation retreat in late March, 2018 in Thailand which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I also want to do a few more 30 day challenges, firstly being a 30 day vegetarian diet.

ALL TOGETHER

As stated every year, 2017 was the fastest year of my life, and perhaps one of the best.  In all the aspects of my life that I’ve focused on: health, business, knowledge, connection, I’ve made progress.

You can see all of my posts from 2017 herehttp://www.patjk.com/posts/2017/

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2018!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

Hiking in Nepal: Dhaulagiri Circuit & Annapurna Base Camp

Nepal has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for years.  Landlocked between India and Tibet, Nepal’s northern border is rigid with the biggest mountains in the world, the Himalayas.  After watching several documentaries and reading a few books on them, I’ve been determined to explore them myself and hike into the majisticalness of it all.

On April 17th, I flew into Kathmandu from Bangkok to meetup with my friend Andrew and his dad.  At the airport I bought a 30 day visa on arrival for $40, paying via credit card (which I later noticed was charged as a cash advance).  The people working the visa counter were quite rude and didn’t communicate to virtually anyone effectively – not a great welcoming to a new country.

The following morning we walked the dusty, crowded streets to the Tourism Board Office to buy the various permits we needed to hike, namely the TIMS card (for trekking), and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (for entering the Annaupurna region) – together they cost $40.  Shortly after, we packed our stuff and caught a “tourist” bus to Pokhara.  These buses are supposedly made for tourism and are slightly more expensive but have nicer seats, stop less, and have AC.  It hardly fit any of that criteria, not surprisingly. It was quite a bumpy ride, taking 6-7 hours, full of dust, crowded with people, and stopping every few miles.

We arrived into the fog of Pokhara at dusk, taking a taxi to the first hotel offered.  After dropping off our bags, we bought a few snacks for the hike, ate dinner, and called it a night.  The following morning we took a taxi to Beni, and once there to Darbang.  In total it took nearly 7 hour on an uneven road – I thought the car was going to fall apart by the end of it.  We ended up paying him 6,000 Rs. ($60), which was more than double our agreed on rate to Beni originally, but we all felt it was well worth the money considering the wear and tear his car had just gone through.  Once in Darbang, we begin our hike, starting the Dhaulagiri Circuit.

The Dhaulagiri Circuit

The Dhaulagiri Circuit is a 14-16 day trek that makes it way up and around Dhaulagiri mountain, the 7th highest mountain in the world, rising up 8,167m (26,795 feet).  The first few days go through various villages, which offer food and basic lodging, while the remaining 10 days require winter tents, food, and gear.  As a result, we were each carrying backpacks weighing around 40-50 lbs.

From our starting point in Darbang, we hiked to Dayatani (?).  It goes mostly on a dirt road along the river, and then up a steep climb of stairs.  Because we didn’t get to Darbang until mid afternoon, we didn’t arrive to Dayatani until dusk.  We had dinner and slept at a guesthouse there, which was pleasant, though be prepared for the food to take a couple hours to prepare.

The hike then follows the dirt road further, gaining elevation.  The river is still along the right, though at a much lower elevation.  The road eventually horeshoes back, and at the horseshoe you can shortcut directly down into the rice terraces below.  Our map showed this shortcut, and a local confirmed it.  However, the shortcut path wasn’t clear so we ended up hiking through some terraces until we found some cow trails which led to the main bridge crossing the river at the bottom and connected to the trail across the river.  Once there, we were told there is a more main shortcut path that comes 500 meters or so after the horseshoe.

We hiked eventually to Mudi, passing through Naura and Bogara for some tea and food.  The 2 most common foods served in teahouses are Dal Baht (lentil soup with rice (baht)) or chowmein.  The portion sizes are sizable, and with dal baht is free refills.  Note: the price of food goes up about 10% each day – the further into the trail you get, the further they have to carry the supplies so they charge more.  After passing through Mudi and resting there while it rained, we continued on and dropped down near the river to pitch our tent for the evening. In total, it was a 12 hour day of hiking, minus an hour rest for lunch and an hour rest for dinner. The morning view from the tent was spectacular, with a clear view of the snowy covered Himalayas in the distant.

From the river we hiked to the hot spring, a good 8 hour hike or so.  The hot spring requires crossing the river to the east side on a wooden bridge, and there is accomodation and a place to pitch a tent, which is what we did.  We had prior been told that there was no bridge or accomodation, but that information was incorrect. The hotspring itself is well developed, built with a roof, concrete walls, and next to a large waterfall.  It was an excellent place to spend the night and rest our legs, and also a great way to start the morning.  We were served food by the locals near where we pitched our tent.

The next day, day4, we hiked to Doban, which took around 7 hours, a common day hike so far.  It rained a solid 2 hours along this hike, which was the first real downpour we had yet.  When we arrived to Doban, the rain had let up and it was incredibly pleasant.  The “hotel” there was empty so we ended up staying there instead of pitching the tent out front.

Day 5 was to Italian Base Camp, the last place along the route that served food, and also the place where we’d spend 2 days to rest up and acclimate before heading towards the main base camp.  Along the way we stopped at an abandon rock structure to eat breakfast, dry our clothes, and charge devices with the solar charger while the sun was out.  We also stopped at the village of Sallagiri to eat lunch. There we chatted with a couple locals about everything from visas to the US to radical Islam.  It was surprising of how well informed most of the Nepalese were about world affairs.

italian-base-camp-dhaulagiri

Italian Base Camp

There are signs along the way with arrows showing directions and estimated hiking times.  We noticed that on many of the signs the estimated times are off, either overestimating or underestimating the hiking times.  Some villages also weren’t show on our map, but were shown on the signs.

We arrived into Italian Base Camp in the late afternoon and were greeted by several people on the Indian Expeditions to summit Dhaulagiri.  Also at the camp were several other groups, in total probably 60 people were at the base camp, inlcuding an older English group of 7 people plus several porters.  We chatted with others, and had dinner there before calling it a night.  Most of the others there had arrived earlier in the day and were also resting the following day.  Prior to arriving at Italian Base Camp, we hadn’t seen or met many others aside from a French couple in Mudi, so seeing so many people at Italian Base Camp was a bit of a surprise.

The following day we woke to see the surrounding mountains covered in fresh snow.  The views from Italian Base Camp are remarkable – you could literally sit there for an hour just staring at them.  Andrew, Drew (his dad), and I hiked up to some nearby hills to gain some elevation and stay active.  Drew and Andrew went up a bit higher while I rested and took in the views and headed back to camp afterwards.

This sherpa climbed K2 twice and Everest 3 times, among many others.

At the camp I met the Nepalese guide who was leading the Indian expedition of 14 people + porters to the summit (which in total takes 1-2 months).  He had climbed like 12 of the 14 highest mountains in the world, including Everest 3 times, K2 twice, and Dhaulagiri twice.  He said he hadn’t started climbing until 8 years ago when he was 22, but has since done 2 big expeditions a year.  Impressive feat to say the least.

We spent the night there eating dal baht (salty lentil soup with rice).  The portion sizes were massive, and included free refills.  There was a shirt we saw saying “dal baht power, 24 hour”.  It is a great meal for hiking, and literally everyone there was eating it as it was all that was offered.  Italian base camp was our last place along the route where food would be served, so we made sure to indulge.

The following morning we woke, ate breakfast, and packed up. The Indian expedition and various other groups left about an hour before us.  We hiked through the beautiful valley along the water toward Japanese base camp.  Like most days, it was quite sunny and hot in the morning, and by afternoon it was snowing.  During the morning as the ground began to heat up, we could see rocks falling from both sides of the valley – it was quite the sight and made quite a loud echo throughout the valley.  There were several areas along the route where rocks were falling down onto the trail, so we paid close attention to the right side to avoid getting hit by any coming down.  It’s definitely important to be very cautious here.

On the way to Japanese Base Camp

By the time we reached Japanese base camp it was snowing.  Within a couple hours there were several inches of snow on the ground and we had setup our tent and had a little snowball fight with the English group.  The Indian expedition and others had continued on several more hours to Dhalagiri base case, while us, the French couple, and the English crew had all stayed at Japanese base camp for the rest of the day and overnight.  In the late afternoon we saw 2 porters walking back from Dhauligiri Base camp in flip flops and limited warmth, appearing to be quite cold.  It was quite the sight, but apparently normal for these guys. There’s a big ethical debate around hiring porters and treating them properly (assuring they are well equipped and not over worked).

We woke at sunrise and after chatting with others we decided to continue on to Dhauligiri Base Camp.  The English crew decided to stay another day, as did the French couple due to the trail being covered with snow and avalanche danger.  We determined that we knew the route well enough to proceed and also decided that avalanche danger would be looming whether we waited another day or not.

Our tent the morning after at Japanese Base Camp

The hike was excellent and we found the path without much issue.  It was sunny pretty much the entire way, and we saw a couple avalanches in the distance as well as more rock falls.  During the previous days, I kept getting the sound of thunder mixed up with a rock slide mixed up with an avalanche.  They all sounded somewhat similar and spooky when they echoed along the valley.

dhaulagiri-base

Saw some big rock falls along the valley on the way to Dhaulagiri Base Camp

When we arrived into Dhaulagiri Base Camp we saw about 100 tents with 10+ expeditions based there in effort to summit Dhaulagiri, including the Indian Expedition we met at Italian Base Camp.  When we first arrived we met a couple Japanese guys and chatted about Japanese politics, mountains, and advice on where to put our tent.  One guy was 67 years old, and the other was 62.  Both had retired in the last few years and since had been climbing the highest mountains in the world, including Manaslu and Denali.

After setting up the tent, we chatted with one of the Indian guys, and he invited us to dinner later in the evening.  Andrew and Drew had been offered dinner prior by the porters for the Indian expeditions, while I went for a tea into the Indian expedition tent.  The eldest Indian had climbed most of the 8,000 meter peaks in the world, and also had climbed the highest mountain on 6 out of 7 of the continents.  He said he would be heading to Antartica to climb Mt. Winston in December.  After chatting with the expedition at dinner, I learned that they were all part of the Indian Air Force which sponsored these sorts of adventures every couple years.  The eldest Indian was a skydiver for most of his career, and was incredibly friendly and generous.

dhaulagiri-base-camp

Arriving into Dhaulagiri Base Camp with Mt. Dhaulagiri in the background

He offered tea and biscuits, and later a 4 course meal with fish.  It was an unexpected invite and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the stories and having dinner with the expedition, one I won’t forget.  As they had just arrived at base camp the day before, they had plans to spend around the next month acclimizing and were planning to summit on May 10th if the weather permitted, the night of a full moon.

I got to chat with about 5 of the 14 Indians on the expedition, and one asked if we saw the avalanche by Japanese Base Camp.  He pulled out his phone and showed me a video he took of a massive avalanche coming off the top of one side of the valley – it was incredible.  They were 3-4 hours ahead of us, so we passed the area a few hours later, not suspecting a thing.  It really put into perspective the dangers of hiking that aren’t really noticeable.

Early the next morning we proceeded on the Dhauligiri Circuit up and over French pass, which was around 5,300 meters.  It was another nice hike up.  Along the way we got a nice view of Dhauligiri and could see an expedition of 20 or so people heading up to Camp 1.  About 30 minutes after we saw them, we watched an avalanche break right where we saw them before.  It just reinforced the risks involved with hiking in this area at any given time.

fench-pass-dhaulagiri

Heading up to French Pass looking back at Dhaulagiri.

After reaching French Pass and dropping into Hidden Valley, it was quite windy and snowy.  The drop down into hidden valley was along territory with avalanche danger, which made the tranverse a bit more stressful. We weren’t sure exactly where the Hidden Valley camp was, but when we got to the approximate area we found a low spot on the back side of a hill and setup camp, around 4/5pm.  It was an excellent spot to spend the night and have dinner.

The next morning we hiked up towards the base of Dhampus Peak, a peak we planned to climb the following day.  The hike to the base was across a flat area of Hidden Valley and then up a steep snowy slope.  Upon reaching Dampus Pass, we decided where to set the tent.  Drew and Andrew thought it was best to pitch the tent near the pass, though I thought a lower point out of the wind would be better.  At the time, it was sunny and calm.  We ended up setting up camp in the spot near the pass.

The evening I had quite a headache, and didn’t sleep much that night.  We were sleeping around 5,300m (17,300 feet), so the headache wasn’t all unexpected.  We woke the following morning at the crack of dawn and began hiking with the idea to summit Dhampus Peak.  Drew and Andrew has microspikes and I had a rubber boot grip with springs that Drew had let me borrow, and we all had ice axes.  The hike was steep, but the slow and steady pace gave us great progress in the morning, as it was a crystal clear view and the snowy surrounding mountains were stunningly beautiful. It felt like we were walking through the sky.

View from hiking up Dhampus Peak, shot at around 19,000 ft.

Around 10am we got to a point where we had to traverse a steep slope to the right of a rock formation.  The risk if you slipped would have been a couple thousand foot slide down the icy slope, though not a fatal fall.  The biggest risk there would have been the day or two hike out from where you end up, which wouldn’t have been easy, as well as the avalanche danger all around.  After the 3 of us got past that part, I looked further and noticed there was a sketchier part ahead, and at least another 2 hour hike to the summit.  Additonally, I noticed clouds starting to come in from below. The lack of oxygen at that altitude was very noticable, and I decided I would turn back to the tent.

At Italian Base Camp a few days prior we met a Nepalese guide who climbed Dampus Peak before.  He said he summited by 11am and was down before the weather changed.  With that in my mind, I knew the turnaround time was sometime around 11am-noon.  Andrew and Drew pressed on, and I hiked down to the tent.  A gorgeous hike down, with a fair bit of glissading which was a perfect condition for it.  I arrived back down to the tent around an hour later, and the weather was sunny and dry still.  I dried some clothes and blankets, and rested in the tent.  About 30 minutes later it started to snow a bit.

Heading down Dhampus Peak

Within an hour it was nearly whiteout.  I listened to podcasts and read a book for the next several hours. I was concerned for Drew and Andrew, but unsure how to potentially help them.   It wasn’t until 3 or 4pm that Drew and Andrew arrived at the tent.  They got somewhat lost in the whiteout, and luckily ran into a cairn, which there was 1 or 2 within 500 meters of the tent. Apparently they had made a couple snow caves to stay warm while they searched for the tent, and had they not found the cairn things could have turned out much worse.

When they arrived we cooked some food and then rested, with the plan to leave the following morning and traverse to the far ridge to drop down.

The next morning we woke to still whiteout conditions, and probably 3 feet of fresh snow.  We hiked for maybe 200 feet before deciding to setup the tent again and wait for better conditions.  It could remain whiteout for days, we weren’t sure.  It was bad luck to have a whiteout the last morning of our hike out as literally everyday prior in the hike the mornings were clear.  We sat in the tent for several hours listening to the audiobook “Alone on the Wall” with the plan to resume hiking as soon as the weather cleared up.  During this time, Drew noticed the tips of his toes were beginning to turn black from frostbite, likely from the day before.

For much of the last couple days, our boots would freeze solid at night, which made it difficult to put on in the morning and also cooled down our feet quite a lot.  As soon as he noticed the frostbite, it became a bit concerning because we weren’t sure how long we’d be stuck in the tent before being able to resume – could be a couple hours or several days.

Traversing past Dhampus Peak after several feet of fresh snow.

Around 2pm the snow let up and we could see blue sky and the clouds clearing, but it was incredibly windy.  We prepared our gear and got ready to go so as soon as the weather improved we’d break down the tent and move east.  Luckily, the wind slowed and the weather became more calm.  Our strategy to take down the tent was to leave the bags inside until we took out the poles, and as we pulled out bags I’d lay on top to prevent the tent from blowing away – the wind could stop and start up again with little warning.

Over the next 5-6 hours we dropped down and hiked up as we traversed through several feet of fresh snow, often sinking up to our chest.  Along with the stress of avalanche danger, the lack of water and food, and the shear difficulty of carrying bags through that much snow at elevation, it was a test to our mental and physical power to make it as far east as possible and begin dropping down.  We had enough food for a few more days, but our gas was getting low (which was needed to melt snow).

We made solid progress that afternoon, and ended up camping on a more level area toward the end of the ridge, or at least it seemed.  The evening was calm and clear, and as it got dark the stars shined clearly.  It was relieving and relaxing to see.  That night we cooked near the tent and melted snow.  At this elevation, around 17,500 ft, the lack of oxygen makes it quite difficult to cook as the flame doesn’t light easily and when it finally does, it takes a long time to cook.  The slight breeze also kept blowing out our flame even with a barrier.  To melt 2 cups of water seemed to be taking around 20 minutes, so we certainly weren’t drinking as much water as we normally would.

The next morning we woke with the sun and could see the steep ridge in the distance that we were aiming for.  We let our boots melt for a few minutes in the sun so we could get them on, which helped tremendously. We packed up gear and decided to snack along the way rather than spend time cooking breakfast. After a couple hours of hiking we realized it was further than it first seemed, but we pressed on.

Eventually we made it to a cairn with a view of Mustang to the left and a drop down to the right, with a steeper ridge in front of us.  It was relieving to know we were on track, as this was the first cairn we’d seen in nearly 24 hours and weren’t certain of the path. Drew knew that we had to keep pressing east until we couldn’t any further, and as we did so we saw other cairns.  Eventually after a steep climb along the furthest ridge, we decided to drop straight down toward the blue roofs that we could see at the bottom, some 8,000 feet lower, which we assumed was Marpha.

Andrew and I at the furthest east ridge the steep before descent

It was a steep decent with lots of loose rock, snow, and grassy patches.  We tried to strategize our best way down to avoid being cliffed out.  The left side looked good, but so did the right.  Eventually we found a trail and some puddles so get some fresh water, which we certainly all needed.  We kept heading down and at one rest Drew took off his shoes as his frostbite toes were hurting.  Many had blisters, some had popped, and it looked incredibly painful though Drew handled it like a champ.  We took some of the weight from his gear and kept heading down.

Eventually we came across a farm with about 50 yaks.  We weren’t sure of the trail to Marpha and there wasn’t any clear path – perhaps we should have stayed to the right instead of the left.  We decided to cross the creek near the yak farm, stop for lunch, and then take the trail from there.  Our map showed the trail going along the creek, but the main trail seemed to head up and into the mountains and potentially around the ridge.  By this point it was around 4pm.

We decided to take the main trail that went around the mountain in hopes that it would head down into Marpha and not just be a yak trail into the darkness.  We spotted some human boot prints at some point which was reassuring that it led to somewhere with civilization. Luckily, we saw a sign with an arrow pointing to Marpha and followed that.  Around 2 hours of a steep decent down a well traveled path, we arrived at Marpha, which was actually not visible from the earlier view above and the blue roofs we saw were actually a town across the valley from Marpha.

mustang

Looking north into the Mustang region towards Tibet

Upon arriving in Marpha we checked into the first hotel that looked decent, ordered dinner, and called a doctor to look at Drew’s toes.  The doctor arrived with his friend and looked at his feet, suggesting in broken english to not pop the blisters.  Several blisters on both toes has popped from the hike down, but others hadn’t.  The doctor cleaned and bandaged his feet, charging around $10 for the work, including some extra antibacterial cream.  While eating dinner shortly after, a group nearby in the room of a Nepalese and French guide came over to ask us a few questions. They suggested getting a helicopter to Pokhara or Kathmandu immediately to avoid further issues.  They advised checking with the insurance company to ensure it would cover it.

By this point it was around 11pm and we were all quite tired, and I headed to sleep. Our original plan was to get to Marpha, bus to Jomsom nearby, and get onto the Annapurna circuit.  However, after this ordeal, we decided to get back to Pokhara as soon as possible to make sure nothing worse came of Drew’s injuries.  We woke the next morning and decided to take the public transport to Jomsom.  Surprisingly, we couldn’t find any taxis, jeeps, or buses heading there.  Our plan was to head to Jomsom, get a flight to Pokhara, and go to the hospital in Pokhara.  After being unable to book a flight or get a quick transport to Jomsom, we were offered a bus to Pokhara which would arrive in 8 hours, which we decided to do.

Arriving into Marpha after our Dhaulagiri Circuit descent

We arrived into Pokhara that night and checked into a hotel offered by a guy waiting at the bus stop.  Drew decided to wait until the next morning to visit the hospital as it was quite late by this time, probably around 10pm.  The following day we walked to the hospital which was only 5 minutes away, and got everything taken care of.

We spent the next few days relaxing and recovering from the 2 week hike.  Drew ended up changing plans and booking a flight back to the US, so he caught a bus to Kathmandu and headed home.  Andrew and I stayed in Pokhara and paraglided and bungee jumped, which were absolutely amazing.  We then decided to do another hike for 6-7 days – the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) hike.  The Dhaulagiri Circuit hike was definitely a test of our mental and physical strength.  While somewhat stressful, it’s hard to not find the incredible beauty that the wilderness has to offer.  We had some bad luck with our weather, but were also incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to hike and lucky that things didn’t go much worse.

Annapurna Base Camp

This hike was well advertised throughout Pokhara and was a major tourist trek.  We took a cab from Pokhara to the trailhead in Phedi, which took around 45 minutes and cost 1000 Rs.  We began the steep hike there up a well-built stone path.  In the evening, after 8 hours of hiking, we arrived to Landruk, where we found a hotel for $3/night with beds, and to our surprise, wifi.  This trek was quite different than the Dhaulagiri Circuit. This ABC trek was considered a teahouse trek, meaning there were houses along the way with places to sleep, eat, shower, etc.  This means there isn’t a need to carry in much gear or food, so it makes hiking a lot easier.  The path was also well traveled and maintained, so there was certainly no need for a guide (though we found that 90%+ of the people we met on the hike had guides).

The first day we hiked to Landruk.  Once there, we got offered a hotel that surprisingly had wifi, hot showers, and served dinner.  By our room I saw the biggest spider I’d ever seen – a wolf spider that was as big as a turantula.

Local kids wanting to play with us on the hike to Landruk

The following day we hiked to the next village, Bamboo.  We decided to pass Chomrong (where most people stay) to make a bit more progress such that we could ensure we finished the trek in time.  We arrived into Bamboo around 7pm, hiking the last 2 hours in a misty rain, though quite a pleasant hike.  In total, we hiked for around 11 hours this day.  After arriving in Bamboo, we got a room in a local teahouse and had some dinner.  It was common that the further you get into the hike, the further prices go up.  All teahouses had the same menu and items, organized by the Annapurna Conservation Area.  However, the further they had to carry in the goods/supplies, the more expensive the rooms and food were.  Horses didn’t travel past Chomrong, so after Chomrong prices were double or more, and by Annapurna Base Camp triple or more.

Porters carrying gear on the ABC trek

From Bamboo we woke in the morning, had breakfast and went on our way.  It was quite a beautiful hike, though the second half was cloudy and the last 30 minutes it was raining quite hard. We passed through Dovan and Duerali, the common stops for people hiking from Chomrong.  We arrived into Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) around 3pm to the first guesthouse high above the creek as you arrive at the MBC sign.  Mt Machhapchhre is a holy mountain which you can famously see from Pokhara, and while this is called Machhapuchhre Base Camp, Machhapuchhre can’t be climbed, though from this base camp the views are spectacular.

After having some tea and reading a bit in the common area, we met a couple others who had arrived earlier in the day from Dovan and chatted with them.  We also met a guy from Siberia who was leading a Russian guy up the mountain.  About 90% of the people we saw on the hike were being guided, which was somewhat surprising considering how well established the route was.

View from our tea house at MBC.

Our plan for the night was to rest, wake at 4am to do a morning hike to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).  We woke for the hike and after an hour or so arrived into ABC.  It was a beautiful and easy hike, perched near the south face of Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world and also one of the deadliest.  Several peaks nearby weren’t much lower than it.  There we had breakfast and took in the views.  We also visited Anatoli Boukreev’s memorial stone, which is near where he died in 1997 in an avalanche. Several other memorials were nearby, with the most recent being a couple Koreans who tried to summit the south face of Annapurna in 2011 and died.  Ueli Steck, who had died near Everest just a couple weeks before, had been the only person to solo the south Annapurna face and one of the only people ever to summit from the south side ever. Standing at the base camp really gave perspective on the difficult and risk of summiting these large peaks, especially up the less traveled routes.

After a couple hours there we hiked back to MBC where we packed our bags and began our descent back down around 9am.  The weather was great.  We made it back to Chumrong by around 5pm, and to our surprise, found a cheap place with wifi and a hot shower, as well as excellent food and drinks.  Even after 5 days of hiking the Annapurna Base Camp trail, it was still somewhat surprising to find such modern, well developed guesthouses along the way.  The Annapurna Conservation Committee really worked together to tailor this trek to really anyone in the general public interested in a short and comfortable multi-day hike.

Reflection of Annapurna I mountain, the 10th highest in the world at 26,545 ft (8091m).

The following morning we had pancakes for breakfast and hiked back down, arriving to Siwai in the afternoon, where several locals and cabs were waiting.  We paid $30 for a cab back to Pokhara, which was slightly more than a bus ride for 2 yet half the time.

Because we got back to Pokhara in just 5 days instead of the standard 7-8 days, we had a bit of extra time.  We planned to rest in Pokhara for a day and then head to another town to make our way towards Kathmandu, and spend a day or two camping and rafting.  However, the following day after our rest day ended up being a big election, apparently the first one in 20 years, so everything was shut down – buses, cabs, and flights.  Because of this, we spent that day riding our bikes around to nearby villages.

We got to one village about 2 hours away and some kids wanted to play on our bikes.  A family offered us in and gave us hot tea, while we chatted with one of the guys who lived there.  He said he used to work in Malaysia, but was from there, and we chatted about politics and whatnot for an hour.  He got married at the age of 19 to a 14 year old and was now in his early 20’s.  It was interesting hearing his perspective on life, relationships, and love.

Cows are more sacred than humans in Nepal, and therefore freely roamed Pokhara.

In the evening we ate some excellent Nepalese food, which was spectacular in Pokhara and incredibly cheap.  The following day we left at 7am via bus to Kathmandu.  My friend Austin (who I knew from Bangkok) was in Kathmandu so after getting dropped off we found a cafe so we could contact him.  His place ended up being far away, so after a tea and waiting for the rain to stop, we took a cab over to Chandra’s house, a Nepalese friend of a friend of Andrews.  After meeting him at his office, we had dinner, and then Chandra walked us back to his place where he kindly let us stay.

The following day we went for some white water action.  Andrew had a friend from Colorado who knew Chandra, and Andrew is into kayaking so wanted to checkout the spots in Nepal near Kathmandu.  Chandra apparently originated white water tourism in Nepal and has an extensive background in kayaking all over the world.  Chandra and his son, along with a friend, took us to a river for rafting.  It took 5 hours to get there, and once we arrived we unloaded the kayaks and raft and started to get ready.

A local guy came up and chatted with Chandra, and then Chandra went over to Andrew and Chandra’s son who were already waiting in their kayaks and told them to go look for a dead body as an older man disappeared a couple days ago up the river and they suspect he drowned.  They found nothing. An interesting way to start the white water trip.

Preparing to raft and kayak

Me, Chandra, and his friend hopped in the raft and Andrew and Chandra’s son kayaked in front of us.  It was a fun experience on a hot sunny day.  The water level seemed somewhat low as the raft barely fit through some of the rocks, but overall it was a great day.  We ended up kayaking for about 6 hours.

After a long ride back to Kathmandu and unpacking all the gear at the office, we headed back to Chandra’s for a cold beer.  Once there 2 other girls from Salida, Colorado (Andrew’s hometown and where Chandra used to live) showed up at his house asking to stay there.  What a small world. Andrew and I were about to head out and grab a cab for 20 minutes to meet Austin at his hostel.  We ended up going and the two girls joined us.  Hanging out with Austin was great, as it had been nearly a year since I’d last seen him.

The next day (May 18th) the 2 girls, Andrew, and I went for breakfast.  Shortly after I grabbed a cab to the airport to fly back to Bangkok, while Andrew and the 2 others went rock climbing.  Andrew caught his flight back to the US later that night.

Overall, this was an incredible trip.  60+ days later I still have feelings and flashbacks to the incredible views, and often read stories about the Himalayas.  I’d love to go back someday.  A big thanks to Chandra for hosting us, Andrew for always being a great travel companion, and his dad for being an incredible sport at the young age of 58.  I thoroughly enjoyed our conversions and the trip.

Descent from MBC on the Annapurna Base Camp trek, May, 2017

2016 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 20102011201220132014, 2015 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2016.

  • I rang in the new year on Koh Chang in Thailand with some friends (Kemji, Austin, Kate, Josh, Champoo, Beth), a beer cooler, and an amazing beach sunset.
  • In January/February I spent a month in Indonesia firstly in Bali with Kemji and then 3 weeks in more remote Indonesia with my good friend Andrew.
  • In March I went to Samut Prakan to the Mueng Boran Ancient City with Kemji, and also to Hong Kong with a couple friends (Steve and Josh).
  • In April I went to Nan province for Songkran to spend time with Kemji’s family.
  • In May I went to Koh Samed and paraglided for the first time.  At the end of May went wakeboarding with friends in Bangkok.
  • In June I went to the US to visit family and travel with my girlfriend to San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. I also bought a quadcopter drone, which has been fantastic for aerial photography.
  • In July, I road-tripped through Yellowstone to Canada with my friend Richard.
  • In August I went to Sweden and Romania to visit with my old friend Constantin.
  • In September/October I went back to Europe to travel with my brother John and his friends for a couple weeks to Oktoberfest in Munich, then to Prague, and Poland.
  • At the end of October I went to Phuket for celebrate Kemji’s birthday.
  • In November I went to Singapore, and also ran into my old friend Ayan from the Phillipines. At the end of November, we went to Koh Samed again with a few of Kemji’s friends.
  • For New Years this year I’m heading to the northern part of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai, and Chiang Rai) with Kemji.

What went well this year?

Health: Aside from all the time I was away from home and out of routine, I’d consider this year one of the best for my health in my life.  I was running or lifting weights 5 days a week, drank less than I had in previous years, slept consistently well, and only got sick once or twice.  Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been really working on my flexibility after being convinced that flexibility is one of the most important aspects of being healthy. I’m also on a 50+ daily meditation streak.  I can say I’m healthier now than I was a year ago.

Knowledge: I read nearly 30 books this year, and listened to countless podcasts.  I’m far more enlightened now than ever before, though it’s only a glimpse of what is to come.  I still find it incredible how much one can take away from reading a single good book. I’ve got into the routine of leaving a review of every book I read along with my takeaways – this provides a good record of my thoughts.

Business: I’ve launched several new projects and scaled out older ones.  I’ve learned quite a few big lessons this year and have increased my skills in various ways. This year has been one of the best I’ve ever had, with lots of lessons learned along the way.

What didn’t go so well this year?

Health: While I have improved my health from the last year and am making progress, I still have a long way to go.  Next year I’ll be drinking a maximum of once per month, and continuing to work on my fitness (endurance, flexibility, strength).

Writing: While I’ve written more this year, I still haven’t made writing a daily routine, which was one of my goals for the year.  I find writing not only brings new ideas into my mind, it forces me to coherently put down thoughts that otherwise may be jumbled in my mind.  It also provides a nice record of my thoughts as I grow older.

Knowledge: I’ve noticed when I travel I lose routine, and one of them is consistent studying/reading.  For example, when studying Thai language this year, if I was on the road I’d miss several days of studying in a row, or perhaps not read for a week.  This is something I need to work on – just because I’m on the road doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put aside time for these tasks.

What am I working toward?

I’ve had quite a few shifts in mindset this year that have influenced how I view life.  Part of this is driven by what I’ve read and learned this year, people I’ve talked to, and experiences I’ve had, and part I think is just myself growing up.  Thoughts are just thoughts, so I’ve began to realize that is just what they are. I’ve also shifted my mindset more toward financial freedom.  While my goal has always been to enjoy each day as much as possible without too much sacrifice, now I have some goals in mind in terms of “how can I become financially independent?” I’ve learned a lot about investing and 2016 was my first year where I actually started to build a portfolio of things that I consider long term investments. I plan to continue this practice into 2017 and beyond.

Health wise I plan to keep meditating daily and improving my practice.  I plan to attend a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in 2017, though unsure where that will be in the world.  I’m also working towards a free-standing hand stand, which has required me to work on my flexibility a lot, which obviously takes time and can’t be rushed.

Work-wise, I’m always trying to get better with managing time, setting goals and deadlines, working on routine, and balancing my work/hobbies.  It will be a life-long process but I’m quite happy with the rate of improvement.

All Together

Once again, this year was the fastest year of my life. Perhaps every year we get older will perceptually feel faster than the previous, though I’m unsure.  Perhaps it depends on circumstance and mindset, and the future is unpredictable. All I can do is live how I see best using the knowledge, relationships, and circumstances I have. I’ll end this year with my top 5 book recommendations of the year, and my top 5 posts of the year:

Books:

  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari
  • The Life You Can Save – Peter Singer
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • World Order – Henry Kissinger
  • Free Will – Sam Harris

Posts:

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2017!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

Oktoberfest, Prague, and Poland

Oktoberfest 2016

I just got back from 2 weeks in Europe. My brother and a few friends were going to Europe for Oktoberfest, so I decided to join.  The full route was Munich, German > Berlin, Germany > Prague, Czech Republic > Krakow, Poland > Warsaw, Poland.  I’ve been wanting to go Oktoberfest for many years, as well as Berlin and Poland, so it was hard to pass up the opportunity to do so with my brother and friends.

Over the last year I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the World Wars, so it was fascinating traveling this part of the world.  Not only did I get to go to Oktoberfest for the first time, I also got to explore Poland and learn more about the history of the country.

I arrived into Munich after a layover in Abu Dhabi around 2pm on September 25th.  At the hostel I metup with my friend Ryan who was staying at the same place, and shortly after checking in all the other friends came over.  We had a drink there, and then headed down the road for some stein liters of beer, as well as food.  My old friend Martin, who used to live in Bangkok but now was studying in Munich, met up with us and joined us throughout the night bar hopping.  With the lack of sleep, it made the hangover the next day pretty bad.

I woke after 5 or so hours of sleep and walked over to another hotel where my brother and friends were staying.  Today was the day of Oktoberfest.  A couple others were having beers as we walked to Oktoberfest, where thousands of other people were drinking in the huge beer “tents” they had setup – more like huge buildings.

One of the many people chugging a liter in one go, while standing on the table.

One of the many people chugging a liter in one go, while standing on the table.

We spent the next several hours chatting about life, telling stories, and meeting others while binging on the liters of beer that Oktoberfest offers.  Of course the first beer makes your head, mind, and body feel better as it masks the pain of the previous nights hangover, one you know you’ll pay for later when you become sober yet again.

In the evening we rode the ferris wheel at Oktoberfest, which was one of many amusement rides they had setup.  It wasn’t long after when I called it a night.  Walking back to the hostel took me the better part of an hour when it should have been just a few minutes – mainly due to my map not loading on my phone very well.

The following day was yet another of Oktoberfest.  Because the days start early and end late, and are filled with continuous steins, it makes each day feel like two, and the hangover twice as hard.  This day we went to different tents than the day before, and rode a different park ride which spun us around a hundred feet in the air – it was quite fun.  Because I had a flight at 6am the next day, I called it a night around 10am to get a couple hours of sleep before taking the train to the airport.

Nighttime view overlooking Oktoberfest

Nighttime view overlooking Oktoberfest

I flew to Berlin the following morning with the plan to meet the rest of the group in Berlin as they had a flight a few hours later. Upon arriving I went to my hostel, got on the internet, and relaxed a bit.  Checkin wasn’t until 1pm, so I had some downtown which was nice.  Around 1pm I went to checkin only to be told that the room wasn’t ready, so I left my bag at the reception and headed out to meet the rest of the group at Alexanderplatz.

From there, we headed to a brew pub along the water near museum island.  We had some pizza and drinks, and then toured around the Neues Museum, which had a wide variety of ancient artifacts from the Nazis, the 1800’s Germany, and ancient Greek sculptures and writing, all the way back to 2,500 BCE.  It was a massive place to walk through, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

The following day we met at the Berlin TV tower at 10am to do a biking tour of Berlin, which we had planned and paid for ahead of time.  The tour consisted of everyone riding bikes around to different spots in Berlin with the guide telling us some of the history of the area.  At lunch we stopped at a beergarden for some quick food and a couple drinks. It ended around 3pm.  Overall it was enlightening and entertaining.

Parliament building in Berlin.

Parliament building in Berlin.

After the tour we took the train toward the area of town with the Berlin wall gallery.  We walked along there, and after headed toward the area where we would be seeing a Menzingers concert later in the night.  We had dinner and drinks, and before we knew it we were at the concert.  I had to buy a ticket at the door which worked out well, while others had bought tickets ahead of time (I joined this trip somewhat last minute).  The concert was fun, though super hot.  Since the Menzingers were the second band, the band that headlined we weren’t really into so we left before the concert ended.  We ended up drinking at a nearby bar, and eating kebabs before calling it a night.

The following day we walked to the Holocaust Museum and Nazi Museum, which we had learned about the day before on the biking tour.  We spent several hours going through the exhibitions learning more about the Nazis and the war – it’s nice that the city makes this free to tourists as it encourages people to learn more about it.  After spending most of the day walking and exploring, we walked around the Potsdam area and had an excellent Italian dinner near there.  We also had a couple beers which made the food even better.

Italian food in the Potsdam area (secret: I love taking food pictures).

Italian food in the Potsdam area (secret: I love taking food pictures).

We took the train the Potsdam area back to the area by my hostel to explore the nightlife there.  We ended up having a couple towers of beer at a nearby bar before calling it a night in the early morning – we had to be up reasonably early in the morning to catch our train to Prague.

We had a train to Prague from that left from the main station in Berlin – I ended up meeting the group at their station before heading to the main station together.  There we sorted out the tickets and where the train was, and then had lunch at the station – we had some Asian Grill. While on the train, we had many small bottles of wine and took in the countryside views.  During the last hour in the train another passenger sat in the cabin with us as he had a seat reserved – he was easy going and basically fell asleep while we chatted quietly. Once we arrived in Prague, we walked to our hostel and upon arriving around dinnertime, we were told that for 10EUR there was all you can drink and eat, so we checked into our rooms and participated.

After playing beerpong, eating lots of food, and playing several drinking games (baa-cok, hand slapping, etc.), we went on a pub crawl.  Unfortunately it was led by a younger Dutch guy who didn’t seem to drink much nor was too interested in bar hopping much, so the first place we went to we ended up staying at for probably 90 minutes.  It was full of smoke which made the experience worse, even though everyone in the group were several beers deep the say the least.

After the first bar, the guide took us back to the hostel where we stood for like 20 minutes, before he continued on to another bar.  During that time I had a kebab and decided to call it a night.

The following day we woke and headed to the oldest brewery in Prague, U Fleku, which was only a couple blocks from where we were staying.  It was full of people, and we grabbed one of the few remaining tables.  We ordered food and beer, both of which were excellent quality.  They also walking around and were serving some weird thick syrup-like stuff that was similar to a shot.  Some people were sipping and others shot it.  The one I had was insanely sweet, while others got ones that were not sweet but a different un-describable flavor.

img_20161002_184643

After leaving there we did our own little walking tour of central Prague.  It started raining as we got to the main square, so we hopped into a bar along the way for some drinks – I ended up with a liter of a fine dark beer.  Prague is famous for it’s quality Pilsners and it’s cheap prices.  We were told Czechs drink more per capita than any other country on earth – it was common walking around for breakfast to see people (including older people) having a pint.

We crossed over the bridge towards Prague Castle (which we would go to the following day), and headed to the John Lennon wall.  Apparently Lennon had painted something there, and since, it has become a big tourist spot full of graffiti about peace and with philosophical quotes about life.  After checking that out, we walked back across the bridge taking some pictures along the way, and went to the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments.  It was pretty interesting to see how many different ways humans have figured out to torture each other, mostly in the name of religion.  While I’m unsure how accurate or researched the museum actually was, it was entertaining.

We had Italian for dinner at a restaurant near the central square.  The Italian food throughout this entire trip was excellent – I had pasta while others had pizza.  After dinner we headed to the Sex Machines Museum Praha, which is a common tourist museum comprising of countless ancient sex toys from around the world.  I had been to one in Amsterdam many years ago, and this one was very similar.

Sex Machines Museum, Prague

Sex Machines Museum, Prague

The following day we took a train from Prague to Kutna Hora, a town about 2.5 hours from Prague by train.  Upon arriving, we walked into the town and checked out one of the larger churches near the train station, and then headed to the infamous skull museum, Sedlec Ossuary. It contains around 40,000 human skulls laid out and stacked, and it is quite a fascinating place to see.  The entry cost is around $3.

Sedlec Ossuary - Skull Museum

Sedlec Ossuary – Skull Museum

After spending a half hour there, we waited for a bus to take us further into town a few miles to explore some of the other churches.  Upon arriving it started to rain so we stopped into a local restaurant and had some soup and beers.  By the time we finished there, the rain had stopped and we walked nearby to the St Barbara’s Church, a magnificent Gothic-style Catholic church (started to be built in 1388).  From there you get excellent views of the town and the nearby structures, all of which are brilliant architecture.

View overlooking the town from St Barbara's Church

View overlooking the town from St Barbara’s Church

St Barbara's Church

St Barbara’s Church – magnificent architecture

We stopped for a drink on the way back to the train station where we would catch a train back to Prague.  However, we first had to take a different train from a station in Kutna Hora to the main station we came in on on the other side of town.  We waited a good hour on the train before it started to move.

Upon arriving back into Prague in the evening, we stopped at a Czech restaurant for dinner.  I ate “rabbit on spinach and bacon”, which was a first for me, though not as appetizing as it sounds.  Because it was Sunday, after dinner we went to a local Irish pub to watch the Broncos play football, where we enjoyed several rounds of Guinness.

The next day was our last day in Prague, as in the evening we’d have an overnight train to Krakow in Poland. We woke and walked toward Prague Castle, stopping at various monuments along the way.  We had Italian food yet again for lunch, which was again excellent – I was impressed with how well the Italian was prepared in both Germany and Czech Republic.  Upon arriving to the castle, there were lots of people and I thought I had known a shortcut to get around, but ended up taking us on a big loop around the whole complex.  We ended up re-entering via the garden nearby and eventually got into the castle area with the views I was looking for.

By this point the blue sky was out and the day became quite beautiful, a change from the morning where it was pissing rain just enough to be uncomfortable.  By the time we got back to central Prague it was mid-afternoon and we stopped into the Prague Beer Museum, which is not a museum, but a brewery with probably 30 different kinds of beer.  We ordered a few flights of beer to sample their selection, which was excellent.

Beer flights at the Prague Beer Museum.

Beer flights at the Prague Beer Museum.

Before heading to catch the train, we had a couple drinks at a different brewery, and then dinner at a downstairs restaurant nearby.  I ended up ordering fish and chips which ended up being the worst fish and chips I’d ever had – it was burnt to a crisp but they still served it.

The overnight train itself was quite fun – I was able to fit into the cabin they had booked without too much issue and transfer my seat over.  This gave us our own cabin to listen to music, have some drinks, and play some games.

We arrived into Krakow around 7:30am and from there walked to our AirBnB rental.  The streets were empty, and it was a bit rainy and cold. Upon arriving, we rested for a couple hours.  The rental was excellent, it slept 5 of us including a loft, and had an excellent bathroom and a washing machine – and was centrally located in the middle of Krakow – the cost was something like $15/per person per night.

After resting, we headed out to eat and explore, looking for the best place in town with pierogies.  The highest rated place on Google and Trip Advisor was a small local joint that had virtually no seating and was more like ordering from a window for takeaway.  When we arrived, there were about 5 people ahead of us and several people were behind us.  I ordered 18 pieces, not knowing what to expect.  9 were spinach filled, and 9 were potatoes and bacon filled – in total costing around $4.

Steamed pierogies in Krakow

Steamed pierogies in Krakow

We ate those out front – 18 was too many for me.  Pierogies are dumplings filled with various flavors and covered with a topping, often caramelized onions.  Most of the time they are steamed, though later in the trip we discovered others which were fried (and much better).

After eating, we went to a local brewery for some liters of beer along with a few snacks.  Afterward we walked around the central square and the market looking at the various souvenirs.  It was rainy and quite cold around this time.  By the time we finished there, it was the later afternoon, and we decided to go to the supermarket nearby to get snacks and drinks to bring back to the AirBnB.

We spent the evening doing laundry, playing card games, listening to music, and relaxing.  It was quite a fun night and a great time hanging out with the crew.  We ordered ordered pizza for dinner which we had to go pickup.

The following morning we left by 9am to walk to the bus station and catch a bus to Oswiecim, where we had booked a tour of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.  The bus took about an hour, and upon arriving we grabbed a quite lunch at a nearby hotel before the tour started.

The tour itself lasted around 3 hours, the first couple hours were at one part where we walked around through original buildings to see where people ate, slept, etc. while learning about some of the stories that the guide told us.  The last hour we bused to another section which was much larger where most of the people were held during WWII.  It was fascinating seeing this, as I had read “Night” by Elie Wiesel about the Holocaust when I was in 7th grade, and recently have been studying more about WWI and WWII after listening to the Hardcore History podcast (Blueprint for Armageddon and Ghosts of the Ostfront are excellent). After the tour, we took a bus back to Krakow where we had dinner and bought wine for another night indoors.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Learning about WWI and WWII really just reminds me how capable we as humans are to being manipulated in large groups.  Most of the people who fought in those wars, for example, were normal people who were convinced to do barbaric things because it was normal.  And history has repeated itself and will likely repeat itself again.  Straying the norm isn’t easy, but it’s important to always question what were told because more often than not, what we’re told isn’t the best way to live for us or for others.

The following day we did a full day walking tour, learning about the various sites around Krakow and seeing some more of the architecture.  Krakow itself isn’t too large, so it was mostly walkable without issue.  The day started a bit gloomy but the sky became blue in the afternoon.  After the tour we went to a highly-rated restaurant near where the tour ended for a beer and lunch.  I had Polish-style goulash with potato pancakes, which was fantastic.

Central Market of Krakow

Central Market of Krakow

After eating, we walked back to the central square and went to the museum underneath part of it which the tour guide told us to checkout.  It wasn’t too interesting, but was basically showing the history of the city from the excavation that had been done 10 years ago.  It was overrated and probably not worth spending the time on.

Afterward we went to an Irish pub for a Guinness, and then had a kebab from side-street shop.  It was massive, but not too good considering how good most kebabs are.  We then headed to a brewery for another beer flight – the beer was excellent there.

We left Krakow in the morning to catch the train to the airport to then fly to Warsaw, our final stop of the trip. Upon arrving at the airport, we took a bus to old town Warsaw where our hostel was.  After dropping our bags off (checkin was still a couple hours away), we went next store to a restaurant called Zapiecek which had pan fried pierogies on their menu.

We had to wait about 20 minutes to get a spot, and after getting seated we ordered some beer, pierogies, and various snacks – I had a salad and soup. The pierogies were spectacular, perhaps some of the best food I’ve ever had.  Others got original covered in bacon, while I ordered spinach covered in blue cheese cream.  Over the next 2 days I’d eat there again 3 times.

Pan-fried spinach pierogies with blue cheese cream topping.

Pan-fried spinach pierogies with blue cheese cream topping.

After eating, we checked into the hostel, and then grabbed a beer at the rooftop bar in the hostel.  Afterward we headed to an Irish pub to find some Guinness (yes, we all love Guinness).  They served liters of Guinness, so we ordered them until the woman said pints of Guinness were on special and it was cheaper to get 2 pints than 1 liter (obviously doesn’t make sense but we went that route).  The pub was full of drunken Danish football fans, as the Danish were about to play the Polish later this night for the World Cup qualifier.

After leaving the pub, we went to a Japanese restaurant for some sushi and saki.  Around this time the Danish (probably 100+ people from around the area) were marching down the street walking to the nearby stadium.  Police were on both sides containing them – it was pretty cool to see everyone having a good time and the police ensuring no one does anything stupid – it seemed they even advocated having fun.

By the time we finished the Japanese food it was dark and we headed to another pub to watch the World Cup qualifier and grab more Guinness.  We ended up drinking several liters of Guinness and chatting for several hours.  I left around midnight to get some water and head to sleep, while the others stayed out much later.

In the morning we had pierogies next door to the hostel again – I had strawberry filled pierogies covered in vanilla sauce.  They were incredible. After, we all walked around the central part of Warsaw exploring the various sites and architecture.  In the afternoon we walked back to old town to do an old town walking tour and learn a bit more about the city.  It was a bit rainy but overall was an enjoyable tour.  It’s fascinating how far Poland (and all the surrounding countries) have come since WWII, which wasn’t too long ago.  Everything has been rebuilt – similar to Berlin, Warsaw was 90%+ destroyed during WWII and virtually everything in the city has been rebuilt (which you’d never know if you didn’t know the history).

Central Warsaw has some really cool architecture as well.

Central Warsaw has some really cool architecture as well.

After the tour we had dinner at Zapiecek again, where I had potatoe pancakes with mushroom cream sauce and split a bowl of bacon pierogies.  The rest of the crew was quite tired from the night before and also had to be up quite early for their flight back to the US, so I headed up to the rooftop bar and had a beer (my flight was much later in the afternoon).  At the bar, I met several others staying there where we had a few more beers, played some games, and told some stories.

I headed to sleep around midnight, woke the next morning to pack and caught a bus to the airport.  My flight back to Bangkok had a long layover in Beijing, where I spent most of the time catching up on work and watching the presidential election debate.

It was a fantastic trip yet again.  I truly think you make things what they are – even bad experiences can be useful.  This trip was everything I imagined and more.  I was doubtful I’d even go, but I would have regretted it had I not.  In hindsight, it was one of the best trips I’ve done and it was a pleasure to travel with my brother and friends around Europe for a couple weeks.

STAY UPDATED

Get my NEW posts delivered to your email.  Make it easy to stay connected.

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.