A Travellerspoint blog

Santorini

sunny 75 °F

Three days ago we arrived in paradise. Santorini. The perfect place to relax after our halfway mark. The weather here is beautiful, 60-75 degrees. We rented a small little cave house. We learned that in the 40s and 50s the cave houses were for the poor people and the rich people had houses on flat land, but now the rich people own the cave houses. Supposedly to buy the cave it cost $600,000, not including building the house! Our house has a pink exterior looking at the bright blue water. There are two small bedrooms, both with breathtaking views. There is also a small kitchen that Riley and I have been using non-stop. The town we are in is Oia, but it is pronounced Ia. Getting to our house is pretty difficult because there are many turns and stairs. There are no cars allowed inside the town, which is nice because there is no honking for a change. The small cobblestone steps lead off to many small stores and cafes. There is only one café with Wi-Fi in the entire town, we found it the first day! ☺ Oia is touristy, but still has a small town feel to it. Today Riley, my dad, and I walked down 300 steps to the water. About 10 feet out from the shore, the water turns from turquoise to deep, dark blue. There are 3 shops tucked into the cliffs. Santorini is definitely in my top 5 favorite places, it might even by number 1. It’s like all the movies, beautiful.

Posted by ryanober1 11:56 Archived in Greece Tagged morgan Comments (0)

Indoor Skiing Dubai

sunny 97 °F

After India we went to Dubai. We did a lot of different things including indoor skiing. Some of you might have heard of it before, there are only 12 in the world. It was quite the ironic experience, because it was 100 degrees outside, yet we were in an indoor ski park when it was below freezing! My moms ankle was still hurting, so just Morgan, my dad and I went skiing. Once we got in, I realized that it is just like a real ski slope- just inside.☺ It had a restaurant at the top and a ski lift that turned at the middle. Morgan and I haven’t skied for 6 years so after about 5 falls, I got the hang of it. There were 2 courses a beginner and advanced- Morgan and I stuck with the beginner. It was a very unique experience. To give you a sum of what we have been doing, we wen to Istanbul, Turkey and toured around it was a very nice city! Now we are in Greece on an island, Santorini! It is beautiful! We rented a house and Morgan and I are cooking- we have missed a home cooked meal! Aunt Jojo and Uncle Scott are coming in 5 days- cant wait!

~Riley

Posted by ryanober1 02:08 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged riley Comments (0)

India so Far

sunny 98 °F

We have been in India for over a week now. We have been to Delhi, Agra, Faridabad, and just arrived yesterday to Jaipur. India is not what I expected it to be. I knew it would be dirty and smelly, but it is so much worse when you are actually here. It is devastating all the poverty and beggars. Here is a sum up of India so far. We volunteered at schools and orphanages for 1 week. It was a very neat experience to volunteer with kids and stay with a nice host family. We saw the Taj Mahal- it was absolutely amazing! The outside is beautiful, but the inside was not very impressive. Yesterday we took a train to Jaipur, it was difficult to get on with some ticket and seat problems, but once we were on, it was good. Today Morgan was sick so my dad stayed home with her. (The locals call her sickness the Delhi Belly, fairly common for people who visit Delhi.) My mom and I went sight seeing with our friends from London that we met volunteering. First we got ‘real’ henna~ not the kinds from the girls at the orphanage. Then we went to the Amber Palace also known as Amber Fort; it was so spectacular. It was built by the Meenas to pay homage to the Mother Goddess in 1592. It had detailed designs with bright colors, in my opinion it was better than the Taj Mahal. After we went to a handy-craft store with amazing bed spreads, clothes and textiles. My opinion of India has changed after Jaipur, Jaipur is cleaner and the people are nicer. Also it is called the pink city- that’s a bonus! All the buildings are painted in a pink hue due to the British King’s preference.

Posted by ryanober1 09:53 Archived in India Tagged riley Comments (1)

Volunteering in India

sunny 95 °F

We have now been in India for 2 days. We are staying at the coordinator’s house with a few other families. We have options to volunteer in whatever section you would like, or you can do a mixture of the different activities. We originally chose the orphanage, but they don’t need much help, because there are 7 kids and 2 adults. The kids are so polite, nice, and funny. They range from ages 3-12. Five of the seven kids’ parents have passed away. It’s a very good situation for them because they are like a family, they take care of each other and are a true family. They all go to school, and are very successful, all in the top 5 in their class. There is a 3 year old girl and she is the only one who doesn’t go to school. She plays in her playroom during the day and she helps with cleaning and laundry, ext. There is also a 12 year old girl named Muscaan who is very nice. Muscaan and Jayate (our host family’s daughter) always take us to the park and they are very sweet and fun to play with.
Today, we started the day at 6am and helped give the kids at the orphanage a bath and cook breakfast. Then, we played with the 3 year old, Khushi. We then went to a “slum school” to teach kids. The school was for special ed. kids. It was a learning experience. I really enjoyed teaching the kids, although it was uncomfortable at times. Daddy taught the low functioning class with Riley, and Mommy and I taught the higher functioning class. The kids were excited to learn and I think we learned as much as they did. Most of the kids didn’t have properly fitting clothes and it breaks my heart. So far India has been…. tough, but rewarding.

~morgan~

Posted by ryanober1 09:14 Archived in India Tagged morgan Comments (1)

Koh Chang

rain 81 °F

The past 4 days we have been staying on an island in the gulf of Thailand. There are about 10-12 islands within 20 miles. We decided to stay on Koh Chang; its known for beautiful beaches and it is close to the main land. We luckily decided on Koh Chang be cause our other 2 options: Phuket and Samui. Are completely rained out, with tourists being evacuated by the navy of Thailand! I’m pretty glad we chose this island over death ☺ On the first morning we were here, we woke up, got in our swimsuits and went to the beach. We soon learned that the water is warm, calm and shallow. We walked out about 250- 300 feet before we couldn’t touch the ocean floor. The water is about 75 degrees and the waves are less than a foot tall. I can do flips and handstands in the ocean! The water is also crystal clear, once you got past the initial eerie feeling of seeing a couple of fish swim by, it was amazing. When you are about 100 feet out from the shore, you can see the miles and miles of small restaurants and vendors. Behind the restaurants are hills covered in jungles and rainforests. The view is incredible. Today we took a scooter ride through the middle of Koh Chang. The hills were pretty difficult to get up in a 100 CC scooter, but it was fun nonetheless.

~morgan~

Posted by ryanober1 09:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged morgan Comments (0)

Still my Happy Place!

sunny 69 °F

Still happy in Bhutan!
This country is something really special. I have not met a person yet that isn't nice, smiling, seemingly content. When I asked my guide about GNH, she said she thinks it really is working, and her best guess is that 70% of the citizens are really happy. I believe that, when in town or driving around the country it seems like there is a true like of life, and contentment.
The country is the least developed of all that we have visited. Infrastructure is poor, roads torn up, conditions of the hotels, pay is low, etc... Yet, that doesn't seem to matter, the citizens have family, friends, and homes, that is enough. It gives you a reality check that emphasizes you don't need a lot of stuff to be happy. I am not going to run home and put the Harley up for sale, but I will think about the next time I want to make a unnecessary purchase. Friends , family, and homes, a good recipe for happiness, it works here.
I went to a farmhouse and had a hot stone bath in a falling apart shed behind the house. It was awesome, they take cold water from the river and fill up a wooden box/tub with the water and then start taking big rocks out of the fire and placing in the end of the tubs. It heats up the tubs pretty quickly and then you hop in. If you want it hotter they bring in more rocks. It was a really cool experience, very third world, dirty, possibly amoeba infested, but well worth it. After the soak, I had a home cooked meal at the farmhouse with my guides, a couple from Singapore  and the host family. We learned a lot of traditions that are worth sharing.
You sit on the floor in a circle, use your hands to eat, no utensils, and talk and tell jokes. It is a family affair, and parents, kids, grandkids, etc are all expected to make each meal.
First we had "yak butter", a salty warm tea like drink made from yaks milk ...... Enough said about that one.
Then we had Ara, the alcoholic drink common here, a rice wine with butter and fried egg. It was powerful and could be a game changer if you drank more than 2 glasses.
On to the food, first you take 2 drops of yak butter and rub on your hands, then you take some rice and roll it around your hands to pick up the dirt. Because of the bath my rice stayed white, but some of the other peoples rice turned dark brown.   An effective way to clean your hands before a meal. 
The mother then gives the guests a plateful of rice and starts passing around the dishes. We had asparagus and ferns, really good, beef with carrots, vegetables, and potatoes and cheese. Food has been excellent here. The traditional food is super crazy spicey, life changing spicy. I tried the spicy dishes at a couple of meals, bad choice on my part. They are aware of the western palate and de-spice everything but one dish at each meal. Holy crazy spice they eat here. The chili sauce they put on everything is ridiculous, just a heads up in case you ever visit.
After dinner everyone say goodbye and safe travel wishes, etc. It felt really good to be included in something like this, it affirms why we are doing this trip, to learn about other cultures, customs and people.
After we ate my driver and I went out for a night on the town. A night in Paro, a mountain town of about 20k people is interesting. Mine started out at a local bar where we played snooker and had a beer, we then went to one of the most interesting things I have seen on the trip, a Bhutanese gentleman's club. Its about as polar opposite something could be from an American version. There is a stage and bench seats facing the stage. Women, they are paid a monthly salary, no tips, dance to traditional songs. The unique part is that they are wearing full traditional clothing, long flor length dress, long heavy jackets, and sashes around the waist. There is No skin showing but the hands and face, and the traditional dances are not meant to seduce, but rather remind people of there local dances, men and women will get up and perform the dances on stage, everyone has a great time and it is good wholesome fun. Wow, what a refreshing version of entertainment. After 10 or so songs we went to the "disco party"' thats what they call dance clubs. It was a room about 25 x 25' a few lazer lights, probably not approved or good for the eyes, and a DJ. It was really fun and I even got a few dance moves going. I was the only non Bhutanese there, I actually think I was the only non Bhutanese there ever. Not a lot of foriegners like to see the real Bhutan apparently, my guide said I am one of the few that has liked to see things besides just the temples and monasteries, I like knowing that! After a few songs the power went out! I mean out in the whole city, not a single light as far as you could see, except people's cell phones to try to find the way out. No one complained or yellEd for their money back, just simply went about leaving and existing. It was an awesome way to end a terrific visit to a country that showed me you can be happy and exist in a place without unnecessary things or even electricity.
There is not a single fast food restaurant, no McDonalds, KFC, or pizza hut, not even a Starbucks??? There is no business from the outside that I saw, no chains or boring concept restaurants. The democracy was started in 2009 by the current king ( the 5th king) and is still learning to change from a monarchy, they are in a process of changing, TV's were introduced in 2004, and the Internet was allowed in 2008. I just hope it retain its beautiful culture, identity, and way of life. 
For some reason the people that travel to Bhutan are older and family travelers to the country are rare, my guide told me, foreign kids are very rarely visiting, that is a shame. If you ever get an opportunity to visit Bhutan, you need to do it! This is a  country that I fear will succumb to western influences and change drastically over the next 10 years, and that makes me very sad. I would love to share this with family and friends and see how they felt while here, if their experience is as fulfilling as mine has been. This is my happy place!
Ryan
 
I bought a bumper Sticker that says "I love Bhutan", it will be the only one I put on my car, and it will make me feel Gross National Happiness each time I see it!

Posted by ryanober1 08:18 Archived in Bhutan Tagged ryan Comments (0)

GNH (Gross National Happiness)

High in the Himalayas

sunny 70 °F

GNH (Gross National Happiness)

When we all chose our first country to visit on our trip, my first was Bhutan. I read an article in National Geographic about this country and what it believes in and how the people act and I have been  fascinated ever since.  The King (the 4th at the time) was a progressive thinker who implemented many changes and policies to keep his country's culture intact and yet capitalize on tourism and the beauty of this Himalayan country. He started the concept of GNH (Gross National Happiness)  deciding that rather than base his country's success on GNP (like the rest of the world) he would base it on the general happiness of the citizens themselves. Budgets include funds for parks, monasteries, sport complexes, etc. Rather than put everything into military and foreign affairs they would spend the federal money on the betterment of the peoples general well being.  What an incredible concept. And it seems to be working!
This is the first part of the journey that all 4 of us haven't been together. Julie was cut off by a car when we were on scooters in Thailand, and she hurt her ankle, torn ligaments, pretty bad. So she decided hiking in the mountains was probably not the best idea. We decided it would be best for the girls to stay with her and just me to continue on the next leg. She has been able to keep off the foot ( as much as she can with the girls ) and will hopefully make a quick recovery for India. With that said, this is a country I will get to experience alone and with complete flexibility. After spending 1 hour here, I wanted everyone to join me and experience with me, we have all become pretty reliant on the dynamics and flow that works when we are all 4 together. Maybe a little codependent I am thinking, but Julie isn't allowed to counsel her own family by law, so we will have to get an outside opinion on that official diagnosis. :)
This is an incredible place!! One of the most interesting aspects is how they control tourism. A tourist can only fly into the country to Paro, using the country's airline, about 3 flights a day. The fee to travel here is $200 a day all inclusive. You don't worry about anything unless you want to buy souvenirs. You are only allowed to be in the country with a guide, so when you land you are met by your guide and driver, they are with you at all times during the day. Your hotel, all meals, at any of the restaurants, tea and coffee throughout the day, guide, driver, own car, tours, etc are all in the price. It the first time I haven't had to make daily ATM Draw outs since leaving the states.
One of my first shocks was to see almost every person in the traditional dress, called a Goa, almost everyone wears one. The younger generations change into Western clothes to go out at night, otherwise its a Goa. They are a unique and simple, yet practical, single piece of cloth that is about knee length on the men. The men then all wear black long socks and black dress shoes. I actually tried one on at a craft store, needless to say it was more like a mini skirt on me, and not real flattering (AT ALL)!!
Another surprising thing here is that almost everyone speaks English. They are educated from first grade on in the language so they are very good and many are completely fluent. It is surprising that such a tiny country, population is only 610,000, has such a dedication to education and English. School is free to all students from start through college, as long as they maintain grades and stay focused. The country doesn't really have a hospital, so if there is something serious with the health of a citizen the government pays for them to fly and see doctors in Bangkok. Talk about a great health care plan! They really do seem to care about the people and do what they can to take care of them. A cool concept, that is probably much easier to do with 600 k compared to hundreds of millions. 
When you fly into Paro you are on what is considered "the most beautiful mountain flight in the world". You are literally flying through a canyon in the Himalayas with 20k+ foot peaks out of your window. It is breathtaking and the first glimpse you get of what a magical place you are about to experience is. Once I landed I was met by my guide, Jimba, who is one of only 10 female guides in the country. There are 1200 male guides, still need some improvements in the equality arena?! She has been awesome and incredibly knowledgable, I then met Eshdee, our driver, who is equally great and a wonderful slow and safe driver.  
We drove the 1 1/2 hours to Thimptu, the capital and had a quick lunch and then off to school were the students learn the 13 vital crafts. It is a university where they attend for 3-4 years depending on which craft they study ( embroidery, painting, sculpture, sewing, drawing, etc). What I found so interesting about this is that they are crafts that are not done for tourists and resale, but rather for the monasteries and religious festivals. The entire country embraces the importance of Buddhism (95% of the Bhutanese are Buddhist), it is what the school is about, to become a successful worker for the church or related to the church.
We then went to see an original style home, preserved for tourists to see. It was very interesting, there is a courtyard for the animals and then once entering there is a a place for the animals, mostly cows and goats, so they can stay warm and also help heat the house. The second floor is a storage room for grain, rice, etc. The third floor is the kitchen, open room for sleeping, eating, sitting, etc.. Then a prayer room and more storage. On the roof between the house and the roof is about a 5 foot section where grass, hay, and other foods are kept to stay dry. It was a neat place to see and really showed what a difficult life it is to live in the Himalayas. 
We saw some more small monasteries and then to the hotel for dinner and a good night sleep. The next day was a long hike up to a Buddhist monastery, named Tango, where there were actual monks that were chanting, praying, studying etc everywhere. It was really cool to see all the saffron robes and shaved heads acting like it was adjust a normal day at the monastery dedicating there lives to the teachings of the Buddha. Very spiritual and beautiful place. On our drive Jimba pointed out a series of 10 or 12 little huts far up on a mountain. She said that is where the best monks are selected and sent for " meditation". That is when they take the 10 top monks and lock them in for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days! They talk to no one and meditate only for the whole time. Her brother just came out of meditation last year.  I can't sit still for 3 seconds let alone 3 years, I can't imagine the dedication, concentration, and challenge that is to complete. 
Today we went to a high mountain pass and looked at the Himalayas and another temple and saw many stupas. Drove back to Paro and watched some people play the national sport of archery. It was unreal how far they shoot the targets. They are set at 145 meters, or over 300 feet, and they are small wooden targets about 2 feet tall. They only hit the target once in a while, but are usually really close, supposedly almost everyone here plays the game. 
Tomorrow its off to see more temples, visit a museum, etc.... I really love this place, it just feels good! It is safe, quiet, relaxed, people are super friendly and people truly seem happy! Bhutan is my happy place!
Ryan

Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 03:32 Archived in Bhutan Tagged ryan Comments (0)

smokers galore

rain 75 °F

We have noticed that the “bad part” of smoking has not caught on in any of the countries we have gone too. Everywhere people are smoking! As some of you might know, my mom and I cannot stand the smell of smoke! At the restaurants, the hotels, inside trains and buses you can always find people smoking. Its not for the lack of trying, the countries put out warning labels with disturbing images on the cigarette pack. We also have noticed that is mostly men smoking. I guess the women know better ☺ For me this is a reminder that I will never smoke.

We are on a flight to India tomorrow. Ever since the 3d grade special events at Stonewall of India, I have dreamed of going there! India has been the #1 on my list of countries I am most excited for! Even though there will be poverty and nothing like I have ever seen, I can’t wait.
You Might not here from us for a few days, because the internet café is a while away, and we are volunteering.

~Riley

Posted by ryanober1 08:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged riley Comments (1)

DONE WITH SOUTH EAST ASIA

Both Figuratively and literally

rain 92 °F

I certainly do not want to put all of SEA into one lump sum of experiences, so I will list the highlights of each country separately. I will then put together my thoughts of the challenges and difficulties that were consistent throughout the region. I want to preface this update by saying some of the frustrations I have experienced are because of my own intolerance and lack of patience. When we began this journey, having both the girls and I personally learning acceptance of different cultures, religions, people, and countries was one of the single most important reasons to embark. We continually discussed how this would teach all of us to embrace everyone’s differences and not only accept them but also appreciate them. I think we have all done a really good job of that, but it isn’t always easy.

Vietnam highlights
• Everyone was very friendly and seemed to be accepting of us as Americans
• Most people were helpful and would try to speak English or at least “try” to point us in the right direction
• Scenery was incredible, from mountains, to deserts, to beaches, to River deltas, a beautiful country
• The “new” culture (post Vietnam conflict) is relevant, fresh and discussed by people
• Food was good and very cheap (average about $15 a meal for all of us)
• Beer was even cheaper (about $.45 a bottle) and good
• Hotels were the cheapest in SEA (about $22a night), all were nice and clean
• We all felt safe and really enjoyed the country
Cambodia Highlights-
• The most “real” country of the three, everyone seemed genuinely happy to see and help you
• The least amount of tourist’s
• Super cheap, dinner and drinks were about $15 per meal for all four
• First Mexican food restaurant since Australia (we ate there 2 nights in a row)
• The orphanage, and the fact that people seems to care about each other and take of the less fortunate
• Fresh fruit everywhere and great little road side markets
• We got to fly out instead of take a bus (that was the bus ride experience that we talked about earlier, a little crazy)
• A wonderful experience at Angkor wat and the temples
Thailand Highlights-
• Most industrialized and developed of the South East Asia countries
• Easy to get around, flights, trains, buses, taxis
• The Tuk-Tuk’s are fun, they are the open aired, 3 wheeled motorcycle/rickshaw type mode of transportation
• Great hotel in Chiang Mai
• Chiang Mai is a charming city with a great night bazzar every night and lots to see
• The Tiger experience, the elephant experience, the snake charmer experience (ok, not so much the snake charmer, more the tiger and elephants)
• Lots to do and see everywhere, the most tourist oriented country we have seen
• Meeting our Argentinian friends and going to the polo match in Bangkok
• The beach in Koh Chang was great, as were the beachside restaurants

The Cons for SEA-
• BARGAINING for EVERYTHING!!!!
• Everywhere you have to bargain and argue over price, for everything!! At first it seemed fun, but after awhile it just became frustrating and irritating
• People trying to take advantage of you, it felt like many of the taxis, hotels, etc. were always looking to milk us for every penny they could. Each room, ride, and purchase started higher than what we eventually paid, and more importantly than what we should have paid. The same ride would be quoted for 400 Baht and then 100 Baht by the next driver (not metered, just up to discretion of driver)
• I am generalizing but I felt when they see Westerners they feel it is a chance to make more money and charge more than they would to locals. Example our island hotel charged us more when we arrived than the Internet rate we had already paid. Extra breakfast charge, extra person charge (because the girls are considered 13, because born in 1998), extra bed charge, etc….
• The language barriers, although we could always get by, and many people do speak enough English, there were times when people wouldn’t even try to communicate. I understand we are in their country and we should try their language, which we would when possible, but an effort can be made from both sides. Shipping from the post office was one example, when our box was to big to ship, instead of trying to explain, the worker just ignored me and acted like I wasn’t there.
• The exhaustion….. With all of the above reasons listed you can see why it is tiring to travel here. You must always negotiate, you have to really listen to understand, you have to be on guard for scams, you have to pay extra attention to your belongings and the girls.

In summation, South East Asia has been amazing. It has been a great area to start our adventure and learn about other cultures and countries. We are all better people for spending time here. We are all more knowledgeable, and hopefully far more accepting. We are all more appreciative of the US and the ease and convenience of our country. We are all glad we have experienced the countries we have.
I, however, am ready to move on and see what the next area of the world has to offer. I am done with South East Asia, literally and figuratively.

Ryan

Posted by ryanober1 09:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged ryan Comments (1)

Elephant Sanctuary

sunny 79 °F

A few days ago we went to an elephant rescue sanctuary in Chiang Mai. When we got to the rescue center we toured the "elephant kitchen" and the whole sanctuary. There are 36 elephants the owner, Lec, has rescued. Only 4 males though, and 2 babies. Every elephant had there own basket of fruit and vegetables~ they eat 500 pounds a day! Morgan and I got to feed the baby! She was so cute, but was a picky eater! She liked bananas and water melon, but not pineapple, pumpkin or anything else. The elephants are so smart! They peel the fruit in their mouths. They pick the food up with their trunks then bring it to their mouths! After we fed them we walked down to the river and bathed Jokia and Sophia. Jokia is blind, but she and Sophia are best friends and never leave each other. All of the elephants loved the river and some rolled and went under for 20 seconds! After we bathed them they took a mud bath while we watched a really sad documentary about how elephants are treated at elephant camps or shows, NEVER RIDE AN ELEPHANT, THEY ARE TREATED BADLY! We are thankful for people like Lec who save these animals! After the video we fed them again then bathed in the river again! One of the elephants was born on Valentines Day and gave kisses on the cheek... very wet and slobbery. It was a great experience and i loved it.

~Riley
Go to www.elephantnaturepark.org to see the story of the park

Check Photos!

Posted by ryanober1 06:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged riley Comments (1)

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