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Two week summary!
Dec 17th, 2009 by Kate

Sorry about the “summary” post with no photos, internet access on the road in Australia is hard to come by and expensive.  So here goes a short post so everyone knows we’re still alive.  FYI in case you saw my Facebook post about Jeff and his Dengue Fever – he is totally recovered and feeling fine.  Thankfully he had a pretty mild case as far as Dengue goes, and is back to his usual happy, healthy self.  After 19 pre-trip shots, he ends up getting the one things we can’t get vaccinated for!!!!  Anyway…

After 10 great days in the Philippines with Jeff’s co-worker Arbor and his great family (shout outs to Arbor, Gina, Erica, Adison and Kate!) boating, diving and gorging on bar-b-que we flew to Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia for a quick 24 on our way to Australia.  KL was cool, sort of like a third-world version of San Diego.  Very tropical looking, with rolling hills and lots of freeways.  I am embarrassed to report that we spent most of our layover at the Mall there.  It was really bizarre – a Mall like Scottsdale Fashion Square, but all the people were either Chinese or Muslim.  Lots of head scarves among the glitzy stores.  The place was totally decked out for Christmas even though only 5% of the population is Christian.  Apparently it is a huge holiday there too, but for the gift-giving reason rather than for the love of little baby Jesus.

Heading off to Australia, I thought we were going to Brisbane, but it seems that when you push that little “or nearby airports” button on Expedia, it actually sometimes sends you to “nearby airports”, so to Coolantaga we went!  Through some quick maneauvering on the internet and thanks to our VERY understanding Aussie friends, we changed up our plans and spent 4 days on the Gold Coast in a most charming farming/beach town called Billinugel (pronounced Billi nudgel) near Byron Bay.  We stayed at an absolutely gorgeous macadamia nut/cattle/alpaca farm with our new friends Ian and Leone that we met on our Mekong Delta adventure.  Phoebe’s going to post about our time at the farm, but let me just say that is was one of loviest places I’ve ever been and I when I die, that farm will be my heaven.

We then headed up the coast to Brisbane (GREAT city) and couchsurfed with a super nice guy named Greg.  He was a great host and really epitomizes the spirit of couchsurfing.  He really went above and beyond – he took us in and treated us to a wonderful 3 days in Brisy.  Highlights for us were their really great contemporary art museum and the CityCat ferry ride through the heart of the city.  We also went to a great animal park there called the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.  We got to hold koalas and feed the kangaroos!   It was a little girl dream come true (and I loved it too).

Noosa with the Kanters was next on our agenda… we met the Kanters way back in September when we were all in Osaka staying at the same hostel.  They said “hey if you’re coming to Australia…” and so we came.  They are a great family, Pieter and Jayne, and their most exceptional teenagers Nick and Annika.  They have a lovely home in Noosa and staying with them was like being at the BEST B&B.  They totally spoiled us – great lodging, food, sing alongs, converstation, shopping, The Office (seasons 2-4), beach and kayaking – we would have liked to stay a month but Sydney and pre-purchased plane tickets forced us to move on. 

And now we’re in Sydney.  We stayed at a pretty lame hotel that smelled A LOT like Tessa’s soccer socks, but it was cheap and seemingly clean in an extremely expensive city.  I’m at an internet cafe right now that is playing REALLY loud offensive American rap music (we really export our finest!) waiting for our “camper station wagon” to be ready for pick up.  Camper Station wagon you are saying to yourself… ?  Yes, we are camping Aussie-style.  There are these “Holiday Parks” ALL over the place here, and this is the thing to do while on summer holiday in Australia.  With our “rental” we get a station wagon (back converts to a double bed), a tent for the kids, chairs and table, propane cooktop and a cooler.  This will be our home-away-from-home for the next 7 days!  Okay for all that know me, you can pick yourself off of the floor now from falling down laughing. 

We will be spending Christmas in Canberra (Australia’s capital – who knew?) with our friend Bobbi who we met last year when she couchsurfed with us.  After a few days there we’ll head back to Sydney for the New Year celebration.  Then its off to New Zealand for January, and February in Thailand.  We’ll post when we can – thanks to everyone for following us and all the great comments, as I’ve said before, logging on to wells360 and seeing you comments is one of the highlights of our days so keep them coming! 

We hope that everyone has a VERY Merrry Christmas and a wonderful, healthy, happy New Year.

The Beer Experience…Filipino Style
Dec 12th, 2009 by Jeff

And now for another BEER UPDATE……. Beer in the Philippines is marginal.  The beer of the masses is San Miguel/San Miguel Light which is your standard Bud/Bud Light variety lager beer.  There is also a Red Horse brew that is really brewed by ….. you guessed it….San Miguel; they just make the alcohol content a little higher than in the San Miguel name brand and call it Red Horse “Extra Strong”.

But in the Philippines the San Miguel flows most prominently when people are grilling on the Bar-B-Q, and that seems to be happening 24/7 in this country.  No joking.  (Therefore the rest of this beer blog will be devoted to the Filipino grilling experience – just assume were drinking beer as we eat – because we are)!

The first 48 hours we were in this country we had grilled food 4 of the 6 meals (we just didn’t grill our granola and yogurt in the morning for breakfast).  And I loved all four of the meals.  We had grilled tuna belly at the first restaurant that our fine host, Arber Armobit (he works for my company AIT at our Cebu facility and insisted on hosting the girls and I for our first few days in country) took us to.  Then we went to the mall for dinner.  Yes the mall, but that was the second option.  For his first choice, Arber did try to take us to his favorite, family run, picnic bench on the side of the road, establishment; but due to the typhoon warnings (just a lot of rain – no real wind to speak of, don’t worry families) they weren’t cooking.  However, the mall food was great!  We had fresh grilled chicken which they serve with a soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice and optional freshly crushed hot pepper, YUM!  We all scarfed down the food on our plates and even contemplated eating the breast-wing combo Tessa inadvertently tossed to the ground while pushing it off her skewer (fortunately for Arber’s dog, Tessa restrained herself).

The next day for lunch we went to another mall and had, you guessed it, grilled food.  I chose swordfish and it was quite tasty.  Arber also loaded us up with a few different side dishes like, ceviche, coconut seafood soup and some kind of Jell-O dessert for the kids.  It was far and away the best mall meal I’ve ever had.  I would go back in a heart beat.

Lastly for dinner that day we went back to the grill on the side of the road, which was now running at full tilt.  Arber and I picked out chicken, pork and fresh homemade sausages.  Arber tells me this family runs this operation complete – raising the chickens and hogs, butchering the meat fresh daily, making the sausages, marinating the food, and cooking it for their guests.  Everything was fresh, delicious, and very affordable (our meal for eight ran about $19.00 – which included rice, fruit smoothes for the girls and BEER).  Kate was a little hesitant at first with the sausages, but after her first bite she was asking for more!  The only advice on grilling I could give this family, would be to add some portabella mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant to their grilling enterprise.  They certainly had the meat thing covered.

So in conclusion, the Philippines had the “beer” meal nailed (maybe with the exception of the lack of a few veggies); they just need to put together a few better options on beer beverage itself.

Cheers,

Jeff

Fear the fork!
Dec 11th, 2009 by Tessa

Well, back when we were in Canada, (I know, it seems like forever ago-) we went to this really neat store that was eco friendly and everything. Knowing that we were going to Asia where utensils were hard to come by, and also in desperate need of spoons, we bought the most ADORABLE miniature set with a fork, a spoon and some screw on chopsticks that all had pretty little rounded tops. We used it all through Canada (and got it through security in both Canada and the US) and then got it through Japan’s security, as well as China’s and Vietnam’s.

We were switching planes in the Philippines when we were pulled over by the security guards (even when you know you don’t have anything- you still get nervous…). My mom’s bag- so I didn’t have to worry about anything. The man took her backpack, took out the little canister and pulled out both of the forks (which, may I remind you have rounded prongs)- and throws them into the garbage. Mom- was mortified.

“THEY’RE FORKS!”

“Yes, pointy, can stab.”

“THEY’RE CHILDRENS’ SAFETY FORKS!”
The guy made a motion as if stabbing himself and then said a quick no while scowling.

A group of people looked over from across the terminal as my mom’s voice wafted they’re way. She walked away with a “humph” and stormed towards us.

“I was so mad at him I was about to throw the fork at him.”

“Uh, yeah mom! That really wouldn’t have helped your case…”

I was interrupted by Phoebe; “Oh look they have forks over there at the café! We could kill the pilot with THOSE forks!” A couple of people sitting down looked up for a second and looked at us funny.

 

After a couple of days we had to fly out of the Philippines from the same terminal. My mom stuffed one of our food bags with forks from the café right outside the terminal and then didn’t dump out the liquid and told us we should see if they stop us again. If they did she was completely ready to throw the fork at them. We got through security with both the liquids and the forks and mom had to go to the nearest security guards and demand her forks back. Sadly, they send the confiscated material weekly to the dump. They offered to search the garbage cans for her, but she shook her head and walked off triumphantly with her stash of plastic forks.

Flower and chickens and sofas – oh my!
Dec 3rd, 2009 by Kate
Typical view from our taxi window

Typical view from our taxi window

People in Vietnam make do with what they have.  Moving across town and you and your buddy only have scooters?  Move the furniture with your scooters of course!  Need to bring the kids to school and get to work?  Five on a bike and you’re there – no fossil fuel needed!  Marvels of  cycle engineering happen here every few seconds on the streets of Hanoi and HCMC.  It is awesome!  The best way for me to describe it is though photos, but of course, the BEST photo is always the one you missed.  So here are a few to give you a little taste, the others will just have to remain funny snapshots in our minds…

VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE!

Moving day... we also saw other family members with a diningroom table, 6 chairs (yes, on one bike), a file cabinet, and mattresses piled 3-high balanced between 2 bikes.

Moving day... we also saw other family members with a diningroom table, 6 chairs (yes, on one bike), a file cabinet, and mattresses piled 3-high balanced between 2 bikes.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are easily 500 cycles and motorbikes for every one car.  Yes, it looks like utter chaos from the safe-ish sidewalk, but here in Vietnam there is at least a passing acknowledgment of the rules-of-the-road (unlike China, where traffic laws are optional).  It looks totally impossible to cross the street with all the whirring bikes, but as we were instructed by new friends and other travelers – all you need to do is step off the curb and “JUST KEEP SWIMMING” and the bikes will part around you.  And it totally works!  Its like parting the Red Sea!!!

Bundles

Bundles

Plywood. We also saw 10 bags on concrete, 20 foot long pieces of PVC pipe and rebar, bricks, and shingles.

Plywood. We also saw 10 bags on concrete, 20 foot long pieces of PVC pipe and rebar, bricks, and shingles.

Coconuts

Coconuts

Chicken coop on wheels - there were about 100 live chickens stuffed into these coops before she unloaded them at the market!  Guess the song birds on top just out for a stroll!

Chicken coop on wheels - there were about 100 live chickens stuffed into these coops before she unloaded them at the market! Guess the song birds on top just out for a stroll!

Baby with Baguette - look mom, no hands!

Baby with Baguette - look mom, no hands!

Fish traps - there are about 300 traps on this bike!

Fish traps - there are about 300 traps on this bike!

While it seems impressive (and perilous) to have a family of four to be riding this scooter, it was not uncommon at all to see a family of five - SIX was the record... one adult and five kids- AHHHHH!

While it seems impressive (and perilous) to have a family of four to be riding this scooter, it was not uncommon at all to see a family of five - SIX was the record... one adult and five kids- AHHHHH!

She was delivering salad greens to the restaurant we were eating at!

She was delivering salad greens to the restaurant we were eating at!

More restaurant supplies - maybe he's on his way back from Smart & Final?

More restaurant supplies - maybe he's on his way back from Smart & Final?

What?  Only 3 chickens in the basket - these must be the lucky chickens!

What? Only 3 chickens in the basket - these must be the lucky chickens!

water bottles

Fake flowers

Fake flowers

My personal favorite - warm baguettes - I bought 4 for 50 cents!

My personal favorite - warm baguettes - I bought 4 for 50 cents!

Our bargain tour of the Mekong Delta
Dec 2nd, 2009 by Tessa
Mekong River tributary & the bow of our boat
Mekong River tributary & the bow of our boat

Mekong tessa 2

So, we continue on with our adventures… Since no trip to Vietnam is complete without seeing the Mekong Delta (and since Phoebe had been assigned the “homework” of researching it) we decided to try something different and go on one of those organized tours.  We found the “exact” same tour offered from $9 a person to $46 a person, so being the budget travelers that we are, we of course chose the $9 tour. 

 We woke up early in the morning and walked to the “bus parking area”. Our guide passed all of the big fancy busses full of German tourists, until we finally arrive at our little, broken down “special” bus. Laughing about our bad bus kharma (and at our cheapness), we boarded the bus and set off for a 2 hours ride to the Mekong Delta.  My mom had the illusion that once we got out of Ho Chi Minh proper, that we’d come across quant rice fields and banana fields, but it was like one giant suburb all the way.

Coconut Boat

Coconut Boat

Coconut candy making factory, when its done it's like a coconut flavored "Bit-o-Honey"

Coconut candy making factory, when its done it's like a coconut flavored "Bit-o-Honey"

We arrived and got into some small boats that took us to a coconut candy factory; As our group learned the process of making the coconut candy, I hung in the back and proceeded to eat all of the samples I could get my hands on. They use every part of the coconut to make the candy, they even use the husks as fuel for the fire that they cook the over. We also learned that if you bought 5 bags of the candy (each with about 50 pieces in it) you get one free! =D What a deal! I reminded my dad that us buying the candy helped the local people, so now have 300 pieces of candy – sucker!
Maggot tea!

Maggot tea!

 We got back into the boat and went to the honey farm. They poured bee pollen, fresh honey, lime and tea into my cup. Gazing over the rim, I couldn’t help but notice (and  announce) that there were maggots in my cup! I flicked them out onto my plate and watched them as they crawled away. Well, now I had something interesting to write about… Mekong boat w fam

 We got back into another little boat, with two paddlers that harassed us whole way for tips and “big money”.  But my mom was okay with it, because Phoebe and I got to finally wear those cool pointy hats so she could take our picture in them. The next stop was our lunch place. Because we didn’t order the giant fried fish that was 15 dollars (and kind of freaky looking – they stood it upright in this dead fried fish contraption) and everyone else did, we were the last to get served (but who cares ^_~ cause we had coconut candy!

After lunch, Dad fell asleep in a hammock and almost got left behind, and on my 5th piece of post-lunch coconut candy I managed to pull a tooth out!

 When we get back to the bus, we are tired and worn out.  After about 15 minutes on the bus, the driver pulls off on the side of the road into some random parking lot and the tour guide says “everyone who is on the 2 day trip, stay on the bus, everyone on the one day trip, get off the bus.”

 One day trip… right that was us!

 We got off the bus and the guide brought us over to another bus. All 14 of us clomped down the parking lot to find that the new bus only had 2 seats open.  “Hmm. That’s strange,” the guide said, and then he went to a 2nd bus to see if they had and seats open.  The driver said he did – and so our guide said “BYE” and with that, he jumped onto the bus and drove off, leaving 12 of us in the parking lot without a bus!  Well apparently the other bus didn’t really have any seats, as they said “sorry” and drove off without us too!!!   There we were, stranded in the middle of the Mekong Delta suburbs with no ride home.  Not to fear though, we wouldn’t starve (after all, we DID have about 250 pieces of candy left) and one of our new friends from Australia (hey Ian!) reminded us all that we weren’t really stuck – because in Vietnam we are RICH and could just hire a taxi all the way back if we wanted. The adults dispersed and started waiving down other buses that passed, asking for a ride. Eventually we found one of those “luxury” buses that had room on it and we drove back to the bus area in comfy leather seats and air con.  So yet again – it all worked out great!

View from the train…
Dec 1st, 2009 by Kate

No more horrid overnight buses for us – at least not in Vietnam!  We happily board our (3 hour late) train in Na Trang and headed  eight hours south to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)  -the city formally (and still to most people here!) known as Siagon. 

The country side in Vietnam is really beautiful.  Our ride from Hanoi to Hoi An was mostly along the coastline – and I mean ALONG the coastline.  The scenes from our train window reminded me of the landscapes up around Big Sur and Pepple Beach in California but more tropical.  The land met the sea at a right angle, with massive rock littering the coastline making for crashing waves and beautiful scenery.  Every once and a while you’d catch sight of a strip of white sand beach.  I’m sure if you could get to it you’d think it was the most beautiful beach in the world.

Na Trang to HCMC was right out of a Vienamese country-side postcard… cloud-shrouded purple mountains way off in the distance and water-filled rice fields for as far as the eye could see.  Back when were were in the Bahamas, I decided I wanted to make a box of crayons that would capture all the shades of blue in the water and sky there – here in the south of Vietnam, I could make a whole box of greens.  Every so often there are islands of mango, banana and palm trees with tiny little houses on them.  Farmer with their conical hats dot the fields, as do their water buffalo. 

The only thing breaking breaking up the sea of greens were the jolts of color that caught my eye every so often – shrines and very elaborate family burial plots.  They looked like odd fancy birds – large and bright and much bigger than any of the very modest farmer’s homes.   The time, energy and resources it must take to build one of these burial shrines in immense - and there were thousands of them dotting the fields!

Other travelers that we’ve come across have commented that rural Vietnam looks like China did 15 to 20 years ago.  I hope not, as there is very little beauty left in the China, and I would hate to think of this marvelous place getting lost in the smog.

Scuba in Nha Trang
Nov 28th, 2009 by Kate

We had heard great things about the beaches of Nha Trang – so of course we were TOTALLY there!

The beaches were kind of lame.  The city reminded me of Miami Beach before its heyday – lots of vaguely tacky pastel colored hotels and bad soveneiger shops.  The only big difference was that instead of being full of old retired men and woman from New York and New Jersey, only the old men were there – a bunch of old American men looking for their true loves among the eligable young ladies of Vietnam.  Kinda creepy.

Jeff & Tessa on her last check-out dive

Jeff & Tessa on her last check-out dive

We made the most of our time in Nha Trang though – it is well known for its great scuba diving, and they had a 5-star rated PADI dive shop – so Tessa got her Open Water SCUBA certification!  She did a great job, her instructor said she was the best student he’d ever had (I’m sure he tells that to all the cute girls).

We also saw our favorite scooter in all of Vietnam.  This is a big deal because we’ve seen, I don’t know, about 20 million of them!  This one is covered in these little tiny colorful sea shells called “cat’s eyes”.  We saw the scooter one day but didn’t have our camera with us so Phoebe and I had to stalk around town looking for it so we could take a picture of it for Jeff Cline.  We think it is RAD!

Na Trang vespa 1

Na Trang vespa 2

More on Hoi An (sorry – I got distracted writing about the food!)
Nov 28th, 2009 by Kate

A few shout outs are in order for Hoi An before I move on to Na Trang…

First and foremost – we connected with a great guy that lives in Hoi An through www.couchsurfing.org named Randy.  We didn’t end up staying with him, but he gave us a lot of invaluable insider tips on the ins-and-outs of Hoi An – PLUS he let us borrow his Kindle cord (ours got confiscated by customs in China!)  which was mighty kind and trusting of him.  If you are ever passing through Hoi An, I highly recommend stopping by his cool bookstore called Randy’s Book Xchange – he has the biggest selection of English language books I’ve seen in Asia, plus they’re used so you’re doing a good deed for the trees of the world.

One of the highlights of our trip to Hoi An was going to see Marble Mountain on China Beach (yes, of China Beach fame).  It is yet another giant limestone karst, but this one is climbible by some darn steep stairs.  But you are incredibly rewarded up towards the top with a massive cave that is the home to a beauiful and solumn Buddist Temple.  It is one of the most spiritual looking places I have ever seen.  Forget the great cathedrals of Europe and the massive Temples in Japan – this place is where you go if you want to chat with your God. 

Interestingly, it was used by the Viet Cong during the war as a hospital.  They were moving people in and out of the caves right under the noses of the American GI’s who were taking their R&R across the street at the beach.  I took some amazing photographs, but unfortunately I had a spaz moment in the market the next day and erased all my photos of Marble Mountain.  Its okay though, I’m going back again someday and you really should see if for yourself anyway.

Tessa enjoying a good book and some shade at La Plage on An Bang Beach

Tessa enjoying a good book and some shade at La Plage on An Bang Beach

Lastly, I want to mention the beaches in Hoi An.  They are a reason in and of themselves to visit the area.  White sand, great shells, lots of little shacks on the beach with cold beer, fresh fish, and comfy lounge chairs.  Our favorite beach was ”Bien An Bang” (An Bang Beach) and our favorite beach shack was La Plage Beach Club  (5th shack on the right if you are looking at the beach from the end of the dirt road.  The fisherman here fish out of boats that look like big round baskets (about 12 feet in diameter).  A few of the bigger boats cast these giant yellow nets and they look like ballerinas from the shore. 

***Note:  Add Hoi An as one of the places to check out to retire to…

Food, glorious food! And of course lovely Hoi An!
Nov 27th, 2009 by Kate
Fresh, hot baguettes by the giant basketful!

Fresh, hot baguettes by the giant basketful!

We are pretty much eating our way through Vietnam.  The food here is SO good.  The seafood is probably the best we’ve ever had.  You can get white meat chicken (non-existent in China), and when you order pork or beef, you don’t need to worry about getting what we not-so-affectionately call “inside meat” (brains, organs, etc) that is so popular in China.  Aside from breakfast, Tessa has had squid, clams or mussels for every meal for six days.  I am not kidding. 

 In China, we stuck very faithfully to our “no ice or water, veggies and fruit only if cooked or peeled” mantra.  By our second meal in Vietnam we threw that rule out the window.  It just seems cleaner here and SO much of the cooking is done right out in the open you have a better feel for what you are getting.  Plus, all the food looks so good and fresh on the plates being served around you – you feel like it would be a shame to miss out on the fresh spring rolls and the tasty fresh herbs they are piling onto everything.

Lovely Hoi An

Lovely Hoi An

 

Hoi An's waterfront - looking towards the Morning Market

Hoi An's waterfront - looking towards the Morning Market

After our week on Cat Ba Island, we head down to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Hoi An.  It was for centuries the largest seaport in Vietnam, and the buildings there have strong Chinese and Japanese influences, with enough French influence too, to make it quite pretty in a really old city kind-of-way.  Hoi An is known for its food – and having been in the country for two weeks at this point (and having eaten at places you can not even fathom in the States), we didn’t even pause for a second eating anything that caught our fancy.

 And the prices for food – it is almost shameful how little things cost, even in really nice, hip, well decorated, clean restaurants.  We could easily enjoy an appetizer (almost always fresh spring rolls – we loved tasting the different ways they were made), beers for the adults and fresh juices for the girls, four entrees, dessert and coffee for $12 out the door.  And this was not for a couple of sandwiches – I’m talking snapper in passion fruit sauce, tuna in tamarind sauce with veggies, chicken with chili and lemongrass (one of Jeff’s favs throughout Vietnam), and a lovely curry or claypot, PLUS some insanely good dessert like fresh coconut ice cream or mango with sweet coconut milk rice (my fav!).

 And the coffee here – OMG!  Yes, I know I’m not supposed to be drinking coffee.  They typically serve it here very very strong with sweetened condensed milk.  Jeff has at least one at every meal.  I have been cheating on my no caffeine rule in the mornings, I order a coffee, split in half, then fill up the difference with “fresh milk” that actually comes in a box (I turned up my nose at first but now I actually kind of like boxed milk!).  It is SO tasty.  Coffee farming in Vietnam is an important part of the economy in the mountains, and I hope that next time you’re shopping for beans that you’ll consider trying some Vietnamese Fair Trade java.  Pick up a can of sweetened condensed milk (or put aside a bit when you’re making those pumpkin pies this week) and combine an ounce of the milk with a few ounces of strong coffee, drink up, and think of us!

We went to the Moon Restaurant the first time because the building was just so darn cool (yes that is real moss growing on the outside), we went back (over and over again) because the food was OMG GOOD!

We went to the Moon Restaurant the first time because the building was just so darn cool (yes that is real moss growing on the outside), we went back (over and over again) because the food was OMG GOOD!

 A few of our other favorites in Hoi An from our favorite restaurant called “Moon Restaurant and Lounge” were carmelized eggplant in a clay pot (clay pot cooking is one of the local specialties), squid in coconut milk, mussels in lemongrass broth, and crepes with bruled bananas and pineapple with vanilla gelato.  I became obsessed with the fresh spring rolls and the divine dipping sauce.  I inquired about what was in the sauce, but we had a bit of a language barrier so they to me to come back tomorrow morning and make the sauce with them.  Phoebe and made our way back the next morning and we spent a lovely hour in the 8×8 foot kitchen chopping, sautéing, mixing and tasting.  I was so happy to be in a kitchen.  When we get back home we’re going to have a big party and this is going to be one of the tasty things we serve for sure.  Right now, Phoebe thinks we should keep it our secret recipe – but I’ll keep working on her and see if she’ll give it up – and I’ll post it for sure!

Ducks in the Morning Market

Ducks in the Morning Market

One of 100 market flower ladies

One of 100 market flower ladies

 On our last day in Hoi An all four of us took a cooking class from the Red Bridge Cooking School.  Our morning started with drinks at their restaurant in downtown Hoi An, a trip to the Morning Market with the chef, a charming boat trip to the cooking school, and then four hours of observing the chefs, learning some of the tricks-of-the-trade of Vietnamese cooking, and practicing our new skills (oh yes, and then feasting on everything we made!). 

Cooking School - I've learned yet another way to make eggplant (yippee!)

Cooking School - I've learned yet another way to make eggplant (yippee!)

The best part of the cooking lesson was we learned to make rice paper.  I didn’t even know what rice paper was when I was 12.  Watching Tessa & Phoebe over their pots of boiling water flipping their rounds of paper was a really good “this is why we are doing this crazy trip” moment.

Phoebe after finishing the "garnishing" lesson at cooking school - oh so Montessori!

Phoebe after finishing the "garnishing" lesson at cooking school - oh so Montessori!

The far less glamorous side of budget travel…
Nov 21st, 2009 by Kate

Pretty much every time I sit down to write on the blog I feel a bit guilty about all the fun we’re having.   While we’re in the middle of the fun I’m usually too busy enjoying the moments (or laughing my ass off!) to feel any guilt, but while sifting through the photos and reflecting on our adventures I often think “what on earth did I do to deserve this!”.   Aaaahhhh, but then then there are all the “moments” I don’t write about – and they bring me down off the guilt-train.  

Now don’t get me wrong – I am SO not complaining (well not on the blog anyway - but we have certainly complained among ourselves!).  That would be bratty of me.  But really, long-term budget travel is NOT a vacation.  It is an adventure, but definately not a vacation. 

I have become SO much less of a whimp than I was!  I used to be SUCH a sheet snob, and a pillow snob, and a germ freak.  Public toilets freaked me out.  The girls tease me almost every day here about me not letting them eat deli food from the Asian grocery store back home because it had bad health department scores – health departments – HA!  And the girls – there is not one bone of whimpiness left in their little bodies!  They will eat mysterious food off of street vendors, board “sinking” boats with the attitude of – “our clothes will dry and if we really sink we’ll just swim to shore”, and Phoebe can even vomit in an airsick bag on a crowded bus without waking up the five people sleeping around her!  You should see the Girl Scout honor badges I’ve made up for them… cliff diving, motorcycle dodging,  haggling, and water buffalo wrangling to name just a few!  And what those girls will use for toilet paper… don’t get me started!

The most challenging times of our trip are definately the travel days.  We have fallen into a routine of trying to stay in the same place for at least four or five nights, that way we get a few days in of hardcore site-seeing, a day or two of just messing around the area with our options open to whatever comes our way, and a day of “planning” which involves Jeff and I on the computer trying to make some vague plans for our next stop, while the girls do “real” homework, write postcards, and read about the country we are in. 

Then comes the dreaded travel day (dun dun dun…). 

So what are our travel days like you ask…

Our travel days usually start with the ordeal of packing.  Jeff has become chief packer.  We have lots of stuff and it only fits in the bags ‘just so’.  We have to be careful about them being the right weight (especially for the girls) and we have to make sure that we can get to the things we might need while we’re on the road.  It turns out he is really good at this and can almost always remember where things are.  I think I’m going to make him a “packing badge” when we get home.  He does it with very little complaining, which is so awesome because if I had to repack the bags every five days I would loose my mind!  If I gather all the “sub-bags” together for him (we have everything in smaller bags – it is the only way to stay remotely organized) we can get it all together in two hours.  I hazard to guess that we could really get it done in 20 minutes if we had to, but thankfully we haven’t overslept for the train yet! 

After we pack, check the rooms, and check out, we usually hit a store or two and try to provision up for our travels.  Some fruit, bread and chocolate are our typical travel day eats.  Then we either take a taxi or walk to whatever station we’re leaving from (we walk if its less than 2 km).  Then we wait.  And sometimes wait and wait and wait..   We read if we have books, or mess with the computer if we’ve remembered to charge it.  Sometimes there are other “western” travelers waiting too and we chit chat and swap travel stories or advise.  We get stared at A LOT in train and bus stations.  I think its because no one has ever seen such little girls with such big packs.  The stations in China and Vietnam have been universally icky – smoky, uncomfortable, dirty, loud and they have the grossest of gross bathrooms.  I feel like I’m buget traveling the most when I am waiting in a station.

Waiting for the train... this was a nice Japanese train station where the bathrooms were clean and the trains ran on time... ah... the good old days back in September.  **Note the giant backpacks though!

Waiting for the train... this was a nice Japanese train station where the bathrooms were clean and the trains ran on time... ah... the good old days back in September. **Note the giant backpacks though!

If we don’t have time to provision up – we are left with whatever food is available on the bus/train/boat.  Last night we had an unexpected train delay and we had to order dinner on the train.  Chicken knuckles and bitter melon broth in reuseable plastic trays that are at least as old as Tessa anyone?  Ate it!

We hate buses though.  I am could write a whold darn post about our horrid bus trips but let me just say that they have all included at least two of the following:  Rambo movies, Asian karoke, vomit, broken seat springs, horns that honk every 10 seconds (okay, they have ALL had obsessive horn honking drivers), Disney characters, angry German travelers that want a refund, someone with BO, super dirty rests stops (or landmine cleared fields), missed stops when they forget to tell you to get off, and vomit (that bears mentioning twice). 

This is the horrid "night bus".  Yea, I know it looks all cheery and colorful and that the girls look they're having a good ole' time.  That just because we were the first ones on the night bus, we had the place to ourselves and took over the entire lower back row of 5 "beds" across like it was a Disney slumber party on wheels...

This is the horrid "night bus". Yea, I know it looks all cheery and colorful and that the girls look they're having a good ole' time. That just because we were the first ones on the night bus, we had the place to ourselves and took over the entire lower back row of 5 "beds" across like it was a Disney slumber party on wheels...

Jeff even thought it was all honky-dory at first too, until he realized his seat didn't go back any further than this, and that 35 cranky Germans (who had also been sold "seats that recline all the way so you can sleep" got on.  He ended up moving into the back of the bus with the girls and a Vietnamese couple who thankfully slept through Phoebe's 1am barf session.  I, on the otherhand, didn't sleep through it, and as I was already feeling a bit motion sick, got sick too at the first sounds of gagging.  Oh joy!

Jeff even thought it was all honky-dory at first too, until he realized his seat didn't go back any further than this, and that 35 cranky Germans (who had also been sold "seats that recline all the way so you can sleep" got on. He ended up moving into the back of the bus with the girls and a Vietnamese couple who thankfully slept through Phoebe's 1am barf session. I, on the otherhand, didn't sleep through it, and as I was already feeling a bit motion sick, got sick too at the first sounds of gagging. Oh joy!

We had one day getting to Cat Ba Island in Vietnam that involved:  Packing, taxi, really icky bus station, large bus, transfer to small bus with no A/C and no luggage compartment (read – 30 lb backpack on lap for 1 1/2 hours on dirt road), boat, another small bus, 1 1/2km walk to hotel then 5 flights of stairs to lovely hotel (that sadly had no electricity – oops, forgot to mention that in your brochure!).  It was a slightly hellish day – but not neccesarily any worse than any of our other travel days.  And as it turns out, Cat Ba Island is one of my new favorite places in the world – so the travel day was totally worth it (I’ll post about Cat Ba next and you’ll see why!).

Third bus of the day.  Phoebe is sideways because she is sitting on the fold out seat in the aisle that tipped at a 15% angle.  She became very good friends with the girl sitting next to her as she fell onto her everytime we turned left.  See Jeff scrunched in the back with our luggage?  Four hours baby!

Third bus of the day. Phoebe is sideways because she is sitting on the fold out seat in the aisle that tipped at a 15% angle. She became very good friends with the girl sitting next to her as she fell onto her everytime we turned left. See Jeff scrunched in the back with our luggage? Four hours baby!

Our boat after the bus ride...

Our boat after the bus ride...

So  sorry if it sounds like I’m complaining – I’m really not, just thought I’d share some of the other memorable moments that haven’t made the blog so far.  And to keep it real, I’m going to add a new category to our posts called “the glamorous life” so I can share our funny glamorous moments with you.  I hope you get as good a laugh at them as we do…

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