Sunday, September 14, 2008

The trip by the numbers

So, we've been back in the states for over a month, back in Brooklyn for over two weeks. Deanna started work 10 days ago and I'm biting the bullet and starting tomorrow. Apprehension, nerves, anxiety--those are just a few emotions coursing through me right now. But I'm also excited at this tabula rasa being placed before me. I couldn't be happier with my new company; it's going to be a great match.

The best coping mechanism we have right now is reminiscing about our trip, so writing this final blog post is very therapeutic, a much-needed catharsis. I have such vivid memories of August 15th last year--walking to the A train, the 95 degree heat, our first day "hiking" with our packs on, in all my 58-extra-pounds glory, a homeless crackhead accosting me and poking my shoulder, the long ride through Brooklyn and into Queens, the madness of Terminal 4, the waiting, the last phone calls to our parents, the delayed flight, the fantastic stewardesses, our first immersion in Spanish... I remember our first day in each new culture and country. But with so many memories, it's easy to get lost. So I've tried to encapsulate the entire year below...

Here are some numbers to help sum up the trip of all trips:
•4 continents visited
•16 countries (17 if you count sneaking through Brasil for 45 minutes)
•10 time zones
•20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
•119 cities
•23 forms of transportation
•10 overnight buses (including 1 overnight ferry)
•53 sushi meals (mmm)
•27 types of fish eaten
•21 beaches
•42 books read (and 14 New Yorkers--thanks for that care package, Mom!)
•525 crossword puzzles completed
•35 items of clothing purchased (11 were for Aaron)
•3 packages shipped home (and 2 hand carried home--thanks, Rachel!)
•9 real concerts seen (and about 15 ethnic music performances)
•13 friends from home came to visit (Rachel gets kudos for visiting us on 2 continents)
•12 illnesses, including 6 food poisonings, 3 flu/colds and 1 fall off a bike (Aaron)
•4 cooking lessons (each in a different cuisine)
•5 wine regions
•11 SCUBA dives

Trip highlights, in chronological order:
•Machu Picchu (this ranks as the #1 experience of the whole trip)
•Jeep tour in Bolivian Salt Flats
•Star gazing, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
•Seeing a real moai (Easter Island statue) in Vina del Mar, Chile
•Wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina
•Penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina
•Glaciers in El Calafate, Argentina
•Driving through a snowstorm in Patagonia
•Iguazu Falls
•Renting a beach house in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
•New Year's Eve, Montclair, NJ
•Thai Elephant Conservation Center
•Getting engaged (OK, this might edge out Machu Picchu for the #1 spot), Lampang, Thailand
•Thai cooking school, Chaing Mai, Thailand
•Hiking through garlic fields, Pai, Thailand
•Slowboat trip down the Mekong in northern Laos
•Luang Prabang, Laos
•Our sushi restaurant in Sihanoukville, Cambodia
•All the temples at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
•Hoi An, Vietnam
•3 day junk boat tour of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
•Learning to SCUBA dive in Koh Tao, Thailand
•Mt. Bromo volcano complex, Java Timur, Indonesia
•Sunrise dolphin watching in Lovina, Bali, Indonesia
•Hiking through rice paddy terraces, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
•Watching movies and eating sushi in the sand, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
•Diving the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia
•Whale watching, Coffs Harbor, Australia
•Wine tasting, Hunter Valley, Australia
•Glacier Hiking, Franz Josef, South Island, New Zealand
•Bungy jump, Queenstown, New Zealand

So as I wrap up this post, so ends the best chapter in our lives thus far. There really isn't much more to say... We are so lucky to have had this voyage, and to have spent it all together. We loved every minute of it and did our best to never take it for granted. "And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" -The Talking Heads, from the song "Once In A Lifetime"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Back in the USA - West Coast edition

So after the longest August 8th on record (18 hours in NZ, 12 hours over the Pacific and 14 hours in LA), we arrived at my sister Sarah's house to the cheers of three amazing, smiley nieces (and their sign, at left). Despite the red eyes and crippling jet lag, we were immediately invigorated by the girls. Once my brother-in-law Mark got home from work, the 7 of us ate and laughed well past the young girls' bedtime.

We spent the next three days in a complete haze--waking up early for morning baby duty, napping, and eating some of our long-forgotten favorite American foods (mmmmm In-N-Out Burger). My littlest niece, Ariella, just started on solid foods, so at the right you'll see Deanna feeding her some mushed up carrots. Another new skill she developed while we were gone is crawling. Her sisters call her "speed turtle" (after a kids song) and her favorite toy was an empty water bottle.

We gave the girls their presents, Ao Dai dresses from Vietnam (Ariella has one too, but it's just a little big on her), so enjoy that picture below.

One day we went to see a marimba band play for free at The Farmers' Market at the Grove. Watching the girls dance the afternoon was priceless beyond words, so here are some pictures and a video.

And to round out the musical highlights of the trip, here's a video of Dalia jamming on the harmonica while Sarah and Aliza play the blues on the piano:

All in all, it was an amazing few days. We were very sorry to say goodbye, but New York is calling. We're in New Jersey right now with Deanna's parents (after 3 days in Maryland with mine) and are almost adjusted to this time zone. Stay tuned for a photo gallery from New Zealand and another blog with a trip wrap up. I have my cell phone again (same number), so feel free to call and chat anytime.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Last day abroad!

Here we are, checked out of our hostel in Auckland, waiting to head to the airport. This mood is quite representative of our trip--a man (and woman) without a country, homeless and happy. We're pretty excited to fly back to the states and see our friends and family. But "excited" isn't really the word to describe our feelings for having our own closets, bathroom and kitchen again... But before I get all sentimental and start recapping the trip, here's one more blog about our time on North Island, NZ.

After our 2-week road trip on South Island, we flew north to Wellington. It was a pretty rough day: start of the job search, cold and rainy, and a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried. But all was alleviated when we found ourselves eating dinner at Sweet Mama's, a fantastic restaurant modelled on the food at New Orlean's JazzFest. I ate the second best crawfish monica of my life. And the po'boy was pretty great too. After dinner we caught up with Nico, our tour guide from Chile's lake district, and his girlfriend Kristen. Always great to see friends on different continents!

We spent a great day in the Te Papa museum, which houses exhibits on all aspects of New Zealand--from Maori culture to geology of the islands. At the right you'll see a Maere, a traditional Maori meeting house. We also caught some of the Wellington International Film Festival--make sure you go see Young @ Heart, a fantastic rockumentary about a group of people in their 80s and 90s singing contemporary rock songs.

The next day we rented another car and drove up to Rotorua to soak in some hot springs and absorb more Maori culture. We took in a show at Te Puia cultural center, which houses the Pohutu Geyser (picture below), the biggest one in the southern hemisphere. At the left is a guy doing the Haka, traditional warrior dance (to try to scare the enemy off the battlefield before the fight even starts). Also pictured below are women dancing with poi, which were used by men for battle training and women for rhythmic drumming. Here we also got to see the rare Kiwi bird, which was a lot bigger than we imagined. Unfortunately we couldn't take a picture of it as they're nocturnal and camera flashes blind them.

Next, we went to the Waitomo glow worm caves. The cave system is dug 130 feet below by underground rivers. A weird moth / maggott insect lives on the walls of these caves and their excrement glows in the dark. The bioluminecense creates an amazing effect that makes you feel like you're outside looking at thousands of stars in the sky. Unfortunately, the glow worm pictures didn't really come out. Below left is a shot of the glow worm larvae, which look like little strands of fishing line hanging down from the caves.

In two hours we board our flight to LA. 4 days there with my nieces, then we'll fly to the East Coast to see our families in Maryland and New Jersey. We'll be back in NYC by the end of the month, but stay tuned for some more blog posts with videos and a trip wrap up. See you soon!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aaron's one and only (and final) willing hike

So our last two major activities on South Island were probably our favorite: glacier hiking and wine country. After the Milford Sound (previous post), we drove through the amazing Haast Pass--snowcapped mountains, rainforests, coastal jungle and more--to the Franz Josef Glacier. Just a few km from the coast, this glacier is the fastest moving glacier of its size in the world.

We started with a 45 minute hike on challenging rocky terrain to reach the west face of the glacier. Once there, we strapped on our crampons (mind you, we're in borrowed boots as we've been exclusively wearing sandals since January) and started the ascent.

The face was pretty rocky which lead to an ugly discoloration (below left) of the white/blue ice, but we were pretty psyched just to be on the ice. Our first obstacle / adventure was a tiny 2-meter long blue ice tunnel (below right).

After that, we got off the rocky ice to the real stuff--snow compressed by its own weight over 60 years. We arrived at a worm hole next. This tiny tunnel went on for about 25 feet and barely wide enough to fit me on my back. Brave Deanna threw claustraphobia to the wind and went in first and I followed. Commando sliding with our elbows on our sides, we both emerged on the other side with one side of our bodies completely soaked and adrenaline pumping through our veins.

Overall, this was one of the coolest days of our trip (credit my parents with that pun). Enjoy the montage below!

After the amazing day on the glacier, we drove up to the Marlborough wine region. Not much to report, other than mmmmmmmmmmmm wine. Here's one of my favorite pictures--check out the wine bottles, the wine barrels, the grape vines and us!

Oh, and for all my Jewish friends (aka 80% of you), please take a few minutes and fill out my sister's survey. It's pretty fun to think about and will help her greatly in compiling stats for her second book.