February 1, 2015

2014 Humblebraggery Travel Year in Review

On the application for Australian Residency, they ask for a list of every country you have been in the last 10 years including the exact dates.  Using an obligatory excel spreadsheet to conquer the task, I was surprised how I quietly racked up an impressive list of destinations and duration in foreign lands.  I didn't really start travelling globally until 2010, age 25, when I went to Europe on a 10 day blitz.  Since then, its been non stop.   

2014 was my most nomadic year yet. 

I travelled to Indonesia 5 times.  I spent more time in Indonesia than America this year.  I speak better Bahasa than Spanish (5 years study in high school).  I feel about 1/64 Indonesian.      

I ticked off two new countries for 2014, which also happen to be world class destinations:  Japan and New Zealand.  Tokyo is ridiculously clean and efficient.  The south island is an outdoor wonderland.

And my obligatory trip back to the USA.  3 weeks of continuous movement visiting 6 great American cities: Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Dallas, Austin, and iconic Elko Nevada. 

I explored Australia’s southwest again and again and again.  The most under-rated, serene place in the Australia?  The world?

35 Flight Legs = Super tight psoas muscles = ridiculous injury rate = questioning my sleep deprived travel habits

I slept (aka laid awake for hours on hard floors) at airports. I showered at airports.  I know the best toilets to use and the places to go run and the lockers to put my belongings.  Embrace the long layover.

Numbers and stats aside, I met so many great people who literally made the destinations memorable. Without them, every single trip would have had far less meaning.  Quite simply, the majority of the travel memories are People related vs. site/scene/guidebook hotspot.

I feel like I missed out on some locally sourced fun and friends here in Western Australia.  And I am not the most well rested person now…but I have had 2 months off and ready to go to Myanmar in February.  2015 adventures start.

2014 Travels in chronological order: 

Jakarta, Indonesia.  Population:  lots, Traffic: Sucks, 4 hours to cover 50 km.  Jakarta isn't too high on my list of places I want to visit.  I had a reason to be there- having no responsibility or obligation to anyone or anything, this was a chance to surprise a friend for her Birthday.   I got to stay with her family and experience life as a local battling J-town’s smog, people, flood waters and traffic.  It is always quite refreshing to see four generations all living in the same small neighbourhood.  Family and friends are important.   Apparently January is the wet season in Indonesia.  I learned that as I waded through a flooded side street from Linda’s family house to catch the DAMRI bus.  There are a lot of big malls too.  That is the thing to do: go to malls and drink JCo coffee.  The park in the middle of Jakarta is fun.   

Japan.  Season- winter, Pre-emptive Planning- none except 7 days Japanese Rail Pass, Time – 7 days but wish I had 3 weeks.  Japan is an easy place to recommend for travel.  People, food, culture, transportation infrastructure and cleanliness make it an unassuming, yet enriching experience.  I was stranded in Nagano because snow bombarded the rail line.  Luckily, I met a Japanese woman who navigated language barriers.  She took me out to eat some Ramen at a place I would never venture into alone.  Apparently, you are supposed to slurp and suck the ramen down loudly.  The guy next to me was so ferocious in his execution that I could not stop laughing.  I regained my composure and tried my hardest to match his pitch and timbre but failed.  Hopefully, I will get back there to try again.  I have to mention capsule hotels.  They are basically a 3 ft x 3ft hole in the wall 6 ft deep.  They have a curtain for privacy and a mini tv (I caught up on Olympic Games coverage of the Women’s Japanese Curling).  I stayed in two different capsule hotels.  One was more of a hostel style for backpackers ($15) and the second place was an upscale male only hotel catering to Japanese business men in the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo ($40).  The second place was unusual for me and overpriced because I didn't properly utilize all the amenities.  It was a place to be pampered and relax.  When you check in they give you a robe to wear and two lockers: one to put your shoes in before you enter the main area (Japanese always take off shoes before entering any main living area- the only time I heard anyone raise their voice was when I walked into a room with my shoes still on) and one for all you clothes when you enter.  Most guys were walking around in the robes or naked.  There was a tv lounge with big reclining chairs, Onsens (hot water spas), massage centre, shaving/grooming room, and a massive dark room with futons you could sleep on if for some reason you didn't want to retire to your capsule.  Tokyo is crazy clean for the largest city in the world.  Kyoto is beautiful but I only had like 2 hours to explore.  The mountains and countryside are beautiful.  90 years olds shovel snow.  People are so friendly.  Japanophile.

Albany, Western Australia.  The quintessential long weekend Western Australian road trip is to go “Down South”.  South generally means the surfing and wine hotspot loosely defined as Margaret River and its surrounding area.  My long weekend trip took me from Perth to Albany via Margaret River.  This route can be covered in 3 days.  I did some salmon fishing, chocolate tasting, tree climbing and beach hopping.  The water is brisk but the beaches on the southern ocean are the best I have seen.  I went in April during Salmon season.  I pulled my salmon in at Shelly Beach west of Albany:

Bali, Indonesia.  Bali is a great destination for the hesitant tourist wanting to try out Indonesia.  I prefer to go to other lesser travelled parts of Indo (see below).  My plan on travel lately is to go somewhere because there is someone or something specifically I want to see or do (a race, an event, a course).  Or if I find a great flight deal (Japan).    The purpose of this trip was to do a wilderness first First Responder course at the Green School.  The Green School itself is an impressive place to visit.  A half hour drive from Ubud, the progressive k-12 school for expat and local children is made entirely out of Bamboo.  I attended class during the day, and then spent evenings exploring around Ubud via a 1-2 hour run.  I laced up the shoes every night for a jaunt through rice fields.  The Campuhan Ridge walk (near the Ibah hotel) is a great place to run during the cooler sunset hours.  Local teenagers typically hang out there at night to do things but always smile and try to take photos as I run past.  One night, I veered off my normal Campuhan Ridge route and stumbled upon a lone pavilion in a rice field.  Loud music was playing so I went to explore.  It was an international Hula Hoop Convention with 150 girls in sports bras (and a handful of dudes, not in sports bras) performing in front of their peers.  That “run” lasted nearly 3 hours but my watch was frozen at 27 minutes- the time it took for me to stumble upon this “gem in the jungle”.  It was the first and only time in my life I was asked the question: “Do you hoop?”  The expat Green School teachers lamented when I told them the story: “That is so Ubud”.  It has that mystical, hippie feel where women come to do soul searching and pamper themselves (Eat Pray Love- I have not read yet but takes place in Ubud).  I partook in my own pampering by getting a Balinese massage.  Matteo, a 21 year old Italian convinced me to go with him.  He argued that we had to try it because we are in Indonesia and it’s what people do here.  We have to experience the true culture he pressed.  Normally, I feel uncomfortable doing massages and this time was no different.  But at a $5 price point, I had nothing to lose economically so I rationalized it in my mind.  Besides, travel is about getting out of your comfort zone.  We each changed into the black “whity tighty” style underwear and stood awkwardly in the candlelit lounge together waiting for the masseuse to guide us each into our respective room.  The girls came and led us both into the same room with two massage tables a soccer balls width apart.  It was a couple’s massage.  We were like “No No No” but they didn’t understand so the manager came and basically laughed at us as if to say you silly immature boys but gave us each a private room.  Later in Lombok, I went again with my co-worker- that time they put us in the same room but was separated by a curtain so we could still talk but not having to look at each other oiled bodies.  I always meet out of place characters people on the street in Ubud.  I feel like the world meets in Bali whether it is a successful Ukrainian Lawyer dressed like 60’s hippie dancing to local music or the 20 something South African vagabond flying home the next morning after 3 full years on the road.    

Esperance, Western Australia.  If Margaret River is the quintessential 3 day weekend trip from Perth, then Esperance would be the top choice for a weeklong road trip.  Stops along the way can include Albany and the seemingly out of place Stirling range where you can experience alpine environments and snow if you get lucky.  I went in July, when whales put on a display at Point Anne in Fitzgerald River National Park just 200 meters off shore.  Then finally got to Esperance and beyond to Cape Le Grand National Park for camping and kangaroos on the beach.  Hardly anyone was there because it was winter and so “cold”.  But even in summer this wonderland has been surprisingly empty.  Someone then complained that Lucky Bay was awful because of all the seaweed on the Beach.  I didn’t notice until they said that – maybe I was too focused on the dozen kangaroos on the beach hopping around 3 feet away.  My conclusion is that the stretch of coast between Margaret River and Esperance is unspoilt playground with some of the best beaches in the world.  Ok- the water is cold though. 

Lombok, Indonesia.  In August I went to Lombok to run a race; I got much more than that.  I ran the Mount Rinjani Ultra.  Midnight start, 52 km with an absurd 5,200 meters of vertical gain, active volcano.  The times seemed ridiculously slow to me at over 14 hours in 2013.  How hard could it be?  I thought I would easily run under 10 hours.  I was wrong.  It took me nearly 13 hours.  It was hard, really hard but awesome.  The feeling I had running down Rinjani at sunrise knee deep in ash and dust left me grinning ear to ear.  I was running completely unconstrained as fast as I possible could down an active volcano at sunrise knee deep in ash and dust.  That moment erased 3 years of personal struggle and doubt about my dedication running.  It made the long toil worth it.  It’s funny how in a good race or good feeling during a race can justify years of running doldrums.  I hope to return in 2015 but I am not sure the stars will line up for me.  It may spoil the feeling 2014’s race gave me (and I don’t know my work schedule).  I have more to write about this one, for now it is jotted down on loose sheets of paper until I am ready to post it here.  I met so many great people who were eager to learn more about my training and trail running in general.  There is a great community at Trail Runners Indonesia who is opening the door to trail running in the country.  It is great to see.  Besides Rinjani, my co-worker in Mataram chauffeured me around the island which is basically just a less crowded version of Bali.  There are some awesome spots like Gili Nanggu and Senggigi Sunset restaurants but I feel pretty content with my coverage of Lombok.  Sumbawa island seems like the natural new frontier for me.         

United States of America.  Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Nevada, Dallas.  I am running out of energy to keep typing.  There is so much to say about this trip that I can’t really sum it up.  Mostly, though it was about catching up with old friends and family.  I even got to spend my 29th Bday with family.     

Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia.  8 days after landing in Australia from my crazy America trip, I hopped on another plane headed to Jogja (Yogyakarta) in Central Java for another Trail Race.  This time it was the 60 km Mesastila Challenge Ultra.  The Trail Runners Indo guys put on some sinister races.  I think this one had like 4,200m of vertical and naturally an 11pm start.  We ran though rice fields and villages in middle of the night while locals standing next to bonfires cheered us on.  Actually, they just stood there silently and watched us run by as if they had just seen an alien spaceship.  Trail running is still a new sport in Indonesia so I am always encouraged by their beginner enthusiasm towards everything trail running.  I felt ok for the first two hours, then stomach pain set in and I was in damage control mode.  Maybe it was all the travel the past month or just lack of fitness or something I ate but whatever the reason it made or a long outing.  It was still a great cultural experience for me.  My favourite part of the race was running on the narrow Andong peak ridgeline at 3am dodging all the tents and bonfires and teenagers strumming guitars and singing.  My Second favourite part was the ridiculous first climb while running up a knife edge footpath a piece of dental floss thin white ribbon was the only thing preventing a shear 300 foot fall off the mountain.  I also met some great people at this one.  Trail running is a global community and it always amazes me who I meet at these races.

Mount Bromo, Java.  Ok, One last time to Indonesia during 2014 for yet another trail race race.  I was scheduled to run the 100 km to get 3 UTMB points but dropped it back.  I was having mid leg thigh pain since Mesastila race a few weeks earlier.  I thought was another femoral stress fracture so made the decision to drop to 30km and jog it.  Bromo is awesome.  The scenery is unparalleled except to maybe the moon.  The 30 km edition skirts the Caldera and before climbing to the crater rim.  I made a wrong turn and kept running along the rim giving me sweeping views of the valley and smells of sulphur.  At the race, I met more great people and some familiar faces from previous events.  Thanks Indonesia trail runners for a great year.  And congrats to my buddy Luc for the 100km W.      

New Zealand, South Island.  My brother and his wife were on holiday there so I finally had a good reason to go (ahem).  I hired a car for 8 days, no itinerary.  Christchurch to Queenstown.  Queenstown to up the West Coast.  West Coast back to Christchurch.  Like Australia, there are hardly any New Zealanders there.  Everybody is from somewhere else.  Queenstown Rocks.  Routeburn was the best hike I did on the island.  I love the Mount Cooke area but needed some more time to get off the beaten path.  The weather also limited those opportunities.  I got stranded by Landslides twice which led to unexpected encounters with some interesting people.  Most notably was the French chemical-nuclear engineer also sleeping in his car around the South Island.  I asked some questions about his job and he about my job.  We came to the conclusion that even in highly specialized jobs like open cut mining and nuclear reactor energy generation, there is still a comically large amount of technical knowledge we don’t know in our niche field.  The next day after chatting with my Nuclear Buddy, I touched a glacier and hiked in the rainforest on the same day.  New Zealand is diverse as heck and obviously 8 days was not enough time, but better than no time.  It is expensive there too.  I paid over $2 per litre of petrol.  I gotta get back here now that fuel prices plummeted.

Whew.  That’s it for 2014.

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