I’m sitting here looking out over the rooftops of the Barranco and Miraflores neighborhoods of Lima, Peru and I’m expecting myself to somehow reflect meaningfully about the experiences of the past year. First of all, WHAT A YEAR! Audra and I successfully (knock on wood, we’re not home yet) traversed the globe. We’ve:
But I’m ahead of myself. One of the purposes of this blog is to remember things for posterity’s sake. And how can I forget about the past two weeks in Bolivia and Peru?!
We were only in Chile for a week and definitely have it on our list to return for further exploration. We absolutely love the geography here. You can eat lunch in the Andes mountains and then enjoy a paela marina (famous seafood soup) near the coast on the same day.
Ahh.....South America. We are in love with this continent - the wine, biodiversity and Spanish language.
Our first stop was Argentina. Since we only had a few weeks and winter is quickly approaching in this hemisphere, we were only able to visit a few cities in the north of the country. But, we definitely plan on coming back to explore the south in the future.
In our last blog post, Kevin reflected on everything that we did during our month in Japan. However, I wanted to outline some of the cultural things that we learned and/or surprised us.
We also had an opportunity to stay in South Korea for 24 hours during our layover. Even though we just scratched the surface, it was enriching to better understand the history of Korea pre and post the Korean War. The museum was wonderful and had a whole wing honoring the soldiers who died battle.
Please note, these are assumptions and things that I have observed based on my own experience. If you disagree or have things to add, please share in the comments below.
Foreward: Japan was fascinating. We could write a whole blog post about the cultural differences and rich history (we may do just that). However, it also happened to be a very busy country for us, full of countless new experiences. For our memory's sake, this blog is basically recounting those experiences.
Audra and I got off the plane from Taiwan to Tokyo (Narita) on a brisk Wednesday morning and found the train station just in time to catch the train to Katsuura, where our friend Mike had been studying Judo and Japanese for the past year. We had to switch trains halfway through, but thanks to nice people at the station, we figured it out easily. Mike and his friend Akira met us at the station, and the adventures began!
Japan has everything: great food, good nightlife, unique history and culture, interesting language, amazing transportation, and beautiful countryside. Over the course of the next month, we were to discover this with a little help from our friends.
After a few hours arriving in Tapei, Taiwan, Kevin stated that “this would easily be a city that he would live in.” We only spent a week in Taiwan, but we were both impressed by the friendliness of the people, clean streets, city parks, and the FOOD! Kevin also loved the Chinese Mandarin language. And, I was obsessed with the stoplights. They have an animated guy walking or running depending on how much time you have to cross the street!
In a Vietnam hostel, we met a Taiwanese traveler, Jyeru. When we arrived in Taiwan, she reached out to us and offered to meet up. She led us through the night market, pointed us to great tasting street food and shared her stories about growing up in Taiwan. The fact that she took time out of her schedule and rode the train for 30 minutes to meet up with people that she didn’t know really meant a lot to us and demonstrates the friendliness of Taiwanese people.
Vietnam has been my favorite country while traveling throughout South East Asia. Our days were packed with unforgettable adventure experiences – scenic hikes, canyoning, exploring caves, dancing on tables with our new English friends, riding a motorbike through rice fields, tattoos and discussing politics with people from all over the world. It has also been humbling being an American, diving deeper into the impacts of the Vietnam War and witnessing first-hand how forgiving, compassionate and tenacious the Vietnamese people are.
Due to Vietnam’s vertical, narrow “S” shape, most people travel from south to north or vice versa. We started in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) which used to be the capital of Southern Vietnam. The city currently is named after Ho Chi Minh who is the leader of the Vietnamese Independence movement. He was the driver in the reunification of Vietnam during the war and is still memorialized in posters and statues all over this country.
But before we got in, we had to obtain visas. To get them, we had to go to a town called Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It is a port town and in desperate need of Captain Planet.
Nonetheless, we had a wonderful experience watching the Eagles versus Patriots Super bowl at 6 am. Beer and bloody marys flowing, we cheered in an Eagles win and met new friends actually from Pennsylvania.
I’m sitting here on the porch of a rural family homestay in Angk Ta Saom, Cambodia surrounded by mango trees, coconut palms, and lotus flowers. The chickens are leading their chicks through the property while the three dogs are basking in the afternoon sun. A symphony of birds add to the faint whisper of the traditional music being played in a field nearby. To the right of me are two family gravesites, one of which was erected for a member of the family killed during the Pol Pot regime of the 70’s.
Earlier today Audra and I took a scenic bike ride getting lost amidst the rice farms scattered with happy cows that had been left to graze after the rice had just been harvested. As we rode past houses, kids would shout so proudly “Hello!” and we would respond with huge smiles on our faces. We passed a school just as the kids were leaving and continued riding with the “rush hour” of kids (2 or 3 to a bike) riding home for lunch as they too smiled at us and proudly demonstrated their English prowess.
We returned home to a meal of rice (grown here), soup, stir fried kale, fried eggplant (again grown here), French fries, and pineapple. The home cooked food here is so much better than the restaurants we’ve experienced. Later today, we’ll be learning how to make organic yellow dye with onion peels There are several weavers employed by the homestay which will use the naturally-dyed cotton to make colorful scarves to sell in Phnom Penh.
I can’t help but be reminded of my first time to Central America living with a family in a rural mountain town of Honduras. Or even the following times doing service trips in northern Nicaragua. The tropical feel, the agricultural communities, the hospitality, and the happiness.
But I can’t forget the history lessons I’ve learned either.
Ever since I was little girl, I heard epic tales of my Dad swimming with whales in Australia or sitting in cockpits of planes sixty feet (AKA 20 meters) under the water. I received my Open Water certification at the earliest age that I could, thirteen years old.
Kevin was certified in a cold quarry in the middle of October (and experienced extreme vertigo) in order to prepare for diving on our honey moon. It was basically an ultimatum to marrying me, but nonetheless he now shares a similar enthusiasm for diving.
Audra and I just spent 5 months travelling through parts of Europe. We ate, drank, and learned a TON along the way. We even wrote about what we learned. But Thailand… a whole different magical beast. In our month so far, we’ve experienced a completely new culture, foods to die for, amazing animals, indescribably beautiful beaches and scenery, memories with friends old and new, and had learning experiences the whole way!
Audra and Kevin Arendt: Digital Nomads, World Travelers, and Midwestern Americans. To learn more, see About.