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.
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.
Audra and I left the United States on July 4th. It's now 4 and a half months later and we're headed back to the US before we embark on the second part of our trip. Time has both flown and crawled. We were talking the other night, "Wow Budapest was so long ago! Wait, wasn't that just a month an a half ago?" ... "Yeah, but if you think about it, we've lived in 12 different places since then."
Along with the amazing memories, there have been more than a few hiccups along the way. Each new challenge was a growing experience though, and we're compiling a short list to share with you (and our future selves) about what we learned in the first leg of our journey. We'll share it with you in our next post - The Nomad Life: Lessons Learned.
But first, let's wrap up Europe with our last two countries: Serbia and Bulgaria.
St. Louis, Missouri has a special claim to fame that not many people know about.
Nope, not that we’re the home to the most World Series Championships in the National League (GO Cards!).
What’s that? Toasted Raviolis are the shiznit and should be on every appetizer menu everywhere? True … but no.
I’m talking about the fact that we host the highest concentration of Bosnians outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the true name of the country most people call Bosnia). We welcomed more than 20,000 refugees in the early 90’s and they settled in south Saint Louis, mainly the Bevo Mill neighborhood. Today, more than 70,000 Bosnians live in St. Louis. (Learn more about the Bosnian population in this story done back in 2013.) Recently, Bosnian restaurants like Grbic have been gaining popularity and attention.
So, as St. Louisans, we knew we had to spend some time in Bosnia learning about their history, culture, food, and coffee!
But why did the Bosnians come to the USA in the first place? To answer that question, I’m going to take you on a crash course through Bosnian history. Buckle up!
Foreward: A major reason for our travel is to learn history. The city of Gdańsk, Poland gave us so much more than we asked for. The following is Audra's reaction. We'll give you an update of the day to day life in Poland in our next post.
I will admit that I didn’t know what to expect when visiting the country of Poland. But, I can tell you pulling back the layers of this country has been incredible. Right now, I want to focus on the historic aspects of Poland based on our visit to the incredible Polish WWII museum.
People always say that understanding history is a chance to learn and not make the mistakes from the past. I agree partially but, I’m not sure if it is physically possible to truly understand all factors at play since there are so many underlying components to world events, with so many different perspectives. World War 2 history evokes so many emotions in me – horror, pride, disgust, intrigue. But, exploring the past raises a continuous stream of questions, helps one draw comparison with modern times, forms opinions and honestly elicits a surge of gratitude. In my blog post below, you will see how these factors come into play when learning about the anguish and tenacity of the Polish people from 1939-1989.
Audra and Kevin Arendt: Digital Nomads, World Travelers, and Midwestern Americans. To learn more, see About.