Bandwagon Blogger says Follow Me on Instagram! Story time is just getting started…

I will admit it – I have been a bandwagon blogger. I started the blog when I had an abundance of free time on my hands. More than enough. Too much, if there is such a thing. I’m sure some reading that sentence might cringe, or disagree in some way. But I was adrift.

Today, I am happy to say, I don’t have that problem! Free time is once again something precious, to be hoarded, and treasured. I am a graduate student. So you see, it’s not that I have stopped writing.

To reinforce this lifestyle, my tried and tested Nikon D60 has finally gone caput after a lot of use, and from time to time, abuse, at my hands. My trigger finger is getting itchy: and so my love for Instagram has finally taken flight.

So Follow Me on Instagram! 

More travel photos from around the world, as well as a whole bunch from my home, Canada, as well. Photos from Home and Away! Food, travel, the great outdoors.

I’m hooked you guys. So I’m here to say that I haven’t given up on the blog, just put it on the back burner on a very gentle, slow cooking simmer. It makes me happy to see that people still come to the blog as it is through search engines and other external links! The most popular posts continue to be those that I had some sort of experience or story to share – factual or fictional.

There are a ton of travel bloggers out there to be sifted through online, but true storytellers among them seem few and far between. That is something I am trying to keep up with on Instagram by sharing my photographs. Instagram is like the Travel Years, just distilled and concentrated down. Check it out!

 

 

 

 

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West Java, Indonesia: Experiencing Pangandaran with a Local

I don’t think I was ready to say goodbye when we did. I had grown attached to Vietnam, learned to appreciate the beautiful countryside, the moto-packed cities, and learned about the ease of making fast friends on the road. I was just getting a feel for a new country when a taxi drove us through town to the international airport, heading for Indonesia.

Eighteen hours later, we touched down on the rainy tarmac in Jakarta. Thirteen hours more and we were unloading from of a bus that had taken us across the island, from the capital to Pangandaran, on the south side of West Java. It was about 12am, and pitch black outside the gates of the ocean side town.

The bicycle rickshaw drivers spotted us immediately.

“Where you going?”

This is, of course, how all conversations with drivers start. We countered with the usual, “How far is it to town?”

After a small haggle, we took the offered ride – drivers almost always know where you want to go. After stopping at the gate to pay the entrance fee to the town, we made straight to the doors of Bamboo House. The group decided on the family-run guest house based on the general consensus of Trip Advisor. Bamboo House was my first sight waking up in one of my favorite locations of the trip and home for the next three days. It featured a gorgeous courtyard, reset-them-yourself breakers, and excellent banana pancakes.

Waking up in Indonesia after 30 hours in transit washed away any thoughts I had of missing Vietnam. Where life in Vietnam had been busy, fast-paced and full of things to catch your attention, Indonesia appeared to be more laid back, casual, and about relaxing. Maybe it was because it was so hot there being near the equator. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take long for us to seek out the beach.

A note of caution here people: DO NOT forget the sunscreen. The sun is big time hot. Especially if you’re coming from a cooler climate in the dead of winter. Anyways.

The beach at Pangandaran is wonderful. The darker black beaches of Pangandaran may not photograph as well as the picturesque white sand beaches of Bali, but they are no less desirable for swimming, suntanning, and acclimatizing to beach life. Hanging out on the beach is also a great way to interact with local people from the town and with other Indonesian tourists. Be prepared to possibly have your photo taken. This happened quite often on West Java, as well as in Vietnam.

Pangandaran is a surfer’s destination, with decent if smaller waves, and a sandy bottom. These two things make it a popular learn-to-surf destination – a fact that local Indonesians have not overlooked. On our first morning in Pangandaran, we had the good fortune of stepping out onto the beach next to Yoga’s Learn-to-Surf Camp. This meeting shaped our time in the town for the better.

The boys rented surf boards and hit the waves, after a on land theory lesson about paddling, catching a wave, and making use of the current. “Maybe later, I will come out and show you how it’s done, ah?” says Yoga. While the boys surfed, Yoga told Amy and myself about life in Pangandaran, asked us questions about our homes, and helped us become acquainted with the restaurant menu. We talked about the giant tsunami that ravaged the area in 2006.

Meeting Yoga and his brother is a huge part of what made visiting Pangandaran so special. Experienced travelers will tell you that seeing a destination through the eyes of a local can make all of the difference in the world, and really bring a place to life. This principle became clear to me that first afternoon on the beach.

Yoga came over and asked, “You know rambutan? ”

No… Who or what is a rambutan? A type of fruit, as it turned out.

“You want to pick some fruit? My brother has a fruit tree, with extra. You can come pick!”

A bit skeptical, we asked a few questions. How do we get there? “I pick you up, in my van.” How much for the ride? “Nothing, just come see the tree! Pick the fruit.”

It seemed too good to be true, so we packed up and left the beach for the late afternoon while the tide was low with our surf coach turned tour guide at the wheel.

The drive alone would have been enough. After Vietnam in the middle of winter, Indonesia is so green! You can look anywhere and see a mountain or a volcano on the horizon and the rice fields are lush and green. Yoga took us into a part of the town normally not accessible to tourists. The entrance is guarded by a lady manning a bamboo gate!

Driving through a wooded part of town, we eventually came to a group of houses with the promised rambutan tree centered in the front yard. For 30 minutes or so we picked our fill of the red spiky fruit, and met Yoga’s family. I poked around a bit, checking out the chicken coop and exploring with my camera. These ladies even asked me to take their picture! I didn’t have to be told twice. All told, it was a great introduction to Javanese culture and set the pace for Indonesia.

Pangandaran was also our first taste of Indonesian food. Some of it was standard, like fried noodles and rice, but served with a fried egg on top in Indonesia. Some of some of it was particularly memorable. The rambutan picking experience definitely qualifies as memorable. But so does the spicy as hell chicken dish we ordered for the first time at 1 in the morning after arriving in Pangandaran. The dish I dubbed ‘Beach Soup’ also qualifies – a rich, clear broth flavored with hot sauce, and floating tofu, meatballs, and fish balls ladled out by a man wandering the beach (10,000 IDR). Our first encounter with the local rice liquor, arak, was definitely memorable. Even more so the next morning.

Like many places we visited, I wanted to spend more time in Pangandaran. I would happily return to the beach town. We stayed three days, but two French Canadians we met there were spending two weeks there – “Who knows, maybe we stay longer.” Life was easy, relaxed, and uncrowded after the well-trodden backpacker loop we had gotten used to traveling in Vietnam. All that mattered was eventually getting to Bali, and beyond that to the Gili Island’s. And so we pushed on to Yogykarta.

You're waiting for a train...

You’re waiting for a train…

Moments from Vietnam – A Photo Gallery

Where has the time gone… it seems impossible to believe that I have been back in Canada for two months already! That is the length of time I spent traveling in Vietnam and Indonesia, and I have done not even half as much activity!

Lately, I have been thinking about the trip, and reliving some memories through photos. Here are a handful of my favorites from Vietnam – Enjoy!

Travel Log – The Halfway Point. On to Indonesia.

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Flying over the South China Sea to Jakarta, Indonesia!

The first two weeks of this backpacking adventure I was jet lagged, culture shocked and more than a little homesick. After a full month spent in Vietnam touring North to South, and down the coast to finish our journey in Ho Chi Minh City saying goodbye was HARD!

If you would have asked me during the first week spent in the North, I never would have expected that. Somewhere along the route, however, things changed. Maybe it was just getting over the shock of being so far away and in a new place, maybe it was the ton of new experiences had along the way, or the new people we met on our journey. Or maybe just all of those things together. But I think I finally have my travel legs under me. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

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Scooters in Mui Ne - right before our day came to grinding halt via police check.

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New friends in Dalat, Vietnam!

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Sunset from the Ho Chi Minh City International Airport.

Having been in Indonesia less than a week, I can already say with certainty that I love visiting this country! To sum it up – the friendliest people, amazing food and gorgeous natural scenery. Killer beaches, volcanos, and hot, hot sun. Despite being rainy season, we haven’t been impeded all that much in the time we have spent in West Java. More highlights about West Java to follow.

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Rambutan fruit. Our new friend Yoga took us picking fruit at his brothers house in the non-touristed part of Pangandaran. On our first day here. Incredible.

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Our first sunset over Pangandaran.

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A sneak peak of our visit to the beautiful Hindu temples of Prambanan, outside of Yogyakarta.

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These two are machines, and can sleep anywhere. Beauties.

Today, we are leaving Yogyakarta via the airport and flying east to Bali – the final “phase” of this particular trip (Phase Beach Bum). I come to you from the international airport there. After a slow first two weeks for me (in Vietnam), time is flying by. Everyone tells you that is going to happen, but I guess it’s one of those things that you need to experience for yourself to understand.

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My view of the Yogyakarta airstrip. A small airport, we get to walk out on the tarmac!

Thanks for reading!

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Deathless cycle?

Officially on the Road – En Route to Hanoi

Packed up and ready to ROCK!

Packed up and ready to ROCK!

It’s finally happening! The South East Asia trip of 2015 is finally here – we fly out tomorrow morning from Pearson at 7:55 am. Our first stop? Hanoi.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days, finishing up

– last minute packing and purchases

All of this fits into the two packs in the back corner! It doesn't look like much for two weeks to me.. but I bet a seasoned traveler could see lot's of things that don't need to be here!

All of this fits into the two packs in the back corner! It doesn’t look like much for two weeks to me.. but I bet a seasoned traveler could see lot’s of things that don’t need to be here!

– last minute medications and prescriptions

– and last minute travel insurance.

When you’re me, everything is last minute! I work best under pressure.

Although I have ‘left home’ before, it’s never been like this. Never before have I left for so long, into such a great unknown, with the feeling that I am leaving so much behind! However, all of these sad/scared feelings of leaving have put into perspective just how fortunate I am to have a home life that I am reluctant to say goodbye to.

The cat thought she was coming, too.

The cat thought she was coming, too.

Anyways, the hardest part is over now: saying good bye to everyone and leaving home! Bring on the adventure. Meeting up with the boys tonight before heading to the airport tomorrow!

So look forward to some brand spanking new photos from Vietnam sometime over the next couple of weeks guys! Since I am not taking a tablet or laptop with me, my postings may be a bit sporadic but there is nothing new there. 😉

Wish me luck! xo

One week until departure: Travel anxiety is real! And how to deal with it.

It’s less than two weeks until departure for Hanoi, Vietnam! And the number one question people are asking me right now is, “Are you getting excited for your trip?” Well, yes, but mostly I’m nervous.

And that’s the truth. Travel anxiety is real! I’ve been experiencing it big time for the past two weeks. This what I meant when I said the Travel Years is “a blog about anxiety”. In all of our eight months of planning, I never expected to feel this right before departure, but here it is. Loud and clear and glaring me in the face at 5:21 am as I sit here typing this out. No one warned me about this when I first started planning for South East Asia.

Would you believe me if I told you I haven’t been doing any destination research or reading? I haven’t been blogging either. When I should be the most excited person, about to leave on an adventure, I am nervous, second guessing myself, and anxious. I am reminded of Bilbo Baggins, who lived in his hobbit hole, reluctant and clinging to the comforts of home before heading off to the Lonely Mountain.

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>>> I wrote that down a couple of mornings ago, after waking up in the middle of the night and failing to fall back asleep. Today however, excitement is finally winning out over anxiety!! Emphasis on finally. This I believe is in part due to

  • Some useful articles and tips found around the internet (World Nomads, Nomadic Matt)
  • The persistence of the snow storms currently sweeping through Ontario
  • The support (a.k.a. patience) of my friends and family.

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So if you’re a first time traveler, what are some of the best ways to deal with nerves or anxiousness before leaving on a trip? Here’s what is working for me

  • Educate yourself about the risks! Having never been to Vietnam, or Indonesia before – I have no idea what to imagine. What I do know is that some of the people I meet have their own set of pre-conceived notions or opinions about the countries we plan on visiting, whether they are correct or not. Instead of getting worked up, do your research. Look for honest websites designed by travelers for travelers! Know the risks so you can be aware and prevent problems before they arise. The travel insurance provider, World Nomads, was a good resource for me in relaxing.
  • Plan ahead! But I’m not talking about planning every minute of every day. Just be prepared. Take a first aid kit, stocked with some basic medical supplies. Be aware that tourists are natural targets for crime such as pickpocketing, and take precautions to protect your valuables. Book accommodations for at least your first night or two in a new place while you (hopefully) familiarize yourself with your surroundings, and deal with your culture shock. Taking the time to prepare and anticipating problems means less stress now, and down the road.
  • Do yourself a favor and don’t scramble. I’m finally getting everything together that I need for my pack – a week before. A little too close for my personal comfort zone. I have been amazed at how much more relaxed I am about the trip now that my basic gear and paperwork needs are taken care of. The Visa is in, I’ve decided on travel insurance and I have (most) of the medications and vaccinations that I have decided I need. The silliest thing I have been worrying about? What pants to bring. Yes, I realize that is slightly ridiculous but there it is. Anyways, determine what your key issues are (pants and travel insurance in my case) and deal with it! Don’t put stuff off just because you are nervous.

So what’s my final verdict as a long time worry-wart and first time international traveler? Ignore all of those people who tell you that automobile accidents are statistically more likely than airplane crashes – even if they’re right – and take matters into your own hands! Be prepared, know the risks, and don’t leave the details until the last minute because there are a lot of them. A lot of them. You will (hopefully) be better equipped to experience a new culture, and handle your culture shock!