Monthly Recap: July 2017
Well, here goes... my last Monthly Recap when it comes to my 9 month backpacking trip! Writing this from the comfort of my home - with Game of Thrones replaying on a huge TV and my dog curled up next to me - is surreal in itself. I've got a lot of feelings about being home. I can't believe that even a month ago, I was sitting on a beach in Bali. Hell, even 10 days ago I was falling in love with Canada! Time is such a funny thing. Alright, I'll stop rambling now.
Where I've Been
- Ubud, Bali - 1 night
- Tirta Gangga, Bali - 4 nights
- Canggu, Bali - 4 nights
- Amed, Bali - 1 night
- Gili Air, Lombok - 5 nights
- Uluwatu, Bali - 2 nights
- Denpasar, Bali - 1 night
- Hong Kong - 3 nights
- Vancouver, British Columbia - 3 nights
- Victoria, British Columbia - 3 nights
Tirta Gangga Villas, Bali, Indonesia - I have not gotten around to writing about the amazing private villa my friend Yohanna and I stayed at in Bali, so I'm going to have to do it justice just briefly. Yohanna knew the owner of the villa, and since it wasn't being rented out at the time, he kindly offered it to her for free for a week. I was lucky enough to join Yohanna for four days at the villa and it was beyond perfection. The villa is literally inside a royal water palace. Breakfast was served on a marble terrace overlooking the gardens. The shower was open to sky, with flowers and plants growing beside the bathtub. The entire villa was open to the outdoors and we only closed the glass doors at night to keep the mosquitoes out. So many of my favorite memories took place in Bali, and Tirta Gangga will have a special place in my heart. I will definitely be back one day! Oh, and the price of the villa? A cool $250USD per night.
YesInn @ Causeway Bay, Hong Kong - Unfortunately, I had bad luck with the last few places I slept at the end of my trip. The worst of it was this hostel I stayed at in Hong Kong, despite paying $24 a night! But the front desk staff were uninterested and unhelpful, the floors reeked of bleach every afternoon from the cleaning staff, and the dorm rooms were cramped with 9 beds, which meant 3 bunked beds each. My bed was on the floor, save for some wooden slats. I was texting a friend on the first night and sent him a photo of a cockroach crawling up the wall beside me. In all my travels, I've never had that happen. I should have demanded to move beds the next day, but I cared so little at that point and just decided to suck it up. I was definitely dreaming of the private villa in Tirta Gangga, though.
Listening to village music in Tirta Gannga - I don't know if I can really do this moment justice because it was impromptu and perfect and just really cool. Kadek was mine and Yohanna's tour guide and driver while we were staying in Tirta Gangga. Kadek's girlfriend, Sarah, is from Belgium. Both of them were so welcoming. Kadek shared so much about his Balinese culture, and when slight language barriers got in the way, Sarah would share her perspective. Kadek invited us to his village home one evening after a ceremony. His friends and family members - the Baliense family is very extended - offered us rice, fruit, sweets, and pork from a pig that had been roasted that day. Many of them did not speak English; Yohanna and I certainly didn't speak Balinese, but language wasn't necessary here. There was a lot of laughter, joking, and music. My favorite moment of the night was when one of Kadek's friends told me, with his hand over his heart, "We do not know much English, but in Bali it is the heart that matters. We have lots of heart."
This photo at Pura Lempuyang Temple - I share the journey (and lesson learned) from Pura Lempuyang in this blog post, but is it cheating to say that this actual photo is a highlight from last month? Yohanna snapped this perfect pic and it didn't need any editing. It's my favorite photo from my whole trip. (And yes, that's me! Not some rando stranger. Some people thought this was a stock photo.)
Whale watching in Victoria - I really wanted to go whale watching and I'm grateful I chose such an amazing company to go with, in one of my favorite places in the world (eh, Canada?), on the very last day of my backpacking trip.
Diving the USAT Liberty - I loved diving the USAT Liberty! What an incredible dive site. It's a shore dive, which is nice, and the shipwreck begins at 15 feet (5 meters), so it's a perfect site for OW or AOW divers. There was so much marine life that I didn't know where to look and the shipwreck itself is pretty open, so I didn't get claustrophobic. I also felt confident in my buoyancy and trim, so I enjoyed feeling relaxed in the water. I had an awesome dive buddy and we had a great instructor, Jordan, who happily took tons of GoPro footage of my dive buddy and I. It was the first time I had some HQ shots of myself diving. I highly recommend Adventure Divers if you plan on diving the USAT; I would love to go back.
Catching the sunset with a new friend - I met Arianna briefly when we were both staying at Thai Thai Hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When she saw on FB that I was going to end my trip in Victoria, she graciously offered me a place to stay and went out of her way to be an awesome tour guide for the few days I was there. My favorite moment was when we drove up to Mount Douglas to catch the sunset. It seemed pretty cloudy, so I thought we were out of luck, but we ended up with the most gorgeous sunset I had ever seen. I couldn't stop taking photos! I loved the landscape of forest meeting ocean meeting setting sun. And I was thankful for Arianna's friendship; it was so fun to spend the last few days of my trip just girl talking and hanging out.
Reuniting with Nick and Kevin - I met Nick in Hanoi, Vietnam and then met his friend Kevin a few days later. Both of them are from Los Angeles. We explored Hanoi together before I left to go to Indo and they embarked on an epic motorcycle trip through Northern Vietnam. Bali was small enough that it was easy for us to reunite just a week before I was flying out of Indo. Following Kevin's lead, we found an amazing homestay in Uluwatu with a view overlooking the ocean. I knew nothing about surfing, but over the drone of Nick and Kevin's constant surfing chatter, I did pick up some surfer lingo and enjoyed watching the surfers crowd the infamous waves around Uluwatu. 10 months of constantly saying goodbye to new friends made my skin a bit tougher, but saying goodbye to them - and a country that I really loved - did actually suck. I really did not want to leave Bali.
Dinner and drinks at the top of Hong Kong - I found Hong Kong to be super overcrowded and congested, but the highlight of my three days there was meeting up with Tessa, whom I had met two years ago when we were both getting OW certified in Thailand. I met Tessa and her friends for drinks on a rooftop bar, which allowed me to appreciate HK's diverse landscapes and beautiful city views. I also joined her dinner for family, which was an authentic HK experience complete with Peking duck!
Shopping at the Granville Public Market - I thought I'd spend an hour on Granville Island, which is just an 3-minute boat ride from Vancouver. Instead, I spent an entire afternoon wandering the markets, visiting the local shops, eating ice cream, and reading on a bench overlooking the harbor. I didn't check out any of the craft breweries, but I wish I had. Next time, though!
Cancelling diving in Komodo - Around that same time, I was desperately trying to plan a trip out to Komodo Island, which has some of the best diving in the world due to its worldclass currents and location. Strong currents = BIG fish. But Komodo involved increasingly expensive flights, finding a reputable dive company, and finding limited hostel accommodation in Flores. In the end, my time was running out in Bali, the flight prices became too expensive, and I didn't feel safe diving in extreme currents on the same day as a full moon. A few days later, a woman from Singapore disappeared during her safety stop because of the current. I definitely plan to return to Komodo and make this trip happen - I was frustrated that it didn't end up working out for me.
Climbing Mount Batur - After debating for days, Yohanna and I finally decided to spend the money to climb Mount Batur, a volcano in the northwest of Bali. Since the trek takes you to the top just in time for sunrise, we had to leave at 2am because it took 2 hours to drive to the volcano's base and another 2 hours to climb it. Yohanna and I didn't sleep at all, so we were zombie like in the car and when we stumbled out to meet our guide. Our guide was a 14-year-old kid whose shoes were peeling apart. He was clearly sick with a cold and overworked between working in the fields, taking tourists up Mount Batur every morning, and going to school. There were hundreds of other people making the climb up Mount Batur. I didn't think the climb up was too bad, but was ultimately very disappointed by the view at the top. The clouds never lifted enough for us to get a good view of Mount Agung or the sunrise, so our time spent at the top was Yohanna and I huddling together against the cold, wishing the sun would peek through. I'm still glad I did it, but I definitely wish the weather had worked in our favor.
Having a SUPER weird dorm mate - To make things worse in the Hong Kong hostel I stayed in (besides the bed on the floor and the cockroach) was the fact that I was sharing the room with a really, REALLY weird girl. She never actually made eye contact with anyone in the room and she only spoke to herself. I am pretty sure she was American because of her accent and because she spent all of her time watching / listening to NFL football games on her laptop. She yelled at her computer screen, threw nail polish across the floor when one of her guys was tackled, and vehemently cussed out each player. This continued until well past midnight, when another girl in the room finally asked her to turn down her laptop and iPhone notifications. The girl very rudely and disrespectfully responded that yes, she would turn it down but she was in the middle of a game and not to bother her. The rest of us fell asleep in the room to the girl narrating some ridiculous football game in whispers. Thankfully, she left the next morning. She was the weirdest person I ever met on the road.
My flight home getting cancelled - I had booked my flight home from Vancouver to Chicago on a Friday, but I told my parents they could pick me up on Sunday. As a surprise, I planned to rent a car and drive home to surprise my parents. Arianna and I woke up at 6am on Friday so she could drive me to the airport. I woke up to an email from Air Canada that my connecting flight had been cancelled and I had been rebooked on a ridiculous 7-hour flight to Toronto then to Chicago. Thankfully, I was able to call customer service and get rerouted on another flight from Vancouver. But the flight arrived at night. I had to call my parents and bust the surprise so they could come pick me up! It all ended up working out, but I was bummed I couldn't go through with my original surprise.
On one of my last nights in Canggu, I ask Augus, the hostel manager, where I can get one of the spiritual pieces of cloth that seems to hang above the doorway in every Balinese home and above every outdoor temple. He surprises me by taking me directly to a local artist's home who designs many of the pieces for the community. The artist speaks no English, so Augus has to translate. I pick two Balinese designs. The artist hand-draws the designs, taking his time and shading each curve. He blesses them when he is done. Augus tells me how to hang the drawings and where to hang them - "Never allow to touch the floor. Never."
Kevin looks like Carrie. From the movie Carrie. He has blood dripping down his face, congealing on his head and his chest. He's clutching his surfboard and as he walks up the steps to the homestay, me leading the way and blood trailing behind him, all he keeps saying is "But I just want to keep surfing..." A surfer's board hit him smack on the head, breaking the tip of the board and effectively slicing through a part of Kevin's head. A few neighbors come over to help stop the bleeding and drive him to the local hospital. Nick, having no idea what has happened, keeps surfing for the next two hours, completely oblivious.
"ALYSSA!!" I'm at liquor store when I hear my name out of nowhere. I turn around. Of course -- Charles, the charismatic, hilarious British boy who I had met weeks earlier in a hostel in Canggu. He's studying abroad in the US right now. I should really reach out to him by FB and see what he thinks of good ol' America.
I'm sitting in a quaint cafe in Gili Air. I notice a woman with a journal. She's sitting with two other women. I assume she's journaling as they're chatting. I'm reading a book and enjoying a salad, alone. Unexpectedly, the woman comes up to me to show me a sketch she has drawn... of me! She sketches all of her travels in the same way I write about them.
I'm standing at the back of a fast boat, heading from Amed to Gili Air. My feet are braced apart, my hands on the back of the seat in front of me. I'm completely soaked from the onslaught of waves. The boat crew, in broken English, ask if I am seasick. "No, never seasick. Just don't like small spaces," I motion to the crowded space at the front of the boat. They smile. In time, we communicate with hand signals and laughter. By the end of the boat ride, I've been proposed to with a ring from a plastic bag and a promise to be married underwater while scuba diving. How could I say no?
I'm in a public, local restaurant, but for the first time in a long time, I feel distinctly uncomfortable. I'm being asked personal questions by someone I only intended to grab a quick dinner with, and the conversation takes a really weird, sexual turn. I escape to the bathroom, but the lock doesn't work and the toilet is, of course, a squat toilet. Not a pleasant place to take a moment. I return to dinner and when the bill is finally paid, I scurry to my bike to head back to my hostel. I kick up my bike stand and pedal into the night, literally leaving a trail of dust in his face.
I curl up on an outdoor couch, barefoot and with a glass of red wine. An amazing local band is playing. The bar has an open layout and roof - the stars are shining, the air is warm, the atmosphere is laid back, and I'm not alone. I try hard to remember every detail, because it becomes one of my favorite nights in Bali.
"Wait... you worked on the Harry Potter movies?!" And that's how I learn that one of the London guys staying at our homestay in Uluwatu did, in fact, work on the special effects in several Harry Potter movies.
"This place is kind of boujee," Nick says. I have no idea what boujee means and have apparently been missing out on new slang over the past nine months.
I'm running through the Vancouver airport, searching for my gate and out of breath. I weave through security. My passport is scrutinized. "How long have you been traveling?" the immigration officer asks. "About 10 months," I say. "Where are you going now?" he asks. "Home. Back to the US." He stamps my passport. Before me is an American flag and a sign framed by the Department of Homeland Security logo: Welcome to the United States of America.
I wrote this post, of course, retrospectively. Sometimes I write monthly recaps as I go, but in this case, I'm writing based on memories from well over a month ago. I just finished editing this post and am struck by the fact that the memories that always stand out the most to me are not places. It is always the people I've met along the way. This became even more true at the end of my journey.
Besides a nostalgic blog post about my hometown, I haven't written too much about my actual homecoming. It was, in some ways, anticlimactic. I was happy to see my parents and sister at the airport, but they had never seemed too far away in the first place. I was almost always in contact with my mom, by phone, FB messenger, or Facetime. Seeing my niece was a different story - she is so talkative now, moves like a tornado wreaking havoc, and has made new friends in daycare.
Within a few days of coming home and catching up with friends, I realized a few things...
1) I came home when I was supposed to. I was glad I didn't come home totally burnt out. Instead, I came home on a high, loving Canada and with some money in the bank. Of course I am already itching to travel somewhere again, but I didn't hit a major sad slump like I have in the past when I've returned home from trips.
2) One of my fears coming home was that I was going to come home a changed person, when nothing had changed at home. Guess what?
Things do change in 10 months. Of course they do. 10 months is a chunk of time! Sure, many things were still the same. My comfy bed, the car I've had for ten years, my favorite meal at my favorite restaurant, my jewelry, my clothes, every material item I left behind.
But many things had changed; each change a marker of time or of moments missed.
My grandma's health had rapidly deteriorated three months before I came home. My dog could no longer move up and down the stairs. My previous job I used to work at had so many new staff that I barely recognized anyone. And my friendships had changed, or at least shifted.
I'm not sure why I thought things would be the same, when I know now that human beings are always in a state of change. And they should be if they want to grow and thrive and challenge themselves, whether they are in their hometown or 9,000 miles away. Change is a good thing. What I am grateful for, throughout my journey and in coming home, is that so many of my friendships grew so much stronger in the face of change and sheer distance.
And 3) It was very difficult for me to go from 90 to 0 in a matter of hours. All of a sudden my trip came to a grinding halt, a final end, with just a four hour plane ride. And it was hard.
I thrive on productivity. I like being busy. I never felt unemployed during my travels because I was constantly doing something. I was always exploring, trying something new, pushing my boundaries. Being home and unemployed is a different story. My mom keeps reminding me to enjoy the time I have off. Instead I find myself anxious and looking for something to do.
So, of course I've dived headfirst into a massive job search: applications, company research, writing samples, phone interviews, in-person interviews, emails, cover letters, resumes. It takes, on average, 55 days for a company to make an offer from the very initial application submission, so I keep reminding myself to be patient. But I am excited for the next step, wherever it may be.
All costs are in US dollars!
Indonesia (30 days total, 19 days in July)
July Total for Indonesia: $976
Overall Total for Indonesia: $1,421 or $47/day
Woooo I just went all in for Indonesia. I was stressed about finances during my first week in Indo, especially because I still had Canada and the US left. So once I realized that I was spending a lot of money on scuba diving, I decided that I couldn't also do Seattle and Portland.
Hong Kong (4 days)
Total for Hong Kong: $231 or $57/day
I don't even know how I spent this much money in HK. Honestly, I kept trying to find a good café with good wifi, which meant I had to buy expensive pastries and coffee that I didn't even want in order to snag a seat. Oh, and I found a bomb breakfast place that I ate at every morning to get my American breakfast fix. Apparently I really value food!
Canada (7 days)
Total for Canada: $451 or $64/day
Woof, Canada. For being my most loved country, it was also the most expensive country I backpacked. And I even stayed with a friend for three nights! I spent a lot of money on the whale watching excursion, ate a lot of delicious Western food, and was lucky that I scored an AirBnb couch for just $30/night in Vancouver.
I spent a lot more money in my final month because I knew how much money I was coming home with, so even though I was still staying in hostels, I didn't really stick to a backpacker budget in other categories.
July Total: $1,658 or $59/day
Overall Total: I'm going to save that for my big financial recap!
I dropped the ball on writing during my last month of travel. I have a lot of drafts about Bali and Canada (and Myanmar and the Philippines!) that I wrote during my many hours of plane time, but I haven't edited and finalized them. So I expect to still be posting quite a lot while I'm home, because I still have a lot of stories I want to share.
Three Days of Island Paradise: Nusa Lembongan, Bali - Beaches, boats, scuba diving, smoothie bowls, sunsets, manta rays! Nusa Lembongan has it all. Check out this post for my favorite spots on the island.
Seeking the Gates of Heaven at Pura Lempuyang - This was my most popular post, which isn't surprising because the main photo received 4.7K likes in the Girls Love Travel FB page! This experience was really a favorite of mine throughout my whole trip.
Hong Kong: A Humid Melting Pot of People - Honestly, this title is the best way I can describe my three days in HK. What an interesting city! I wish I had had the energy to really do it justice.
11 Reasons I Fell Hard for Vancouver - *swoon* Vancouver is my favorite city in the world, right next to Barcelona. Here's why!
The Floating Homes of Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria - Some of my most favorite photos! I love how locals live in these little homes, right on the water and right next to the fish and chips in town.
Whale Watching at Sunset in Victoria - I spent my last day abroad watching orcas swim into the sunset. Literally. I loved this experience and watching orcas in the wild represented everything I had come to love about everything wild and free.
Americans, Here's Why BC, Canada Should Be Your Next Weekend Trip - I'm still on a roll with my Canada obsession and yes, I absolutely think you should visit BC, Canada!
HOME. - An ode to my hometown: Valparaiso, IN. Never thought I'd write an entire blog post about cornfields and cows, but here you go.
2017 Guide: Backpacking Myanmar - Ah, it took me forever to finish this post! But I've told so many people that they HAVE to visit Myanmar, that I thought it would also be helpful to provide a guide covering accommodation, costs, weather, and things to do.
*I also did a fun Q&A with Rachel from Wandering Worldie! I talk about how this whole trip got started in the first place (I was getting my hair cut!), that time I got really homesick, and why it was important for me to do this trip alone. Check out the post here!
Books I've Read
- The Weight of Water by Anita Schreve
- Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life by Admiral William H. McRaven
- Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
- The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
- Currently reading Pushback: How Smart Women Ask - And Stand Up - For What They Want by Selena Rezvani
That's all, folks! Well, nearly. I will continue to write and keep this blog going, just as I did when I was working full-time and backpacking Thailand and Belize. I'll probably share posts about my job search and whichever city I end up in. But my biggest post will be a HUGE final financial round-up: how much I spent in total, per country and per category. I hope it will be helpful to anyone else planning a backpacking trip, whether it's for two weeks or two years!
Whether you're a friend, family member, colleague, or DM student who followed my journey from the beginning, or a backpacker buddy I met along the way, or a listener of my brother's radio show in which he shamelessly promoted my blog, or a Girls Love Travel member, or a reader who actually stumbled upon this blog in some other way... Thank you. Thanks for cheering me on, sharing my blog posts, sending me direct messages, asking me for travel advice, and letting me know that my writing inspired, helped, or touched you. This is a journal and an outlet for me, and I'm so appreciative to those who have also found value in Roam the World at Will. Travel on!