El Nido to Coron: Five Days of Sailing on a 74ft Paraw Boat with Tao Adventures

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El Nido to Coron in five days on a beautiful sailboat…prepare for lots of photos below 🙂

img_5703img_1843Lacy:  Well, I hope this post finds everyone around the globe well right now as we are in very strange times worldwide.  Rob and I returned to America just a couple of days after the sailing tour that is discussed in this post.  It wasn’t our intention to return back to the States prior to the end of April, but as more borders were closing we decided it would be wise to return “home.”  We didn’t actually know where we would go when we got back our country, but are very thankful and relieved to have a very comfortable place to reside in.  Sitting at 10,000ft in Colorado we are a week and a half into our self imposed two week quarantine.  Being in contact with so many tourists and travelers both while in Asia, and traveling back to the US, we felt it was the only responsible thing to do.  Rob and I had a really wonderful time on this sailing adventure and enjoyed our 3 weeks in the Philippines.  If anyone plans to travel there and has questions, feel free to reach out.  I hope that this blog offers you a small distraction from the current events and puts a smile on your face.img_1845

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Beautiful sunsets on white sand beaches bring smiles to everyone’s face.  The hut in the photo is where Rob and I happily slept that evening

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At the TAO Farm where all the delicious vegetables we ate were grown.  Even the little piggy that was roasted on a spit came from here.

Tao Experience & the Paraw Sailboat

Rob:  Ever since we took a full day Jetski tour along the Malaysian & Thai coast last year we have been planning to take a sailboat for an extended trip through the islands of SE Asia. The Philippines have a magnetic pull straight to your soul to get out on the water. We knew as we got closer to El Nido that taking a boat tour, even just for one day, would be a typical and logical thing to do.  The Tao Experience is well known as the pioneer of multi-day Eco tour island hopping here in northern Palawan. There is one particular boat that they hand built several years ago which is a 74 foot all wood and bamboo construction Paraw. It is simply a beautifully crafted old school, old world constructed trimaran dual masted sailboat. We were exceptionally lucky to get a ride on board at the last minute. All of our fellow passengers had booked many months ahead of time, some eve in a year in advance.  We managed to sneak on 2 days before departure.  Our best guess was that someone canceled their trip because of the coronavirus.  Excited by our good fortune and eager to explore the islands by sail, we traded in our Honda XR150 that carried us the length of the island from Puerto Princesa north to El Nido.  Aside from buying some extra sunscreen and long sleeve sun/rash/jellyfish guard shirts we were otherwise perfectly equipped for light packs and travel onboard. Especially Lacy who had brought 3 1/2 bikinis! 😁img_1700

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The boat is massive and has so many area to stretch out.  PS – having your hair braided on a boat is a HUGE plus.  Little did I know that this would be my last week without having to use a hairbrush or think about my hair.  Once I returned to America it was clear the braids were ready to come out…but at least I had some fabulous 80’s crimped hair for 2 days 🙂

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Group photo with our fellow travelers aboard

We met our fellow sailors early the following morning, 24 of us in total, and were quickly underway. It was easy to find a comfy place on deck to stretch out and enjoy the view out into the bay while getting to know everyone a little.  Being a trimaran, there was ample space aboard for everyone to stretch out.  Over the five days we wandered from the bamboo chaise, to the seats, sunbathed on the bow, lounged on the aft deck, enjoyed shade in a hammock behind the kitchen and everything in between.  The crew always took us to beaches and and areas away from the tourists to snorkel and swim. This was one of the best parts!   The first day we enjoyed  lunch of squid adobo, grilled fish, fresh veggie salad and rice. It was a great day until we pulled into a private little bay and discovered our cliff side private tiny bamboo nests that we would sleep in. Then, it became an awesome day! A thin mattress, mosquito net and clean sheets were inside our little bamboo and palm roofed sleeping pod. Outside, we had just the sound of waves and birds to lull us to sleep. Each of the next few days we followed a similar routine of being shuttled under sunny skies over turquoise waters via this amazingly crafted wood sailboat, fed like little baby birds when we were told to eat, swimming when we pulled up to a postcard white sand beach and being treated to lots of Rhum and Pineapple cocktails (Jungle Juice) each afternoon. One of our fellow travelers said it best to remark that he felt like a 5 year old child being scheduled and fed through the day and it was great!

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Our beach hut the second night…and more views of the area below

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Jungle Juice time!

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Beautiful lunches on board

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Grilled fish for dinner on one of 4 remote beaches we slept on

Another privately owned beach camp, more bamboo beach huts perfectly situated for sunset and a soft evening breeze awaited us the next 2 nights as well. Huge grilled Jackfish, veggies and rice was becoming familiar for lunches and dinners, but something to be craved when the chef and crew called everyone together for meals.
On our 3rd day we pulled up along a rock faced island which was quite a sight. Sheer cliffs and deep blue water surrounded us. The crew quickly showed us a natural combination of “stairs” and handholds to pull yourself up to several high ledges. Everyone took a turn or two up the rock for their cliff jumps with everyone cheering or jeering along. My second jump was from a pretty high point that took a big leap outward and a big leap of faith from inside to be successful. Lacy may have held her breath for a moment, but a spike of adrenaline helped me clear the rock with ease. Next we all dog paddled through a small cave opening in the cliff face and the crew led us through a passage that brought us slowly and carefully through the dark and eventually out the other side of the island. It was a pretty long swim back around to the boat, but there was Jungle Juice waiting for us back on board. And the crew always graciously offered kayak taxis back and forth to any beach, snorkel or swim.  On our way into our docking for the evening, all 4 sails were full of wind that quietly powered our big trimaran along the tops of the swells. Pure magic for me.

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Approaching our first overnight beach of the trip (below)

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And what a way to start!

Lacy has been loving adding a little fish back into her diet after a full month as a vegetarian Yogini. One of my beautiful bride’s nicknames is Ikan (E-con) or fish in Bahasa. She has definitely lived up to that on this trip with lots of snorkeling and swimming opportunities.img_5720

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One of the crew members scaled this bamboo tree in what seemed like ten seconds.  He plucked a coconut and brought it back down.  We were all pretty impressed.  One of our fellow travelers is giving the climb a try in this photo while his wife looks on.

Our breakfast to start day four was light fluffy pancakes served with an awesome “Bananas Foster” topping. Who doesn’t like dessert for breakfast once in a while. Today we visited the TAO Farm where the organization grows much of its own food for the tours as well as raises pigs and ducks. It did make me wonder what might be for dinner that night. Sure enough, when we arrived for our last night of beach glamping, we were shown the whole young pig that had been slow roasting all day for us. I could hear the angels singing in the background and the cheers of my fellow shipmates drowning out my own. With full bellies poking out we looked forward to the evening activities. Karaoke is a way of life in much of SE Asia. On this, our last night together, both passengers and crew joined together to sing and howl the night away. We both took our turns encouraged by… you guessed it… more Jungle Juice!

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In the morning, our last day of sailing continued northward through what felt like 100 more tiny picturesque islands and brought us to a small reef called the Coral Gardens. It has been very well protected and was a jaw dropping display of coral in all shapes, sizes and colors. It was also teaming with colorful fish from tiny day glow blue to big multi-hued parrot fish and virtually everything in between including psychedelic colored clams. The crew really saved the best snorkeling for the last day. Just a short 20 minute ride away we dove into much deeper waters to swim above the wreck of a sunken Japanese gun boat from WWII. 75+ years of coral encrustation had transformed most of the boat into a haven for fish and created a little micro reef head. The sharp edges of the bow raising up from the sea floor and almost to the surface was really the only clue that it was once a warship. This was our last stop along the way to Coron City Harbor which was our end point of the sailing trip. Everyone on board seemed a little quieter than normal until we saw the harbor come into view. Hugs, thanks and pictures with the crew began the process of wrapping up a great journey.

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We had the option of getting massages on the beach 2 of the 4 nights.  Rob was relaxing with a massage under these palm trees when I came up to give him the good news that he would be enjoying the little piggy below for dinner.

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All smiles all the time with the crew lead, Jameson

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Docked at yet another beautiful beach…the water was like glass the morning I took this

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Sunset at the same beach

Speaking of our crew. Every single person onboard from the Captain, Hosts, Chefs, Guides and Barman were excellent and held the highest level of hospitality from start to finish. They were a huge part of the success of the trip. Last but not least, Amo, the ship’s mascot. Four stubby legs, a cold nose, black, white and tan all over. He swam with us to beaches, jumped from kayak to kayak, took shelter in the shade during the peak of the day, raced around the sailboat keeping the energy level up and alerted us to upcoming stops by running to the bow of the boat and getting ready to jump in the first kayak put in the water.

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There happened to be a lot of seaweed in the water where the boat stalled for lunch.  Jumping off the boat to enjoy a swim was common, but this time it was extra funny with this seaweed costume and accompanying dance!

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The crew was always laughing and was one of the best parts of the trip

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Everyone loved Amo

We could have taken 2,000 more pictures than we did, but selfishly just enjoyed the views in person and not so much through the camera lens.   Our sail group shared everyone’s photos on a WhatsApp group once we got back to land and service.  Huge thanks to everyone aboard whose photos are featured in this blog!61108513-db16-4eb1-9afd-29afe8bcf365

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There’s a first time for everything and this was the first time I saw Rob sing karaoke!

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Rob snuck this photo of me while I found a quiet place on the beach for a little morning practice

Little did we know that a day after of our arrival in Coron the Philippines would begin the process to close its boarders with travel restrictions protecting against the spread of the coronavirus. An early notice helped us get a regular priced flight out to Manila and a subsequent flight to Los Angeles via Tokyo. So many of our shipmates weren’t quite so lucky, but all eventually made their way out of the country AOK. This also prematurely ended our travels for this Spring as we were only six weeks into our planned three months. Bittersweet to be home, but glad we had, yet again, the opportunity to spend time immersed in the cultures of Cambodia and the Philippines this season. Lacy successfully completed her Yoga Teacher Training class and we both met new people and made great friends with like-minded travelers whom we will surely meet again soon. Country to be named later.

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Our TAO rash guards are our souvenirs from the Philippines.  They were good protection form the sun and jellyfish while playing in the water

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We never had rain even with a few clouds the first day.

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A lunchtime kayak…this isn’t us, but we were on another kayak at the same time with Amo

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Until we write again…XO

Port Barton & Taytay: Starfish, Sea Turtles and Spanish Forts

Port Barton
Rob’s crazy hair

Lacy: Our road trip through Palawan island continued to be a great one as we traveled north from Guru Beach to Port Barton. Riding past rice fields, water buffalo cooling off in ponds and sunlit shoreline made for a quick trip to the tiny port town. There isn’t much to do in Part Barton except sunbathe on the white sand beach, book an island hopping tour and watch a magnificent sunset. Check, check and check. Arriving to town at noon we parked by the bike and strolled down the beach to find accommodation.

Yes, please 🏝💙
This cute little bamboo and thatch beach hut was exactly what we were looking for. Steps from the beach and $20.
Beautiful views on the ride…

The water here is crystal clear and very inviting. It wasn’t long before we found a small bamboo hut behind a beachfront massage stand that would be our home for the next two nights. Kicking off our shoes for the next two days we began to explore the shoreline a bit further. The water here is the perfect temperature to spend all day in. After a couple of massages we watched an unbelievable sunset at Happy Bar. Happy we were so with huge smiles plastered on our faces.

…and an epic sunset to complete a great day.
Getting on the boat to begin a fabulous day of Island hopping from Port Barton.
Swimming area on the island we stopped at for the fabulous bbq lunch below 🐠🐙

The following morning we ate an early breakfast on the beach and couldn’t wait to start our all day island hopping tour. Six stops and 7 hours with a bbq on the beach halfway through made for an absolutely perfect day. Starfish, swimming with turtles, great snorkeling, swimming in turquoise water, enjoying the view of the surrounding islands from the boat and soaking in the Phillipino sun in a recipe for happiness. There were three other couples on the boat with us who all seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were. This was $24 each well spent, indeed.

A great day for island hopping

With plans for the sail in place we knew we needed to get to El Nido rather quickly for an orientation at 6p on Thursday night before leaving port Friday morning. We were only two and half hours away, but decided to only cover half that ground the first day and stay in Taytay Wednesday night. Turned out to be a very good idea because the ride was really hot and by the time we arrived I was borderline overheating, but perked up when I realized that our accommodation for the evening had a real mattress!!! What?! For six weeks we have been sleeping on the very thin Asian mattresses that require you to turn throughout the night like a rotisserie chicken as your hips and and shoulders begin to ache. But tonight we had a proper soft thick mattress. Don’t have to tell you this was the best night sleep we had in a while. Hallelujah! Add in a great view from our patio of a Spanish fort on the edge of the sea, cheap local food and strong WiFi to catch up on life before disconnected for nearly a week and we considered this stop a major score. It was our most expensive night yet at $30 and well worth it.

Starfish sandbar – hundreds of these guys
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Taytay is a very small
town halfway between Port Barton and El
Nido, but worth a stop. The view from Casa Rosa was great.

While eating the largest pizza I have ever laid eyes for dinner we opted to take a five day sailing tour from El Nido (another town and hour north) north to Coron (another island in the Palawan province). Rob has been dropping hints about this sailing company ever since Cambodia, but since we rarely plan anything too far in advance I wasn’t ready to commit to anything. Sailing between El Nido and Coron is pretty popular here and there are many options by ferry, private tour or even flights. TAO company has an unbelievable reputation of being a top notch 3 or 5 day sail. While they do have other boats we were only interested in their handmade wooden sailboat option. Since they had a tour leaving in two days Rob initially emailed to see about joining and heard back that they were full. I suggested we add our names to the wait list which requires that you write a bit about yourself for an application. Within an hour we received a note and an invoice to join the sail!! We were numbers 23 and 24 of the guest allotment and snuck in. We took a guess that there was a coronavirus cancellation because we later learned from our fellow shipmates and crew that last minute bookings are nearly unheard of. Most people booked months to a year in advance. When it’s meant to be, it will happen either way.

Spoiler alert…the Tao trip was INCREDIBLE! Exceeded expectations in every way. Lots more in the next post.

The following day was a “town day.” Whether we are long distance hiking, spending a few months working in remote mountain towns or backpacking through SE Asia these days creep up as we find ourselves needing to take care of a small list of items. It only took an hour to ride into El Nido and settle into our hotel on the beach.

Giz enjoys the new scenery in El Nido

I was instantly surprised at how much the landscape changed on this part of the island. The surrounding islands instantly took on a much more mountainous aesthetic, begin far less flat than southern Palawan. Spending the previous twelve days motorbiking up the island gave us a really good appreciation of how varied the beaches and topography are from tip to tip. On the list for the day we’re checking into the TAO office, buying rash guards, sunscreen, aloe cream, another sarong and changing money. All done with just enough time to enjoy a happy hour cocktail before orientation. Successful town day!

Underground Rivers in Sabang Beach & Lazy Days on Guru Beach

We are definitely in our happy place here on Palawan 🏖☀️💕

Rob: Sabang is a quiet town on the western side of the island that thrives during the day as tour vans pile in from Puerto Princesa to shuttle tourists back and forth to the Underground River. As the sun sets, the beach becomes home to just the locals and a few travelers like us who enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.

As soon as we arrived at Sabang Beach we saw many signs for fruit shakes. After the warm bike ride I whipped off my helmet and ordered an avocado shake for myself and mango with rhum for him. Yeah, it was 11 in the morning, but that’s his style 😉. He is a happy man in this photo with his fruity drink and beautiful beach.

The first of two evenings in Sabang we stayed just above the beach on the edge of the surrounding rainforest. The sounds in this area have struck me as a standout feature that someone should put on a billboard.

Happy times on Guru Beach
A quiet evening in Sabang enjoying dinner and a sunset on the beach

“Laughing” ducks in the day time, 47 kinds of cicadas chirping and singing at night. Roosters, Monkeys and other assorted jungle creatures we couldn’t identify singing in the background 24 hours a day. It’s a great accompaniment to the sounds of the surf that we can still hear from our cabin in the hills.

The view from my hammock on Day 2 at Sabang Beach as I waited for Rob to wake up so we could decide what the plan for the day was. Happy as a clam 🙂

The main attraction here is the entrance to a recently discovered underground river and cave system that is accessible via a little lagoon close to the town. From the cave entrance you can paddle 4 km in from the sea and under the limestone mountains. It only takes a few meters inside the mouth of the caves before everything goes dark and you are in a tunnel of rock stretching out in front of you. Our tour guide takes us 2km into the mountain which is as far as the tour goes. Areas past 4km inside really haven’t been explored due to the environmental sensitivity of the caves and river itself. From narrow passages to 30 meter tall chambers we glide very quietly through the very dim tunnels navigated by our guides headlight so as to not disturb the residents. Crabs, lobsters and 8 different species of bats, 3 of which are only found in these mysterious caves with a gentle flowing river as it’s floor. Stalagmites and stalactites abound as they should in these environs. The river itself naturally cleans out the cave so it doesn’t smell like there are about a million bats literally hanging over your head. “When you look up, please don’t open your mouth.” Pretty good advice from the guide, if you ask me.

To get to the Underground River we took our very first boat ride of the trip to this beach where we would enter the cave. The smile on Rob’s face during the boat ride was epic. He absolutely loves boats and the spray of sea salt on his face.
Heading into the Underground River. We both loved this tour. I have never seen so many bats before in my life. Maybe a hundred thousand or more.

We spent 2 days and nights in Sabang. We loved the peace and quiet at night, $8 massages with the sound of the surf and a few good Rhum and Mango Slushie Cocktails from the hawkers right at the pier. Lacy has also traded her beloved dragonfruit shakes for avocado shakes here. Simple garlic rice with cabbage and fried egg was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Keeping life simple is easy to do in Sabang. Tomorrow we set off further north to our ultimate destination of El Nido but we aren’t in all that much of a hurry. 🌺🌴🦜

We did two stints of an hour + on the bike today with lunch in the middle. Fully loaded with gear and the two of us at max RPMs for that length of time is enough to make me vibrate for an extra 30 minutes after getting off the bike. It has been worth it to ride from the western rainforest side of the island back over to the drier eastern side via the jungle road for the first 1/2 and coastal road the second 1/2 of the way today. The weather became hot and very windy as we made it near the eastern coast again. We got off the main island road that runs North and South about 5km from a little beach place we found online. We wanted to check it out in person before booking. Our last 15 minutes ride was through sand and palms parallel to the beach. A Water Buffalo, a few Cows and Chickens barely looked up as we passed by. It was a great little beach path road to get to Guru Beach – or – the Peace and Love Beach Club. Turning the engine off I could immediately hear Bob Marley playing on the speakers hung from the palm trees that surrounded the little bar hut and I could see chairs and hammocks in the palm shaded beachfront.

I have always wanted to try braids in my hair and at Sabang Beach I finally did. Jodi did a great job and said they should last about two weeks. Since we are a little behind on the blog I can report that a week and a half later they are still looking wonderful, even with swimming and snorkeling in the sea many times. I get quite a bit of attention from the locals who seem to really appreciate my new style ☺️

Later I relaxed with a cool San Miguel beer while Lacy practiced yoga in a bamboo Shala right on the beach while watching the sky turn purple and the water turn from aqua to dark blue and eventually black as the sun set behind me.

We might be here for a while.

The view on the road to Guru Beach
The final road to Guru Beach through a tiny village was lined with towering coconut palm and set the quiet vibe of what we were in store for.
Giz contemplates life from the comfort of his hammock.

Lacy: Guru Beach Resort is on an extremely quiet and local stretch of sand with the Sulu sea steps from our room. The rooms are clean and simple which is perfect because we are spending all day outside in the lounge chairs, hammocks, swimming or walking up and down the unspoiled beach lined with palm trees and mangroves. Herds of pigs kept by the locals come out at dusk to root around the sand for critters to eat…and even wade in the shallow sea to cool off. This sight made us both laugh. At the end of the day we get to enjoy fresh fish, garlic rice and vegetables by candlelight in the open air dining room. We have let the Chefs know that we would love to have the fresh catch for our next meal and we are enjoying our food here more than anywhere else we have eaten so far in Palawan. Of course, the sound of the sea follows us here too as we are never far from it no matter where we go. Shoes were taken off as soon as we arrived and not put back on for days. Add a lovely raised bamboo pagoda where I enjoy my daily practice on the beach and, well, we are in heaven. Did I mention it’s only $20/night?! We started for 2 nights and that quickly led to four. Onsite massages, a boat trip to surrounding islands with turquoise water and reading on the beach were added to our daily itinerary. The biggest responsibility I have felt is to brush my teeth each day. The staff here is superb and we really feel like we are on the receiving end of the kind of hospitality we were providing at the bed and breakfast we worked in for the last 6 months in New Mexico. Thoroughly enjoying everything about this place, we are so pleased that we found it.

Relaxing in the open air dining room in the evening.
These lounge chairs and hammocks beside the Sulu Sea were our home for four days. With plenty of shade from the swaying palms we were quite content.
Yep, pigs on the beach

The air in the mornings is still and calm with the wind picking up as the day progresses. Sometimes the wind makes a breeze cool enough for me to wear my shawl as I lay in the hammock or play cards with Rob. But by the time we order dinner, around 7p, the surrounding air becomes quite calm again and doesn’t threaten to blow away our 345th game of 500 rummy. It’s actually perfect because with all the shade from the palm trees and the refreshing sea breeze that is constantly surrounding us, we are never too hot at this beach.

A boat ride to a nearby island provided us with our first view of the crystal clear water on the northern part of Palawan Island.

We have become friendly with Jessica and Janie-Lynn, two of the girls who work at the hotel (and are essentially the Pinoy equivalents of Rob and I when working back home). Rob noticed them eyeing me during my daily yoga practice. When I asked if they were interested in trying a class they first asked if it was free and when I replied, “Of course,” I was met with an enthusiastic “Yes.” And just like that, I had my first 2 students! My teachers implored me and my fellow classmates to teach anyone we could after leaving so as to keep our skills sharp after the training course. Short of flagging down random people on the road this was the best option I could find!

Jessica and Janie-Lynn called Gizmo “puppet.”🤣

We know that as soon as we leave this bubble we will be thrust into the more densely tourist-populated areas so for now we are enjoying quiet mornings sipping coffee on the beach while watching the neighbors bring in their fishing nets from the sun-kissed sea. Even though we left America at the end of January our vacation together didn’t start until just this last week…and it couldn’t be going better.

These hibiscus are HUGE
I made this my yoga shala for four days and enjoyed many practices with the sounds of the sea
Mangroves on the beach
Guru Beach

All Smiles on Palawan Island

Sunset on Nagtabon Beach

Palawan (pa-Low-an) Island or (our translation) Land of big smiles. 

Final tuk tuk ride to the airport

Lacy: I’m editing this post while laying in a hammock on the beach, drinking coffee and waiting for my normal coffee emoji text from Rob that means he is waking up.  No matter where we are in the world, I nearly always start Rob’s morning with coffee in bed.  The constant sound of waves and kiss of sea breeze on my skin have become my new normal.  Today I look out on the South China Sea as we are on the western side of the island. Palawan divides this and the Sulu Sea on the eastern coast. We have been bouncing back and forth between coasts as the main road that runs south to north and circumvents the jungle mountains gives you great exposure to both areas. Life is good. 

Nagtabon Beach

After three + weeks in Siem Reap, Cambodia we finally decided on where to head next. I was itching for beautiful beaches, palm trees and snorkeling and Rob wasn’t saying no.  Thailand was originally on our list, but after looking into it a little more it seemed more touristy than we want at the moment. Northern Vietnam remains high on our list, but with the recent coronavirus quarantine of a village near the Chinese border we put that on hold until later in the trip…hopefully.  A lady staying at the same hotel as ourselves in Siem Reap mentioned that the Philippines has some of her favorite beaches ever. That was enough for us to do some research and after surmising that it didn’t seem overly touristy we booked one way flights to Palawan island. 

Nagtabon Beach

Before departing Cambodia I was able to celebrate my Yoga Teacher Training with my amazing teachers and fellow classmates. It was such a special experience that I will hold with me forever. I am using my newfound knowledge and skills for my daily self practice on the beaches and in the jungle gardens of Palawan. 

This island had me smiling from the moment we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac as the sun was rising and illuminating a lush tropical paradise before us.  We did very little research before arriving to the Philippines, which is pretty typical of our travel style. I like figuring things out as we go and being surprised. Our first few days here were no different. The only planning we did was determining the best place from which to rent a larger motorcycle. We didn’t even book a hotel for the first night. We arrived at 6am so we figured we would immediately go to a coffee shop and after seeing the vibe in Puerto Princesa, the gateway to the rest of the island with a major airport and harbor, we would decide if we wanted to stay there or hop on the bike and travel further north. In our experience, port towns aren’t always the nicest.  Glad we waited to decide because Puerto Princesa was a complete surprise in how clean and welcoming an area it is. We have been in the Philippines 4 days now and you would be hard pressed to find any littler on the road, sidewalk, waterways or anywhere on this island. This is nothing short of shocking to us because Asia is not typically known for its well maintained trash infrastructure.  That and the more recent introduction of disposable plastic products to these locations usually result in the constant presence of trash.  How could this be?  I asked myself this question and upon a little research learned that as early as in the 70’s there was a big environmental initiative put forth by the government.  A list was published of the cleanest islands in the Philippines and the locals felt a certain prestige to be on it. Palawan island has been known for being one of the cleanest and safest islands in the country for quite some time.  Additionally, they have a reputation as being the most friendly to tourists.  People here are incredibly kind and welcoming, with nearly everyone speaking English with an American accent.  All this combined with well paved roads has made our first few days a breeze and notably one of the easier places we have ever traveled in SE Asia. I am quickly falling in love with the Philippines. 

A food truck we thought was clever in Siem Reap

Our first day here had a few hiccups, but they were completely self-inflicted and the island vibes had already permeated through our Cambodia-toughened skin making us much more laissez faire about losing both my phone and the motorcycle key. Well…at least thinking we had lost both.  From the airport, we took a tricycle ride (this is a motorbike with a sidecar and a roof that is the equivalent of a local taxi) to a coffee shop where I immediately thought I had left my phone in the tricycle taxi.  What I didn’t realize was that I had stuck it in an infrequently used pocket of my backpack that I only realized an hour or so later when I put my pack on to leave the shop.  Rob was surprised at how little I seemed to care about losing my phone. These days everything is backed up to some cloud-like storage so the only thing that would have been lost was the device itself and I could buy another one here at the mall. I wasn’t ready to let a lost phone get me down. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t lost! I’ll let Rob tell a similar story of an infrequently used pocket that thwarted him!  

Tricycle taxi
Nagtabon Beach

From the coffee shop we walked across the street, picked up our new wheels and set off for our freshly booked guest house. Keep in mind it’s still only 8:30 in the morning so we could only drop our bags off. The all night flights were beginning to catch up with us so after lightening our load we went to the closest beach, had breakfast and found 2 lounge chairs in the shade where we relaxed and let the incoming tide lull us into some much needed naps.  The shores here are lined with towering coconut palms, sprawling mangrove and blue sand crabs that we have never seen before here. We are really beginning to love the island at this point as the pace and scenery was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap. 

New wheels!

We opted to stay a second night in Puerto Princesa so that we could ride out to Nagtabon Beach without packing up the bike and have a relaxed day on the sea. It was PERFECT!  The beach was beautiful with just a few people enjoying its waves.  The local beach shack served up great barbecue (rice, veggies and eggs for me. I haven’t had any meat in a month and really not missing it) and played fun Spanish and Pinoy (Filipino) music that complemented the sound of the surf. We stayed from lunch until sunset, fully enjoying having absolutely nowhere to be and nothing to do except make an 8pm dinner reservation at what we heard was the best place in town.  I took a walk down the beach and when I returned to Rob I said, “If I could do a cartwheel now I would!!”   That really sums up how I felt at the moment. Total peace and happiness. And it has lasted throughout the week. 🥰

Kyona and I hit it off at our first island hotel.

I feel like we should mention the coronavirus and it’s impact on travel through Asia. It’s effects were palpable in Siem Reap.  Asian countries rely tremendously on Chinese tourism and when the entire country is not traveling the trickle down effect is huge. There are  tour companies and hotels that cater only to the Chinese tour groups. Some of these  hotels had already permanently closed by the time we left because they couldn’t afford to stay open without guests. Other hotels catering to non-Chinese tourists had dropped their prices significantly just to attract guests and the streets were oddly quiet for high season.  The hotel where I did my training felt it just like everywhere else as they experienced many cancellations from people who all over the world don’t want to travel right now. Filipino locals are telling us the same. This is their high season too as it’s the drier and cooler season, meaning they too would have a mass of Chinese, Korean and international tourists.  Their absence reduced their tourism by nearly 25%. nationwide. That’s a big hit for people who really depend on the tourism economy at this time of year for their livelihood.

Geared up and ready for three flights from Siem Reap
to Palawan.

Rob: Freedom to get off the tourist track, or to just own our schedule, as we see it, means getting a motorcycle. We are traveling this year with trimmed down packs, but still have about 35 pounds of gear between 2 backpacks and 2 yoga mats. We are just able to squeeze it all onto the back-rack of our little Honda XR 125 Enduro motorcycle.  We have a little bamboo added to the stock rack for stability. It’s not a lot of horsepower, but so far so good as it is getting us from beach to beach AOK. 

Passing the day away at Nagtabon Beach

Riding in the Philippines is another chapter in my how-to guide of taking a motorcycle around Asia. A lot is the same as other countries with the local added feature of overly-polite-yielding that constantly happens. If someone is slowing down in front of you, it means you should as well because either a car is backing out into traffic, a bus is hurtling toward an intersection a little too fast or a Tricycle or Jeepney (more on these later) is starting to make some sort of U turn.  Could even be a pregnant dog waddling across the road. All of these things are totally fair, legal and above the yield demarcation line for a motorcycle, so it would be your fault if you hit them or let them hit you! Traffic in the city center is a headache like most Asian cities and the fastest way from A to B may include cutting a few corners, hopping a curb or two and a short trip down a sidewalk.  The presence of concrete roads, so far, has been a huge surprise.  Outside the city, we find ourselves on very well built roads and winding along mountain roads in between beach towns. We are totally in our happy place. Like the balance of Asia we keep a sharp eye out for monkeys, children and goats, but dogs are really to be watched out for here as their favorite place to sleep, sniff and play is the middle of any road. 

Beautiful Nagtabon Beach

Fully loaded we have a top speed of 80 kph , but the engine seems happier going 70-75 kph.  It struggles up some hills and I keep reaching for 1 more gear or a few more hp over the 12 it comes with, but it’s relatively new and in good condition thanks to the Father & Sons team at Palawan Peter’s rental shop.  <— Non paid endorsement. 

Relaxing on Emerald Beach just a couple hours after arriving on Palawan island.

Puerto Princesa is mostly supposed to be a gateway town, but we enjoyed 2 days and nights there doing a little shopping, testing out some restaurants and getting our bearings of the town and local beaches.  I think I’ll be eating a lot of seafood and Piggies in the Philippines. One dish stood out that was a fruit / tuna poke’ bowl and had the craziest, tastiest seaweed in it. 

This dish is tuna, mango, papaya and the most delicious seaweed that pops in your mouth…all smothered in a Palawan dressing. So different and delicious!

Day one in town I lost the motorbike key. Maybe it was the least aggregious thing I could have done because the guys back at the shop took it in stride and were very helpful to get me a spare. As it turns out, my shorts have a little secret pocket that was a little more secret than it needed to be and I “found” the key exactly where I put it, albeit 2 days later. Picture Lacy and Gizzie eye rolling me.  😬

Beachside goodies

Settling into Siem Reap

 

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Rob: This begins our second month-long visit to Cambodia in the last 2 years. It remains a swirling blend of warm smiles, spicy food, cheap cold beer, very dusty dirt roads, loud noises of all kinds at all hours, trash clogged canals, beautiful jungle flora, sunshine, hazy sunsets, Buddhist traditions, friendly people and fellow travelers who can empathize with this country’s past and patiently participate in the growth and resurgence of its future. You do need to be braced for impact when you land here, but know not to be deterred from the experiences and culture that awaits after you acclimate.

Excited on the plane ride to Shanghai

Settling into the hotel our first morning. The pool is a nice option during the hot days here in Siem Reap

On our first day I was able to indulge in my favorite Cambodian delicacy. It’s only a slightly special dish here because of its common everyday ingredients, but to me it is a craving I can’t get in other places of the world. Fish Amok!! It is freshwater fish (and/or freshwater eel sometimes) poached in a rich but light coconut lemongrass curry broth with vegetables, chilis and served in a banana leaf bowl with rice. I did a happy dance in my chair when it arrived and was not disappointed. It was true to my favorite variation of the dish. Amok changes a little from area to area in the country, but the basics are always the same. A few cold Angkor beers washed it down. This one hit the spot. I was almost too full afterwards to enjoy an $8 hour long massage. Almost. 🙂 Lacy had a very tasty and very spicy sauté of Morning Glory Shoots in a garlicky broth with a handful of red chilis. Much, much hotter than my Amok. She had her first “tears of spice and joy” meal and I loved watching her sweat, smile and love every steaming and blistering bite.

Amok and spicy morning glories. Yum!

Just a few 🌶🌶 😉

Lacy: Fortunately the beginning of our travels passed quickly as we each spread out in our own row and slept during most our 14 hour flight from LA to Shanghai. With the news of coronoavirus and the possible halting of flights between the US and China we are thankful that we were even able to get on our flight. The first leg was followed by a miserable layover in a freezing Shanghai airport. We were both shivering for the majority of the 12 hour interlude and couldn’t wait to board our second plane to Siem Reap. I slept hard, like a corpse, for the five hour flight. Exiting the plane into the warm tropical air was a blessing!!

Giz enjoys the pool 

It’s been a week since we left Taos, New Mexico and made a small road trip of traveling westward to California to ultimately travel East. Having each never seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona we angled our way there first followed by a motorcycle auction in Las Vegas. Nope, no purchases. These bikes were just for the pleasure of our eyes as the price tags were a little steep for our pockets. We both still hold a fondness for Taos in our hearts, a place unlike any other that we have visited here or abroad. Connecting to its high desert and high alpine vistas, Native American culture, hippie vibe and intensely local community we have no doubt we will return. But as we look back we also look forward. Not really sure where the next three months will ultimately take us, we revel in the unknown! One of the best lessons of our last three years of travel and discovery is that we love living in the gray space. Having just a vague idea of where we may travel to after completing my three week yoga course in Siem Reap, Cambodia gives us the the great gift of feeling that the world is completely open to us. It’s true, we both feel a deep connection to Asia, but we certainly aren’t limiting ourselves to just this part of the world….it’s just that we always find it hard to leave.

We were quickly reminded that hammocks are a huge part of life here in Cambodia.  You see people resting during the heat of the day in a hammock EVERYWHERE.  Tuk tuks are no exception.  The driver for the hotel is enjoying a siesta in this photo.

Our arrival to Cambodia began with a midnight tuk tuk ride to our hotel where we were welcomed with intoxicating smell of night blooming jasmine and the sound chirping geckos. I was pleasantly reminded of my love for starlings when they emerged in flocks darting above the pool at sunset the following evening. The flower and fauna in this part of the world are simply wonderful!

It felt great to be back on a motorbike together riding around in Asia 

And so are the affordable pedicures, manicures and massages! A week into our travels I am 4 massages and a pedicure in for less than $45. Yes, there will be more. I get a 2 1/2 hour lunch break in my 6:30am – 8:30pm daily schedule of yoga training during which I have, more than once, indulged in a bit of pampering. It also helps that I have become friendly with the owner of the massage place across the street that is open until midnight. Last time I visited he gave me a huge bunch of bananas to take with me. The fruit here is amazing and I am eating so much of it as it is included with all three of the daily meals that are provided with the training. Dragonfruit, papaya, mango, pineapple and other fruits I have never even seen that are all so ripe and sweet. I’m eating 200% more fruit on a daily basis than I normally do, but also no meat as the meals served during the course are vegan. Still eating dairy every once in a while as ice cream on a hot day is sooooo refreshing. Rob is trying out enough of the local barbecued meats and beers for the both of us! I get to live vicariously through him as he details how juicy his pork belly skewers are or how cold and refreshing the beer is that he washed it down with. Who could blame him?! With .50 cent beers endlessly advertised it’s hard to pass up! And yet he still makes it to the gym. Go Rob! During this first week of training we managed to quickly sneak out for 2 meals together and spend a little time together. Otherwise, I bring him a coffee in bed (just like being at home…wherever that is these days) as he is waking up and I am off to my second class of the day at 9am. We occasionally see each other during the day in between my classes and his outings and always have a little time to catch up with one another before I fall asleep nice and early to prepare for another day.

We both think these mobile mini-bars are a total crack up. With each blaring its own music, decked out in lights and setting stools out in front they attract the attention of passersby.

The course itself has been exactly what I was looking for in terms of learning more about the physical and theoretical aspects of yoga. There are seven other students in my class of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the world. It’s a very nice group and I’m so appreciative to share this experience with them.  I’m certainly feeling physically stronger each day as we engage in the physical practice of yoga, or asanas, for anywhere from 3.5 -6 hours per day.

Everyone from class, students and teachers, enjoyed a delicious Indian meal together Sunday night to conclude our free day 

It was very nice to have Sunday off and be able to sleep in until 10 and then spend the day with Rob. Feeling like a traveler again, we rented a motorcycle and took off to the countryside where Rob showed me some of the sites he has been exploring on his own. We visited the floating villages of Tonle Sap lake and the ancient temple of Phnom Krom. To cool off from the near 100 degree weather we returned to a series of huts overlooking a lotus pond that Rob had previously visited. For .50 cents each we were able to take delightful nap in a hammock and enjoy the view. This is probably my favorite place so far for this visit to Siem Reap.

Taking a nap in a hammock overlooking a lotus pond is a fabulous way to relax on your day off.

I am probably 30 seconds from snoozing in this photo

Asia 2020 is nearly here!

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Rio Grande Gorge

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Winter beauty in Taos, New Mexico

mVLENX%kS+6VJSVN+HQ7Bg_thumb_1189bWhew…I haven’t written in a long time.  We left off in Malaysia after a much needed relaxing vacation once we finished touring the North Indian Himalayas on a Royal Enfield and arrived back to the US on July 4th (a little strange, right?!)  It’s been a wild ride ever since.  Within six months we took a Northwest road trip visiting Yellowstone and Glacier Parks, moved to Taos, New Mexico and opened a bed and breakfast.   All that and we still managed to fit in a couple weeks to return to the Sierras in Northern California where we revisited our steps from the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017.   Visiting the place where I nearly died nearly three years ago was an exercise in immense gratitude.  To think of everything we have accomplished, places we have traveled, personal growth we have made, friendships forged and future goals set in that time was humbling.  It has been a fantastic journey and we wouldn’t change a thing…OK, maybe a few things.  But those are the parts we leave off the blog 🙂

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The Great Giz loves a snowshoe adventure

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Snowshoe fun!

After six months in Taos we fell even more in love with this area.  High desert landscape at 7,000 ft. so close to the High Alpine environment of Taos Ski Valley at 9,500 ft.  The laid back hippie vibe of this town is right up our alley.  After going through a successful opening of a local Bed and Breakfast we learned that not only do we enjoy hosting guests, cooking for them and creating personal connections, we are actually pretty good at it too!  Much of this experience was information gathering for opening our own place down the road and we learned a tremendous amount.  Preparing breakfast and elaborate four course dinners for guests is the first time that Rob has used his prestigious Ritz Paris Escoffier culinary degree for anyone other than friends and family.  The compliments and reviews we have received on his food and our hospitality have been overwhelming and reinforced that this is the path for us going forward.  We love working together.

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Presenting Chef Rob

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I have to take a moment to brag a little on Rob and show some of his delicious food!

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Scallop & lobster macaroon

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Poached artichokes in a bernaise sauce

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Rob’s signature breakfast – Huevos Rancheros with his homemade red sauce that I simply cannot get enough of!

One of the absolute best parts of being in one location for the last 6 months was that I allowed myself to indulge in a long time desire of growing my yoga practice.  Continuing on this trend, we are beginning our travels in our beloved Asia this year back in Cambodia where I have enrolled in a three week yoga teacher training course.  I specifically wanted to return to Siem Reap to study with the same teacher Rob and I had the honor of learning with in 2018.  While I am immersing myself in yoga Rob gets to eat his way through the country on a motorcycle, explore and share all his wonderful finds with me!  Win-win!

In an effort to branch out a little more this year we opened an Instagram account too!  Our flight is creeping up fast and the 29th will be here before you know it.

Thanks for following along and being part of our travel community!

Much love – Rob and Lacy

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California living

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The return to Sierras filled me with gratitude and joy.  I am still brought to tears by the overwhelming beauty of this area.  Glad to be back here alive and unscathed.

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Preparing for Cambodia

 

Stumbling into a second honeymoon on the Malaysian island of Langkawi

Yep, it’s this beautiful

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALacy: When we left the States at the end of April we knew we were going to Indonesia for two weeks before traveling to India, and that was about as far as we planned. We intentionally had no ticket out of India in an effort to be unrestricted when exploring the Himalaya region. We also didn’t know if we would want to go home or travel further at that point. Having learned that we prefer to make as few concrete plans as possible when traveling this leaves us open to meet people or discover things along the journey that give us ideas on how to proceed. By the time we reached Kaza we knew we were ready to leave India and began the discussion of ‘What now?’oo

A long journey to Langkawi, but feeling good upon arrival

Having flown through the Kuala Lumpur airport nearly half a dozen times – and sleeping in it overnight probably just as many times – we know it’s a major international hub. Our sixth and final month backpacking through Asia last year was spent in Malaysia and we really enjoyed it. The food is spicy and deep on flavor. The beaches have clear water and are lined with palm trees. It’s very easy to get around the country and you can travel on the spectrum of budgets. Two tickets in and out of Malaysia were just as much as a direct flight home from India so that sealed the deal. We booked corresponding flights to  take the hour flight from KL to the island of Langkawi on the west side of Mainland Malaysia. Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands. Surrounded by turquoise sea, the interior of the main island is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills.

The infinity pool and surrounding view at our first hotel made for great relaxation after a long journey.

Arriving at 7:30am after three flights and 24 hours of travel from India we were a little exhausted, but perked up when seeing how gorgeous the island is. Flying over the Andaman Sea and seeing the 104 islands dotting the water that make up the UNESCO Geopark put a massive smile on my face.  Only four of theses islands are inhabited with a total population of less than 10,000. Langkawi is the largest and most popular, but you can take boat trips and other excursions to view the entire area.  Fun fact: I read that even though there are 104 islands in the Geopark, it was believed that 99 is a more memorable number so that is how it is marketed, as a 99 island Geopark.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0733.JPG

Does this even need a caption??!!

We were beyond relieved, that even though we arrived at the hotel at the incredible early hour of 8am, we were able to check in and begin the final chapter of our Asian travels this summer.  Without having set out to, we created an a “travel sandwich” – a beach vacation on either side (Indonesia and Langkawi) around the Himalayan center. The cherry on the cake is that we were able to upgrade our reserved room to a sea view room for only $20 extra a night. Having already booked the room at a steal of a deal , this put our gorgeous room on the Andaman Sea with a killer infinity pool and lovely grounds at $75/night total. I was pretty pleased with myself. I spent a lot of time at this pool over the next three days soaking in the view, watching the helicopters give aerial tours, boats shuttle smiling tourists on parasail and snorkeling adventures, sunrises and many a tourist photo shoot. I have a feeling there are a lot of photos of this place on Instagram.

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Tanjung Rhu beach sunsets

We are both feeling very relaxed and treating Langkawi as a vacation. Renting our fourth bike of the summer, in our third country, we are able to explore the island easily. It’s not very large and you can cross it, tip to tip, in 40 minutes. And that’s exactly what we did after two nights in our first hotel, renting a seaside bungalow on Tanjung Ru beach. The surf is steps from our front door so we wake up and fall asleep to the sound of the tide gently rolling in and out. It’s a quiet beach, a short walk down the sand from the Four Seasons, and sunsets are a main attraction.

Snapped from one of our favorite evening spots on the beach where Guna served up tasty Singapore Slings.

Giz was swept in the water during this photo which resulted n a long overdue bath for the little guy.

Sunset kayaking

In the opposite direction, 100 meters of fine white sand away, is a local restaurant serving up great cocktails. Guna, the manager who we have become friendly with, makes a top notch Singapore Sling. We came to learn that the Langkawi islands comprise the world’s only duty free Geopark. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of why, but it’s insanely cheap to drink here and we aren’t asking too many questions. Sipping slings at dusk we have a wildlife show at our fingertips. First to arrive are always the starlings followed by the biggest sand crabs we have ever seen. They crawl out of holes for dinner and go nuts running sideways. We had a good chuckle when we saw a couple get into fights or walk one over the other on their search for food.  And then there are the bats who swoop in front of us on their similar quest for dinner.  Laying in the lounge chairs between our front door and the beach we have witnessed a mama bird feeding her baby, many lizards, lots of tiny birds, hummingbirds and swarms of dragonflies in the early mornings.

We simply fell in love with the sunsets and how quiet the Tanjung Rhu beach is.  We spent most of our week in this area.  Three nights in a beach bungalow and our last two in a beautiful five star hotel.  Both provided the same gorgeous sunset view.

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Taking the three minute walk from our beachside bungalow to Guna’s Singapore Slings and the evening show of starlings, sand crabs and bats.

Visits to the night markets have filled us with spicy Malaysian delicacies. A trip to the Langkawi Wildlife Park allowed us to see birds that were completely new to us. White peacocks giving us the full display of their spread feathers, cassowary (3rd largest bird in the world) and the crested crane to name a few. They also had a great overall animal selection with monkeys, fennec fox and Brahma chicken which is the largest chicken known and is the size of a medium dog. The raccoons in cages was a little weird for me because I have always viewed them as more of a pest as they get into the garbage and roam around the campsite at home.  I even learned that Rob is scared of ostrich!

Crested Crane – National bird of Uganda

I was able to put birdseed in my hands and have hundreds of these gorgeous creatures swarm me.  One of my favorite parts of the entire Wildlife Park.

Getting an aerial view of this tropical jungle island on the Skycab and Skybridge allowed us to see the magnificently lush and protected area on the island.  The top station of the cable car brings you approximately 2,300 above sea level with wide view of the island, including the Seven Wells waterfall.

On the Skybridge

Monkeys everywhere on the island – the road, Skybridge, beach, jumping in trees, waterfalls…Awesome!

Jungle mountains

Love locks on the top of the Skybridge

It was a hazy day, but we still had nice views out the Skycab…though it didn’t make for great photos

Rob: After coming down from the cable car and suspension bridge set way up in the Langkawi jungle, we set out for the afternoon in a rented Renault Twizy. It is a 1 by 1 (front and behind) seater electric car.  These are a few years old but just now licensed to drive on the road as a vehicle in Malaysia. Lamborghini style doors but no glass in the windows and a typical equator afternoon rain shower made for a humid but eco friendly drive out to a waterfall and a tour of some of the resort areas on the Northwest point of the island.  Wish we had these in urban areas in the US. Maybe someday.

Does it look like I have been wearing the same clothes for nearly 3 months?!  Well, yes, I have.  It’s one of the things I love about backpacking – keeping it super simple, but I’m also looking forward to putting all the clothes that I have been hand washing in the sink for months into a proper washing machine!

Rob was LOVING all the different vehicles we were able to use on the island including this eco ride Twizy and the jet ski.

While on Langkawi we scheduled ourselves for a few touristy outings.  Usually we don’t travel this way and prefer a cheap rented motorbike with pretend suspension, lights and brakes to travel back roads visiting local night markets for risky, but amazing food. We made an expensive exception here and it turned out to be one of the best $150 I’ve ever spent in my life. Seriously.  At 10am we set out on a brand new neon green 900cc powered Seedoo. Our advertised 8 Islands, 4-hour ride tour took us on a free wheeling, high speed blast around 2/3 of the 104 island protected Geopark that make up the isles of Langkawi for about 6 hours in total. We traveled with one guide boat and three other couples, all on big Seedoos set up for ocean running. Although we started out at half throttle, it didn’t take long for our guides to point ahead and let a few of us who could handle the wet bikes fly ahead as quick as the sea and swells would let us.  We stopped at a few sandy beaches to swim, a few photo worthy spots for pics and hiked inland to a freshwater lake for a fun little solar paddle boat ride. Dayang Bunting Lake is freshwater lake perched on the very edge of the ocean.  We were smart enough to smuggle a few cold, err, cool beers along for that portion of our day.  Mainly, we toured and zig-zagged our way through so many of the  small picturesque islands that Northern Malaysia and Southern Thailand are famous for. It was stunning to see the white, gray and brown marble rock formations that create the islands with chia-pet like jungle foliage covering their tops and vines cascading down their sides. Virtually every one of them a postcard in their own collage of other postcards.  Maybe a hundred big Sea Eagles literally swarmed around us at one point where our guides dropped fistfuls of chicken skin in the water to feed them.

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We had so much fun jet skiing around the Geopark.  One of my favorite moments of the entire week is floating on my back in the turquoise sea on the secluded beaches and watching the sea eagles fly overhead.  You can see them all over the island and it’s one of the best parts about traveling to this particular area in Malaysia.

In between several of the islands and beautiful settings, we had fantastic wind breaks which calmed the waves and let those of us who dared reach top speed.  I really don’t know how many knots we were running, but we were fully flat out many times with the guides egging us on at every opportunity.  We also tried to make speed over some medium and small swells that threw us all over the bike and each other. Lacy had two hands Kung Fu gripped on the horse strap that ran across the seat at all times. When I realized she was hanging on pretty well, we took a few larger swells that were not intended for anywhere near the throttle level we attempted. We caught some pretty big air on one after another after another and had a number of high intensity moments where we and the Seedoo were barely hanging on to gravity and the slight curvature of the earth. I’ve never ever heard Lacy howl with delight, thrill and laughter so loud and so hard as when we were full throttle ripping across the tops of the wave swells.

We had so much fun and saw the islands from a flying fish or dolphin’s perspective that really, really makes us want to go back and tour Malaysia & Thailand from the deck of a boat.  A bit more calmly next time, of course.

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Don’t let this hazy sky fool you.  We spent the summer on the equator last year and to say it is intense is a grave understatement. Having the sun blocked by the clouds is a blessing when you want to enjoy the day outside.  Another reason why traveling off season is a great idea.  I wore an SPF shirt on top and SPF wrap around my legs to protect against the sun, but the wind blew my sleeves up and I could feel a little sunburn on my wrists the next day.  All in all though, I beat the sun pretty successfully.

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Swimming and enjoying one of the many islands we jet skied to.

Lacy: Taking advantage of last minute low season deals again we booked an absolutely stunning five star hotel on a secluded peninsula on the edge of Tanjung Rhu beach. We had taken a liking to this quiet beach with a view of the uniquely shaped islands. The hotel is located on 2.5 kilometers of beach with multiple pools, bar and restaurant areas overlooking it. Our day of jet skiing was topped off watching the best sunset of our trip at the pool overlooking the sea. Much to our surprise, because of the duty free status on the island, the drinks are still insanely affordable at a five star hotel. While watching hornbills play in the palm trees and $1 beers in hand we cheersed ourselves to another great day. It was hard to pry ourselves out of the comfort of the hotel grounds. The room alone, with the palm trees and doves outside our balcony, is almost twice as large as our beloved winter bungalow that we have enjoyed two years in a row. We spent most of our time on the long white sand beach, dipping in the pool and looking out on the islands. The food was excellent. The breakfast buffet had a wide variety of options made even better with complimentary champagne and caviar. Our last dinner there, and in Asia altogether, included Hokkaido scallops, perfectly cooked halibut and soba noodles.

Our final sunset

Giz finally got a bath after his travels this summer and is looking as clean as these sheets.

Halfway through our trip we began to refer to Langkawi as a second honeymoon. It’s been so beautiful, easy to get around and full of spectacular sights around every bend. The island has a natural romance to it. This week is by far one of the more luxurious things we have treated ourselves to in years, but overall still very affordable. Traveling at low season, our average price per night, even with the five star hotel, is only $83. Booze and food are cheap. If you shop around you can get a good deal on excursions. Never book one through your hotel if your budget conscious. The scooter was $7/day, but you could just as easily use a very affordable taxi or Grab (similar to Uber).

The breakfast buffet at Tanjung Rhu resort was fantastic.  Complimentary champagne and caviar included.  We were able to watch lizards run around and sunbathe as giant jungle bees pollenated the morning glory vines from this lovely table overlooking the beach.

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Tanjung Rhu beach with views of these quirky shaped islands.

Giz enjoyed drinks in some lovely places on the island.

Datai Bay

After two and a half months abroad, we landed back in New York last night, July 4th.  Welcomed by my pops and a bonfire, at the family’s Catskill mountain bungalows, Rob and I shared a few first hand accounts of our travels.  We are looking forward to our cross country road trip over the next few weeks, exploring new places within our own country and visiting friends and family along the way.  As always, thanks for following along with us.  Be back soon!

Namaste, India…Saying Goodbye after 47 Days

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We did it! 2,000 Kms through India to reach spectacular Himalayan views. Knowing we had completed another adventure, we were feeling damn good after our ten hour ride to Chandigarh.  We relived the challenges and accomplishments of our journey over Kingfisher and tandoori wings before crashing hard for the night.

Lacy: We left Manali expecting to ride half the distance to Chandigarh that morning and complete the remainder the following morning. We made the decision to start our ride at 5am so we could avoid as many near fatal incidents on the road as possible with the mind blowingly insane traffic here as well as lessen the impact of dust and diesel in our faces. We were incredibly impressed with ourselves when we pulled out of the hotel at 5am on the dot! I suppose that when given the proper motivation we can accomplish anything!! Early mornings are not normally our thing. There was no question we made the right choice as we flew out of town as one of the only vehicles on the road and had long stretches of being in fifth gear, when the condition of the road allowed. Stopping for a tea and omelette at 7:30 it was hard to comprehend how much ground we had easily covered already. I have never been more appreciative of American roads, infrastructure and rules of the road than after riding through India for 30+ days. Rob’s explanation of the roads will help you understand why.

Rob: Our last day on the bike was a long one.  At 5am a totally deserted road was awesome. We even made it through the dust bowl and tunnel from Hell again without incident. We decided that things were going so well that we might ride all the way to Chandigarh in this single day. Then it got hot, slow, crazy, dangerous, bumpy and dirty. Since we were back on a main 2 lane road, we had to adjust to a few new issues. Mainly, busses passing trucks on blind corners right into us. I lost count of how many double head on collisions we’ve avoided in total but 1/2 from the whole trip happened today. Remember that here, it’s the smaller vehicles responsibility to get out of the way should 2 trucks, busses, bulldozers or farm machinery decide its a good idea to pass one another, even it it takes up the road from one shoulder to the other. At one point I stared face first into twin busses coming straight at me, the outside bus having one of its double rear wheels hanging over the edge of my side of the road into thin air and a sheer drop off. The rough road and potholes (that resembled sun cups in the snow because they were just constant) were taking their toll on our butts and backs. It took over 10 hours with just a few quick rest stops for Chai and petrol to go 108 miles. This isn’t a very high average but it was actually quick for us today factoring in road and traffic conditions. My Father-in-Law is an official Iron Butt Rider who will cover 1000 miles in a 24 hour period. Back a few years, I covered 108 miles with my best friend Chris in a certain red Corvette convertible more times than we should talk about in a single hour. 108 miles for Lacy and I on this day over 10 grueling hours sucked the life force right out of us.

We had made it. No flat tires. No broken teeth. My riding bandana I use for dust/sun and the shirt I road most of the trip in are permanently tie-dye stained from oil and 10 kinds of dirt. I bought a great pair of Royal Enfield riding gloves that served me very well on this trip and are now a prized possession. We were both exhausted and battle worn by the time we handed back the keys to Sunam at Royal India Bikes. But, I was smiling because it truly was a ride of a lifetime for us.

Giz loves a 7 cent chai (tea) while riding the train

Lacy: After staying in a lot of crappy hotels along our journey so far (the hotels in Pooh and Tabo being the major exceptions) we decided it was time for an upgrade to properly celebrate surviving our Royal Enfield trek through the Himalayas. We pulled up to Maya Hotel in Chandigarh which we had scouted out earlier in the day as we took a break from the bike. I love how it’s common to look at a room before you reserve it. I double checked that before we spent $60, 3 times what we had been spending for the past month and a half, that it was indeed worth it.  It checked all the boxes and we took it! The bed was so comfortable, there were a few English channels on tv and it was very clean! We were feeling like a million bucks after a ten hour day of riding. A couple showers later we were down the block at a local pub toasting ourselves over a pitcher of Kingfisher beer and honestly the best wings we have ever had. Tandoori wings. Succulent, spicy and so good we returned the following night.

Having a full day to kill in Chandigarh before returning to Delhi I came to what seemed to be the most reasonable conclusion and pampered myself. I spent four delightful hours at the salon having my hair cut, a moisturizing treatment applied to combat the damage from the sun and arid conditions in the mountains and a spa manicure and pedicure complete with massages. It was divine and I was beginning to really feel that we were changing modes from ‘adventure’ to ‘vacation.’ We had discussed this the night before, actually, deciding that we should treat the remaining time in India as more of a vacation. I was off to a good start.

The next day, hopping on an early morning train (and later questioning why the heck we booked a train at this time..especially considering how comfortable our bed was and the delicious buffet breakfast included with the room that we missed!) We watched the remaining blue sky in Chandigarh slip away as it was replaced by the thick gray smog of Delhi. While chugging along I found a smoking deal on a far nicer hotel than we stayed in the first time around when we visited Delhi. With photos of a beautiful pool and an incredibly comfortable bed I immediately booked it. It only two seconds – without any exaggeration -of stepping out of the train at the Delhi station before Rob was being poked and prodded by people for reasons we couldn’t understand. Number one rule when traveling anywhere – don’t let anyone get too close to you or start touching you. That’s how you ‘lose’ things. I just started laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of how immediately wild the environment was as we stepped off the train. A hot tuk tuk ride later we arrived at our lovely hotel, a respite from the craziness, and it indeed lived up to our expectations.

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I’m mid-laugh in this photo.  Stepping out of the train, the insanity that surrounds Delhi slapped us right in the face and I just had to laugh at it all.

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Reentering the swarm of green and yellow Tuk Tuk bees.

We used our remaining three and half days in Delhi to indulge in some rest and relaxation. Playing cards and drinking beer in between cooling off in the pool from the 100 degree weather in Delhi. Rob learned a lot about cricket as he watched the World Cup games. I get a kick out of watching him enjoy the local sports when we travel. We did a little shopping, went to the National Gallery of Modern Art and did our best to try to avoid some of the hassles of Delhi. We were only somewhat successful as it’s damn near impossible not to have an encounter where someone is trying to take more money from you than you agreed upon. Unless of course you don’t leave the hotel grounds, which while beautiful, would have cost us an arm and a leg to eat there everyday. We treated ourselves to one meal at the hotel and went out for every other. There was A LOT of really tasty tandoori chicken ordered.  Come to think of it, we had tandoori chicken and beer (a necessary pairing) six days in a row – right up to our last meal.

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We spent a lot of time at the hotel pool insulating ourselves from the city outside and cooling off from the 100 degree weather.

We both agreed that traveling India was harder and more challenging than hiking 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017.

Having had some really great moments, those we absolutely loved, we can’t say that we fell in love with India. Something that we were surprised by was how many different varieties of birds we encountered during our Himalayan ride. Everything from massive Griffon vultures the size of a big turkey to birds with tails two feet long. Our heads would spin and we would let out a gasp as they flew over our heads. This was really special for us because we loved being in an area where there was so much nature at our fingertips. Being surrounded by the Tibetan Buddhist temples and culture as we traveled further north was something else we cherished. Since our time in Nepal we have an affinity for this religion and customs even though we don’t understand most of it. Spending time with Tanzin we learned even more as he took us to his family temple and explained his family’s history to us. Wandering through the villages with the temples, Mani stones and prayer wheels was a favorite pastime. While neither of us have any desire to return to Delhi that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t return to India sometime in the future. India only gained its independence from the British in 1947 and is still a relatively young country. People here refer to that often and you can often feel that there is still a big growth stage going on as you see the division of its population related to language (English is the common language as people from different parts of the country often can’t communicate with one another through another common national language), religion, caste, dietary preferences and politics. There are heartbreaking levels of poverty here that really played with our emotions. Little kids and women with nursing babies approaching us in the cities with open hands asking for money. Shanty town and slums one after the other visible along the rail lines built in piles and piles of trash. Young children selling wares on the street as opposed to being in school. You never want to desensitize yourself to people, like you and me, looking for food, shelter and love in life. It’s difficult to wrap your mind and heart around how much of India’s population is living in these conditions.

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Thank you National Gallery of Modern Art for pointing out the obvious 😉

It’s fitting that after another week of travel in Malaysia we land in America on July 4th because spending time in India has given me a greater appreciation and love for my own country.  That’s one of the many rewards of stepping outside of your comfort zone and diving into another culture. Perspective. I realized that a long time ago and each time I visit a new place I am blessed with first hand insights that somehow enrich my life.  Upon returning to the States we will embark upon a 3-4 week cross country road trip and explore our own backyard as we relocate from upstate New York to New Mexico. I have never felt more grateful for our the roads and, being obeyed more times than not, the related rules.  Seriously.  I am also thankful to have been raised as a woman in America. That’s not to say that we don’t still have major hurdles to overcome in the US, but I have never felt marginalized because of  and defined by my gender as distinctly as I did from the first day in India. Access to clean air. I took this for granted before visiting Delhi and learning what it feels like to be wrapped in such suffocating smog. For these and other reasons I’m returning home with greater appreciation for my home country.

We definitely earned some more R&R so on our way home so when making plans to return to the US this past week we booked ourselves a week on the tropical island of Langkawi. We didn’t make it to this particular island when traveling Malaysia last year. We never stopped speaking Bahasa (national language in Indonesia) to one another while traveling India so its only fitting we return to a country where that makes a difference. Bahasa Malay is very similar to that of Indonesia. Plus, we love the food there! I have been joking that I have put on the Indian Five. Something I made up to account for the bulge in my belly after indulging in fresh breads, curries and paneer for the past month and a half in India. Seems like a good idea to top it off with some Malaysian delicacies before heading home!

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Sitting in the airport before boarding the plane to Malaysia I landed yet another incredible hotel deal.  This may be my best yet.  Our room overlooks this gorgeous infinity pool and Andaman Sea.  We quickly learned that alcohol is really cheap on this island because it’s all duty free.  Cheap drinks, beautiful hotel with jaw dropping view, another great breakfast buffet, scooter for the week and the freedom to explore a new place. We are happy!

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Pinn Valley to Manali

Dhankar Gompa 

Rob shows his enthusiasm for the windy ascent as we stop for the above photo oP

Rob: Waking up from some of the hardest beds we’ve experienced here, but actually good coffee for a change, we set out to ride back down the river valley and up to the Monastery at Dharkar. The ride up the road is a Motorcyclist’s Dream. Very tight corners all in full acceleration and climbing mode. We both really appreciated the big push we received from all of the engine’s torque to throttle up the road as quickly as we did. It was a really fun ride on mostly well paved road. The view approaching the Monastery was another stunning setting. Once again, Buddha always has the best view in this part of the world.

A wide shot to show where the monastery resides in these Himalayan mountains.

 

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Great view for lunch…

After lunch we made the very windy canyon-run back to Tabo as we retraced several steps reversing course to get to the remainder of our unfinished loop.

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It was difficult to leave

In our little sitting area and bay windows of our Tabo hotel room we made ourselves a mini Himalayan Honeymoon with candles, a 2 course room service dinner complete with a fresh bottle of local apple based Arak.

The ride to Tabo was just as beautiful as I remembered it 💜

Between Tabo and Pooh we started riding mid-morning amidst a dark and cloudy sky. The low clouds were hiding the higher snow covered Himalayas which reminded Lacy of hiking the Annapurna Circuit last year and our peekaboo relationship with the high mountains then. The rain began, but stayed light. The temperature dropped quickly as we climbed once again toward Nako along the same route we had run before. Our target along the way was a point 2/3 of the way to Pooh where an “English Wine & Beer” shop was strategically placed. While we enjoyed a cold Godfather Strong Beer, we started a game of cards. After a bit, another patron advised us that we were not allowed to play cards here per the owners request. He was a young Indian guy who had a big friendly smile on his face in between rosy chubby cheeks. Just the kind of outgoing personality who might be playing a joke so I also smiled big and asked him if he was bullshitting me? He smiled back one more time, but said sincerely that we were in a very conservative tribal area and that cards were associated with gambling so really not allowed. I quickly made the connection with gambling and apologized to all not wanting to be disrespectful to the tavern owner and thanked him for his help. This is the first time we have come across this type of request so we will try to be more conscious where we play our long running Rummy games going forward.

Truth!

We were having to grease the chain all the time due to the dirt and water (below) we were riding through.

In Pooh we stayed at Tanzin’s welcoming Om Hotel again and were invited to his family’s home for dinner that evening. His family lineage traces back 500+ years in written history and likely much longer in unwritten history to the area. Every generation of his family has a fully committed member to the Tibetan Buddhism faith, becoming a monk, and his family Temple is the center for Buddhists in the region. They have hosted visits from the Dalai Lama and have a tradition of having foreigner travelers in their home. Tanzin is following in the footsteps of his Father, Uncles and ancestors before them continuing this tradition of service and hospitality. The warmth and kindness we felt with him and his family has touched our hearts and souls forever. Thank you for so much, my Friend.

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A great new friend, Tanzin 

After a great night in Pooh we decided to stay inside the old village area of Kalpa. It was one of Lacy’s favorite visits on our way up the Spiti Valley. The wood buildings in the Temple area are stunning and so beautifully crafted. She wanted one last chance to soak in the great spirit of this little mountain hamlet.

During our first visit to Kalpa we stayed on the road above the village.  This time we stayed in the village and enjoyed this stunning view from the hotels back balcony…

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…where Giz enjoyed a cold one

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We spent the afternoon walking through and admiring the village.

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Departing Pooh towards Kalpa we left early to head through a very dangerous part of the road where we previously had a difficult time. It sure lived up to its reputation and continued to challenge every inch of my strength to keep us on two wheels. In one area of landslide clearing construction, we were lucky to have an ambulance be allowed as the first vehicle out of a dynamite blast area with several motorcycles tucked right in behind it including the Royal Beast and us.

After a nice night in Kalpa, we headed out early again due to the long route planned for the day. We made it all the way to Shoja that night. Losing altitude meant that the temp was coming up quickly to become quite hot and hazy in the middle of the day. By the afternoon, we began to climb out and through a different set of mountain roads than we had been in before as we cut west and north from our earlier path.

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Kalpa is one of my favorite villages I have ever visited, anywhere.

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Bike parking on the front porch of the hotel in Kalpa 

The landscape changed as we approached Shoja and became lush and green.

I made myself comfortable on the side of the road overlooking the river.  I figured we would be there for a hot couple of hours while the blasting occurred.  We were so lucky to sneak behind the ambulance and escape.

On these skinny mountain roads there is always the potential for danger, but also for drama. We came upon two 4x4s nosed together but slightly askew in the middle of the road. Either could back up just 3-4 meters or so to a wider part of the road and let one-another pass by. With a rising rock cliff face to our right and a sheer drop to thick jungle to our left we stopped behind them. There was no where for us or others who came upon them on either side to go. The two drivers were locked in a pissing contest with neither tiny ego giving in to help the situation. With cars lining up, the 4x4s drivers and passengers just got out of their trucks for a smoke and ignored each other as well as all the people they were blocking. This wasn’t the first nor would it be the last silly display we have had a front seat to watch in frustration. Weren’t the first few things we all learned in kindergarten about how to share, cooperate, be polite and have understanding? Two of the important Tibetan Buddhists Deities we have learned to respect and admire here are Wisdom and Compassion. The drivers here could spend some meditation time on these virtues. One driver finally gave into the pressure of the crowd and gave way for everyone to pass. Soon after, we were finally climbing higher again over the course of several hours into another set of foothills only to wind back down more single track roads to a lush valley below. This had to be one of our biggest losses, gains and losses again of elevation in a single day.

Scene of the crime.  Two egos on the road.  These kinds of displays are beyond any reasonable understanding.

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After a long ten hour day of riding and sore buns we were still all smiles in Shoja

We left Shoja in the morning on our long and final push to Manali. We were covering more miles each day over the last four riding days than ever before spending 10 or more hours a day on our iron horse. A horse that has made us both very saddle sore from this last set of repetitive long rides. We spent the morning once again on one lane mountain roads. Approaching cars, trucks and busses were heart stopping moments. The road had just enough traffic that you had to avoid a head on collision at about every other corner. As much as I despise the significant overuse of horns here, I may have worn my own out in the last day and a half in every corner approach to be sure anyone knew we were coming around our side of a blind corner.

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En route to Manali

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Beware of everything when crossing bridges!

After we crossed the Beas River and turned the corner toward Manali, we entered an almost indescribable tunnel from hell. Dark and nearly black due to the layers of dirt and diesel soot covering the dim and mostly non-functional tunnel lights. Horns. Little cars passing us and trucks at speeds far faster than any headlights or vision could keep up with. Blind corners on a mountain road are nothing compared to blind corners inside of a solid rock tunnel. I tried to wipe the dust from my helmet visitor and only succeeded in smearing the oil soot across to mix with the dirt. To avoid being rear ended, I too had to take a deep breath and whip out and around several trucks and began following several cars way too close and way too fast for comfort. If one person crashed, we all would see in the center of a mountain. After finally exiting the tunnel after about ten minutes that felt like I was stuck in a two hour long horror movie, we came out to fresh clean air. No. Sorry. Didn’t happen. We came out into an industrial area of road construction that lasted for about 50 Km. It might have been the dustiest place in India we have driven through thus far. In the middle of it all, we got waved over to the side by a policeman standing in the middle of the road. He waved others over too so maybe I wasn’t singled out or maybe I was. He quickly requested my drivers license. An American license doesn’t cut it here so you need to have an International Driving Permit. $50 online to any number of companies will do it. Many people say that you don’t really need one but today I was certainly glad I had mine. No shake down. No mysterious ticket. No cash fine. Haan Ji (Yes Sir) which I acknowledged with one of my own and we were on our way again.

Do you know who drives the most aggressively of all vehicles? Busses. Overloaded and crowded busses. It makes me cringe to see so many young smiling faces peeking out and often waving to us while their bus barrels ahead way above the limits of its suspension, lights and especially brakes. Sadly, just a day after we went through the Kullu Valley area where we saw too many close calls, the newspapers announced that a local Kullu Valley bus had run off the road and plunged into a gorge, killing half and injuring the other half of the 90+ people on board. Sadder still is that this news won’t deter any of the reckless driving that will begin again tomorrow.

There were so many signs and companies promoting Paragliding and Rafting trips on the sides of the road. Such a juxtaposition to have the ice cold and clear snow melt river rapids cutting right through the middle of these major dust flats. When the dust, dirt and smog finally started to fall away from us as we climbed toward the tall mountains above Manali, we had to stop so we could wash out our eyes and take our first fresh breath in hours.

While getting back on the bike after a roadside omelet sandwich and chai stop, we heard a huge animal commotion. Suddenly a local dog ran out of a jungle area with a baby monkey in his mouth. We were a bit shocked and felt for the family of upset monkeys that shrieked out in vain after the dog.

We finally reached Manali which is a ski resort town in the winter and summer escape for world-wide trekkers, motorcyclists and just your average big city Indian tourist when the weather gets scorching down south and it is still cool and the snow is still on the tops of the mountains here. Accommodations and shopping range from below backpacker levels up to luxury Spa Hotels, street food to pricy restaurants and cheap imported trinkets up to expensive hand loomed shawls. Displayed for all to buy on the main Mall Bazaar Streets.

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The road to the camp overlooking Manali

For us, we chose to stay another 2000ft higher than the town in a tent camp owned and run by Tanzin’s sister and her husband. The mountain road up to the camp was the biggest challenge of our week which meant it had gone totally off the charts in difficulty. My sister has a serious 4×4 Jeep that is built to climb about anything, trees included. I’m certain even she would find this road a challenge to climb. As we bounced and scratched our way up 30 sand and rock switchbacks in a high revving, wheel spinning first gear, I seriously wondered how we would ever get down this mountain again in a few days. When we arrived exhausted from the trip and covered in dust and oil, we quickly had cool beer and fried vegetable / cheese fritters to brighten our spirits and go along with an amazing view of the ski valley / town below and the bigger snow peaked mountains once again above us. We had completed 90% of our original loop plans with the exception of the still snowed-in pass separating Manali from Kaza by riding from about position 6 on the clock around counter-clockwise to 12 then all the way back around clockwise to 11. It was time to rest for two days. Sleep in as late as possible. Eat great organic vegetarian food. Drink cold beer and local grappa. Look out on the mountains, the city lights, full moon and the starry sky over the next few days and nights. Fitting with Tanzin’s family traits, Dashi, his sister was a truly gracious host and best of all, an amazing Chef. Every single thing we ate was perfectly Bien Cuit (well prepared – a big compliment to a true Chef). Our rest time was great while sleeping under the stars and napping in the sun. We soaked up every minute of it.

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Everything Dashi served for meals was so incredibly delicious 

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Upon leaving we received great assistance from a family descending the windy road the same day as ourselves. They gave Lacy and our gear a ride down while allowing me to bump and slide down the mountain somewhat safely.

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Finding backgammon at a restaurant in old town Manali was such a huge score. We play all the time back home.

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We love a good tuk tuk photo

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Giz thought he could drive a tuk tuk 🤔

We spent two more days in the main town of Manali exploring & shopping alleyways and restaurants. I got a well needed massage and Lacy finally got a belated birthday present in the form of a custom made necklace and bracelet from a local jeweler. Beautiful.

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Kaza to Pinn Valley

Himalayan sunset in Pinn Valley

Lacy: We attempted to leave Kaza the day after we rode to Langza, spending our first five hours of the day waiting at the one petrol station in town because they ran out the night before. Surprisingly, this didn’t really bother us. Having had such a great time enjoying the town of Kaza over the past few days, the surrounding scenery and the people in it we just hung out with one another and made the best of it. We queued up in line to top off the tank before heading to Pinn Valley. This was a record snow year and Kunzum Pass isn’t open yet. For every five people you ask you get seven responses as to when it will open. At 15,000+ft the Border Roads Organization who maintains the road says there is simply still too much snow to allow vehicles to pass through. That being the case we need to retrace our steps south as it’s the only other way out of this region. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful ride and we have a rear brake now so we can go some places we simply couldn’t ride before with the condition of the bike. There were moments of sheer panic and fear riding without a rear brake and being unable to have it fixed without traveling further to find a mechanic who had the right parts. Believe me, we tried. Thank god that’s over.

Somewhere around 5:30pm that same day I was waiting for Rob at the Travelers Shed while he checked again to see if the petrol delivery had arrived in town. We had given up waiting around at the station several hours prior, had lunch and checked back into the same hotel room we had just checked out of that morning. Being late afternoon and uncertain if petrol would even arrive today we decided to stay in Kaza one more night. It should be noted though that we witnessed another unbelievable display of impatience, public screaming, fighting and what is hard to ignore as anything but extremely rude behavior when the diesel delivery trucks arrived. People went nuts. There were two trucks full of diesel and plenty to go around, but people still needed to cut in front of one another, call each other liars about where they were in line and have the local police involved. While we were entertained, I was also disgusted. Other Indian tourists who were waiting for petrol like we were could also be seen wide-eyed in disbelief, especially the group of bikers. The motorcycles all needed petrol v. diesel and the riders had total comradery among one another versus the very selfish attitude seen by people in any diesel cars (the majority of cars in India), tourist vans, buses, 4x4s etc. Men screaming in women’s faces in public with a crowd of people watching. That would be a real scene in America. Here, it’s another day. I had this stupid idea that India, the birthplace of yoga, would be a place where people were genuinely kind and compassionate towards one another. Instead, I am seeing some of the worst parts of humanity as we travel through this country. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a numbers game. India has a population of over ONE BILLION.  Think about that – it’s 1/7 of the entire world’s population. So, I wonder if that means we are just more prone to see the entire spectrum of human behavior here. Or maybe a combination of that and the areas of India we have been traveling in.

I love this photo because it shows scale.  You have the tiny village surrounded by  these beautiful massive mountains 

Anyway, I digress from meeting Rob at the Travelers Shed where I was killing time. He arrived with a tank full of petrol and happy as a clam, but unfortunately I had to relay that I wasn’t feeling well and it may have been the lassi I just drank. It only took as long as the walk to the bike for my stomach to cramp up and fear set in. On the short ride back to the hotel I told Rob I was nervous because my food poisoning in Shimla began with stomach cramps. Well, it only gets worse from here and I’ll spare you all the details, but it’s enough to say that this bout of poisoning was twice as bad as the first. I spent hours upon hours throwing up and Rob lovingly took care of me all night. We had hoped to go to Pinn Valley the next day, but I was completely wrecked and exhausted to the point that Rob went to the local clinic and got me medicine. I slept nearly the entire day only waking to drink water, have some crackers and tell Rob that I was sick and tired of all the bullshit we were dealing with in this country and ready to get back to where we have some cell connection and get the hell out of here. Yes, the mountains are beautiful, but sometimes I have felt like this country is trying to kill us. Two terrible doses of food poisoning, way too many creepy guys to count (oh yeah, and the time a guy groped me while being a mere doorway apart from his wife and two year old son before outright asking to have an affair with me that I didn’t even discuss in the blog) and dealing with exhausting amounts of instances of people trying to swindle us. I like to think I have a pretty thick skin, especially when traveling, but India, as expected I suppose, has been the most mentally, physically and emotionally taxing travel we have embarked on thus far.

One thing that makes the ride through Pinn Valley so unique is that you can really see the geological impact in the area.  Everywhere you turn are millions of years of rock pressed into layers forming shapes in the mountains.  I have never seen anything to this degree for such a long stretch before.

But, like I said, there are extremes on both sides. While the good seems to sometimes be overshadowed by the bad I would be remiss if I made it sound like we are only suffering on this trip, albeit there are more difficult times here than anywhere else we have been. The most genuine and heartfelt moments have been with the locals in each village or town we have visited. Often we find ourselves in the dining room of our Himalayan hotel for the evening chatting with the owner and/or guys that run the place for the season and having really great conversations. We have learned that many of them will leave their hometowns and come to this area to work for the short season, sometimes leaving their wife and children behind. It’s always men working and we have only had positive experiences as we have gotten to share a little of our own lives with them and vice versa. Specific moments standout of the guys who really helped me and Rob when he sprained his leg. Always kind and even though they didn’t speak English well and our Hindi consists of a handful of words there was never a frustrated moment between us. In the same city I was absolutely taken aback by the four guys who stopped everything they were doing that morning to assist us after the motorcycle incident. That experience, honestly, set an example for me on how I could be a better person, give unselfishly to others and make sure I make strangers in my home country feel as welcome and supported as they did us. I’m still in awe of their graciousness to this day. That alone could be enough good, right? But there is more. Tanzin, who I mentioned earlier, really made us feel welcome again in India right when we needed it. Having never met us before, but being a friend of the guy who rented us the bike, we instantly felt at home with him because of his warm hospitality, great conversation and sincere interest in spending time with us while we were in Pooh. Again, the universe put us together with someone to lift our spirits right when we needed it. He too gave me insight as to how much of a difference small gestures can make to someone who is a foreigner in your home country. Rob and I both agreed that he is a really special person. There have been countless other moments where we have met people along our travels that made our hearts happy – oftentimes just when we needed a ‘pick me up’. The people we have met, well, you guessed it, have been at both extremes. And I am incredibly thankful for each positive interaction along the way that helped offset the ones that made me want to pack my bags and go.

Always riding on the edge of these mountains…makes for great views

The scenery of course is the creme de la creme and why we made this journey halfway across the world. Frolicking in the Himalayas this summer has been very fulfilling. Rob and I are travelers, adventure seekers. Not tourists. There is a big difference between the two because we don’t see ourselves as being on vacation. Travel and exploration is a lifestyle choice we have made at the expense of other luxuries we use to enjoy on a daily basis.

Again, in this photo, you can see a village dwarfed by the mountains.  The mountain also displays layers and formations from its violent history. 

Thank god, after a full day of rest in Kaza, I was ready to head to Pinn Valley. Well, more ready than not. The road was quite bumpy and each bump initiated a pain in my stomach where it was still healing from intense cramps the past day and a half. The ride was pretty uncomfortable and I’ll admit I wasn’t in the best mood, but yet again, the mountains and scenery I was surrounded by took me out of my own and head and body and into a state of wonder. By the time we settled into our place for the evening in Mud, the last village in Pinn Valley, had some lunch and rested a while I was back to myself. An evening of playing cards in the dining room and getting to know the guys who ran the place was just what the doctor ordered. Not even the mouse that decided to join us in our room that night was a bother. Actually, his waking me up gave me the opportunity to step outside at 3am and see the stars and the Milky Way in the most magnificent way.  Being such a small village tucked away at the end of the valley it is soooo dark in Mud and made for perhaps the best star viewing of the entire trip.

Rob: On any long trek be it backpacking, car road trip or a motorcycle trip, one of my goals is to never look behind me and always continue moving forward no matter how difficult the journey has been to that point. At Kaza, we reached the top of the loop we had been planning for and battling to reach for the last 4 weeks. Unfortunately, for us and many others, the mountain pass that would take us out the opposite side of the Spiti Valley has not opened yet and is still buried under 20+ feet of snow and ice. This means for us to complete as much of our Spiti Valley Loop as possible, we would have to now backtrack from Kaza and make our way up the opposite side of our planned circular loop. Our first stop would actually be another day trip to a perpendicular valley named after the Pinn River.

It was more of a ride for a day in and a day out, stopping for the night at the end point of a long narrow river valley that dead ended into a spectacular view of high mountains and mini glaciers converging on the little town of Mud (pronounced “mood”). The road was once again mostly a bone and teeth rattling single lane that had never in its life been more than rocks pounded into dirt and clay.

Another village in Pinn Valley

The ride along the wide flat river was captivating. One of the things I find most fascinating about the high altitude river valleys is the rivers themselves. Let’s call them “weaving rivers” for fun. They are wide and flat at this time of the season. What happens is that they hit little diversions on a flat plane to split the main flow apart. Sometimes into 5-6 different streams. As they make their individual way down the wide riverbeds of rounded stones and silt, they split apart, re-converge, cause one another to change course, make “X”s, “Y”s forwards and backwards often braiding themselves together and then apart again. As you ride along side these natural weaving water sculptures they can hold your attention for hours.

All across Asia and in the subcontinent of India terracing along the river valley hillsides can be simply functional for farming or artistic and beautifully laid out by a combination of manmade and natural contours of the land. I know in some places that rice fields are sectioned by family or land ownership and have remained in spider web patterns for hundreds of years. Here in Pinn Valley we see these paisley or amoeba shaped terraces alongside the rivers just outside the villages and wonder what gives them their random yet artfully puzzled together looking shapes. Is it heritage, tradition of the region, family ownership or are they simply divided by the maximum possible irrigation capacity??

When we reached Mud, I realized why people trekked so far out into this oneway river valley. The view was pretty amazing. The tea and hospitality at our very simple accommodation was very welcomed after another long day on the bike. Everything was quaint but very, very basic as you could tell this little village was expanding from being historically shepherding and farming to 5-6 additional Homestay locations for travelers spending the night like us. Even the little mouse that futilely searched our room for food for several hours in the middle of the night seemed to be par for my expectations in Mud so I didn’t really mind. Although she truly took it in stride, Lacy wasn’t very happy that the mouse seemed to keep popping up on her nightstand. I would have been too, but he seemed to leave my side of the room alone.

Leaving the little village in the morning, we saw a small herd of the black and white furry Cow / Yak hybrid Chur animals being lead through town. I thought to myself that if I was a Chur in my next life, this wouldn’t be a bad place to live.

Leaving Mud.  I like this photo because there are stacks of bricks all around Rob.  No matter where we have been in India they are always making bricks and piling them on the side of the road or in trucks.  This photo captures a little bit of everything – Rob on the bike, the scenery, the unpaved road, and the constant presence of bricks.