Travel

Japan, Part I: Traipsing Through Tokyo

I’ve never let a potential trip wait so long to be blogged as I have this trip to Japan.

Relevant for that leading sentence:

I remind myself that one reason I write about my trips is so I can look back in later years and remind myself of some good times. So here goes nothing.

First off: Jared and flew from NYC-> Hong Kong -> Sapporo (New Chitose Airport). The route from NYC-> Hong Kong only took 16 hours, took 16 hours, 16 hours, 16. That’s long enough for two sleeps. I took about 1, on account of the Advil PM; I also finished a book (without pictures).

My ass went numb at one point, too.

Hey, stop thinking about my butt.

flying to japan

I’m ready! (No I’m not.)

By the time we got to New Chitose Airport (close to Sapporo), we realized we were in Japan, which meant our brains were still working! That’s when we first encountered Onigiri.

Salmon wrapped in rice, wrapped in seaweed. $1.50 Onigiri!!

Salmon wrapped in rice, wrapped in seaweed. $1.50 Onigiri!!

And also, we discovered Japanese attention to detail/organization:

At that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what time it was, even if I had a watch. We stopped at New Chitose because it is in Hokkaido, and Hokkaido was our final destination, since this was a ski trip after all. But before skiing, we had other business to take care of. Neither of us were “going to fly 32+ hours and not visit Tokyo.” So we went to bed, because the next morning, we were on our way to Tokyo.

I think we did a lot of the stuff in Tokyo that folks often do. In the interest of clarity, I’m going to break down our trip to Tokyo in categories.

Shibuya

We stayed in an AirBnb in Shibuya on Dogenzaka street. It was clearly an investment property — the owner never lived there and only rented it out. It was spacious.

The perfect fit.

The perfect fit.

There were sweet-ass arcades, apparently owned by SEGA?

Tekken UNLIMITED (whatever that means). I still play Paul Phoenix.

Tekken UNLIMITED (whatever that means). I still play Paul Phoenix.

We also ate at Freshness Burger.

It's so... fresh.

It’s so… fresh.

Checked out some views

Squad goals.

Squad goals.

Chilled with a doge

Hachikō the dog, frozen in time.

Hachikō the dog, frozen in time.

Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu Shrine

We sauntered.

I guess it's just a park. I don't know.

I guess it’s just a park. I don’t know.

And we found the bathrooms.

If the portos are unisex, then these signs must be an indication for...

If the portos are unisex, then these signs must be an indication for…

Ah, the signs were both actually just saying: "CAUTION."

Ah, the signs were both actually just indicating: “CAUTION.”

Then we discovered the entrance to the Meiji Shrine, and some decorative sake barrels.

Raise the roof.

These Sake Barrels are actually empty.

These Sake Barrels are actually empty.

And made it to the main shrine

Zen times Ten.

Zen times Ten.

Shinjuku Golden Gai

Drinking in the Golden Gai area was one of the most memorable and cool things we did in Tokyo. Quite a few of the bars won’t even allow tourists in, which is judged by one’s ability to speak Japanese. No Japanese? No entry.

The bars in the area are tiny. What you see here is pretty much what you get.

The bars in the area are tiny. What you see here is pretty much what you get.

full_bar_size

Tsukiji Fish Market

It’s the fish market you’ve all heard of. It’s massive, and they apparently auction off massive tunas in the early morning (5 a.m. or something). We couldn’t be bothered to wake up for that. But we took photos later anyway!

Off with his head.

Off with his head.

It's a real operation.

It’s a real operation.

Served on a leaf.

Served on a leaf.

Tsukiji SUV. 217 mpg.

Tsukiji SUV. It gets 217 mpg.

Tokyo Skytree and the Hyatt Hotel (“Lost in Translation” bar)

Easy tower, EASY.

Easy tower, EASY.

Mt. Fiji in the background. Civilization in the foreground.

Mt. Fuji in the background. Civilization in the foreground.

A bad nighttime shot of the skyline from the Hyatt Hotel.

A bad nighttime shot of the skyline from the Hyatt Hotel.

Harajuku & Takeshita Street

I imagine this is something like New York City’s St. Marks street.

Pals!

Pals!

Onesies on SALE. Get them while they're hot, or not.

Onesies on SALE. Get them while they’re hot, or not.

A good look for a pilot.

A good look for a pilot.

Food Things

The food, the food, the food. Best Ramen I had was at this place that has 3.5 stars on Google Reviews: Samurai Noodle. Oh well. A 3.5 ramen to the Japanese is 35.5 to me.

Heads down for ramen at Samurai Noodle, JP.

Heads down for ramen at “Samurai Noodle, JP”.

Ramen meal 1 of 74.

Ramen meal 1 of 74.

Plastic food displays! Very common and tasty.

Plastic food displays! Very common and tasty.

The stove-tops for DIY Okonomiyaki, "Japanese Pancakes."

The stove-tops for DIY Okonomiyaki, “Japanese Pancakes.”

Okonomiyaki in the making.

Okonomiyaki in the making.

Okonomiyaki, preparing to be eaten.

Okonomiyaki, preparing to be eaten.

I'll have THAT (pointing) one, please.

I’ll have THAT (pointing) one, please.

Vending machines on the exterior or entrance of restaurants will take your order and make you pay on the spot.

Vending machines on the exterior or entrance of restaurants will take your order and make you pay on the spot.

Ramen meal 2 of 74.

Ramen meal 2 of 74.

Japanese version of "street meat."

Japanese version of “street meat.”

Get ready to get eaten, little fishy.

Get ready to get eaten, little fishy.

Art and Decorations

Self-explanatory?

Always.

Always.

Collage?

Collage?

I think this was outside of a love hotel. Not sure if there is some deeper meaning here.

I think this was outside of a love hotel. Not sure if there is some deeper meaning here.

Sorry, we're open.

Sorry, we’re open.

This was written in backwards so that it could be read from a mirror opposite of it.

This was written backwards so that it could be read from a mirror opposite of it.

street_art

Random Things!

Also self-explanatory?

The karaoke bar we went to was 5+ stories; the bathrooms were also filled with puke. :(

The karaoke bar we went to was 5+ stories; the bathrooms were also filled with puke. 😦

Smokers must stand in a sectioned off area.

Smokers must stand in a sectioned off area.

The decibel level for some construction is tracked.

The decibel level for some construction is tracked.

Some clubs have self-serve lockers!! Groundbreaking, folks.

Some clubs have self-serve lockers!! Groundbreaking, folks.

The public transportation manners were shocking. Look at that perfect escalator behavior.

The public transportation manners were shocking. Look at that perfect escalator behavior.

Those are the highlights. Tokyo was one of the most exciting cities I’ve been to in my life. I want to go back and stay for a few months, although I’m not sure when I’d carve the time out for that wishful endeavor. But, when we departed Tokyo, we weren’t really sad, and that’s because we were on our way back to Sapporo — our starting point for our ski exploration trip on the northern main island of Hokkaido. Read about the skiing in Japan Part II: Heaven is Actually Called Hokkaido.

Arigatou gozaimasu, Tokyo. Konnichiwa, Sapporo.

Bye!

Bye!

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Japan, Part II: Heaven is Hokkaido

After arriving in Sapporo and collecting the rest of our squad, we picked up the rental cars and started driving to Niseko. Worth mentioning: the steering wheels were on the Right side of the cars, and we were driving on the Left side of the road. But that’s normal for plenty of folks, I’ve heard, even when they’re sober.
"I think this is the GPS."

“I think this is the GPS.”

No clue, but they were great!

No clue, but they were great! (Beef jerky substitute.)

Once we learned how to drive again, we finally arrived at our condo in Niseko. We had a healthy weather forecast.
IMG_2200
We went out to the town to grab food around 7 p.m. and that’s when we realized that, during peak season (or Australian/Chinese holidays), you need a reservation in this town. So without a reservation, we starved… until we finally found a place that would seat us as a walk-in.
Japanese Pancakes!

Japanese Pancakes!

But, let’s talk about the skiing. From here, I’m just going to break this post down into sections for each ski area.

Niseko Annupuri

Niseko has four resorts on the one mountain, and plenty of interesting skiing. Some results from day one:

niseko_pano
niseko_night_ski

We even got to do some night skiing, which was exciting with dark-lens goggles on.

The next day, we were up skiing again (surprise surprise), and Scott discovered his Snowlipop.
snowlipop

I don’t really know how these things amass, but we saw them amongst the plentiful powder while we were there, and I have never seen them skiing anywhere else.

We also saw some alpenglow:
niseko_pano_alpenglow
And we got above the clouds:
above_niseko_clouds

Rusutsu

Once we arrived at Rusutsu, we were a bit surprised with the layout the resort. We parked at the “base,” which was home to a massive empty parking lot. We walked into a hotel, purchased our tickets, took an escalator and were walking on marble/tile floor. After walking past gift shops, we finally made it outside, where we loaded onto a gondola that took us across the highway, to another base lodge. The ski experience was starting to become familiar again once we took a high-speed quad for our first run. However, we were reminded that we were in a foreign country at the bottom of the run when we skied through a snow-covered amusement park. WTFs were whispered, spoken and even yelled.
Just tall enough to ride.

“Is that a ferris wheel?” … “Yup, that’s a ferris wheel.”

The amusement park sighting was a positive omen, indicating how the rest of our day was going to go. Because it went like this:
knee_deep

POWDER ALERT

At lunch, we discovered one of the most efficient ramen-making machines ever:

Kiroro

Two thumbs up for Kiroro. I think we hit it while we were in transit, on the way do Asahidake. But, despite being on a bit of a tight timetable, we still had plenty of powder to ski, and there were great views. This was a cool resort.

DCIM100GOPRO

Furano

Furano was kinda weird, but maybe it felt that way because we visited at the end of our trip. I always feel weird towards the end of a vacation. Here’s a photo of the trail map, because the skiing was average on that day, and that’s all I’ve got:
furano_map

Asahidake

At 7,517 feet, Asahidake is the tallest mountain (actually a volcano) in Hokkaido, duh. At the base of the mountain is a large hotel/resort called the Asahidake Manseikaku Hotel Bear Monte (quite the mouthful). This place comes equipped with a traditional Japanese onsen, which, was an unusual and through-provoking experience. It also had bus-loads of people dropping in to visit while we were there. The dining area was kind of a trip, since it was a buffet-cafeteria, which was unexpected at such a massive “up-scale” resort tucked away in the mountains. I will say that one of the most memorable experiences of the trip was the day spent trekking in Asahidake, where you could see plumes of smoke coming up from the surface of the volcano. The weather was pretty spectacular.
asahidake_hiking_up
asahidake_plumes

“Put that cigarette out!”

asahidake_on_the_moon
asahidake_melting

Apparently volcanoes can get hot.

asahidake_moon_crater

Traversing across the moon.

asahidake_in_trees
Despite our last ski day of the trip occurring in Furano, I decided to end this post with Asahidake because it was so spectacular. Nobody wants to end on average. Ski you later.
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This Is Why You Should Care About Horse Racing

When the gates open for Race 11, the crowd cheers, but when there’s a Triple Crown on the line, the crowd erupts. With every galloping hoof imprinted on the sand, the crowd crescendos. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line. People are no longer sitting, they’re standing, or they’re jumping up and down.

There’s jostling in the crowds, and those who aren’t in a great position to see the race are trying their hardest to catch just a little glimpse of it from anywhere they can. The screaming and cheering continues, along with the horses, around the turns and over the straightaways. After the horses pass the final turn, the majority of the crowd realizes that the Triple Crown-hopeful is in the lead.

The crowd realizes that their hopes, which are sabotaged too often by life, may actually be fulfilled.

They’ve bet on this horse, not just to win money, but to see a dream come true. The galloping hooves continue and the crowd gets louder, and louder. And when American Pharaoh crosses the finish line, the sound is deafening. The cheering becomes one solid pitch of noise that happens to carry a multitude of human emotions.

You realize you just witnessed a being gain a piece of immortality and you hope that one day, you will too.

Here are some pictures from the day:

belmont_track_pano
American Pharaoh and Co. warming up.

American Pharaoh and Co. warming up.

Not a bad bet.

Not a bad bet.

I'm happy because it was my bet.

I’m happy because it was my bet.

And the day is over.

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Skiing (Hunting Powder) in Verbier, Switzerland and the 4 Valles

The vastness of skiable terrain here in the Alps is matched only by the amount it subsequently impresses those visiting. You cannot ski it all in a day. You cannot ski it all in a week. Sure, you could ski all of the chairs, maybe, but a single tram ride gives you access to thousands of skiable vertical feet. Subsequently, you can find more adventure than Indiana Jones while here.

For example, here’s a photo of the entrance to the top of Mont Fort:

DCIM100GOPRO

And here are some photos I took from the top:

DCIM100GOPRO

Bring your skis.

DCIM100GOPRO

Also, bring your skis.

Look down.

Look down.

mt_fort_pano

My buddy, Benjamin, is also captured taking some photos.

To get to this view, we had to do go up this way:

Another gem from the top:

And then I came down:

Nothing but smiles.

Nothing but smiles after coming down the gut.

This day stands as the best day of skiing so far, but there were some other good moments:

IMG_0646

Near the top of Mont Gele.

IMG_0663

My dad performing a fancy (and very intentional) pole trick.

IMG_0730

You can go your own way. (And I did.)

And finally, we ended our trip to the 4 Valles at ski bar Le Bob after skiing back to Nendaz. I’m guilty; I had a beer.

IMG_0756

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Nendaz, Switzerland (It’s pronounced like “Hawaii”)

If you haven’t been to the Alps before, Swiss, French, German, Austrian or Italian, then I’ll have you know that they are large. (Large enough to pass through those 5 countries, and a few others.)

We are staying in Nendaz, which is in Switzerland. Our place is called Chalet Natacha and was rented to us by a company called Interhome. Chalet Natacha’s name reminds me of Russian girls (pretty ones). To be clear, there are no Russian women staying in our chalet. Chalet Natacha rests on a steep hill, which is actually more aptly referred to as an impenetrable fortress of a mountain. You may try to drive your car up to Chalet Natacha, but you will slide backwards, forever and always. So you park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. And we’re gonna call that exercise.

My little Russian woman loves views. In fact, this is what she offers us from the living room:

IMG_0506

Despite the terrible view, we are still having a grandiose ol’ time. I’ve had no problems maintaing my diet from the Whole Life Challenge. Because all of Europe, especially France, Italy and Switzerland are known for their Paleo-only menu selections and their general disdain for wine, cheese and chocolate. My one major obstacle right now is that I’m supposed to be on a diet. I am basically slapping bread out of the hands that try to feed it to me. In lieu of bread, I have chosen air as my primary form of sustenance. So far I’ve lost all of my weight. I suspect I will perish shortly.

This is a joke. I’ve broken lots of my dietary restriction rules and now have “CD” (Carpe Diem) stamped on my forehead. Skiing is the name of the game here, and that’s what I came to do.

“I’ll take my skiing with some ice,

please, snowtender.”

My first day of skiing and I was questioning my equipment selection. I thought I should have brought my ice skates and Kristi Yamaguchi out there with me.

I didn’t take a lot of photos because the conditions were marginal and I was still jetlagged. When you’re jetlagged, you forget how to use cameras, duh.

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Climbing Mt. Shasta, Camping on a Glacier, and Skiing Down

Once you’ve got an idea in your head, you have to do something with it — let it die, or act on it. We brought ours to life.

“Let’s climb Mt. Shasta.”

a_shasta
“OK.”

I just wanted to do something fun. Climbing mountains is fun. Or is it? Things that come with climbing a mountain or can come with climbing a mountain:

  • A diet primarily based on beef-jerky and energy bars.
  • Snow.
  • Snow in your face.
  • Snow in your boots.
  • Snow in your tent.
  • Wind.
  • Wind in your face.
  • Wind outside of your tent (which subsequently makes you think that the big bad wolf is outside about to blow your goddamned tent down the goddamned mountain.)
  • Wind inside of your tent, because the wind can be everywhere.
  • Discomfort caused by “rural” or “ancient” methods of relieving oneself.
  • Pride in overcoming the challenge of the previous point.
  • Tiredness.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Fear.
  • Joy.

Let me elaborate on that.

I flew back on a Thursday night to meet up with my dad. He was my climbing partner at the youthful age of sixty-one. My dad can kick your dad’s ass (unless your dad knows jujitsu, and is in his 20s, and you can read this, somehow.) We drove up to Shasta from the bay area, approximately a 4.5-hour drive and spent the night at the Best Western. Holy shit. Have you ever stayed at a Best Western? It’s what I imagine staying at the Ritz Carlton is like, or maybe just the Carlton. We slept like babies that had a fresh pair of diapers and woke up the next morning for some buffetfest. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, the works, everything I ever wanted and dreamed of — I have big dreams.

We shot over to the meeting spot and met the guide and the other two gents in the group. I was the youngest by 21 years. I promised everyone I would make it to the top before them. I did this simply by standing there and not speaking. Oh, the power of youthfulness.

We drove over to the backside of Shasta; made it to our beginning trail over there and got our backpacks on. I mention this because backpacks are often trivial, unless you’re climbing a mountain, staying two nights there, and skiing down it. In that case, you need things like: food, water, plastic bags, ice axes, shovels, transceivers, avalanche probes, ski crampons, skis, ski skins, ski boots, ski clothing, ski poles, bandaids, camping stoves, fuel, alleve (optional), pepto bismol (optional, but recommended), toothbrush/toothpaste (optional, but not advised), sleeping bag, a mat for your sleeping bag, and a giant fucking backpack to carry all of the aforementioned. Also optional: bringing a girl with you to keep you warm at night, but in that case, you’d probably want to bring a toothbrush/toothpaste. See gear:

a_gear

We got on our merry way. Peculiar to me was the entire setup I had going on my feet. I never went ski touring before in my life. What do you mean my heel comes up? What do you mean I won’t slide backwards on this hill? Are you sure these skin things work? They work. They just don’t work as well as you’d hope when you have 0 experience. As such, my first 15 minutes on this randonee setup was, to say the least, exciting.

Remember when you were a baby learning how to walk? Me neither, but that’s how I felt.

We hiked from 7,000 to 10,000 feet and made camp. We used our shovels to flatten an area and then we pitched our tents right there on the mountainside.

a_campsite2

As the night rolled in, the wind picked up, a lot. I’ve never camped at 10,000 feet. I’ve also never camped at 10,000 feet when there’s 30-45 mph winds outside. Shit, I’ve hardly even camped. We cooked dinner inside the tent, which, apparently, is generally a no-no because you can asphyxiate yourself if you don’t have air coming through it. (Asphyxiation is bad.) Also, you can pretty much blow up your tent, which is not an advisable action either. But we cooked inside anyway, all five of us in a 4-person tent, which was really like a 3-person tent. It was cozy.

a_cooking2

Dad didn’t know I took this picture of us:

a_dad_surprise
After getting the water boiling, we ate ramen and other choice gourmet foods (actually wasn’t that bad). Then we went to bed. Then the wind picked up even more. And it was snowing.

Tent vs. wind: which one would you bet on?

Our tent survived the night, and so did we. But we missed our chance to summit, because to summit, we needed to leave at 5 a.m.. At 5 a.m., there was a fortified storm outside, and we hardly had a fort protecting us.

The wind finally died down around 8 a.m. and we went ski touring, climbing up to about 11,000 feet. We saw stuff like this:

a_climbing

And this:

a_glacier_pretty

And this:

a_glacier_dad

After touring around on the glacier, we went back to camp. The weather was OK and we were actually able to cook from outside of the tent that evening. After eating, we went to bed. Around 10 p.m., the wind picked up. It howled throughout the night which made for ideal sleeping conditions, up until the morning. At 7 a.m., we were all up and the objective was clear: get the hell out of dodge. A blizzard had come, in May, and it was up in our grill, eating all of our meat and vegetables. We packed up in an hour, slapped on the skis and made our way down.

Good news: some decent powder.
Bad news: not for long.

Once we were down to about 8,000 feet, the snow became ice and the terrain shifted away from the smooth plane it once was, and it became somewhat of a minefield filled with “suncups.” These do not make for ideal skiing conditions. But, we made it look as good as we could and we powered through.

a_bottom_skiing

Once we got towards closer to the car, the snow was bountiful:

a_bottom_trail

After making it back to the car, we drove to the Goat-Tavern bar back in Shasta City. I had a beer and I washed my hands, with soap. I couldn’t tell you which one I enjoyed more.

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54 Days, 6 Countries, 4 Continents, 18 Flights, and a lot more.

My travels have concluded. I made a good run, traveling a total of 54 days. I’ve kept some stats on the journey. But instead of just expecting you to read boring stats, I’ve tried to spice shit up a bit. (Shit is much better when it is spicy.)

So, the Earth’s Circumference is 24,859.82 miles (40,008 km). Maybe you forgot that, but most of us learned it when we were kids. Throughout my journey, I traveled approximately 42,097 miles  (67,748.6 km), which means, I could have traveled around the earth, if I wanted to. Truth is, I have a spaceship, and I do it every Sunday.

I took a lot of flights on my trip. What is “a lot?” For me, I’m calling that number 18. That’s 18 times that I got on a plane and thought during take-off, “hey, I hope the engines don’t die mid-flight.” And during landing, I was just pleased that the brakes worked, 18 times. Below are the flights I took, and a comment associated with each one, and sometimes a photo.

Total Flights (Getting on an Airplane and Landing)

  1. New York City (JFK) to Rome Fiumicino (FCO) … Had a layover, which is better than a hangover.
  2. Rome (FCO) to Cairo (CAI) … Walked out of the airport and thought, “where are the pyramids?!?!” and, “why am I sweating already?”

    Found.

  3. Cairo (FCO) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) … Give me an expensive macaroon from that store with the name I can never Ladureeeeeeeeee-say, thanks.
  4. Paris (CDG) to New York City (JFK) … It’s still hot here, this is bullshit.
  5. Newark (EWR) to Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) … Newark at 6 a.m. (painful), but Minneapolis has a beautiful Delta terminal.
  6. Minneapolis/St. Paul to Portland International (PDX) … Portland, ah yes. Time for some skiing at Mt. Hood. Yes, I’m well aware that it’s July.

    Skiing with my bro at Mt. Hood.

  7. Portland International (PDX) to New York City (JFK) … My cab driver drove a race car, I mean, like he had a race car.
  8. La Guardia (LGA) to Miami International (MIA) … I had a chicken pita wrap for breakfast; it was actually quite disgusting.
  9. Miami International (MIA) to Bogota (BOG) … Last time I was here, everyone had a machine gun. This time, everyone expects that, as an American, I’m carrying one.
  10. Bogota (BOG) to Cartagena (CTG) … I had jeans on. This was a mistake. By the time I got to the hostel, it looked like someone pushed me in a pool.

    See the sweat on my shirt?

  11. Cartagena (CTG) to Bogota (BOG) … I had a Coke Zero. That’s it.
  12. Bogota (BOG) to Cali (CLO) … Only flying through, I bought an orange juice. I was feeling sick – probably from drinking half a liter of rum the night before and not washing my hands with soap for the past 36 hours. (No one had soap in Playa Blanca. Or did they?)
  13. Cali (CLO) to Quito (UIO) … Found my mom. It was easy; she’s white and has grey hair. Other people in Quito don’t share these qualities.
  14. Quito (UIO) to Guayaquil (GYE) … When the airplane landed, people clapped. Nobody claps for me when I land my spaceship.
  15. Guayaquil (GYE) to New York City (JFK) … Was only in NYC for 17 hours, or something absurd, before flying to Europe.
  16. New York City (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS) … There were so many signs in this airport that I just stopped reading them. I cried in the bathroom. (That’s not true.)
  17. Berlin, Tegel Airport (TXL) to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) … I made my connection with 20 minutes to spare. People in the customs line were missing their flights. Someone who works for Merriam-Webster Dictionary would call this a “shit-show.”
  18. Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to New York City (JFK) … The plane didn’t go down. This pleased me.

Trains

(I also took some trains on this trip. Comments included.)

  1. Cairo Station to Aswan Station …I peed on my leg while on this train. It sucked.
  2. Aswan Station to Cairo Station … I was sick to my stomach on this train. It sucked even more.
  3. Amsterdam Centraal Station to Frankfurt Main Station … I had a seat and I read 200 pages of a book. I was making up for brain cells lost in Amsterdam.
  4. Frankfurt Main Station to Munich Main Station … I was running from Frankfurt because I was traumatized from being sexually harassed the night before.
  5. Schongau to Munich Main Station … It was so cold in my seat that I stopped, dropped, and rolled. I was trying to start a fire.
  6. Munich Main Station to Berlin Main Station … I only spent 20 minutes in Munich. Just enough time to pretend to speak German while ordering a sandwich. “Kann ich ein sandwich have-in-my-mouth-en? DANKE!”

Cars

(Yup, I rode in cars.)

I got to drive on the Autobahn. I took a little SmartCar all the way to 170 km/h. A few people passed us, but that’s only because I let them.

Zooooooooooooooming along on the autobahn.

Hotels/Hostels/Homes

(I had to sleep somewhere.)

  1. Some random hostel in Cairo … The driver took me to a hostel that I didn’t book. I thought that I was going to get murdered.
  2. Brother’s Hostel Cairo … My real hostel, I remember some 20-year-old American girl was hooking up with one of the guys working there. She talked a lot about her conquests. I pretended to listen.
  3. Nuba Nila Hotel, Aswan … They called it a 3-star hotel. I called that bullshit.
  4. Collin’s Lake Resort, Oregon … This place had nice wooden floors. I remember sleeping forever, as I was coming from Egypt.
  5. Cranky Croc Hostel, Bogota … One of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Some very, very, blurry nights.

    Random photo: Simon Bolivar Square in Bogota.

  6. Makako Chill Out Hostel, Cartagena … Shit hostel. Met great people. Two random girls from Colombia sleeping on the couches. Fact: they were annoying.
  7. ANY Hostel, Playa Blanca … Crazy caretaker woman spoke like she was possessed with demons. Correction, she was possessed with demons.
  8. The Chill House Backpackers Hostel, Cartagena … It was hard to sleep because it felt like ants were crawling all over my body.
  9. La Casa Sol, Quito …They said they had WiFi, but it was broken. The room smelled like stinky feet.
  10. The Traveler’s Inn, Quito … Solid breakfast. My private room was smaller than a jail cell. I could basically pee in the toilet from the bed. I should have tried.
  11. Cabanas, Cotopaxi National Park … No heater. No shower. No toilet paper. But, yes to running water. This was a warm-up for the Jose Rivas Refuge.

    One of the views of Ruminahui, 15 minutes from the Cabanas.

  12. Jose Rivas Refuge, Cotopaxi National Park … No heater and higher altitude. No toilet paper. No shower. I mean, no running water. This was a warm-up for the top of Cotopaxi, which is billed as: “just views, yo!”

    One of those “just views, yo.”

  13. Mom’s House, Quito … Amenities and a mother to do your laundry. HOLY AMAZING.
  14. My apartment, New York … My sheets were dirty. I dumped all of my clothes off, packed, and left 17 hours later.
  15. Frankfurt Hostel, Frankfurt … The shower was conceived by a small-minded individual, and it was constructed by a shaky-handed one. Chinua Achebe wrote a book about this, I think it was called “Things Fall Apart.”
  16. Wombats Hostel, Munich … They decided to give everyone a wake-up call at 10 a.m. to announce checkout. You weren’t checking out that day? No problem, you got the wake-up call anyway.
  17. A house, Schongau … Amenities +1, including fantastic meals. Superb decorations, company, and music included. Also included: a hair dryer for when you have cold feet.
  18. The Heart of Gold Hostel, Berlin … Cool bar and solid internet. I was too tired to get drunk – maybe I was burnt out after 54 days of traveling.

The Cities

Here’s a list of the cities/places I visited, where visited means spending 24 hours or more there: Cairo, Aswan, Portland, Bogota, Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Quito, Latacunga, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Schongau, Munich, Berlin.

The Countries

Egypt, USA, Colombia, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Germany

The Trip Highlights

And now, for my favorite highlights? Cue the ESPN Sportscenter music…

10.  Let’s begin with the pyramids, which were spectacular. But let’s be honest, the only reason I liked them was because I built them.

Easy as 1-2-3.

9.  Going from Egypt in the summer to Oregon in the summer, and donning ski boots, well, that was an experience. I also got to see my cousins’ twin boys. Apparently, babies grow when you aren’t around (is that like the tree falling in the woods?).

They’re swimmin’!

8.  That one night of drinking in Bogota. I can say that we started by, well, just drinking at the hostel; there were six of us. I can say that when we returned to the hostel, the sun was up, and there were only three of us.

7.  That other night of drinking in Bogota. We started at the hostel. Then we went to the bars. Then? Some locals’ apartments. After getting kicked out, we got in a cab and the first question we asked was: “Where are the open bars?” It was 3 a.m.

6.  The one night in Playa Blanca was quite spectacular due to the group of people I spent it with. But hey, swimming in water that lights up to your movement wasn’t too shabby, either.

Half of the awesome group seen here.

5.  Leaving Playa Blanca, this was the “Bon Voyage” I received

I felt pretty cool. No, I am cool.

4.  Climbing Cotopaxi in Ecuador for the second time and being there for a clear day was breathtaking. When I reached the top, I was above the clouds, triumphant. It’s nice to feel triumphant. Also, seeing my mother was good – it had been two years.

Me at the refuge in 2010.

Me at the refuge in 2012.

3.  On a whim, I went to Germany and met up with the very same Germans I had met in Cartagena. They brought me a birthday cake and alcohol. I felt right at home, even though I was around 4,000 miles away.

2.  One set of brown eyes that I saw. One had a hint of green. I looked for a longggggggggg time.

1.  The people and the places. The world is big. People speak different languages, and eat different food, but they’re still people. They’re fun to talk to. They’re fun to meet. And the places can offer some similar sights, but always plenty different. I have no idea how I am going to see them all before I die.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Now that I won’t be traveling, and I’m going to have less time, I’m not sure what will become of the blog. But with any luck, the inspiration won’t die. The last 54 days have been the most productive for me in my writing over the last two years. Note: I said nothing about quality.

Thanks for reading.

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