After nearly five months in Asia, I made it to Middle Earth New Zealand!
I applied for my one-year working holiday visa online and bought a plane ticket and now I am in the land of Hobbits (and elves and wizards).
Of course, the first touristy thing I had to do was go to Hobbiton—better known as Matamata.
After the conclusion of the filming of the Hobbit trilogy, the owner of the farm where the Hobbiton set was built decided to make the location a tourist area. Now, there are 44 hobbit holes immaculately maintained where all geeks are free to revel in their geekdom. Even for non-geeks, the beauty of the area makes the trip worth it.
Hobbiton is located three hours outside of Auckland and made for the perfect day trip to introduce me to this wonderful country!
And, of course, no trip to the Shire would be complete without a pint at the Green Dragon!
Had I known I would get a wicked cold after hiking Mount Rinjani, I probably would not have agreed to go taking a three-day boat trip from Lombok to Flores.
Things a person does not want to do when they are sick:
- Not shower for four days
- Sleep on a plastic mat without any blankets on a boat floor
- Be stuck in the scorching Indonesia sun without any possibility of aircon
I have always considered myself a solo traveler. Solo traveling is easier and better for me. I can go where I want to go when I want to go and not have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes. If I’m cranky, I don’t have to worry that I will snap at someone (a common issue at home)–I can just curl up in bed and watch TV or go take a walk alone until I feel better.
I have heard many stories of people who traveled with their friends from home and how the trip nearly destroyed their relationship.
So, I decided to always remain a solo traveler. I would travel with someone I met in a hostel for a couple of days or even a week at a time and then I could say goodbye before I had a chance to get sick of them or vice versa. For the first month and a half I was traveling, this method worked well for me. I met many awesome people who I’m now proud to call friends.
My solo traveling adventure was going beautifully.
Then I met Sophie.
I have a tendency of not thinking things through.
On the day of my twelve-hour journey via car, plane, and ferry from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, I agreed to trek Mount Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia. The summit juts 12,224 feet above sea level and the climb takes three days, two freezing nights, and a good degree of physical fitness.
For the previous four years, I spent my days trapped in a cubicle hunched over a computer. I lived a relatively active life for a New Yorker and worked out on a regular basis, but nothing that prepared me for the next few days.
When I first started traveling, I only planned on doing one volunteer project. And that was really so I could chill with elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.
But after my recent trip to the Juara Turtle Project on Tioman Island, I have really fallen in love with volunteering and I am already looking for another project to join.
The Reasons I Love Volunteering:
Upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I quickly realized that I had done absolutely no research on Malaysia. (This was actually not surprising, since I never do research on anywhere I go. I’m a true procrastinator.)
I knew, though, that I had been feeling a bit aimless during the previous couple of weeks. I was feeling a bit out of sorts. I needed a routine. I needed a project. After a bit of research, I decided to volunteer at the Juara Turtle Project, a sea turtle hatchery on Tioman. (More to come on my volunteering experience later.)
The project was located away from all of the popular tourist spots, a 30-minute ride away in the back of a truck through steep hills covered in jungle. The trip was worth it though. When I finally reached the project and walked out onto the beach, I felt like I was in a scene from a movie. I mean, no way could a place this beautiful be real.
Looks about right.
Okay, Mom. Don’t freak out. I was not mugged.
But my super awesome travel buddy of 6 weeks was. On the day before we were set to fly to Kuala Lumpur. Actually, it was about 12 hours until we had to fly out.
We were walking home from dinner when a motorbike drove up behind us with two men on it. They barely even slowed down as they grabbed my friend’s purse, cut the thick leather strap and drove away with the entire thing.
Getting to Chi-Phat for my homestay was quite the adventure.
From Kampot, it took a total of almost seven hours and four modes of transportation (minivan, bus, boat, and bike) to get to the little town southwest of Phnom Penh.
Chi-Phat is a community-based ecotourism village located in the beautiful Cardamon Mountains. There are several guesthouses in the village, but I chose to stay with a Khmer family to get the chance to experience daily life of the people who live and work there.
The house I stayed in had no electricity and no running water, and the family I stayed with (my host mom is pictured above) spoke absolutely no English. However, they did make me a delicious dinner and were full of smiles.
“Free beer, just for you!”
When I crossed the border from Laos into Cambodia, I instantly felt better.
I had not fallen in love with Laos–the food was subpar and the people I met were not as kind as the ones in Thailand. The people in Cambodia, though, (from my limited experience) are amazing.
I had heard a lot of people get stuck on Don Det. Sometimes, taking the tiny ferry from the mainland to the island and not leaving again for months.
I quickly discovered why upon my arrival. I had planned on being on the island in southern Laos for only a few days before heading on to Don Khon and then farther south to Cambodia.
But it my little hut on Mekong ($5 a night!) was too irresistible. After six weeks of bouncing from city to city, it felt good to finally settle down for a while. My days were filled up with….well, doing pretty much nothing at all. For the most part, I only left my hammock to go get food or to swim in the river.