Travel

New To Banda Aceh? Little John Can, And Will Help!

IMG_20150327_225128

Planning on heading to Indonesia sometime soon with a stop in Banda Aceh?  You’ll definitely need some transportation to and from the bus station or airport, and you’ll probably want to check out some of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami memorials and museum while you’re in town.  You may also need some information on where to get some supplies and or random other info about the area and what not.  Look no further for help, it’s right here!

I found a man who calls himself Little John on WikiTravel.org who turned out to be a joy of a becak (tuk-tuk) driver and guide for a few days.  I contacted John by texting him from Sabah, Malaysia, and even though it was long distance texting he got back to me right away about a ride from the Banda Aceh Airport to our hotel I’d booked a day earlier (Hotel Wisata, Rp225,000 w/Hot Water & Private Bathroom).

John found us easily and right away as we stepped out into the thick muggy air of Banda Aceh and had a sign waiting with my name on it just in case.  He drives a local styled motorized tuk-tuk (called becak’s here in Indonesia), and actually has mobile Wifi through 3G on the becak in case you need it!  In years of traveling in SEAsia I have never seen this once.  Pretty impressive.  He’s a smiley character that speaks English (and Japanese) very well, and is full of info on whatever it is that you may be curious about.

Upon arriving at our hotel we immediately booked him to be a tour guide for the following day to take us around to some of the Tsunami memorials and such.  He was a few minutes early, and beyond taking us around to the memorials, assisted us in getting some string we needed to patch up some clothes, Jess’ contact lens replacements, Kopi Luwak, and even brought me to his friend’s chop shop because I told him I was a motorcycle geek and wanted to rent a bigger bike if possible.  It was an incredibly packed day full of great food, history, errands, and more.

Overall John’s insight is whats most valuable: we asked about dogs and why they are unholy for Muslim’s, SIM cards with internet packages ($3.50 will get you 4.5GB with simPATI!!), and he also translated what the all kids were asking us, plus told us where to go for the best stone markets here.

We’ve actually booked him again for tomorrow to take us over to Lampuuk Beach where we plan on staying at Joel’s Bungalow’s for a few nights before heading off to Pulau Weh for my birthday and some more diving!!

John would appreciate you contacting him a few days ahead of your arrival by Facebook, but you’re more than welcome to text him as well.  Here’s John’s info:

Phone: +62 81360231339

Facebook: Little John Banda Aceh – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006284559205&fref=ts

Blogspot: http://tuktukbandaaceh.blogspot.com

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Climbing Mount Kinabalu (On A Budget)

So you’re one of those outgoing types and want to climb the tallest mountain in the Malay Archipelago?  Well if you’re prepared to get your ass handed to you to see one of the most breathtaking and beautiful sunrises ever – continue to read this post.  If not, read it anyways, you’ll learn a bunch!

(Quick Very Important Note Dated March 7, 2015: The mountain is INSANELY booked right now.  If you’re seriously thinking about hiking Kinabalu anytime in the near future, read all of this, and RIGHT NOW.  You’ll be lucky if you can find yourself a spot.  Read on, trust me.)

Hiking Mount Kinabalu has been something I’ve been wanting to cross off my bucket list since I heard about it from a fellow backpacking nomad sometime during my first SEAsian excursion years back.  Since then it’s been in the back of my mind and finally this year I made it over to Sabah mainly for this reason and to go diving in the Semporna area.  Not being used to the way things work around here in Sabah just yet, Jess and I showed up and rented a motorbike and started off on our journey not really thinking too hardly about booking in advance and such.  Five or so days into the journey we were starting to plan a bit about the mountain and started doing some research.  I randomly went to the travel agency outside our hotel and asked about pricing for hiking the mountain.  The woman came back at me with prices ranging from Rm1350 ($369.99) all the way up to Rm2000 ($548) and beyond!! (Quick Note: Rm = Ringgit Malaysian, the currency of Malaysia.)  These package deals, which I personally can’t stand, will include everything from transport to and from Kinabalu Park, way too many meals, and probably a bunch of other bells and whistles you don’t necessarily need and/or want.  We had already rented a motorbike for weeks in advance, didn’t need all that extra food, and mainly didn’t want to spend $400!  Beyond that, she also told us that hiking the mountain was basically booked until sometime in July.  Fail.  Epic fail.

A bit flustered, we took off from KK (Kota Kinabalu) for a five to seven day journey realizing that we would need do some serious research into booking this experience as we were here now and absolutely needed to make this happen.  I hopped on Google and came across an absolutely wonderful blog titled Notes of Nomads written by fellow travel addicts like myself that had brilliantly spelled out how they got around the insane prices and climbed Kinabalu on a budget (if you’re reading this – thanks again Jessica and Hai!!).  From their advice and the comments on one of their posts about it all I started seriously digging.

On their recommendation I first ended up contacting Sutera Harbour‘s Sanctuary Lodges, which funny enough, is a side business of a 5-Star resort based around Kota Kinabalu and more importantly – the exact company that the package deal from any travel agency is going to sell you on, without telling you who it’s through.  From what I could now tell, this company is basically the only way to tackle this incredible feat.  If you contact Sutera directly (which I don’t recommend) you’re looking at the following packages and prices:

Sutera Packages

Rm835 is still $230 per person.  The catch is this: all that is without the guide and park fees.  Add another Rm175 or so and you’re going to look at a grand total of about Rm985 ($270)!!  They also only offer the 3D/2N package.  You may or may not have that amount of time, or even want to do that.  The reality of it is that you’re more than likely going to be insanely sore after the hike and you will probably want the extra night once you’re down from the mountain to get a good night’s rest and rest your legs which will be absolute jello.  You’ll see again though on the above list that they also include SEVEN meals.  You really just don’t need all of them.  You’ll barely want to eat much for any of the three hikes, as hiking on a full stomach is really just a good way to ask for an uncomfortable side ache, or worse, a decent vomiting session somewhere along the trail.  Regardless of all this, I contacted them because I really wanted to hike this mountain.  They got back to me with the same news as the package lady in KK did – they’re fully booked until July.  Fail again.

Reading further into the comments section on the Kinabalu post from Notes of Nomads I started to notice the author and commenters mentioning something about a possible option through a company called Jungle Jack Backpacker.  Having a Malaysia SIM card already with 3G on it (Rm30/800MB) already I looked up Jungle Jack at his Facebook page and noticed his phone number 010 947 7509 (or +6 010 947 7509 from out of the country) and gave him a call.  Jack himself answered the phone and gave me simple details on what was up for climbing the mountain through him.

Jack offers all the way up to 4D/3N, though you can rock the 3D/2N or 2D/1N package, without all the extra bells and whistles from Sutera and for the lowest price I’d heard yet: Rm630 ($172).  You can stay with Jack out at his property 1km away from Kinabalu Park the night before your 9.30am climb and the night after your 2.30am climb, and honestly probably the night after if you wanted – Jack is about as sweet of a man as it gets.  After Jack explained this and also let me know that the mountain is basically full non-stop these days, I asked him when was available – he said get here Sunday, you can hike Monday the 2nd (of March).  Perfect I said.  STOKE – this was going to happen!  Jess and I got back to KK in time to repack our smaller bags with the gear needed for hiking and took off to find Jack’s place.

Jungle Jack’s Backpacker Hostel is located on the left side of the road on Route 22 which runs from the Tuaran area past Kinabalu Park to Ranau and beyond.  Here’s where Jack’s place is on the map (the red marker – click to enlarge photos):

Jungle Jack Location 1

Jungle Jack Location 2

Jess and I had our own motorbike to get around (as we’re not much into being shuttled around like cattle), but if you don’t have your own transportation, I’d say the best way to get there would be to either hitchhike, or take a bus get dropped off at Kinabalu Park like everyone else, and then carefully walk the 1km back to Jack’s – WEST of Kinabalu Park.  Most of the locals around the area know who he is, so ask around if you’re not sure where you are.  (Quick Note: We stopped in at Jack’s today and asked how most people get to his spot.  He said by bus.  Just tell the bus driver you’re going to Jungle Jack and they should know where to drop you.)

If your eyes are seeing a view of this from the road – you’re at the right place:

Jack Entrance

Once you arrive at Jack’s, be prepared – the man comes off a little more forward in a crazy way than you may be used to at first from a Malaysian man, but you will hilariously get used to it and love it.  The man is a hoot!  He’s really incredible.  You’ll basically pay Jack the Rm630 right when you arrive at his place (don’t forget to ask him about the Rm55), and he goes and takes care of getting all your details for hiking the next day in order (license, insurance, guide, etc.).  He then tells you to chill out and relax a while before he’ll take you out to a fantastic local dinner.

(Quick Note: Do yourself a favor – DO NOT ask Jack too many questions until you get there.  The man is fairly busy and has somewhat of a short fuse in a humorous way, and he doesn’t want to deal with loads of empty questions for no reason.  Ask him when you can climb, when to show up, and let him to the rest of the talking.  He’ll confirm with you and then you’re set.  From there, just show up with Rm630.  He’ll take care of the rest.)

All that said if you’re attempting to climb Mount Kinabalu anytime soon – you better have a date in mind and be ready to hit up our friend Jack for a spot, as it is insanely booked through July 2015 at the moment.  Do yourself a favor and don’t book through the monopoly of Sutera (I’ll explain more about this in another post).  Book through Jack, get a real Kinabalu experience, and learn a bunch of history about it all from Jack himself.  Also, not to get your hopes up, but if you’re here in Sabah reading this right now and everything seems to be booked, there’s still a chance if you call him you could potentially have the opportunity to jump into a cancellation spot.  Even with the crazy wait list, people do still end up not showing, so if you have the patience and time to maybe wait a few extra days it’s possible you can still get up to the summit!

Again here’s Jack’s info:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/junglejackbackpacker
Phone:  010 947 7509 (Inside Malaysia) or +6 010 947 7509 (Outside Malaysia)
Remember – it’s best to call him!

I’m working on my post on the actual Mount Kinabalu climb currently.  As soon as it’s done, I will link it right here!  Happy hunting and climbing everyone!  Tell Jack Shawn and Jessica say hello when you see him!

:ps: To give you an idea of what you’re in for, this is what Jack will reply to you via Facebook:

Welcome to Jungle Jack’s! Located just 1 km from the entrance of Mount Kinabalu National Park, Jack’s place is ideal for both young travellers and families Impressum 630 Long Description Situated less than 1km from Mount Kinabalu Park, this is the ideal location for the budget backpacker endeavouring to climb Mount Kinabalu. The all-inclusive package offers comfortable accommodation in one of the 6 bed dorms, home cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner and full access to the outdoor jungle kitchen with unlimited tea, coffee and tropical fruits. There are also modest bathrooms with a hot shower.

Surrounding Jungle Jacks’ is an area of natural beauty, with wild Orchids, untouched jungle and a stunning view of Mount Kinabalu. During your stay you can rent a scooter for just 30rm (including petrol) and visit the nearby Poring Hot Springs, local markets and farms.

Jungle Jack is a welcoming host with a warm heart, willing to go the extra mile to make your stay a memorable one. As well as being a great chef, he can help you to climb Mount Kinabalu at a great rate so for further details contact Uncle Jack on: 010 947 7509

How do I get there? Jungle Jack is located on the A4 highway near Mount Kinabalu. When coming from Kota Kinabalu, it’s approximately 1 km before arriving at the Mount Kinabalu Park Entrance. To get there from Kota Kinabalu you can take the bus towards Ranau and ask the driver to drop you off Jungle Jack. The bus from Kota Kinabalu should cost about 20 MYR and take approximately 2 hours.

How much does it cost? The cost is 630 MYR. This includes 3 nights accommodation, 2 at Jungle Jack’s hostel and 1 at the base camp on the mountain, climbing permits, a guide, food at Jungle Jack’s and 1 dinner at the restaurant on the mountain. For lunch and breakfast on the mountain you can take as much food and drinks as you want from Jungle Jack and bring it up there. I.e.: sandwiches, packaged noodles, etc. There is a water boiler up there to cook the noodles.

What do I need to bring? Aside from the basics, you’ll want to bring warm clothes as the summit and higher altitudes can be quite chilly. As rain is very likely, you’ll definitely want a rain jacket and/or a poncho as well as a way to keep your backpack dry. You’ll be trekking to the summit in darkness, so you’ll want a headlamp to light the way. Gloves will come in handy for holding onto the ropes leading to the summit. Snacks high in sugar and protein are good fuel for the long hike up. Make sure you have good hiking shoes that grip well since the trail can be slippery. There may be some clothes you can borrow from Jungle Jack.

How long will it take? You should plan on at least three days, but may want to leave a extra day just in case. You should plan on arriving the afternoon before your climb. In the morning you will climb the very steep 6 km to a hut partway up the mountain and spend the night there. The following morning you’ll wake up very early (like 2 am early!) and climb to the summit in time to see the sunrise. You’ll then descend the entire way and arrive back at Jungle Jack’s mid-afternoon. You’ll likely want to spend the night after your climb at Jungle Jack’s, but you can leave that same afternoon if needed.

How difficult is the hike? The hike is not technical, but you should be in decent physical shape to be able to make it to the summit (and back). The trail is 8.7 km each way and ascends about 2200 meters (that’s a lot!).(MAKE BOOKING ONLY IF YOU ALL HAPPY WITH RM 630pp)

If your question wasn’t answered here, DON’T come or call 0109477509.

A quick glace look at what goes into a rucksack for globetrotting…

Salamat Datang!

That’s ‘Welcome’ in Malay/Indonesian.  I’m currently in Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia.  It’s hot.  It’s sticky.  It’s gorgeous.  Thought I’d pop off a quick post of this video I took right before hitting the airport in Seattle to take off on this walkabout…literally.  Here’s a quick look at what goes into my rucksack (usually – if I was headed to India this would be a completely different story) before taking off on one of my wild globetrotting experiences around SEAsia:

Not mentioned in the video (in bag or whatever): Leatherman, vitamins, a simple first aid kit, random assortment of power adapters for different countries, pack towel(s), 5 liter dry bag, and last but not least Socks (not really needed…EVER almost – I mess this up every year).

Here’s link’s to a few of the products seen in this video:

KEENS
www.keenfootwear.com

Aqualung Favola Mask
http://www.aqualung.com/us/gear/masks/item/79-favola
(You can get these cheaper on eBay.)

REI Siesta Sheet
http://www.rei.com/product/808848/rei-siesta-sheet
(Apparently these aren’t available anymore, but they have similar items.)


Kelty Red Cloud
http://www.kelty.com/p-844-red-cloud-90.aspx

Space Bags
https://www.spacebag.com/

All that said, once I arrived I already realized I overpacked – AGAIN.  Mainly I did not need the socks and that many T-Shirts – it’s just too hot!

Boom boom, it’s hot out, we’re eating Mee Sup Tom Yam Seafood for breakfast and then off to a waterfall!

Loves!

Need your hot springs fill?! The Olympic Hot Springs just reopened.

God Rays

Nestled and tucked away in the Olympic National Forest is a semi-hidden gem of a hot spring which just re-opened – which I am prepared to tell you everything about so you can be inspired to get there yourself.

Having been craving a dip in some natural and sulfuric hot water as of late, I happened to come across this picture of a pixie I know named Dawn soaking away in what seemed to be quite the pristine location to do so.  I checked in with Dawn to see just where this magical picture was taken, and it turned out to be the freshly re-opened Olympic Hot Springs just outside of Port Angeles.  I checked in with the Jess about when we could head out and she simply said, ‘As soon as possible.’  Fantastic, I thought, the sweet smell of sulfur on skin would be nigh!

Port Angeles is a quiet old port town with US Highway 101 running through it on the North tip of the Washington Peninsula.  There are a few routes to take from Seattle depending on which part of city you’re in, one of them including a ferry ride from Kingston, the other including the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  Here’s where Port Angeles is in comparison to Seattle:

SEA > PA

All in all it’s about a 2-3.5 hour drive depending on if you take the ferry or not.  I personally recommend staying in Port Angeles for the night, as it does require a hike to get out to the Springs.  It’s only about a 25 minute drive from downtown Port Angeles to the trailhead, so getting a little room and going out for some drinks the night before worked out perfect for Jess and I.  We stayed at the Port Angeles Inn ($60/night, Queen size bed, full bathroom) and ended up hopping around town to a few spots before hitting the hay for the hike the next morning.

For a quick bite and a brew we hit up the Next Door Gastropub.  This spot is exactly that, a small little gastropub with $8-$15 plates, and a decent selection of NW brews on 10 or so taps.  You won’t find anything rare from the beer world here, but nevertheless you’ll find something tasty.  I snagged the Fig-N-Brie Panini and was extremely impressed.  Definitely worth the stop in.  From there we continued our usual beer hunting habits and walked over to The Lazy Moon Craft Tavern.  Here they’ve got something like 18 taps, and this is where you’re going to find something rare.  If my memory serves me correctly we found a bourbon barrel-aged stout, and some tasty IPA of sorts.  There’s a pool table, and a bunch of elder locals sipping brews by themselves.  Kind of an odd ambience to the place, but you got to remember you’re in a fishing port town.  Highly recommend stopping through the Lazy Moon if you’re in the area.  We got a good night’s rest and stopped in at Cafe New Day for some espresso and a snack (also recommended if you’re in the area), and set off for the trailhead.

As mentioned before it takes about 25-30 minutes to get from downtown Port Angeles to the parking area for the trailhead.  Head West on the 101 outta town and you’ll simply take a left onto Olympic Hot Springs Rd.  It’s very clearly marked from the 101.  From there just follow the signs for the hot springs and you’ll end up at the trailhead parking lot.  It’s a beautiful drive, and the dam has recently been destroyed and taken down, which apparently has made this drive even more pristine!  Here’s a closer look at PA vs. the trailhead:

PA vs Trail

Once at the trailhead you’ve got a 2.5 mile beautiful hike ahead of you.  We were greeted right off the bat by these incredible rays of light from the heavens above:

Jess God Rays

Some of the scenery along the way:

Mush1

Mush2

Forest Bridge

This is one of the three bridges you’ll cross to get up to the hot springs.  Looks to be semi under repair currently.

Forestry

View from the bridge pictured above.

You’ll start wondering when it is you’ll reach the end of the 2.5 miles, and then you’ll come to a beautiful little clearing with an old school styled outhouse in the middle.  It’ll look like this:

Outhouse

Head off to the right as the signs will tell you, you’ll cross another rustic wooden bridge, and you’ll start smelling the lovely smell of sulfur you’re about to dip yourself in.  Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you’re basically at the Hot Springs.  You will see small pools to the left and right of the path.  Two of these pools are decent to take a tiny dip in, but the most sacred pool you must keep walking for.

Some of the scenery along the path:

Reflection

Beautiful reflection on a sulfur pool.

Sulfur Water

Sulfur water running over sticks and stones creating an epic array of colors.

Scene from one of the better of the pools along the path.

Now you must pay attention if you want to find the best pool located at these springs: go all the way past all of the pools you can see from the trail.  At that point, the trail gets skinny, overgrown, and heads into woods off to the right a bit. Go another 20 yards or so and look for a small trail that goes to the right and very uphill. It’s a bit confusing, but there is definitely a small trail.  One minute up that trail is the last and best pool.  Here’s some shots and a video from around and actually sitting inside the top pool:

From Inside

This is taken sitting down inside the pool.

WINNING

So winning.

Pano of Pool

This is a panorama shot from above the main pool where the hot water is actually coming out of the ground.  On the left you have a changing area and a spot to put your items.  The large log acts brilliantly as a backrest.  Sometimes there are carpets in the bottom of the pool to keep the silt down, but they had been removed by someone for cleaning this trip.

Here’s a video of the scene:

We were fortunate enough to make it on a weekday, which I would highly recommend if you can, as there will be much less humans out there in general.  I think we spotted something like five or six people on the way out to the springs, and once we arrived at the top pool we were greeted by one older local gentleman who warmly welcomed us.  We chatted away fantastic hot spring conversation with Jack until he took off, leaving the pool to just us!!

Overall this is definitely one of my new favorite hot spring experiences.  The hike is just enough to keep the away the miscreant crowd, it’s totally rustic and not built up, you can still be naked and not have to worry about it, and of course, the hot spring itself is magic.  Jess and I highly recommend making the trek out there, and if you do, please let us know, we’ll totally tag along!  Enjoy!

Jess Bridge

A Safe & Portable Clean Water Solution For Your Travels.

Okay, so you’re going traveling abroad to a country that is particularly known for not having the cleanest drinking water and you’d like to do your best to not get sick.  For the fairly cheap price of around $125, you too can have a safe and insanely portable solution to cleaning your drinking water on your next trip.  All you require is two products:

~ Steripen Freedom ~

This amazing little device is a bit smaller than the length of the average male hand.  Not only is it incredibly small, but it is USB powered for any of you tech travel geeks that may have your laptop.  The device comes with a USB driven wall charger as well, but you’ll need to find your own adapters for whichever country you’re headed to.  The Freedom charges full in just over an hour and lasts up to 40-50 half liter treatments on one charge!  It packs a powerful UV Light that treats water for a wide range of things you don’t want to drink such as: E. Coli, Hepatitis, Salmonella, and Giardia.  I personally didn’t use it all that much, but if you twist the Freedom in your hand 3 times, it also has a fairly bright LED flashlight that pops on for about 2 minutes.  All in all this device is small, light, easy to carry anywhere, and only $99.95 at Steripen’s WebSite: http://www.steripen.com/freedom/ , OR you can click this little link to probably find it for about $75 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1qyGXfM .

794.151071_e

~ Camelbak Groove ~

This BPA free plastic water bottle isn’t your ordinary water companion.  The .6 liter/20 oz bottle houses a plant based carbon filter straw system that’s good for around 3 months and/or 300 uses.  For a small fee of $20 (or $30 if you want to purchase a few replacement filters from the start), this lightweight and easy to clip onto any backpack water bottle can be yours for $19.99 at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1qyKuuj .

You may think ‘Why is the water bottle necessary when I probably have plenty already?  Good question.  Well, just because you’re cleansing the water of bacteria doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to taste that great.  The carbon filter in the Groove gives your hydration that extra filtration to make it taste just fine.

So you’ve got your two products. Simply follow this insanely high tech video I just shot and you’re good to go!

This was not an original idea by the way.  It was recommended to me by my dear friend Dawn (World Class Traveler, check out her photography here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/playapixie/sets/) when I met up with her traveling through India.  I took it upon myself to try out her suggestion the next trip I went on, and was sold instantly.  Thanks again Dawn!

Mikkeller Continues To Take Over The World.

Mikkeller BKK

 

Searching for the brand new Mikkeller Bar in Bangkok isn’t necessarily what I’d call easy.  At least it wasn’t when I was trying to find it on the second night after it was opened officially.  I found their address and plugged it into Google Maps, and up came some far off soi off a soi on Ekkamai off Sukhimvit that I thought for sure was going to have me end up in some strange Thai neighborhood in Bangkok wondering where I was.

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, owner of the gypsy brewery Mikkeller, has chosen to stick his third bar on the planet (the other two are in Copenhagen, Denmark – his home country, and San Francisco) not in the heart of New Bangkok, but hidden, right nearby. The bar itself is simply a house in the more upscale Ekkamai neighborhood converted into a living space upstairs, and the bar downstairs, with the refrigeration and keg storage space in the back.  They’ve turned the lawn into an exceptionally lounged out grassy area with squatter tables with upscale beanbags for chairs.  There’s a patio as well with about eight or so taller sit tables for those that don’t feel like being on the ground, but not in the AC controlled non-mossie environment inside.

To locate the bar, you can now search it on Google Maps, but I may as well just tell you how to get there anyways:  Head to Sukhimvidt Road and head towards Sukhimvidt 63 which is the Ekkamai neighborhood soi.  Take a motorbike taxi from there down to Ekkamai 10, which will be on the right hand side of the street coming from Sukhimvidt.  From there it’s a short walk.  Simply walk down Ekkamai 10 and take your first right.  Then take your first left.  In about 20-40 seconds on the right you’ll see a house, yes I said a house, that just happens to be where you’re going to find absolute deliciousness in the beer realm unlike anything else in Thailand, or potentially all of SE Asia for that matter.

When asked on why Mikkel had picked the location, Pete, the Tap Master (says his card), resident of the establishment, and more outspoken of the three main gents that run the place, simply said, “He wanted it to be a destination.  We don’t want every drunk idiot traveling in Thailand to be able to just stumble in.”  Mikkel’s beers range from a 1.3% ABV Low Alcohol Wheat Ale called ‘Drink’in The Sun’ all the way up to a 14% ABV American Strong Ale brewed with To Øl called ‘Walk On Water’.  Like any new product or service anywhere, these types of things can take some getting used to, especially when the country you’ve landed in normally serves beer at a flat 4-5% ABV.

That evening I chose carefully (as always) and ordered a 12% Imperial Stout named ‘George!’, a juniper berry infused IPA named ‘Baltic Frontier’, a brilliant sour from Mikkel in the ‘Spontaneous Series’ titled ’Spontandoubleblueberry’ (which ended up being one of the best beers I’ve had in almost a year), and a really well done DIPA (Double-IPA for those not in the know) called ‘Dangerously Close To Stupid’.  All were fantastic, with the blueberry sour being one of those brews that your intense beer hunter/geek/snob yearns for in his or her global search for the best brews on the planet.

Though I haven’t actually been to Mikkel’s other two bars in Copenhagen and San Francisco, I hear that the esthetics of the bar are fairly similar as far as paint job, colors, weird little figures on the wall, and such.  Though I was too busy drinking as many danky brews as possible, I snagged one photo out of the few times I’ve been there – it’s not great, but pictured above.  The establishment boasts 30 taps (and around 40 bottles) of all sorts of rare beers – and that’s not just rare for Asia, rare for the world.  Two of the taps are house beers, the Sukhimvit Pilsner and Sukhimvit Brown, both made for Mikkel at De Proef in Belgium according to Mike (one of the three gents).  I sampled them both, here’s what I had to say about them on RateBeer.com:

Mikkeller Sukhimvit Pils | 3.9/5
On tap at Mikkeller Bangkok. This was an absolute delight! Pale yellow pour, medium white head. Notes of grassy fields and a light spice hop. Flavor is light but full of grass, spice hop, and a beautiful bitter finish. Wish I could get 6er’s of this in the States! A must try if you hit the BKK location.

Mikkeller Sukhimvit Brown | 3.4/5
Tap at Mikkeller BKK in January. Sampled a few that night, but went for the two house brews first. The Pilsner being rather outstanding, and the Brown not really adding up so well beside it. Earthy flavors amongst a touch of sweet coffee malt, and a minor roast end. Thin body. Decent, but not great.

At the end of the 2014 excursion through Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand Jess and I had been through Bangkok five to six times in three and a half months.  Each time we stopped through the Big Mango we would stop at Mikkeller if we had the time between flights and attempting to catch up on some sleep.  We sampled around 18-20 different brews in our stop ins, and by far our favorites were the recurring Spontaneous series we kept seeing on the menu.  The Spontaneous brews are a series of sour bretted (Brettanomyces, a non-spore forming wild yeast strain used in souring beers) beers with different fruits infused – the Doubleblueberry and Gooseberry were the top contenders by far.  Here’s what I had to say about those on RateBeer.com:

Mikkeller Spontandoubleblueberry | 4.5/5
Tap at Mikkeller BKK…sometime beginning of February. FULL ON. If you can find this one, get it. I don’t know how often I rate Appearance as a 5, but this beer is blue. Full on brett blueberry funk on the nose. Blends somehow brilliantly and perfectly. You know it’s gonna be a puckerfest. A touch of sweet fruity malt up front before a blast of wood, barnyard, and in comes the blueberries – abound! All over. But sour blueberries, just heaven. Brett and wood in the finish, everything lingering forever – this is one tasty beverage!

Mikkeller Spontangooseberry | 4/5
Tap at Mikkeller BKK beginning of February. This was another one of my favorites in the series Spontan. Whatever it was in the gooseberry it really kick in well with the brett and funky barnyard flavors for a beautiful sour elixir I wanted to drink forever. Dank!

Basically what I am trying to say here is this:
Even if you have only a day or two in Bangkok, if you’re a beer geek whatsoever – stop through Mikkeller BKK.  You won’t regret going on a bit of a Goose chase!

Jeddah International Airport. It’s like jail, but with AC.

You take off from Indira Ghandi International Airport with the destination of NYC.  You’ve found this incredible deal for the flight, Delhi to NYC, for $530.  The airline is Saudia Airlines, which recently just joined SkyTeam Alliance, meaning that’s got to be a decent airline at this point.

Leg one of the journey: Delhi to Riyadh.  Quite surprised at how pleasant the trip is.  Friendly and helpful service, big clean cabin, they even took my request as needing more legroom due to my knees.  Foods decent enough for airplane food, they even have a veg option for those of us that don’t eat animals.  So far so good.

Quick stopover in Riyadh to let some humans off and clean the cabin quickly and take off for Jeddah.  I knew already I was going to have an 11 hour layover in Jeddah, so I was prepping myself for the whole airport forever task.  Here comes the fun.

We land in Jeddah after another quick and easy 1 hour and 10 minute flight.  Simple.  Walk into the Jeddah airport, look for the transfer desk to figure out what gate I’ll be departing from, and you get this really odd looking face from a guy who just hands you this random piece of paper saying that you’re a transit passenger.  No gate information, it’s dated March 30th, and it’s actually May 1st.  Okay?  He says to proceed upstairs.  I do so, find myself going through a thick security detail (of course) and end up walking through a duty free area (no alcohol, of course, it’s Saudi Arabia), and once through the duty-free zone, a bunch of chairs,a large amount of faces covered women, and sheiks everywhere.  Fair enough, it’s a Muslim country.

I walk around for a maximum of about two minutes to discover that the transfer/transit area is maybe the size of the tiniest wing at a normal airport (but smaller than that even), with 10 gates, all leading underground, as it’s all bus to plane here for international travel apparently (they’re in the process of building some ridiculous $40 billion dollar airport through the means of crazy corruption according to a guy I chatted with on the plane to NYC).  There is three shops to buy things at.  One coffee shop, one snacky sweet shop, and one fairly under-par ‘restauraunt’.  Fair enough, if they have water, and something half-way decent to eat, I can deal for 11 or 12 hours.

Here’s the catch.  I just flew in from India.  I have very little cash left on me (on purpose), as it’s all in Rupees, and I don’t like getting ganked for exchanging currencies at airports.  I plan these things accordingly for a reason!  But here in this very small confined space there are NO currency exchanges, and NO ATM’s.  I ask around about this and they all shove me off semi-rudely saying, ‘No this is a problem, they are all outside the passport control area, where you can’t go’.  Specific quote: “This is your problem.”

Okay…so I start to ask what I can do about it, as I’m here for 12 hours and I need water and probably some food at some point.  They wave me off, somewhat rudely (mind you these are security guards).  I head back in thinking of course that one of these three shops will take credit cards, as it’s an airport.  NOPE.

Great, so I have a 12 hour layover with no Riyals, no water, and no food.  There are no comfortable places to sit, basically no power outlets for charging anywhere, no free Wifi, and I’m fairly at a loss at this point.  It makes no sense!  Don’t places like this WANT you to be spending money while you’re waiting around for 12 hours?  Then why is there no ATM or currency exchange, or simply, why don’t they take credit cards?!??!?  Mindnumbing.

Thank gods for the $100 bill I keep for crazy random circumstances like this.  Apparently, I figure out, if you buy something at the duty-free shop with American Dollars, Euros, or British Pounds, you get Riyals back in change.  Wow.  This is the only option.  If I wouldn’t have had this bill, I’d be in this chair filled room, with no water, no food, no nothing (let alone place to kind of rest or wander around LIKE EVERY OTHER AIRPORT IN THE WORLD – at least that I’ve been to), for 12 hours.  Absolutely incredible.  It’s like  jail, but with AC and a place to pray – if you’re Muslim.

The first few hours just kind of drudgingly go by until I figure out you can purchase 30 minutes – 2 hours of Wifi from the ‘restaurant’ for about 15 Riyals, which is around $4.  Ok, normally, I would never do this, but at this point I’m down for the charge, as I for whatever reason do not usually succeed to well at reading books or novels in airports.  Success on one front.  Next I see one of the guys from the plane handing over the same type of slip (that I got from the information booth guy as I stepped off the plane) to the restaurant, and they’re giving him food!  I head over and ask about what’s going on, and apparently this slip is good for one ‘free meal’!  Wow, exciting, and kind of amazing to me at this point in the whole experience.  I hand over my slip and get back a tray with a tiny bottle of water, a huge bread bun, two strips of airport chicken, some rice, and an apple.  Beggars definitely cannot be choosers, and as vegetarian as I am, I’m hungry, and down the hatch it goes!

I go over and purchase a coffee and finish my water, and life is slowly returning to my system.  I find a decent table in the corner near one of the only power outlets I can find to huddle around for the next 8 hours.  From then on it was the same sort of routine over and over again.  Any backpacker or Westerner within a certain frame of mind would head to the restaurant from getting off the plane, see me, and start up the, “Did you know there’s no ATM or currency exchange or place to smoke or alcohol or…” conversation with me.  The delirium has set in already and every single one of these interactions I have becomes excessively hilarious until I finally get asked about power outlets by this man that appears to be a fairly young and chilled out Indian!

Turns out he is (from Mumbai), and we end up having a brilliant chat about my last months in India, where he’s from, what he does (he works on shipping boats in the Mediterranean for nine months out of the year), what I do, and then has a load of tips for non-touristic spots to hit with the Enfield next time I’m in India.  STOKE.  Exactly what I needed.  A little taste of India, and a little sliver of feeling like I’m not going back to the States.  Perfect.

The next single-serving friends I run into happen to be a Canadian and a Columbian, coming off an excursion through the Philippines headed to Istanbul.  Obviously the American (myself) and the Canadian have a fair amount to chat about, and Kelsey and I end up chatting and sharing some music while Edgar somehow takes a nap on the hard-as-a-rock bench chairs in one of the sections of the prison.  This definitely passed a lovely chunk of the rest of the time, and before you know it, my plane is boarding.

Having been through a fair amount of airports in the world and the States at this point, I couldn’t have imagined anything like this existed.  I later find out that Saudi Arabia has NO tourist visa!  Absolutely incredible.  They are so wealthy, that they literally don’t care about making money from tourism.  The wealth is also at the top 4% of the people or something of the sort, with King Abdullah heading up that department worth around $18 billion (interesting side read on rich royals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_richest_royals).  Corruption is thick, and widespread.  If you’re not Muslim or have invested business in the country, you’re basically not welcome.  These types of circumstances just keep piling up.  Rather unfortunate as well, as even though I want nothing to do with Islam, I have a fascination with world religions, and would love to see Mecca someday – not possible…unless I convert and have proof of it.  As I’d say in India, “SANAKI!” (crazy).

Boarded my flight tired like I hadn’t been in a while, immediately passed out, and the journey back to the States continued…

Some further reading on the craziness of Saudi Arabia I found from trotting through Wiki articles after writing this:
Mecca, Saudi Arabia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mecca
With this fort: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajyad_Fortress
Built to protect the Kabba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaaba
Destroyed to create: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraj_Al_Bait_Towers
Built by: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudi_Binladin_Group
Who will eventually build: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_Tower

Insane.

The Catch-22 of Traveling…

Narita

(Click for an enlarged view.)

It’s days like today that really remind me of the whole Catch-22 of traveling.

Will start with the weird.  Riding through the spectacular hills around the Solan and Shimla area in Northwestern India today on my way to Mandi, the Endfield Thunderbird 350cc started acting up again, as it had the previous night.  When throttled to a certain point the bike starts spurtering.  Knowing a bit about bikes I had an idea what was wrong, but wasn’t sure.  Thankfully, I made it safe to Solan last night, and hadn’t broken down in the middle of no where.

Today after making it through the crowded Highway 88 through Shimla, the bike started to spurted again while driving.  At this point I was a good 30ish clicks outside of  Shimla, and there was not much around in sight except the grey-purple-bluish hills and greenery everywhere.  Then, Narita (she, the bike gave herself a name yesterday) just decides to putter a few spastic times while slowing down in 3rd, and comes to a halt, and shuts off. Ahem.

(Quick insertation to note that about twenty minutes before this I had just pulled over for almost an hour to fix it a first time, replacing the spark plug, fuel line to the carburetor, and cleaning the carburetor itself for 100 rps,  I tipped the man, who really knew his stuff 40 rps.  Narita seemed like she was fixed…)

I’ve had plenty of issues with bikes traveling in the past years from the obvious flat tubes in the tires to bald tires to crashes to beyond crashes to fuel lines bursting to driving into a restricted area and spending the night at military barracks to…having your bike decide to completely quit on you no where near a shop, and especially an Enfield shop (which are politely enough placed around India, but mostly in larger towns/cities).  Trying a few quick fixes put me no where.   Next step: find someone and see if they know anything about bikes.

There just happened to be this odd, decently sized building about a fourth of a click back.  I walked over to find a few security guards hovering around, one of which spoke decent enough English to have a conversation about what was going on.  He tells me to roll the bike over to attempt to get it going near the shop and off the road.  After pushing it over, a few tries of the same sort were gone over, and the fuel was checked, as for some odd reason, they were convinced I’d been given kerosene even though I’d told them I’d gotten petrol at a real station.  Strange.  Through this process, I noticed smoke coming from the carburetor, obviously not a good sign.

Narita would not start whatsoever, she’d give a few turns of the engine and that was it.  Next step: see if they know anyone they can call for me to pick-up truck the bike back to the Enfield shop I’d seen in Chakkar, right before Shimla, for a fee.  A little chat between the guards, and they decide on a number, give it a call, and the guy agrees to come out and take me where I need to go.

By this time, the usual crowd of watchers and/or participators has happened.  This is a phenomenon here in India that can happen anywhere at anytime as a traveler.  You can be going about your merry business of whatever, and this action easily could turn into something that will have a few to a load of spectators just staring you down silently, or asking you in broken English where you are from and what is going on.  If something is wrong, a few of these people may help you out in some way.  The case today was that the 6 or so men that happened to come out and check out the issue all helped out, which was great, as it required all of us to lift the bike into the back of the truck.

Loaded and strapped, Narita sat in the back and I gave many handshakes and said many thank you’s to them all, then took off for the Enfield shop.  The driver spoke no English, so the ride was mostly silent except for a random call from a friend traveling through Thailand, which ended up being a perfect little dip out of what was going on to chill out for a moment while driving through the hills.  Being around half past six or so, you never know if whatever destination you’re going to will be open unless it’s a hotel or a restaurant – and even then…places just close whenever they want out here.

Pulling up to the Royal Enfield shop, we can already tell they’re packing up for the night and shutting down.  The driver explains in Hindi what’s up from what he knows, and I give my version in English.  Turns out one of the mechanics speaks the language rather well.  He takes off his gloves and and sets down his backpack and we grab the bike out of the truck and double wheel it upright inside the garage.  Two gents quickly get to work on taking apart the carburetor and fuel filter assembly.  The fuel filter is basically black, and the carburetor is cleaned, and the bike reassembled.  The main guy (can’t remember his name) takes it for a spin, comes back, and isn’t satisfied it’s working.  At this point it’s either the carburetor, or they’re not sure.  A second-hand carburetor for a Thunderbird is found, implemented and she’s driven for another test.

Success.

This is great news, even though at this point the day is basically a wash.  You never know if the shop will have the part, how expensive it will be, or a multitude of factors, though you can pick up how much some items are after a while of buying them over and over.

The whole process ended up taking about five plus hours and costing somewhere in the 3000 rps range (the shop also did not charge me labor fees, while the two gentleman and lady were working after hours), which in reality is only around $55, though in travel talk that is a day’s worth spending, or when speaking to the right person, four or five days worth of budget.  At this specific moment in time I’m a bit tight, so I wasn’t too excited about all this.

Begin the Catch-22 of traveling.  I’m traveling around a foreign country, literally half way across the world, riding a gorgeous motorcycle that most Indians would dream of owning once in their life time, eating wherever I want, doing whatever I want, and living it up the fullest.  Those around me, besides the occasional other backpacker, are mostly earning anywhere from 100-400 rps a day, with your exception every so often depending on their line of work.  Today I spend a month or more‘s worth of someone’s income just to deal with fixing my motorcycle so that I could continue on to meet some travelers from Isreal and the UK that I clicked with well in Rishikesh days prior.

Right.  Perspective.

I notice while traveling in developing countries this notion of a Catch-22…the in-between point of being so overwhelmed with emotions of the positive nature, while plowing through neighborhoods of very poor human beings, who only many times, have this idea in their head that coming to wherever it is that you come from is a much better place than where they reside.  In some cases, this is absolutely true.  I’ve seen slums so humbling out here in India and other countries in Southeast Asia, that I was silent for hours.  Coming from white, middle-class America in Edmonds, WA, places of this nature were as unknown as walking on the Moon until I saw them, breathed the air, and felt the energy of their people.

This notions will always remind that while my country, the United States of America, is not perfect by any means (mostly due to the government and the people paying the government), it is a country where you more than likely are driving a car, saying whatever you want, own a laptop and an iPod, go through smartphones all the time, and hey, you even have a shower head and a toilet to sit on!  So many in Westernized countries forget that most of the world does not have these leisures that many would freak out if they did not have.

I am extremely fortunate for what I have been able to see and witness in countries far away from where I am from, and usually reside in.  Tell the larger percentage of Indians or Southeast Asians how much a plane ticket costs to the States, and you just get a smile and laugh, with the vibe that they know they’ll never be able to afford it, or afford the trip with enough space to be able to take a ‘holiday’ or even better, live and work in instead.  I am humbled a thousand fold by this, and when the travels get tough for whatever reason, need to remind myself exactly what it is that I am able to do because I was born in the United States to a loving family with a solid income (thanks Mom and Pop for everything!).

Tomorrow I will ride on towards the Dharamsala area and continue to smile heavily towards every single sentient being wherever it is I decide to stop or stay.  There is reportedly 7.1 BILLION humans on Earth, and we are all special in our own way.  The views and the beaches and the motorcycles and the food (gulab jamun!!) and the ashrams and the temples and the backpackers and the lifestyle of traveling are exciting, stunning, and breathtaking – but being able to meet human beings that have a different set of beliefs and lifestyles through the planet – this is life changing, and I will forever take to heart how massively unique this our rock flying around the Sun truly is.  When we figure out how to unify as a planet, as a species, something magnificent will take place.  I have hope.