A Travellerspoint blog

Traversing Turkey

sunny 80 °F
View Heading West on kym.haley's travel map.

“Kym?” They asked.

“Kym?” They asked again.

“Kym?” They asked one more time.

“JAIME!!!!” Everyone yelled in unison.

We found a group of recent graduates from Istanbul University who were just celebrating their commencement held earlier that day. We were in the restaurant next door on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. When we were leaving I offered to take their group photo and we became fast friends. We joined the group for more Raki (an anise brandy of sorts) and found ourselves invited to their graduation party the following night. This wasn’t any old graduation party! They had rented out Reina, the most exclusive club in Istanbul. We decided to go and after somehow convincing the bouncer that two very under-dressed white tourists were actually okay to go inside a private party, we met our friends from the previous night amongst the thousand or so people packed in a courtyard that overlooked the Bosphorous River. “JAIME!!!” They all yelled! “Kym?” someone asked. “Jaime!!!” We then realized that “kim” is the Turkish word for “who.” It all made sense! We danced amongst formal gowns and black ties in our clothes that are less dressy than most wear any day on the street, but we had a hell of a time. In what other country could you get invited to a private party in the most exclusive and famous club in the country, not pay a cover, stick out like a sore thumb, but still be welcomed and have a great time? I love Istanbul!

We spent a total of five nights in Istanbul, moving from a dorm room to a couch on a terrace, to someone’s spare bed in their house. We met numerous people every day that would approach us, welcome us to their country, and chat a bit. We saw the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar and The Spice Bazaar. We took a ferry ride up the Bosphorous River stopping on both the European and Asian sides of the river. We took a ferry to the town of Kadakoy on the eastern side of the city and explored the differences of the non-tourist areas of Istanbul. It was a great city and we met some great people and had a lot of fun. We were sad to go as we could have spent another week there.

We took a bus to Amasra on the Black Sea. It is a tourist destination later in the summer for Turks, but there are hardly any white tourists that make it there. We stayed in an ev pensyonu (a homestay) with a nice older woman who didn’t speak a word of English, but made an excellent breakfast. We hung out on the beach and enjoyed the water, although not as warm as SE Asia, it did the trick. We made friends on the beach that got a kick out of getting me to chicken fight with them! Kym laughed histerically from the safety of the beach chair!

We took another bus south to Safronbolu, a town famous for its home construction and being the largest producer of the spice saffron. You would think that it would be cheaper if you found it at the source, but the spice still seems to cost as much as gold! We experienced a Hamam, a Turkish Bath. After sitting in a steam room and a sauna, a Turk scrubs off your skin with a brillow pad glove, washes you with a mountain of soap, and gives you a massage and chiropractic-like treatment. It was amazing!

We now are in Goreme, in the heart of Cappadocia exploring the crazy caves and rock formations. The beautiful natural landscape and scenery makes up for what the town lacks in food, vibe, and friendliness like we found in the other Turkish cities we have seen so far. Our next leg of the journey will be to take another bus south to Antalya on the Mediterranean Coast where plenty of sun, beaches, and climbing will be had.

We miss you all!

Here are a few pics from the last week:

The view of Aya Sofia from our Hostel
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Kym is sad because my beer was larger!
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The Aya Sofia:
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Sultanamhet Park:
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The Blue Mosque:
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Kym enjoying Doner Kebap:
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The Galata Bridge:
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Our friends from Istanbul University:
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On a ferry heading up the Bosphorous River:
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The Bosphorous Bridge:
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The Black Sea:
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Tavuk Kebap:
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Winding the clock at the clocktower (built in 1797) in Safronbolu:
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Balloons over Cappadocia:
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One of the Frescoes in caves in Cappadocia:
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Instructions for how to use a western toilet!:
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A dance competition in Goreme:
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An ancient cave dwelling in Goreme:
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Posted by kym.haley 01:29 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Bhutan!!!

Yes it really is that cool!

semi-overcast 75 °F
View Heading West on kym.haley's travel map.

We believe that Bhutan is one of the best kept secrets in the world. Thanks to some great research by Kym and some encouraging words from my aunt Sharon, we decided to go. It is rather expensive and this was almost a breaking point in the deal, but going might be the best decision we have ever made. The country is an amazing cultural and spiritual experience and I think everyone who visits there comes away a better person.

All the cards fell perfectly into place. We traveled in low season with the advantages of fewer tourists, a little cheaper cost, cloud cover that provided cooler temps, and the National Archery Tournament was in full swing. Once the rainy season begins, the rice has mostly all been planted, and tourism and transportation drops considerably and that allows more leisure for Bhutanese people to enjoy holidays and archery.

We descended into Paro International Airport like a falling rock, just clearing the mountainside and slamming into the runway like a bug on a windshield. We stepped out of the plane onto an empty tarmac, and at first we were a little surprised that there was no security, but one look around showed we were the only plane at the airport and there probably were no more flights for this day or the next! We were free to wander around, eventually finding the immigration counter and entering Bhutan.

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We met our guide and driver and immediately felt that we got lucky. They were great. They took us first to the National Museum where we saw an eclectic collection of historical paintings, old artifacts, 19th and early 20th century weapons, taxidermy of local wildlife, historical dress and jewelry, cooking utensils, butterflies, and stamps. The museum was a renovated watchtower that overlooked the Paro valley. The ceilings tell that the Bhutanese army of the 17th century were quite short people!

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The architecture of the buildings in Bhutan is amazing, different from anything we have seen. Lots of color is used and the trim and moldings are always carefully carved and detailed. Homes and buildings are traditionally made out of mud, and wood is used for the windows, and sometimes upper floors. As the country has become more developed recently, more concrete construction can also be seen.

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Our first night we spent at the Hotel Riverside, a beautiful hotel in Thimpu that sat across from the National Stadium. It was the nicest room that we have ever stayed in. In the morning we went to the stadium to watch the archery tournament. They shoot at targets 140m away, very impressive.

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We next visited the National Memorial Choeten. (The difference between a Choeten and a Stupa is that you can enter a Choeten and a Stupa is enclosed.) There were many people on pilgrimages to this Choeten from all over Bhutan and abroad. When praying, the prayer beads are held in the left hand and one bead is turned in a clockwise direction for each prayer and at the start of the next prayer, the hand moves to the next bead, very similar to a rosary. In the right hand a prayer wheel is held and the wheel is also spun in a clockwise direction. This action is to signify all of the sin moving through one’s body and being cast off by the prayer wheel. The person continues this action as they walk clockwise around the Choeten. It is very bad karma to spin a wheel in a counter-clockwise direction.

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We also saw in Thimpu the Weaving Center, the Folk History Museum, the government-run Handicrafts Emporium, and the National School of Arts where students learn the 13 arts and crafts of traditional Bhutanese culture. Students are amazingly talented and study for 4-6 years depending on their craft.

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The food in Bhutan is great. The main staples are rice and chilies (fresh or dried), but they also have buckwheat pasta, potatoes, many different vegetables, cheese, and some meat including beef and pork. Occasionally they get dried fish from India. Chilies and cheese is a dish that is served with every meal and we found it to be an excellent accompaniment. The food is very spicy, but we loved it. Kinley, our guide, eats raw fresh chilies (they look and taste like our jalapenos) as a snack!

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After two nights in Thimphu, we headed to Punakha. We crossed over Dochula Pass at 3050m where there are 108 Stupas built to subdue the evil spirits that once were in the area.

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In Punakha we visited the Temple of Divine Mad Man, a highly respected and revered religious figure with some very interesting stories that involve lots of wine and debauchery. We also visited the Temple built for the current King of Bhutan. It was a nice hike through rice fields and up a short hill.

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Children at the Temple for the current king

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The phallus symbol can be seen on many homes and buildings all throughout the country. It is believed to ward off evil spirits and is very important in the history of Buddhism.

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Kym is shopping for a bachelorette party gift for Jeannie!

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Also in Punakha we visited a Nepali Stupa:

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The Stupa, like many other religious places in Bhutan had a large prayer wheel:

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We also visited the Punakha Dzong, the former capitol of Bhutan before it was moved to Thimphu:

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After Punakha, we traveled back to Paro where we stayed in a farmhouse as a homestay. It was a great experience and more intimate than a hotel room. The family was extremely kind and the food was the best of the trip. We even took a traditional hot stone bath, which is just as much a religious experience as a hygienic one.

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The final full day we hiked up to Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest.” It was a beautiful hike to a temple that sat high above the valley on the side of a cliff. The experience was one of the best in my life. It was extremely moving to be there amongst the monks, see the view, the history, and the shrines. We were warmly accepted and were allowed to sit in on a religious blessing of a temple. We also talked to another monk for quite a while, another moving experience. I have never felt so welcomed and so accepted by strangers in my life. The culture of Bhutan is so different from anywhere else I have been. The general mentality of everyone we met was, “how can I be a better person.” Everyone was so kind, wanted to know who we were, welcome us inside, and talk to us. It is not the same tourist experience of anywhere else.

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A happy family and a sad departure:

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We really have to return to this country. Our six days were wonderful, but we really need to go back again. I hope this experience helps us become better people, kinder, more inviting, and more like the Bhutanese people.

Posted by kym.haley 03:56 Archived in Bhutan Comments (12)

Chitwan National Park, Nepal

It was ok, but...

semi-overcast 90 °F
View Heading West on kym.haley's travel map.

We spent last week in Chitwan National Park for 2 nights, 3 days as part of a packaged tour. That is not at all the way that we like to travel, but it seemed the best way to see the park. Having never talked to anyone about the park, we didn't know quite what to expect. We read about the amazing animals that you can see and how wonderful it is. So...we decided to go.

We took the bus from Pokhara to Souram, a trip that normally takes 4 hours. We left at 7am and arrived after 5pm! Does that make sense? A little more than half way there we came to a stop a couple of kilometres from a small town. Apparently, a group of frustrated people had blockaded the road and so we sat, and sat, and sat. The bus fired up and we moved three lengths and then we sat again. And sat. And sat! Finally we were allowed to drive through town only to be stopped by another group of similar protesters another hour or so away. This time the whole town was striking and it was eerie to drive through a town with all the shops closed, not a soul on the road, until we turned the last corner and the entire town was blocking the road. We did make it to Chitwan, but the journey was quite long.

This is what we pieced together from the rumors: A well-known doctor from the area (southern Nepal) disappeared about 10 days prior. His car was found in Pokhara and his briefcase on the side of the road. The protesters were making a demonstration to gather attention demanding that he be returned. Does that make sense? At this point we just nod and smile!

When talking with a Nepali man (from a different area) later, he said, "Of course they need to strike. Striking is the only way that we would hope to get him back. It's obvious. The police are corrupt. They found his car, right? Of course they know where he is." Again, smile and nod as if everything makes perfect sense!

Now, back to the tour. We went on some uneventful nature walks and a canoe trip where we didn't see any animals and then saw an elephant Breeding Center. The Center was extremely depressing. Captive elephants are chained and confined to a small area where they are bred. Their young are also chained, but at a distance where they can't have any physical contact. They are rode once or twice per day for exercise. The worst part is the plethora of sharp tools and prodding instruments that are used to "control them." Hearing an elephant cry is one of the worst sounds in the world.

We went next for "elephant bathing" where the elephants are rode into the river and perform stunts with tourists on their backs. Again it was difficult to watch the caretakers use tools to control an elephant that clearly wasn't having fun anymore. Needless to say, we did not participate. I was at least encouraged a little when our guide was not supportive of the past few hours of our tour.

Later, after much deliberation we decided to do the elephant safari portion of the trip, but I told Kym if we had a handler that was cruel to the elephant I would take the stick and beat the handler! As it turned out, we had a very nice handler and a very nice elephant and nothing cruel took place. We had mixed opinions about supporting this, but in the end it was ok. We saw some deer, a peacock, and two wild boars, but the "guarantee" to see wild rhinos wasn't really a guarantee! We were not unhappy at all as we realize that it is not a zoo, but somewhat of a wild environment. We were satisfied, and on this portion actually had a good time. I don't think we ever need to come back to Chitwan.

In the morning we did a quick walk to see some various songbirds and the like and then took the bus to Kathmandu. This ride was actually uneventful.

And by the way, when we arrived in Kathmandu, we learned that the doctor was safe and sound, returned to his family! We just smiled and nodded!

Here is the evidence:

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Posted by kym.haley 22:56 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Trekking The Annapurna Circuit

Hiking through Nepal

all seasons in one day 70 °F
View Heading West on kym.haley's travel map.

For those of you anxiously awaiting a (real) update - we had an absolutely AMAZING time in the Annapurna Himalayas! Words can't describe how incredibly huge these mountains are! We did the Annapurna Circuit trek where you start in Besisahar, a several hour bus ride northwest of Kathmandu, and make a big loop around the Annapurna monsters eventually ending in Tatopani. Here are a couple of interesting stats about the trip:

Days on the trail: 16

Distance walked: about 200 km – we lost track after that

Starting elevation: 800m (for those of you still on the U.S. system, look it up)

Max elevation: 5,416m at Thorong La Pass (seriously, look it up. I don’t know why our crazy country doesn’t use the metric system. It is far too logical)

Rest Days: 1

Porters that we started with: 2

Porters that we finished with: 0

Our trek started with Jaime, myself, Christina, and 2 Nepali porters. One porter carried Christina's pack and the other carried the single pack that Jaime and I shared as well as serving as our "guide". We originally planned the trek without any porters or guides since we are perfectly capable of carrying our own packs, but for one reason or another decided to hire them the day before we left. More on this later…

The first several days of the trip were extremely hot so we started early in the morning (around 6:30am) and took a long break at lunch before continuing on in order to avoid the worst heat of the day. We had a couple of rainy afternoons as we rapidly approach monsoon season, which helps explain the lush green landscape of the jungle-like forests at these lower elevations.

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In many of the mountainous regions of Nepal, the trekking trails double as roads to get food and supplies from village to village. And believe me, I use the term "road" very loosely for the east side of the mountains. We are talking about dirt paths just wide enough for a human (or donkey) to walk on. So the further we traveled, the more difficult it was to get even the most basic of supplies into the villages. We saw donkeys carrying huge bags filled with beer bottles that looked like they were from another decade, Nepali people carrying stacked cages of nearly 40 chickens on their back and a handful of porters carrying nearly 200 pounds EACH of trekking gear, all of whom carried the weight on a strap across their forehead. It really made us think about the sheer dedication involved in getting a 30" color tv into a village 5 days walk from the nearest driveable town! These Nepali folk really love their WWF!

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The higher in elevation that we climbed, the landscape continued to change.

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At the higher elevations, it got pretty cold at night. We decided to cut space by not bringing sleeping bags, but survived on thick blankets provided by the guesthouses (thank goodness). We also treated our water all along the trail just to be safe. Neither one of us had any stomach issues while on the trail, which is a pretty nice accomplishment!

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By the first night at a guesthouse in Ngadi, we met what would become our core group of friends for the rest of the trek. One of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip was the people that we got to know over the course of our adventures. Thanks to all of you and we hope to meet again somewhere in the world!

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After the 5th day of hiking we were getting tired of the drama that our porter was creating. Everything was negative, he wouldn’t carry the pack and Jaime ended up carrying it for about half the time. Not only were we forced to stay and eat in certain guesthouses because he most likely got kick-backs, he started telling our friends that they were forced to do the same. Although we kept telling ourselves to just tough it out, it finally got out of hand and we decided to let him go. After the drama of firing him (the whole Nepali community watched the scene) Christina’s porter then ran off after promising to stay with her. We hate drama! It ended up being a great decision in the end because we then we had the freedom to go where we wanted, eat where we wanted, and stay where we wanted.
Before hiking over the pass at what ended up being our highest altitude of the trek, we decided to take a side trip (to acclimate) off the main trail to Tilicho Lake: the highest lake in the world (4,920m). The lake was almost completely frozen and quite spectacular. We hiked just over 5,100m in order to get a very cold glimpse of the lake before descending back to warmer temperatures.

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One of the highlights of the trip was reaching Thorung La pass (if you actually looked it up, you will find that it's well over 17,500 ft!). I caught a cold a couple days before hiking the 1,000m up to the pass and boy was it rough! Not only is altitude a powerful thing when up that high, my cold came to a full blown head and felt like an elephant was standing on my chest keeping me from breathing properly. Poor Jaime carried our 40 lb big pack AND took Christina’s day pack AND his own day pack AND my day pack weighing in at a total of nearly 75 lbs!! What a boyfriend! But for the record, I did carry my weight down the other side :). The descent was a painful 1,600 meters and we were happy to finally rest on the other side.

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Despite the lack of meat and fresh fruits and vegetables on the trail, we had some fantastic meals in the villages (that I fully intend to attempt replicating). One of the guys estimated that we burned at least 5,000 calories a day. I personally made sure to try and eat that many calories…for fuel, of course… Among the many different options of curry, momo, dal bhat, thukpa and spring rolls, I didn't have a problem satisfying the appetite :) It was amazing how we snacked all day long and were never full. Well, until the day that we hit Manang, which had a couple out-of-place "German" bakeries selling delicious baked goods. We did some pretty good damage to the pastries in this town, but still managed to burn it off by lunch!

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The last few days were spent mostly descending the valley in tremendous winds, eating, and relaxing. We reached Tatopani where we lounged in the hot springs as well. From here we took a bus to Pokhara for more relaxing and eating!

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Take a look at our photo gallery for more pictures and we promise to have even more when we get home!

But here are a few more to help satisfy the curiosity:

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Posted by kym.haley 04:38 Archived in Nepal Comments (8)

Rest Day in Pokara

Much needed after a long hike.

semi-overcast 83 °F

Hi everyone,
We just wanted to say that we are safe and sound after an amazing time in the mountains. Yes Moms, we are OK! Since we are traveling light (one pack between the two of us), we didn't bring the card reader for the camera and will have to wait until we return to Kathmandu to show you all our pics. But we had a wonderful time enjoying the walk from the jungle up to the temperate forests, to the high alpine lakes (the highest in the world actually), and eventually over a pass of 5416 meters. We descended down through the high desert with incredible headwinds (nearly Patagonian strength) back through the forest to the jungle and are now resting in Pokara. Tomorrow we head to southern Nepal to visit the Royal Chitwan National Park for a safari-like experience. We return to Kathmandu on the 1st and can show some pics then.
We miss you all very much,
Jaime and Kym

Posted by jaime.lee 21:58 Archived in Nepal Comments (6)

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