Friday, March 19, 2010

Nomad Reflections

We've been asked by friends and strangers alike whether this trip was a life changing experience. It has definitely changed our perspectives in many ways, small and large, and helped us better appreciate what we have. So we thought we would share a few of the reflections and lessons we would like to keep with us.

See the world through the eyes of a three-year-old.
A three-year-old lives in a completely different world, where everything is mysterious and exciting no matter what it is, even the mundane surroundings that we seldom notice going about our daily lives. Traveling, exploring new places and meeting new people helped us remember how to see the world in the same way – wide-eyed, curious and with a fresh perspective. From the start of our travels, we felt alive and engaged everyday, more than we had in some time. It should be this way all the time, even when walking the same path to work everyday, because life is too short and too precious to spend any time sleeping through it.

Embrace the fear.
Many people have said to us along the way: “Wow, I wish I could travel like you guys.” Our response has always been the same: “You can.” Whatever the constraints (house, job, kids, etc.), they always appear more daunting than they actually are. Before we decided to take off, we were nervous about leaving our jobs and traveling for such a long time without any income or plans for when we returned...what about our careers, what if we couldn’t get good jobs when we came back? But as soon as we actually made the decision, all of a sudden it seemed so obvious that we had to do this, and the fears started to evaporate.

Carpe diem.
Life is short, and uncertain. Whatever it is you want to do in your life, whether it’s moving to a foreign country or starting a new business or taking a painting class, don’t wait. For us, it was traveling together early in our marriage. It’s opened new possibilities about what we’d like to do next and how we’d like to spend our time. Most importantly, you never know what could happen tomorrow so don't waste today!

Life is simple if you let it be.
We saw a work of art based on this cartoon at a Beijing gallery and thought it was a great reminder that we often overthink life, but it can be simple if we let it be.

Travel is an investment in yourself.
We received a lot of great advice and input from people we met on our travels but one comment that stuck with us came from an elderly man we met in Sydney on our Harbour Bridge Climb. He told us that taking this time to travel is the best investment we could make in ourselves. So sometimes when we feel stressed about the money we've spent or figuring out the next career move, it helps us remember that the time we have spent together, people we have built relationships with, cultures we have gotten glimpses into, and places we have seen are priceless experiences we will remember forever.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Long flights

I like long flights. It’s a great chance to catch up on movies and books with limited distractions (no Internet and no bad reality TV). I watched Crash, The Hurt Locker, and I love You, Man on the 13h40m flight from Sydney to LAX. (Two years ago on a flight from NYC to Seoul I actually watched four feature-length films, procrastinating instead of working on a speech I had to write.) The thing is if I wanted I could spend every evening (or at least a few nights a week) watching movies and reading books but I don’t. Jay and I talked about this when we were in India. I’m not sure whether it’s because it wouldn’t be as much fun if I were to watch movies that often or because the time never feels as much my own when I’m at home. It’s probably a bit of both but mostly the latter. I get way too sidetracked by email, internet, phone, and bad TV. Have to work on changing this when I return.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How to do the South Island of New Zealand in 6 days

Well, at least this is how we did it. It was the ultimate road trip – whale-watching, glacier walking, skydiving, and more than 2,000km of driving in six days. And if you like curvy, empty, single-lane highways with high speed limits and no cops, surrounded by mountains on one side and ocean on the other (who doesn’t?), the South Island is a fun place to drive.

Day 1
Christchurch – Kaikoura
(187km, 2.5 hours)
3:15pm – Arrived at Christchurch airport (the South Island’s main international gateway)
4:30pm – Rented car and SIM card at the airport
5pm – Hit the road to Kaikoura
8:30pm – Dinner at Black Rabbit Pizza Co

Day 2
Kaikoura Abel Tasman National Park
(316km, 4 hours)
10:30am – Whale-watching tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura
2pm – Hiked the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
4:15pm – Late lunch for Vipin at Kaikoura Seafood BBQ roadside stall
4:30pm – Late lunch for Kruti at Hislops Café (delicious toasted muesli!)
5pm – Started driving to Abel Tasman National Park
6pm – Coffee pit stop at The Store (a café)
9:30pm – Arrived at Marahau, main gateway town to Abel Tasman National Park

Day 3
Abel Tasman National Park – Nelson – Punakaiki – Franz Josef Glacier
(536km, 7 hours)
8am – Two-hour “taster” hike on the Abel Tasman Coast Track
10:30am – Left Abel Tasman National Park for Nelson
12noon – Lunch at Nelson Saturday Market
1pm – Left Nelson for Franz Josef Glacier
3pm – Beach stop while driving down the West Coast (many beautiful beaches, just choose one)
5pm – Pit stop to see the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki
9pm – Arrived at Franz Josef Glacier

Day 4
Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown
(404km, 5 hours)
8:15am – Full-day hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides
5:30pm – Dinner at takeout shack Guzzi’s, a local told us they have “the best fish & chips on the West Coast,” I didn’t agree, thought it was just ok
6pm – Headed to Queenstown
11pm – Arrived in Queenstown

Day 5
Queenstown – Glenorchy – Queenstown
(136km, 1.5 hours)
10am – Slept in, walked around town
11am – Hot chocolate at Patagonia (waiting out the rain)
1pm – Sandwiches at Vudu Café
2:30pm – Drove to Glenorchy, had intended to do a day-hike on the Routeburn Track but the weather was awful so we just went for the drive (since we hadn’t spent enough time in the car yet)
8pm – Booked skydive for the next morning at Nzone
9pm – Pizza at Winnies

Day 6
Queenstown Lake Tekapo Christchurch
(489km, 6 hours)
8:30am – Skydiving with Nzone
11:30am – Breakfast burritos at Halo
1:30pm – Started driving to Christchurch
4pm – Lunch pit stop at Lake Tekapo
8pm – Arrived back in Christchurch, departed for Sydney early the next morning

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Road trippin'

Photos of Queenstown and our drive back to Christchurch...

Coolest job in the world

Skydive Photographer. Not a skydive jumpmaster. Not just a photographer. But the guy who hangs on to the wing of the aircraft to get the perfect snapshot as you jump, and then performs crazy acrobats to catch up with you so that he can take a video of you tumbling through the air. Now I know that if I can’t get a job when I go back to the States, I can always get skydive certified and drift from one exotic location to another and get paid to photograph people jumping from airplanes.

Skydiving in Queenstown

Queenstown, declared “fit for a queen” given its Lord of the Rings cinematic scenery, is the adrenaline rush capital of the world (bungy jumping, jetboating, white-water rafting, canyoning, hang pick your poison). I thought skydiving would be an appropriate exclamation point to mark the end of our trip. I had always wanted to experience flight so what better time than now and what better place than here. Queenstown has the highest skydiving in the world at 16,500ft above sea level (15,000ft above ground) – 60 seconds of free fall at a terminal velocity of 200kph followed by five minutes parachuting at a more leisurely 30kph.

The feeling of jumping from an aircraft at 15,000ft and plummeting towards the ground at 200kph is indescribable. I was definitely nervous as the plane ascended but it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. And once we left the plane it was exhilarating beyond anything I’ve experienced before. After my tandem “Jumpmaster” Nick deployed the parachute, I took a deep breath, looked around at the mountains and lakes below, and smiled, “So this is what it feels like to fly...” Nick replied, “Yeah bro.” I enjoyed the rest of my flight with my arms extended and a big grin on my face.

The photos are brilliant, but the video is ridiculous. We'll try to upload once we're back in the States in a few days.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Walking on Franz Josef Glacier

How often do you get the chance to walk on a glacier?

We spent our next day hiking up Franz Josef Glacier, one of the steepest and fastest flowing glaciers in the world, moving up to 10x faster than most valley glaciers. The glacier gets almost 30m of snow every year pushing the ice down the valley, sliding on a layer of water under the glacier, like a “river of ice.” More info on how this works here.

Franz Josef Glacier is also unique in how low it extends (270m above sea level) through a dramatic glacial valley all the way to the temperate rain forest, a pretty cool visual. We were on the glacier for about six hours and were lucky to climb higher than any groups have climbed in the past five years – it was the last day of work for two of the senior guides so they wanted a special climb for their last hike!