In our Reflections post yesterday we talked about the last 100 days, which we spent in Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, the U.S. and Mexico. We talked about how this last stretch has been nothing short of an adventure, and unlike any other time on the road yet. In this most recent post in our Tops and Flops series, we cover what have been the very highest of highs and lowest of lows…
Top travel moments
Cruising the backwaters of Kerala, India
We had been looking forward to this for months and the experience did not disappoint. The backwaters are essentially a water system of rivers, canals and lakes covering a massive area of land in Kerala and the flat waters allow houseboats to glide calmly on top of the water. The prices are so affordable that with Jaime and Val we rented a houseboat, complete with a captain and a chef for three days and watched Indian life go by. Locals bathed, washed and swam in the water, and we sat mesmerized by just how many palm trees our line of vision could hold out here at once. Plus, our chef stuffed us with the best Indian food we’ve ever had (see Top Food Moments). Cruising the backwaters of Kerala turned out to be our India travel highlight.
Cocktails on top of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
We don’t often splurge on expensive restaurants or cocktails, but I just knew I had to have a Singapore Sling in Singapore. Edna told us not to have it at the Raffles Hotel (the birthplace of the cocktail, and where everyone else heads for it) because apparently nowadays theirs is a pre-made mix and so I decided to have it at the Skybar on top of the Marina Bay Sands instead. Atop this architectural marvel bathed in the most spectacular sunset, we toasted as we watched the city turn in to a sea of lights below.
After falling head over heels for the dusty Cambodian countryside, we didn’t expect to love the urban feel of Singapore, but we loved it from the minute our plane landed. Expecting a restricted, bland mega-city, instead we were charmed by the eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and food in the city. Even though the financial district is filled with modern skyscrapers, neighborhoods like Kampong Glam, Chinatown or Little India still retain their traditional feel. In fact, there was so much to see between the markets, food and different neighborhoods we could have spent a few weeks there! With the ease of transportation, getting around the city is so easy – and we can’t wait to get back and explore even more.
It felt great to be back in Tucson! Our first time here came over two years ago in June 2010, when we were just two months in to this trip. A housesit brought us here, and the same homeowners asked us back this time around. Aside from loving the house, pool and the dog, we just love the South West and Tucson in particular. We love the saguaros, the desert-scape, the sunsets, discovering little cafes and great Mexican restaurants and visit nearby towns like Bisbee and Tombstone.
Unfortunately Jessica’s injuries kept her from joining our trip to Hampi, but this turned out to be my favorite place in India so far. I loved everything – the people we met there, the colorful little village, the impressive temples, the monkeys, the food and the unique scenery unlike anywhere else we had been in India.
Most disappointing place(s)
The beaches of Goa
We always thought Goa would be paradise: white sand, palm-lined beaches and Indian food. Instead, we found the sort of typical tourist beach towns set along stretches of beach that were nothing more than average with several places with a strong undertow and pounding waves. Several people actually die on these beaches every year. While we want to go back to India, we wouldn’t waste our time in Goa.
Worst travel moments
Getting rammed by a cow in India
Without a doubt, her encounter with a cow in Goa was by far the worst travel moment Jess experienced in the last 100 days. The bruises were bad, the torn back muscles and bruised hipbones were worse, but roughly about 50 days and thousands of miles later, she has almost fully recovered.
Flying Air India in general, plus arriving in the U.S. without our luggage
We booked our India – Tucson flights with Air India. Two weeks before our flight, a massive Air India strike saw daily cancellations in the dozens. After hours on the phone, luckily our flights were changed but not cancelled. However, instead of a direct Delhi to Chicago leg of the flight, our plane made a stop in Frankfurt, Germany but we weren’t allowed to get off. We spent over 20 hours inside the plane and when we disembarked in Chicago, our luggage did not arrive with us. We continued on to Tucson sans luggage and spent two days whining about all of the great things we could have lost with the luggage. Air India called and we finally got our bags, but we learned a good lesson about what is a carry-on must in the future. We also learned that except for the great in-flight vegetarian food, we wouldn’t ever fly Air India again.
Top travel mishaps
Taking a train without reserved seats in India
Whatever you do, do NOT spontaneously hop on a train if you’re traveling any sort of long distance in India. In India pre-booking sleeper class is entirely necessary to guarantee a seat in a part of the train that treats you like a human being. Val and I tried to reserve tickets for the 14-hour ride from Alleppey, Kerala to Gokarna, Karnataka, but all the seats were reserved. We were stuck with Second Class. How bad could it be, we thought? It was bad…really bad. Second class actually means that you are treated like a second-class citizen, similarly to cattle or other livestock. There is leaning, pressing, pushing, definitely standing. Six or more people sit where four should, and even people crawl up to sit above on racks meant for luggage. There are so many possibilities for disaster – the luggage rack could (and in most cases is about to) fall, the windows have bars and with the hundreds of extra passengers per car, how would anyone make it to the door alive? After hours of standing, an incredibly friendly Muslim family offered us their seats and we finally sat down, but the experience was so awful that the four of us got off eight hours early and spent two nights in a town none of us had planned to visit just to recover from it all. We wrote about it in detail here: Riding the Indian Rails – A real life roller coaster
Use foursquare to explore a place
We are big fans of foursquare (check out our GlobetrotterGirls Foursquare here), an app that lets you ‘check in’ virtually in all the places you visit – be it the hairdresser, dentist, restaurant, museum or hotel. Say you want to avoid possible stalkers, that’s fine, you can still use the app to explore tips for places around you, which restaurants are most popular on any given evening, etc. During our housesit last month, we found a ton of independent coffee shops in Tucson through foursquare that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, including dog-friendly cafes to bring the dog we were looking after. Once you choose a spot, the tips are even more helpful at giving ideas about what dishes to order or which to absolutely stay away from.
Top food moments
Homemade Keralan food on the houseboat in Kerala
Renting a houseboat and cruising through the backwaters was one of our favorite travel moments, and the food definitely contributed to that. In a cramped little kitchen, our private chef worked foodie miracles four times a day. We woke up to a delicious Keralan breakfast, and spent the next few hours basically waiting for lunch, which was the largest meal of the day. Rice, poppadoms, curries, and several local dishes filled the table each day. After a homemade afternoon snack with tea and coffee, dinner was rice, chapattis, and at least two curries, often made with coconut and fruits – like pineapple curry and mango curry. The homemade chapatti (bread) was the best we’ve had anywhere in India.
Jessica’s homemade Huevos Rancheros
Having a kitchen is quite possibly the best part of any housesit for us, and I couldn’t wait for Jess to make me my favorite breakfast, Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs with salsa served on tortillas, usually with a side of refried beans, guacamole and rice). Whenever we are in the U.S. or Mexico I order this dish as often as possible, but I have finally realized that Jess makes the best Huevos Rancheros ever, hands down. We also made salad everyday, baked cookies on a whim, made lasagna and experimented with a Mexican-style enchilada lasagna and had yogurt parfaits everyday for breakfast, when we didn’t have Huevos Rancheros.
Our Tops and Flops of 700 days of travel: Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia
Our Tops and Flops of 600 days of travel: United States, Thailand, Laos
Our Tops and Flops of 500 days of travel: Portugal, Canada, USA
Our Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel: Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain
Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico