Inside the Volcano

I woke up the morning of our excursion and had a weird memory. It was one of those memories where you don’t know if you dreamt it or if it actually happened. I was 90 percent sure someone had told me that the inside of the volcano would be 100 degrees (fahrenheit, I am sure). So I kept that in mind while dressing for this trip, only putting on a thin sweater, one of my jackets and leaving my scarf behind, despite it being 40 degrees F outside.

When we board the bus taking us to the volcano, the guide hops on afterwards to announce that we are heading into the mountains, and she hopes that we are all dressed warmly enough. Then she describes what to expect inside the volcano. Like the inside of a refrigerator, were her exact words. Turns out we also had to hike 45 minutes across a windy, baron plane. THANKFULLY, they provided us with giant yellow windbreakers for the hike, so I didn’t freeze to death. I feel like I wasn’t the only unprepared tourist on this hike.

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The elevator ride down was absolutely terrifying and way too slow. The man operating the lift decided to mess with us and stopped it abruptly making it feel as if we were about to fall.

Side story: We met two people on this hike that live in the same small-ish Danish town my sister lives in. One of which was at the same party as my sister, but they hadn’t met until this hike. What a small world!

Gunnuhver

I am in Iceland at the moment with my sisters! This is the first time the three of us have done a trip together, and it’s been absolutely amazing.

Summers in Iceland aren’t particularly warm, but the sun never sets, which I could get used to (if that meant I would never have to deal with total darkness)

I’ll post more stuff from and about Iceland later, but this post will focus on a haunted Geyser we went to the other day. I got some pretty cool photos while there. Four of which I gif-ed (made up a new word!) together. I’ve become a little obsessed with gif-ing of late. I spent 5 hours creating one for my About page, and a few months ago I spent 2 weeks attempting to make a stop motion of my travels. That was an epic fail, but the attempt was fun… I guess. And to make up for the fact that I had to put my stop motion project on hold (most likely indefinitely) I’ve been attempting gifs! It’s so much fun! I suggest everyone try it.

Aislinn-Smoke

This was the first geyser I’ve seen up close or walked through for that matter. It smelled like rotten eggs and felt uncomfortably wet and warm when it blew over my face. Being caught in the middle is also very suffocating, but it turns the rocks surrounding it a very beautiful white and it’s mesmerizing to stare at.

I might be paraphrasing, but according to the sign before entering the area, a long time ago some lady got thrown into the geyser because she kept “causing” the deaths of people who’d wronged her. (Sounds like she pissed off the wrong person if you ask me.) Then maybe to make up for the fact that they capital-punished her without any evidence, they named the geyser after her. Poor, poor Gunna.

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Anyways, Iceland is awesome. Everyone should come here.

 

 

Awkward Social Butterfly

It’s important to know your weaknesses.

Now that I have settled in one place for a while I have been trying to make friends. It’s been pretty successful so far. I’ve been invited to a lot parties and get togethers, but some how it doesn’t matter how many I’ve gone to, my heart starts to beat out of my chest every time before I show up, and I still get super sweaty while hanging out with a group of people. I may have undiagnosed social anxiety, but it’s fine I’ll just power through it until it stops.

I also feel like, partly because of my anxiety, I keep making social faux pas.

Things I’ve noticed during social gatherings in Germany:

If you are a newcomer it’s your job to introduce yourself to everyone in the room. You do this by going up to every person individually, shaking their hand and saying your name. A living hell if you are socially awkward and prone to sweaty palms.

When arriving and upon leaving you also have to go up to everyone individually, hug them or shake their hand, depending on how well you know this person

These formalities are a lot of work, and I always find that I either forget to do them or am way too scared to follow through. Instead, I enter the room, say hello to the person who invited me, make fleeting eye contact with a few people, wave weakly and then plop myself down somewhere and just watch everyone socialize. Who knows what’s going through their minds when I do this, but personally it feels very wrong, and I become that weird girl in the corner smiling or nodding along, but never really participating. Part of the problem for me is my German needs work. I understand most of what people are saying, but I get way too scared to speak it, because I know I am going to make mistakes.  In the end, I still get invited places and someone always makes the first move to talk to me, so hopefully everyone realizes I am foreign and forgives me for being so weird.

In my experience, initial social interaction is just so different in the States. Whenever a stranger arrives at a get-together the host would introduce them to the room, everyone would wave, say hi, and the newcomer would then learn people’s names by talking to them one on one. When people arrive or leave parties where they know everyone, no one really touches everyone there. They might hug a good friend or the host, and maybe, depending on the age, situation and number of people, shake everyone’s hand (but that feels very formal). At most you would wave at everyone and then say hi or bye.

Thoughts? Does anyone have any awkward stories involving cultural differences?

Attempting to Channel Annie Oakly

So I shot a gun for the first time at the urging of a Swede, and, no, the irony of that statement hasn’t escaped my notice. Although, from what I’ve heard, Swedish people own a lot of guns. I don’t know about you, but not exactly what I think of when I think of Sweden.

Anyway, back to the topic. I shot a gun in my Aunt’s backyard while I was on a mini road trip across the southern US. As much as it pains me, the often times uber-liberal, to admit it, the pistol was kind of…okay, a lot of…fun to shoot, even though I am a HORRIBLE shot. I kid you not, no one knew where the bullet went exactly, but given that it was her backyard, in view of a church, I really hope it didn’t hit anything (or anyone) important.

The shotgun was terrifying to fire, and I most certainly will not be doing that again. The kickback and loud sound scared me so badly I screamed, which entertained everyone. Needless to say, I will not be doing that again any time soon, but mostly because of pride. The next time I shoot a gun I want to actually hit the target.

 

 

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I boarded a one way flight and began my adventure around the world (if we’re being technical it was a year 4 days ago, but let’s pretend I have my shit together). I had no real plan, just a purpose to experience something I hadn’t before, to see things I’d only read about and to feel happy again.

I’ve relearned the quirks of Germans,
Visited the town where my sister went to high school in Denmark,
Saw black sand beaches for the first time in Lanzarote,
Been to 41 Cities (7 of which I revisited),
Finally figured out the underground in Berlin,
But not without losing a glove along the way.

I locked myself out on a balcony during the winter sans a coat in Copenhagen,
And on the way to Hamburg I saved a kid who hadn’t made it to the bus from the ferry because he’d fallen asleep.

I discovered that if all goes to shit I can always move into a free cave in Granada,
Bitten off more than I could chew in Sevilla,
Gotten stranded in the middle of no-where Portugal,
Had two separate reunions in Amsterdam,
Stayed in the one and, thankfully, only truly scary hostel in Vienna,
But thankfully made it out in one piece.

I’ve spent the night in a camper van,
Learned, while I was in Venice, you always meet the most interesting people while staying in the cheapest places,
Flown on 31 planes, ridden 27 trains, 10 buses, 5 ferries and 1 moped.

Not only did I fulfill my life long dream of having my sister as my roommate, while in Florence, but I also found a passion in graphic design,
I snorkeled in the wonderfully warm Mediterranean,
Pet a moose on a moose farm,
And saw my first waterfall in Sweden.

I found myself completely out of my element in Thailand but loved it,
I’ll never forget the very first day being there, walking through this small town to the train station, people living in tin houses and stray dogs everywhere, but not feeling scared at all, because every person I crossed was either smiling or curiously friendly.

I realized what a small world it is when I met the same Frenchman from my hostel in Berlin and a girl I went to high school with on the same day in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

I hopped on a moving train only to sit on bags of wheat, which I then had to help throw out of that still moving train,
Barely survived my first stomach bug in Asia,
Losing 10 pounds in the process,
And spent my 25th birthday by the beach in Thailand,
Perhaps making the ill advised decision to jump into the water right by a sewage outlet.

I used one of those squat toilets for the first and last time at a Muay Thai match,
Been scammed by a magician in Bali, but despite that ended up having maybe one of the most fun nights out of my life.

I learned during one of those late night hostel hangouts that Tinder is a world wide phenomenon,
But boys don’t like it when you use them to learn English.

I experienced 4 cancellations or reroutings,
Spent over $200 in bank fees,
And met the most wonderful people in Kyoto who share my love for awkward and goofy photos.

I cried for two hours in the Kyoto train station partly because I didn’t think I had enough money to get back to Tokyo,
But mostly because I’d said goodbye to one too many people on this trip.

I dipped my feet in 3 different oceans/seas,
Experienced maybe the hottest day of my life visiting the temples in Siem Reap,
It took my clothes two days to dry.

I had my internet censored in the Shanghai airport,
Took a 17 hour train trip from northern Sweden down to Hamburg,
Was in Brussels during the terrorist attack,
And spent 3 days in the strangest hostel right outside Amsterdam,
Where I am pretty sure two of the people working there had branded themselves.

I still have change from 9 different countries in my wallet,
Was able to fit most of what I needed into a 36 liter bag,
Only had to pay one bribe,
And come a long way since the first day of my trip,
Where I spent most of my time at the airport, because I’d taken the wrong bag.

Despite this somewhat rocky start I’ve had such a wonderful and enriching experience. I’ve been places I’d never thought I would be and relished the freedom to make my own schedule, spending a day for myself and no one else. That’s not to say that I haven’t worried or cried or felt extremely lonely or isolated. But for every negative feeling there are countless wonderful memories.

Here’s to the next 365 days.

The Only Woman on the Plane

On my way from Tokyo to Phnom Penh I had a 4 hour layover in the Shanghai airport. Layovers are usually the worst, but I was excited about this one, because I had really wanted to visit China on this trip. This layover seemed better than not visiting at all, even though I couldn’t actually leave the airport.

Once we land I am told I have to go through customs and another security check. A very large and excited group of Japanese tourists offer some entertainment while I stand in the customs line. The five women in the group find everything around them excessively hilarious. Once they are cleared they are directed to the right. They run off laughing hysterically holding hands and wobbling, taking a wrong turn. Everyone in line watches as these women stumble down the wrong hall their laughter growing quieter, only to get louder as soon as they realize their mistake and come running back. The line lets out a collective giggle, but airport security is not amused. At all.

A very stern gentleman escorts them through the correct door as one of the women drapes herself dramatically around one of her friends, while another attempts to take a selfie with the guard. I really hope they weren’t arrested.

I finally make it to the waiting area of the airport and find a seat near a power outlet trying unsuccessfully for an hour to message friends on Facebook. It works for about 2 minutes in the beginning, but then suddenly stops connecting. The only thing working is iMessage. I can’t even Google anything. The inconsistency drives me crazy. It takes me way too long to realized it’s probably not a connectivity issue. In order to prove my theory I open Bing, something I have never used before, and what do you know, it works! Looks like Bing might be the only one who hasn’t pissed off the Chinese government.

Four hours and an overpriced Starbucks (they are literally everywhere) coffee later, I board my flight. I take my seat next to the window waiting for takeoff. Literally a second after my neighbor gets up to use the bathroom a very aggressive man appears next to me. He’s clearly on the phone with someone, but begins asking me questions in a language I could not understand.

Man stares at me, holding his phone slightly away from his ear, waiting for a response.
Me: I am sorry I don’t speak…(uncomfortable pause)…what you’re speaking.
Man finds my response hilarious and continues to pester me. I faintly hear an exasperated voice coming from his cellphone.

He keeps looking at me in a way that makes me extremely uncomfortable, slowly invading more and more of my personal space. I try to tell him to leave me alone, but he ignores me. By the time my neighbor finally returns from the bathroom this guy has invaded so much of my personal bubble I’ve practically glued myself to the wall of the plane, about to press the help button. Thankfully my neighbor demands his seat back. The aggressive guy looks at me as if I was going to let him stay, but I just shrug my shoulders at him. He throws his arms up in the air, visibly upset and storms off. Good riddance.

Over the next 20 minutes, he and several other passengers continue changing seats. The poor flight attendant runs up and down the aisles telling people to stay seated and to turn their phones off. No one listens or sits still. It was the rowdiest flight I’d been on since flying to Prague with 10 separate British stag parties. Only this time, since my sister wasn’t with me, I was the only woman on this flight. Thank god the man sitting next to me was genuinely friendly.

Pink Eye in Thailand

I woke up in the morning with a crusty eye and a plan to go to Chiang Rai, three hours north of Chiang Mai. Since my eye wasn’t itchy I decided to ignore it and just catch my bus. Once I arrived at the hostel in Chiang Rai (probably the nicest/cleanest place I’ve stayed despite being on a semi abandoned road) I took a look at my eye. Yeah…it was glassy, red and more gunk had accumulated around it. This was definitely a case of conjunctivitis, but I really dreaded going to the doctor in a foreign country, by myself. Then again, I don’t think pink eye clears up on its own.

Lucky for me the hospital was a quick 10 minute walk from the hostel. I say this because the first time I went there I realized I didn’t have my passport and had to run back to the hostel. It’s disgustingly humid here, by the way.

20 minutes later I was back, prepared, glistening radiantly and thankfully able to immediately find the information desk. A woman popped her head up when I approached and stared at me wide eyed. She was extremely friendly, but for some reason I felt a little off put by her. I finally realized it was because she was wearing those contacts that removes the pupil, which made her look like an insect. It’s fine, I got over it quickly, because she was so sarcastic!  When I said I didn’t speak Thai she responded, dead pan, with a Why not? Then immediately busted out laughing. The first sarcastic Thai person I’ve met, and I love it. 

I filled out an information sheet that could have doubled as a dating profile. I think the only thing missing was – attractive qualities in a partner. Why they wanted to know my marital status, religion, and hobbies is beyond me. Anyway, the lady then walked me around to three different counters and made sure I was at the right station before she headed back to her desk. 

While I waited for my name to be called I spotted a mosquito flying around my leg. I might have been a tad overzealous when I went to smack it away. Blood exploded all over my hands and dripped a little down my leg. To say I was absolutely horrified would be a gross understatement. I looked at all the people half-dying on these stretchers around me, back at my hands, then tried to walk as calmly as possible to the nearest hand sanitizer. Of course, it was almost empty. I was so close to ripping it off the wall, taking the cap off and pouring it all over myself.

After emptying the bottle, I sat on the opposite side of the waiting room, as if that would save me from the next morbidly obese mosquito, and tried not to touch anything, least of all my face, with my hands.

A nurse called my name and asked me some general health questions (I guess this visit wasn’t going to include a man), then directed me to yet another bench. I was sat next to four gentlemen and had to scoot down the bench every time one got up to see the doctor. I don’t know, but this process was really funny to me.

The doctor was very friendly and complimented me on the 6 words I know in Thai. Then prescribed me two types of eye drops. This is when shit got real. I was so nervous to find out how much all of this was going to cost me and was semi hoping they would forget to ask me to pay. No such luck. Obviously.

In the end, a visit to the emergency room, uninsured, plus medication, which I was able to pick up there, cost me 115 baht (roughly $3.20).

This is not a joke. I almost laughed when they showed me the bill. I got pink eye last year (yes, I may need to work on washing my hands more) and WITH INSURANCE everything plus medication cost me over $80. There is something very wrong with this picture.

I may have walked out of there with some terrible blood borne disease, but at least I still had most of my money…..

Sharing a Room with Fourteen Boys

Yes, the more people sharing a hostel room the cheaper it is, but is it really worth it?

My hostel experiences have been pretty varied, but a mostly enjoyable experience. I am a quite reserved person in the beginning, but I have never found it hard to make friends. I am also pretty easy going (unless the following happens), and I like to be frugal while on the road. Everyone, however, has their limits. I must now draw the line at more than 6 people sharing a room.

While traveling to Prague with my sister last summer we found a ridiculously cheap room in the center of town, the only catch was we had to share it with 15 other people. No problem, we said, that’s why ear plugs were invented, we said, the more the merrier, we said.

Famous last words, said the universe.

This was also the first time we had experienced a co-ed room. Most people you encounter while traveling are very friendly, but when we first entered the room we were face to face with a group of four guys chilling in their boxers who pretended like I hadn’t just tried to introduce myself to them. Very awkward. Yes, I understand it was 96 degrees, with Washington DC levels of humidity, but come on, please at least put bottoms on that have a sealable flap, so I am not subjected to seeing your privates before we’ve even exchanged pleasantries.

The room was made up of several different isolated cliques and no one’s schedules matched, so for the next couple of days sleep was pretty much out of the question, especially when some people turned the lights on and off at 2 am to simulate the rave they had just left. Then came the absolute last straw. An alarm started going off at 6 o’clock in the morning and kept going off for the NEXT TWO HOURS. 

Oh, hell no.

Note to everyone else in the room: Staring daggers or breathing heavily at the guy so deeply asleep he can’t hear his phone go off 18 times is not going to work.

I am the least confrontational person I know, but according to everyone I am related to, I turn into Hyde if I am woken up in the morning. So I hopped off the bunk bed and violently shook this kid awake, to calmly tell him to turn his (expletive) phone off before I threw it out the (expletive) window. Startled, he groped for his phone, and quickly turned it off. Satisfied with how terrified he looked I slept like a baby for the next 5 minutes, before other people started getting up.

Luckily, these awful people were replaced by a massive group of Brits two days later. These boys were a blast. They were friendly and inclusive, so much so, that my faith in the Hostel system was quickly restored. 

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Malaria, Cholera and Diphtheria, Oh My!

So I’ve been doing a lot of research for my upcoming trip to Asia, and I went online to make myself feel better about picking the middle of the monsoon season to begin my travels.

I was helpfully directed to an article, “The Pros of Traveling to Southeast Asia During Monsoon Season” or something like that. Perfect! Only, after listing the pros (less tourists, cooler weather, cheaper accommodations, and beautiful, lush scenery, all pretty awesome) the article also had one, tiny disclaimer… more mosquitos and with them an increased risk of contracting some pretty serious diseases.

Not only am I a mosquito repellent for EVERYONE else around me, most toilets over there are literal holes in the ground. Not fun in general, but probably literal torture when you are ill.

I did, however, reach my goal of no longer being concerned about the rain and am now terrified of spending the entire trip in a lovely room like this one:

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How is it that I always end up feeling worse after looking up something online?

Triana

Triana

According to my tour guide (I can’t find any evidence that this story is actually part of greek myth…) Hercules fell in love with a mortal woman, but I guess the gods were bored that day, so they banished the poor woman on threat of death and cursed Hercules, so he could never find her. While searching for his love he stumbled across Sevilla. Liking it, he decided to stay. Of course, in the vein of Greek tragedy and a cruel twist of fate, the woman he had been searching for was right across the river, in the city of Triana, but he would never find her.