Chris fell in love with braaing in South Africa! Braai is a Afrikaans (the language commonly spoken by South Africans originating from Dutch and African slave interactions) word that can mean a barbecue or an open outdoor grill. It can also refer to the social meeting involving the braaing of meat. Every store in the park had supplies for braaing: meat, vegs, bread, all cooked on the braai. We hope to try it out at home and invite some friends!
Chris and Walden really enjoyed birdwatching at the park. In the end, we identified 85 species including the birds we saw. Below, we will let you know the names of the ones we spotted while interviewing Chris.
What was your favorite city and why?
Llubjlana is the first one that comes to mind; because it was extremely bike friendly, walkable, pretty, safe, and just had a nice vibe about it. The people were friendly and it was very affordable.
Grey Go-Away Bird
Cape Glossy Starling
Dwarf Mongoose – common prey of birds of prey
Cape Turtle Dove
What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
I was surprised to find how few people are actually in New Zealand. There was no traffic and only 2 lane, rural roads.
What was the best moment of the entire trip?
I would probably say, if I had to pick a peak experience, it would be arriving at Mueller Hut. Mueller Hut had a since of victory, because we conquered a very challenging situation. I was very nervous bringing the kids into the environment and constantly second guessing whether I should have. It kept getting harder and harder to continue, but harder and harder to go back. Cresting the final hill was intense, with the powerful wind and crusty, icy snow. It was a place where one mistake might lead to a fall.
What was the scariest moment?
Alison’s accident. When we were riding the motorbikes, Walden and I had come to a red light. We turned around and didn’t see Alison and Ella; but we thought maybe we were just going faster. The people who pulled up to the stoplight with us started making motions of their hands smashing together and saying, “Accident! accident!” And another, “Girls! Girls!” We had to wait for the light to change before we could turn around. Walden was freaking, and I was trying to calm him down. For a moment, I realized they could have even died. It felt like forever for us to get to them. We went really fast to get back, but we saw them on the side of the road soon. We had to do another u-turn to get to them. I could tell Ella was okay, but Alison was covered in blood. But I was immediately relieved they weren’t dead. But I was trying hard to stay positive. I felt immediately what a bad decision it was to have ridden the motorbikes, knowing we had no experience.
What do you think you might do differently when you go home because of your trip?
I think I was surprised to see how many changes the rest of the developed world has made toward incorporating environmental measures into their daily life. Line drying clothes, making recycling convenient, using less climate control, I think I would like to incorporate more of those things and encourage others, like maybe at my work even to increase recycling.
Did you find any sights or activities a bit off the beaten track? Beyond the tourist traps?
Most of the places we’ve been are frequented by tourists at some level. Mount Cook in New Zealand though was off the common tourist route and it was spectacular. It deserves to be seen. Clearly, there were still people there, just not as many. If someone asked me where to go in New Zealand, I would definitely recommend it.
Southern Ground Hornbill
What was the strangest thing you ate?
Foie gras was pretty strange in France – it tasted incredibly rich, velvety, luscious, decadent, but so intense that you only wanted a small amount. The other thing that comes to mind, in the night market in Chiang Mai, I ate this thing called a mushroom omelet built into a banana leaf boat and cooked over an open fire. It looked like a Thai long boat; it was kind of unique.
Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?
New Zealand has plenty more, world class hikes that I would like to go to. But in New Zealand, you would have to a pretty good job to afford it. There are a lot more places in Southeast Asia I would like to go to such as Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. I could see living in Chiang Mai, because it was a big city but had a small feel. They had amazing food, an extremely low cost of living, and a strong expat and NGO worker population that allowed some interactions with western people. Llubjlana would be fun to live in too, and you could travel to a lot of places close by.
Tell me about one person you met.
We stayed in an airbnb in France with a single mom and a seven- year-old boy full of energy. The mom let him play, left her home open to the outside, and just had a nice way about her. Her love for her child was obvious. We played soccer and uno with August and his friend, Louis, after school and listened to Daft Punk on vinyl. Daft Punk is French, so that was cool. I liked her for her wit and her willingness to try and communicate with us in broken French and English. She was open and welcoming and even ate dinner with us. We felt like friends right way.
What was the hardest or most frustrating part of the trip?
I would say that not completing the Annapurna Circuit was the hardest thing for me, because I wanted to finish it. Honestly, I was healthy and feeling fine; and if it was just me, I would have completed it. But I was in a “family” around-the-world trip; and we had to make a family decision, not just for me. The decision was necessary, but disappointing.
I learned doing something as challenging as Annapurna, but not having everyone on the same page about finishing it, is not likely to work. You need your own internal motivation to do it. Trying to convince someone to do it is not going to work. I can apply that to other situations. But I did try to convince everyone to keep going. It was hard to accept that we were going back. The jeep ride back was expensive and unpleasant. As we passed other people hiking on a beautiful day, it felt like failing and a little embarrassing. You feel like a loser or you couldn’t hack it. I had seen other people riding out before, when I wondered, what is wrong with them?
Did anything go wrong that seems funny now?
The Cambodian border crossing seems funny now. That was early in the trip, and we had just gotten scammed a little in Bangkok. I felt very suspicious of people trying to give us advice after that. I had also read a lot about notorious scams at the border. At that point in the trip, I wanted to be savvy and only pay what a local pays. I thought if I gathered enough knowledge, I could avoid any tricks.
When I arrived in Poipet, it wasn’t what I thought. So we didn’t trust a guy telling us to get on a random bus to the bus station, mostly because no one was on it. They were hustling you and it was hard to understand. What could be the motivation for putting me on a free bus? The free bus took us to a cab stand. But then, we didn’t trust it either because there were no tourist, no locals, the sign was falling off the wall, and it was on a back road. They claimed the last people had just left. They were all laughing at our suspicion. Because we didn’t trust them, we walked off into extreme heat, laden with our backpacks into the dusty streets with no idea where to go to get a taxi.
We went into a gas station to ask where the bus station was, and he said we had to go back where we were to get a taxi because no one else would take us. There was clearly an arrangement that all tourists going to Siem Reap had to go through this bus station. We asked a taxi driver and he quickly refused and looked scared. We had to walk back in shame, as they laughed at us and give them our money. Finally, a guy showed up in a shoddy taxi to take us.
But later, when he pulled over for gas, the gas tank was in the trunk where our bags were. Then people came out from behind gas pumps, near the trunk. We were concerned about our bags, so I went inside to buy a drink so I could keep an eye on the bags. Well, while I was paying for drink, the driver got back in the car and moved it. The kids and Alison wouldn’t shut the door, because at this point they were afraid he might kidnap them. Of course, none of this was happening. I decided to just relax from then on and stop over thinking it and not take it so badly if we had to paid a little more.
What did you learn about yourself?
Learning how to compromise and not trying to get my way all the time was hard for me. I’m not sure I’m better at it, but I hope I am. I have a tendency to think my decision is the best decision.
Wattled Starling (Female)
Now that you’ve been these places, what are two other places you’d like to go?
I would like to see more of India – Goa and Darjeeling would be interesting. Each part of India is like its own unique country, so you have to be more specific about which part of India you have seen.
How have people responded to your taking the time off from work, etc. to travel? And how about taking time off from formal school for the kids?
Most people we meet say it’s the best education you can give the kids. My work was great about it really. I am thankful they’re going to allow me to come back and they gave me a chance for a once in a lifetime trip. One surprising thing is, most of the people we met who were Western in Asia, didn’t act like it was a big deal. Several of them had done the same thing.
What do you do to keep from getting burned out on the constant travel?
We take rest days, sleep in, have some time to catch up on the news, play Clash Royale, and watch a little soccer. It’s a little like disconnecting from travel. I don’t think I need as much; but if I don’t give it to the kids, they drive me crazy.
Juvenile Martial Eagle
What was your favorite meal?
Last night’s braii was really good! We had chicken with braii seasoning and peri peri sauce cooked over a wood fire, with corn on the cob, mushrooms, garlic buttered bread and red, South African wine. But my favorite … actually, we had some really good meals at the beach in Thailand – green curry with squid, that was amazing. Also, the Prague ham, potatoes and kraut, sausage on a roll, and Czech beer that we ate it outside in the market at a standing table was memorable. The Chaing Mai night market was superb, you just walk around eating! I could list many more, but Nepal was the only one that I would say was pretty unmentionable.
What was the funniest/strangest/or most insightful thing a local said?
“Go inside! Go inside!” screamed by the ferry boat director in Bangkok. A white lady kept asking where did she need to get off for the train station, and the director was refusing to help since that was not his job. He kept blowing his whistle right beside her as he yelled, “Go inside, go inside!” But she didn’t want to, because she couldn’t see where we were. The tourist boat announced the stops, but the locals boat packed it in, every man for himself. You needed to know what to do on your own, that’s why it was cheap. We made a joke of this for most of the trip.
Slender Mongoose – common prey for birds of prey