Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mark's Highlights of the Year

These highlights were in the 3 part email series I sent out during the course of the trip, but in case you missed them here goes...

- Crossed the equator for the first time on the way to Buenos Aires
- Went to thermal pools for the first time in Salto, Uruguay
- Visited Iguazu Falls where the countries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet.
- Sailed an old-fashioned catamaran on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia (it cost about $2 to do this)
- Went whitewater rafting on the Rio Urubamba in Cusco, Peru
- Hiked the Inca Trail (4 day hike) to Machu Pichu
- Played a couple pick-up soccer games with Peruvians (one at 4am after hiking to Machu Pichu and one at the bottom of Colca Canyon)
- Viewed wild condors (largest flying bird) while hiking in the Colca Canyon, Peru
- Felt an earthquake in Peru (ok maybe it was a tremor, but it sure felt like a quake to me)
- Spent my first Thanksgiving away from home in Iquique, Chile (it was very hard being away from my family)
- Went sandboarding ("snowboard style") in the Valle De La Muerte (Valley of Death) in the Atacama Desert of Chile (driest place on the planet)
- Biked from vineyard to vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina (great wine!)
- Saw a tango show in Buenos Aires, Argentina (this was excellent)
- Had a $5 steak or "asado" in Buenos Aires, Argentina (delicious!)
- Attended a Boca Juniors (Maradona's old team) soccer game (with the championship on the line) and sat in the visitor's section/cage (not the ideal place to be)
- Witnessed the 2007 New Year's fireworks in Sydney, Australia (best I've ever seen)
- Attended an opera in the Sydney Opera House (most recognizable building in the world)
- Worked as a porter / housekeeper / waiter in a hotel in Paihia, New Zealand (I found out my boss' son played Ares on Xena Warrior Princess)
- Saw the Southern Cross for the first time (smallest of the 88 modern constellations)
- Went sandboarding again (this time "boogie board style"....much faster) near Ninety Mile Beach, New Zealand
- Took a boat through "Hole in the Rock" in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
- Experienced half a year's worth of rain in a four day period in Paihia, New Zealand (even the locals had never seen anything like it)
- Saw whales for the first time in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
- Swung from trapeze to trapeze 20 feet in the air in Paihia, New Zealand
- Went to "Minus 5" ice bar (everything is made of ice) in Auckland, New Zealand
- Scored my lowest round of golf (105) in Greymouth, New Zealand (I'm not kidding that's my best, I'll keep working on it)
- Ice-climbed on the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand (this is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world)
- Skydived for the first time over Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
- Got lost in a human maze in Wanaka, New Zealand
- Bungy-jumped 440 ft. out of a gondola over the Nevis River (highest bungy in New Zealand) in Queenstown, New Zealand
- Saw more waterfalls at one time than I thought possible in Milford Sound, New Zealand
- Toured the Cadbury Chocolate Plant (saw one ton of chocolate fall like a Willy Wonka waterfall) in Dunedin, New Zealand
- Walked up the steepest street in the world in Dunedin, New Zealand
- Went zorbing (rolled down a hill in a hamster-like ball) in Rotorua, New Zealand (this was a blast!)
- Nearly run over by a large male kangaroo in Melbourne Zoo when he noticed another male "taking an interest" in one of "his" females (he ran right between me and my sister)
- Flew from Melbourne to Cairns Australia without ever showing any ID
- Spent Saint Patty's Day in Melbourne in a 16 bed dorm room with 14 Irish people (13 of whom were male) Needless to say I didn't sleep much that night.
- went diving on the Great Barrier Reef (saw Nemo and others)
- saw the India Ocean for the first time in Bali, Indonesia (picture perfect waves)
- held an impromtu english class on the beach with about 10 Indonesian kids in Lombok, Indonesia (I was the only foreigner in sight)
- motorbiked solo around the island of Lombok, Indonesia (population 2.4 million)
- spotted Anthony Edwards, the actor who played "Goose" in Top Gun, at the airport in Bali, Indonesia
- saw the Petronas Twin Towers (formerly the tallest in the world) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- witnessed the fracas that is known as the "full moon party" of Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
- kayaked through caves, saw a huge monitor lizard, and visited a rubber plantation near Bor Thor Village, Thailand
- played the game Connect Four and lost at a go-go bar in Phuket, Thailand
- witnessed a few Thai kickboxing matches (or The Art of the Eight Limbs) in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
- jumped out of my seat at a snake show in Thailand (was able to touch a cobra)
- sat with and tentatively petted tigers at a tiger temple in Thailand (I was escorted around by a 16 year old girl, ha)
- saw a bout between a cobra and a mongoose (no animals were killed and it was the mongoose all the way)
- walked over the famous "Bridge Over the River Kwai" - outside Bangkok, Thailand
- toured the temple of Angkor Wat just outside Siem Reap, Cambodia
- shot slingshots with several Cambodian boys near Siem Reap, Cambodia
- dined on grilled kangaroo, crocodile, and ostrich all in one meal in Saigon, Vietnam
- ate scorpion and liked it Saigon, Vietnam
- watched Dave try to eat raw rabbit meat before he was stopped and told you have to cook it first in Saigon, Vietnam
- crawled through the Cu Chi tunnels of south Vietnam
- learned how to cross a street in Saigon, Vietnam
- went on an overnight cruise through Halong Bay, Vietnam (possibly the most beautiful place I've ever seen)
- attended a water puppet show in Hanoi, Vietnam
- passenger in a slight fender bender on a motorcycle in Hanoi, Vietnam (it's amazing this doesn't happen more frequently)
- went trekking/mudsliding for 2 days through Sapa, Vietnam (the other possibly most beautiful place I've ever seen)
- was taught several drinking games by the locals while on a 3 day trek through northern Thailand
- elephant trekked and went bamboo rafting (my elephant ran away and I fell off the raft), Chiang Mai, Thailand
- successfully bought train tickets in India (this is a feat...believe me)
- visited the Ellora caves (amazingly carved out of the side of a mountain) outside Aurangabad, India
- paid a visit to the Taj Mahal the day after it was voted a new seven wonder (this is one building where the pictures don't do it justice)
- had my coke stolen from me by an Indian woman on a train outside Delhi, India (she proceeded to drink it right in front of me)
- shared dinner with an Indian family on a train going to Delhi, India
- saw Mt. Everest....nuff said
- tried the apple pie at no less than 5 villages in the Khumbu region of Nepal (I'm thinking of writing a Zagat's Nepal)
- listened to Bob Dylan at a tea house in Pheriche, Nepal (it was just about the only cd they had, fortunately it was a good one!)
- had my Himalayan guide hijacked/seduced by a fellow trekker while on a 13 day trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal
- travelled in the most crowded bus conceivable in northern India (seating capacity 29, spacial capacity ~68)
- I've been told over 20 times now that I look like Michael Owen (English soccer player)
- "slept" on a night ferry to Ko Tao. A huge space with mattresses laid down. It was so cramped you couldn't roll over without bumping into the person next to you. (foreigners on port side, locals on starboard)
- Scuba dived at Southwest Pinnacle and Shark Island off of Ko Tao, Thailand
- bought a fake Breitling watch that is actually working out ok
- bought a fake G-shock that I eventually received 3 offers to buy it from me in Egypt
- went to Burma for a day to renew my visa (about a month before the uprising began)
- Six weeks before this trip ended I mailed my guitar and souvenirs home and they didn't show up until I'd been home for 3 weeks
- Saw the Hong Kong skyline for the first time (most beautiful in the world imo)
- Spent my birthday in Hong Kong, went to a space museum, played video games, and saw the laser show over the skyline.
- got lost my first night in Beijing and had a random Russian guy help us find our way
- Visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in Beijing
- Couldn't visit the National Museum of China because it's close for renovations for 3 YEARS!
- ate Peking duck in Beijing (delicious!)
- Hiked along the Great Wall of China (this really does deserve it's reputation as a wonder of the world)
- drank a glass of tap water for the first time in 5 months Helsinki, Finland
- Felt like a midget in Helsinki, Finland (all the clothes in the store are XXL)
- Visited a Finnish sauna (the sauna was invented here after all)
- Finally enjoyed a descent beer in Helsinki (it just wasn't cost-effective to drink imports in Asia) - Visited the Museum of Terror (building where torture was conducted by both communists and Nazis depending on who was in power at the time) in Budapest, Hungary
- celebrated the Heritage Festival in Pecs, Hungary
- went on a self-guided wine-tasting tour in Villany, Hungary
- saw Ricky Gervais perform his stand-up act Fame in London
- took out 5X more $ than I wanted b/c I got the exchange rate wrong in Turkey
- toured the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
- was able to stay with and meet locals in Istanbul (thanks to my friend Hulya)
- visited the pyramids of Giza after hours by horseback
- the director of the art museum in Cairo invited me to his daughter's wedding
- did a night dive in the Red Sea at Dahab, Egypt
- walked to the top of Mt. Sinai for sunrise in Egypt
- wore out my passport with 61 stamps
- reunited was several "Charlotte" friends in NYC
- was greeted by my entire family at the airport in Raleigh (they were equipped with balloons, a welcome home sign, and everything)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Istanbul, Turkey --- Beautiful!

I decided to visit my friend Hulya in Istanbul for a week. Ever since I've known her she's builds Istanbul up as if it's the greatest place so I had to see what it was like. I boarded a plane in London and flew out to see one of the most important historical cities in the world. It is a unique city because part of it lies in Europe and part in Asia. Hulya's cousin, Alp, was kind enough to let me stay at his apartment on the Asian side. He made me feel at home. Most of the sites are on the European side so in a period of 5 days I went to Europe 5 times and Asia 5 times.

Istanbul is located on the Bosphorus Strait, and Hulya and I went on a Bosphorus cruise one day. Other highlights of the trip include Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque (which by the way is the most beautiful mosque I saw on the trip), Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, and hanging out with real locals. I would definitely recommend going there. (especially if you can get someone to show you around that knows all about it) All of the food was also a highlight. I ate a baked potato the size of my head.

Me, Hulya, Alp, Jeansu, Mine, Thomas, and Berna at dinner

Beautiful view of the Bosphorus

Hagia Sophia

At dinner with Hulya's aunt and Alp, after visiting Dalmabahce Palace

Ortakoy Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge

Sampling hookah for the first time. I believe in Turkey it's called narghile (but Hulya can correct me if I'm wrong)