18 January 2008

From Northern Lights to Southern Cross

I'll be honest. We never thought January 18th would come. When we set off for Iceland, the summer was still blistering, and planning as far ahead as after Christmas was all theoretical. But as I start writing this blog entry, it's officially the last day of our trip. Right now, we're fresh off a whirlwind tour of New Zealand, firmly ensconced in front of computers at Auckland Airport, and not quite sinking into the realism of finality.

It's been a crazy trip—by the numbers, if nothing else. We've traversed, by bus, car, boat, horseback, train, and simple walking, 33,420.5 km of the earth (that's about 83% around the world. It doesn't include the flights, which add another 41,485 km to our tally, putting us almost twice the circumference of the equator.)

Or, put another way, our most northerly point on the trip was Akureyri, Iceland (65°41'N, 018°05'W); our most southerly was Kaikoura, New Zealand (42°25'S, 173°42'E), meaning we've crossed 108°06' of latitude and 191°46' of longitude (that's 60% of the earth, top-to-bottom, and 53% of it, east-to-west). It took us 683.5 hours on these modes of surface transportation to cover this distance, making our average speed 30 miles an hour.

We've had our language abilities stretched in unforseen ways—speaking French at the Chinese/Kyrgyz border, Spanish in Iceland, Arabic in Beijing, Russian in Uzbekistan, and Chinese in Nepal. We've worn through pairs of jeans, tattered shoes, torn holes in shirts (and in our skin at times), watched a goat meet its doom, helped Chinese train conductors read their English overhead announcements, learned a smattering of words in languages we'd never heard of (yakhshimusiz!), slept on floors, on half-bunks on Indian trains (don't get me started on that one), and with more insects than your average entomologist. We've scaled mountains (most notably Mt. Ngauruhoe, better known as Mt. Doom) with just a good pair of shoes and some overused ski-poles. We've dived the Great Barrier Reef and gotten caught in massive currents in Palau. And we've pigged out on lukewarm chicken (it's much better than it sounds), a dessert made of ice, corn, and beans (ditto), sugar cane juice, and noodle soups spicy enough to make you bald.

In other words, we're exhausted. But in a very, very good—inexplicably, ineffably good—way. We're exhaustedly happy.

It's staggering that this has gone so quickly; it's just starting to sink in how remarkably humbling a way to see our world this trip was. During these five months of seeing, though, we've run across some of the best and worst hotels, showers, toilets, place names, and McDonald's burgers in the world. Here are some of them.

Worst Hotel
1. Leo Hostel, Beijing
2. Osh Guesthouse, Osh
3. Any hotel in Shegar, Tibet
4. The "retiring rooms," Siliguri train station, India
5. The Kirey Guesthouse, Lhasa, Tibet

Best Hotel
1. New 7th Storey, Singapore
2. Butterfly Guesthouse, Reykjavik
3. Watson's Way Backpacker's, Renwick, New Zealand
4. Sunder Palace, Jaipur, India
5. Gulnara's Guesthouse, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Worst Toilets
1. Everest base camp (better picture here; they're both graphic. Sorry...)
2. The Snowman hotel, Shegar, Tibet

Worst Showers
Leo Hostel, Beijing (there was no cold water)

Best Showers
Xin Hua hotel, Lhasa (this thing could do everything but take you into space. But it was working on that...)

Worst trains
1. India
2. Malaysia

Best trains
1. Uzbekistan (believe it or not)
2. China, especially the train to Tibet

Strangest McDonald's Burger
1. The Chicken Maharajah Mac (rendered, spiced chicken patty, spicy sauce, unwashed lettuce), Jaipur, India
2. The Kiwi Burger (meat, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, eggs, and boiled beetroot, bacon optional) , Rotorua, New Zealand
3. The Paneer Salad wrap (tortilla, fried cottage cheese, lettuce, and Tex-Mex salsa), Jaipur, India

Best place name encountered
Whakapapa, New Zealand
(The realization that wh is pronounced [f] in Maori was simply too much for our puerile minds)

Highest point reached on land
5248 meters (17,218 feet), the Himalayas

Lowest point reached on land
–154 meters (–505 feet), Turpan, China

Number of pictures taken

Number of pictures uploaded

Total distance travelled
74,906 km (46,544 miles)

Favorite countries (in alphabetical order)
1. Iceland
2. Mongolia
3. New Zealand
4. Singapore
5. Tibet

What's most strange about this list is that this was just the start of the year. This is the prelude. We've had a tremendous time, but this has all been preparatory for the time in Africa.

And we can't wait to get there. Thanks to your unbelievably forthright generosity, our tickets and our health insurance have finally been purchased. We will be leaving NYC for Monrovia, Liberia, on the 8th of February. Just enough time for us to get our clothes clean.


Chris said...

We have to cast our vote for best sign: that do-not-stand-on-toliet sign from Malaysia. Totally cracked us up.

artur said...

:) seems like interesting trip - the stats at the bottom are funny..- keep writing

artur said...

funny stories - great blog. keep goin please:)

Candyflower said...

I wish I have not seen the picture of the worst toilet........esp after dinner