Nepal Pt. 1- Making Friends for Life and Exploring the Kathmandu Valley

Sat, Nelson, and Uwe
We've said it time and time again, the best thing about travel is the people you meet along the way. Sometimes God winks in your direction as he weaves the paths of complete strangers in a way that creates lasting bonds for years to come. Sometimes these strangers you meet serendipitously, you feel like you have known your entire life. That's how we feel about Sat and Uwe.

How did we end up in Kathmandu, in a local's home, with his extended family, eating a traditional meal, sharing stories and being embraced by all the family members like we were long lost cousins from the US? 

...The story goes back to our stay in Zanzibar 3 months prior. We met Uwe while staying at our 4 bedroom guesthouse. Uwe (pronounced ooo-ver) is a doctor from Germany. We had a wonderful time together in Zanzibar and shared many meals and travel stories with us. He is truly a kind soul and we felt 'at home' speaking with him. Uwe told us that every year he travels to Nepal where he does some trekking and volunteer work. He visits a local village in a remote part of the country and treats the people of the village, bringing supplies, prescription drugs, medical devices, and has treated hundreds of patients over the years. He brings home his stories every year (usually through his amazing photos) and shares his cause with fellow Germans in hopes of promoting awareness of the need in Nepal. He told us he was going to be in Nepal in February.... it just so happened that we were going to be there in February too! We soon realized the best thing about the guesthouse in Zanzibar was not the view of the ocean from our room... but the timing.

...Rewind several years back, Uwe visited Nepal for the first time in decades. He met his trekking guide, Sat (pronounced Sut). Sat has the kind of soul that is one big smile. He is always laughing. His personality is infectious. He is one of the most genuinely happy people we have ever met. When he took Uwe out for his trek, Uwe expressed interest in seeing Sat's village. When Uwe arrived, he knew he had the medical expertise to really make a difference in this small corner of the world. A corner of the world that would soon mean so very much to Uwe. 

Over the years Uwe and his friends and families donations have assisted Sat and his village in building a new school, providing medical clinic supplies and guidance, as well as a way to 'adopt' a child from the village. 

We are incredibly inspired by the work Uwe does and the incredible graciousness of our host Sat. Their friendship is a beautiful bond and they treat each other like brothers. We would not have had the experience we had in Nepal without those two very special men.

While in Nepal, we traveled to Pokhara, a beautiful lake town 8 hrs by bus from Kathmandu. While Nelson accompanied Uwe and Sat on a 14 day trek through the Langtang valley, Allie stayed in Kathmadu and took up yoga, meditation, and cooking classes. After the trek, we stayed at the Kopan Buddhist Monastery where we lived among the monks and observed their way of life, while learning about Buddhism. 

Over the next several posts we will share pictures from one of our new favorite countries: Nepal.

Enjoy the photos of Nepal Pt.1 - Pokhara and Kathmandu....

China- 144 hour visa in Shanghai

Jet-lagged Allie and Nelson in Shanghai!
Utilizing the free 144 hour transit visa through Shanghai, we were able to explore this awesome city in China for a few days. Although we did not get a true sense of China as a whole, we sure did enjoy our time in the ultra modern, extremely clean, very east meets west city of Shanghai. We had some good eats, explored Old city, saw a legendary, record holding, jazz band and visited the world's largest Starbucks (!!) which apparently is a must do in the city! We also were mini celebrities in the city as we looked quite different from all the locals. We had instances of little children pointing and laughing in amazement at us, to grown adults asking to take a photo with us! Please enjoy our photos!

Malaysia- A tropical surprise

The snorkeling off the islands were the best we've ever experienced!
We made our way to Malaysia and were taken back by what we discovered. The capital of Kuala Lumpur was an extremely modern and diverse city. We had fun exploring and were in awe of the skyscrapers and fast paced life. We then made our way to a remote island off the east coast of Malaysia. The Perhentian Islands meaning 'stopping point islands' were used as a resting stop for traders in the South China sea. The Perhentians, made up of two islands, Perhentian Kecil (small) and Perhentian Besar (Big). We stayed on the smaller more remote island known for its backpacker vibe. There were no roads on the island, only walking trails and beaches. We had to venture by speed boat for 35 mins from the coast to reach the island. It was an awesome place and we would highly recommend Malaysia for any type of travel. It is full of history, culture, amazing food, wonderful metropolitan cities and tropical islands. We fell in love with the people of Malaysia! They were very welcoming and made our memories special. Enjoy.

Italy Pt. 1- Exploring an Paestum and Agropoli

Beautiful view in Agropoli

Ahhh, Italy! There's no other place quite like it. Very laid back, very passionate for their culture, and very inviting. We decided to end our journey around the world with a Euro Road trip. From Nice, France we drove south to Italy. Along the west coast, we decided to stop in an old Greek settlement, Paestum. Paestum is just south of Naples. We stayed for 4 days and truly enjoyed our time and the food! We ventured to Agropoli, a beautiful seaside town on a hill. We saw ancient Greek ruins and relaxed on beautiful beaches. Next, we venture further south to Calabria, the region which Allie's family immigrated from, where we visit Allie's family and Nelson had a huge surprise for Allie!

India - The North - Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan

Nelson and Allie playing the part while in Rajasthan
After exploring the south of India, we traveled north to Delhi, the bustling capital. We explored Old Delhi and some famous sights including Ghandi's home. With our private driver, Deepak, we headed to Agra to visit the famous Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. We then began our tour of the state of Rajasthan, exploring many cities, palaces, and forts, feeling like we were back in an age of the emperors. The state was very arid and home to a vast desert. Rajasthan was quite different from the tropical south of India. In Rajasthan we visited Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Pushkar, moving around quite a bit but seeing so much. We felt like we had traveled back in time.

India - The South - Mumbai, Kerala, and Goa

Who is crazy enough to rent a scooter in India? We are.
Our first trip to India came with immense anticipation. With all of our research and conversations with fellow travelers, we knew we would experience something different from all of our previous travels. Many say India is its own world, some say not to try to make sense of it, others say embrace every moment. India was truly eyeopening and sensory overload. India is not for the faint of heart. The sheer density of people was truly astounding. With 1.3B people, nearly 1B more than the population of the US, with a third of the space (!!!) it was quite crowded everywhere, even in small towns. The country is very rich in culture. The flavors of the cuisine are complex and unique. With the large country came drastic variety within the regions. While its easy to categorize the the country by 'the north' and 'the south' as many people do, each state had a different feel, a different cuisine, different landscape, and different language. They say every 50kms the language changes.

We began in the financial capital of Mumbai and flew down to the state of Kerala, also known as 'God's own country'. It is a very spiritual region with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists truly coexisting peacefully. We visited Fort Kochi and the famous Backwaters and Munnar, home to spectacular tea plantations. In true Allie and Nelson fashion, we rented a scooter to explore the tea plantation's rolling hills. Next we headed to Goa, a state known for its beautiful beaches and backpacker life.

South Africa Pt. 3- The Winelands and Cape Town

The queen and king of Cape Town?
The climax of our South Africa road trip ended with something near and dear to our hearts... wine! The wine lands of South Africa were a very pleasant surprise. In the US we don't have much of a selection of South African wines, we soon learned the wine game in South Africa is a true contender! The wines were delicious and they had the foods to match up to it. Not only were the wines great, the breathtaking beauty of the wine regions rivaled those of Tuscany or Burgundy. The views had us saying 'WOW' with every turn. We explored Hermanus, Franschoeck, and Stellenbosch. Franschoeck - meaning French corner, was settled by the Huguenot's and hence bringing the wine making skills to the beautiful valley. It was our favorite of the three regions and a beautiful place to spend our Christmas. We spent time in Cape Town, exploring the 'Mother City'. Truly a diverse gem of a city with a great vibe. Mountains, beaches, and amazing views aplenty! We hiked up Table Mountain which was not an easy feat. We visited the botanical gardens, beaches, and an amazing Saturday morning market. A great way to end our South African exploration. 

South Africa Pt. 2 - The amazing natural beauty of the Garden Route

The Christmas Spirit along the Garden Route
We ventured west from Jeffrey's Bay along the garden route. We took our time and stopped at many places along the way. As we kept venturing west, the beauty varied day by day, but it seemed we were constantly in awe. The natural beauty was breathtaking and we soon realized our pictures would not do it any justice. This is a place that needs to be experienced to truly appreciate it. The kind folks who owned and managed the guest houses and restaurants along the way would offer wonderful suggestions and tips for our travel along the coast. We started in Jeffrey's Bay, visited St. Francis Bay for a day trip, then continued to Plettenberg Bay, then arrived our favorite town along the coast Knysna. There were beautiful stop offs along the route, with plenty of hiking and national parks to explore. Enjoy! 

South Africa Pt. 1 - Johannesburg, Whitewater rafting, the Panorama Route, and the Karoo!

Nelson and Allie enjoy views of the Panorama Route
We began our South African journey in Johannesburg. A city that holds a sad history of division and exclusion. Of hurt and anger. But one can also say it is a city of unification. In 1992, the remarkable work of Nelson Mandela and President F W de Klerk, reconciled the country and brought a divisive nation together to be wholly 'South African'. The history of Apartheid is quite a piece of history and one can surely see the divide (At a much lesser scale) today in parts of the country. However, the country is making great strides and uniting as one. The people we encountered from all backgrounds were extremely friendly, wanting to assist us, wanting to make sure we were enjoying ourselves in their country. And we did enjoy it immensely! The natural beauty left us in awe each day! As we road tripped through the nation, we saw new natural beauty each day with such a variety of landscapes! 

We visited Johannesburg where the Apartheid Museum gave us a great history lesson and kept us engaged for hours. We also visited the neighborhood of Soweto. Vilakazi street was the home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Then we headed east to Hazyview and went whitewater rafting  in crocodile and hippo infested waters (!!!) and drove the infamous Panorama Route where we were in awe by the beauty. We then headed south to eventually reach the coastline. But before arriving to the south, we made a stop in Graaf Reinet. A town on the Karoo - The Karoo being comparable to our 'western frontier'. We did some hiking and a self drive game ride to see some wildlife. Enjoy Pt. 1 of South Africa, a country that truly surprised us in the best way possible. 

Zanzibar: Island living in Africa

Allie and Nelson enjoying the sunset on Thanksgiving Day.
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania. Even though it is a part of Tanzania, it felt a world away at times. Zanzibar is known for its white soft sand beaches and beautiful weather. We experienced so much more than a relaxing island visit. We truly felt like we were living with locals, trying new foods, 'embracing' the slow life, and the 'simplicity' of living on a somewhat under developed island. When we arrived in Stone Town, the island's capital city, we were greeted with a very touristy feel. However, after leaving the town and heading to Jambiani, a beach with a very local feel, we felt like we had made a great choice for a stay.  We were forced to slow down. Pole! Pole! As they say in Swahili. To give an idea of how 'remote' our paradise was, let's just say most businesses did not accept credit cards, and the nearest ATMs were 1.5 hrs away in Stone Town! The electricity and water worked when it wanted to, along with the wifi as well. These minor inconveniences were appreciated as we gained perspective.

We learned that the island depended on the tides. Jambiani's economy revolves around fishing and seaweed harvesting. With the tide changing drastically throughout the day, it truly dictated life on the island. Many fishermen would depart at different times daily from right in front of our guesthouse. Naturally Nelson ventured out fishing with them one day. He also obtained his PADI license for scuba diving. We explored local life, interacting with them and asking questions. From their stories we tried to understand the social and economic challenges and balances needed in a location that is up and coming in the tourism world.

Lastly, we met incredible people in Zanzibar! Tourists and locals alike. We felt like when we left, we had made new friends from around the world! Likeminded travelers (many from Germany!) but we got to know much of the staff from our guesthouse. We stayed at Mango Beach Guest House in Jambiani. A 4 room ocean facing guesthouse with tranquility and also the local feel. We would recommend a trip to Zanzibar to anyone! Enjoy the pictures!