Remember the last time you were abroad and were constantly getting pulled over or stopped by police, then asked for paperwork that doesn’t exist, fire extinguishers that don’t exist, and threats to take your license or passport to the capital 400 miles away? Most times all these corrupt jerks wanted was a bribe and through bitten tongue, you ponied up. Well, fear not, we’ve figured out how to avoid paying the bribe and you can too. Just follow this simple advice and chances are you’ll be on your way! BTW, we highly recommend color-photocopying and laminating your driver license for these exact scenarios and never, ever, giving up your passport. Worst case scenario, tell them to keep the (fake) license!
Cape Town is pretty incredible. First off, it’s stunning. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean, several bays, and the backdrop of Table Mountain, it’s pretty hard to beat for picturesque beauty. Considering the city’s proximity to Wine Country, beaches and National Parks, not to mention near-perfect year-round weather, a great food scene, awesome music, and more culture than you can handle (this is Africa after all), it’s no wonder that it has topped the list two years running for Best City for Tourists.
So, what to do, what to do. Schneids and I like the outdoors so we were quick to climb Table Mountain and were woefully underprepared, lacking ample food and water. (We actually were taking timed swigs every 10 minutes to conserve.) It’s great at the top, no doubt, but if time is tight in town, save your hiking legs for nearby Lion’s Head. It’s far less strenuous, more fun, and the 360-degree panam views are absolutely ridiculous. City to beach, Table Mountain to the Twelve Apostles coastal range, you can see it all. Time your summit with sunset, pack some wine and a flashlight and you’re in for a treat.
One of the best parts of extended travel is the great friends you make along the way. No matter where you are in the world there will always be a common bond with that stranger sitting next to you on the bus, sharing the same dorm room, paddling for the same wave, or bellying up to the same bar. The commonalities are endless but start with being away from home, friends, and fam, being on a budget, having a love for travel and good times, wanting to have incredible experiences, and naming your group of adventurers with silly yet meaningful names. Fortunately for us, two of these groups of friends are centered in or would be in London around the time we’d be there, so it was only right to catch up, regale each other with more travel stories, and make more memories in the meantime. This such time had us reuniting with Team Tartiflette, created in Laos in August 2011, and one of the founding members of Bolttin Hardcore, created in Indonesia in July 2011.
Keeping in mind our “good fortune” in getting delayed 24 hours from London to Dubai on Superbowl Sunday and getting a free $400 hotel room and $100 meal at a fancy-pants hotel in London, we were yet again delayed returning to London from Dubai to meet with Team Tartiflette, Joe and Carrie of London, Thomas and Claire from Nice, and of course, the PB Nomads. But the short weekend was not lost and we met up with the team for some pints of really, really good English beer at a Samuel Smith’s Pub (the exact beer I wished for and received on my 21stbirthday! Coincidence? I think not) courtesy of Joe
and Carrie, our gracious local tour guides and hosts. We had planned a dinner of authentic and very English fish & chips but since fish & chips are holy in England and this being a Sunday, the place was closed, so we audibled to a sinful, albeit amazing, American-style burger joint called Byron in SoHo. Most, if not all, opted for the Burger, Bourbon and Craft Beer special which quickly made us miss the good ‘ol US of A for in all its glory. This place surely knows how to whip up incredible, fat, juicy burgers; wicked, high-gravity, artisan crafted beers; and sweet, strong, may-I-have-another, bourbons. The Team, smacking their lips and feeling the buzz of the bourbon and beer, triumphantly agreed. Bidding farewell to our London guides, we made plans to visit Abbey Road with the French delegation the following afternoon.
I want you, Abbey Road. Nearly 10 years have gone by since Erin and I began dating and this album played significance in its creation. In that all-too-important moment of comparing musical-interests with the “girl you like,” Erin had the Abbey Road CD (as well as an impressive collection of Mason Jennings), thus cementing our relationship from “like” to “love.” Being my all-time favorite Beatles album and crux of the PB Nomads relationship, it was only right to visit the site of the famous album cover. Not at all surprising given that we were in London, the weather was cloudy and intermittently rainy, and upon our arrival to the famous site, the hilarity had already begun. The crosswalk is a real, active crosswalk at a relatively busy intersection with loads of traffic and even more tourists looking to recreate their own Beatles moment. Time and time again, when traffic was lightest, tourists would rush into the crosswalk and their invited photographers would dash into the middle of the road, quickly posing and snapping as many photos as possible before horns began blaring and traffic lined up waiting for the “pedestrians” to cross. Soon enough it was our turn and the picture turned out pretty darn good, with the passing of Peanut Butter– our prop to remember. We dined on fish & chips with Thomas and Claire for lunch before bidding them farewell, hoping to meet up again soon, this time in the USA or France.
That evening, the 48 hours of reunions continued and we met with Nick “Magico” of Bolttin Hardcore fame, whom we met in Indonesia. We took the tube over to his hood and met at Tayyabs for Paki/Indian food, London’s second-most famous cuisine thanks in part to its abundance of immigrants over the last two centuries and its highly-traveled, worldly citizens. It was, hands-down, the most delicious Pakistani food we had ever tried, and to make things even better, was actually affordable compared to the oft-expensive London eateries. Nick treated, much to our protest, because “we were still traveling.” These are the Good Karma rules of the road and we begrudgingly obliged, forever in debt to all of our good fortune and amazing hosts through the years, and eager to pay it forward again to visiting travelers in the USA. So, next time you’re in London, go to Tayyabs! Catching up with Nick was such a pleasure, as he stayed in Indo long after we had left and then continued onto the Philippines before returning home. Responsible for arranging our amazing sailing trip around Komodo and Rinca Islands in Indonesia, he will forever be known as Magico. Speaking loudly to the strength of Bolttin Hardcore, we had one last pint before bidding farewell, and were off to the airport for our flight to Cape Town, where we’d be reuniting with the last two members of Bolttin Hardcore, “Roger the First Mate” and “Sue Sea Q.” We still need to see Captain Iggy Poppins and only Erin got to see Rio in SF in January. Not fair!
Well, until next time Team Tartiflette and Bolttin Hardcore, thank you for everything and looking forward to the next adventure, wherever that may be!
My bucket list is a combination of things I’ve compiled from lucid dreams, wild flashbacks, vagabonding friends, other travelers, family and friends. And, maybe a thing or two from cool television shows, like “climbing a redwood tree.” So, how did we end up in Ireland? Well, semi-long story, semi-short: While in Nepal we dined with some Finnish friends, Ville and Anniina, recapping our spectacular hike around the Annapurna circuit when seemingly out of nowhere, Ville inquired, “Do Americans do heavy drinking?” A bit unsure how to answer that question, I probed deeper to find that in Finland, they “do heavy drinking.” This means when they go out with friends, they get wild, drink waaay too much, take shots, dance, shout, scream, sing, wake up with raging hangovers, wear dark sunglasses (unless it’s winter) and get together with the same friends for breakfast to find out what the hell actually happened the previous night. I smiled, laughed and answered him, “Yes, Ville, Americans do heavy drinking.” Immediately, I pulled out my handy-dandy iPhone, opened my notes app, and added “#35: Do some heavy drinking in Finland.” But before my phone could find its way back into my pocket, I quickly added,
#36: Do some heavy drinking in an Irish Pub (in Ireland)
After a month of bouncing around between family and friends in Philly, NYC, Michigan, LA and SF, we were off to the Austrian Alps to finally “Ski the Alps.” Long on my list of things to do, we’ve heard the rumors about Austria from friends and were curious if they were true. Are Austrians really born with skis on? Is the apres ski in Austria really the best in the world? And finally, do the mountains really make everything in North America seem tiny? There was only one way to find out and to do just that we flew into Zurich and took a 2.5 hour train ride east to a well-known village, St. Anton.
The valley is cut deep and the mountains are high, with chairs and gondolas going up each side, behind and around the mountains. Nestled two towns east of St. Anton’s ritzy, glam-and-gush center, lies little Schnann, our home for the next 9 days. Haus Schoepf, our lovely guest house is predominantly run by Fiona, the guest-house mom extraordinaire. Even with five kids, all girls, she somehow found the time to check us in and have breakfast ready to go by 7:30 sharp every morning. Built around the Stube, a traditional Austrian/Bavarian-style room for eating and relaxing, the house is rather large and the rooms cozy. And, at just a free, 15-minute bus ride away from all the slope-side fun you could possibly handle, at 1/10th the cost, this little gem was a no-brainer.
Calling this area a “resort” region is way too loose of a word. There are essentially 5 villages – Lech, Zurs, St. Anton, St. Christoph, and Stuben, each a “resort” in their own right, but this doesn’t even include all of the terrain, with Rendl across the valley being world-class, and Zug to the far-north, an untouched powder paradise six days after a dump. I can’t find the specifics online but I’d have to guess if you were to compare apples to apples, the Arlberg region is about the size of 4 Vails or 5 Squaw Valleys. It’s massive, simply put.
Since it snowed so much here this year already, the Arlberg (Gnarlberg!) region has one of the largest bases in the world. And, to make things even better, we arrived just before a massive storm that didn’t stop dumping snow on us for the next 6 days, creating what we’ve dubbed “eight for eight.” Powder days, that is, and none being less than a foot deep. “Dreams really do come true,” we constantly yelled, hopping off another cornice into fresh, untracked powder (h/t DDF.)
“Oooooh, you might say that I’m addicted.
You might say I’m really hooked.
But at least I’m not addicted to the powder that you sniff into your nose.
That would really suck.”
– Damien Filiatrault
Due to the storm(s), we spent our first few days lapping the Galzigbahn gondola in St. Anton, enjoying fresh tracks all-day, every day, and anxiously waiting for the upper mountain to come off wind-hold. Our friend Mark arrived, somehow in the eye of the storm, and we spent one day on the slopes with him, rebel yelling on each and every run. Amazed that most, if not all, other skiers remained on-piste and directly between the trail lines, we laughed hysterically that getting fresh powder tracks on every run was actually happening. Just like at home, at the end of any epic powder day we were ready for some celebratory drinks. We were eager to enjoy an apres ski, French for heavy drinking post skiing, at Mooserwirt, consistently voted the best apres ski in the world. Bellying up to the bar, we began with half-liter pints of dunkels and hefeweizens before getting heavy into the jagermeister, plum schnapps, and even worse, the hot widow (heisse witwe) aka the cougar shot due to its unabashed use of whipped cream and the ensuing mess. Beer swilling continued and the lights got low, the DJ started spinning, and before long it was an absolute fist-pumping, dancing-in-your-ski-boots kind of party, which for us, ended before 6:30. The only unfortunate thing was we had to ski down afterward and catch our bus home! Luckily, we were taught how to snow plow. 🙂
We bid Mark farewell and enjoyed more incredible snow, finding more and more areas to get the good stuff. Damien arrived the following night, eager to hit the slopes and enjoy what we’d been enjoying. We hit Rendl and got 3-feet deep, face-shots-on-every-turn kind of snow. We hit Kappal, and went Mach-18 down a snow-filled valley for 10 minutes straight, all untouched. We traversed around a 10,000 foot peak for a field of snow, just waiting for us to dive in. We jumped off cliffs, over cornice lips, into couloirs and down chutes. Avalanche danger being of concern, we took all necessary precautions and as the week carried on, and the danger became less, we just kept getting more. And more. It was an endless bowl of snow, with free refills and we ate it all up. On the final day, we split up accidentally, and Erin and I found what may have been the last untouched mecca of snow on the backside of Zurs. After fifteen minutes of pure enjoyment, at the bottom of the slope, we looked back at our tracks and the two helicopters swooping between the peaks, smiled at each other, knowing that we had just poached heli-skiing terrain.
Together, we bid farewell to Fiona and Haus Schoepf and caught the train to Zurich for a night of fondue and resting up before our early flight. It was the trip of a lifetime and getting such enormous amounts of snow was certainly the icing on top. Plus, with lift tickets and rentals for the week costing $45/day and our room at $30/day, we felt like we had gotten one heck of a deal compared to the $95/day lift-tickets-alone prices in N. America.
See more on how to “go budge” and get the sweetest deals by visiting Erin’s article at SF Examiner.
And finally, a preview of Gnarlberg: A Love Story
“Jay, wake up! It’s 8:00!”
“What, huh, what does that mean?”
“Wake up! It means our flight leaves in 55 minutes!”
I immediately reached for my phone to double-check the hour. After all, we have been having difficulties keeping time, the iPhone getting mixed up among time zones. The time was correct.
“How did this happen? We set two alarms,” I said. Both for 5:30 am. Mine never rang and Erin’s we somehow didn’t hear. Our flight was in less than an hour, the airport was 50 minutes away, and now we were leaving during Bangkok rush hour.
“We have to go for it,” Erin hurriedly said, stuffing things into her backpack. “Maybe they can get us on the next flight?”
Every so often in your travels, you come across one of those travelers that just knocks your socks off. They’ve been to the most obscure places in the world and have typically done it the hard way–by boat or overland. Their stories are jaw-dropping and inspirational and leave you thirsty for more. Steve is that traveler. We met Steve McGrath while preparing for our wedding in Sayulita and were fortunate to spend several weeks with him (and another traveler Cat, who will hopefully be featured here soon too.) Over some fresh fruit-smoothies in Steve’s “penthouse-by-the sea,” he humbly had us reeling for more when he said the following things: “I’ve traveled for 11 of the last 20 years” and “I went from Vancouver to Hong Kong starting with $900.” That’s $900 Canadian, folks…about $600 buck-a-roos at the time!
This is an interview with Richard Gordon in El Nido, Philippines that took place at The Alternative Hotel. Richard is a well-seasoned traveler and has good bits to share.
Name: Richard Gordon
Where are you now?
El Nido, Philippines
Where are you off to next?
In 2008, Erin and I traveled for a year with 60 and 65-liter backpacks; the same ones we use when we go camping. They’re big enough to hold a tent, cook-gear, and lots of extra layers for those cold mountain nights. In hindsight, when it comes to what we packed back then, it’s almost laughable. Fast forward three years, with an 18-month multi-continent itinerary in tow, and behold, our new 40-Liter backpacks have revolutionized our travel lifestyle and are permanently in the “don’t-leave-home-without-it” category. Let me explain how to make the 40-liter pack work:
Clothing: Less is More. Packing four pairs of shoes for those what-if scenarios of travel? Forget it. Pick 2, a sturdy hiking shoe (I prefer trail-runners which can also be worn to the gym) and your sandal of choice and be done with it. Shoes take up tons of room in your pack, are super heavy, and chances are you’ll be sporting your flip-flops 99% of the time anyhow. Have a pair of jeans packed? Unless you can’t live without them, those Levi’s will probably see more backpack-time than wear-time. They’re heavy and don’t breathe and like most travelers, you’re probably hitting up the tropics where the only temperature is hot and the dress code is no-shirt-no-pant-no-problem. Leave ’em at home. You’ll appreciate them that much more once you’re back. Try a zip-off pant or a pair each of ultra-lightweight pants and shorts. Shirts? 4 Tees/tanks and a long-sleeve of choice. I like a short-sleeve button up too. Jackets? If you’ll be in cold temperatures on your trip, and if you’ve got the room (you will), a thin rain jacket and a Puffy sleeping bag-style jacket in a compression sack are just what you need. Stuff the Puffy with thin gloves and hat and you’re set. And last but not least, your smalls, panties, and unders. Guys, 3 pairs of undies should do the trick. Make sure they’re the kind that dry fast and more importantly, get comfy with going commando. Laundry day comes fast. Ladies, a weeks worth is Erin’s mantra. Anything else you need or want once on the road, you can enact the BIT philosophy (But It There.) After all, Tees are only $1 in India and renting is always an option for excursions.
Other crap. Sunscreens, bug sprays, twelve types of medicine, shampoo, conditioner, hair products. No, no, and no. Leave ’em in the medicine cabinet. Buy sunscreen and bug sprays in small doses when you’ll need it and where you’ll need it. Medicines? Outside of mandatory prescriptions, buy them when you need them. Don’t worry, every country has some sort of pharmacy and drug prices abroad are jaw-droppingly cheap. Damn pharma companies. A small bottle of Dr. Bronner soap is the only thing you need to carry; it’s shampoo, face wash, body and laundry soap all-in-one and leaves your skin feeling minty fresh. And it’s crazy how well salt-water mixed with a heavy dose of sunshine gives your hair hold, bounce, or whatever else you’re looking for. There’s always the option of shaving your head or growing your hair too. Either way, removing all of these bulky, hard to pack, heavy items from your pack list (and keeping everything below 3.4 oz, 100ml) will make life on the road that much easier.
Checked bags: Dollars and Sense. But most important of all, more than than not being weighed down, is the 40-liter backpack is the max that airlines consider “carry-on” luggage. Check-in lines? No chance. Baggage fees? No way, Jose. Roller suitcases, eat your heart out. Once you arrive, while everyone else on the plane is filling out lost-baggage claims or jockeying for position to grab their enormo rollerbags-from-hell off the belt, you’ll have already been through customs and hailed a cab, well on your way to experience the world. Don’t want to shell out another $150 for the pack right before the trip? You’ll end up spending more than that once on the road. Checked-bag fees are $25-50 almost everywhere now plus when the train runs late to the airport and you’ve got 30 minutes to get through security, having to check a bag could be the difference between making the flight or paying a $125 change fee and spending the night in the airport. Case in point, on a recent flight from NYC to Hong Kong, American Airlines, bless their little hearts, had the wrong terminal on the departure board, turning what was a cushy 90-minute before departure cruise into the 30-minute fight-or-flight Amazing Race dash. We’ve all been there. Finally at the correct terminal and gasping for air, the only reason we were able to board was because we vehemently stated “we don’t have any bags to check!” One phone call later and we were through security and boarded our plane with time to spare. The pack nearly paid for itself on day 1.
All in all, the nomadic, backpacker life is just plain easier with the 40-liter backpack. And the same holds true for weekend warriors and 10-day summer vacationers. Keeping things simple and lightweight makes the travel experience that much more enjoyable. Plus, once you’ve worn through and stained all of your Tees, you get to go shopping for local, handcrafted clothes. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a new $5 wardrobe?
The real charm, the true I-get-it-moments lie in not knowing what time it is when you wake, when you eat, when you surf, when you drink, and ultimately, when you rest. It’s the locals who have gigante smiles with silver and gold fillings front and center, trying to hock you a bracelet they spent 20 minutes making for only a buck. The three musicians who ask for pay to play but after your 30th uber-polite “no gracias” of the day, sing you a love song, well, just because that’s what they like to do. It’s learning the local handshake and hunting out good local eats like bodelis de coco. And aaah, the hamacas and palm trees. The delicious local, fresh food. The warmth, the sand, the sound of the oceans swell lulling you to sleep. It’s here and so are we.