Archive for March, 2007

New Zealand Photos

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

I am still working on the improvements to the Gallery, but we have begun to archive our photos to Flickr, so you can now view our New Zealand photos and Singapore photos there if you are interested. I’ve also added a link to our Flickr photostream to the home page.

Some Like It Hot

Friday, March 16th, 2007

It is hot here in Singapore. So hot. And amazingly humid too. We are at 1o 18′ N and only 136 kilometers North of the Equator. Right now it is 82° with 89% humidity. Every time we leave the air conditioned condo and step outside, we are amazed at how sticky it is. We constantly ask each other, “Am I sweating?” as we walk down the street and then burst out laughing because we both look like this.

It’s going to be interesting bicycling in this weather. Very interesting.

New Zealand Finances

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

I have updated the Finances page with the cost of our time in New Zealand. We ended up at $57.34 per day for a total cost of $4013.78. The total cost of our trip is now up to $18,902.29.

We made it!

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

We arrived in Singapore on Saturday without any more problems. Our flight even arrived 30 minutes early, and Singapore customs was basically non-existent. I was expecting to be searched for illegally imported chewing gum but we were waved through by the lone customs guy without a second glance.

We are really enjoying staying at my friend Jennifer’s condo, in the heart of Singapore. This place is amazingly gorgeous – I feel like I’m at a resort! There’s even a pool outside, a private balcony where we’ve been eating breakfast, and a private hot tub on the top balcony which we haven’t used – it is too hot for that! We leave for Thailand in only two days, and Jamie and I are both going to be sad to leave.

View from the balcony:

The pool:

We have been spending most of our time eating and checking things off our To Do list so we’re ready for the next bicycling segment of the trip. You know, exciting things like buying spare bike parts and laying the tent out to dry so it doesn’t get all moldy. Jamie’s also been spending tons of time on the website.

Food is definitely the highlight of Singapore. The city is known for its ‘hawkers’ which are food vendors that gather in an area to create a kind of outdoor food court. Everything is freshly made, exotic (to us), and delicious. Each meal costs only S$3-4 so we are in cheapskate heaven! Our favorite areas so far are Chinatown and Little India. There are also tons of fruit and vegetable stands all over the city. I am addicted to mangoes.

Drinking coconut milk out of a fresh green coconut. The little old lady I bought this from (for only S$1.20!) expertly hacked the top open with a gigantic meat cleaver, stuck a straw in, and handed it to me. Yum! That’s a street in Little India in the background

Here’s a dish I do not plan to try. Now I just have to hope I do not accidentally order this when the menu does not have English translations. Quick, memorize those Chinese characters!

Outdoor market and hawker area in Chinatown:

There are a few Hindu temples scattered around the city. They are so colorful and beautiful!

Another Hindu temple:

Colorful building downtown:

Today we’re on a mission to take pictures of the delicious food we spend all our time eating, so check back tomorrow!

Route Page

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

I’ve completed the first round of updates to the Route page. We now have dynamic maps with selected journal entries marked on the map. These maps will be continuously updated as we travel and write new journal entries. The next round of updates to the Route page will be drawing our actual route on these maps and possibly incorporating our photos as well.

Flight Nightmare!

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Hello from … Sydney?! Australia? Wait, weren’t we planning on skipping this continent? Yes, but yesterday was quite the trying travel day and we are currently sitting in a hotel outside the Sydney airport. Let’s trace back the sequence of events that led us here.

Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early to begin our journey from New Zealand to Singapore. The day before, we purchased some packing supplies to construct our makeshift luggage: two boxes to serve as suitcases, two rolls of packing tape, and one 60 meter roll of bubble wrap. Yes, 60 meters. You see, at the packaging store down the street from our hostel everything was cheaper in bulk. Two rolls of tape were the same price as one and the colossal 60 meter roll of bubble wrap was cheaper than a shrimpy 10 meter roll. So, we supersized everything, figuring it would be better to have too much than to run out. Here is Sarah transporting the tape and wrap back to the hostel.

By the way, Auckland International Backpackers is by far the most disgusting place we have stayed so far. Every table in the kitchen was stickier than a vinyl car seat in August. The kitchen was not cleaned a single time during our 5 nights there and the couches in the TV room were noticeably wet to the touch. The smell of mildew and mold was everywhere – so much so in the shower that it was nauseating.

Transporting the supplies from the hostel to the airport went smoothly. The boxes created a nice platform for the massive roll and we even had an orange flag just like the ones you get at the lumber yard. The day definitely went downhill from here.

A few days earlier, we had called the Auckland Airport to enquire as to whether or not they sold bicycle boxes. They did, for $NZ30. Expensive, but we figured it was worth it to not have to transport a huge box to the airport and we had also heard from other cyclists online that the bicycle boxes sold at airports are usually huge. We were giddy at the thought of dropping our bicycle into an enormous box with room to spare. When we arrived, we were surprised to learn that the boxes the airport sold were the used ones discarded by cyclists who had arrived at the airport. $NZ30 for this?! You have got to be kidding me. We picked through the pathetic lot and chose the two biggest boxes, but they looked like they were designed to hold children’s bicycles. The next two hours were spent disassembling, packing, and repacking our bicycles into the dwarf boxes. We were lucky to have all the tape and bubble wrap because we used most of it. Sarah gave up on getting her bike to fit about halfway through and focused on creating some avant-garde packaging sculpture with her box. Her inspiration for the piece was the natural form of the rhinoceros.

With our mutant boxes in hand, we sidled up to the Emirates counter to try check in. We began to get worried when the clerk insisted on weighing each and every bag we were carrying. 10 kilos, 40, then 80. The numbers kept climbing and our hearts kept dropping. We were also told that since Emirates has an allowance for golf clubs and fishing rods, but not bicycles, we were going to be charged a bicycle fee in addition to being charged for the weight of our bicycles. What?! “What is the bicycle fee for then?”, we asked. Silence. The clerk then proceeded to punch some numbers and then got a pained look on her face. She didn’t have the heart to read out the total to us, she just swiveled her computer monitor around to show us. $NZ850. Panic.

After Sarah peeled me off the floor, we began to weigh our options. Shipping some of the gear on a cargo flight was a possibility, but it could take quite a while to arrive in Singapore. We decided to check it out and were directed to the “nearby” office. I guarded our belongings while Sarah made a mad dash over to the cargo office, which was actually close to a mile from the terminal. Three days and NZ$350 is what they told her. She rushed back and after about 2.5 seconds of deliberation we decided to bite the bullet and pay for it. She pushed the cart of bikes back toward the office like a bobsled pilot at an Olympic trial and I waited for her to return.

Over an hour later, I was still waiting and was sure we were going to miss our flight. I kept staring off in to the distance, straining to catch a glimpse of Sarah’s head bobbing through the bushes as she raced towards me. Here is a visual depiction of how I felt at this point.

Finally she did return and as we raced back to the Emirates counter she relayed the details of what happened to me. When she returned to the cargo office, the clerk had informed her that since our bicycles were large but light we were going to have to be charged for the volumetric weight instead of the previously quoted weight. Be honest, how many of you have even heard of volumetric weight? How much was that going to cost? Surprise, surprise. NZ$850. After enough bitching and moaning by Sarah, she got the supervisor of the warehouse to agree to only charge her for the actual weight. This must have been quite the no-no, because it involved several approval forms and then some destroying of evidence so no one would be able to figure out who actually charged her the cheaper price.

The only positive thing to come out of all this was that we learned that our bicycles plus all of our gear weighs just a hair over 99 kilograms (218 pounds).

When we reached the counter, we had only 30 minutes until our flight departed and our clerk had told us to come right back to her, so we budged right to the front of the line. “Excuse me, but were you in this queue?”, a woman asked Sarah. Sarah explained our situation and turned away from the disgusted woman who then stared me down. The lunatic look on my face from the preceding events must have intimidated her, because I could literally see her sucking vile words back into her mouth.

With our boarding passes, we rushed through customs (after paying a NZ$25 departure fee each. Another what the?) and made it to our flight to Sydney just in time. On the way, we passed a clueless young guy making his way towards the Emirates counter with a kayak wrapped in bubble wrap. I cannot express in words the pity I felt for him.

When we arrived in Sydney, we learned that our Gulf Air flight to Singapore had been canceled. At this point, nothing could faze us so we just listened in silence as the clerks told us they would provide us with a hotel room and food for the night. We had to pass through Australian customs and in doing so lost our delicious New Zealand apples and our precious pepper spray.

So now we are spending the day in Sydney waiting for our flight and enjoying the comforts of a hotel. A king size bed, private bathroom, and free restaurant meals are so luxurious it almost makes the troubles worth it. Almost. Tonight we will fly to Singapore and hopefully our bicycles will arrive soon after us.

Moral of the story: Do not fly Emirates with excess baggage unless you also wipe your ass with twenty dollar bills.

Auckland’s Chinese New Year

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

On Saturday we took the train from Wellington to Auckland. It was a full day’s journey – 12 hours! The day started with a few moments of panic as Jamie and I realized we were riding our bikes all the way around the gigantic Wellington train station…but we couldn’t seem to find a way to get in to the actual terminal. After a few kilometers we did a desperate U-turn, raced back around the station, and finally found the entrance.

Next we hung around the baggage car with our bicycles waiting to load them onto the train. We were getting nervous because the baggage worker was nowhere to be seen but then at the last minute he came strolling down the terminal, strumming some other passenger’s checked guitar, and looking extremely drunk. It was only 7:20am! Jamie tried to hand him our baggage tickets, but this guy’s brain seemed to be working a bit slowly because he didn’t quite understand what was going on. He held out his hand to shake Jamie’s hand, rather than gather our tickets and load our bikes. Oh brother!

Me in front of the train during a break:

Luckily this train was fairly comfortable and we got a few breaks to stretch our legs, so the day wasn’t too bad. We were also very entertained by the running commentary by the train manager. One notable quote was “This bridge we’re on right now collapsed in 1950 when a train was making its way across the river. On that fateful day more than 100 lives were lost.” How lovely!

We arrived in Auckland at 7:30pm and were impressed with the futuristic train station:

Yesterday was spent wandering around the city. We happened upon a celebration for Korean Day. We stayed for awhile and listened to the great music – it was so happy sounding, we loved it! Here you can see a lady in a traditional costume singing along with the band:

Next we investigated a Lantern Festival to celebrate the Chinese New Year. This was one huge party – it took place in an entire city park and every tree and grassy patch was decorated to the nines. This year is the year of the pig:

Red lanterns strung up in all the trees:

Pagoda and red lanterns in the park:

Lots of illuminated figures on the ground and up in the trees:

There were a few stage areas where we were able to watch interesting performances. First we saw a Tae Kwon Do class demonstrate their amazing leaps and kicks. The highlight was a black belt master’s display of skill. First he was blindfolded. Then, two of his students stood in different places in the grassy field holding an apple impaled on a dagger. Then the students rang a tiny bell and the black belt master was able to locate the students with their daggers and apples purely by the sound of the bell. Then he actually kicked the apple, which was held at head-height, off the dagger. He missed the second apple of the first try, but then went at it again and kicked it so hard its pieces sprayed into the crowd. We were very impressed!

Next we say the Lion dance. Here are the children getting ready for the performance:

They were really good – one kid would jump up and sit on the other’s shoulders to make the Lion walk around on two feet:

There was tons of delicious food at the celebration. We tried lots of new stuff including curried fish balls, taro fritters, laksa, spring rolls. And don’t forget the Mr. Whippy cone for dessert!

Here’s me chowing down on the laksa. A yummy combo of noodles, chicken, herbs, and coconut broth. I guess I’m officially off the raw diet for now:

We ♥ Wellington!

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

We just spent a great couple of days in Wellington visiting our friends Taisuke and Brenda. They are really into raw and living foods and Brenda has even started here own line of raw snack foods, Vida Foods. We got to try all the goods and they were amazing! We also had a couple of excellent dinners of raw foods with them. Some of the highlights were thick fruit smoothies served in a bowl with sprouted buckwheat granola sprinkled on top, homemade guacamole with sun-dried tomato & walnut raw crackers, huge salads with delicious herbs & spices we’ve never tried before, and chewy cashew coconut truffles. Sarah is now addicted to these. Here we are right before chowing down.

Taisuke and Brenda live in a beautiful old shoe factory that has been converted to lofts right in the middle of Wellington. We had our own room and bathroom and slept on our first real bed in two months. Oh the luxury! Their apartment is right off one of the pedestrian-only streets, Cuba Street. Cuba Street has the highest density of cafes in the Southern Hemisphere. Here we are enjoying the afternoon and the lack of cars.

Taisuke and Brenda are also very accomplished at Bikram Yoga and we went to a session with them. Bikram standards instruct that the yoga studio be kept at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. The night we went to class there was something wrong with the thermostat so our room was only 100. Wow! We have never sweated so much in our lives. It really felt great though and we realized how tight some of our muscles are from cycling so much.

We also realized how beautiful Wellington is while we were there. We passed through it on our way down South, but having Taisuke and Brenda to show us around really made us appreciate the city more. It reminds us a lot of Seattle and San Francisco back home with its mountains and surrounding water. It is also extremely hilly! Here is Sarah making her way up one of the many neighborhood switchbacks.

There is a giant green area right in the city called Mount Victoria where we walked their foster dog, Gus. Here we are walking through one of the filming locations of Lord of the Rings inside the park.

Sarah and I were also able to get our Thai visas while in Wellington. Here Sarah is with her hard-earned Visa.

After getting our visas, we decided to go on a celebratory bike ride around the coastline surrounding the city. It was a beautiful ride and we were impressed with all the untouched beaches right outside the city.

One of the many beautiful bays:

A fun road to cycle – very curvy, but not hilly!

Watch out for airplanes and flying bicycles!

Thank you so much Taisuke and Brenda and thanks for keepin’ it raw!