El Nido and the Palawan Basic To Do

My feelings on the Philippines.
So many yet so few and more importantly, I made it out unscathed! 😅 The Philippines are one of the places you often hear warnings about, but as always, you have to be alert and keep your head on a swivel. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I also didn’t feel super safe. Either way, as a solo female traveler, it’s important to stay vigilant, no matter where you are. Now, my typical “slow” travel style has taken a quicker pace. I have less than three months left of this crazy Asian Adventure and I have places to go and things to do. I only spent nine days in the Philippines not including the two travel days (on each end) and it seemed like I was mostly traveling anyway. Like anywhere in Asia, getting from point A to point B takes time and I took some bus, boat, van, and plane rides on the regular.
With such a short visit, I don’t have a great summary of this varied country, but I can say the nature I did see was stunning. Here are my main thoughts overall:

Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines
Amazing islands, amazing beaches.

1. Filipinos listen to an inordinate amount of “soft rock” from the 70s and 80s. It plays on the radio everywhere you may go. From Cebu to Palawan to public busses and local restaurants, you could often hear Boston, Chicago, Air Supply, even Led Zepplin, and many others. I actually didn’t mind it. It reminded me of home, my mom, and some of the tunes I remember her listening to when I was a kid, Total Eclipse of the Heart being one of them. When I asked some locals about it, they really couldn’t explain this phenomena of the popularity of soft rock, it just is!

Fish Filet and Pumpkin Curry
Pumpkin and potatoes have some healthy nutrients!

2. Food. Ugh. Meat and fat and rice. Sounds like a good keto diet minus the rice but all so unhealthy. I had some vegetables on a few occasions, and that was restricted to mostly eggplant and pumpkin. So much of the meat is full of fat and the Filipinos like their pork! (But, the boat tour BBQs were awesome). As an RD it’s a little concerning as heart disease and diabetes rates must be pretty high (although I never looked). And while in the West we think of Asians as typically being slender, that’s not the case in many places and that goes for the Philippines as well. Sorry, but I see a lot of unhealthy people and lifestyle practices here.

Filipino Beach BBQ
Part of the bbq we had while on Tour A in El Nido.

3. Transportation. I’ve seen so many styles of transportation with a motorbike of some sort as the main base and in the Philippines, they use “tricycles,” a sort of covered motorbike car with an attached seat. Honestly, I thought they were quite ugly yet many of them are well kept, painted with various designs, and some even have real car ornaments on the front. They are a cheap way to get around the cities and towns on the islands and I felt most drivers were pretty honest with pricing (I always asked locals average fare before I headed out).

Filipino Tricycle
A funny looking tricycle.

4. Christianity. Having spent the majority of the last 16 months in predominantly Buddhist nations and a few Islamic ones, it was different seeing churches. I don’t know how religious the Filipinos are, but I saw a lot of churches and make shift churches everywhere I went.

5. Interesting conversations with locals about my physique: While pointing at me, one man asked, “Oh wow, do you play… Do you play dumbbells?” And another, our “Tour A” guide: “I like your muscles. Do you play KFC?” There was a chuckle about the crowd, then the guide laughed, “Not KFC, UFC!” So, I’m a non-fighting UFC and dumbbell player in the Philippines!

Kayaking In El Nido
Not playing dumbbells, but getting a back and shoulder workout nevertheless!

6. After 11 days, I still want to spell Philippines with two Ls and one P.

Those random things are my take home thoughts as well as the beauty I saw at my main destination: Palawan, one of the more northwestern of the 1,700 Filipino Islands. Puerto Princessa is the capital of Palawan, and after spending a full day there, I can tell you, skip it. It’s best as a transit point and is just a busy city without any real beaches. And don’t go to “Pristine Beach.” It’s far from pristine, take my word for it. I’ll spare you the pictures.

Mantinloc Island, Palawan
Keep it clean and pristine!

El Nido is magical but a growing area, so that in and of itself brings up issues my brain cannot ignore. How do you preserve such a pristine place while people want to visit it? I’d actually read some posts telling people NOT to go because development and tourism is ruining the ecosystem there. But I had to… In my defense I skipped swimming with the whale sharks on Cebu as that also affects ecosystems, but I won’t lie, a part of me regrets skipping it. Feeding animals alters migratory patterns and teaching them it’s ok to approach boats could eventually get them injured. But who doesn’t want to swim with the biggest fish in the world?!
One of the things I liked about El Nido, aside from the obvious beauty of visiting tropical islands, was that the boat tour guides actually tell you not to touch things, not to touch coral, not to touch animals, and not to take anything. They also don’t feed the fish and have support from the World Wildlife Fund (who also recently declared 1 million hectares of marine protected area in Palawan) to promote ecotourism to draw visitors to the area instead of exploiting the land and sea. In developing countries this happens no matter what, but hopefully with the right partnerships and focus, this can be minimized. There’s a huge benefit. El Nido and Port Barton, the two places I visited, were truly stunning. The coral reefs are lush and vibrant and have very little to no trash in them. In this day and age with all the trash in the world, that’s nearly unheard of. Plus, coral reefs are the birthplace of so much of the life in our seas and oceans. That’s a huge part of the food chain.

Fun in the sun.
Fun in the sun.

I really enjoyed all of the activities on the boat tours I went on. It’s the thing to do, especially when limited on time. Hop on a tour and take a closer look. In El Nido I went on Tour A and Tour C, all in all, simply island hopping. Despite the rainy season, I was lucky enough to get some sunny days and see the sea and islands in all their rays of sunshiny glory!
While my time in the Philippines was short, I did enjoy it and hold dear the experiences I had. Seeing islands like Palawan is just a dream come true, even for me, someone who has been traveling for nearly a year and a half now. If you ever make the trek that way, please do some advance planning (unlike me). There was more I could have done but just didn’t have the time. Check out the Underground River, Port Barton, and Coron. Maybe vary it up and fly into Puerto Princessa and out of El Nido or Coron to somewhere else. It’s more expensive, but a time saver. In El Nido, check out Spin Designer Hostel, http://spinhostel.com. It was the most expensive hostel I’ve been to in Asia (about $17/night), but it’s new, clean, spacious, and all rooms only have four beds and air conditioning.

Spin Designers Hostel
The common area at Spin.

There is a daily breakfast buffet complete with an egg station and they provide free coffee in the afternoon as well, which is nice after a day out on the boat! It’s a great place to mix, mingle, and meet other travelers, even when you’re the 39 year old granny of the group. 😆 I also enjoyed having a burrito at the “Burrito Bar” in the small downtown area. It’s not really Mexican, but close enough. There is a gym as well, “Peak Gym,” which was great for my rainy down day. Swimming and kayaking on the sea and weights in between. Oh, and just beware WiFi is limited at best, so don’t plan on being too connected while in town.

Asia Gym
Another basic gym in Asia, but at least I could play dumbbells. 😆

So, all in all a good time and mainly, I saw some of the beauty on Palawan, met new people, and made some new friends. I got in more workouts than expected, stayed in some really nice places, and got some work done as well so no complaints from me!

A Good Hostel in Cebu, Philippines 🇵🇭

Fitness, fun, food, and travel… It’s what my blog and my Instagram account (Tiffany_The_Happy_RD) are all about. I don’t always get to fuse all components though but today I can.
I found a hostel on Cebu. Somebody on one of my FB travel groups actually recommended it. I was interested in the “private beach.” Not having to walk somewhere for the main reason you visit an island is a convenience. Nordzee Hostel is located in Boljoon, along the east coast of Cebu. It takes about 3 hours to get there from Cebu City, depending on traffic. The bus ride costs about $2.50 from the South Bus Terminal. The hostel has its own private beach and the selling point for me was one of the Booking.com reviews: “The best western food on the island.” I was sold, looking for a break from rice and noodles these days.

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Welcome!

I checked into my 6 bed dorm with a private balcony and met another traveler. We went down to the restaurant on premises for a late lunch. There were some western style offerings on the menu: chicken salad, pizza, calzone, pasta, and a few other things. Chicken salad it was. Sometimes I’m just so thankful for some raw, fresh chopped vegetables and some lean protein.
I was excited to see some makeshift workout equipment. There was a wooden bench and a homemade rack that held some homemade dumbbells. They, along with a couple of bar bells were made with a simple metal bar with concrete moulds at each one. A smaller one was a water bottle, and the largest appeared to be from a planter. Ingenious and fairly functional.

Homemade Gym equipment
Homemade Gym equipment.

I hooked my TRX up to a tree and ended up working out all three days that I was there.

TRX in paradise!
TRX in paradise!

The hostel also rents snorkel equipment, has a small pool, cushioned beach loungers, a beach side bar, and hammocks, none of which I really used (sadly). Unfortunately, most of my time in Cebu was met with rain, apparently from a typhoon that was headed towards Japan.

Cebu, Philippines during the rain
Cloudy skies and rainy days. Balcony view.

I attempted to visit Kawasan Falls, but by the time I arrived, they were closed due to high water levels. I’d taken the local bus so at least I didn’t spend a lot of money, but it really felt like a waste of a day.

Near Kawasan Falls
The walkway to Kawasan Falls, Just before I was told they were closed.

The other thing to do on Cebu is go swimming with the whale sharks, the biggest shark there is, yet like manta rays, they are very docile and gentle animals. I opted to skip this excursion as I heard it’s quite “unethical,” but I’m regretting it so! I love large see creatures so this was my chance to see them up close and personal. They do get fed, which messes up migratory patterns, but you’re not allowed to swim after or touch them. There are steep fines and you could even end up in jail. So while feeding them isn’t best practice, the sharks are protected to an extent.
Unfortunately, my time in Cebu was short and wet. I didn’t end up doing anything the island is known for but at least I found a hostel with some decent food (although, I will say it was a bit pricey but at least serving sizes were decent). I was able to workout with a beautiful backdrop despite the gloom, and I got to see a lot of the island considering all of the bus rides I took.
If you’re looking for a chill place to stay on Cebu, check out Nordzee. The beds are adequately comfortable, there’s plenty of areas to relax on the property, and you can even get in a workout in a really beautiful setting. And of course, when the weather is nice, you can go swimming and snorkeling in the Bohol Sea. Oh, and they have a Pet turkey and a few chickens that hang out!!

If you go, let me know because I ended up taking my room key with me! 😂

Travel in Bangladesh

To say I was scared would be a great understatement. Perhaps paralyzed with fear is a more descriptive phrase. I stood on the edge of the infamous fishing troller, both feet side by side on the last bit of open space that was left on the overcrowded single mode of transport to and from Saint Martin’s Island. I was momentarily frozen, I felt the blood rush from my face down to my feet, I even felt light headed. There’s not a lot that bothers me but I was petrified.

The busy pier in Teknaf, Bangladesh

The trip didn’t start there at that trash filled port, however, it began 4 hours earlier in Cox’s Bazar. We checked out of our two bedroom, $18/night hotel room (breakfast included), and ventured out to get the bus to Teknaf, one of the easternmost towns along the coast in Bangladesh, 5 miles from the Myanmar border. Humaira, my host, told me we would take a bus, but on the busy streets of Cox’s Bazar, filled with the whizzing buzz of vehicles and the bells of rickshaws, she motioned for me to get into the back of a covered truck. It had two bench seats on the inside and a row between the main cab and those of us in the back.

Ready to go.

There were 14 people in that small space, the attendant hung on to the ladder on the outside of the vehicle, and another young boy sat on the top. Three plus hours in that cramped space.

Our truck/bus attendant from Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf.

The thick air barely filtered through the open windows and when it did, it brought along dirt and dust that filled the nostrils and the corners of my eyes. As we traveled, some people got off and on, freeing up some space, but it was still cramped nonetheless. Humaira spent some time standing on the back, and I eventually did the same for a few minutes, needing a breath of fresh air and to stretch my legs. The portion of the trip we spent along Marina Drive was amazing, with the endless beach and seemingly calm sea in the background.

The sea from Marina Drive.

As we traveled, people were inquisitive. Why was there a foreigner in the area during low season, and furthermore, why was there a foreigner in the area given the Rohinga refugee situation? People kept repeating, “Be careful, it’s not safe.” But our minds were clearly made up and we were making the journey to Saint Martin’s Island, a speck of land in the Bay of Bengal, just a few kilometers from the Burmese shore.

Just a visual of the area.

The Rohinga are considered a stateless people. When the British drew up the Burmese borders, they fell within that country, but they’ve always been denied a nationality. Within Myanmar, they are not allowed movement, state education, nor civil service jobs. The group, predominantly Muslim, has long been persecuted in Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist country, and violations against them have been termed “crimes against humanity.” In the recent past, the situation has escalated and more than 900,000 refugees have fled from Myanmar to escape the current genocide the group is facing. It’s a complex issue that doesn’t get a lot of press in the West, but the situation is likened to apartheid.
During one of the bus stops, a young woman with red, bettle nut stained lips and worn teeth sat opposite me. She had two young children, a small rice sack of belongings, and wore a black hijab. She had an empty look in her brown eyes and that face with her fine features and small nose will forever be ingrained in my mind. Her husband was killed in Myanmar and she’d recently crossed the border. Although there are various checkpoints along the roads to prevent the Rohinga from totally infiltrating Bangladesh, the woman and her two children were allowed on the bus. They were traveling from one refugee camp to another, closer to the border to meet other family members. She got of the truck and we drove away. She was clearly not Bangladeshi and I’m clearly not Rohinga.

Fresh bettlenut at a market we passed.

When we finally arrived in Teknaf, the port town where we’d take the fishing troller to the island, we were running out of time. The boat was about to depart so we hopped in a rickshaw and headed to the pier. There was a buzz of commotion. A dock so narrow you couldn’t tell if the crowd was going left or right, there was trash everywhere, and the midday sun was beating down. Humaira bought our tickets and that’s when the fear set in. As I stood paralyzed, I was told to sit down, but there was no place to sit. The hull of the boat was filled with various items. Chicken cages stacked one atop another, supplies for the island, peoples’ personal belongings. My bag was tossed to the side somewhere and I found a spot about as wide as my butt on top of a grain bag. The boat was packed. Every square inch of the deck and sides was covered with people. There was no shade from the sun, umbrellas of all colors served as a roof for the troller with hijab clad women beneath them, children patiently waiting for departure, men chattering amongst themselves.

Looks comfortable, right??

We were packed in like sardines, except sardines are meant to swim in water. If that overloaded boat sank in the sea, I don’t know who would have made it to safety. It looked like we were refugees fleeing some war torn country, but refugees were actually fleeing to Bangladesh. I sat quiet for a long time, thinking about my life and all the things I still wanted to do. I had a vision of myself sitting in a cool, clean, small apartment somewhere in San Antonio, calm and peaceful. I assured myself I could swim to safety no matter what, but I became paranoid about my passport. If that ship sank, I could be stuck in Bangladesh without it. I was thinking about things that seriously. I even emptied a ziplock bag of peanuts in case the situation turned for the worse. Hey, it was all I could think of. The waterway to the sea was a narrow river, so the boat was protected for 14 miles from whatever conditions may be out in the great wide open. We met two other Indian travelers and eventually chatted amongst ourselves. When the river opened up to the Bay of Bengal, there were swells off in the distance. The troller began rocking back and fourth, waves splashed over us and within minutes, I was soaked. We had about an hour to go in those choppy waters and it was intense to say the least. The Indian lady was near hysterics, my frustration and nervousness were released in the form of tears rolling down my cheeks as the sun burned my face. The stench of the poultry below wafted up through all of the items in the hull. Khushe, the other girl traveling with Humaira and I, began crying. Because I was stuck, wedged in between bags and on top of the grain sack, the Indian man gave us updates on our arrival. I couldn’t see anything. 50% left, 30%, and so on. I eventually calmed myself and tried to comfort Khushe and the Indian lady. Finally, we made it. Our troller hit the pier, cracking the cement railing above. People began jumping of the boat. It was pure chaos. Stuff and people everywhere. When the one white girl was seen on the troller, news spread like wildfire. The first officer of the Coast Guard was alerted and only later did we learn the Second officer appointed himself as our guardian to keep us safe on the small, 3 mile long island. We attracted a crowd, people looking at us, at me, as if no other white person had ever been there. But there had, we were just visiting in the low season, that’s why the proper ferry was unavailable. We searched and settled on a hotel room. The sun was setting. We went to that island to go to the beach and that’s what I wanted to do. I put on some leggings and a sports style t-shirt and we took off. No swimming in a bikini in a Muslim nation.

Sunset in the Bay of Bengal

The sky was incredible. Colors you only see in professional photos, all shades of red, orange, and yellow, and as the sun sank lower into the sea, we saw pinks and purples and a blend of nature’s beauty that was out of this world. The death defying troller ride was worth it.

Sunset in the Bay of Bengal

A few minutes later, the hotel manager and the Second Class Coast Guard officer showed up at the beach. Humaira was scolded for us females being out there alone and from that point on, it was determined we’d have our own personal body guards and protectors while there. We were reminded of the Rohinga again and told that there had been cases of bodies turning up on shore. There were some navy and coast guard boats patrolling the waters as well. I was hoping we could hitch a ride to shore with one of them!
We had dinner, showered, and got an invite to the Officer’s Club but we only sat outside. The officer had given Humaira his number in case of emergency, but he called her constantly. He knew of our fears leaving the island the next day and taking that same boat ride back. What if the weather were worse? What if there were more people. He promised we’d be safe. He said he himself would be the one to say when the boat was cleared to go and if necessary, we could even be the only ones on board.
It was late. We went to our room and crashed for the night, praying the sea would be calm the next day.

Sampon Boats on the beach by the officer’s club.

We woke up early and walked the beach. The hotel manager eventually met us and we ventured down, yet again, to the area outside of the Officer’s Club. The second officer had the hotel manager fetch us some breakfast. Paratha, lentils, and an omelette “burrito” on the beach, not a bad way to start the day. While the sea was calm, there were dark clouds in the sky. The officer ensured us we would get off the island and he would be at the pier when we left. He said to be there at 10:00 so we went to get ready. Then there was a torrential down pour. We waited longer but made our way to the pier. The officer was waiting. It was half as crowded as the day prior and they split up all the people into two boats. We puttered away under dark, drizzling skies, not having paid a single taka for the ride.

The boat was less crowded on the second day.

The fun wasn’t over however! Thankfully the sea stayed calm. We did get a bit wet from the rain, but all things considered, that was the least of what could have gone wrong. When we arrived back to the mainland, I was so relieved. We were all grateful and starving. After we ate, we tried to find a similar bus like we’d taken the day prior, but there was nothing in sight. Apparently, some Rohinga had died in one of the camps and available vehicles were being used to transport the bodies. It’s like that trip couldn’t get any more complex. We’d saved money on the boat but had to shell out a bit for a personal tuk tuk back to Cox’s Bazar. But we made it and we were safe. Humaira got yet another call from the officer and he wanted to provide dinner for us. His friend had a restaurant on the beach so we filled up before our overnight bus ride back to Dhaka.

Another sunset view.

Of all the places I’ve been and all the experiences I’ve had, this little trip was exceptional on so many levels. The fear, the beauty, the conflict, the people, the food. At the end of it, the officer called Humaira and asked her to tell me he hoped, and they, the Bangladeshis hoped, that I had a good time. They wanted me to know Bangladesh can be a place to visit where people can be friendly and caring. All of the tourist police and soldiers manning the check points along the way were equally friendly and concerned about our safety as well. Humaira was concerned about the danger we’d faced getting to Saint Martin’s Island and she wanted desperately to be able to get off. Once we were in the clear, however, she confided she couldn’t wait to go back, but in the season! No more traveling by fishing troller.

No thanks.

I left Bangladesh with so many experiences. I wanted to write them all down, but more than anything, I wanted to share my story of our crazy trip to Saint Martin Island. Bangladesh is a country that ultimately does not see a lot of tourists and I’m sure even fewer make it to the easternmost point to the island. Furthermore, the Rakhine State along the border of Myanmar is closed to travelers as well for obvious reasons.
If you made it this far (I know this was a long post), thank you for reading. I hope you at least enjoy the photos of a place that you may otherwise have not known existed. I’m glad I have a unique story to tell, but no more overcrowded fishing troller trips for me. And mom and dad, if you read this, sorry!! I won’t put myself in danger again!

Nutrition Education in Developing Nations

Sampon Boat, Bangladesh
Sometimes when you travel, you have a lot of time to think about things.

This is kind of a random “other” post blog, but these things are always on my mind and I felt like putting them down onto internet paper. I just got back from a week in Bangladesh and have even more things on my to do list now yet the more I travel, the more tired I’m becoming. Maybe a good break early next year will be good and I can start putting some ideas into motion!

If you follow me on FB, you may know I applied for a fellowship with Duke University through the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy is the regulating body for registered dietitians in the US and the goal of the fellowship is to address chronic malnutrition in Central America through conducting a “mapping of the existing interventions and an assessment of the steps needed to address chronic malnutrition in Central America.” When this fellowship was announced, I was so excited. Having wanted to work in world nutrition for the past 10 years now, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I updated my resume and wrote a cover letter for the position. I did my best to convey my passion to work in this area, but I got no response between the application deadline and the start of the interview process. I emailed to follow up and I was told the interview period was extended. They received more applications than expected so I guess it was going to take longer to make a decision. I never heard back. I was a little crushed, I won’t lie, but the fact that the opportunity came up turned out to be a good thing. It reignited a passion that I’d let die down. I began looking for other opportunities, I followed some NGOs on Instagram, and I even applied for an international independent contractor position through the United Nations Operations website. The position is based in Yangon, Myanmar (woo hoo, one of my favorite countries), but it’s more related to nutrition policy and less field work. The application deadline was extended. It seems like an obscure position so I think they didn’t get enough applicants, but I also did not hear back from them, unfortunately. Anything to get my foot in the door with a big aid organization would be like getting a golden ticket!

Swedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
The golden Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

Back to my travels for a bit. When I began, I thought I would find some way to work or volunteer with an organization that has some focus on nutrition. Aside from my month long stay in Kathmandu, that has not happened. Since then, however, my friend Asta has been developing her NGO, World Friendship Nepal. They work with mothers and children to educate them on healthy, post partum practices. Uterine prolapse is a common occurrence in Nepal and the NGO is teaching women what they can do to protect themselves. Because the primary focus is on women and children, Asta wants to incorporate nutrition education as well because as we all know, child nutrition is so important! She will be using the documents we put together when I was in Nepal last year.

Nutrition Education in Nepal
Nutrition Education in Nepal

There are tons of aid organizations and NGOs out there, but it’s a matter of finding one that wants to align with a dietitian and place an emphasis on nutrition education. I’ve yet to find that perfect position or opportunity, so I swear I’m somehow going to create it for myself! Something must be done. Large aid organizations help in developing countries, they donate food, deliver supplements, and help with farming practices, but I know more can be done. I want to do research on how these organizations operate. What do they do, what do they donate, and why? What systems can be improved upon? How many people are out in the field? How many are in offices? I’ve read so many plans and policies to improve nutrition outcomes over time, but let’s stop wasting time writing up these documents. We need people out there, getting into these remote villages and connecting with people. Uniceff has a big vitamin a supplementation program, but why supplement? So many of the nations that are vitamin a deficient have foods rich in vitamin a. There are so many issues involved with supplementation programs, so why not teach people improved farming practices, introduce new, nutrient dense crops? I’m not saying these things are not being done, they are, but MORE can be done, right? The WFP does food drops and staple donations. But sometimes, these staples just fill, they don’t properly nourish. We need to start from the ground, literally, by planting better, and more nutrient dense crops. Yikes! I’m getting ahead of myself because in order to do that, you need to change culture and that’s not an easy feat. Rice here in Asia rules, yet it is so nutrient void. I wish people could really understand that and make a shift.

Plate of Rice
A plate of white rice, the centerpiece to any Bangladeshi meal.

I wish I knew more. I wish I could learn some languages in remote villages, I wish I could live and work alongside locals and see how they eat and live. I wish I could befriend them and teach them about nutrition for their own benefit. Basic nutrition practices can have such positive lifelong benefits.
Even though I love fitness and working with athletes and bodybuilders, the most dramatic changes take place at the basic level. Eating the right foods can easily prevent so many avoidable diseases.
I don’t know where the future will bring me. I’ve begun contemplating starting a PhD. Maybe I can create a long term project in some remote village, working in conjunction with a small, legit NGO. If anything, I’ve come up with some recipe ideas in my head for therapeutic supplements that are far more nutrient dense than existing products currently on the market. But, with superior quality comes higher costs. I can definitely see myself experimenting in my kitchen (next time I have my own, that is).

Purple Sweet Potatoes
Purple Sweet Potatoes in Laos.

I don’t know how all NGOs work, I don’t know if I can partner with one, but whatever the case, some day I will do/make/create something to somehow alleviate some of the malnutrition in this world. Vitamin A deficiency seems to me to be a key target and sweet potatoes are calling my name. I’m going to start a sweet potato revolution, I just have to figure out how to do it. So much more learning to do!

How to Get a Visa on Arrival in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Just in case anyone ever searches how to get a visa on arrival to Bangladesh, now you will know! If you are not a US citizen, check the regulations for your country.

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I’d done some research on line prior to my arrival in Dhaka and learned a visa on arrival is possible, although the details were a bit muddy. I hoped I’d be ok given the info I read on the US State Department website, so I skipped going to the Bangladeshi Embassy in Bangkok and took off with high hopes. When we arrived, I followed the crowd and came down a staircase with a sign welcoming you to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. There are two small security gates on the right you have to pass through and the VOA arrival desk is right there, just beyond the sparsely covered “health desk.”
I stood in line for 60 minutes. There were only 4 people ahead of me. In the meantime, another flight landed and a bunch of Chinese were in line. One came in front of me waving a paper in the officer’s face. Hell no. I’ve been in line for an hour, you’re not cutting me.
A Thai airways rep came to the desk and asked if anyone had luggage. We’d been in line for so long those who didn’t need a visa on arrival were likely long gone, along with their belongings. I hoped my bag would be there when I exited.
I chatted with a guy in line on an emergency medical mission for UNICEFF to Cox’s Bazar to help out with the Roginga issue.
At the visa desk, I spoke to two different officers. They were kind, but asked a slew of questions. They even called my contact here. She said she would be taking her exams and her phone was off. I thought I’d be stuck until she answered, but he motioned for me to go pay the VOA fees. I’d planned for $50 according to the US Embassy website. It was $51, but no big deal, now I just have a bunch of small bills in my wallet. Your length of stay with a visa on arrival is 15-30, discretion given by the officer. They knew, according to my paperwork, I’d be here for 7 days. I showed him the itinerary for my flights on my phone. I guess I could have made things easier by printing it out. Luckily he granted me a random 9 days. If you want a visa for a longer period, you have to have more documents and more money. A 1-5 year visa is $160 and must be arraigned prior to arrival.
He asked if I knew how to get to where I was staying and where it was. He’d already asked if it was my first time here so he clearly knew I didn’t know the city. I explained to him a 2nd time I was waiting for my friend and she would pick me up when she was done with her exam at 2:00.
When the officer finally gave me my passport back, I was relieved. I was also a bit disappointed that my visa was just a small stamp that took up a quarter of a page in my new, big passport. Before I would have been happy, but now that I have plenty of space in there, I wanna fill it up!

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Not only did the VOA process take a long time, but immigration as well. There were 7 people in front of me and I waited for over 20 minutes. What takes so long? When I got to the desk, he said I was good to go because I already had my visa. Most places require you to go through immigration even if you have a visa. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam require it and I have full page visas from those countries and got two out of three on arrival.
Hamina, my host, had messaged she’d finish her exams at 2:00. We landed at noon. Soon I was out the door and we met. Even though Dhaka reminds me a bit of Kathmandu, it’s always an adjustment arriving to a new place. Glad I’m not a solo traveler here and being with a local host is great.

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Enjoy your visit!

 

Long Term Travel

15 Month Funk

I’ve started and restarted this blog so many times. I don’t know what’s up. I’m in limbo. I’m in a weird spot. I wanna be in two places. That in and of itself isn’t that abnormal for me, the girl who wants to go everywhere, but lately, I want to be home and off to somewhere new. It’s a weird place to be and I’ve been here for about a month. I just hit my 16 month “travelversary,” but I started this blog around month 15. I’m currently in Bangkok, passing time before I head to Bangladesh, but somewhere between Vietnam and Laos I developed a weary feeling, and it hasn’t completely passed yet.

Maybe all the fast travel in Vietnam wore me down. But it’s was epic!

I think I was in a funk. I think at times, I’m still in a funk. Was it the 15 month funk? I don’t know, but it’s unusual. I’m typically a happy, bubbly person and I was pretty down and out for over a week not too long ago. At one point, I even recall holding back tears, and that was on a plane to Laos. When I go somewhere new, I’m giddy with excitement, but that day, something was wrong. What happened to me?

At least all the scenery in Laos was beautiful.

Travel is interesting, sometimes, you’re alone for chunks of time, and others are spent with groups and travel companions. One of things I love most about this lifestyle is that you get to meet so many interesting and awesome people, but the downside is, at some point, either you move on or they do. You develop great but fleeting relationships with perfect strangers who could, in the real world, be your BFFs. These interactions are more intense than in that real world too because both parties understand each other on a different level and both parties know that it will likely be a brief relationship. And when I say relationship, I mean it in the sense of interactions and relations with others, not something romantic (because I don’t have those kinds of relationships on the road!).


It’s been a long time now that I’ve been on this crazy Asian Adventure. I never thought I’d be the one in a group who has been traveling the longest. I’m now that person. When I meet people on vacation, they look at me in shock. But yeah, it’s been 16 months now and I think it’s long enough that most of my real friends are like, “Yeah, ok Tiffany, you travel, we get it. Maybe it’s time to get a life,” (LOL). I don’t know but I find these days I keep more in touch with people I’ve met in Asia than my friends at home and it’s my friends at home I miss the most.

Travel buddies unite inside Phong Nha cave. It’s nice to revisit people. It feels like you’re meeting up with old friends.

A part of me has this feeling like, “It’s time to go home, no wait, it’s time to think about going home.” Again, that feeling of wanting to be in two places at once. One of those places is home, and one is traveling. Home these days is a weird notion to me as well, but honestly, I am looking forward to going back to San Antonio, a place I lived for 13 years and never even called home. But in a way I guess it is. My roots are there, my friends, professional connections, what few possessions I still own, and my dog, all in San Antonio. I want more than transient friends and ephemeral relationships. I want to meet someone or be with someone who wants the same out of life as me and not fear they will fly off to a new location next week or next month.

Everything I still own all fits in here. But my dog is NOT in there, don’t worry!

This is such an interesting feeling all in all, doing what you love and yet not wanting to do it much anymore. As far as long term travel is concerned, this is an issue for many. It’s hard to have balance with this type of lifestyle and you either accept it for what it is, or put down some roots somewhere. For me, at this age, I don’t want to start over, so the only logical choice is to go back where I already have roots.

One of my regular friends in Asia since January.

I made some friends earlier this year while I was in Melaka, Malaysia. They are from Massachusetts, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from my own family. Six months later and we finally met back up in Bangkok. They’ve been on the road for over two years and just yesterday Rebecca said, “The longer you travel, the slower you go.” They are renting a place in Greece for three months, a change from Asia and the longest they’ve stayed anywhere to date. And I’m doing the opposite, my typical “slow travel” style is about to speed up. My way of finding “balance” with this lifestyle is to end it. I can’t do it forever, not emotionally, not financially. In January, the party’s over, but in that time I have a lot planned! Despite my “funkiness,” I’m excited too. New places, new experiences, new people, and yet I may cross paths with some old travel friends.

My Massachusetts “travel family” and I catching up in Bangkok.

I don’t know if my travel musings get old to those that read them, but some days you just have time to think and be alone. I try to sort them and map out the best route to deal with the thoughts in my head. Lately, all paths lead to “home,” for a little while at least, but I’m definitely not taking the fastest route to get from Point A to point B! I still have some interesting places on the horizon and perhaps some countries on the list that some may have never even heard of before. In the meantime, I’ll continue to wander and roam, all the while thinking of home. I hope my friends will still be there when I get back. My friends and a bottle of wine. Just one, then back to the grind that I’ve grown to miss so much!

Night out at home with my NH bestie.
A blurry picture with my SA bestie and her son.

P. S. Last night I went through all the blogs I’d ever written. My semi OCD self wanted to sort them into the category menu I learned to create back in February. I needed a desktop to simplify an otherwise tedious task so I stopped by Hom and sat in silence for a while. This whole relationship thing (or lack thereof) is definitely a theme, it’s not the first time I’ve brought it up. I’m tired of being alone, yet I was alone before I started this, so what if I go home and am still alone? That’s the thing, the main problems you have in life travel with you. What will be different? How will I deal? The same as always I guess, throw myself into my own life, get consumed by the grind, the gym, and the same old routine. When you can’t get what you need, you learn to need the things you got.