Jess is a Wanderer: From Estonia to New Zealand...
Day 92: I am so close to New Zealand! When I booked this leg of my trip back in July I was more focused on how cheap the ticket was. Now preparing to sleep in KL airport tonight (and Sydney tomorrow night) the Wanderer is wondering if this was a mistake...! But then I've been super productive catching up with all my photos and such so perhaps it's a good thing! Here's my office space for the evening!
The last bit of my trip is officially underway. All I needed to do today was take a three hour bus from Melaka (200km south east of Kuala Lumpur), set up camp overnight in the airport (why are airport hotels so expensive!), check in at 7 for a 10am flight to Sydney, spend the night in Sydney (airport most probably but maybe I'll venture down to the city) and then take a morning flight to Auckland.
Then that will be it! 94 days since leaving London on a one-way ticket to Estonia and not having any plan except for a flight to Auckland (via Sydney) on December 2nd, I shall be in my final destination (for a while anyway). Here's a recap of the adventures that have given the last few months some hair-raising, exciting and incredible memories.
I left the UK on September 1st with my good pal Wolvo and the plan was to fly to Estonia and then somehow, get to Kuala Lumpur airport in time for December 2nd so we could catch a flight to Auckland (via a super, ridiculously long layover in Sydney). Simple, right? 92 days and a whole big adventure.
Well, it has been an adventure indeed! In Estonia, the mosquitos welcomed me with more than my fair share of itchy bites whilst staying in an eco-lodge in Laheema National Park. I shall be ever grateful. Moving onto Latvia, there wasn’t much to report, it was chilly in Riga’s Old Town. Lithuania was a bit of fun with the creepy Hill of Crosses (aka a mound with some good bits of kindling on it) and visiting Eastern Europe’s only castle on an island in Trakai.
Following the brief stint in the Baltics, a hellish 24-hour bus ride took us to Slovakia where the decision was made to bypass Bratislava (the capital) in favour of hiring a car and exploring the High Tatrus mountain range. It was here we met Dana and stayed in our first Airbnb. It was perfect! She was like our mum and we were only on about day 9, already losing the plot over having dirty laundry!!
From Slovakia we travelled to Romania where we were stood up by my mum’s former lodger who’d promised to be our tour guide! Still, we got to see Dracula’s overrated castle and climb Mount Tampa. The weather was finally warming up which was pleasing as we were over wearing our coats all the time. We were also stood up by the bus that we’d spent all night waiting for in the freezing cold so had to take a train via Budapest. Thank goodness for efficient European running times!
After Romania we planned to go to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, but it was so hot on the train that a Polish girl told us to get off at the next station, change trains, change direction and we’d end up at the beach. We followed her instructions and weren’t disappointed. Though overcast, we had a lovely few days on the Black Sea drinking cider and eating ice-cream. We never did make it past Sofia bus station as when we arrived, we found a cheap ride to Skopje (Macedonia’s capital) and opted to go straight there.
Skopje is definitely a city going through an identity crisis but absolutely worth visiting if you get the chance. With a mismatch of modern architecture copied from various periods of history and creepy ‘Disney-esque’ music playing out of speakers dotted around the city, it really must be experienced to be appreciated. Some lovely photo opportunities in the nights with all the lights switched on.
A highlight of the Eastern Europe leg of the trip was definitely Albania. I don’t want to say too much because I want to keep it a secret but I also want to shout from the rooftops about how amazing it is and that you should all visit immediately. Tirana (the capital) blew us away with just how cool, modern and relaxed it was. You could eat your way around the world without walking further than a few blocks. We then took a bus to Theth National Park where we had five days hiking in a wifi free wilderness and staying with our new BFF Maria. It was the best place I’ve ever been and somewhere that I’ll always remember fondly. Get there now before everyone does find out about it and it becomes too touristy.
You can view the best photos from Eastern Europe here.
After leaving Europe we flew a most ridiculous route to India: Istanbul, Krygyzstan and then New Delhi. Sadly, my bag decided to stay behind in Istanbul which was a shame for Wolvo, mostly, as she had to lend me clothes and all sorts for five days! Still, I got to look like a marathon runner at the Taj Mahal and surely, that’s life goals. Absolutely loved New Delhi though everyone I’ve met since has said how much they hated it! Each to their own, I guess. From New Delhi we found ourselves in Derahdun which was a funny little place. Spent some time in a special needs school due to being found on the side of a mountain at night by a lovely family who dropped us off at home, concerned for our welfare! It was difficult to get out of Derahdun so in the end we hired a private car for a small fortune to drive us to Rishikesh where we signed on for a yoga retreat. I’ve only ever done yoga once before and I’m pretty sure I was drunk and asked to leave the class… this retreat was fabulous and I vowed to keep it up… have attended one class since! Then we bussed down to Varanasi upon the recommendation of many. We had the opportunity to see the Hindus carrying out their ‘burning body’ ceremony, see people bathing in the Holy Ganges River water, sweated our pants off in the market, celebrated Diwali (thought it was a very mild affair compared to the UK!!) and missed the fancy bus that was going to take us to Kathmandu in true style like the princesses that we are. Well that turned about to be the worst life event ever! 21 hours later, we arrived into Kathmandu after three hellish, bumpy, 38c and no AC bus rides that involved being sat on, squashed, choked with dust and generally dragged through a hedge backwards, or so it felt.
Kathmandu, I’ll be honest, was a disappointment. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t what I thought it was. Nonetheless I loved Nepal as a whole, except the dusty, bumpy road and local buses! I feel physically queasy just thinking about the buses on those roads! After not wanting to be in the city and realising that Mount Everest is in Nepal, we booked to do the Everest View Trek which is 30km from Lukla on the 50km route to Base Camp. Then you sort of turn left, make a loop and go another 30km back to Lukla. Because, you know, we're experienced high-altitude climbers. Not! The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is regarded as one of the most dangerous in the world and despite waiting a day in the airport and then actually boarding a plane, taking off and landing back in Kathmandu, we did indeed make it to our destination! The trek itself was horrendous and now being a non-smoker and fairly active, I struggled. So much respect to anyone who makes it to Base Camp and beyond.
You can view the trek highlights here.
We saw some big changes to our duo in Kathmandu as Wolvo had to attend her dream job interview back at home (update - she got the job and is currently waking up early in the cold, wet British winter mornings to go and educate the future leaders of the UK) so I took a flight to Kuala Lumpur (cheapest place to go to out of Nepal) and young Wolvo headed off for London. It was an awkward goodbye involving a fist bump and many ‘see ya laters’ repeated over and over. That’s what happens when you put two naturally awkward people together! On the upside, it should mean that I have empty seats next to me for the flights to Sydney and Auckland as Wolvo will be down as a no-show. YES!
I’m not really sure what happened when I got to Kuala Lumpur but after a big wander around the city, I met a friend of a friend for dinner and spent the next three days dying of chronic food poisoning! Definitely not what I signed up for. So now, I must return to KL to experience it properly but that can wait for another day. Did manage to get some pics of the Petronas Towers so that was a bonus between toilet visits. I ran out of deodorant in KL and couldn't find a replacement that didn't come in a glass bottle or have 'whitening powers' in it. Not sure about you, but I do not want glow in the dark armpits!
From Kuala Lumpur I booked a million flights for less than £250 (sorry carbon footprint, I'll be grounded once I get to NZ). I flew to the island of Borneo where I spied on orang-utans and sun bears for a couple of days. Camped out in the jungle (mainly because I love being a big, hot, sweaty mess) flew down to Pontianak in Indonesia and stood on, straddled and jumped over the Equator line. No one else seems to find this impressive but I’m proud of my achievements! After my time on Borneo, I headed up to Laos to meet some backpacker friends from Bristol.
Highlights are here if you want to see more from Borneo.
Laos was totally not what I expected. To be honest, I had no interest in visiting and if you’d offered me a free ticket, I probably would have turned it down. Sadly, I was not offered a free ticket but Paige and Kye were in town so I thought I should go and see them. The mountains, waterfalls and general atmosphere of Luang Prabang in the north of the country was just fabulous. We even spent the day at an elephant sanctuary walking through the jungle with some beautiful creatures that had been rescued. A definite life highlight.Also, seeing as I was with friends, I decided to put my dislike of deodorant in a glass bottle aside and purchase some. We would, after all, be sharing a room.
After Laos, someone told me I should go and visit Myanmar. I’d applied for the visa way back in August and it was due to expire at the end of November so I figured it was best to use it. And wow! What a great decision that was. I can’t recommend the place enough. Like Albania, I sort of don’t want to tell you how great it was because I don’t want it to get too touristy. Nonetheless, I’ll definitely be visiting again sooner rather than later. Bagan, especially, was so magical with its misty morning sunrises and balloon flights. And yes, I pushed the boat out again and booked a balloon ride. Someone make me stop! Deodorant update: I smashed the glass bottle.
Bagan best bits are here.
Having landed back in KL after Myanmar and being reminded of my horrific food poisoning experience, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the airport. Instead, I hopped on a bus that took me straight to Singapore and OMG!!!! Singapore has officially replaced NYC as my new favourite city. Sorry, New York, it’s nothing personal. If (when I guess we all know it’s inevitable) I return to teaching, I’ll be applying for Singapore, I think I’m actually obsessed with the place and for a wannabe photographer, well, it was just a dream destination!
My Singapore favourite shots are in the gallery here.
Finally, I returned to Malaysia. The bus was heading back to Kuala Lumpur, but, once again I just wasn’t feeling it so I decided to get off in a little coastal city called Melaka. It was a brilliant decision as the city is quaint, quirky and I enjoyed exploring the entire place. It was super arty and the people were the friendliest I’ve met on this little adventure so far. Also, they sell deodorant in plastic bottles with no whitening powers in the mix! Yes. Melaka is amazing!
See more photos from Melaka here.
As I write this, I’m sitting on the floor (next to the power socket) at Kuala Lumpur airport waiting for my flight to Sydney at 8am tomorrow. The hotel was £20 and I’ve promised Beth (pal from home aka Wolvo’s replacement) that we’ll celebrate our reunion in Auckland and, well, you can’t have it all so a bed tonight (and tomorrow) is the sacrifice! And, you know what, I’m not the only one! THere’s loads of us cheap-skates here camped out on the floor next to plugs all together in a little ‘we’re too poor to pay for accommodation’ club. Maybe someone should get t-shirts made? Oh no, cos that would cost money!
Over and out peeps, two days of travel ahead so catch you in NZ!