OK to Take Picture?

Candid and not-so-candid photos of people in a country poorer than your originating country: to take or not to take? Originally, or at least from some vantage points, this can be seen as journalism or shining light onto an issue or cause. At what point does it become rude or, worse, possibly inhibit the socioeconomic growth of a country? A bit extreme, maybe, but the more I travel, the more I see western folk with their big, fancy cameras, taking a photo of a woman trying to sell bananas in a developing country. When was the last time you went to a supermarket to take photos of the cashier? Or the guy at the deli while he's toasting your bagel? They'd probably fire off a few swear words if you tried snapping a photo of them. Infringement of privacy and that sort of thing--though that wouldn't hold up in a court case anyway.

Vietnamese (Coffee): Same Same..but Different

Still in Hanoi...

Did you know that Vietnamese coffee is considered the best after Brazilian? Me neither. The strong brew is potent even through the equal parts condensed milk. Sugar, anyone? Though I can't consider myself thoroughly knowledgeable with the French, but I have been there a number of occasions and French coffee has nothing on Vietnamese, with or without condensed milk. French coffee falls somewhere way below Ethiopian, Colombian, Italian, Kenyan... I'd say that Greek coffee has a fighting chance to be considered above the French. Sorry guys, in wine and pastries, and probably food overall, you are arguably the best, but coffee just isn't your thing.

Sidewalks and other free space are not meant for pedestrians; it is all for motorbike parking.

Hanoi - Chopsticks for Real

So instead of the standard traveler spork/knife combo, I have traveled with chopsticks. They're easier to clean, less likely to break, and they're cooler. But traveling with them through LatAm was admittedly a bit weird and even useless: most of the food down there is finger food (lomito sandwiches, empanadas), at least the food I was ordering. The suckers came in handy when I started trekking and had limited access to washing. Now, in Asia, the sticks came in handy once again.

My first week in food involved multiple orders of the same three dishes: pho, rice noodle rolls, and bun cha, which is grilled pork. Most of my adventures into food have been thanks to Anh from Banhmi11. I mapped out most of the locations and have visited roughly half, mostly due to the fact that I keep returning to the places I've liked over and over again.

First real meal in Hanoi
This place was awesome. The rice noodles are my most favorite thing -- I'm a sucker for carbs. Located about 15minute walk from old quarter, the family greeted me with less than a smile but just started bringing food to the table. Unidentified meat on the blue plate is tasty but it reminds me a bit of Spam. I still ate it all (surprised?). Soon after snapping this and the following photo, I received a sizzling bowl of the bun cha with pork patties as well. No photo of that. My chopsticks went into overdrive and I ate all of it before looking up from my bowl. 

Banh Cuon Gia
Hang Ga, Hanoi
If you want the exact/real directions, ping me and I'll dig them up.

This dish beats any mainstay of Vietnamese cuisine.
This bowl of pho is unreal. I have been to this particular restaurant three times, including once for dinner followed by lunch the next day. Adding a little bit of spice to it still doesn't make the dish overly flavorful, but I find the broth and noodle combination completely addicting. These guys also make a mean rice noodle dish.
Pho Ga
The assembly station

Banh cuon Ky Dong
11 Tong Duy Tan, Hanoi

As I write this, I'm digesting a lovely meal from this evening that included chao, which is the Vietnamese version of congee, and quay, fried dough--need I say more? Dribble drool. I was too preoccupied with eating that I didn't snap one photo. The good news is that the place I had dinner has a spot in HCMC, where I'm headed in a few days.

Coasting Coastlines - Uruguay

Getting to Uruguay and then busing through the coastline is about as easy as it gets when traveling. Uruguay itself is not that interesting these days, with its extensive European influence (gained by questionably moral means I'd rather not discuss on this blog).

Punta del Diablo

Starting from Buenos Aires, there is a ferry that whisks you away across the bay (channel? whatever) right into Colonia. Boarder "control" here is interesting because as the Argentine official stamps you out of Argentina, your passport is handed to the person in the adjoining seat...who is the official that welcomes you into Uruguay. Hurray for seamless boarder crossing!

The city that you make Port in is Colonia. The following three major points of interest include Montevideo (the capital), Punta del Este (the most popular getaway, visited mostly by Brazilians and Argentines), and Punt del Diablo (the quietest/quaintest/most remote beach town of the four).

This was the most chill-out, least cultural or site-worthy part of my experience in LatAm. Though there was nothing spectacular to see, I would rather fly down to Uruguay than endure a 5-hour journey to the Hamptons any long weekend. The food was great, the shopping was much more interesting though overpriced, and the people much more relaxed.
El Titani de Homero: Yes that happened. BEST chorizo sandwich. Ever. Podunk truck stand in the middle of nowhere. <3
Los Dedos
Graffiti: even in Uruguay

Rockin' out to a live band with a chick bassist* Thanks for the correction JMR

Town Centre: Punta del Diablo

F#ck!ng Horsefly

Get to the horsefly in a bit, but this was my experience in El Chalten. Calling itself the hiking capital of Argentina is not far from the truth. The park surrounding this quaint city that exists almost solely on tourism can be hiked via a multi-day trek or a few day hikes, returning each evening to the city. At this point,  I was a pro at combining multi-day hikes into one, so knowing I had only one full day in El Chalten before setting out to the north, combining Mt. Fitz Roy with a few other highlights like the Mother-Daughter Lake and Iceberg/Waterfall on the trail was definitely going to happen.

BIG Rock - Perito Moreno

So I'm a wee bit behind. I'm sitting in SVO (Moscow) airport. BIG bonus points for having reliable, fast, password-free Wi-Fi. WAKE UP, JFK. Hardly any power sockets, though.

It's snowing. Brrrr. I have packed for warm, humid, tropical weather, not this dreary grey and cold scene. Anyway, after paying nearly $23 for a half dozen stale pierogi and some grilled vegetables, it is time to catch up on what I did AFTER hiking the W Trek in Torres del Paine. Well, there was more becoming-one-with-nature.

More photos of this glacier after the jump.

What to Pack, Part II

In addition to packing my clothes, here is the list of other items I brought. I think about 90% of my packed items are posted, but I add things as I remember or rediscover them in my pack. Questions or suggestions appreciated!

What Do I Even Need to Bring?

***Extras -American Apparel grey skirt

-Black cotton dress

-2 bikinis

Yes, I packed a pair of heels. No, I definitely do not regret packing them. I also hiked through parts of Patagonia and was headed to Africa, so I was definitely planning to head out of major cities for long periods.

But now back to you: you're going to be living out of a limited set of clothing and personal items for a long, LONG time. You've only now started to process that. Now what?

For me, I needed to pack a bag that would get me through seven months and potentially for a year. So, the question I asked, and many people have asked me, how the heck does one pack for a trip this long? Seriously, it's not that big of a deal.

The first question has nothing to do with how long you are gone. You do not need to bring 60 pairs of underwear if you are travelling for two months. Um... washing machines? Instead, think about the types of climates are you visiting. What time of year are you going? What activities will you be doing? You certainly don't need a perfect itinerary--I only had a one way ticket and one week's worth of accommodation booked on the day I left, and the accommodation was another person's doing. That said, you should have a general sense of what you would like to do or otherwise be very open to changing your plans. Or buying stuff. You have a bottomless wallet, don't you?

I didn't plan on skiing or doing anything that involved extreme cold weather, so ski pants could stay out. Sticking to mostly warm climates, I was planning on doing some hiking in questionable weather, so wool thermals and hiking pants were definitely being packed. Planning a trip through warm/mild weather is obviously preferable: clothes are lighter, smaller, and dry much more quickly after washing.

What size backpack? Well, considering my towering height at 5' (1.52m) and excessive mass of 110lb (50kg), I was going to use one of the smallest of the 'bigger' backpacks out there: NorthFace Terra 45L. Most people travel with 65-75L, and I've met many that travelled with 85 and 100L (it was a female) backpacks. In addition to the big pack, I brought a smaller Under Armour daypack.

The Big Pack
I bought mine from Paragon Sports in Manhattan a couple of years ago. I like it and it worked fine, but a future bag for this type of trip will have a bigger side zip.
The Small Pack
Mine was in black/lime green and I believe it was from a discount store...purchased 12 minutes before leaving for the airport. No pressure.

Clothing took up less than half of my total pack volume, so think about the electronics and other daily necessities that you might have (covered next post).

***4 Pairs of pants (or trousers)
- Old Navy jeans (I can't knock this brand anymore--petite!)
     -Rockstar Super Skinny fit like a custom made glove
-F21 black leggings
-EMS trekking Pants
-IceBreaker base layer

***4 Shorts
 -No name grey (I didn't have these after 2 weeks, gave them away
 -Aeropostale khaki -Under Armour running shorts
 -Black cotton shorts

***5 Long Sleeve Tops
-Old Navy yellow/grey striped cotton
-Mango beige cotton
- 2 IceBreaker base layers (one ultralight and one lightweight)- Cardigan

***10 Short Sleeve Tops
 -4 H&M/cotton tank tops
 -3 t-shirts (including INY) -Distressed tank top
 -Zara polkadot dress top
 -Zara beige dress top

***2 Outerwear
 -Eddie Baur rain jacket
 -Craft zip running jacket

 -American Apparel grey skirt
-Black cotton dress
-2 bikinis

-5 cotton ankle socks
-2 Icebreaker wool ankle socks
-Linen scarf
-Water resistant gloves
-Sarong/"beach towel"

***6 Pairs of Shoes
 -2 Ballet flats
 -Haviana flippies
 -Timberland boots (chucked these in the end...12 years strong. Don't knock them, I am likely to buy the same pair again.)
 -Black pumps
 -NB Sneaks (new colors suck now)
Many things cut out of picture

So you see that yellow thing near the upper left corner of the picture? That is a compression sack
* I have the medium one in the yellow and the best thing about this little guy is that it is also waterproof. Excellente.

*Inspiration came from LegalNomads

All of that... compresed to this:

The picture lies: I fit 6 of the items pictured into the sack before I left 

Clothing items I bought/picked up along the way:
  • Ballet flats (#3)
  • Bikinis
  • Men's XL fleece (it was longer than a dress)
  • Dress
  • Zara Blazer
And I still had space. The bottom line is that you want clothing items that will wash and dry easily (time is not always your friend) and that are reasonably durable (cashmere sweater, I don't think so). For me, that meant getting used to the idea that jeans were going to be a necessity. And despite the fact that they are diffiult to try and do take up space, jeans are an EXCELLENT way to blend into the crowd, dress up or down, and get massive points for durability.

Next post covers non-clothing packing items.