Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The travel bug

Day 89: London layover

Our flight had an 11.5-hour layover in London, and since we still have the travel bug (we may be infected for life), we ventured out into London to see some sites. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and freezing cold! But we weren’t phased (as we had brought our ponchos in anticipation of this), and we walked around town, by the river, to the parliament buildings, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. Well, Gaurav went to the palace while Rachna – who has already been to London – sat in the palace gardens (she couldn’t walk so much). We had lunch at a small café, and then went back to the airport to catch our flight home.

We arrived in Montreal on August 23rd, 91 days after leaving here on May 25th. Wow! We cannot believe it’s over. It feels like a dream, but we don’t want to wake up. It’s like we blinked and three months passed, but we have been to so many places and seen so many things in the past three months that this trip has already left its mark in a way we may not yet fully grasp.

We’ll post some reflections on our trip soon, but for now, we’ll revel in being with family, resting, and eating mom’s home-cooked food.

Thank you, Universe.

Standard London shot of the phone booths


 Buckingham Palace

The final countdown

Days 85-88: Singapore (well, Kyung and Nate’s apartment)

Since Singapore is our last stop before going home, and since we already saw some of the city, we pretty much spent our last four days here doing absolutely nothing. Otherwise, we went to the grocery store to get some snacks a few times, and that was it. On Day 86, we did manage to make it out for a drink (after midnight, so technically Day 87, i.e. our one-year anniversary).

On Day 87, our one-year anniversary, we went with Kyung and Nate to Underwater World (definitely a tourist trap) and to Little India for a late lunch.

It was definitely nice to relax and recuperate before we head back home to reality. We packed our bags, and on Day 88, we took our midnight flight to London.

Thank you, Kyung and Nate, for being our hotel, our chef, our bartender, our travel companion, fellow tourists, but most of all, our friend.

Bye Bye, Kuala Lumpur

Day 84: Our last day

Today is the last day of our trip... well, kind of. This is the last destination before we return to Singapore. So Gaurav got up at 5am to get tickets to go inside the Petronas Towers. The ticket office only opens at 8:30am but the tickets sell out so quickly that people line up starting around 5:30am! (Yes, Rachna slept while he went and did this!). The time passed by quickly, as he chatted with a Ukrainian woman in line who was buying tickets for her family.

So he got the tickets and came back to the hotel. We had breakfast, packed up our bags and left them at reception, and then went back to the towers for our appointment (they give you a time slot for the visit).

We first went up the Sky Bridge on the 41st floor (which took us exactly 41 seconds to reach), and that connects the two towers, and then up to the 86th floor at the top of one of the towers to see the beautiful view of the entire city. We thought it befitting to end our trip at the top of a tower, which is where we began our trip in Auckland, New Zealand some three months ago.

After our visit through the towers, we went to town to have lunch, and then went back to our hotel to pick up our stuff and head to the airport. The staff at our hotel was so attentive and kind the whole time we were there – always asking after Rachna’s health and making sure we were enjoying our stay. 

We got to the airport, checked in, and took our flight to Singapore, sad for our trip to soon be over. We arrived in Singapore and went to Kyung’s place – our final stop on the way home. 
Sky Bridge

 View of Kuala Lumpur from the top of the tower

Hinduism in a Muslim country

Day 83: Our last city

We got up this morning, had breakfast, and then, contrary to the suggestions by the hotel staff (considering how little Rachna can walk), we took public transportation (the monorail and train) to the Batu Caves.

We got off the train to the sight of two humongous statues: one of Lord Hanuman and one of Lord Shiva. We saw a few temples and then walked up the 270-some steps to the caves. We bought coconuts to drink the water on the way up, which was a big mistake because all along the way there were monkeys on the steps. And since Rachna was walking really slowly, they targeted her (the easy target). Gaurav tried to defend Rachna but the monkey hissed and almost jumped on him, so Rachna threw her coconut, and the monkey ran to grab it!

When we got to the top of the steps, the entrance to the cave was nice, but there were not many statues in the cave. We walked around once again realizing we got suckered into the tourist trap! We did find out, though, that almost a million people gather here to celebrate various Hindu festivals during the year, which must be cool to experience!) We left the caves and went to the main part of town, where we grabbed a quick bite. Rachna was exhausted from walking so we went back to our hotel and rested. 

In the night, we went over to see the Petronas towers, the famous twin towers of Kuala Lumpur. They were completely lit up and looked nice against the night sky. They were gigantic and the architecture that captured the old and modern art was fantastic.  We had some dinner in the area and then went back to our hotel for the night. 
Huge Hanuman statue

Massive Shiva statue next to the steps to the cave

 Petronas towers at night

Giving alms and departing

Day 82: Bye Bye Laos

Sadly, we bid farewell to Laos today. So this morning, as a parting gift to a town we loved, we woke up at 4:30am to go to town to give alms to the monks. Our hotel took us to town and arranged a spot for us to sit and provided us with the sticky rice that we would offer. The monks began their procession and all walked by us, opening the top of their bowl to allow us to put in small portions of rice for them. It was a bit hard to get it in all the bowls, as they walked by pretty fast, but we did it! We ran out of rice fairly quickly (we were supposed to give less to each one) but we were happy to have had this be our last act in Laos.

Because of Rachna’s accident, we were thinking of just ending our trip early and going back to Singapore directly, but Rachna didn’t want us to lose out on our last destination, so we took our flight to Malaysia, as planned.

We spent the entire day in airports getting there, with Rachna being wheeled around in a wheelchair the whole time! With this experience, we certainly learned to appreciate how challenging it must be for people who have disabilities throughout their life, and were extremely thankful that Rachna’s condition was just temporary. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at night and took the hour and a half taxi ride to the city, checked into our hotel and went straight to sleep!
 Giving alms to the monks
Rachna in the wheelchair section at the airport (in much better spirits)

Of hospitals and not giving in

Day 81: Injured

Rachna still can’t walk or use her hand, and is still in a lot of pain, so the hotel employees offered to take us to the hospital to check her knee and wrist out. The hotel staff stayed with us and talked to the doctors for us, which was so nice of them to do. The nurse cleaned out Rachna’s wounds and checked her wrist and thumb, which seem to be ok. Rachna is not a fan of pain as she has a very small threshold for it, and she was holding back her screams as the nurse was cleaning the wound. There was another individual in the next bed getting basic surgery on his ankle out in the open, but you wouldn’t know it as he was very relaxed (without anesthetic!).  There were some other tourists there who also were hurt but seemed lost so we were especially thankful for our hotel staff to help us.

The X-ray machine in this hospital was broken, so we paid our (very cheap) bill, and the hotel shuttle took us to the other hospital, where we had her knee X-rayed (for a whole $3). Everything seems ok. We are so fortunate that the accident wasn’t worse than it was – even though Rachna is in a lot of pain, we are so thankful to have only minor healable injuries.

After our hospital visits, we went back to the hotel and rested for a bit before Rachna decided she didn’t want to lose out on our last day Laos. So Rachna took a crutch from the hotel, wrapped up her wounds, put on her arm sling, and we grabbed the shuttle to town. We found a tuktuk to take us to the waterfalls that we didn’t see yesterday. We saw what the ride would have been and knew we could have done it had it not been for the accident! The waterfalls were spectacular, and we were so happy to have gone to see them. They were enormous and formed pools of water on the way down, which people were swimming in. Gaurav ended up swinging on the rope and jumping into one of the pools, which was incredibly fun (Rachna watched on from the sidelines). 

When we arrived back to town, we walked (well, Rachna hobbled) to a restaurant, had some dinner, and did a final walk through the night market before going back to our hotel and resting. 
In pain, but not giving in!

 Passing by the scene of yesterday's accident

Kuang Xi waterfall

 Gaurav jumping from the rope into the pool

Of Bicycles and Accidents

Day 80: The waterfall that wasn't

This morning, we had breakfast and decided to follow through on our decision to rent bikes for the day and bike the 30km mountainous ride to a huge waterfall outside of town. We were excited, albeit a bit nervous, because we heard the ride was extremely difficult and would take at least 2-3 hours in the intense summer heat.

Still, we went on our way, and rode through beautiful mountain scenery and little villages with children waving at us as we rode by. The uphill parts were particularly difficult, and we sometimes had to get off the bike and walk it up the hill! At one point, a tuktuk drove by and stopped to offer us a ride to the falls (we think he saw how tired we looked), but we politely declined – hoping to conquer this trip on our own.

We made it about 11km of the ride, and were on a downhill portion of the mountain, cruising along, when it happened. Rachna, normally extremely cautious, was riding down the hill pretty fast, and hit a pothole before a bridge, slipped off the tire planks of the bridge, fell sideways and slid across it. Gaurav, who was ahead, came back, and some locals stopped to help. Rachna was in shock and the pain hadn’t kicked in yet, so she was still trying to convince Gaurav that we could continue on to the waterfalls.  We waited until the shock subsided and the pain sunk in before she admitted we had to turn around and go back to the hotel.

As we waited, many people stopped to check on Rachna, and two tourists and their guide helped bring her off the road and to the side and gave her some painkillers. We flagged down a pickup truck with a family and asked if they could give us a ride to town (they didn’t speak English but we managed). They were very nice to oblige, and Gaurav climbed into the back of the truck with the bikes and some of the family members, while Rachna rode in front.

Once we got back to the hotel, Rachna couldn’t walk on her left leg and didn’t have use of her right hand, as both were extremely bruised, scraped up, and swollen. She had scrapes and bruises everywhere, and that was pretty much the end of the day. We sat in the hotel room all day, because Rachna was in a lot of pain. We had lunch and dinner in our room, and just rested.  We hoped the swelling and bruising would settle down tomorrow, and from what we could see, nothing seemed broken. That was a bit too much of an adventure for us.