Trekking in Nepal During Monsoon Season

When I was planning my backpacking trip to Nepal this August, I couldn’t find a lot of useful info about trekking during monsoon season, and I also couldn’t find a lot of stuff about short treks, as opposed to the Annapurna Circuit, which takes two weeks to complete at a jog.

So having freshly returned from a five-day trek in Nepal with my brother Willbutt (two months ago), I thought I’d answer some questions for anyone else going to Nepal during monsoon season.

(A full packing list is at the bottom of this post.)

1) How much does it rain in the Annapurnas during monsoon season?

This was the biggest question on my mind before flying out. Every city, town, and village I googled in the upcoming weeks before our trip forecast rain rain rain 24/7. Obviously, this made me nervous cuz  who wants to hike in the rain, plus lots of rain means landslides and floods, especially on mountain trails in a developing country.

William and I hiked for five days, mainly on the Annapurna Base Camp trail (the ABC), which is not in the Annapurna’s “rain shadow.” Even so, the weather was manageable and we did not experience any flash floods or landslides, although some parts of the trail were blocked by landslides from earlier.

It rained  at least three times everyday: once at noon-ish (between 11 am and 1 pm), then in the afternoon sometime between 3 and 5 pm, and at nighttime. We usually hiked through the noon rain, then stopped at a guesthouse before the afternoon rain, and were playing Pokémon cards or sleeping during the night rain.

The noon rain wasn’t really hard and didn’t get us much wetter than we already were thanks to our sweat, so hiking through it wasn’t a problem. There was only one day when it rained all day; obviously, we got drenched that day.

Because of the rain, we used rain covers for our backpacks to keep everything dry. William had a good rain cover and his stuff stayed completely dry, but mine was lousy and old, so everything in my backpack got completely soaked the one day it rained a lot, which made my backpack heavier.

Which brings me to the next topic:

2) Which clothes/things should I pack? What should I plan to wear?

NOTHING COTTON. NOTHING COTTON. NOTHING COTTON.

NOTHING.

COTTON.

Pack two sets of clothes: one for hiking and one for resting in the evening. That’s it. That’s all you need. Your hiking clothes will get sweaty and dirty everyday, but your evening clothes will stay clean in your pack, so you feel fresh and new after showering at your guesthouse.

For hiking, I wore gym shorts, Flyknit Nikes (which were perfect for the trail and didn’t fall apart or give me blisters), nylon socks (which were a lifesaver and I’ll tell you why later), quick-dry undies, and A COTTON T-SHIRT because I was an idiot when I was packing. That shirt was never dry the entire week and I absolutely hated touching it by the end of the trek; I wish I’d packed a shirt made from a quick-dry material.

We never had to wear warm clothes while hiking because you stay warm enough hiking up stairs for TWO hours, but we also never made it past 2600 meters (8500 feet) in elevation, so it might be colder further up. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For my evening clothes, I basically had another set of shorts, another shirt, more undies and socks, and some sandals (but I could have gotten away with flip-flops or another lightweight shoe). Once we hit 2600 meters in elevation, the evenings were too cold just for shorts and a T-shirt, so I also had a sweater and warm socks to wear, but I wish I’d packed some sweatpants or long johns as well. (William wants you all to know that he let me borrow his sweatpants, thank you.)

Willbutt and I also packed rain jackets, but we never actually wore them on the trail even when it was raining. Even so, we did wear them at our guesthouses when we went outside in the evening.

I also brought sunglasses and a hat, but I sweated so much while hiking they became annoying to wear, so I ended up not using them.

We also wore fanny packs for easy access to our cell phones and salt.

Why salt, you ask? Why nylon socks, you ask?

The Annapurnas are FULL of leeches during monsoon season. This bit of info never ever came up during my pre-trip research, so I didn’t find out about them until we got there.

Before getting covered with leeches in Nepal, I thought leeches only lived IN water (rivers, streams, ponds, etc.). Turns out, leeches in Nepal can survive in almost any moist environment: wet grass, wet leaves, wet rocks, mud puddles — anything wet. Because they like wet, they’re twice as active when it’s raining.

During one 12 o’clock rain shower, while we were hiking on a narrow forest path between Ghandruk and Ghorepani, William spoke up behind me: “My feet are covered in thousands of leeches.” I looked back and saw tons of wriggling tubers sticking onto his shoes and socks. I looked down at my own feet and saw that they were also covered!

Immediately, we shook off as many as we could then ran to the nearest village. When we took our shoes off, there were at least a dozen pulsing leeches latched onto William’s feet. (We’ll get to my feet in a sec.) Leeches stick really hard and they’re nearly impossible to squish, so it’s hard to pull them off. The most effective way to remove a leech is to sprinkle a pinch of salt on it because, like slugs, leeches shrivel up and die when they get salted. A nice Nepali lady gave us a small bag of salt that we sprinkled liberally on any stray leech for the rest of our trip.

How were my feet? Even though my shoes had also been covered in leeches, my actual feet never got touched and I think it’s because I was wearing nylon socks. William’s socks were just normal hiking socks, so the threads weren’t sewn closely together, whereas my nylon socks just had teeny tiny spaces between the fibers, so not one leech had enough space to crawl through.

While leeches are annoying and unpleasant, they don’t actually cause any harm. Their saliva is an anticoagulant, so you do bleed a decent amount after getting bit, but leeches, unlike ticks, rarely pass on diseases to humans.

Every afternoon, after surviving a day of leeches and getting soaked in sweat, we stopped at a guesthouse. Once we got a room, we took showers and washed by hand everything we’d worn that day. Guesthouses had buckets to use for laundry and we brought a packet of powder laundry detergent.

There were also clotheslines to hang laundry at most guesthouses, but we  brought our clothes in before nighttime or else they would get wet in the nighttime rain. I wish we’d packed a clothesline to hang in our room so that we didn’t have to drape everything over chairs and bedposts, though. Even so, our clothes were never fully dry the following day, probably because our shirts were cotton and the weather was humid.

3) How much water did you pack and how much did you drink everyday?

Willbutt and I each had 2 one-liter water bottles that we filled up before trekking out in the morning. That was always enough water, we never ran out on the trail. We also had soup with every meal to help keep us hydrated (we only ate breakfast and dinner), and we drank a bottle of water during breakfast.

There are no water bottles sold on the trail, so luckily we’d brought our own. I had a Nalgene and an empty soda bottle, but I wish they were both empty soda bottles because that would have been lighter.

We filled up our water bottles at guesthouses for about 100 Nepali rupees per liter, but it got more expensive the further up the trail we travelled. They told us that the water they gave us was filtered, but Willbutt and I purified it with iodine tablets just to be safe. You can also fill up at clear streams; there are often little plastic tubes shooting off from downhill streams and waterfalls just for that. Just be sure to use iodine tablets if you fill up there.

4) How much do the guesthouses cost?

In my pre-trip research, I read unbelievable stories about $1 housing on the Annapurna Circuit, but I never saw that. Maybe that’s the deal somewhere else, but housing on the ABC  usually cost between 400 and 800 rupees for a 2-bed room. In fact, the further up the trail we travelled, the fewer the options for lodging and food, the higher the prices went up (not dramatically, but noticeably).

I read online to budget $25 USD per person per day, and that turned out to be accurate. Some days it was on the nose, some days it was way under. Obviously, everything on the trail had to be paid in cash, so keep your cash dry in a plastic bag.

As for food quality, the general rule was that the closer to civilization we were, the better the food was, and the further onto the trail we went, the worse and more expensive the food got. Our first and last nights, we ate really well, but the day we were furthest up on the trail, our potato soup tasted like salt water and our pancakes were cooked slabs of batter. (That was also the night that our guesthouse was run by four 20-year-old guys, so maybe try to find one run by a woman who looks like your mom.)

Also, my brother and I ate a lot in the morning and a lot at night, which took a while for the hosts/hostesses to cook once we ordered. I recommend ordering your dinner when you arrive at the guesthouse and telling your host what time you plan to eat. That way they aren’t waiting around for you to order and you can eat at soon as you’re finished with showers and laundry.

Every guesthouse we stayed in provided bedding that always looked clean, but I brought a lightweight sleeping bag and William used a fleece sleeping bag liner. I don’t regret bringing my own bedding even though it was extra weight because it was something nice for me to snuggle in every night, but I also wouldn’t have minded using the bedding provided.

FYI: Higher up on the trail, they charge for wifi, hot water (for showers), and power (there are no outlets in the bedrooms). Also, sometimes the outlets are really old and are too loose for whatever adapter or plug you’re trying to fit.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The running tab of your room and meal costs are paid the morning you leave. When you pay, I recommend leaving a generous tip. Tourists are a huge (if not the only) source of income for these people. We’re so blessed to travel and see their part of the world, but they may never leave their mountains, so show them how much you appreciate them sharing their homes by giving them lots of money.

One more plug: Our second night, William and I stayed in Chomrong at a place called Heaven View Guesthouse. It is honestly one of my top 5 places to see in the world. It’s on the edge of a mountain overlooking the convergence of three valleys with waterfalls and rivers coming in on every side. I could see clouds drifting in between the mountaintops and above the valleys, raining somewhere miles away, then changing directions and raining somewhere else. It didn’t feel like there was any sky overhead because we were already in the sky.

5) What are some short hikes? Preferably something a week long?

I can’t really answer that question completely because I was only out hiking for 5 days and didn’t stay on one definite route the whole time, but having trekked in Nepal and seen how things are located on the map I can offer some observations:

The Annapurna Base Camp trail supposedly takes a week-ish to complete. We started trekking on Monday in Birethanti and got onto the ABC in Chomrong on Tuesday (we initially were doing a different trail but had to reroute because of the leeches). We made it as far as Dovan on the ABC, then turned around Thursday morning because we wanted to be in Pokhara by Saturday. If we hadn’t turned around, I’m confident we could have made it to Annapurna Base Camp by Friday or Saturday. Maybe if we had planned to do the ABC from the start, we could have done the whole thing in five or six days.

Another option is to basically start at the end of the Annapurna circuit, hike from Birethanti to Poon Hill to Tatopani, then back again. (We tried to hike from Birethanti to Ghandruk to Ghorepani, but the jungle between Ghandruk and Ghorepani is FULL OF LEECHES and not worth it, so that’s why we hiked over to the ABC. I mean, there are leeches everywhere during monsoon season, but they’re especially bad in that spot).

6) Some pro tips:

You can get to the end of the Annapurna Circuit/start of the ABC by taking a bus from Pokhara at Baglung Bus Park (not the Tourist Bus Park on the other side of town). The bus is very uncomfortable and shaky, but it’s  only 700 rupees for one person, which is much cheaper than a taxi; I just recommend getting off as soon as you can in Nayapul.

Unless you’re trying to do a quick weeklong or five-day trek, plan rest days. The Annapurnas are beautiful and you’ll enjoy them more by taking your backpack off for a day and just relaxing. If you do the ABC, I recommend stopping in Chomrong, Jihnu, Sinuwa, and/or Kimrong.

Heads up: The Annapurnas are amazing mountains and took my breath away when I saw them on my first Nepal trip in November 2016. Unfortunately, during monsoon season they’re covered by clouds and you can only ever get  glimpses of them when the clouds part in the mornings, even when you’re on the trail. 🙁

There weren’t very many hikers in August. We only ever shared a guesthouse with three other trekkers. It was nice not having so many hikers because you could totally pee anywhere on the trail (#freewilly). I have no idea how it is during tourist season, but once we started hiking on the ABC we ran into a lot more people so maybe during tourist season you’ll run into a lot more trekkers.

If you can, get used to the time difference before you go. Being jetlagged and hiking up a mountain? No thanks. Take a week or so before your trip to get used to Nepali time.

There are stray mountain dogs who act as guides along the ABC. They led Willbutt and me from village to village, often showing us which way to go when the trail forked. They would sit outside of villages and wait for trekkers to come, then trot ahead and stop whenever we fell too far behind. It was semi-magical.

You also bump into a lot of little kids on the trail heading to and from school. Not sad, orphan kids, but just normal kids. Sometimes they’d ask for candy, but we didn’t have any, so I recommend either buying some in Pokhara or Kathmandu, or bringing some from home. You can buy candy on the trail but it’s expensive.

There aren’t very many mosquitoes, even during monsoon season. Even so, we applied DEET along with with sunscreen everyday. DEET supposedly also works on leeches, but I can tell you from experience that claim seems to be FALSE.

Plastic ziplock and freezer bags are a great travel accessory: they can hold anything and keep everything dry. In my experience, America makes them best, so bring some!

Granola bars are also something that America does best and they are a 100% necessity while trekking. I brought a ton from home and we snacked liberally on the trail because we really needed the energy. There were some days I could not have made it without them. Plan for two to three bars each day.

Also, there’s not much fresh fruit on the trail, so if you want some, you’ll have to pack it in from Pokhara or Kathmandu and ration it throughout the duration of your trek.

Packing list:

  • One set of clothes for hiking (shirt, shorts, undies, 2 pairs of socks, shoes) made of quick-dry material (According to Willbutt, switching socks half way through the day is nice.)
  • One set of evening clothes (shirt, shorts/pants, undies, socks, shoes) made of quick-dry stuff
  • Warm socks
  • Sweatpants
  • Sweater
  • Rain jacket
  • Pantyhose or nylon socks (for leeches)
  • Fanny pack
  • Extra shoe laces
  • Watch (waterproof for sweat)
  • Clothesline/rope
  • Powdered laundry detergent
  • Rain cover for backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • DEET/bug spray
  • Toilet paper/wipes
  • Toiletries
  • Soap/sanitizer
  • Outlet adapter
  • SALT
  • Plastic ziplock and freezer bags
  • Granola bars (at least three per day)
  • 2 one-liter bottles (can buy for super cheap in Pokhara or Kathmandu, or just bring empty soda bottles)
  • Iodine tablets
  • Map (see if you can get a waterproof one)
  • Flashlight
  • Microfiber towel
  • A plastic bag for any trash you make while hiking

Optional:

  • Fruit
  • Knife for fruit
  • Simple bedding
  • Power bank
  • Notebook and pens/pencils

Well, I think that’s it. I absolutely loved my trip to Nepal and regularly think about not if I go back, but when I go back.

Top 3 tips for Taiwan

Taiwan is full of beautiful sea views, mountaintops, and the nicest people ever. But since it’s a relatively unknown tourist destination (many Americans still mistake it for Thailand), there are a lot of hidden treasures on the island the casual tourist doesn’t know about. Lucky for you, I spent a year living in Taiwan and I found the top 3 tips to improve your time there.

If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, doing any of these top 3 things will enhance your trip a bunch!

3) The beach

Since Taiwan is an island, people naturally assume they can visit any beach and have a blast. This is false. Most Taiwanese beaches are rocky, polluted, and unsafe to swim at. But, since I’m from California, I found the best beaches during my year living there. Really, only two stick out: Fulong Coast Park in the north and Kenting in the south.

Fulong is a one-and-a-half-hour train ride from Taipei Main Station, after which Fulong Coast Park is an easy walk from Fulong Station. There’s a sign at the beach warning you to be careful when and where you swim, but it’s safe; the water’s shallow and the waves are small. (Note: There are two beaches in Fulong. One is a hotel beach you need to pay a small fee to enter. The other, Fulong Coast Park, is free.)

I went to Fulong four times but for some reason this is the only pic I have saved.

Kenting is in the very south of Taiwan. There are a couple beaches there. The one I went to is called Little Bay Beach. Again, the water wasn’t rough at all and the waves were small. The sand was more like small pebbles that got stuck all up in my swimsuit area. I loved it.

This is the best picture I have of Kenting. WHY AM I SO BAD AT BLOGGING ???

2) Shoushan (aka Monkey Mountain)

If you want to get up-close-and-personal with wild monkeys (Who doesn’t?), Taiwan is the place to do it. While you can catch glimpses of monkeys on forest trails here and there, the place where I saw the MOST monkeys was in Shoushan by Kaohsiung. Shoushan is a heavily forested nature park and it is absolutely covered in monkeys. Just take a taxi from anywhere in Kaohsiung and you’ll be there in no time.

Formosan rock macaques

The monkeys there aren’t skittish at all; you can see them ambling along the trail or hanging out in low-hanging branches. Just don’t feed them or get too close (for OBVIOUS reasons). (Note: If you do take a taxi to Shoushan, be sure to get your driver’s phone number so you can call them for a ride back into town.)

OBVIOUS REASONS

(Here’s a post about the first time I went to Shoushan  and here’s a video of my dad and me at Shoushan.)

1) Alishan

Alishan National Scenic Area (also called Ali Mountain) is my absolute #1 favorite place in Taiwan.  High in the mountain tops, you’ll find a quiet cluster of shops surrounded by stretches of ancient forest and jaw-dropping mountain vistas. In the year I lived in Taiwan, I visited Alishan four times.

The thing most Taiwanese do when they visit Alishan is book a hotel in the park, spend the night, and wake up really early to watch the sunrise at Chushan Station viewing area. The only problem is that to book a hotel on time sometimes requires planning ahead several months. Even if you can’t watch the sunrise, though, going to the sunrise viewing area at any time of day still gives an awesome view of the valleys below.

The best view of all.

Other things to see in Alishan include the Sacred Trees, Sister Ponds, and other forest paths. Alishan National Scenic Area is actually really small, so you can see almost everything on a day trip (although I recommend staying overnight if you can).

To get to Alishan, take a bus from Chiayi. The bus ride is about 2 hours, but you’re climbing up into the mountains the whole time, so it’s a really, really pretty ride.

 

So these are my top 3 tips for Taiwan! I know it’s not a perfect list, but hopefully you can build a trip around these places or sprinkle them into plans you’ve already made.

Note: I didn’t include Taipei or Jiufen on this list because anyone who visits Taiwan likely knows about these places already. Plus, Taipei deserves a list of its own.

Iceland: Best and worst

You’ve seen it in your newsfeed, you’ve seen it in movies, and now you’re seeing it here: ICELAND. Not just a geologic hotspot with the occasional exploding volcano, it’s also a tourist hotspot exploding with new visitors every day.

But is it all just hype? Is a trip to Iceland really all that and a bag of selfies? Earlier this summer, I spent a week in Iceland, so I can tell you the best and worst parts about visiting.

Worst

1) 24 Hours of daylight (or lack thereof)

During summer, Iceland is constantly exposed to sunlight and during winter, it sees very little of it. For a traveler recovering from jetlag, this constant daylight or darkness isn’t just an interesting phenomenon; it’s a huge inconvenience. Your body is already confused about what time to go to bed; when you couple that with the sun shining all night long or (in winter) not being there almost at all, you get insomnia-filled nights and very groggy days.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.

2) Expensive food

I’d heard the food was expensive before visiting, but seeing it for myself was unbelievable. Six bucks for a loaf of bread? Five bucks for a pound of oranges?! Even a sandwich in a small café cost fifteen dollars! Iceland is almost literally a giant island of ice, so not a whole lot grows there. Most food needs to be imported, which means it comes with a heavy price tag, both for locals and tourists.

3) Tourism

Iceland is a beautiful country that attracts millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, those visitors are slowly killing the country’s natural beauty. Plastic wrappers and beer cans litter popular attractions. Old hot springs used for centuries by locals are becoming overused and unsafe because of microbes brought by tourists. With the number of tourists exploding from just under 300,000 in 2000 to 1.7 million in 2016, Iceland is seriously lacking in infrastructure, personnel, and laws to keep their island (population 330,00) from getting trampled under tourists’ feet.

Seljavallalaug Hot Spring

Best

1) 24 hours of daylight

While initially confusing, having 24 hours of daylight became a huge advantage in my trip. Instead of fighting my jetlag, I went with it; going to bed at 4 am, waking up at noon. Iceland is a very popular country, especially during summer. By ignoring the time on the clock, I was able to enjoy all the tourist sights without all the tourists.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.
Grjotagja Cave at midnight.
Black sand beach in Vik early in the morning (actually, it was 7 am but for some reason no one was there).

2) Chillest people

I mean, they live in a place named after ice, but Icelanders are seriously chill. When I picked up a car from an Icelandic-owned rental car company, they told me not worry if the car got any scratches or whether I returned it with a full tank of gas. “Just make sure all the doors are on when you bring it back.” When a pile of rental camping equipment cost me five times more than I expected, the outdoor store I was at gave me a full refund, even though I didn’t realize my mistake until 20 minutes after the fact AND they supposedly had a no-refund policy. Maybe I’m just special (which I’m willing to believe), but they are a super easy-going and accommodating group of people.

3) Nature (DUH)

Going to Iceland feels like visiting a land before time, but no dinosaurs. Outside the cities and villages, the only manmade thing you can see is the road. No billboards, no powerlines. Just the road and what God put there (and the occasional crashed airplane).

Glacier lagoon
Svartifoss
Ring Road
Dettifoss
Crashed DC 3 on Solheimasandur

Verdict

If you’re visiting Iceland for jaw-dropping landscapes and awesome selfies, it’s the place for you. If you’re looking for a unique vacation to do things and see places no one has done or seen before, you’re several years too late.

The Handsomest Prince

I wrote this story. I hope it inspires you.

Once upon a time, there was a prince who was handsomest in all the world. Everybody liked to look at him, but the person who liked to look at him most was himself. Whenever he felt sad, he looked at himself in the mirror and was instantly happy for days.

One day while travelling through his kingdom, he met a girl crying.

“Why are you crying?” asked the Handsomest Prince.

“I’m crying because I’m sad,” said the girl who was staring sadly at the ground.

“Well, why don’t you look in the mirror? That always makes me happy.” The Handsomest Prince smiled handsomely.

“But that’s why I’m crying,” said the girl. “I’m crying because I looked in a mirror and saw that I am so ugly!”

“Oh,” said the Handsomest Prince, surprised. “I’m not sure what ‘ugly’ is. Is it common?”

“Yes it is. Many people are sad because they are so ugly. Don’t you already know?” And here the girl looked up and saw with whom she had been speaking. “Oh my!” A smiled spread across her face. “I didn’t realize I was talking to you, Handsomest Prince! My day is so much better!”

“Hmmmm,” thought the Handsomest Prince. “I think I have an idea to help everyone in my kingdom.”

So the Handsomest Prince left to find the hideously ugly witch who lived on the high mountain.

“Witch,” said the Handsomest Prince bravely. “I need you to cast a spell on every mirror in the kingdom so that whenever someone looks in the mirror, instead of seeing their own face, they will see mine. It is the only way for everyone to be happy.”

“OK,” said the witch. “But for the spell to work, you need to give me a kiss.”

The witch was very ugly, but the Handsomest Prince wanted his people to be happy, so he leaned in to kiss the witch’s gross, warty, dry lips. But the instant before his lips touched hers, she turned into a beautiful princess and then they made out.

The spell worked! And from that day forward, whenever anyone looked in a mirror, they saw the Handsomest Prince’s face and everyone was happy and they all lived happily ever after especially the Handsomest Prince.

The End

Moral: Always be the handsomest. The End

Get to Loch Ness in 6 easy steps

Most people want to go to Loch Ness and pay their respects to the Loch Ness Monster aka our underwater ally, but also most people haven’t been to Loch Ness, probably because they lack the knowledge of which amulets, rune spells, and passknocks will help get you there. Luckily for all of us, I went to Loch Ness last July and I can tell you how to get there.

If you want to go to Loch Ness, follow my advice. I’m an avid traveller and Nessie fan.

Step 1: Get to Scotland. According to basic geography, Scotland is the country where Loch Ness is. Starting from your country of origin, you can board the closest airplane, bus, boat, scuba driver, narwhal, drawgon (it’s a drawing of a dragon that comes to life and can fly), flying pony, or spacetime jumper and ride it until you get to Scotland.

Step 2: Fit in with the locals. As with any journey, you need to fit in with the local inhabitants if you’re gonna make it very far. Your first option is to dress like a commoner: in Scotland, the men dress like women and the women dress like men. If you’re unsure whether an outfit in feminine or masculine, try a unisex outfit like this:

ladydress

Another option is to wear invisibility garb, which will make you undetectable to everyone but high-level wizards.

invisibilitygarb

A final option is to dress as a wizard, but only do this if you’re prepared to duel regularly.

floralladydress

Step 3: Travel to Inverness. There are several settlements surrounding Loch Ness, the largest and most accessible is called Inverness. Once you reach Scotland and are wearing appropriate clothing, head to this city. Inverness is 8 miles from the loch itself, but you won’t find a bus or train that’ll take you closer.

Even though Inverness is the largest city in northern Scotland, it’s still pretty small, so if you stay there (which you probably will) be sure to book a hotel or hostel ahead of time. You can also pitch a tent next to the river if you want, but be aware of river trolls and kelpies.

inverness

Step 4: Follow the river. To get to Loch Ness from Inverness, follow the River Ness south. You can follow the river by taking a local bus, renting a bike, walking, hitchhiking, running, or riding a forest stallion. Be aware that the preferred currency of the region is nebula amulets, but basically any other amulet will work. Except sparkle amulets. And fart gems.

If you decide to walk to Loch Ness, there’s a safe footpath on the west side of the river, as opposed to the Path of Rage and Gore on the east side. If you encounter a vampire tree on your way, use passknock combination 3R-5R-1L.

IMPORTANT: Loch Ness is 23 miles long and THERE ARE NO bridges that cross the loch or river once you’re out of Inverness, which is good cuz that means there are less trolls, BUT it also means you need to know which part of the loch you want to see before you head out. Are you planning to siege Urduhart Castle? Better take the west side of the river. Looking for the lost graveyard? Better take the east side. Are you taking a boat tour of the loch? Better find out where the boat docks before you leave.

Step 5: Enjoy the scenery. The landscape of Scotland is among the most Scottish in the world. Enjoy the land’s natural beauty, whether you’re sitting on a bus, a forest stallion, or your own two feet.

img_20160723_170804

Step 6: Chill at Loch Ness. If you’ve followed all the steps correctly, you’ll arrive at Loch Ness.

Actually being at Loch Ness is pretty weird though. When I got there, people were just, like, water skiing and having picnics and doing other lake stuff, kinda like it was just a normal lake and there wasn’t a giant monster that lived there. Idiots.

I maintained a respectful distance from the lake’s edge and cast a protective spell over the lake and its local inhabitants and all those who seek for the peaceful existence of our underwater ally.

lochness1

lochness2

Heart of Asia

When I first came to Taiwan, the plan was to stay for six months, but in the back of my head I hoped and knew it would be longer because:

1) I wanted to be here longer (that’s not a real reason).

2) I felt like it would be longer (that’s also not a real reason).

3) I tricked myself into thinking I could learn Chinese (which technically also isn’t a real reason).

4) I literally didn’t have anything else going on (also not a real reason).

So when I got the opportunity to prolong my stay until June I was like, “There’s no reason not to.” So now I’m going to be in Taiwan until June.

What have the past six months been like?

Good. If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, I look like one of those people who’s on vacation and partying all the time. When I realized that, I thought to myself: “What right do I have to only post all these pictures of me in these amazing places? Shouldn’t I show the people how boring and sad my life is too?”

Because I do feel sad and bored sometimes. I’m single and there aren’t many people my age to hang out with and it’s impossible to call or chat with my family half the time because of the time difference. But then I realized I was being ridiculous and my reasons for being sad and bored were not real reasons.

For example, while I was on a trip to Hong Kong at the end of November, I was sad that I would miss Christmas in America, but then I realized that I WAS ON A FREAKING PAID VACATION IN HONG KONG AND DIDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT BUYING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS FOR MY BILLIONS OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS OR NIECES AND NEPHEWS. So then I perked up and went to the beach. Here’s a picture:

hkstanleybeachme

Not that being far from people I love is easy or fun … but it is. Sometimes.

Taiwan is the perfect place to be stranded for a year. It’s beautiful and small, so being here until June allows me to see everywhere. Like, twice.

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Alishan National Scenic Area, July 2015

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Alishan National Scenic Area, October 2015 (I look like drugs.)

 

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Sun Moon Lake, July 2015

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Sun Moon Lake, October 2015

 

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Hualien, January 2016

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Hualien, February 2016

 

And my Chinese is coming along. I won’t be fluent by June, but I know enough to navigate around the whole island by myself.

So I’ll be here until June. And I’ve learned a lot. Taiwan is just a matter of perspective and happiness is a really pretty country.

wait.

How boring is your life?

I am a BOMB teacher and all my students love/adore/want to be me. Even so, what I really live for is the weekend.

The thing is, living in the city is a drain: it’s loud, smelly, crowded, and full of concrete. I have to get out into ~nature~ once a week to rejuvenate.

Taiwan still has a lot of undeveloped land. Even though this small island is home to millions of people, the mountains and eastern coast have remained undeveloped, probably because of the steady tide of typhoons that roll in every year.

So even though the city’s loud, crowded, and smelly, I can easily escape once a week. I just hop on a bus for an hour or two and I’m free.

A waterfall or two this weekend? Sure.

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Waterfall on the hike from Houtong to Shangdiaoling.

A small mountain town next? Cool.

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Alishan

A breezy coastline? Easy.

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Longdong

Hot springs after that? *Cake.*

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Wulai

So there’s that. I probably could have and should have done something similar while I was living in the States. I mean, it’s not a small island, so there’s A LOT more ~nature~ to explore.

If you want to try having an adventure every weekend, try this app/website: TripAdvisor.com. It makes finding new places in your current location easy. Find your next adventure! Or confirm how truly boring your hometown is:

redblufftripadvisor

Picture vomit: Taiwan

These are some pics I took of some places I went during my last week in Taiwan. 😉
Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple
After being in the big city for two weeks, it was nice to bust out and get into nature. We (my fellow white American teachers and I) were able to visit rural areas, including this temple on a secluded lake in the foothills of Taiwan. The grounds are pritt, the temple is made from granite and jade with super cool carvings, and there’s a stairway with 365 steps leading down to the lake (one step for every day of the year). You gotta check it out.
View of the lake from the temple.

Steps leading down to Sun Moon Lake.
Took the liberty of taking a shot with my birthday stair.
Alishan
The word “shan” in Mandarin Chinese means “mountain,” so Alishan just means Ali Mountain. This mountain is part of the mountain range that creates the spine of Taiwan. It’s a real popular place for peeps to come and watch the sunrise. Just be sure to bring a jacket or sweater so you’re warm enough. Also, bring running shoes so you can appreciate the scenery on a jaunty little morning run.
View from up top.
The forest.
The beach!
I got my fingers in this pic for artistic purposes.
Honestly, I don’t love Ocean (because sharks and fish), but when it’s hot and humid outside and you haven’t been swimming in three weeks, it feels pretty good to put on some jaunty European swim trunks and dip in water for a bit. We took our tour bus down to Kenting, which is a party destination on the southern coast of Taiwan. We swam in the evening and partied all night. It was trick.
#jaunty
#nightlife
Crowds block traffic because #nightlife.
So these were my some neat places places in Taiwan. I appreciated them.

Saucy pants

 

I learned how to make sauce from tomato paste when I was in the Russia. We only bought tomato paste, so I learned by ear how to mix the right amount of water and spices to make the perfect sauce. And this sauce is perfect. You start with a tiny can of tomato paste and end up with a whole ton of suited-to-you tomato sauce. Look at you, fancy pants.

Turn this …

 

… into food.

 

Ingredients

6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 cup water
A fistful of onion (about 1/4 of a large-ish onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 Tablespoon basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teapsoon pepper

Step 1: The onion

The top layer (or two) of an onion is papery — you don’t want that. Peel it off and throw it away. The layer beneath that is rubbery. You don’t want that either; throw it away. The layers beneath that should be crisp and easy to cut through: that’s what you want. (This may be “duh” to some of you, but having lived exclusively with guys for the past four years, I know that things like this aren’t always intuitive.)

Cut a quarter out of your onion and chop it into baby pieces (like, a quarter the size of a french fry or smaller). Throw it into a pan greased with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Heat it at low or medium heat. Cook until the onion pieces start to become transparent. You don’t want them to turn brown or crispy-looking.

I used red onions, butt it doesn’t matter.

Step 2: The sauce

While that’s cooking, y’all need to mizz your water with your tomato paste. Dump the insides of your can of tomato paste into a big-ish bowl. Once you did this, dump that 1 cup of warter on top. Mix with a fork (or hand) and you’ll get a saucy mizzture.
It looks like tomato poop lol.
Tomato diarrhea!

Step 3: Get the Spice Girls

Next, you’re gonna want to flavor your sauce. You can just pour the seasonings into the bowl with your tomato-paste-now-tomato-sauce.

1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder: Garlic powder is a necessary part of ANYTHING tasting good.

1/2 tablespoon of basil: A delicate herb; it’ll make the sauce taste fresh.

1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano: Given my extensive knowledge of Italian cooking, I can say that oregano is THE Italian spice. Your tomato sauce won’t taste like tomato sauce without it. Likewise, if you ever have a pizza that needs a pick-me-up, sprinkle some oregano on it.

1 teaspoon of salt: Not too much, but just the right amount will make all the other flavors come out (#everysundayschoollessonever).

1/4 teaspoon of pepper: Packs a punch that your sauce will be boring without.

Mixzz all the seasonings with your tomato sauce and stick your finger in it to see if it tastes how you want. #magic

Step 4: Mixzz

Pour your bowl of seasoned sauce into the pan of now-cooked onions and heat until the sauce is warm. Then put it on pasta and eat it.

Obviously, you can add anything to it that you want (like cooked ground beef or veggies).

And voila! You turned a tiny can of tomato paste into a panful of tomato sauce. That’s a big deal, saucy pants.