Friday, September 30, 2011

Its been one year since you looked at me; Cocked your head to one side and said, "What the heck did you take on your trip?"

Today marks our one year anniversary on the road.  Three hundred and sixty five days ago we left 45 W 10th to board our flight to Santiago Chile.  Today, tens of thousands of miles later, we are in Berlin, Germany, and look back on an amazing year.  We've visited places we never thought we'd see in this lifetime.  We've had intentional adventures that we will never forget, and unintentional ones that will surely be just as prescient.  And we did it all each carrying one small bag and one small backpack.  So, you must be asking yourself, "what did you guys bring?"  You're thinking, "they always look so stylish, so fashionably dressed, yet they collectively have only 175 cubic liters of space!?!" You're thinking, "where are all of Jesse's shoes?"  And most pressingly, "how can I outfit myself for my next trip just like JDMesh"
Twinny Orange & Brown and
all our gear leaving New York
Twinny Brown and all our
gear atop Annapurna Circuit
Twinny Brown and all our gear
rolling through the Gobi desert
These are good, and common, questions we receive.  Here is a breakdown, along with our remarks, of the gear we took on our grand tour.  Its broken down into the following categories: Luggage; Clothing; Electronics; and Others.

Today's list: luggage.  Enjoy!

NOTE: If you are going to purchase any of these items, we’ve also included a link to our Amazon store, which means you pay the exact Amazon price (not a penny more), but Amazon shares a little, tiny bit of the purchase price with us (not enough for a latte in Berlin, but more than enough for a noodle soup in Thailand).  Its win-win.

Osprey Sojourn 25 Inch (AKA Twinny Orange and Twinny Brown).

This luggage has been exceptional.  Great zippers, weatherproof (not waterproof), and tough as nails.  The bag can roll (and it rolls really well) and can also turn into a full backpack.  And, in backpack mode, it's really comfortable, with a thick waist strap and complete adjustability. 
Osprey Kestrel 32 Mountaineering Backpack
This pack has been a workhorse.  Its thick waist strap (seatbelt) is about as ugly as you can get, but when it’s loaded down with all the electronics you can stuff in its 32L that added support is wonderful.  The only downside is that there are only two pockets – one really large one, and one small top pocket.

KIA - This pack was stolen was in UlaanBatar.  Boo.
Deuter 20 L Spider daypack
Jesse’s day bag is the perfect size for a day excursion.  It fits her big (but thin) MacBook in a protected computer area, along with our rain jackets, kindles, warm shirts, and a few other odds and ends.  Comfortable, with a good waist strap, this bag has performed quite admirably.  Purchased in South Africa, following the demise of her old highschool backpack.
This was the replacement bag I bought in the State Department Store in Mongolia.  I'd hoped that by buying a German import I could avoid any Mongolian type of problems with it.  Actually, not.  The bag broke within a few days of my purchasing it.  I blame Mongolia more than Tatonka, but still, a major disappointment.

KIA - the stitching holding together the straps (an important part of a backpack) broke on its third day of life.  After a week we discarded the whole thing.

Osprey Manta 25L backpack
The Osprey Manta is the replacement, replacement backpack.  And I love it.  He is just the right size, is super comfortable, and has a bunch of small exterior pockets that the Kestrel lacked.  Plus, in storm gray he is a lot less flashy than Tatonka's bright blueness.  I really, really like this pack.
eBags Packing Cubes
We bought a number of these 3-piece sets.  The large cube is great for pants and shirts, the smaller ones for unders, socks, or electronics.  Rather than dig through a stuffed bag, you can just grab the cube and place it right into the closet, drawer, or locker (hello hostels) and you are unpacked.  It also makes looking for that one item you packed in the big bag, but need right now much easier to find.  From now on we will always, ALWAYS, travel with packing cubes.  Can’t recommend these highly enough.
eBags Shoe Sleeves
These sleeves are the perfect spot for your dirty flip-flops or sneakers in your luggage.  A pair of women’s sneakers or flip-flops will fit into one sleeve; men’s shoes (well, large men’s shoes, like mine if you know what I'm saying...) each require their own sleeve.

NOTE: Jesse never had such a fancy pair of shoes in her shoe bag...
Ebags Portage Jr. Toiletry Kit
Jesse is the master of the toiletry bag (dop kit for some readers), but this guy holds everything.  And in those unfortunate circumstances where I’ve packed the toiletries, and there’s a spill, the separate compartments make it much easier for Jesse when she cleans it all up.
Flip & Tumble 24-7 Bag
This little guy comes in handy when we want a small, light bag.  It folds into a built-in stretchy pouch that is smaller than a tennis ball.
Victorinox travel wallet
The ballistic nylon and great zipper keep all our important travel documents in one safe place.  Interior zip pockets also allow us to keep extra cash or other important documents out of sight, but easily available. Our two passports each have their own spot, as do boarding passes, credit cards, and even baggage tags.

Next up: Our sweet threads (that means clothes).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Good Tourists and Good Guests in the Paxse Region

We ended our trip to Paxse just as it began, on an overnight bus. But before Mr. Viseth dropped us off at the bus station we had to check out some of the local attractions – waterfalls, cultural villages, and of course, one more market.
This morning market looked just as hygienic and appealing as the previous Paxse markets we'd encountered
The coffee here was as strong as ever. And when I asked for the breakfast blend, well, you can just imagine the response I got. But, the Lao people are so nice and accommodating; they basically made me a child’s coffee. Or in Argenina, a lagrima - a drop of coffee in a glass of sweetened condensed milk. Now that is something I could get used to (though I am not sure my pants could…).

Amped up from the caffeine we headed for the Tad Lo waterfalls. We hiked around, took the obligatory photos, and then, at 11:30 AM met a large group of Lao tourists who were starting off their day with two giant coolers of Beer Lao. And you know how much Lao people love Beer Lao. So much so that they insisted that we join the fun. As Mr. Viseth waited (thanks Viseth!) Jesse and I quickly succumbed to the peer pressure and shotgunned not one but two Beer Laos (“You from America? You like Beer Lao? Beer Lao number one beer!").

Fueled with both caffeine and alcohol we did some more Lao hiking (thankfully it was nothing like our northern Lao hike). At one point I saw a rickety ladder leading down a really steep slope that led directly to the top of the falls. A quick test of the sturdiness of the first rung assured me it could handle my weight, and so, I headed down. And then, about three quarters of the way down, with my foot rested on the rung below, I transferred my weight, and the rung totally broke. Uh oh. Delicately, (foolishly?) I continued to the bottom, got my photo, and then nimbly climbed back up. On my ascent I didn’t break a single rung. Which was good.
The sturdy bamboo ladder heading down to the rushing falls

The amazing photo I risked life and limb for.
Despite my breaking their ladder, I'd say we were both good tourists and good guests.
Finally, we checked out the cultural village (not really our thing), one more waterfall, and then headed to the local bus station for our overnight journey.
Jesse in a traditional raised Lao house
Sex trafficking is terrible and a growing problem in Lao.
Rights-LINK has a separate project dedicated to preventing this.
The local laws, however, are ludicrously lax. 
The penalty for offenders is payment of one cow, 3 months in jail and $375 USD.
Mr. Viseth poses with a fake elephant at the second waterfall site
This time we were booked on “King of Bus,” so we were pretty excited, but in fact, it was just like our other bus, and not nearly wide enough for two normal sized people. Oh well, at least it had a colorful and cheerful bathroom!
Oh yeah.  King of Bus.  My kind of bus.
Our "room" from the outside of the bus.
The new friends we made waiting for the bus.
Jesse taught them about the game fruit ninja and handed them the iPhone.
On their first try they dominated our high score.  They were ringers!  They all had their own iPhones!
They really enjoyed that.
Jesse cozies up in her bed. 
Little did she know (actually she well knew) that once I got in
she would lose about half the space she is occupying in this photo.
A row of sleeping berths on the King of Bus

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Work of Rights-LINK - The Villages of Salavan Province

 It was bright and early the next morning when Viseth picked us up to start our village visits.  And after a quick breakfast soup (what else? although I'm not complaining, I loooove soup for breakfast) we picked up our special guests - a district government employee and a provincial government employee.  You see, Dave and I were such important people (or untrustworthy people? suspicious people? or just plain American people?) that the government would only grant permission for us to visit the villages if we were accompanied by official minders. Of course, these minders spoke zero English, so we could spout all the subversive talk we wanted without fear.
A village lane
The first village we visited was, we were told, fairly prosperous.  Because they were located close to the main road, they enjoyed electricity and easy access to markets to sell their goods.  Viseth pointed out a well and a school that VFI had funded (unfortunately it was a public holiday so school was not in session and we couldn't visit).  Of course, we've heard a lot before about the benefits of having an accessible clean water source, but it really hits home when someone points to a well and says, "we built that. And now they [mostly girls and young women] don't have to walk a few kilometers every day to get water, and they can go to school instead."
This guy really, really wanted his photo taken.
The second village was more fun.  We were immediately tailed by a gaggle of local kids.  First they hid shyly behind a tree...
Then behind a post...
 Until we finally coaxed them out of hiding!
Dead serious
We met some super-cute babies...

We also met some super-cute baby animals!

Once we had all been introduced, it was time to get to work.  Rural Lao villagers process rice by hand, in a manner that we can only imagine has been in place for hundreds of years.
There's a pro in the kitchen.
Everyone chuckled when I stepped up the giant-mortar-and-pestle-type-device and clumsily attempted to husk rice.  I had my hands in the wrong place, my posture was all screwed up, my rhythm was off.  But when Dave asked for a try, the chuckling turned into hysterical laughter.  The kids, especially, were running around, pointing at Dave, and convulsing with hilarity.  This was women's work!!

Once the rice was fully husked (not by us), it was poured into a wide, shallow bamboo bowl and sorted by the women and girls.

It was an interesting day and visiting the villages brought to life the work that Rights-LINK is doing in Salavan Province.  We're so thankful to everyone at VFI for arranging our visit, and especially to Viseth for being such a good host and taking time out of his busy week to show us around.