Mandy Uncensored: Happy 2nd Anniversary!

It’s been approximately two years since I created a blog under the alias “Wandering Mandy“.

I’ve never considered blogging before and kind of fell into it by accident – we were embarking upon an adventure of a lifetime (with no wifi) so I decided to bring along a traveller’s notebook that my husband had given me years ago. It still smelled of new leather and the pages were still crisp and white. As we journeyed to the summit of Kilimanjaro, I spent my early mornings and late nights jotting notes so that I could remember the details from this experience – the way the air felt, the look of the trees, my bodily responses to high altitude, my daily apprehensions, and so on. I wanted to capture it all without the tainted and bias influence of hindsight. Pure and raw emotions!

Upon returning home, I decided to create a blog so that I could share these stories with my family. I used it as a way of preserving my adventures so not only could I relive them but also in hopes that maybe one day, my children would take an interest in reading them. They could see me as something more than a parent, a provider, a maid, a taxi driver, a teacher, etc. But instead, as a woman who is strong yet vulnerable, adventurous yet careless, and brave yet naive. Someone who takes risks, listens to strangers, laughs, loves, and chases her dreams – despite how absurd they may seem. Someone who truly lives.

Once establishing a blog and receiving tremendous support from my family, I decided to branch out into social media. I hesitated at first. Would I be judged? Would people think it’s foolish? Would I be humble bragging? But then I realized that most people probably won’t even care let alone read it … BUT maybe it will reach someone who will really enjoy reading it. Maybe someone who is not as fortunate to have the same opportunities that I have will be able to share my adventures through my stories. Maybe I can bring them with me to share the breathlessness of high altitude, the excitement of going to a foreign land, and the triumph of reaching a summit!

So two years of hobby blogging later, I have a modest 728 Instagram followers, 134 Facebook followers, and 154 Blog followers. Since then, I have created 22 posts, have learned how to use WordPress, and continue to slowly improve my writing. I still go back and enjoy my older posts to relive the bone-chilling temperatures of Kilimanjaro or the smooth, warmth of the Sahara dessert and it still makes me smile.

All this to say, THANK YOU! Thank you ALL for your interest in my Facebook, Instagram, and Blog! Thank you ALL for taking that time to read my stories, to share your comments, and to support my hobby. I am truly grateful and motivated to continue to share my stories with those who are interested.

Life is such a beautiful adventure! Don’t be afraid to reach out, try something that you’ve always wanted to try, taste a new food, befriend a stranger, and put yourself out there.

“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams”

The Story Beyond the Picture: Diamond In The Rough

They say a picture is worth a thousand words – it can be a means of expression, a way of preserving a moment, a method of story-telling, and so on. However, sometimes we can’t truly appreciate a picture until we know the story behind it.

For this reason, I decided to create a subsection in my blog called, “The Story Behind the Picture”. Here, I will take some of my favorite travel pictures and turn them into short stories. These moments and interactions, for me, are what make traveling so enriching: they open your heart, broaden your mind, and ignite your soul.

Thanks for allowing me to share my stories with you! xo

Kathmandu, Nepal

She walks with such rigidity as she carries a bucket of candles throughout the Buddhist stupa. There’s something about her that instantly catches my eye. She’s clearly not a tourist; however, she’s also not like the other locals who come here to either pray or to desperately try to sell items to tourists. She humbly walks about the temple, past the shrines and prayer wheels, throwing grains for the pigeons. She has shiny, black hair which is slicked back into a partial pony tail. She dresses in multiple layers of tattered, worn clothing. She has a teal blue dress hidden under a pink cardigan and loose black and beige pants with geometrical patterns on them. Around her neck, she wears a couple of wooden Tibetan prayer beads, which coincides with her Bindi – a colored dot in the centre of her forehead.
I watch from afar as she reaches into her orange satchel, and, with her knobby, arthritic fingers, pulls out a banana to feed to a monkey. Properly named the Swayambhunath Stupa, it’s now more commonly referred to as the ‘Monkey Temple’ since this ancient place of worship is infested with monkeys … and likely because most of the tourists struggle to pronounce ‘Swayambhunath’.

Amongst the commotion of praying monks, begging children, and tourists snapping selfies, I remain captivated by this woman who continues on with her business paying no attention to anyone else. She shoos away greedy monkeys to feed the ones who didn’t receive a banana yet. I admire her sincere respect for all living beings. So zen. So pure. So selfless. Seemingly having so little, she still manages to give. She gives without asking for praise, recognition, or anything in return. She gives simply because she is truly a good person.

I notice a few candles fall out of her heaping bucket. I rush over and pick up the one which has rolled away and offer it back to her. As I smile and extend my hand out to return it to her – I can tell that she doesn’t speak a word of English. She looks at me with one lazy eye; her timeworn face crinkles as she returns the smile. Her eyes carry such wisdom and experience – I can’t help but wonder what those eyes have seen. She signals for me to keep it. She points to an area where locals are placing candles as offerings and chanting a Buddhist prayer. I listen to the low, humming of “om ah hum” – which I believe is a mantra to symbolize the body, speech, and mind.

Although appearing worn and tattered on the outside, this woman’s soul was absolutely radiant. She reminded me of the importance of humanity. Dalai Lama once said, love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. In a world divided between beliefs, religion, culture, nationality, language – we can still choose to make a connection with one another through the universal language of kindness.

Everest Base Camp: Flying to Lukla (part 1)

Absolute chaos plagues the Kathmandu airport as flights are cancelled and delayed. Our flight is scheduled to depart at 0830 hrs … which was one hour ago. Dinesh, our Intrepid guide, has honestly informed us that the weather in Lukla is not looking good for today. I can’t help but wonder how this is going to affect our trip. We’re currently on a tight schedule, requiring eight days to properly acclimatize during the 62 km ascent, leaving only four days to descend back to Lukla. If we’re bumped today, our group goes to the bottom of the list for tomorrow’s flights, which will make our chances of reaching Everest Base Camp even slimmer with every passing day.

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As I sit on the floor, leaned up against our group’s stack of red duffel bags, I stare at my surroundings in despair. The terminal is filled with a dense, frantic crowd consisting of various ages and ethnicities. From what I can decipher, there seem to be three main categories: travel groups, solo trekkers, and, mainly, local Nepalese people trying to get back to their home in the mountains.

I suddenly notice Dinesh tunneling his way through the crowd towards us. “Grab all of your stuff and follow me!!” Stunned, we do as he says. We pick up our bags and push our way through to a small, green kiosk which reads “Tara Air”. Dinesh instructs us to pass all of our bags forward. I feel slightly anxious, as this seems like a very time-sensitive task so I quickly start grabbing bags and throwing them forward without question. The man behind the kiosk begins tagging our duffel bags as he stacks them on the scale and weighs them collectively. Afterwards, he tosses them behind him and then quickly weighs and tags our backpacks and returns them to us. Once this is done, Dinesh hands us our boarding passes and leads us to the security, which is divided between men and women. We rush through security and enter into a calmer waiting area, which looks like a standard departure gate at an airport.

As our group sits, facing one another, I quietly stare at Dinesh, awaiting further instructions. He’s a tall, slim man, in about his late 20’s, with tan skin, a black goatee, and thick black hair, which is hidden under a flat-billed baseball cap. His hat is black and white with a patch which reads “Sun Bear Sunscreen. Seriously Protective” and there’s a picture of a bear – I’m quite captivated by this hat. His ears are both pieced, which seems to be a common style for Nepalese men, and he wears two rings on his right hand. He appears slightly anxious as he frequently checks his phone, which I’m assuming is to be able to anticipate three steps ahead. All of his belongings for the next two weeks are carried in a medium-sized, lime-green backpack, which is leaned up against his seat.

“Now boarding Flight TA 159” is announced over the intercom in broken English. I glance at my boarding pass … that’s us! We make our way to the gate, exit the building, and board a bus. As soon as the last person is seated, the bus takes off as if it has just stolen something. Confused that we’re heading in the opposite direction of the airport, I just quietly sit and stare out the window. We drive past by grounded aircrafts, military cargo planes, and helicopters, until we reach a vacant runway at the very end of the airport. Uh … now what? Dinesh notices the bewildered look on our faces and informs us that we’re waiting for our plane to land. I can feel that our group is becoming more relaxed – with every step forward we take, we become more confident that we’ll be able to depart to Lukla today.

After thirty minutes of watching the sky, a small plane comes into view and lands close to us with such finesse. It is nearly the same size as our bus. As soon as it’s stationary, it quickly refuels and reloads. Our bags are tossed into a small hatch in the back. Once given permission to board the plane, I walk up the five, flimsy steps and duck my head to get into the small doorway. To my surprise, the inside of the plane is lined with two rows of six seats along the windows. Wahoo! Window seats for everyone! As soon as we’re seated, a flight attendant makes her way up the narrow isle, which runs directly into the cockpit, and begins handing out mints and cotton balls. I’m unsure what the cotton balls are for until I see Sieu stuffing them into his ears. As the pilot fires up the engine, the smell of fumes fill this small vessel. I watch the pilot flick switches and push buttons as he runs through his safety checks. The flight attendant tries to give the emergency instructions over the deafening sound of the engine.

Less than ten minutes after boarding, the small plane bumps along the runway in preparation for takeoff. I begin doubting if the plane is even powerful enough to get us off the ground; however, like the physics-defying bumblebee, this plane, too, is somehow able to lift off and fly! A wave of giddiness overcomes me, in complete disbelief, that we’re actually going to Lukla as scheduled! Our biggest concern leading up to this trip was this flight. Lukla’s airport is notorious for being the most dangerous in the world due to its short runway and high altitude; therefore, it’s common to have flights cancelled. After a few days of repeated cancellations, some groups opt to hire a helicopter. If not, then an alternative route has to be decided.

I stare out the window, eager to get into the mountains and start our new adventure! Once we move away from the densely populated city of Kathmandu, which looks like a bowl of Lego pieces, we reach the vacant, outstretched mountains of the Himalayas. It’s a gloomy looking day, with thick grey and white rain-laden clouds draping over the peaks. Our plane occasionally jerks as it fights to resist the crosswinds. I occasionally spot a small villages in the most unthinkable locations with no road leading to or from. It’s only noticeable by its plantations, which pour down along the mountainside. I began dreaming about what life must be like for these people living in such a remote area…

My thoughts are interrupted by our plane taking a sudden and sharp turn to the left. I’m not sure what’s going on but I can see out the cockpit that we’re heading directly into the side of a mountain! Looking around for answers, there are none. As I anticipate a fiery crash, in what felt like the very last moment, the plane straightens out and tucks down unthinkably low into a hidden valley. Once stabilized, the fight attendant tells us one-by-one that we’re not able to land in Lukla, which is only 10 minutes away, and will instead be making an emergency stop. As we turn the bend of the mountain base, the 671 m long runway of Phaplu comes into view. As soon as the plane thumps down onto this short landing strip, the breaks jam on, and we’re all pulled forward from the sudden change in velocity.

***

Phaplu is an ‘off the beaten path’ village with a population of approximately 175 residents. The roads leading out of this village have been washed away by a landslide and it’s about a 3-4 day trek on foot to Lukla; therefore, our only option is to hope for a rescue tomorrow by plane. We carry our duffel bags down the middle of a narrow dirt road, dodging water buffalos, as we look for accommodations. The air is damp and cool. Ducks bathe in the mud puddles and chickens roam in a clueless manner. There are no other tourists in sight. The locals seem shy and modest, as they carry on with their business, manning their small shops and tending to their crops. I smile and greet them with a “Namaste” and they nod and return a sincere smile. The doors on most of the houses are open, with children running in and out freely.

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We stop in front of a building, with a sign which reads “Lodging and Fooding”. It looks like we’ve found everything that we need! As we entered the building, we follow Dinesh up the rickety, narrow stairs to the second floor. Nepal is known for their lodging consisting of tea houses, which have basic amenities; however, this one resembles more of a treehouse. We are given a room, as the remainder of the group proceeds to the third floor. Our room is small, lacking even a window. There are two, single beds laying perpendicular to one another, with just enough room to place our bags down. On the bed is a single pillow, with a worn, floral comforter. The paneling on the wall is varnished and seems to be lacking insulation by how easily the sound is carried from room to room. I plop down on the bed with an alarming thud. “Ouff … these mattresses are a lot thinner than they look!”, I say to Sieu, who is laying out his sleeping bag. Although the accommodations are simple, the hospitality is warm and welcoming – which is everything that I need!

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To Be Continued In…
Everest Base Camp: Flying to Lukla – Part 2

EBC, easy as 1-2-3…

This is a story of when I decided to trek to the Base Camp of Mount Everest with eight of my craziest friends. It’s kind of a difficult story to tell because it’s not really what you’d expect, but I’m going to tell it anyway…

I guess the best place to start this story is where my very first story left off – descending from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. I was sitting in the mess tent during our last night on the mountain, surrounded by my new friends and old ones. As we were all joking and reminiscing about our great adventure together, someone lobbed out the idea of trekking to Everest Base Camp. Two people eagerly jumped on the idea while the remainder of the group went silent. I shuddered at the idea of the frost gnawing at my nose while I squint into the blinding snowstorm, struggling to find our group. I shook this thought away as I leaned into Sieu and whispered “Yeaaaaaaaaaah … that’s a little too hardcore for us…”

Fast forward 18 months later and here I am looking for the gate to Kathmandu in the Istanbul airport. Somewhere in between that moment on the mountain and now, all nine of us impulsively booked this trip, no questions asked, when it went on sale. So, here we are, soon to be reuniting for the first time as old friends at the Moonlight Hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The reality of this trip still alludes me. I’m going through the usual motions that I do during all of our travels. I go through security. Roam the airport. Board the plane. Pick out a movie. Fall asleep. Wake up. Leave the plane. And repeat.

As I head towards gate D13, I feel as if I’m walking in slow motion against a blur of cell phones and business suits rushing by me. Everyone looks the same and pulls along that same rectangular carry on suitcase with the long handle and four-tiny wheels struggling to keep up. As I look around to find real signs of life, an image comes into focus. It’s two men, in their late-20’s, standing off to the side. They are casually dressed and are both wearing Osprey backpacks. One of them is bent down tying his hiking boot while they continue to engage in conversation. As I watch him tighten his laces, it’s like something finally clicked. It’s as if I finally woke up from this haze and realized what’s going on. I guess the best way to explain it is like being the last person to understand a joke: … waiiiiiiit a minute …. we are soon going to be in Kathmandu …. which is in Asia … and then we will be hiking for 12 days through the Himalayas to the Base Camp … of Mount Everest! My stomach fluttered with excitement. I walk over to them and lean in, a bit giddy, and say “Let me guess … you’re going to Kathmandu?” They both stop talking and look at me blankly. “Uh.. yeah…” one of them finally replies with a puzzled look on his face. “I can tell by your backpack!!!” I respond quickly, with a big goofy grin, as I point to mine and keep walking. Good job, Sherlock Holmes. I praise myself; however, they don’t seem as impressed with my deductive reasoning.

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As we reach our gate, it’s buzzing with eager travelers waiting to board their plane. I look around and see Osprey backpacks, Merrell hiking boots, and pants, which zip off into shorts! The girls have messy hair and their faces have been kissed by the elements of wind, sun, and cold. They don’t airbrush these flaws but instead, embrace them. Although I’ve never been here before, there’s a sense of familiarity in my surroundings. It’s like I stumbled upon an isolated pocket of misfits hidden in this hectic, polished airport and it’s exactly where I belong. Normally, I don’t always feel like I fit in, but here, I do. I am innately shy, which makes me quite socially awkward and a little bit weird. My social skills are slightly limited by my attention span and my interests are all over the place as a result of that. Here, I look around and see dreamers, explorers, and risk-takers who refuse to conform.

As we wait to board the plane, I begin feeling slightly apprehensive. Leading up to this point, I’ve had a false sense of certainty since my last hike to the summit of Kilimanjaro went so well; however, what exactly was it that made me successful? The training? Proper hydration? Taking Diamox? Or perhaps it was an absolute fluke?! I began realizing that I may not be able to replicate that same experience. This may actually be very challenging. My training and diet have suffered due to the reality of adult responsibilities but also due to the lack of motivation brought on by fear, as I had with Kilimanjaro. I am tired, dehydrated, and have never trekked for this long before. Also, we are only 10 kg of gear, which is 5 kg less than Kilimanjaro, yet the trip is double in length. Did I even choose the right gear to at least stay comfortable? As these questions fill my mind, I realize that it is too late now. In two days, we will begin our trek.

36 hours of transit later. 4 airports. 3 flights. 6 movies. Roughly 5 broken hours of sleep. And we land in Nepal. Let the adventure begin…

Mandy Uncensored: First World Problems

I’m starting a new section of my blog called “Mandy Uncensored”, which will consist of posts not directly related to travel. They will be more thoughts and opinion-based. Will I be brave enough to publish my inner thoughts, allowing them to be publicly judged or criticized? Honestly, I’m not sure … But if I am, I hope you enjoy it and may even draw some inspiration or motivation from it.

Thanks for reading!

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Have you ever came back from an incredible vacation only to find yourself feeling worse than before you left? You feel torn between what was and what is. You battle with the internal tug-of-war of being thrown back into the chaos of routine and responsibilities while your mind refuses to leave vacation. You return to your comfortable lifestyle surrounded by so much and yet, you feel so unfulfilled…

Why?

Upon a recent return from an amazing three weeks in Nepal, I’ve been trying to figure out what this emptiness is that has been debilitating me. Consequently, I even began questioning: who am I? What do I want to do with my life? What kind of person do I want to be? And what is it about travel that makes me feel so damn good and how can I integrate that into my day-to-day routine?

I began to realize that, for me, traveling allows me to be the best version of myself. While traveling, I feel released from my responsibilities, obligations, and chores and, instead, become preoccupied with immersing myself in a new culture and making real human connections. I set aside the trivialness of an idle mind, like questioning if I am good enough and if people like me and so on. During travel, I allow myself to let go because this new surrounding is out of my control. I have nothing to hold on to. I have nothing to prove. I don’t feel judged. And, while traveling, I have so little possessions to become possessed by. I become basic and simple – which is rather quite liberating.

So instead of waiting for my next adventure to let go and feel like I can breathe again, I’ve started questioning how can I learn to embrace my daily routine and stop taking life so seriously. And I’ve concluded that it’s centered around our values and priorities. One of those priorities, being yourself. We need to learn to love ourselves unconditionally for who we are and not what status we carry, how much we own, or who we are friends with. We need to stop measuring wealth by what we can hold, and stop defining love by what we are told so that we can learn to be happy with who we are and what we have. We need to stop assuming that possessions are a measurement of our success – because they are not. These are just things. And we need to stop waiting to be told that we are pretty to feel valued – because these are just words. And instead of counting the likes and seeking external gratifications, we should turn our focus inward. We should work towards freeing ourselves from the shackles of pride and humility and stop trying to sell ourselves in exchange for the approval of others. Focus on loving and accepting who you really are. Because, after all, if we can’t love ourselves – how do we expect others to?

Instead of continuing down this path of self-destruction with distorted values and personal criticism, we should just focus on being the best version of ourselves and accept that this IS enough. Be the person who YOU are happy to wake up to in the morning. Live by the values that YOU feel are acceptable. Be the parent, friend, or family member that YOU would want to be around. Stop buying wealth and chasing likes – instead, try chasing real-life experiences. Try being real. Being kind. Being sincere. Take the time to make real connections. Listen – like, really listen, to others. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. And not only speak with purpose and meaning but live with it. Look for the good in everyone – even if you have to squint to see it. Look for people’s strengths instead of their flaws – because, after all, their strengths do not weaken yours nor does their flaws erase yours.

Let go and just let life happen – because it will happen whether we try to control it or not. Let go of expectations. Let go of people’s approval. Let go of counting how many friends you have on social media. Let go of surrounding yourself with items that you think people will envy. Don’t become obsessed with the past or fixated on the future because now is the only time that really matters. Stop waiting for weekends, for vacations, for friends or for opportunities and start living life now.

Don’t only do what you love but learn to love what you do. Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself! Figure out what person you want to be and be that person. Decide what your personal version of happiness is and once you discover it, live on your own terms.

Be kind to yourself. Embrace your flaws, don’t criticize them. Follow your passion, despite how silly it may seem. And, most importantly, allow yourself to be happy – in doing so, you will be able to make those around you happy too.

HOW TO … Pack For Everest Base Camp!

You’re doing WHAT?!” Expect that reaction as you begin preparing for this adventure of a lifetime.

So, once you’re done questioning if this is a good idea or not (which it is … trust me!), you’ll need to begin planning what kind of gear you’re going to need to invest into. Here’s my guide to everything that you’ll need to stay comfortable (and happy) during your trek to Everest Base Camp.

This item list is solely based on my own research and guided by my own personal experience on what I used during our 12-day trek in September / October with Intrepid Tours. Keep in mind that the time of year in which you’re planning your trek will dictate the type of gear you’ll need – there is no bad weather, just bad gear so you want to be adequately prepared!

PACKING LIST

* = HIGHLY recommended
BAGS

  • 25 L Osprey Manta day bag
    • I have various Osprey backpacks. They are comfortable, adjustable, and most have great ventilation for your back. In my opinion, Osprey also has the comfiest waistbands (with pockets), allowing you to alternate the weight between your hips and shoulders.
    • These packs also come with a Camelbak hydration system.
      • Bring an extra bite valve, just in case!
  • * 75 L Marmot Long Hauler Duffel Bag *
    • I also have a 95 L North Face duffel bag – both are equally amazing!
    • This bag is versatile, durable, & waterproof!
    • Although it’s a bit heavier than some duffels, I would HIGHLY recommend it!
    • Since our maximum weight allotment was 10 kg, this bag was the ideal size for me during this trip. It fit all of my gear & sleeping bag perfectly.


HEADWEAR

  • * Buff *
    • Good for dust and also to prevent sunburns on the back of your neck.
    • Light, versatile … and looks cool!
  • Tilley Hat
  • Wool Toque
  • Sunglasses
    • I bought mountaineering glasses but just used my regular sunglasses (which were fine).
  • Earplugs
    • The tea houses can be quite noisy so these are very handy!


UPPER BODY

  • T-shirts x 4
    • Preferably merino wool – it’s breathable, soft, warm, and (most importantly) odor-resistant!
  • Long sleeve shirt
    • Icebreaker
  • Thermal top
    • Luckily, I didn’t need this.
  • Fleece top
  • Sweater
    • Columbia Omni-Heat
    • Used almost daily – love this product!
  • Rain Jacket
    • I used a standard Outdoor Research rain jacket, which was sprayed with silicone for extra rain repellent. It also doubled as a wind-breaker; however, it’s not as breathable as an actual shell.
  • Poncho
    • * Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Nano Poncho *
      • This is a great product which is ultralight & very compressible.
      • I stopped bringing a day bag cover and just used my poncho (if needed).
  • Insulated Jacket
    • Arc’teryx Beta SL Hybrid Jacket
      • A great overall jacket in the wind, rain, or snow. Comfortable, breathable, & warm. High neck for added warmth (didn’t need a scarf).
  • * Down Jacket *
    • I used Mountain Hard Wear but I would highly recommend ANY brand for a down jacket! It’s compressible & warm.
    • Worn daily.


HANDS

  • Thin gloves
    • Used often during the chilly mornings or evenings.
  • Insulated mittens
    • Never needed.


LOWER BODY

  • Thermal bottoms x 2
    • Used one pair solely for sleeping.
  • Fleece bottoms
    • Luckily, didn’t need them.
  • Hiking pants x 2
    • One is a prAna pair that zip off into shorts (my favorite!).
    • Other is a breathable and stretchy Arc’teryx pair.
  • Yoga Pants
    • Worn around the tea houses.
  • Rain pants
    • I used this both as wind and rain pants.
    • Also sprayed with silicone.
  • Gaiters
    • Louis Garneau
    • These are the only gaiters that I’ve ever used but they are durable, waterproof, and don’t slip.
    • Not needed during this trek.


FOOTWEAR

  • Hiking Shoes
    • The ongoing debate between hiking shoes vs. boots – I was very happy with my choice of shoes but I did see many trekkers favoring hiking boots. It really comes down to personal preference.
    • Find a brand that works for you and stick with it! My go-to is Salomon so I went with the Redwood 2 hiking shoe.
    • Bring an extra pair of insoles in case your shoes get wet.
  • * Crocs *
    • I never thought I would say this but, for me, this is a camping must!
    • Used around the tea houses; convenient, easy to slip on & lightweight.
  • Socks x 6
    • I love the Darn Tough or Smartwool brand.
    • I also brought a pair of Gortex socks since my shoes are not waterproof.


MISCELLANEOUS

  • Cell Phone
    • If you are willing to pay, most of the tea houses have wifi and charging stations.
    • Charger.
  • External battery
    • Great for recharging your electronics.
    • Downside though – it’s heavy!
  • GoPro
    • Charger.
    • Extra batteries.
  • Travel Notebook
    • Your days will blur together so this is great of keeping notes, such as your daily saturation levels, how you feel, exchange contact info, etc.
  • * Compression Sacks *
    • I used mine to divide my clothes (tops, bottoms, socks).
  • Hiking poles
    • Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Poles
    • These are ultralight & foldable.
    • I normally don’t hike with poles so I never used them but there are sections of the trail where they are very useful.
  • Gatorade Powder
    • Responsible tourism – you can buy water but it does create a lot of waste on the mountain; therefore, it’s recommended to use tap water and just purify your water. We used a steri-pen with additional chlorine tabs.
    • I prefer Gatorade to mask the taste of chlorine & replenish electrolytes.
  • Hot Paws
    • Never needed.
  • * Nalgene bottle *
    • HIGHLY recommended! At higher altitudes, I would put hot water in it to warm up my sleeping bag. With the screw-on top, you don’t have to worry about leaks.
    • This was also handy for sterilizing my water and then dumping it into my Camelbak.
  • Lock for duffel bag
  • Money
    • At the tea houses and along the trail, it’s preferred to use Nepalese Rupees.
    • Also for tipping porters & guides during the last night on the mountain – trust me, they deserve a good tip! You can tip in any currency but Rupees is easiest for them.
  • Tenacious Tape
  • Chlorine Tablets / Water Purification


SLEEPING GEAR

  • Therma Rest Oberon -18C Sleeping Bag
  • Inflatable pillow
    • Not needed. Rooms have a pillow and comforter.
  • Sleeping clothes
    • I brought an extra set of clothes just for sleeping. It was nice having something clean.
    • I also brought a onesie, if you noticed in my picture. Totally useless item but it was funny.


PERSONAL HYGIENE

  • Dry shampoo
  • Regular shampoo
    • If you want to pay, you can have access to a hot shower at some of the tea houses.
  • Hairbrush with extra hair elastics
  • Bar of soap
  • Baby wipes
  • Small travel towel
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Face cream
  • Baby powder
    • An awesome luxury item! I put this stuff everywhere!!!
  • Toilet paper ++
    • Optional: Kleenex
    • It can also be purchased along the way.
  • Lip balm
  • Eye drops
  • Hand sanitizer + +
  • Drier sheets
    • Stuff these in your bag to keep it smelling fresh.
  • Vaseline
    • I didn’t bring this but wish I had some for at night. The air is SO dry that your lips become chapped and your nose may also become raw from blowing it so much.


EDIBLES

  • Gum
  • Lozenges
  • Instant Coffee
    • You can buy tea or coffee at all of the tea houses.
    • I enjoy the Nescafe sachets so I would just order hot water and use these instead.


MEDICATIONS / FIRST AID

  • Advil
    • You will likely get a headache from the altitude.
    • It can also be used for muscle aches and pains. 12 days of trekking can be quite strenuous.
  • Diamox
    • Use at your discretion. We used it.
  • Melatonin
    • Helpful for combating jet lag.
  • Gravol
  • Imodium
  • Nasal Spray
    • I didn’t bring any but wish I had – a few of us spent a few days quite congested.
  • Dexamethason tablets
    • Just in case!
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics
    • This was a lifesaver for a few members of our group!
  • Sunscreen + +
  • Mole Skin (blisters)
  • Physio tape

Traveling on a budget? Check out http://www.thelasthunt.com for some great deals!

Still have questions or concerns? I’d love to help! Send me a message!

Happy Travels!

Salt Life in the FLORIDA KEYS

Date: July 13 – 20, 2019
Average temp: 34 – 36° Celsius

Island hopping in a convertible with the wind in your hair and Jimmy Buffet on the radio is the ultimate Florida Keys experience! We spent one week embracing the salt life while cruising the 204 km (127 miles) of narrow highways which connect the numerous tiny islands of Southern Florida, referred to as the Florida Keys.

This post is to share my experience and quick impression of the three regions of the Florida Keys: Key Largo, Islamorada, and Key West.

K E Y – L A R G O

Enjoy the relaxing Caribbean pace of Key Largo while you soak up the sun. This area is a paradise for those looking to enjoy the marine life under the sea and on your plate.

The sole purpose of our trip was for scuba diving so we contacted Rainbow Reef Dive Center in advance and they took care of all of the details for us. Despite spending five days with a constant dose of Bonine in our system, we completed our Advanced Dive Course along with four additional dives (I’ve never been seasick in my life but expect the unexpected when you’re out on the waters … unless you enjoy feeding the fish).

The bulk of our dives were spent exploring the French and Molasses Reef, where we saw an array of sea creatures ranging from nurse sharks, stingrays, giant groupers, eels, and an assortment of tropical fish. This area is a diver’s paradise because not only are there multiple dive sites, good visibility, and waters averaging 28°C (82°F) – there are also various dive shops and companies peppered along the main road passing through Key Largo.

This area is also known for its wreck dives, which I highly recommend if you’re a diver! We did an unforgettable dive to the USS Spiegel Grove – a frigate vessel that was intentionally sunk in 2002 in order to make an artificial reef. As you submerge yourself into the blue abyss, the silhouette of the eerie wreck eventually comes into view, with a decaying flag of the United States slowly waving in the water’s current. Due to its depth, you need your advanced diving certification for this dive.

As far as dining goes, it seems that you really can’t go wrong. With seafood on all of the menus, every restaurant we dined in was a mouthwatering sensation! One of my favorites was The Fisheries, where I enjoyed a lobster BLT with the tropical sounds of music played on a steel drum. It doesn’t get much better than that, right?

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~ I S L A M O R A D A ~

Deemed the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, you know what to expect when entering this region. Since we were just passing through, we focused on eating lunch rather than catching it. We stopped at the charming Midway Cafe to refuel on caffeine. From there, we roamed off the beaten path in search of the No Name Pub on the No Name Key island. To our surprise, we stumbled upon tiny deer roaming the neighborhoods like stray dogs. I was able to get up close and personal with these tame little critters as they came over to say hello (and probably to see if I had any food).

On our way back through this region, returning from Key West, we stopped to sample some of the local brew at the Florida Keys Brewing Co. and welcomed this opportunity to stroll through their eclectic beer gardens. For supper, we stuck around for a romantic evening at Chef Michael’s where we enjoyed … yep, you guessed it! More seafood!!!!

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K E Y – W E S T

As Jimmy Buffet would say, “Changes in latitude, changes in attitude”. Although Key West is elbow to elbow with other thirsty sunseekers, it is an experience like no other. I’m not going to lie, we did not take the time that this place deserves. Key West is known for its history, architecture, and nightlife.

As we explored the town on foot, stray chickens crossed the road for unknown reasons. We made our way to the southernmost point on the continent of the USA and snapped a quick selfie. Interestingly enough, this location is only 95 miles from Cuba! In search of a good meal, we zigzagged the streets until we settled on Bliss – which is exactly what it was. The food and service were superior. The owner claims that he makes the best sangria … and I’ll have to agree.

After our meal, we decided to continue our quest for the best key lime pie in the Florida Keys. Luckily, we found it hidden on a side street where the Employee of The Year is an overweight black and white cat napping in a box. Pepe’s served up a tart but sweet key lime pie the way your grandmother would have made it. The crust was flaky and the whipped cream was light. Satisfied and tired, we hopped on the Duval Loop, a free (air-conditioned!!!) bus that circles around the city, and called it a night.

The next morning we tested out the saying that “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere” by ordering margaritas at 11 am at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, which to our surprise the idling bartender did not judge us for.

After embracing an early morning buzz, we set our sail onward to find food. A wooden shack built around a food truck on the corner of the street caught our attention – Bo’s. Peeking in we could see a few occupants other than street chickens so we decided to give it a try. We ordered up a grouper sandwich with a lime-ade beverage and took a seat on an old picnic table next to a chicken waiting for some crumbs. The old wooden boards that were built around this food truck were decorated with license plates, buoys, and street signs. Our food was served hot and fresh to perfection! This diamond in the rough was a friendly reminder that you should never judge a book by its cover (but always have Imodium close by just in case).

With our bellies full and seeing everything that Key West had to offer for us during our brief visit, we packed up to return to Key Largo for our final dives.

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My Travel Recommendations…

So in a nutshell, my recommendations are:

  • If you are looking for unforgettable dives in turquoise waters, take the plunge in Key Largo.
  • If you want to catch your own supper, cast off in Islamorada.
  • If you are looking to drink, pour something tall and strong in Key West.

Enjoy your trip and if you have any comments or questions about your past or future trip to the Florida Keys, please share them in the comment box below or email me!

Happy Travels!