Lessons from the road

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We are huge fans of road trips. Not just those little four-hour jaunts up to a cozy hotel in a nearby town. Nay. The uncharted multi-day drives in an economy rental car stocked with munchies and energy drinks, that utilize a bit of ingenuity and a few extra bed sheets to transform the rental into a three-star motel on wheels, that is our kind of road trip. Driving your accommodation around grants you more freedom and a fuller wallet. Knowing exactly where you will sleep (the back seat) but not having a commitment on where geographically you will situate that spot, leaves the doors to adventure wide open. The thought that only a few destinations along your path have been decided, makes pulling out of the rental lot feel like a grand departure on a quest to discover new land.

While on Borneo we decide to take to the road again. We have no idea if/when our life will bring us back to this multi-national jungle filled island. Therefore we could not leave the little country of Brunei unexplored during this trip. With a five-day break from our volunteer jobs in Kutching we chose to embark on a jungle filled journey to the distant dry land. Loaded up into a Nissan X-Trail provided at a bargain by ‘Hornbill Tours and Car Rentals’, we set off late one day on what was to become a sweat-laden, 1,200 mile roundtrip journey through Sarawak and Brunei.

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Our late departure brought about two of the worst ideas we had during the trip. The first of which was Sugarbun. Sugarbun, for all those fortunate enough to be ignorant, is a Malaysian founded fast food restaurant serving a lineup of Western and Asian options. Out of convenience and an overall lack of knowledge we stopped in for dinner. Ordering from the menu we picked a hearty looking spicy chicken sandwich pictured with crispy lettuce and a plump fire-engine red slice of tomato as well as a cheeseburger modeled almost as pristine. Being from the states we are not oblivious to the magic of food advertising photography. Armed with our knowledge of such wizardry, we sat and waited for what we assumed would be a far less appealing meal, though we did hold a glimmer of hope in the back of our minds that in this foreign land we could be surprised by what we were about to be served. That little glimmer was quickly extinguished. After a short wait we were presented two cardboard boxes with our dinner inside. As we cracked open the containers we were met by a fast food disappointment of epic proportions. The chicken sandwich that had been featured with lettuce and tomato was void of both. That, however, was good news as the one “tomato” that lurked inside the “cheeseburger” was the consistency of wet bread and completely without color. In fact, both sandwiches looked as if they were white washed black and white images of really sad sandwiches. Both buns were flat and pale. The chicken and hamburger alike were flat with a miserable beige hue. The crowning achievement of this parvum opus was the sauce. Both offerings were swimming in a grotesque amount of white and yellow sugar sauce. We silently whipped away as much sauce as we could manage and choked down the color absent sandwiches. Vowing to starve before allowing ourselves to be fooled into another fast food trap.

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Our second mistake brought on by late travel was picking the wrong spot to pull over for the night. Sarawak (one of the two Malaysian states on Borneo, were most of this journey took place) is undergoing a monumental highway improvement.  This means that soon, the trip we just made will be far more comfortable to transverse. However, it meant for us that roughly 700Km (435 miles) of road we were to be traveling down was under construction, SIMUTANEOUSLY. Having most of our journey be over torn up pavement and gravel with a construction zone speed of 50klh (31mph) meant we were not going to make it to the city we thought we would on the first night.

As we began to get tired we started looking for a good place to park. Sarawak, from what we could tell, is void of rest stops. After an hour or so of searching we found a construction staging site off the side of the road that seemed it would do nicely. We nestled the car into a corner of the dirt lot and arranged our sleeping quarters. Just as sleep was about to wash over us we noticed a flash of blue from the front of the car. We sat up just in time to see Malaysian police tapping on the window. The language barrier was luckily not difficult to overcome. However, trying to explain to a native Malaysian why a person would choose to sleep in the back of a car rather than a hotel was a little harder. We decided to shirk the questioning by stating that we chose to sleep in that spot out of necessity of a tired driver. After a round of questioning and a search of the car by the officers that seemed eager to find foul play yet trusting, we were allowed to continue our journey. An hour further down the road we found an overnight parking lot for truckers. We pulled between two big rigs and passed out hard. The first morning on the road we woke up sweating and starving. We rose just enough to start the car and engage the AC. We lounged until it cooled enough to function and then we were on our way.

The rest of our trip went relatively smoothly. Our drive through countless palm fields, raised for palm oil production, sped up during daylight hours. With local cars zooming by us we quickly realized the construction zone speed limit is merely a suggestion that should only be loosely held to when near law enforcement. We enjoyed hiking through a few jungles and exploring the caves of Niah National Park, home of the oldest human remains (dating back 40,000+ years!).

The moral of the story is: Don’t set out late and in the dark on semi-aimless road trips in foreign countries. This lesson may come naturally to many people. On the other hand, I fear that we will end up being reminded of it down another road in another land.

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Trader’s Cave in Niah National Park

 

 

5 Things we learned visiting Beijing

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1.       The pollution struggle is real.

Our home states (Washington & Oregon) are currently being ravaged by fires. Before we left we joked about how odd it was to have worse air quality at home then where we were headed. We were wrong. I’m sure you, like us, have heard about the pollution being bad. Perhaps like us you did not grasp the extremes of that notion. The air in china is, quite literally, hard to swallow. It dulls out all the beauty of old china. It hurts your throat and makes your chest feel heavy. Spending a few hours outdoors within Beijing will make your eyes burn. Jordan spent a full night up coughing and is still, in the process of recovering.  

 2.       Crossing the road is terrifying*.

Drivers will not stop for you. The light might say it’s okay for pedestrians to cross but it is a false sense of security. Between the cars, bikes, mopeds and motorcycles, crossing the street is like playing a live version of frogger.

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3.       English text = expensive.

If you see a restaurant or café with English text on the sign or the menu the prices are sure to be outrageous. Our first night in Beijing we had a really delicious meal of noodles, soup, and beer. We had to point at a picture on the wall to order in attempt to bridge the language barrier. Our second night we dined at a restaurant with English text on the menu. We still had to point at pictures to order, though we at least knew what it was we were pointing at. At our second restaurant however, we choose to forgo the beer as a bottle of Budweiser** would have cost more than the total of our first meal. That trend held true throughout our trip.

 4.         The Great Wall is not a tourist trap!

Coming from the states we are well versed in the ratio of inflation: proximity to destination. A dive bar in a corner of Santa Ann, California will serve you a domestic beer** for $1-3. The same beer a little way away, inside the gates of Disney’s California Adventure, will cost you upwards of $12. With this knowledge, we chose to pack plenty of snacks and water with us while we scaled the mighty Mongol blockade. When we arrived to the wall we were shocked to see the cheapest price for a bottle of water we had seen yet. The food being sold was the same scenario. The snacks we packed with us were inconsequently cheaper than it would have been to purchase all the sustenance we required from venders at the wall.

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5.       “You should never go to Beijing” – Jordan

 Unless you value the history of China more than your health you should choose a different vacation destination. I am one to say, “everything is worth trying.” Though, in this case you should try everything else first. I always romanticize history. However, I don’t hold a love or interest for Chinese history more than my normal curiosity of every ancient society. That combined with bullet point #1 above made my time attempting to get closer to and to learn about China was the most unenjoyable history hunting I have ever done. Every glimmer of ancient China wore a dark cloud of smog that with every breath I took removed years from my lifespan. I know this sounds dramatic. It is dramatic. There are hotels near The Wall. Stay there. There are many small villages. Visit them. There are many ways of seeing China and much of its culture. I am simply suggesting that you take a route that does not lead your lungs through Beijing.

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*”Terrifying” is Kelsie’s way of explaining it. I (Jordan) find it to be exciting and productive. Why do we waste so much time in the States giving every pedestrian a quarter-mile buffer? During our stay in Beijing, I witnessed hundreds of cars passing pedestrians within a foot. I witnessed nobody being struck. I like those odds.
** Domestic beer was mentioned twice. I don’t think we have talked about such beer that much in the last year combined, whilst living in the micro brew capital of the US. Traveling got our pinky up brew game on the low. Lol 

Preface of adventure.

2017KelsieEngagement59Hello world! For those of you whom we have never had the pleasure of meeting, allow us  introduce ourselves. We are a couple from the Pacific Northwestern United States, Jordan & Kelsie Volker. We met in 2012 at Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington State, while Beck was on stage. Over the following three years we enjoyed a wonderful platonic friendship. Bonding over similar music tastes, style of humor, love of champagne and playful outlook on life. It was not until three years had passed and the stars aligned that we took a step towards what would be the largest adventure of our lives. In Fall 2015 we had our first proper date. Our date went so well that as we walked the streets of Portland Oregon together, multiple groups of strangers took notice of us and declared “You two are so cute together!” or inquired “Do you two have children? You would make the best children.” This was not a dying trend. It almost became a joke to us how often strangers would be struck by the energy radiating from us during our dates. It was hard to disagree with the sentiments of those around us as our conversations flowed perfectly and our laughter was abundant.

Two months later, Kelsie took a leap and moved 1300 miles south to San Diego, where Jordan was residing. Closing the geographical gap & allowing the relationship to take off. After twenty months of bliss and excitement, and while living aboard a work vessel off California’s Channel Islands,  Jordan broke a promise of never proposing to a woman prior to dating a full two years. Eagerly Kelsie accepted and we were to be wed.

The next eleven months lead up to last Friday (September 1st, 2017) when we were  married in front of friends and Family in Nehalem, Oregon. The day was truly cut out of a fairytale. Friends from all around came to help out & celebrate with us, and celebrate we did! We spent four days camping, dancing, drinking, and communing in a style that can only be described as magical.

As we write this post together we are sitting in Beijing, our first of many honeymoon destinations. Beijing is the kick off of what will be an eight month tour of the whole world. Not one continent will be missed.