Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 Year In Review

New Years in Organ 2012
So I hate when people write those letter about all the amazing things they have done throughout the year and send it to you in the mail with a Christmas card. So I apologize in advance for this.

I started this year off working at an an amazing lab called JBEI (Joint BioEnergy Institute) which researched biofuel. I had amazing and very smart colleagues. I had just finished applying to medical school and was preparing for a trip around the world. It was a very exciting time.

Friends in Lima
In February I boarded a plane to Peru, which was a mess in itself (note to self, never open the emergency doors in the plane before take off). I remember seeing Peru for the first time from the plane window. It was night and the lights spread in every direction. I was so nervous when I got off the plane, I felt like I forgot my Spanish, I had no phone, and I was not sure what was in store for me.

Peru had its ups and downs, I enjoyed Lima, loved the night life and met some really awesome people. Its amazing to wake up everyday without any set plans, and just go with the flow. Huacachina, a oasis in the middle of huge sand dunes, on the other hand was all bad luck. First I fell hard when sand boarding, thought I broke my hip, had that X-rayed and I was fine. Then I decided to go and get Salmonella at a Chinese restaurant. That was the worst, after a couple day of constant sickness (wont go into details) the friends who I just met dragged me to the hospital, where I was treated with Ciprofloxacin (love this stuff, saved my life in India too) and saline drip. I made a full recovery in a couple days and continued on my journey. This experience taught me how amazing people are for taking the time to help a fellow traveler in times of need.

Enjoying ice cream with family in Valparaiso, Chile
I crossed the Peru-Chile boarder and headed down to Santiago, which was a very long trip on multiple buses through endless desert. Chile was very special for me, my mom was born and raised there before moving to the US. I was able to see many of the places my mom spoke about in stories. Santiago was hot, but there was so much to do. I met up with a guy I had met in the north of Chile and another who I had met in Peru. Its amazing how many people you meet in the hostels.

Pucon, Chile
I then headed to Valparaiso, the city my mom was born in. I stayed with my amazing aunt and visited a bunch of family. I met with my mom's best friend when she was growing up. I let them Skype and for the first time in 30years two good friends were able to reunite. I hiked the cerros, ate huge copas of ice cream, tried marisco (seafood) empanadas and shopped my little heart out.

With Beata, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
I continued to Pucon, this is adventure capital of Chile. Set in the lake district, its mountainous terrain with beautiful lakes, waterfalls and rivers. Here I white watered a IV + rapid, zip-lined through the trees, and climbed a huge volcano (one of the hardest and scariest climbs to this date).

I took a bus to Puerto Montt where I boarded a plane to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. What a change from 100F weather in Santiago to freezing in Patagonia. Here I set off with a Hungarian friend Beata to hike the "W" trail. It was amazing despite the one day of pouring rain. The views were breathtaking, huge glaciers miles long, beautiful mountains and lakes, and huge rock pillars turned red by the rising sun. I finished out my stay in Patagonia with a horseback ride through the mountains around Punta Arenas.

Machu Picchu with Sol
I flew back up to northern chile, having a wonderful overnight stay in the Santiago airport. I crossed the boarder back to Peru to set off on my next journey to Machu Picchu. I took the Jungle Tour, which included mountain biking, zip-lining, dancing and hiking to the magical Machu Picchu. The long steps up to the famous Inca ruins were well worth the views. I sat down with Sol, from Argentina, to have lunch looking down at the ruins. It was hands down one of the most amazing lunches, not the food but the views. After heading back to Cuzco and saying goodbye to my group I headed back to Lima to fly back to the US for a quick one week break.

With Mudit at the Taj
After seeing family and friends for a week I boarded another plane to Mumbai, India. At first India scared me but by the end I did not want to leave. Mumbai was a bustling city, trash everywhere, cows on the road, rickshaws whizzing only inches from you, and smog was thick in the air. As a Westerner I was constantly hassled by beggars, shop keepers, taxi drivers, hotel promoters, and young India men.

I hopped on a train to Delhi to see my friend. It was a relief to meet someone that could introduce me to the culture and the craziness. Mudit my friend in Delhi showed me the sights of Delhi and surrounding area, including the Taj Mahal. We headed up to Rishikesh, yogi capital, for some white water rafting and bungee jumping.

Witht he Goyals at the Golden Temple
Next I jumped back on a train to see my friend Garima's family in Muktsar, Punjab. It was amazing staying with the Goyal family. They prepared me amazing food, we prayed at temples and gurdwaras, we watched the boarder closing between Pakistan and India. We stopped at local side of the road eateries, which consisted of wooden shacks and a plethora of fried goodies. 

I then headed back to Delhi to jump on a plane to Kathmandu, Nepal. I wandered the city of Kathmandu, the largest metropolitan city of Nepal, watching out for monkeys who steal your stuff and dogs that will attack you when the sun goes down. I headed to Chitwan National Park in the south where I rode elephants, walked through the jungle, and saw Rhinos. It was amazing to bathe with the elephants. They would spray us with water and allow us to lie on them as they were cleaned. 

Throng La Pass with Sigita
I then headed to Pokhara to prepare to hike the Annapurna Circuit, the main reason I came to Nepal. Here I set off with Sigita, from Lithuania, on a 120km two week climb through the Himalayas. The views were amazing, and the trek was hard. We climbed up to the highest lake in the world (4,949m/ 16,236 ft) and crossed over Throng La Pass at 5,400m (17,700ft). The views out my window where some of the best I have ever woken up to.

Hunder, Nubra Valley, with Sangi
After my trek I headed back to Delhi and from there flew with a group of friends to Leh, Kashmir. Luckily I had already been to high altitudes just day before so I had a high red blood cell count and did well in Leh. We rented motorocycles and took a trip through the high altitude desert to visit a couple monasteries. The next day we hopped in a jeep to visit Pangong Lake, one of the bluest lake I have seen, which boarders India and Tibet. We then headed to Nubra valley over a pass of 5,602m (18,379ft). We visited monasteries and rode high altitude camels.

We then took the famous Leh-Manali highway, crossing many passes (17,400ft), streams, narrow roads, surrounded by snow covered peaks and cliffs. Halfway we stayed in a small tent surrounded by huge mountains. We lived off of Maggi, Indian version of Top Ramen and Mangos.

We arrived in Manali, where I decided to stay to do some extreme sports, well that didn't go as planned, the second day I got sick and spent the rest of my time in Manali recuperating. It was still very beautiful.

Wedding in Varanasi
I headed back to Delhi to meet Mudit. We jumped on a train to Varanasi for his cousins wedding. It was a beautiful experience. I participated in prayers, painted my feet, slept out on the roof with the family. At the wedding we danced the night away while eating amazing food. Indian weddings start at night and last until the morning. When it finally ended with an emotional goodbye to the bride, we headed to bed. Varanasi was amazing, Indian's say that this holy city is not in this world, and it sometimes feels like this. The river is filled with people bathing, praying, giving offerings and sending away the dead. At night bells ring and chanting fills the air during the nightly Aarti celebration.

From Varanasi I traveled to Kolkata, here I volunteered for the Mother Theresa House, with disabled children. I headed into the Sunderban jungle for a jungle tour in the hope to see a Tiger. Although no Tigers were seen we enjoyed our leisurely stay on the boat. I was even allowed to drive the huge boat through the narrow channels of the Sunderban jungle. 

Spinning the prayer wheel in Darjeeling
From Kolkata I headed up in train to Darjeeling. The town of Darjeeling is surrounded by rolling mountains covered with tea plantations. The buildings were perched upon the hills small pathways intertwined among the houses, fog rolling in through the plantations, giving it an mysterious feel. The monasteries were brightly colored and offered a serine place to meditate. Although the toy train broke down the jeep ride back gave spectacular views. 

When I was back in Kolkata I boarded a train to Puri, the place of Lord Jagannath's birth right in the middle of the Ratha Yatra (Jagannath festival). The streets were filled with people coming to worship the lord of the universe. As the monsoons poured over the city I migrated with thousands of Indians to pay my respects and learn about the culture. Huddling under a small tarp trying to escape from the pouring rain, I met a woman from England who happened to be staying at the same hotel. We ran out into the rain to see Jagannath one last time and find a rickshaw back to our hotel. We were soaking wet, but it was a great adventure. I took a day off from all the madness and floated around in the hotel pool and read. I learned that, even though there is so much to do when traveling, that on long trips its good to just take a break.

Shooting balloons on the beach in Chinnai
From Puri I headed to Chennai in the south, to meet my friend. From Chennai we took a road trip to Mahabalipuram to visit the ancient stone temples built in 700-728 AD. We took a swim in the Bay of Bengal, in Chennai we had food and played some fair like games on the beach. We then headed to a movie to finish off the night. I learned in Chennai that I had gotten into medical school, I was excited and nervous to start a new chapter of my life.

From Chennai I boarded a train to Kochi on the west side of South India. From Kochi I visited Alleppey to board a houseboat into the backwaters. A group I met there invited me onto the largest houseboat (7 bed rooms) in Alleppy and we enjoyed a night of dancing, eating and swimming.

From Alleppy I took a bus to Munnar (which is a 7hr bus ride, but it only costs $2), this is the Darjeeling of South India. I hired a rickshaw to go see the local sights, it was nice to enjoy the rolling hills in an open rickshaw. I ate at this wonderful South Indian hole in the wall restaurant, I filled myself on 40 cent dosas. I headed back to Kochi to catch my last train to Pune.

House boating in the backwaters of Alleppy
I haven't said how much I loved the trains. I almost always took 3AC (third class AC) and a couple times Sleeper Class, (lowest tier sleeper car). The trains are amazing, they go almost everywhere and run often. They serve food, which is good and cheap, make sure to take fork if you don't like eating with your hand. I always tried to get the upper berth, which allowed you some privacy from the people constantly walking down the hallway. I locked my bag under the seats and would sit next to the window to read, enjoy the breeze and most of all the views. Every 30 mins a chai seller would come by with a cup of chai tea for 5 rupees (10 cents). Chai + good book + a great view is so relaxing, no matter how crazy the world is around you.

I spent the last couple of days in Pune with my friend Sangi. I spent the time shopping the amazing bazaars of India. I bought so much that I needed to buy an extra duffel bag. I went with Sangi and her coworkers to plant trees in the hills of Pune. Mudit came down from Delhi and we all went dancing. I finally headed out to Mumbai to catch a plane back to the US. It was hard leaving India.

G Lounge in Philly
With only a two week break, I packed all my belonging and crossed the country with my dad to start medical school on the east coast. Its almost like traveling again, I have enjoyed that last couple of months exploring the East Coast. I was even visited by Sol, my friend from Argentina, who I met on the trip to Machu Picchu.

Medical school is though, but rewarding. I was able to visit San Diego for a conference. I recently turned in my application for a summer program in Ecuador, I am really hoping that I get in, I would love the opportunity to once again travel and serve people with the skills I have acquired.

For Christmas I went back to California to visit my family and friends. Its crazy to think that this year I have not spent much time in California, my home. I would have to say that this year has been one of the most amazing years of my life.

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