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Monday, November 23, 2009

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

This morning we woke up really early to go to the floating market, which is about a two hour bus ride west of Bangkok. Floating markets used to be very popular in Thailand but not so much any more. We were told there are only a few true floating markets left, and many of them are for the tourists, to show them the old traditional ways of selling and buying fruits, vegetables, etc., from small boats. Along the river and the canals there are many old traditional Thai houses on stilts. The bus from Bangkok only cost us 140 baht round trip ($4.30). We “rented” a boat at one of the side canals for 400 baht, and we’re taken around the market for almost 1.5 hours. Some people have little shops set up along the river while others, mostly old ladies, sell fruit, vegetables, pad Thai, sticky rice, drinks, etc. from their own small boats and paddle up and down the market. Some of the boats even made soups and other noodle dishes and were like little restaurants, so cool! The market was pretty busy, and there were many traffic jams on the river! It is only open in the morning from 7-12pm, and we were there at the busiest time. It was a lot of fun floating down the market and trying to bargain from the boat. Some of the stuff was overpriced but then again it is a tourist hot spot. We had some great sticky rice and mango with coconut milk and I tried these little coconut pancakes served in a banana leaf.

Coconut pancakes 


After our boat ride was over we wondered around some of the shops and we also went to a coconut sugar plantation/factory. We tried this really sweet coconut and honey candy, which I now wish that I had bought to bring home for everyone else to try.

A man making coconut sugar candy and glaze at the plantation

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Kao San area and relaxing before going out and enjoying out last night in Bangkok. I had sticky rice and mango again for dinner, it is one of my favorite dishes I’ve had and I can’t wait to find the recipe and make it at home. I also had ‘street food’, chicken skewers, from one of the vendors on the road, and it was so delicious, and only cost 10 baht ($0.30)!

Katie and I decided to live it up and go all out to celebrate our last night in Bangkok and the end of our trip together. I am so jealous of her that she has another month of traveling left, I am now regretting not going to South America with her. We went out and met some really nice guys from Brazil and hung out with them at one of the street bars and we all went dancing together too! While we were at the street bar two little kids, an 11 year old girl and her 6 year old brother came up to us trying to sell us roses. There were about 20 little children that we saw going up to tourists in restaurants and bars trying to sell them roses and souvenirs. I couldn’t believe how young they are and that they are out so late!! But I do have to say they are very persuasive and would make great business people, its just too sad that they have to do this instead of sleeping and going to school. They all speak English and come up to you and put a 100 baht bill on the table and say things like lets thumb war, if you win you get the 100 baht if you lose you give me 100 baht and buy a rose. Or they would go up to the boys “pretty roses for your pretty roses”. They were very persistent and didn’t leave you alone until you bought something, and they almost always won the thumb wars! I know the money goes straight to their parents, but I also know they have to stay out and sell all their roses before going home, so I gave the little boy 100 baht and let him keep the rose - I had already been given two buy the boys anyways!

Later we happened to bump into Oliver and Marios, two guys we met in Phi Phi and hung out with them for the rest of the night. By the time we headed back to our hotel it was almost 3am, and there were still children out on the streets selling their roses! Most of the vendors were gone and the bars closed, but the few that were open were swamped with hungry drunk tourists.

Today unfortunately was our last day in Bangkok. We hung out with Oliver then Katie and I went to BKM shopping center. It is a huge mall with 5 or 6 floors with stores selling everything; perfume, name brand clothing, shoes, bags and fake stuff too. The best part about it is that even though they are sores you can still bargain the prices!

Now we are at our hostel packing up then meeting two of our friends for dinner before heading to the airport to begin our 28 hour trip back to Boston. I am now regretting my decision of not going on to South America with Katie. I am so jealous of her and that she still has one month left of traveling! This trip has been one of, if not the best, experiences of my life. It really has opened my eyes to so many things and I really learned a lot about myself too. I feel sorry for people who never get the opportunity to travel and see the world and experience different cultures. I might be behind some of my friends in terms of finding a job or not getting ahead in the real world, but I think I’ve gained so much more from traveling, experiencing new things, meeting new people and seeing with my own eyes everything the world has to offer. People have such preconceived notions of what other places and people are like and I’ve learned that many of them are not true, and there is much more out there to learn too. I came across this quote that I found quite interesting and strongly agree with:

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. And those who travel have only read the first sentence of every page.” I believe this is quiet true and some what saddening. It’s a shame you can’t meet all the people everywhere you go or see everything that one place has to offer, there is just not enough time or money for this!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A day in Bangkok with Air!

It was great seeing Air and spending the day with him! We met him this morning at 10 and he was a great tour guide! He showed us all around the city, answered all our questions and told us so many interesting things about Bangkok and Thailand that we would never have known if it wasn’t for him!
We went to the Grand Palace, again, and this time actually went inside! I had to wear a cardigan to cover my shoulders and borrow a long skirt because my shorts were too short! The Grand Palace is beautiful. It was built in 1782 and has a western/European style to it. It’s no longer the home of the King but it houses government offices, temples and a meeting hall where the King has conferences and meetings with World leaders. The grounds cover 218,000 square meters, surrounded by 4 walls. Inside there are also Temples and the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, where people and monks come to pray and show their respect. There is also a golden shrine where relics are kept, a miniature Angkor Wat, an many statues.

The entrance to the Grand Palace

Me & Air!

The Golden Shrine

Katie & I in front of a temple inside in the Grand Palace

A Temple Gaurd

After this we took a ferry boat for 3 baht and crossed the river, which took about 3 minutes. On the west side of the river is Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn). The Temple has the steepest stairs ever, but it was worth the climb because the views of the river and the city were spectacular.

Houses along the river

A view of Wat Arun from the boat

views from the top

After this we went back across the river and had lunch near Air’s university. I tried Air’s recommendation of stir fried cashew nuts with chicken, onion, dry chili and chili paste with soya and rice, for only 49 baht ($1.40)! He showed us his University and the building where all his classes are held. I was impressed with how modern the facilities and buildings were! Katie also got her fortune read, and she is going to be very successful by age 27!
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Weekend Market called Chatuchak Market. It’s even bigger than the night market last night. It was very overwhelming for me, especially in the heat. People had maps just so they could find their way around! I didn’t buy anything here, but I did get to try Thai ice cream that was served in a coconut shell with shaved coconut pieces, so I was happy with that one purchase!

We went to the hospital after this because Katie has a horrible rash on her back. This hospital visit went much quicker than mine in Patong, mostly due to the fact that we had Air there with us and he could translate for us!
For dinner we headed back over to the Kao San area and I tried a red curry dish with rice called Chicken Paneang. Even though I ordered it not spicy my mouth was still on fire! Thank god I did not order it spicy, as it is usually served. I guess the Thai people are just so used to all the spices here, seeing that they eat them from a very young age, and can handle it a lot better than I can. I can’t wait to go home and order Thai food again and see how it compares to the real Thai food! Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to Air after dinner because he had to go home. So Katie and I walked around Kao San road and did a little more shopping, naturally. We finally were able to haggle with someone and get dvd’s for 50 baht ($1.60)! Everyone is selling them for 100 baht ($3.30), and wouldn’t go lower than 60 baht. We had originally said no to this mans price of 55 baht and walked away. But minutes later, when we were half way down the street, he came running up to us and offered them at 50 baht each. We spent the rest of the night picking out dvd’s and testing them out to make sure they were good quality, which surprisingly most of them were, except some of the ones that ate still in the theaters and someone sat inside and recorded it with a video recorder. We still paid more than we did for the ones in Indonesia, which were about 80 cents each, but what can you do?


We are staying on Kao San Road, which is full of hostels and budget guesthouses for backpackers, as well as hundreds of street vendors selling everything from dvds, knockoff bags, clothes and even fake international I.D. Cards. There are dozens of massage parlors, bars and restaurants too.

Kao San Road

We had lunch at a little sidewalk restaurant. Vendors with push carts line the roads and sidewalks and set up little folding tables and chairs for people to eat at. The side walk literally becomes a restaurant. All the food is really cheap and delicious! I had a big plate of fried rice with cashews, chicken and pineapple for only 40 baht ($1.30). There’s even cheaper places too that sell sicken and pork skewers for 6 baht ($0.20).

Fine Dinning on the streets of Bangkok

All the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers park and hang out at the end of Kao San road, and nag every tourist as they walk by. One man was nice enough to help us find our hostel earlier and approached us again offering to give us an hour long tour and take us to a few of the major sites for only 40 baht ($1.30). So we decided why not. It was cheap enough and faster than walking. Well of course there was a catch, there’s always a catch. After seeing Wat Po, the famous big Buddha, 45 meter tall, he took us to silk factory and also to a jewelry/souvenir shop. He told us that if he takes us there he gets coupons for gas, and he gets double if we bought something, which we didn’t. The silk factory was pretty cool, and anyone can get custom made clothing, tailored to fit you perfectly! They had beautiful dresses and lots of suits, which I was debating on getting because I have such a hard time finding one in the US. But it was still quite expensive, 4,000-10,000 baht ($135-335). But they also had gorgeous wedding dresses for that price too! After this our tuk tuk driver brought us to the Grande Palace. In order to go inside you must have your arms and legs covered, no tank tops or skirts, not even capris! You could borrow clothes if you needed to, long pants for men and sarongs for women, of course they ran out when we got to the front of the line! We decided not to wait and we’d go back tomorrow with Air, who would be able to tell us more about the Grand Palace anyways. Well we couldn’t find out tuk-tuk driver anywhere outside where he had dropped us off, and after searching for him for 10 minutes we gave and walked back to the hostel, and we never ended up paying him either….at least he got his gas coupons!

Wat Po

Our view from the back of the tuk-tuk

Sometimes our driver would even drive on the wrong side of the road and if a bus or truck turned into the land and started coming at us, he would just swerve back into the line of traffic. Or they would weave in between the cars, the lines not meaning anything, and a few times I thought we were going to be sandwiched in between two cars. We took cornors pretty fast and I had to hold on for dear life. But I did feel safer than some of the taxi rides I've taken in the Philippines.

We haven’t had sushi in almost a week and we were craving it so we decided to check out an area called Little Tokyo. It is full of Japanese and sushi restaurants. All of them are way over priced, but we found one that wasn’t too expensive. Sushi doesn't seem to be too popular but that makes sense when you can buy a full meal of noodles or rice with beef/chicken/pork or vegetables for 25-60 baht and 2 pieces of salmon sushi cost 50 baht!

After the this we walked through Lumphini park and went to to the Suan Lam Night Market, The nigh market is huge and they sell maps just for the market because it’s that big! It was the typical market just like we saw in China and everywhere else, also a lot of the same stuff that the vendors on Kao San Road sell, but we bargained and got some great deals! I can’t tell you what I got or it will ruin the surprise!
Tomorrow we are meeting Air in the morning and he has offered to show us around and be our tour guide for the day!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Phi Phi Island

We left Phuket on Monday a little later than we planned to. We had orignally planned on taking the 9am ferry to Ko Phi Phi, but I woke up around 6am with a horrible sore throat, and we spent the morning at the Patong Hospital. The first time we went, around 7am, we were told to come back at 8:30 because the doctor’s weren’t in yet, not even one nurse in the entire hospital! So getting sick before 8:30am just can’t happen apparently! So at 8:30 we went back and two hours later I was diagnosed with tonsillitis! Fortunately the doctor spoke English and gave me some antibiotics and I am feeling much better already! 

We took the 2:30 ferry to Phi Phi, and thank god I slept for almost the whole two hour ride because we were on the smallest, rockiest ferry ride I’ve ever been on! At one point I thought we were going to tip over, the right side of the boat was almost completely straight up in the air and the windows on the left side were inches from the water!

With that said, Phi Phi is great! It is the most naturally beautiful island I’ve ever been on! The beaches are gorgeous, long white and sandy, and  surrounded by beautiful mountains, cliffs and caves! We are on Phi Phi Don, which is the largest and the only island that people live on. The tsunami destroyed 70% of the buildings on the island in 2004. Although the island is almost completely rebuilt, there are still a few areas of empty land with a few scattered palm trees and empty holes where trees once were. Most of the roads have been repaved, but not with tar. There are no cars on the island, just a few mopeds and bicycles. Phi Phi Don village is pretty small, and our hotel is located right in the center. Even though the “outskirts” are less than a 10 minute walk (if you walk slow). There are a few beaches on the island and we are less than a 5 minute walk to two of them.



The food here is great, some of the best fruit shakes I’ve ever had too! We found a little thai restaurant set back a little from the main streets that we love and have eaten at twice already! It is owned by a man names Samee (also called Mr.Soda). He is a tsunami survivor who lost everything and had been rescued from being buried 3 meters under rubble. He has signs up all around the restaurant thanking everyone who helped him during the tsunami and afterwards to open the restaurant. He is the nicest man and is s grateful for everything he has now. The food is excellent and very inexpensive and since we like it so much we figured we rather eat there than at other restaurants that could be equally as good but owned by foreigners or others who aren’t so grateful of their lives and thank all the customers for eating there! I had tom kha , a soup made with coconut milk, lemongrass, chicken and vegetables, with a side of rice for 100 baht ($3.33). It was both the biggest and most delicious bowl of soup I’ve ever had! It could have easily fed a family of 4, and I ate almost all of it, the broth felt especially good on my sore throat!

While Katie went scuba diving, I explored the island and read on the beach. Then we went on a long boat sunset tour of Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley. The long boats are wooden boats named for their propeller attached on a ten foot rudder-like thing in a car engine on the back of the boat. We shared the boat with 8 other people. We went to Monkey Island, Maya Beach (where the movie The Beach was filmed),  and to Viking caves, which looked like people had set up a ‘tree fort‘ and lived there. While we were at Maya Beach it started to downpour and we all got soaked. We waited out the storm for a while then headed back. The waves were huge and the sea was pretty rough. It was quite a scary ride back in such a small boat! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the sunset because of the storm. We went to dinner at a restaurant called Papaya, which came highly recommend by many people. It was delicious, I had a green curry chicken soup. Although it was delicious, I had the world’s worst stomach ache afterwards! So no more green curry for me!

Monkey Island

Phi Phi Ley

Maya Beach

Maya Bay

Viking Caves

Phi Phi is very different from Phuket. It is much much smaller, although its mostly all foreign tourists, it is not over crowded at all. There is no prostitution, just lots of scuba divers, families on vacation and other young backpackers.  The nightlife is also a lot different, and much more enjoyable. There are bars all along the beach and the beach becomes one big party later on at night. We went out with two German guys, Oliver and Marios, who we met at the beach earlier in the day and went to the beach for the fire dancing. They had guys dancing with fire sticks, fire limbo and jumping rope that was on fire. I wasn’t brave enough for that but I did jump through a ring of fire!

Fire Dancing

The Ring of Fire I jumped through

We spent our last afternoon on Phi Phi getting manicures and pedicures before heading back to Phuket Town. I’m sad to be leaving Phi Phi, it was so beautiful and relaxing. I also tried a mangosteen fruit, it was very sweet and tasted a little citrusy and like a peach.


A tip for anyone traveling to Phi Phi: You can book a hostel on hostel world before you arrive for pretty cheap, but I would recommend waiting until you get here. There are so many places to stay, and it’s easy to find a good clean room with A/C and hot water for as little as 600 baht/night for 2 people ($10 per person/night). If you don’t necessarily need A/C and/or hot water you can find a room for 200 baht/night for 2 people ($6.75).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elephant Trekking and Bamboo Rafting

Patong Beach, Phuket

So we got to Phuket Airport and of course the internet on my phone doesn’t work here, and therefore we didn’t have the address or phone number for our hostel. The tourist information agents at the airport were no help either, they’ve never heard of our hostel before, nor did they have a phone book. All we knew was that we were staying 2 blocks away from Patong Beach, on the western shore of Phuket Island. Anyways, an Australian woman overheard us and offered to share a taxi with her to Patong Beach, where she was staying and once we go there we could use the internet at her hotel and figure out where we were going. She was very nice but very strange. First off she had no luggage and she is here for 2 weeks. Secondly, why was she flying in from Malaysia if she was here for a dentist appointment from Australia? A layover maybe? Everything ended up working out just fine, her hotel is only a few blocks from ours. We finally go to our hostel a little after 10pm. We checked in, dropped off our backpacks and headed out for a night out on the town! I don’t think either of us have gotten ready that fast in our entire lives.

Our hostel is in a great location, 2 blocks from the beach and one block from the major night time hot spots. The street is blocked off to traffic at night and is full of hundreds of bars, restaurants and clubs. We knew Phuket is known as the prostitution capital of the world but we were still quite shocked to see hoe prevalent and how open it is here! They are not discrete about it, at all. Anyways, we found a place that doesn’t allow any of this to go on in their club and bar and hung out there for the night. The whole place was full of young non-thai tourists, just like us. There was also a beach party going on when we first arrived and we just caught the end of it and some famous DJ I’ve never heard of, David Morales, but apparently he’s a big deal.  The beach party was fun and people were lighting and setting off sky lanterns, just like I did on New Year’s Eve in Argentina a few years ago!

Sky Lanterns floating and lighting up the sky

Saturday we spent the day at the beach reading, relaxing and eating mango!

Today we went to Khao Lak tropical forest  National Park. We went bamboo rafting and elephant trekking. The little river we went down had some small rapids and I didn’t think we’d make it, but we did, we just got a little wet. Our tour guide liked to point everything out to us - frogs, fish, coconuts- and giant spiders, which I wish we hadn’t seen. I was freaked out by them and not to mention the two smaller ones that I found crawling on me!!

Me on the Bamboo Raft

Our elephant trek through the woods was quicker than I thought but I still enjoyed it! The only thing I didn’t like was how our guide treated the elephant. He had a wooded stick with a small axe on the end and a very sharp nail too and would hit the elephant or stick the nail into its head if it stopped to eat leaves or walked the wrong way. The way they treat animals here is very different and very sad.  Even the cows look under-nourished and too skinny like they aren’t being fed enough or taken care of right. I was disgusted by the way the guide treated the elephant, and it’s probably a good thing he didn’t speak English or I would have yelled at him!

Katie & I riding an elephant

I even got to feed him bananas

After this we went to a Royal Navy Battle Ship site and saw a boat that had been anchored at the beach when the tsunami hit but is now 2km away in a field, in the exact same spot it was found after the tsunami. We saw so many pictures of the tsunami and the damage but they cleaned up and rebuilt fast and if you didn’t know, you would have no idea the whole island had been devastated by a tsunami 5 years ago.

We had lunch at a Thai seafood restaurant on the beach. We had Shrimp and fish coconut milk soup, cashew chicken and chicken with chili. All so good! We spent a little time at the beach there then went to a turtle farm, where they call clown fish nemos, and then to a cashew factory. It was more of a store where we could sample different types of cashews - honeyed, salted, chocolate covered, sesame brittle - and dried fruit too! They even had cashew soda, which is one of the strangest things I’ve ever tried.

Rubber trees are everywhere here and we saw a few rubber tree tapings. Our tour guide also told us that in Thailand the people use bio-diesel, which is 5% palm oil (from a palm tree) and this is why gas is so much cheaper here. I found this festinating and such a smart idea! And it made me think, why doesn’t America do something like this???

Ruber Tapping

Tonight we celebrated our 1 month of traveling together and went out for Mexican food and Margaritas. Then we went shopping and walked around for a while. Tomorrow morning we are off to Kho Phi Phi Island for a few days!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A 33 hour stop over in Kuala Lumpur

After less than 3 hours of sleep the night before, we woke up at 4:30 so we could make it to the airport on time for our 6am flight to Malaysia. What were we thinking booking a flight that early?! Luckily I slept from the minute we took off to the minute we landed.  After dropping our stuff off at the airport and planning out our day we headed to the Petronas Twin Towers, the 451.9 meter tall buildings, the world‘s tallest freestanding twin towers.(Used to be the world’s tallest towers until 2004 when one was built in Taipei.) In the basement between the two towers is a huge mall, of course we should have known. So we stopped and grabbed a bite to eat. When we got to the towers we were told that the tickets for the day were sold out! We were so bummed. We were informed that the tickets usually sell out by 9 or 10 am and we’d have to come back tomorrow morning at 8am to try again. Unfortunately we never made it up to the 41st floor of the towers where the sky bridge is located, and where you can see views of the whole city.  SO we just went outside and took some pictures of the towers instead. The architecture of the buildings is festinating, its made of all stainless steel and glass and shines.

Katie Standing in front of the Towers.

We walked to the KL Tower after this, but didn’t go up that one either, I think we’ve climbed enough towers on our trip!

Then is started to rain, both of us were without raincoats and umbrellas. I didn’t even bring a raincoat on the trip so good thing this is only the second time it has rained on us in 4 weeks. We went to Merdeka Square (Independence Square).  It’s a big field used for cricket games and ceremonies. The Sultan Abdul Samad building is across the street from the park. It was built for the Sultan at the time and I feel like I am in Saudi Arabia just looking at it! There is also a tudor-style building on the other side of the square, I’m not sure what it is but it is the only European building I’ve seen in the whole city and it looks out of place. The Jamek Mosque is right near the square too, we saw it but didn’t go inside. Many of the Mosques don’t allow non-Muslims to enter, and most that do have designated times that we can.

Merdeka Square & the Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Kuala Lumpur is not a very big city and it’s pretty easy to walk everywhere, which is a nice change. We walked over to Central Market, near Chinatown and our hostel. We found a fish spa there so we did that for 10 minutes and it only cost us 5 ringgit ($1.50). I saw this on Oprah once and we’ve seen it all over Asia. The fish are called ‘doctor fish’, and they eat the dead skin off of peoples feet. They are toothless so it didn’t hurt. Some nibbled harder than others though and I’m pretty sure they have to have at least one small tooth! And some just tickled! They also say that it helps with blood circulation, which I hope is true and would be great if it worked for me!

Katie and I at the fish spa with our feet in a tub full of hundreds of doctor fish!

We ventured out in the rain to find a place for dinner and drinks. Kuala Lumpur isn’t a very lively city, but we found a good place to eat dinner and hang out for a while. Since we only had one night I had to order some type of traditional Malaysian dish, so I ordered one not having any idea what I was going to get, I only remembered reading that rending and sambal are traditional dishes. When I got my food I was served rice with 3 slices of cucumber, chicken rending (chicken or mutton, I’m actually not sure, cooked in coconut milk with ginger, lemon grass, chilies, tamarind and tumeric), dried fish pieces, and vegetable and fish and squid sambal (a chili paste that is very spicy). I really liked the chicken vegetables and squid. The dried fish smelt awful and tasted even worse! It was the same type of dried fish that we saw all over China, gross!

Left to Right: Cucumbers, Chicken Rendang, Vegetable Sambal, Fish Sambal, Dried fish peices

We called it an early night because we were both exhausted from getting up at 4am that morning. I fell asleep right away and slept for over 10 hours, it felt great!

This morning we went to the Batu Caves, which are about 8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. We were told the bus ride there was only 45 minutes. But there was so much traffic that it ended up taking almost 1.5 hours to get there. We climbed the 272 steps up the limestone hill and went into the caves. They are about 100 meters above the ground and 400 million years old! Inside there are many temples and temple caves.

Katie and I at the bottom of the stairs in front of the 130 feet high statue of Lord Muruga, a Hindu deity

Inside the Caves

A temple inside the Cave

For the rest of the afternoon we walked around Petaling Street in Chinatown, which is full of shops and hawker stalls trying to sell you fake bags and clothes, I felt like I was in China again! There are so many fresh fruit stands here with exotic fruits, I love it! When I was in Costa Rica 6 years ago I had a fruit called rambutan and I have never seen it since. Well it is all over Indonesia and Malaysia! I was so excited to finally find it again.

So we bought some and I made Katie try it too. She’s not as adventurous as I am when it comes to trying new foods, but I’m trying really hard to get her to try at least one new thing in each country and most of the time she likes it! We had to head to the airport after this to catch our flight to Thailand. I had read that dried fruit is really popular here but I barely saw any. So when we got to the airport and there was a store full of every dried fruit you can imagine, I was excited! We were allowed to sample and taste as many as we wanted. I tried dried mango and a bunch of fruits I’d never heard of before. We even tried dried rose petals!

Now we are off to Thailand for our last 10 days of the trip. Thailand will be my 25th country visited! I had a goal to travel to at least 25 countries and all 7 continents before I turned 25. So I’m really excited that I’m actually able to do it, I just have to get to Antarctica in the next 3 years!