Carmo Ruins and Cemiterio dos Prazeres

The sun came back for part of this week, so we headed downhill to the Carmo Ruins and Archaeological Museum. The Church of Santa Maria do Carmo was partially destroyed in the 1755 Lison earthquake but the main pillars and arches managed to stay upright as the rest of the church collapsed around them. A reconstruction was begun but halted in the 1830s. The ruins have since become a memorial to the victims and a reminder of the destructive earthquake.

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The Church’s remaining arches, a newer statue, front of the church where the rose window was.

The remaining structure is stark; backed by bright blue sky it makes for beautiful photographs that doesn’t do the height of it justice. I’m not sure there are too many ways to take an uninteresting picture inside.

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Sarcophagus in the library and the side arches.

There is a small archaeological museum in the partially reconstructed chapels at the front of the church, it features arrowheads and ancient pottery all the way through a couple of royal tombs from the 1700s. In addition to old and rare books, the library has two Peruvian mummies and an Egyptian sarcophagus that is showing its age.

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The Carmo ruins.

Keeping with the general theme of mortality, I also visited the Cemiterio dos Prazeres. It is almost a literal city of the dead; unlike most cemeteries I’ve seen, many graves here are above ground and housed in family tombs.

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A particularly house-looking tomb, firefighter’s memorial, one of the cemetery’s streets.

Each tomb is unique, but the structures often follow a similar pattern: there are one or two tiers of shelves for coffins, sometimes a small altar in the middle of the back wall; a front door of decorative wrought iron keeps out unwanted visitors. Many doors have glass behind the metalwork and those without curtains reveal the wooden or stone coffins inside, often covered in lace shrouds.

Purchasing a plot here isn’t forever; after a certain amount of unpaid rent, the tomb is considered abandoned and the bodies moved elsewhere. The building that housed the caskets is then demolished and a new one built to the new residents’ specifications. I walked by a few stacks of concrete slabs waiting to be removed and a couple of new tombs under construction and being touched up by stone masons.

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Memorials and tombs around the cemetery.

Many feature unique artwork – crosses, angels, ensigns, or images of the Virgin Mary. It seems to be just fine to outdo your neighboring graves and some of the newer buildings feature stained glass and Greek columns.

Another feature of the cemetery is territorial feral cats. I don’t know what secrets they were guarding because I wasn’t going to venture past them and end up with another animal bite. One is enough for this trip! Maybe there is something to the tradition that cats tend to be harbingers of bad luck or spirits.

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Castelo de Sao Jorge

The Lisbon region has at least a dozen castles and palaces, an embarrassment of riches compared to the lack of such structures in the US, but not surprising for a capital city that was the seat of a monarchy for centuries. So far, though, it has been a rainy week and we’ve only made it to the Castelo de Sao Jorge and walked by the Belem National Palace, which is now the residence of the President of the Republic.

The Castelo overlooks Lisbon from one of the seven central hills and the upper ramparts have great views of the Tagus River and red-tiled roofs. Church domes and spires stand out over their surroundings and are useful points of navigation among the shorter buildings on narrow, winding streets.

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Looking northeast from the Castle walls, the Church of Sao Vicente of Fora, the ramparts.

Though much of the castle has been reconstructed during the last century, there are plenty walls that have been left half-repaired to fuel the imagination. And, of course, the castle accoutrements of a moat, drawbridge, murder holes, slit windows for shooting arrows, and crenellations evoke storybook medieval sieges and armored knights.

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View to the southwest toward the river and the ruined Carmo Monastery, steps down to a watchtower, crumbled walls.

A small museum contains items found during archeological digs inside the walls like glass wear, jars, and plates. Some are dated to the destruction of Lisbon during the 1755 earthquake and bear blackened edges – traces of the fires that engulfed the city. Good to know that we left the earthquake dangers in the Pacific Northwest for a city that is just as prone to sudden destruction…

 

Belem!

We’ve been in Lisbon for almost a week and love it here – the hills, food, beer, and wine give it a Seattle-like feel, though with cobbled streets and Portugal’s famous tiled buildings. Fortunately we were here for the first Sunday of the month, when many museums are free. We spent all day sightseeing in the Belem district along the waterfront of the Tagus River.

First up was Belem Tower, a fortification built in the early 1500s to protect Lisbon from enemy ships sailing up the Tagus River. There was a long enough line that we waited for about an hour to enter, but no admission fee will do that! Prison cells in the basement were tiny enough that we could only stand in the middle of the rooms and would have been horribly cold and damp for anyone kept there. Though it was defensive, the tower was too delicately ornamented to look imposing, even with the main floor’s cannon battery. The view from the tallest level of the tower looks out across the river and the 25 de Abril Bridge – which looks like the Golden Gate’s twin, and the Cristo Rei statue – which looks like the Christ the Redeemer statue’s little brother. Closer to the tower is park space that had lots of soccer games and picnics taking place.

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Monument to the Discoveries, Belem Tower, Portuguese egg tarts from Pasteis de Belem.

Down the waterfront is the massive Monument to the Discoveries celebrating the role the Portuguese played in the Age of Exploration. Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan are included, as are a host of other captains, missionaries, cartographers, and kings. The biggest names rang a bell, but the rest did not; our history classes only covered the most famous explorers and were a long time ago.

A block inland from the waterfront is the Jeronimos Monastery, my favorite stop of the day. Taking over a century to construct, it was funded by taxes on profits pouring in from Portuguese trade routes. The interior cloisters are every bit as ornate as I’d want; arches ringed the interior, each one uniquely carved to showcase the power of the Portuguese empire, nautical symbols, or floral motifs. Even crowds of people didn’t detract from the stunning calm the architecture creates – I’d move in tomorrow if they’d let me. The interior of the connected church was one of high vaulted ceilings held up by a spiderweb of stone. Like most European churches, it is impossible to be inside and not spend much of the time gaping upward.

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Jeronimos Monastery

Fortunately for us and our hungry stomachs, one of the most well-known pastry shops in Portugal is just a few steps away from the Monastery. Portuguese egg tarts are said to have originated at the Pasteis de Belem shop, and the bakery make a convincing case that they are the best in the world as well. We managed to keep our consumption to four tarts between us; they came still warm and with portable packets of cinnamon and icing sugar. Light flaky crust surrounds a flan-like filling that tastes a little eggy. I could eat them for every meal and, judging by the line at the shop, others can too.

One happy coincidence is that this is the period of Carnaval leading up to Ash Wednesday. In Portugal, kids are encouraged to dress up for several days beforehand and we saw lots of adorable princesses and superheros wandering the streets with their parents, as well as one intense Darth Vader.

Filled up on calories, we spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering through the National Archeological Museum and the Maritime Museum. There was a decent assortment of Roman and Egyptian artifacts, mosaics, and tombstones; even a couple of Egyptian mummies with carefully painted and hieroglyphed sarcophagi. A Treasure Room showcased centuries of jewelry, some of which is clearly inspiration to more modern designers – layered bangles and delicate gold chains never go out of style.

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Inside the monastery’s church, an altar taken along by Vasco de Gama’s expedition, interior of one of the royal yachts.

The Maritime Museum was a tribute to a nation that prides itself on its history of seafaring. It included hundreds of model ships (several kids were geeking out), real ships, cannons, maps, and navigational equipment. Old globes and maps are my favorite – some cartographers were good guessers, while others completely missed the size and general outline of, say, India, or the fact that California was not an island. It’s a good thing we have maps on our phones now… I completely underestimated the distance to get to the museums even after looking up directions. I can’t imagine trying to navigate to a city using a map that may or may not include all the continents, much less any sort of true-to-life distance measure.

We pretty much museumed ourselves out for the next few days, so on schedule this week is wine tasting, eating more pastries, wandering down more narrow, winding streets. We still aren’t used to the ‘chilly’ weather, though it is warmer here than in Seattle. At least the early spring climate gives us an excuse to wear all the clothes we brought along so we don’t feel like we are lugging around useless items.

 

 

Last Hours in Penang

We spent our last day in Penang making sure we left with a vivid final impression. The Dhamikarama Burmese Temple and Wat Chaiya Mangalaram Thai Buddhist Temple were on our list, as was another visit to the Kapital Keling Mosque, this time during visiting hours rather than Friday afternoon prayers.

Like other Buddhist temples, the Dhamikarama Temple has many buildings and altars scattered around the grounds, and the far corners of the complex were relatively tourist-free. We wandered to a bell tower in the back, and climbed up four floors in order to get a view of the temple and the new glass-and-metal high rises going up around it. We were the only ones there and admired the carved marble reliefs showing sacred Buddhist sites from around the world. We also tried our hand at tossing coins into alms bowls circling above a pond, but had no luck.

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Temple roofline; bell carriers; statue of Garuda, the mythical King of the Birds

The main hall was the tour group stop, and its towering Buddha statue was the center of attention. It was surrounded by some of the most detailed carving we’ve seen so far – what looked to be a fine lace mesh hanging around the walls was actually hundreds of wooden panels fit together to look like cascades of foliage. It must have taken years to create and assemble. Behind the main Buddha was a row of statues of revered monks, each representing a country with a major Buddhist populations, and all life sized.

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Standing Buddha, a row of honored Buddhist monks, seated Buddha in another hall.

Directly across the street from the Burmese Temple was the vibrantly decorated Wat Chaiya Mangalaram, a Thai temple that looked similar to the ones we grew familiar with in Chiang Mai. This temple is famous for its reclining Buddha statute; at over 100 feet long it is one of the largest in the world.

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Wat entrance, a statue of a monk covered in offerings of gilding gold, the reclining Buddha.

Outside, the nagas protecting the front of the temple are covered in glass mosaic tiles and were my favorite so far because of their bright, jeweled colors. Other guardian statues stood near the entrances and several side pagodas held altars to various deities. Incense, flower garlands, and bright fabrics seemed to be common offerings.

Nearby was a mee goring stand that had the most delicious tofu we’ve ever tasted… and more of the famous Penang white coffee with ice.

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Nagas outside the Wat, other temple guardians, altars from some of the other buildings at the temple.

Our last stop for the day was the Kapital Keling Mosque. We arrived as the mosque itself was closing for prayers, so we spent a few minutes in the Islamic Outreach Center located in the minaret. We came back after 2 p.m. to see the interior of the mosque itself. I donned a robe to cover my hair and bare arms. Modesty works both ways though – Kevin also was given a wrap since he was only wearing shorts and men need to have their legs covered to their ankles in order to enter. The mosque itself was peaceful and quiet, just a few people were finishing their prayers and greeting one another.

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Kapitan Keling Mosque and its minaret.

The Islamic influence in Penang is something I didn’t touch on yet, in part because the island is so diverse. However, Malaysia is officially an Islamic country, so there were a few interesting things we noted. For example, shopping centers and large attractions have prayers rooms for Muslims to use if they happen to be there at one of the five times each day the call to prayer is given. From our apartment, we could hear both mosques in our neighborhood broadcasting the call to prayer from their PA systems.

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Placards for the prayer rooms at Fort Cornwallis, sign pointing to Mecca in our apartment, the Non-halal section at Tesco, sinks for washing at a hawker stall.

Consuming pork and alcohol is forbidden in Islam, but stores still carry those items to cater to other segments of the population. The beer/wine/hard liquor was in its own corner or room in the store, so it was still easier to get than in some US states. Pork was also in the same section or its own room, usually with “BACON” emblazoned prominently above the door. Washing is a must before eating, so restaurants and areas with hawker stalls have sinks readily available out in the open. I got the sense this was also part of the local secular culture – napkins were few and far between.

Malaysia was such an interesting mix of influences that I can’t wait to go back. We were told multiple times that we should see Kuala Lumpur in all its crazy-traffic, delicious-food, impressive-building glory. As long as air conditioning is part of that, I agree.


 

We’ve already made our 24-hour trek to Lisbon, Portugal. Our first flights on Malaysia Airlines, which booked us on an earlier flight after we arrived at the Penang Airport early, and on British Airways, which has those fancy new Boeing Dreamliners, were uneventful except for a mad dash of a transfer at Heathrow. (Does anyone else get the feeling that a transfer from one gate to another that requires walking, a tram, more walking, a bus, even more walking down back-hallway looking corridors, going up escalators, meandering through another maze of corridors, passing through security – which we had already done once at Penang and once at Kuala Lumpur – and then a mad dash from security to the gate… literally as the gate is closing… is badly misplaced British humor?)

Lisbon feels like half a world away from Malaysia, and reminds us a lot of Italy so far. We’ll have to get used to driving on the right again, and 60 degrees does seem rather cold. Still, time to explore a new corner of the world and Europe!

 

 

 

Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si

Renovations work on the Penang Hill funicular was finally complete and the weather was super nice, so we managed (after only three weeks here!) to make it to one of the main tourist attractions on the Island. Hiking up was an option, but 90 degrees is not ideal outdoor exertion weather, and the tram has tempting a/c. After a steep and slightly bouncy ride to the top, the cable car dumped us right at the viewing deck. A jutting platform gives near 180 degree views of the east side of Penang Island – all the way from the airport to the mainland north of Georgetown. Views are breathtaking – Georgetown below, blue ocean, and mainland stretching to distant hills as the view fades. Highrises nestle right up to jungle-covered hills and then the forest takes over without visible interruption.

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The view toward the bridges and our suburb of Gelugor, a watchful monkey, looking toward the coastal plains on the mainland.

I made the mistake of not looking both ways for monkeys and, while admiring the view, one came up on the railing and made a convincing show of batting my face out of the way. The first I knew of it was its paw coming at me. I jumped back, as did the girl next to me, screaming in fright. I mean, they are small and fuzzy and cute, but they also tear apart metal pop cans with a single paw and then stick their faces right past the jagged metal edges to lap up the remaining residue. Clearly the monkeys have cushy lives – they have no problem flipping open trash cans for leftovers and harassing passers-by for a snack.

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Long-tailed macaque snacking, the steep ascent, enjoying the view, the funicular tram car.

Penang Hill was built as a Hill Station where Georgetown elite escaped the worst of the heat – some individuals are lucky enough to still live there. Since it was a neighborhood, places of worship were built at the top. A Buddhist temple and mosque stand right next to each other; nearby is the more recent tourist-trap addition of an Owl Museum and food court with a fence full of love locks atop it. This tribute to affection might hold up better than the famous one in Paris – the locking loop is metal, but the pink hearts are lightweight plastic. We sprung for fried rice and laksa but no lock.

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Decorations on the Hindu temple, the mosque, and a fence full of love locks all on Penang Hill.

The Friday afternoon curse of the unavailable Uber struck right as we got back to the base of the hill and were trying to get to the Kek Lok Si temple. It was only a couple kilometers away, so we braved the heat and walked. Thankfully juice and water are sold in stands around the temple, and the neighborhood below it has the usual assortment of small convenience stores and drink stalls. In some areas Penang has great sidewalks, in others, like the way to the temple, we dodge moving traffic while weaving around cars parked along the edge of the road. Fortunately Chiang Mai taught us well.

The temple is not just a single building, but a sprawling complex that takes over a large portion of the hillside. Supposed to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, it is still being added to. Temple buildings form something of a maze, and I could have wandered around for hours. While we are going to miss Chinese New Year – it is February 8th and we fly out the 2nd – the temple was already heavily decorated with lanterns.

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The sprawling temple complex.

The first temple’s interior walls were covered floor to ceiling with thousands Buddha statuettes, and the frescoed ceiling showed a pantheon of deities. A wishing tree near the back was heavy with colored ribbons; we added one of our own. Just outside the main doors, dozens of candles and incense sticks were lit and more were for sale.

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A small portion of the Buddha-covered wall in the first temple, candle offerings, and lots of paper lanterns for New Year celebrations.

Wandering around the buildings, we saw smaller side temples containing offerings of incense,flowers, fruit, and even fish to be freed in the temple’s ponds – we hope. Monks chanted afternoon prayers. We took the second funicular of the day – a new record! –  to the statue of Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. The 99-foot tall statue and her pagoda tower over the rest of the site. We were there just as everything was closing for the day, so the crowds had already dispersed and it was very peaceful.

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Kuan Yin, bags of teeny fish, one of many altars.

As I post this, we only have about two days left on the ground in Malaysia. I’ll be sad to be leaving the vibrant culture and delectable food, not to mention the cheap cost of living, but it will be exciting to move on to our third stop. Even with more than three weeks under our belts here, Penang continues to tempt us with new things!

Thaipusam

Over the weekend we attended Thaipusam. We didn’t know anything about it in advance other than a couple Uber drivers had mentioned it to us as an Indian festival that we had to see. As we found out afterward, it is a Hindu commemoration of the Lord Murugan receiving the Vel spear (representing knowledge and wisdom) which he used to slay evil. As we found out while we were there, it was an unforgettable experience that is the most memorable thing we’ve seen so far on our trip.

Georgetown’s large Indian population makes it one of the largest Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia with tens of thousands of attendees. On our way to be dropped off, crowds were forming blocks away. We got out of the car at the start of the closed street, and were instantly on sensory overload. Heavily-beated Indian music was pouring from massive speakers. Bright colors were everywhere – clothes, altars, highly decorated tents. Free lunches were being handed out in booths and at temples up and down the street, and the air smelled of delicious curries and vegetables. People were everywhere, some as participants and others to see the spectacle.

In Penang, the center of activity is the Waterfall Hill Temple, where a statue of Lord Murugan is brought the day before in a long procession. On the day of Thaipusam, devotees carrying kavadi walk and dance their way down the street and then climb the 500+ steps to the temple – all in blazing tropical sun & heat.

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A little hard to make out, the the top left is one of the metal altars being carried by a man about to start up the temple steps; two of the altars set up along the route.

We learned later that are many types of personal offerings and rites associated with Thaipusam, and each one has deep meaning. People may decide to go through with their offerings as a way to further their spiritual growth, as thanks for answered prayers, or to fulfill a vow.

Many shave their heads as a sacrifice and as a reminder to not let ego control their lives. Some devotees also bear some type of kavadi (burden) to the temple. We were awed by the physicality involved on the day of the celebration, even more when we discovered this is a culmination of a 48-day preparation time. During the lead-up participants, eat only vegetarian meals, fast the day before, practice celibacy, and strive keep actions pure and God foremost in their thoughts.

The most basic kavadi is carrying paal kudam – pots of milk symbolizing purity – the length of the route and up the temple stairs where the milk will be poured over the statue of Lord Murugan. We passed by dozens of people carrying the silver urns on their heads; many were wearing yellow and had yellow flowers. They all looked calm and their concentration seemed to be on making it to the temple amid all the heat and humidity.

Others carry tall, elaborately carved altars over their heads. Some are made of painted and decorated styrofoam and others of metal leaves adorned with peacock feathers. In either case, the altar is balanced on the shoulders and tied to a waist belt for stability. Stopping to dance en route, the journey to the temple can take hours. We also saw dozens of these – some of the styrofoam altars were shaped into peacocks or had dolphins, shrimp, or mice. Each was painted or decorated with feathers, bells, or ribbons, and some had milk offerings balanced precariously on top.

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Two men carrying portable altars – the silver jars are attached to hooks run through their skin.

More extreme is bodily piercing and skewering. While not quite as common as the first two, the numbers of people doing this shocked me. Thin spears, representations of the Vel, are run through the cheeks, tongue, or lips. Hooks bearing fruit or small pots of milk are attached to all sides of the torso, arms, and legs. There might be only a handful of pots; others had more than 100 hooked to their body. I can’t imagine what that would weigh, or how long it would take to prepare.

Occasionally, two lines of hooks were run down the back and tied to ropes held by a friend; the bearers leans forward, straining against the piercings during the journey. We even witnessed four men, with double rows of hooks down their backs, roped to a wagon topped with decorated horses and statues. They were slowly pulling the entire float down the length of the street, surrounded by crowds of onlookers.

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Look closely – two rows of hooks allow him – and several others – to pull the float.

Drummers accompanied those bearing altars or who are pierced, and loud music was piped through speakers all along the route. Kavadi-bearers often stopped to dance in the street – barefoot on burning pavement. Occasionally, someone was standing with a hose to cool and clean the pavement as a way to show their support. Each kavadi was accompanied by friends there to make sure the altars stayed balanced and carrying chairs so they could rest as the journey progressed. Finally reaching the stairs to the temple, the goal seemed to be to run up as fast as possible. It is a blend of solitary pilgrimage and group effort – the person making the journey was aware they were not alone, even though they were experiencing it on a far more intense level.

Food and drinks are served to all comers as a form of charity and a way of giving thanks to God; by feeding others you are feeding God. Along the route, temples and businesses set up booths that give away free meals and drinks – we saw Bosch, the Penang Airport, Intel, local doctors, and the police (who had an especially long line). We were pointed into a temple by a couple who was leaving. I suppose we looked confused on whether or not we were allowed to go in! They insisted the food was great and that we should just get in line. We did, and it was: yellow curried rice with sweet peppered mangoes, and a couple of kinds of veggies and sauce on top. It reminds me of Easter brunch at church, everyone is welcome and seated at communal tables in the back hall once you go through the meal line. Eating is done with your fingers. Drinks are thankfully served along the street all day -we needed as many as we could get in the tropical temps. We even got a take-away meal box as we were leaving the festival to have for supper.

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Meal at the temple, and the front of a booth serving hundreds of meals.

The atmosphere reminded me of a mix of religious procession, concert, county fair, and family picnic. Even though the main focus was on spiritual growth and making offerings to Lord Murugan, this blends seamlessly with stalls selling snacks, fabric, and jewelry, and what is obviously a time for people to come together.

Families are dressed in their best saris and tunics – absolutely beautiful clothes featuring incredible beading and lacework, often with intricate gold jewelry and strings of yellow flowers. In quieter corners, like down the street at the Botanic Gardens, picnics are going on. Everyone is incredibly friendly – people would come up and ask us where we were from and how we were enjoying Thaipusam.

Our photos are not that great, in part because it feels rude to me to photograph people who are on a spiritual journey. In any case, pictures are never going to capture the character of the celebration, the constant barrage of colors and noise and food, the fact that every second is something new to see and hear. I’ve never witnessed such a blend of the spiritual with the everyday or seen such enthusiastic devotion.

Trip Prep

Warning: Lots of words, no pictures…

We’ve been asked quite a bit about the steps we took before we left the States for a year of travel; this post covers the large items from our checklist. We spread out tasks as much as we could and managed to cover a lot of ground in the few months before starting our trip.

The most difficult part was the decision to move away from the comfortable, (relatively) predictable life we led in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is a great place to be in all seasons, and there was lots of good food, hiking less than an hour away, an ocean, local wine, and lots of career opportunities for both of us. Traveling the world for a year meant giving that up in exchange for the unknown, both on the road and upon our return. We both love to travel, and every trip always felt as though it ended too soon and should have been the start of something grander.

The catalyst ended up being notice that my own job was gong to come to and end as the company I worked for downsized. It didn’t hurt that the lease on our apartment was gong to be up at about the same time, and Kevin’s desire to work for himself meant we could live anywhere with reliable internet.

We were never big spenders, and we worked to pay off our student loan debt as quickly as possible. Saving was also constantly on our mind as we had been building a reserve to provide Kevin freedom to go indie (the cost of living is so high in Seattle that even with me working full time, we would still need to dip into savings each month). The money we had saved to that end would go further abroad.

As anyone who lives in Seattle – or who wants to live there but has had to settle for suburbs – knows, it is a pricy city, especially where housing is concerned. Even a brief look at our budget and some comparisons for cities around the world proved to us that it would be cheaper to live elsewhere, even while moving each month. Of course, we had to rule out some big destinations like London, Paris, New Zealand, and Australia, where prices vastly outpaced our budget, but aside from a few exceptions, the decision to live abroad would give us a longer runway while allowing Kevin to work and both of us to experience new cultures and places on a frequent basis.

My job wound down, and we began taking steps toward the possibility of living abroad long-term. Everything we did and the amount of money we spent was relatively small until about a 6 weeks before we left; if something drastically changed we could have called the entire trip off and only been out a few hundred dollars. But then we bought airfare and booked apartments, gave final notice on our lease, and started telling family and friends – we were committed to at least a couple months of travel.

When we saw our potential plans included places where tropical diseases were a concern, we set up appointments at a travel clinic to decide which precautionary vaccinations we would need. We didn’t know which countries we would be visiting, so we played it safe and asked for almost everything that was available. That meant boosters for tetanus, polio, and Hepatitis A & B. It also meant prophylactic shots for Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, and rabies as well as the oral typhoid vaccine. The cost of all the injections was more than $2,000 per person; thankfully our insurance covered all of those as preventative care! We were also given prescriptions for a high-powered antibiotic cream and antibiotics to use in case of wildly upset stomachs. Since the rabies shots have already come in handy for me, I’m going to applaud my own decision to get better at dealing with needles. I also got my vision checked and a new prescription ordered.

As you might guess, the internet is a sea of inspiration (some good, some awfully outdated), and stacks of travel books from the library didn’t hurt our state of mind either. While it is fun to pretend we were going to go everywhere, the world is too big and our budget too small for that. We settled for finding places we would want to call home a month at a time; cities that provided easy means of transit, good food, cultural variety, and were still relatively cheap. Since we book a few months out, this process will be ongoing.

We set up a mail forwarding service and began changing the addresses on our accounts with plenty of time to spare. We now have the option to have our mail stored until our return, scanned to us, or shredded (even 7,900 miles away, sending junk mail to its doom gives me a sensation of glee).

In our previous travels, we noticed foreign transaction and ATM fees can really add up, so with that in mind we opened two new accounts. The first was a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and which had points we could use toward later travel expenses. The second was a new bank account with a debit card that could be used worldwide with no ATM fees. It was important to us that our travel bank account be completely separate from our savings account so that, if our travel card becomes compromised, our savings are secure. Now that we are on the road, we find an ATM upon arrival so that all of our day-to-day purchases are made with local currency and our cards are used rarely and at locations that are as secure as possible.

Though we didn’t own an entire home’s worth of physical stuff, our apartment was still pretty full. We hadn’t moved in about four years, so items gathered in corners unnoticed. I couldn’t bear to part with my books, so we already knew that a storage unit would be necessary. (Kevin put up with me storing almost all of them, and doing the physical labor of moving a small library – I have a perfect husband.)

About two months before we left, we started seriously going through our material possessions to decide what was worth saving, what could be sold, what should be donated, and what could be recycled or left for free on the sidewalk. All told, about four large carloads went to local Goodwills – outdated fashions, unneeded cooking supplies, some small furniture. We drove many carloads over to a 10X5′ storage area, and with about three weeks left before vacating our apartment, we rented a Uhaul and moved the furniture (bookshelves mostly, but also a desk, dresser, and a few other bulky items). Large, unkeepable items were sold online. We spent the last days before our trip in an eerily empty house.

The most unexpectedly emotional part of the downsize for Kevin was selling Eva, our beloved car. I’m not convinced she ever liked me since she often threw a fit if I planned a trip; it didn’t matter if we were going to Mount Rainier or Montana… she found a way to complicate an oddly large portion of the getaways I planned. I think her jealousy of me stemmed from the fact that Kevin bought her on Valentine’s. We did find her a good home, but being without a car was an odd feeling, especially with so many last-minute errands. Even though we were used to walking most of the places we needed to be on a daily basis, a car is one of those things society expects you to have. By getting rid of Eva, it felt a little like going backward. Then we reminded ourselves that where we lived… and where we were going… we didn’t need a car. (We would still probably need roads… roads come in handy.)

One of the most frustrating aspects of our preparation was finding and applying for health insurance. Though healthcare in many parts of the world is cheaper in price and the outcomes on par with the US, going without insurance was not an option. We researched multiple plans with widely varying prices and coverage caveats. We finally settled on one with coverage in just about any country we could legally visit, emergency medical evacuation should there be a worst-case scenario, and a moderate price tag. Since international health insurance plans do not fall under the aegis of the Affordable Care Act there were loops to jump through and paperwork to produce. After producing the most mundane medical records going back years, we had to answer still more questions, and we received notice of our coverage only about a week before leaving. (It was an unhappy reminder of how miserable shopping for health insurance was before the ACA.) We would have started that process earlier if we had known it would take more than a month.

What might have seemed like dragging our heels to settle down became an advantage. With no debt, no house (too pricey in Seattle), no kids (not ready yet), even no pets, we had no strings strong enough to prevent us from leaving. Since we already lived on the other side of the country from our families, the other side of the world didn’t seem so far. And since we live in the future, keeping in touch and staying connected from anywhere isn’t the struggle it used to be.

We’ve already come more than 10,000 miles from O’Hare and every day has been worth the stress of upending our lives as we knew them.