Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Final Chapter

Now that our round-the-world trip is over and we’re starting life afresh in the USA, the time has come to wrap up Donkey Crossing. Our backpacks are unpacked and put away, albums have been filled with Jason’s best photos from the journey and our passports now reside in a drawer, instead of in secret pockets sewn into our travel pants. The adventure is brought back to life every time we share travel tales and photos with others and reminisce with each other. It seems it’s our turn to be armchair travelers now, living vicariously through the presenters of our favorite Travel Channel shows and friends who are still on the road, reporting back as they pursue travel dreams of their own.

It’s impossible to capture fifteen months of international adventure in one blog entry, hence the previous 93 posts. However, we couldn't declare Donkey Crossing complete without a recap of where we've been and a tribute to some of the most memorable moments, beginning with some vital statistics.
Days on the road: 441

Countries visited: 23 spread across 5 continents

Estimated miles traveled: over 55,000

Beds slept in: 143

Photos taken: over 10,000

Journal pages written: 1,200

Languages we've used to greet local people: 17 (Spanish, French, Arabic, Finnish, Estonian, Russian, Mongolian, Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Hindi, Punjabi, Tibetan and four African tribal languages in addition to English)

Our route

(maps: & We added the pink lines to show our route)

South America

Our journey began in Ecuador, the place where Jason and I first met. We spent several weeks with old friends in Quito and Otavalo before branching out to explore Quilotoa, Baeza and Intag. Next stop was Colombia for fun reunions with friends in Bogota and Cartagena. In between the big cities we stole a couple of weeks to explore Colombia’s steamy Caribbean tropical forest lined coast. Having notched up ascents of Fuya Fuya and Imbabura, a dip in the crater of a mud volcano, not to mention numerous cups of excellent Colombian coffee, we said farewell to South America, saving the rest of the continent for another visit. We made a two week stopover in Florida for a Thanksgiving family get together, then traversed the Atlantic bound for England.
England and Ireland

England was the only foreign country we visited twice during this trip. In addition to spending time with friends and family in Yorkshire and London, we squeezed in trips to Whitby, Cambridge, Bedford and even a week cruising the Leeds/Liverpool canal. Ireland was a veritable feast of music, cuisine, scenery and hospitality in Clonakilty, County Cork.
North & West Africa

We traveled through the Arabic world into black Africa, beginning with Morocco, traveling south through Mauritania and Senegal, then into the sizzling, dry heat of Mali and Burkina Faso. Battling brutal temperatures, uncomfortable transport and a plethora of challenges alien to life in the West, we fell in love with the continent’s vibrant colors and cultures. Africa was travel at its most adventurous and rewarding.

The vineyards of France were lush, green and welcoming after the ubiquitous heat and dust of Africa. We spent time in Marseille, Nimes and my godparents’ home in Vezenobres before boarding a train bound for Spain via Perpignan. In Spain, we explored the Aragonese Pyrenees and the pretty countryside north of Madrid, after an unforgettable week of urban decadence in Barcelona. We took a detour between Spain and Finland for a short visit home to Chicago. A few thousand air miles later we landed in Finland and proceeded to explore Helsinki, Jyvaskyla and the coastal town of Naantali. In addition to lapping up the ease, culture and sophistication of Europe, we were completely wooed by the rich and varied cuisine. Onwards to Russia.


Russia presented us with a new linguistic challenge with every mile we traveled. It was a fascinating, if expensive, leg of our journey, involving endless green landscapes and lots of games of Yahtzee during long Trans-Siberian Railway journeys. Starting in St. Petersburg, we traveled to the obscure Volga River village of Plyos, then on to Moscow before proceeding to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.
We traveled the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Irkutsk to Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baatar. After attending Mongolia’s Naadam Festival, we escaped to the Gobi Desert, retreating into a world of nomads and eagles. Our next destination was China. The 30 day visas we’d been issued didn't allow us enough time to explore the whole country, but we got a good taste of urban smog, blank stares, unique cuisine and crowds of Chinese tourists. After paying homage to the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, various cultural relics in Datong and Pingyao, as well as the sacred Buddhist village of Wutai Shan, we headed for Macau and Hong Kong for some serious sensory overload. We concluded the oriental leg of our trip with a few days of green curries, boxing and massage in Bangkok, Thailand.

India was perhaps our most highly anticipated Asian destination. We trekked in India's Himalayas, attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings, visited the Taj Mahal and learned how to make samosas. A few nice life goals were checked off there, in between daily curry feasts. We couldn't resist taking one final nose dive into an exotic foreign culture, so we made the United Arab Emirates our last stop before returning to the USA via England. Phew!


Choosing from our long list of trip highlights for this Donkey Crossing feature was no easy task. However, we managed to group our most memorable moments in seven categories: nature, activities & culture, people, challenges, accommodation, cuisine and journeys.


Most picturesque sunsets
  • Sahara Desert, near Chinguetti, Mauritania
  • Barefoot Beach, Florida, USA
  • Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, Russia

This perfect cloudscape in the Sahara Desert created the most memorable sunset of our entire trip.

Most exciting wildlife moments
  • Condors in flight, Fuya Fuya, Ecuador
  • Hippos bathing, observed from a canoe, Banfora, Burkina Faso
  • Tree climbing goats, Tafraoute, Morocco

Goats have to eat too!
Most relaxing beaches
  • Tayrona National Park, Colombia
  • Saint Louis, Senegal
  • Barefoot Beach, Florida, USA

Rachel and our good friend Neal take a moment on Barefoot Beach, Florida.
Most tranquil lakes
  • Lake Baikal, Russia
  • Lake Quilotoa, Ecuador
  • Laguna de Mojanda, Ecuador

A quick pose high above Laguna de Mojanda, Ecuador.

Most stunning mountain ranges
  • Pyrenees, France and Spain
  • Himalayas, India
  • Andes, Ecuador

A stone shepherd's house in the Spanish Pyrenees Mountains.

Activities & Culture

Most fascinating religious encounters
  • Call to prayer, Fes, Morocco
  • Singing evangelist, public bus, Colombia
  • Sikh Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
  • Roadside circumcision ritual, Dogon Country, Mali

Jason with three of his new Sikh buddies.

Most exciting spectator sporting events
  • Wrestling, archery and horse racing at Naadam Festival, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
  • Thai boxing, Lumpini Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Polo, Ladakh festival, Leh, India
  • Huddersfield Town soccer match, Huddersfield, England

Ringside seats at Lumpini Stadium proved to be well worth the inflated ticket price.

Best theatre
  • Bollywood movie “Loins of Punjab”, Odeon Cinema, Connaught Place, New Delhi, India
  • Acrobatics Macrocosm, Beijing, China
  • Swan Lake, Alexandriisky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Acrobatics Macrocosm was a particularly memorable Chinese experience.

Wildest nights on the town
  • Seseribo salsa club, Quito, Ecuador
  • Cocktails with friends on an electric boat, Houhai Lake, Beijing, China
  • Dancing to live ‘Mbalax’ music until sunrise, Dakar, Senegal

A traffic jam on Houhai Lake, Beijing, China.

Best live music performances
  • Devendra Banhart, London, England
  • Every night at Shanley’s music pub, Clonakilty, Ireland
  • Classical performance at the Palau de la Musica, Barcelona, Spain

Rachel joins an impromptu jam at Shanley's Pub, Clonakilty, Ireland.

Best guides
  • Dhondubtsering, Himalayan trekking guide, Ladakh, India
  • Kevin Kidd (with dogs Rumi & Pacha), mountain guide, friend & host at La Luna Hostal, Ecuador
  • Hamallah and Ayuba, captain and chef/guide on the Niger River, Mali

Brothers Hamallah and Ayuba show off some fresh Niger River fish.

Friendliest fellow travelers
  • Andy Hall and Jane Carson, a British couple, with whom we traveled in Russia, Mongolia and China
  • Yana and Larissa, mother and daughter from Belarus, who were excellent cabin mates on our train journey from Russia to Mongolia
  • Richard and Narelle, an Australian couple we chatted with over many breakfasts in Mongolia

Our lovely cabin mates, Yana and Larissa, on the Lake Baikal-Ulaan Baatar leg of the Trans-Mongolian Railway.

Cities with the best dressed people
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Dakar, Senegal
  • St. Petersburg, Russia

Senegalese people are the epitome of natural beauty and style.

Celebrity/World Leader sightings
  • Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, spotted walking through the Kremlin, Moscow
  • Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, delivering a speech in front of the Helsinki Cathedral, Finland
  • Nambaryn Enkhbayar, President of Mongolia, speaking during the opening ceremony of Naadam Festival, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
  • HRH Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of England, accompanied by Prince Charles and King Abdullah, King of Saudi Arabia, traveling in the royal carriages, London, England
  • Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, spotted on three occasions in Fes, Morocco
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama, teaching at his temple in Dharamsala, India

We will never forget being within an arm's length of the Dalai Lama.


Scariest moments
  • Being driven 'the long way home' via some unsavory neighborhoods by a Bogota taxi driver, Colombia
  • Only just escaping ominous black thunder clouds and flashes of lightning whilst mountain biking across open steppe on Olkhon Island, Russia
  • Witnessing police brutality at the border between Mauritania and Senegal
  • Crossing a minefield between Morocco and Mauritania
  • Experiencing severe altitude sickness, Himalayas, India

Remnants of vehicles that didn't make it across the heavily mined Morocco-Mauritania border.

Places we encountered the worst drivers
  • Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
  • Rural China
  • New Delhi, India
Experiences we’re glad we had but don’t need to repeat
  • Dealing with Russian train ticket agents
  • Crossing African borders
  • Obtaining a Mongolian visa
  • Sleeping outdoors during a sand storm
  • Hiking in 120 degree temperatures under the West African sun
  • Spending the night in New Delhi airport
  • Inhaling China’s urban smog

The tranquil scene before sleeping through an African sand storm on the roof of a mud house.


Best budget accommodation (under $50 per night)

  • Studio apartment at Siddharth House, Dharamsala, India
  • Italian owned Dar Terrae Guesthouse, Chefchaouen, Morocco
  • La Luna Hostal, Otavalo, Ecuador

The view from our $9.00/night studio apartment in Dharamsala, India.

Best mid-range accommodation ($50 - $100 per night)
  • A beautifully restored ‘Casa Rural’, Gistain, Spain
  • Posada de Mong-Ha, Institute of Tourism, Macau
  • Beach resort bungalow, Saint Louis, Senegal
Best splurge accommodation (over $100 per night)
  • Westin Hotel, Beijing, China
  • Termas de Papallacta resort, Ecuador
  • ‘Ecohab’ suites, Tayrona National Park, Colombia

The view from our "Ecohab" in Tayrona National Park, Colombia.
Friendliest commercial hosts
  • Sia La Family, owners of Sia La Guesthouse, Leh, India
  • Marco & Margerita, owners of Posada de Tigua hacienda, Quilotoa, Ecuador
  • Ajana family homestay, Fes, Morocco

Getting ready to share a tagine with the Ajana family in Fes, Morocco.

Best street food
  • Fresh salmon soup at the Harbor Market, Helsinki, Finland
  • Grilled meat, steamed snails and freshly squeezed orange juice at Djamaa el Fna, Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Smoked fish, blinis (pancakes) and dumplings on station platforms along the Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

A snail vendor stirring his steaming pile of goodness.

Tastiest breakfasts
  • Smoked mackerel and full English breakfast at Spindleberry Guesthouse, Ilkley, England
  • Potato stuffed paratha (Indian bread) with yogurt, pickle and masala tea at any restaurant in the village of Manali, India
  • Fresh organic fruit and homemade granola at La Luna Hostal, Ecuador
  • Everything we dreamed of and plenty of things that never would have occurred to us for breakfast at the Westin Hotel, Beijing, China

Most unique culinary experiences

  • Sand baked bread in the Sahara Desert, Mauritania
  • Smoked salmon and crème fraiche pizza in a French owned pizzeria, La Somone, Senegal
  • Spanish meats, cheeses and inexpensive cava at any inconspicuous Cavaria, Barcelona, Spain
  • Fresh whole fish, fried to order at a local fish house, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Hot Pot with fresh fish chosen from the aquarium and cooked in steaming broth at the table, Beijing, China
Our Chinese Hot Pot experience gave us wide eyes and full bellies.

Most memorable meals we cooked

  • Freshly shucked oysters and steamed mussels in Vezenobres, France
  • Irish breakfast with local black and white pudding, Clonakilty, Ireland
  • Plank smoked salmon, Jyvaskyla, Finland
  • Indian curry recipes we learned in India, reproduced in Siler City, North Carolina

At least for a day, Jason was the Oyster King of Vezenobres, France.


Epic Rail Journeys
  • Trans-Siberian Railway, Moscow to Lake Baikal, Russia, four days
  • Freight train from Nouadhibou to Choum, Mauritania, 13 hours
  • Train from Kayes to Bamako, Mali, 17 hours

Rachel becoming accustomed to the dirt, flies and bare feet of our cabin mate in the only passenger car on the freight train from Nouadhibou to Choum, Mauritania.

Epic road journeys

  • Navigating a mine field in a Mazda from Dahkla, Western Sahara to Nouadhibou, Mauritania
  • Crossing a Himalayan pass of 17,582 feet from Leh to Manali, India
  • Riding in the back of a pickup truck under the stars from Choum to Atar, Mauritania
  • Squashed beside a Muslim woman who prayed the whole way from Atar to Chinguetti, Mauritania

  • The air was thin and crisp when we crossed the world's second highest motorable pass in the Indian Himalayas.
    And Finally

From Dubai to Dewsbury and Helsinki to the Himalayas, a huge thank you to everyone who fed, watered and hosted us along the way. This trip would not have been possible without the support of our wonderful families and so many friends. We cannot thank you all enough. And finally, thank you to everyone who has joined us for the ride via Donkey Crossing. We hope you’ve had as much fun as we have. Knowing you were tuning into our blog kept us going at times.

One Limey and one Yank have lived one Dream. Thanks for traveling with us.

The end.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Mama, Mama, many worlds I've come,
since I first left home" -Robert Hunter

After saying our farewells to all things British (including family and friends), we headed West across the Atlantic. Timing our return to the States with the Thanksgiving holiday, there was only one place to find the Napoli family: Barefoot Beach, Florida. Longing for a Thanksgiving full of sunshine, family, friends and priceless sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico, we were not left disappointed.

Thanksgiving Day on the beach with MJ, Teena and Marty.

Thanksgiving Day involves far more than just a few Napolis. We were fifteen strong this year, with all the usual suspects (5 Napolis, 6 Cassells, 2 Carlsons and 2 Przybylskis). Continuing the annual tradition of champagne and snacks on the beach, with twenty-four pounds of bird roasting upstairs, everybody was in good form.

Taking advantage of the holiday to its fullest extent, Rachel and I stayed in Florida with Marty and Teena for two weeks, enjoying wonderful nights out and glorious days on the beach. A trip to Florida is never complete without Marty and I casting our lines into the water and hoping for the best. After a couple hours up to our waists in the Gulf of Mexico, we ended up with seven catches each.

Father and son in the cool November waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether it's a salt water catfish or a yellow striped ladyfish, we'll take anything that will bite at the frozen shrimp on the end of our lines.

As always, we had an excellent time with my parents in Florida and look forward to many "Barefoot" Thanksgivings to come.

With our return to the US accomplished, and Thanksgiving behind us, we loaded up our backpacks, ready to make one more stop before heading to Chicago. Fulfilling a promise to our dear friends Mark and Kelly Campbell, we made the final stop on our "Round the World" trip their home, located in a quiet corner of North Carolina.

A gorgeous North Carolina sunset on a crisp December evening.

Mark, Kelly, Rachel and I became friends back in 2002. Rachel and Kelly were founding members of the band Lounge Car and performed in some of Chicago's finest cabaret venues including The Hot House and Maxim's. With Rachel and Kelly often busy collaborating and recording music, Mark and I usually found ourselves in the kitchen creating delicious feasts for the band. When Mark and Kelly left Chicago in 2004 to fulfill their dream of rural life in North Carolina, we promised to build a visit to their country home into our world tour.

Rachel and Kelly catch up over some BLTs, fresh fruit and a bottle of Riesling.

Mark and I get in the spirit of my inaugural Stateside curry dinner decorated with sparkling "bindis" we brought back from a street market in New Delhi. The menu consisted of Aloo Gobhi (potato and cauliflower), Sag Paneer (spinach and Indian cheese) and Yellow Dhal (spicy lentils). The cooking lessons we took in Dharamsala, India certainly paid off!

While Rachel and Kelly have a friendship molded in creating beautiful music, the foundation of my friendship with Mark is our shared passion for cooking delicious food. Mark is pictured above with his famous smoked pork shoulder, which was later hand pulled, smothered in homemade North Carolina BBQ sauce and served with fresh collard greens straight from the garden.

We even found time for a quick toss of the frisbee while the pork was smoking and the sun began to set.

Rachel and Kelly were busy inside recording a few tracks, while Mark and I tended to dinner.

Our visit to Mark and Kelly's couldn't have been a better transition from a busy Thanksgiving in Florida to a hectic Christmas season in Chicago. We found ourselves wandering through their woods, reading on the front porch and walking their dogs, feeling comfortable and optimistic about our imminent return to the Midwest. It was a wonderful visit and we can't wait to see them again.

Home Sweet Home, "Campbelloni" style.

Well, there you have it. Fifteen months, twenty three countries (is that all?) and we made it back to Chicago safe and sound. Be sure to check back to Donkey Crossing soon for a final summary, including the highs, the lows and some memorable 'in between' moments from our "Round the World" adventure.

We were greeted with both sun and snow on our return to Sweet Home Chicago.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"And in Foggy London Town,
the Sun Was Shining Everywhere"
-Frank Sinatra

Although it is never easy to leave the Holdsworth family home tucked in the rolling green hills of West Yorkshire, we always look forward to heading down to London. We never seem to have enough days to savor the lively capital, with its scores of famed landmarks and hidden gems.

One of our favorite "Off the Beaten Path" places to visit in London is the Columbia Road Sunday Flower Market. Tucked away in a couple bustling lanes in East London, the market is a true flower lover's paradise. The best deals are to be had at the end of the day, when a beautiful, exotic bouquet can be yours for just five pounds.

From the little known Columbia Road Flower Market, to the grand scale of the London Eye, Parliament and Big Ben, there is never a shortage of remarkable visual sensations to be had in the city.

In addition to seeing the sights, we always spend plenty of time with friends and family in London. We had an especially pleasant visit with Rachel's brother Andrew and his wife Eva this time around, as we helped them settle into a new home. Installing loft flooring and moving major appliances is not a regular activity during trips to England, but we were glad to lend a hand at Andrew and Eva's new home. It also reminded us how much we look forward to having a kitchen of our own in the not too distant future!

Eva, Andrew and I get ready to tuck into the inaugural curry feast on the floor of their beautiful home. New furniture had yet to be delivered.

Andrew and Eva weren't the only family we saw in London. On a sunny October morning, I crossed paths with none other than the Royal Family. Prince Charles, accompanied by a Saudi Prince, was taking this horse and carriage to Buckingham Palace, while Queen Elizabeth II was in the carriage ahead with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

A quick trip outside of London took us to Bedford, where we visited our dear friends Kate and Roger Woods. Kate is Rachel's Godmother, and has taken great care of us on two occasions during our world travels. You may recall our time with Kate and Roger at their fantastic home in Southern France last April (Donkey Crossing in France).

Kate recreated the indulgences of France with her delicious duck cassoulet.

In true French form, the meal lasted for hours and featured many wonderful courses and fine French wines. Roger is pictured above with the first of many culinary delights.

After our visit to Kate and Roger's home, where we were joined by Helen and Oz, we made our way back to London for more friendly cheer. Our official 'London residence' is traditionally the lovely Highgate home of our friends Mike and Seemi. Seemi and Rachel have been best of friends since high school, while Mike and I are the added bonus to their friendship. The four of us have always enjoyed big laughs, large meals and grand nights out.

Mike and I get a bit excited while tending to pork and leek sausages in the oven.

Seemi, Rachel and high school chum Heidi strike a pose at Seemi's 33rd birthday party in the Highgate flat. We are extremely grateful for the many times Seemi and Mike have opened their home and inflated their "aerobed" for us!

Mike and Seemi pose on the River Cam during a day trip to Cambridge. Mike is seen "punting" down the historic river, which snakes through the grounds of various colleges of Cambridge University. We learned the hard way that punting is nothing like rowing, and that we should have hired one of the university lads offering to take us along the river.

One of the world's biggest myths is that English cuisine can't stand up to that of its European neighbors. With the not so lively traditions of roast beef, Yorkshire puddings and boiled sprouts a thing of the past, London has turned itself into a culinary destination for 'Foodies' from around the world. With big name chefs such as Gordon Ramsay (who is always using the f-word), Jamie Oliver (formerly known as The Naked Chef) and Nigella Lawson (known for licking her fingers and talking seductively to her sweet and savory treats) regular faces on the Food Network, England has resurrected itself as a culinary heavyweight.

One mandatory stop on any Foodie's tour of London is a visit to the Borough Market. Situated on the South bank of the Thames River, and a short stroll from London Bridge, Borough Market is a culinary experience beyond compare. With scores of fine cheese, bread, oil and chocolate vendors, the butchers and fishmongers are perhaps the most impressive stalls to visit. With more choices of game, oysters, fish and sausages to satisfy even the most adventurous of palates, Borough Market is undoubtedly the place for fine and fresh ingredients in London.

For those who don't fancy preparing their fresh fish dinner from scratch, these fishmongers offer up hot seafood stew for immediate enjoyment.

The cheesy Swiss dish called Raclette wasn't the best thing that passed our lips, but one can't complain about boiled potatoes and sweet gherkins smothered in hot, gooey Swiss cheese.

One of my favorite stops in London food markets is the oyster vendor. Fresh from the coastal waters of nearby Colchester, I can't resist an oyster or few whilst browsing what else is on offer.

Nothing can beat a fine pint of locally brewed Fuller's Ale after a long day of walking through the streets and parks of London. Our friend Adam and I are pictured above, taking charge of the hand pumps at Fuller's Brewery situated on the Thames.

Though it may seem like all we do is eat, drink and visit friends in London, Rachel and I always find time to wander around the city aimlessly. For miles and miles, and hours and hours, we navigate through a multitude of London's distinct neighborhoods. While we both have our favorites, part of the fun is uncovering interesting new places to introduce to one another.

After many visits to London, this was my first visit to St. John's Wood, the home of Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles recorded nearly every number one hit at Abbey Road, and it continues to be a pilgrimage site for music lovers of all generations.

Some residents see the presence of graffiti across the neighborhoods as a sign of deep seated urban decay, while many see the art form as beautiful and free. Either way, this artist does a fine job camouflaging himself in pink street wear.

This view from the top of London's Hampstead Heath caused a moment of alarm on an otherwise gorgeous, sunny day. We learned from local residents and park employees that the smoke was coming from a fire at the 2012 Olympic Village. In an attempt to revitalize East London, billions of dollars of investment is being thrust into the area to prepare for the 2012 Summer Games.

As you can see, we had another brilliant time in London. As always, it wasn't easy to leave, but we felt very fortunate to have been able to spend so much time in our beloved England and can't wait to host all of our generous friends and family back on our home turf. Cheers everyone!

Next on Donkey Crossing: We report on our first couple weeks back in the States and our memorable visits to friends and family in sunny Florida and rural North Carolina.