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: mytravelguide.com & mapquest.com. 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.
Europe

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

 
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.
 
Asia
 
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!

Highlights

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.

Nature

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.
 
People

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.

Challenges

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.

Accommodation

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.
Cuisine

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.

Journeys


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.

11 Comments:

Blogger dizz said...

Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for the blog. It's been wonderful, on those dull days in library land, reading of all your adventures. I will miss it very much.

Happy life wishes to you both x

3:48 AM  
Blogger Abe said...

Hey Guys,
We also wanted to thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us - what a beautiful world we saw through your pictures and stories.

love - abe & kate

1:31 AM  
Blogger Emily with an M said...

What a gorgeous send off to your blog, guys. Thanks, too, for sharing your experiences with us. It has been such a pleasure to read along with you from the comfort of my home. Congratulations on living your DREAM! What's next? ;)

1:56 PM  
Blogger Mark W. said...

I really enjoyed your trip through the blog; not just the trip itself but the way it described. It was very compelling, and heart warming one can still travel all around the world and easily find nice people everywhere. the trip makes me feel envious, even though i'd never heard of half (at least) the places you went. Thanks for the journey. Mark Winski

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Sheryl said...

Thank you for all the wonderful experience's most people will never be able to enjoy. I enjoyed every leg of your trip with both of you through your blog and will truly miss the fantastic reading adventure. I admire your courage and strength you were able to enjoy (and sometimes suffer through) to make such a dream come true.

Thank You, Sheryl Kinder
(Friend of Marty's)

3:53 PM  
Blogger OAK said...

Amazing! So sad to see it all come to an end. It was awesome sharing your trip with you both and glad to have you back....uh, in the Midwest! Good Luck in Iowa!

6:01 PM  
Blogger Our Family in Senegal said...

Thank you for sharing in such beautiful detail such an inspiring adventure. The two of you have a remarkable sense of the world and its treasures. I'm just left with this feeling of emptiness I can't explain... there must be more to the story...

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey!

Congrats for the trip, it was amazing!
Thank you for the blog.

Best!
Francisco (Great Wall, China)

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome!

7:42 AM  
Blogger L$ said...

Wow - so I started with this blog post and it's, on the one hand, deeply intriguing and, on the other hand, intimidating to dive into - what a journey!

Look fwd to reading (and hearing more)

Leighton

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome!!!

1:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home