We were lucky enough to get to spend an afternoon playing games, drawing, and joking with young Burmese “refugees”. It’s a complicated situation as Malaysia infrequently grants refugee asylum to incoming refugees, and are often treated as illegal immigrants regardless of status. The whole experience was rather heart-wrenching. I lent my camera to a young boy who spent the day figuring out how the work the lens, focus, and taking wonderful photos of his friends.
One of the most fascinating aspects to life in Malaysia is the complex cultural cohesion. You have vastly different lifestyles that somehow manage to live in relative peace (Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic being the main three.) This creates an international, vibrant, and overall welcoming atmosphere to the country unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We were lucky enough to visit cultural sites for all of the main religions, as well as stop by some main tourist sites. If you’re ever in the area, definitely hit up the Penang Butterfly Farm- it’s a little dorky but surprisingly fun. And definitely, above all else, don’t shy away from hole in the wall street food. It blows anything you’ll find in the malls out of the water and it’s truly unique to the region. You only live once!
Our time in Penang was pretty visually stunning. It’s a small industrial island, beaches nearby, and the famous hawker stands. We toured some Chinese mafia houses and theaters, ate fresh coconut on beaches and snorkeled with exotic fish, and witnessed some touching Hindu rituals. Essentially, it was a few days of an unbelievable “educational” experience. I mean really, how often do you go sun bathing on faraway beaches with your professor?
Malaysia. I promised to post some photos from my two weeks across the globe a few months ago. I’ve finally sorted through my photos and I’ve got three posts coming up!
We flew into Penang and explored the city and surrounding area for a few days before heading off to Kuala Lumpur. Not only did we enjoy the touristic beaches and shopping malls, but we visited fascinating think-tanks, a Burmese refugee school for children, and ate absurdly delicious street food. It was an overload of new and exciting cultures; Indian, Chinese, and Malay lifestyles all mixing fluidly. I had an absolutely fantastic time and cannot wait to return to that corner of the planet.
Sorry I didn’t get to send out any emails or say goodbye to anyone, but I’m running out the door to catch a flight to Malaysia! I’ll be there with my school doing crazy and wonderful things until the 23rd. Hope everyone has a great Spring Break!
One of the girls on my travel made this hilariously wonderful video of our time in Iceland. It is full of great moments, from Karen singing on the bus to a shot of cod liver in the morning (it was vile, my reaction is obvious), to hiking across lava fields to a massive crater. Thought you all might enjoy this, it’s quite accurate.
Most of our time in Iceland was like living in a Tolkien novel. Weaving through the ravine that is Ásbyrgi was surreal. Large plateaus on either side of us walking through brush and shrubbery. Hiked up the side of one to get a better view, requiring us to scale a wet rock face with the assistance of a rock. Safety first.
While we were not able to visit Dettifoss during our time in Iceland, we did manage trips to both Goðafoss and Gullfoss. We hiked around the top of Goðafoss, peeked over the edge, jumped around rocks, normal safe stuff. Gullfoss included icy rocks and pebbles, no rainbow, but a pretty great view of a massive waterfall.
A quick trip to the Whale Museum is Husavík was in order. We stopped to purchase snacks and did the two minute tour of the town. It was oddly reminiscent of some coastal town in Washington or Oregon. The boats, smell, and atmosphere were fairly Pacific Northwest with the typical Icelandic flair. The museum was filled with enormous whale skeletons and interactive displays. Fun fact: Orca whales have distinct dialects in their language depending on their clan and geographic location.
Grimsey was worth its weight in gold. We took a three hour ferry ride up to the tiny island in the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, sea sickness is extremely common and most of our class was ill. I managed to pass out for most of the journey and avoided any upset stomach. Once we reached Grimsey we crossed into the Arctic Circle, took the required photos, and then set off to go for a quick swim! Ten of us decided to hike down a ridge down to the waterfront and do a quick Arctic skinny dip, haha. Definitely a way to get your adrenaline pumping. Plus everything feels extremely warm once you dry off and re-dress. Afterwards we packed into a tiny shop where I purchased my beloved puffin-adorned Icelandic sweater (photos will come soon enough for that). We boarded the ferry home, this time with relatively few hiccups.
Geysir at sunrise was an interesting experience. Though its eruptions are few and far between, we did manage to catch a few shows from Strokkur. The park was filled with mud pots, geysers, and hot springs. Epic way to start the day.
Hverfjall. Dimmuborgir. Welcome to the entrance to Hell.
Although it has an ominous name, our hike up the side of Hverfjall was spectacular. We crossed the snow covered lava fields of Dimmuborgir, explored little caves, and wove through bizarre rock formations. Finally, everything flattened out and the rocks fell behind us as Hverfjall approached.
The sides were absurdly steep, but with the snow we were able to hike it much like an uncomfortable staircase. At the lip, you stood on the edge of a massive bowl and could look out onto the vast Mývatn area. It was beautiful. We circled the crater, hiked down the other side, and embarked on a 2 km walk to hot springs to unwind.
This Iceland adventure started off in the most radical way possible. We arrived at the airport only to rush off to the Blue Lagoon and then an early night to prepare for our first hike of the trip. The hike at Grábrók was intended to be short and a quick introduction. However, we were met with winds up to 72 mph, at the top of a crater. The wind was blowing people over and making it nearly impossible to walk. (Here’s a short video of the place- not mine) Things got interesting, which only served to set the standard for the rest of our hikes.
On our next day, I legitimately thought I was going to die. It was windy, blowing ice crystals into your eyes, deep snow, and sheets of pure ice. Oh, and boiling water and a very “thin crust of the Earth”, so you had to watch your step. Víti ended up cooperating and we all made it out alive, despite some tears being shed. One hell of a character-building experience.
And for a few blissful days we stayed at the Vogafjos Guesthouse, located next to a giant crater that light up with sunrise. We ate breakfast and dinner next to their cows, and meandered around the region to hunt for underground hot springs and watch the Aurora Borealis. Cozy cabins with sulfur showers and ceder wood, it was enough to feel at home for just a few days.