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Category Archives: Couchsurfing

I like pork. A lot. I’m also a huge fan of spicy food; the spicier, the better. I avoid superlatives and cannot tell you my favorite cuisine, nor can I name my favorite dish, BUT Balinese food (and Babi Guling) is definitely up there. My 8 days in Bali were a pork fueled spice fest made possible by two wonderful hosts I met through CouchSurfing.

Nina, my first host, picked me up from the airport. As soon as I checked into a hotel and dropped my bag off, she introduced me to babi guling. It was love – or lust – at first bite. Babi guling was the alpha and it was also the omega. My last meal before boarding the bus to pork-less Muslim Java was babi guling, with an extra plate of skin.

In addition to roast suckling pig, Nina also introduced me to several other Balinese and Indonesian dishes. We tried the Balinese staple, ayam betutu at the iconic Gilimanuk. We also had sate a few times. At only about a dollar a pop, it’s tough to resist!

While in Singoraja, we tried their signature dish: syobak singaraja. It was pork with plenty of offal coated in a very Chinese tasting sauce. Nina also took me for some Indonese/Chinese food and Balinese rice.

My second host, Lina, has a one track mind. Two if you include napping. In my first 12 hours with Lina, we had 10 different, spicy, delicious things to eat and took 3 naps. We started with the spiciest salad I’ve ever had in my life, rujak kuah pindang. I told Lina I liked very spicy food and I thought her leading off with the rujak was a test. At the same place, we also had es campur (an ice salad), and bulung (a spicy seaweed salad with crunchy little peanuts).

After a nap, we hit up the market and had goat sate and a curried goat soup. Then we had nasi jingo, a popular little snack of rice, noodles, and beef wrapped in a banana leaf. The nasi place also had a soft boiled egg with salt and pepper.

I’ve had some spicy food in my time, but I must say that the sambal we had with nasi tempong lele was the spiciest thing that’s touched these lucky lips. When I opened my mouth, it felt like fire was coming out. I was very happy! This was also my first time trying pete, which is known for being stinky and making your pee the same.

My best food experience in Bali, and one of the best in my life, was our pre-dawn trip to the secret babi guling restaurant. Lina’s mom also cooked us some delicious meals and picked us up some dog and wild boar from a restaurant near their home.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from the food in Bali. I was just going there because it seemed like a good starting point for Indonesia and didn’t have lofty expectations as far as eating was concerned. I was blown away by the food and it’s worth going to Bali just to eat.

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Sydney was pretty cool and I didn’t really care for Cairns. I had a great time in New Zealand and wasn’t in a rush to get back to Oz, but thought it would be neat to spend my birthday in Tasmania. I ended up deciding to do a 3 day 4 night layover in Melbourne between Queenstown and Launceston. People had said great things about Melbourne and I decided to give it a go despite not being blown away with what I’d seen in Australia. I’m very glad I did.

There is no shortage of CouchSurfing hosts in Melbourne and I ended up with a great one. Erika took great care of me, showed me around, and let me get a glimpse of her day-to-day life. She took me for a walk around the CBD, showing me some of her favorite little alleyways and cafes, and even braved the cold to bring me to see penguins. I saw 7!

I happened to be in town on the first Saturday of the month, which is when they host a great farmers’ market near where I was staying in St. Kilda. There was beef, chicken, pork, duck, turkey, venison, goat, artisan bread, loads of great cheese, and a variety of seasonal produce. I couldn’t help myself and bought way too much for my short stay. I used my market goodies to make dinner for Erika and a friend of hers that evening. We had braised ox cheek over celeraic fennel puree with roasted brussels sprouts. It came out pretty good.

While on my very touristy tour of the Daintree, I met some students from Laos that have been studying in Melbourne for the last 3 years. They invited me to pay them a visit when I would be in town and I took them up on the offer. For a very special treat, they cooked me a homemade, authentic Laotian dinner. We had bamboo shoot soup, papaya salad, and beef/tripe larb. It was beyond good. They also took me out for pizza at DOC the next night. It’s a very popular pizza joint just off of Lygon St that had a 30 minute wait on a Monday night. The pizza didn’t live up to the hype – or the price – but the company was superb.

I met a great Melbourner in Mondulkiri last year, but, unfortunately she left for Bali the day before I arrived. In addition to providing me with a multitude of dining suggestions, Tracy also left me a box of goodies on her front porch. She supplies some local restaurants with organic, vegan desserts and left me a sampler. I’m far from being vegan and don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but thoroughly enjoyed Tracy’s creations. If you’d like to try for yourself, she stocks Little Deer Tracks, a vegetarian Italian place in Coburg.

In the end, my time in Melbourne flew by and I didn’t get to do much touristy stuff at all. The one thing I wanted to do was visit Victoria Market, but I planned to go on Monday and they were closed. Despite not making it to the market and hardly scratching the surface of Melbourne’s main visitor attractions, I had a great time in the city. While I wasn’t there for long enough to get a real feel for the place, I truly enjoyed what I did see and do. This post won’t be too useful for those of you visiting Melbourne other than to let you know it’s a place filled with wonderful people that love to show visitors their beautiful city. Go see for yourself!

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It’s hard to compare countries. I love Italy. I love Laos. I love New Zealand. The three countries are totally different as are the reasons that earned them a special place in my heart. More than any place I’ve ever been, New Zealand reminds me of Hawai’i (minus the whole freezing cold thing). The similarities are great, both culturally and geographically. I spent just 5 weeks in New Zealand, 3 weeks in the north and 2 weeks in the south, during winter, and had an incredible time.

New Zealand is known for its natural beauty and, although I only scratched the surface, I was blown away by the scenery. The diversity, degree of unspoilt land, and accessibility was astounding. From beautiful beaches and bays, to snow covered peaks and everything in between, New Zealand has it all.

There wasn’t a single place in New Zealand that I didn’t care for. Auckland didn’t really “wow” me, but I still enjoyed myself. In terms of outdoorsy stuff, BAY OF ISLANDS, ROTORUA, ABEL TASMAN, ARTHUR’S PASS, and MILFORD SOUND were all off-the-charts awesome. Wellington had a great vibe to it, as did Queenstown. Although host to a recent tragedy of an almost unimaginable scale, CHRISTCHURCH was a place of hope, a testament to resiliency, and a great place to visit. Levin and its surrounding beach communities of Waitarere and Waikanae were great even in winter. Visiting summer destinations in the offseason provided a true glimpse of Kiwiana and I loved what I saw.

It’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The people truly make the place and New Zealand was no exception. I am extremely fortunate to have a friend in Gary Maunakea-Forth, who’s originally from Levin. Gary put me in contact with his family and friends who welcomed me into their homes with open arms. Kev and Jo, a wonderful Kiwi couple I spent a few days with in Laos last year, took me in to their home and gave me a week that felt more like being at home than on the road. CouchSurfing and HelpX allowed me to meet amazing people who made my experiences with them ones I will cherish forever.

While I can’t pick a favorite country to visit, New Zealand is the first place that I’ve ever said, “I’m coming back.” Thanks to everyone that made my time in New Zealand so special.

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My experience in Cairns led me to move up my flight and head to Auckland a week earlier than planned. Not that I couldn’t have had a great time had I stayed in Cairns, but I’m quite pleased with my decision.
Auckland was my first time Couchsurfing on this trip and it reaffirmed my belief that it is THE way to travel. My host was Leslie, a PhD candidate from British Columbia. She is cool, smart, nice, and a lot of fun. One of her two flatmates, Tash, is also a Couchsurfing host and acted as a co-host since Leslie has a very active social life (in addition to conducting transgenic disease fighting research on fish, Leslie also finds time to belly dance and learn jiujitsu while being an active gamer). These lovely ladies were incredible and made me feel totally at home and very welcome.
I spent my time in Auckland as I would anywhere else: looking for food, eating, hanging out with interesting people, and checking out nature. There are quite a few Korean and Japanese restaurants in the city, but I opted for Middle Eastern and Malaysian since I don’t have those options at home. Hands down, the best thing I ate in Auckland, or anywhere so far on this trip, was lamb on kabsa rice from Holy Land on K Road. It was phenomenal. It was so good that I went back again the next day and tried the lamb kofta kebabs with tomato and bread. It wasn’t bad on any level, but didn’t approach the awesomeness of the lamb on kabsa rice.
I attended two farmers’ markets, the Saturday Britomart and Sunday La Cigale. The Saturday market is in the heart of the city and heavily advertised, yet was a lot smaller than I anticipated. It reminded me of farmers’ markets back home with far more vendors selling prepared food than farmers selling things they grow. I was quite satisfied with a delicious local, organic sausage sandwich, 14 mini Dutch donuts, and an organic coffee. The Sunday market was located at a French specialty food store and had a better feel and atmosphere to it as well as more produce for sale. The sausage guy was there too and I got another sandwich from him in addition to a really good seafood paella that had mussels, prawns, squid, baby octopus, and fish. One cool thing I noticed about these farmers’ markets is that they allow dogs.
Leslie joined me for the Sunday market and we went to a fancy chocolate place after and indulged in serious chocolate drinks and some truffles. We also had dinner at Mamak, a Malaysian place that had great reviews and excellent service, but less-than-spectacular food. The extra, extra spicy chicken curry (the only menu item with 3 chilies next to it) wasn’t even remotely spicy. Leslie also took me to Elliot Stables, a really nice high-end food court.
My hostesses lived across the street from the oldest park in Auckland, the Domain. I had a couple pleasant strolls through the very green and peaceful public space while I was in town. There are a lot of fun touristy things to do in Auckland, but I elected to just chill out and enjoy a few days with some great locals. New Zealand was off to a great start!

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