My first stop after leaving my life in Japan was Nepal. I spent my time in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Kathmandu was bustling, charming and at times overwhelming. Life seemed to spill out everywhere. Pokhara was more laid-back, offering chances to relax or set off on an adventure.

20131110_nepal1154lrWorkers at the Boudhanath in Kathmandu chip paint from the aging facade of the holy Buddhist site. The stupa, one of the largest in the world, had accumulated many layers of paint over its existence.


This sādhu, or holy man, left, approached me in Kathmandu and gave me a tikka, a red spot on my forehead. Then he asked for money. Anyway, sādhu live on the edge of society after renouncing material goods. Right, a woman sells dyes in a square in Kathmandu.

20131110_nepal339lrA man carries eggs in baskets through the streets of Kathmandu.

20131110_nepal195lrClothes lie drying in the sun near an outdoor water fountain used for washing in Kathmandu.

20131110_nepal256lrA woman in Kathmandu Durbar Square.

20131110_nepal408lrDye adorns a statue in a small Kathmandu temple.

20131110_nepal523lrA man relaxes in Patan, an area south of Kathmandu.

20131110_nepal367lrA motorcycle zooms through the streets of Kathmandu.

20131110_nepal946lrWomen carry baskets in Pokhara beneath the Himalaya mountain range.

20131110_nepal934lrBoats lie empty at dusk in Phewa Lake in Pokhara.


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Under the Gates

In my last week in Japan, I spent a couple days in Fukuoka on Japan’s Kyushu island. The city is famous for tonkotsu ramen of which I ate three bowls over the course of about 24 hours. No regrets. While not slurping down pork bone-based noodle soups, I visited a few temples and shrines in the city.


This worker at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka walks under a series of gates carrying a box of donations made to the shrine. Kushida Shrine is famous for a festival in the summer in which participants carry giant floats, some taller than ten meters and weighing over two tons.

I’m sad to be leaving Japan after spending three years here, but excited to travel in Nepal and the US before moving to London this winter.


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Japan in Summer

Summer vacation this year took me down to the cities of Osaka and Nara in the middle of Japan, and then up to the northern island of Hokkaido. We camped, slept in capsules, dug out hot springs, barbecued, rowed across a lake, and generally had all sorts of fun. Here’s a sample of the trip.

hokkaido_lr-10Eric wades through lake Kussharo, the largest lake in Hokkaido. The lake is actually a massive volcanic crater that is home to the legendary creature Kusshii. Though I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this legendary dino-creature isn’t going to surface any time soon.


On the left is the Five-Story Pagoda of Kofuku-ji, a temple in Nara. To the right is one of the famous deer that live among the temples and shrines of Nara. If you feed the deer, they chase after you. I do not believe there is an elegant way to do this.

hokkaido_lr-1A wooden wall at Kofuku-ji in Nara.


hokkaido_lr-8Iozan, a mountain in Hokkaido, constantly emits sulfur gas, creating these yellow formations. Eric, on the right, braves the smell.

hokkaido_lr-4Back in Osaka, I stayed at a capsule hotel. It looked like a space station. And yes, I was able to fit inside. Surprisingly comfortable.


Both fields and mountains covered the landscape in Furano, Hokkaido. Will takes pictures of Furano from a moving train.

hokkaido_lr-11Lake Kussharo. We barbecued on this dock. It was a bit too cold to swim, but we rowed a boat 4km out to a massive island in the middle of the lake. All told, a lovely summer vacation.

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Bouldering on the Beach

The highlight of my trip to Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture, was bouldering next to the ocean. I’ve been bouldering in a gym in Tokyo for more than a year now, but this was the first time I’ve done it outside on real rocks. I went bouldering with Will, and these pictures are of him on the rocks.

20130504_okinawa135lrWill jams his feet into climbing shoes before starting. Climbing shoes are designed to be incredibly tight to help provide grip on rocks.

20130504_okinawa174lrWill laces up his shoes.


A reach for the final hold on a route we designed ourselves.

20130504_okinawa219lrConcentration, pain, or both. The sharp coral rocks on the beach were a lot more painful than the plastic holds in the gym.

20130504_okinawa129lr A lot of the routes we found on the rocks were difficult, but the soft sand underneath provided a nice cushion if we fell. When there were rocks on the ground, we spotted each other to make sure it was safe.

20130504_okinawa193lrThe beach was a beautiful place to go bouldering. When we took breaks, we sat on the beach and looked at the waves. Not a bad way to spend the day.

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Summer in the Southern Hemisphere

I can cross one more continent off my list: Australia. Though I was confused by Christmas trees set up under balmy weather, and spent a considerable amount of time trying to avoid deadly snakes and insects, I found Australia to be a lovely and even familiar place. The architecture reminded me of the US, as did the beer selection, but there were plenty of exotic creatures to see and places to go.

20130105australia193lrHello! A friendly Emu pokes his head up at the Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne. Silly things can’t fly, and it’s commonly believed that they, along with kangaroos, can’t walk backwards. The two “forward moving” animals are on the Australian coat of arms, and it’s said that they represent a country always progressing. But there seems to be some dispute about whether they actually can walk backwards or not. But I digress.

20130105australia203lrAustralian wilderness! Sort of. This is in the Healesville Sanctuary which is located in a rural area, and the scenery beyond the fences looked a lot like this. The animal sanctuary had natural environments for all sorts of Australian animals like kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, dingos and koalas.

20130105australia253lrEmily works to cut off the “beards” of mussels before boiling them. We collected a few dozen mussels from rocks near the beach shack we stayed in outside of Hobart in Tasmania. The mussels use their beard, technically called a byssus, to cling onto rocks. In non-mussel news, the shack we stayed in barely escaped a large bushfire just a day after we left.

20130105australia272lrWe cleaned the mussels before boiling them in green tea. They tasted incredibly fresh and were just a little bit sweet.

20130105australia334lrVisitors to Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) interact with a piece of art. Each section of the piece pulled out like a drawer, and a different voice would repeat “I love you.”

20130105australia367lrA visitor to MONA ducks into a small gallery.

20130105australia059lrA man in Melbourne waits by the ocean during a chilly summer night to see a flock of Little Penguins, the smallest species of penguin, return to their nests. It was too dark to get a good look at the penguins, but they were probably cute.

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The mountainous valley of Kamikochi sits high in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture in what some call the Japan Alps. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the highland area features beautiful ponds, a peaceful shrine, and leisurely hiking trails.

 A number of dead trees protrude from Taishoike Pond, giving the water a pretty, though eerie feeling.


Nathalie, left, crosses a wooden portion of a hiking trail. Right, visitors to Hotaka Shrine examine boats and mountains near the shrine’s pond.

 The Azusa River flows throughout the valley of Kamikochi.

The Myōjin Bridge crosses over the Azusa River near Hotaka Shrine.

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Awa Odori Festival

Dancers and musicians perform at the Awa Odori festival in Koenji in Tokyo on Sunday, August 26. The dance festival is part of the summer Obon celebrations in Japan in which Japanese honor the spirits of their ancestors. There are choreographed dances and a traditional song the performers sing. The festival in Koenji attracts thousands of dancers and many times that number of spectators.

Men and women usually perform different dances during the festival.

Lanterns function as signs announcing a group of dancers.

Performers play the shinobue flute, a traditional Japanese instrument.

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A thousand years ago, visiting the region of Angkor in Cambodia might have been equivalent to visiting New York today – it might have felt like it was the center of the world. Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, serving as the seat of the ancient Khmer Empire which controlled much of Southeast Asia from about the 9th to 15 centuries. The civilization had advanced irrigation systems and constructed impressive Hindu, and later Buddhist, temples. Today exploring the ruins of this once-great civilization produces the feeling of being an explorer, stumbling upon something magical and mysterious.

Angkor Wat, the centerpiece of the ruins of Angkor, is the most well know temple in the region in addition to being the largest. Built as a Hindu temple by a Khmer king during the 12th century, the temple later became Buddhist.

A statue of the Hindu god Vishnu awaits visitors in one of the entrance halls to Angkor Wat. Because Buddhism later became popular in the region, the statue is now treated as a depiction of Buddha.

On the left, Matt observes the central structure of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat may be the most famous of the ancient sites in Cambodia, but it is far from the only one. On the right is Ta Prohm, a Buddhist monastery that has nearly been swallowed up by moss and the surrounding jungle. In other areas, trees snake out of the complex’s walls and ceilings.

A monkey hangs out on a tree root near Bayon temple.

Left, a giant stone face – one of 216 – adorns a tower of Bayon temple. The faces are suspected to be modeled after either a Khmer king, a Buddhist symbol, or both. Right, a Cambodian man rests after a short, but heavy, seasonal rain.

In contrast to the ornate style of the ancient temples, many Cambodians today live in small houses built on stilts to serve as protection against flooding.

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All the World for a Drink

A delicious “reverse manhattan” made with chili-infused vermouth at Fuglen, a new cocktail bar near Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. That is all. Back to the drink.

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Islands in the Sun

Sunscreen and sunglasses. Sand and sandals. Coconuts and crabs. Ahh the beach. The beautiful Philippine island Palawan played host to my recent relaxing vacation.

Coconut trees dominate the coastline of Palawan.

A local man helps guide a boat towards land to retrieve fresh fish to cook for me and my friends later.

A different boat guide uses a pole to launch our boat toward another island, Isla Arena.

Isla Arena, a tiny island off the coast of Palawan, features a sanctuary which works to protect endangered sea turtles. Near the island is a beautiful coral reef I got to snorkel in.

We got to examine a number of ocean creatures near Isla Arena, including starfish, horseshoe crabs, and puffer fish.

Sena holds a feisty horseshoe crab by the tail. Horseshoe crabs are an ancient species having variants existing as long as 450 million years ago. And their blood is blue. Cool.

Tiny Isla Arena sits in the tranquil sea.

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