When I finally ended up jumping onto a plane at the Christchurch International Airport, I was relieved and depressed about getting away from Antarctica. I made it my home for a year of my life and met many friends that’ll likely be in my life for a very long time. I try not to dwell on the past, though. Plus, I was on my way to a very beautiful city that I had high expectations of.
My plans for Bangkok were extensive for the 9 days I originally had planned for it. I not only was expecting to have my 25th birthday there, I had reserved a seat at Gaggan. One of the top 10 restaurants in the world (ranked by the ubiquitous Restaurant Magazine that sets a high standard for the culinary world) was going to be my birthday dinner. To get a seat at one of these restaurants back in the states would cost you upwards of 300-400 dollars by the end of the night. Since the US dollar is so strong against the Thai Baht, it would cost me an incredible amount less to eat at a world-class restaurant. I had also reserved a seat at the 22nd best ranked restaurant in the world a few nights after along with very ambitious plans on hitting every single temple around the city center and the Grand Palace.
Before I left McMurdo, I took a chance at scheduling all of my flights and hotels with very little lee-way for consideration of weather. Since I only had about 2 weeks to get back home and get ready for training in Colorado for my eventual return to the Icy South, gambling on weather at McMurdo was an acceptable risk I was willing to take. If it paid off, I would be eating at a top restaurant in the world by my birthday and have 4 extra days in Bangkok. If it didn’t pay off, I would miss my reservation at Gaggan but I had a back-up reservation at another top restaurant in the Bangkok area, Nahm. I would also have to pay an extra 150 bucks to get my flight changed. In the end I was really only putting my money at risk. Unfortunately, my gamble didn’t pay off. My plane off the continent was delayed but I was lucky enough for it to only be pushed back by a day. I didn’t make it to Gaggan.
I did, however, get to spend my birthday with some Ice friends on their way down to Antarctica for the following summer season and my close friend that I was going to Bangkok with, Panda. I wasn’t too heart broken, as I only lost 3 days in Bangkok. I landed in Thailand at 1 AM and my friend had the foresight to book transportation to our hotel. It’s a good thing he did since the hotel was at the heart of the city on the river-front of the Phraya River, almost an hour away. The hotel was beautiful and the boats on the river were absolutely spectacular at night. As we entered the hotel, I was met with the best hospitality I’ve ever seen in the world so far.
For the next 4 days, my friend and I wandered the streets of Bangkok bargaining with street vendors for trinkets for our families, meandering through halls of great palaces and old temples with stunning depictions of all different sizes and shapes of Buddha, and eating the incredible Thai food that’s so famous around the world. Hopping on and off the river taxis that costed 15 cents a ride, I saw a majority of the things that were on my list. Not only that but we got to eat at Nahm, another top-ranked restaurant in the world that I mentioned earlier. That included 16 courses and a complimentary course because the restaurant heard that it was my birthday dinner, costing us 80 USD each. It would’ve been quadruple that cost if we ate at a top restaurant anywhere else in the world. When we got back to the hotel, we ordered an authentic hour-long Thai Massage that costed us less than 16 USD, which was very expensive in Thailand. It truly was a fantastic whirlwind. I was sad to leave with such a short time to experience the Southeast-Asian culture.
After all of that, I found myself in another airport on another plane. They flew me through Taipei, Taiwan and as soon as I landed, my next plane got canceled. They reluctantly put me on another plane with a better seat, as I wasn’t about to miss my time in San Francisco. I flew through Los Angeles with no trouble and ended up in a shuttle service driving through the San Francisco Bay area to my hotel at nearly 2 AM. I had a very extensive itinerary in the 36 hours I was scheduled in my hotel room so I was wide awake 7 AM. I took the trolley across town to one of the best bakeries in town, walked up and down the streets and parks while I ate my pastries, and wandered in and out of the various markets to buy some lunch to eat on the pier later on. I traversed much of the subway to find myself on the cluster of piers around the fisherman’s wharf. The Wharf Aquarium was amazing, along with the many restaurants and markets that snaked their way out onto the docks. A small detour off of the wharf landed me in the middle of the infamous China Town. Wandering through spice shops and novelty T-Shirt stores reminded me of Bangkok too much so I retraced my steps back to the pier I left.
After I ended up back on the wharf, I found, with much difficulty, a ferry ticket across the Bay to Sausalito, a small hill town with steep roads and a very touristic biking venture. They let you rent a bike across the Bay, take a ferry to Sausalito, and have a nice bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to the base of the tourist center on the other side. Since I had no phone yet and a very sketchy past with bikes in general, I opted to walk this entire route. Not really knowing where I was going when I landed in Sausalito, I wandered the steep hills trying to find any signs or markers that pointed me towards the Bridge. Many locals gave me awkward sideways glances as they walked by me, as I wasn’t even near the road that took me to the bridge. In fact, I ended up in a wilderness conservation area at the bottom of the town that was nowhere near where I needed to be. The only consoling factor in my obvious lack of direction was that it was a very beautiful walk that had way more wildlife wandering around than I would’ve expected. The good news was I could see the bridge again. Traversing random hills and what seemed like a yacht club, I finally made it to the route that brought me towards the bridge. My excursion across those hills gave me a beautiful picture of the Golden Gate Bridge straight through the arches all the way to the other side with cars bustling across it. Walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge was a serene moment for me after such a long winter in Antarctica and weaving under the bridge, listening to the hundreds of cars driving over me was an intense experience. The bus that took me back to my hotel gave me a great snapshot of the night life in San Francisco since the bridge was on the other side of town. Little did I know, some friends from back home were bar-hopping around my hotel but I didn’t get back to my hotel until 1 AM, too close to last call for me to track them down.
An early morning wake up call had me on another shuttle back to the airport at 6 AM the next day. The next time I’m in San Francisco, I’ll likely end up staying much, much longer. It quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world just from the small glimpse of the city I got. You would think that if it was my favorite city in the world, I would move there but it’s unfortunately also the most expensive city in America to live in. I’m comfortable with excursions through their streets and waters for now. Once I landed back home in Salt Lake City, I had a very quick turn-around to a team training that started in Denver and eventually ended with an fantastic week-long team building exercise on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park, along with 3 long days of doctors appointments and mental evaluations from psychiatrists to get fully Physically Qualified for where I am now, the South Pole. Next week’s post will likely be about our elaborate sunset dinner that the kitchen crew put on for the community, marking the time where we will no longer see the sun for the next 6 months. I’ll also talk about my time in Estes Park, Colorado and the ordeal of trying to Physically Qualify for the US Antarctic Program. Enjoy the pictures!