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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

New Zealand’s South Island: The Crown Jewel of the Southern Hemisphere

New Zealand's South Island is the crown jewel of the Southern Hemisphere. 14 hours from top to bottom and 5 from side to side, it's a tiny area that's packed with the full range of natural beauty you'd typically find spread across the entirety of a much larger continent. The western spine is a continuous mountain range while its interior boasts the same rolling hills and endless farmland that makes the North Island so delightful.

My first impression after flying into Christchurch, located on the east coast, was one of slight disappointment. The city had a bit of a weird layout to it, mixing a sort of glittery casino effect similar to Reno with a more small-town feel. It wasn't until speaking to a local friend that I realized the 2011 earthquake had almost leveled the downtown and it still carries the structural ghosts of that devastation.

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New Zealand’s North Island: Rainbows, Hobbits and High Places

I planned this trip with the strategy of getting the most difficult parts (India) out of the way early and making sure that each sequential stage to follow would be easier and more epic so I could finish strong. There was never a doubt that the cherry on top of everything would be New Zealand, the source of 90% of the incredible landscape photographs I'd ever drooled over.

This small country, famous for its two large islands situated off Australia's Southeastern coast in the Tasman Sea, packs some of the most epic scenery in the world into a land mass the size of Colorado. Formed as part of the active Ring of Fire, it is heavily volcanic and its positioning in the stormy Tasman Sea has given its extreme topography such a deluge of rain that it bursts with green life.

There's a saying that in Australia everything is trying to kill you. That seems reasonably accurate -- snakes, spiders, crocs, insects... living among so many potentially lethal creatures has given the Aussies a sense of fatalism about the whole thing. New Zealand, on the other hand, has somehow avoided this harsh reality and instead there is almost nothing of any danger to humans whatsoever. There are no apex predators and, if you are camping outdoors, there is nothing to fear. Maybe that's why the New Zealand people carry the Australian chill but with a distinctly Canadian-seeming sense of upbeat friendliness.

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Australia: Sydney to Brisbane on the Noisy Toy

The final miles to Sydney were uneventful, an anticlimax after the glorious rides of the days before. But the city was a worthy adventure on its own and, after dropping off the bike and riding the train back, I dove in with gleeful abandon.

I can confidently say that Sydney is the most beautiful modern city I've ever seen. The following day saw me testing out one of the many bike shares that littered the city with broken-down and inconveniently placed cycles. Puffing from the exertion and the after effects of a long-since-broken fitness routine, I took the little city bike for a long loop along the water.

The emerald green bay was filled with small boats that clustered in front of an elegant skyline. The parks were sparsely populated with people, mostly older, who walked together in pairs and shielded themselves from the sun.

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Australia: High Country from Melbourne to Sydney

Throughout my life, a common theme has been the gentle but persistent whisper to "Go West". This urge, which pushed me to explore the western US and to eventually move to California, obviously runs deeper than simply the pull of the compass needle. It stems from a romantic attraction to savage landscapes, open skies and big heaping gulps of Freedom which follow from chasing the sunset in North America.

For similar reasons, I've longed for years to explore the wilderness of Australia. It's the only developed country I can imagine that has enough of that "wild frontier" energy to match the western US. To be candid, I've also long been curious whether there was a place in the southern hemisphere where I could someday find a home for the winter months or even live full-time. It was just so unexplored and far away that the possibilities seemed endless.

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Bali: Surfing Through a Curated Slice of Paradise

The sheer white drapes pulled back to reveal a perfect panoramic view. On one side, rice paddies were bathed in the light of the setting sun that filtered unobstructed into the enclosure for the outdoor shower. On the other, the thatch-roofed huts of the surf camp stood out amidst the dense shrubs and palms that ringed carefully cut grass and pools. Bali was a lot of things but chief among them was a visual paradise.

To contrast the more transient journeys of the prior couple months, I designed my time in Bali for a more chilled-out vibe. I joined the Wave House surf camp in Canggu on the southwestern side of the island for a week of easy living and daily surf lessons and I wasn't disappointed.

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Southern Thailand: Pictures Worth 1000 Buckets

Southern Thailand represented a completely different sort of experience from the north. After landing in Phuket, I immediately felt my mental armor returning. Where Chiang Mai had exuded casual comfort, Phuket was a return to the tourist game I'd hoped to avoid.

I spent as little time as possible among the paved heat of Phuket and took a ferry to the island of Koh Phi Phi. The composition of my fellow passengers should have given fair warning that I wasn't going to the quiet paradise for which I'd hoped but the slow journey into the Andaman Sea was deceptively beautiful. Small rooster-tailed taxis buzzed by and the green cliffs of the islands we passed could have populated any postcard.

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Northern Thailand: Bustling Bangkok to the Mountains of Chiang Mai

I sat in the back of the Uber as we traveled to downtown Bangkok and breathed slowly out, feeling all the muscles of both my body and spirit slowly unclench. I hadn't realized how tense I'd been over the course of the previous month in India and it was immediately clear that Thailand would be a completely different experience. For example, I'd acquired and installed a new SIM card in the time it took to call the Uber from the free airport wifi. The highways were first-rate and nothing around me indicated anything but a world-class city.

Installed in a four-star hotel near downtown that cost less than a good meal in San Francisco, I felt the pull of the spotlessly clean sheets luring me towards immediate sleep. But the whispered song of the Thai capital that thrummed through my fired veins spoke of a far different imperative. So I mustered the energy and set out into the nearby alleyways to get my first taste of real Thai curry.

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Kerala: God’s Own Country

I looked forward to Kerala during almost every day of the trip so far. The southernmost state in India is known for its beauty and I was more than ready for it.

Kerala is nicknamed "God's Own Country". Riding in a car from the airport to the city of Kochi, I was immediately struck by the difference between this final state on my itinerary and those which had come before. The roads were by no means perfect, but it took me a long moment to realize that they were almost, well, clean. I saw traffic direction being done by female police officers driving bright pink cars, something which would have seemed culturally out of place anywhere else. Overall, I couldn't shake the impression that Kerala was clearly the less crowded and wealthier cousin among nearby states.

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Karnataka Rocks: a Journey Through Hampi and Badami


...As if I could have slept anyway. The overnight bus from Panjim to Hampi was a rollercoaster of hills and honking for 10 hours straight while I was cooped up in a bunk designed for a far slighter body frame than mine. That the driver might assume anyone could catch sleep on such a journey seemed a particular kind of madness.

Shaking off the mental fog, I hoisted my pack, clutched my motorcycle helmet and descended the exit stair. The doors at the bottom opened into the predawn darkness and, rather than the silence of a world clinging to the last vestiges of its repose, we were met with a roaring cacophony of voices.

At least 30 tuktuk drivers surged to fill the door opening, arms extended and hands grabbing for flesh, yelling endearments and demands.

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Goa: Debunking the Good Life

The entry into Goa's Dabolim airport was completely different than the smoggy rush of Mumbai. There was the same bureaucracy - the taxi unions have an iron grip on travel so prices for a ride into Panjim are extortionate and the shoving necessary to get a ticket would send an order-seeking Scandinavian into a dead faint - but rather than the potent cocktail of human habitation I'd just left, the air wore a thin veil of woodsmoke which would prove to be omnipresent.

Nervous but ready to get started with the motorcycle portion of the adventure, I needed to track down a viable bike. In what would prove to be a consistent theme, the hostel receptionist "knew someone who could help". I ended up halfway on the back of a tiny moped that sped through the streets and down to the transportation corridor where the rental stalls were located. Not only did I discover that the tyranny of the taxi lobby had destroyed the ability to take rentals outside the state, forcing me to completely change my itinerary, but the fella who took me down there tried a shakedown of hard currency for the favor.

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