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Around the World 2009

a travel blog by Kevin Naughton

Howdy folks:
Welcome to the official launch of Kevin and Ben's Around-the-World travel blog!

We departed March 14, 2009 and return November 1, 2009. You should join us! Some of our friends have already booked tickets! Soooo, what are you waiting for?! Check the dates below and join the adventure!


Kev and Ben

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Kevin and Ben's Eight Month Around the World Trip!

Washington, United States

Dear Friends and Family:

After one year of research and planning, Ben and I are finally embarking on our eight month around the world backpacking trip on March 14, 2009!

For those of you new to our travel plans, we’re taking the rest of the year off to explore, work, read, volunteer, write, wander, and marinate in foreign cultures. This trip will take us through Japan, Northern China, Tibet, Southeast Asia, Nepal, India, Turkey, the Middle East, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil and Paraguay.

Our style of travel will be the road less traveled and our itinerary is open—we will fly into one city and out of another and we’ll have weeks or months to get from “A” to “B.” We’re taking backpacks, a couple changes of clothes, a mini laptop, a pocket sized video camera and that’s about it.

Our departure from Washington will be bittersweet as we leave behind many friends and fond memories. Ben had the honor of working on Capitol Hill for two Members of Congress and he made a difference in the lives of thousands of constituents. I served two Presidents at the White House and managed to get scolded by the President only once. I also witnessed Ben’s mother serve as a Member of Congress with tireless dedication and commitment to the great people of Kansas.

And of course, when we depart, we want to include you in our travels! We’ll share our adventures through Facebook with blogs, pictures, and video. You can also see an interactive map of our planned route on our travel blog.

We’d also love for you to join us for a week or two (we might even stay in a real hotel for such an occasion!). My sister is meeting us in Thailand and others are booking tickets to join in Egypt, South Africa, and Brazil. The travel dollar is going further and further everyday….e-mail us to strategerize.

But if you can’t make it overseas, we’d like to invite you to our Bon Voyage Party in Washington, DC the night before we depart, on Friday, March 13, 2009, at 7PM. The address is below, stay tuned for more party details!

1117 10th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001


Kevin and Ben

Itinerary (dates are just a rough estimate)

March 14, 2009
Washington, DC

March 15 - 16
Seoul, South Korea

March 17 – 24

March 25 – May 1

May 2 – June 17

June 18 – July 20
Northern India

July 21 – July 26
Istanbul, Turkey

July 27 – August 30

September 1 – September 12

September 12 – October 11
South Africa

October 12 – October 29

October 30, 2009
Washington, DC

permalink written by  Kevin Naughton on February 17, 2009 from Washington, United States
from the travel blog: Around the World 2009
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Beijing Adventures!

Beijing, China

Hi folks!

Its hard to believe we've only been gone two weeks yet we've hit Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing! We spent the first week and a half visiting friends in Korea and Japan so not too much to report, just great hospitality, good food, and great friends. What more could we want?!

I also apologize for not writing sooner, now that we've arrived in Beijing and I have loads of pictures and video to share with everyone, the internet connetions in Beijing have proven to be hit or miss. So, sadly all of our prepared videos and photos are in my pocket on a thumb drive that is banned from this internet cafe. I even had to have my photo taken by the "Chinese Cultural Law Enforcement Agency" before getting an account for an hour. So, please accept a rain check on the pics and read on for our most recent adventures in China.

Ben and I found Beijing to be interesting and agrivating at the same time. The weather was surprisingly crisp with clear blue skies for the last three days. We took advantage of the sun and hit the Forbidden City and joined literally tens of thousands of Chinese tourists who followed hired tour guides who screamed into cheap megaphones the entire time. The buildings were beautiful but it felt like a cheap disney world to us.

The next day I was determined to not let the other tourists ruin my trek to the Great Wall, so Ben and I traveled out to a very rural part of the wall that passes through a very sleepy farming village. The wall had not been restorted and it was incredible to climb the original steps that climbed ear popping mountain peaks. This part of the wall in Huang Hua, and is so remote that there is no admission fee and virtually no tourists (we were on the only people on the wall). There was a local peasant who decided to charge a few cents to gain admission to the trail that leads to the wall and skirts his property. We also encountered a very husky Chinese woman on the wall who threatened us with a pick ax if we did not pay her admission to pass through the watch tower that she was occupying. We ended up pushing our way through without creating an international incident...hopefully. :-)

More stories and pictures to follow!

Kevin and Ben

permalink written by  Kevin Naughton on March 27, 2009 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Around the World 2009
tagged China, GreatWall and HuangHua

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Finding Old China

Pingyao, China

China is a challenge. If Japan were the immaculate, sleepy village in the south of France, China would be the loudmouthed, gum smacking American tourist terrorizing it’s streets. Arriving directly from Japan, the contrast is absolutely shocking. When on a train in Japan, the Japanese converse using a whisper with so many formalities that it takes three minutes to thank someone for offering up their seat; in Beijing, it seems like everyone has terrets with spit showering outbursts…and that’s just the guy on his cell phone.

With that being said, our transition into China has been tumultuous. Beijing, just like any big city, was rather unforgiving to the visitor and we decided to head out to Pingyao, a rural town to the southwest in a quest to find some country charm in this rapidly developing and harshly industrial country. Pingyao claims home to one of the last remaining walled cities in China and to get there, we had to take a 12-hour overnight train from Beijing. Our journey started when Ben and I arrived late to the Beijing West Train Station due to miscalculating the huge distances between the subway station and the train station in Beijing. The brand new subway line built for the Olympics did not connect to the long distance train station; it was a good half a mile walk. A lot of things in China don’t seem to be logical. After hoofing it through eight busy blocks and wading through a sea of humanity, we arrived at Beijing West Train Station, a sprawling monstrosity teeming with tens of thousands of Chinese, each shouldering enormous grain sacks packed with their belongings. Those too old to keep up were thrown on the back of family members and carried to their platform. It was obvious that these people were not making a casual weekend trip, train tickets are expensive for the average Chinese and these passengers were traveling because they had to. It is said that trains never run late in a dictatorship and these trains were waiting for no one, including us.

We arrived at our train drenched in sweat and out of breath. The car was stuffy and warm; we were hit with the smell of instant noodles, McDonald’s, and old clothing. The moment we appeared in the doorway, every passenger stopped and stared in surprise. Then, in seconds, we were greeted with warm toothless smiles and two men immediately took our huge, funny looking backpacks off our shoulders and began strategerizing on where they were going to fit our bags in the completely full overhead luggage rack. Soon, Ben and I had the assistance of ten passengers all providing their two cents in Chinese on where to make room for us. Everyone pitched in to help move around grain sacks, suitcases, and boxes. We were finally in our seats and we were stared at for the next 12 hours. Non-stop.

Pingyao is a darling little city. Built during the Ming Dynasty, it was a center for trade and commerce during the 14th century. The banks in this city developed the country’s first banking and checking system to facilitate trade with Mongolia.
As China rapidly developed in the 20th century and trade moved to the eastern seaboard, Pingyao fell into poverty and the classic Chinese architecture and design has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

What makes this walled city unique is that it is still very much a living, breathing town. Inside the huge stone walls, ancient Ming dynasty streets teem with life. Kids attend school inside gray stoned buildings with crimson red lanterns blowing in the breeze, flour mills fill grain sacks and sell them on the street, banks conduct business behind ornate rice paper doors, and noodle shops sell tantalizing street food under the jade colored eaves of traditional Chinese roofs. Every turn into an alley or side street yields a Buddhist shrine or temple.

We stayed in a traditional Chinese home with rooms that surround a central, stone courtyard. We’ve made great friends with our Canadian and German roommates.

We're now on our way to Xi'an, China.

permalink written by  Kevin Naughton on March 30, 2009 from Pingyao, China
from the travel blog: Around the World 2009
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Exploring rural China

Kunming, China

We’re about three weeks into our trek through China and we’re finally starting to relax down here in the mountains of southwest China, a stone’s throw from Tibet. We never planned to cover so much ground so quickly but northeast China encapsulated everything that is dreadful about China. We were perpetually pushed south by throat burning pollution, drought induced dust storms, nonstop construction (and demolition), dangerous driving with no seatbelts, and overwhelming piles of trash and pools of sewage. We have finally found warmer climes and untainted nature 1,700 miles from where we started in Beijing.

The first stop since our last update was in Xi’an, China (pronounced “Shee-ahn”). I’m reading Colin Thubron’s book, “Shadow of the Silk Road,” which is a fascinating documentary of a modern day trek along the original Silk Road that connected Xi’an, China with Istanbul, Turkey. After centuries of trade and indirect contact with the west, Thubron describes the vibrant Muslim community that still exists in Xi’an today.

When I passed through Xi’an a few weeks ago I saw Chinese Buddhists and Chinese Muslims conduct business and live side by side as they have for hundreds of years. I also enjoyed a unique Xi’an cuisine of kebabs, dried persimmons, and dumplings. I tried one of everything.

We then headed further south to Yunnan Province and I am writing this note from inside Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world. The furious and crystal clear Jinsha River carves its way through an incredibly narrow pass between two mountain ranges that soar 12,795 feet above the riverbed.

The base of the gorge is choked with lush greenery, a few thousand feet up it changes to brown grass with mountain streams, and further above the mountain peaks are dusted with snow. The gorge teems with life as rural farmers carve out a living in the steep, seemingly impossible steppes of the mountains. Rice terraces cling to cliffs and quaint villages are precariously perched on mountain ledges. A single road that passes through the length of the gorge is littered with fallen boulders that almost block the road entirely in places. If the high altitude doesn’t take your breath away, the spectacular scenery will.

During our precarious hike through the gorge, we stayed in a Chinese guesthouse run by several cute women who casually sang traditional Chinese songs as they served bland food on a balcony that overlooked the gorge. When you have real estate like that it doesn’t matter what the food tastes like.

This gorge is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. But sadly, a recurring theme in China is that all good things come to an end, and the preliminary construction has started for 12 dams that will forever change the landscape.

In our travels we have also encountered many of China’s burgeoning middle class, a group of some 150 million people out of 1.3 billion Chinese. Here, the typical middle class person has enough discretionary income to buy a small car, a modest apartment, and travel a bit on an average annual income of US$18,000. China’s economic development over the past ten years has been compared to America’s last 50. While the money is here, the social development is still far behind. From my curbside observation, the Chinese who shop in department stores and drive Honda Accords also scream into their cell phone, argue and push their way through crowds, toss bags of trash out of car windows, and spit on the floor in restaurants. I even saw a well-dressed woman help her baby daughter squat in front of a McDonald’s to defecate on the sidewalk. It’s a startling reminder that money doesn’t ensure responsible behavior and it’s a recurring theme throughout China.

Yet, despite the challenges that China faces, Ben and I have experienced the wonderful warmth and kindness of the Chinese people. A woman of limited means paid for our bus fare out of blind generosity just the other day.

permalink written by  Kevin Naughton on April 15, 2009 from Kunming, China
from the travel blog: Around the World 2009
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Kevin Naughton Kevin Naughton
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-29 years old
-I've traveled through 38 countries in the past ten years for work or school
-I'm currently on my first around-the-world backpacking trip for 8 months

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