So long, 2010; it’s been nice knowing ya…

Well, hello there 2011. You’ve got a hell of a lot to live up to.

As most people know, I started my whirlwind trip in late summer of 2009 and things haven’t really gone bad yet.

I started 2010 in the remote paradise of the Andaman Islands, far off India’s coast. I had just learned to dive and fell in love with the sport. Fish are friends, not food.

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Protected: Spice up your holidays with some paan

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Remembering good times and a birthday, from India

In India, guy friends hold hands

We interrupt my recent string of ocean, diving and ecology related posts for an important announcement.

My shenanigan wallah, partner in crime and damn good friend, Joel, celebrates a birthday today, though he probably won’t mention it.

But I will.

He and his lady, Katie, came to visit India last year. They had some good times, some hot times and a few sick moments in between. Above are photos to remember the trip.

Happy birthday, brother.

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Ready, set, jump!

Take the plunge

Rock jumping into 14 degree water at Cerro de las Tijeretas (Frigate Bird Hill) on San Cristobal. It was a beautiful afternoon and some local boys decided to show off their machismo. I had been diving in that water a few days before and I’d hate to go in without a wetsuit.

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Protected: Halloween’s frights amid Lodi’s beautiful tombs

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Messing around in the bay

Island goofing off

Crystal bay waters of the Galapagos make for a fun afternoon, after the catch has been brought in. Here a Styrofoam box becomes a makeshift boat. This was just before the kid got tipped over and went into the drink.

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A run-in with a poisonous grasshopper

Tranquilo, little buddy!

This little guy is, at the moment of this photo, climbing my shirt. And, according to Enrique, our volunteer leader, he is rather poisonous.

We were cutting scrub in a plantain garden when we stumbled upon him. Enrique asked if anyone would like to have him climb aboard. It was only when he had climbed my shirt, my shoulder and perched on the back of my neck that Enrique became worried. Apparently, if he became to agitated, I was in trouble.

“Tranquilo, tranquilo!” Enrique kept shouting at me. It took several minutes more for Enrique to tease the angry grasshopper — which when spread out was about the size of my fist — off me.

Good times.

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One-year anniversary of kissing the old life goodbye

I still don't know the name of that fruit

It’s been a year to the day since I officially started My Backpacking Life and hopped an international flight from Chicago. I’ve been on five different continents since then, produced a small amount of reporting, bummed about working when I could, volunteered as a teacher in rural India and a conservationist in rural Ecuador and smiled too much for my own good.

I encountered the limits of freelance journalism and discovered that I don’t have the hustle necessary to pay the bills that way. I also learned that I want to play a more active role in helping the planet and its huddled poor. I’m ready to take off the neutral observer hat and put the gloves of a fighter (even if it means going to graduate school).

I became what amounts to a dual citizen of both the U.S. and India. I’m moving back to Delhi for another extended (indefinite?) stay in a few weeks.

I learned to dive, fell in love with the sport and became obsessed with the oceans. I can’t now foresee a future where I’m not diving regularly. I learned how much I love sea turtles.

I’ve taken more than 16,000 photos.

I lost more than 52 kilograms (about 115 pounds). I had become incredibly overweight and was eating and drinking myself to death. Now, I’m vegetarian and only occasionally go near alcohol. I jog and am seriously contemplating running a half-marathon yet this year.

That’s not to say I don’t miss people and places and things from my old life. I have many fond memories and no real regrets.

But in the photo above, I am tired, sweaty, muddy, smelly and sucking on the remainder of a strange jungle fruit in the Ecuadoran Amazon. I’m also immensely happy with that new me.

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Shuar warriors

Warrior pose

During the three weeks I volunteered in the Ecuadorian Amazon, or “en la selva,” I lived in a Shuar community caught between traditional practices and modernization. Meet our volunteer director, Enrique Vargas, a 23-year-old who is studied in traditional ways, drips machismo and wants, in male Shuar fashion, multiple wives.

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Adam 2, Joel 0

When I stopped through St. Louis in June, Joel and I had a rematch of our previous Monopoly battle from August 2009 in Green Lake. A few people will recall that historic clash when I pantsed Joel good and he complained that I wouldn’t immediately defend my title again.

Well I beat him again this time ’round, though I admit I rolled like the dice were rigged.

I’ll defend the title next year perhaps. Right now, the series stands at 2-0, me.

I’ve been playing Monopoly a fair amount lately. There was a battered version of it in Spanish (hence the “Monopolio” blog title) and I’ve since downloaded a pocket version for my iPod.

And yes, Joel, I recognize that the game remains mostly luck. I was absolutely destroyed in a five-way exhibition last month in the jungle.

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