Tag Archives: Adventure

Oh, To Be A Brit!

I must admit, I was a bit disappointed upon coming to the UK, to discover that my dreams didn’t immediately have accents.

If my laptop (moment of silence in reverent memory of Steve Jobs) could change time zones without my assistance, and my Ebay account show only UK listings, then surely my dreams would get the message that it was time to Britanize the settings.

But, rude awakening to reality, I’ve still got that horrific California drawl of an OhMyGod! accent…even while I’m sleeping.

The adaptation processes is currently underway.

The one where I’m consistently in the wrong about how to say, and how to spell, and how to eat, and how to dress, and how to cross the street.

And have got to start adding a ‘u’ to color and eating french fries with a fork (and calling them ‘chips’ while I’m at it) and making the word ‘you’ plural (as in, “Would yous like some butterscotch pudding?”) and getting made fun of when I pronounce ‘garage,’ and ‘tomato’ like an “American.”

Or if I use the word ‘pickle,’ or ‘pants.’

Or ask for napkins in a restaurant.

Or inquire as to how many touchdowns were scored in a rugby game.

Or try to read the weather report, or bake something, only to discover I have absolutely no idea how hot, or cold anything ever is.

As my terms for heat and frost have been reduced to just that, “hot” and “cold.”

Numbers and temperatures have gained a liberating sort of insignificance.

Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

But despite all those desiccately dry British jokes (the majority at my own expense…) that I simply just don’t get (because there is nothing TO get).

There’s something I absolutely can’t help but admire about a country thats’ trains are faster than their busses.

That loves Jaffa Cakes almost as much as they love their queen.

And that dress their policemen up in such cute little outfits.

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A Shade of Life and Sunshine on the Open Road.

Thwack. Thwack. Thuuud.

Calculating the crappiness of the karma received from inadvertently killing butterflies, I ducked my head to avoid hitting yet another gorgeously sequined turquoise butterfly.

They intruded in gnat like swarms covering the perimeter of the sixty-kilometer road to Pala U Waterfall.

After the first few thuds vibrating solidly within my metal helmet, I forwent my futile attempts to guide the motorbike in an awkward anti-connect the dot demeanor in avoidance of the butterflies.

Trees erupted from the mountainside at all angles in toe touching proximity.

 They met in unison with tips arcing across the road, encompassing the torn cement in a canopy of moist nature.

The slightest of sunburns, and a couple liters of water later, my dear Indian friend Ashutosh and I screeched into the pay station to buy our tickets for the national park.

“Cun naksiksa!” “Me student!”

I pleaded with the woman working the booth, pulling out both my Webster University ID card and my best starving college student look in an effort to bargain with the 200 baht entrance fee for foreigners.

Returning victoriously to Ash who waited idling on the motorbike, I informed him of the spectacular 100 baht discount I’d haggled for us.

Approximately three American Dollars.

He beamed and proudly informed me that I was becoming Indian.

Pulling into the steep rocky parking lot, already drenched in salty sweat from the hour long butterfly dodging motorbike sprint we partook journeying to Pala U, we secured a spot between two tour busses, one packed with Chinese, the other, Indians, and we set out to do a bit more sweating.

I knew no more about Pala U Waterfall than the road signs depicted, which was an assortment of Thai lettering, something to the effect of น้ำตกสิบสองกิโลเมตร.

Apologies if that spoils the ending too much.

Needless to say, I was unprepared in the best of all possible ways for the beauty of this mirage.

After a concise bridge-crossing walk, surrounded by every possible shade of green, we ended up at a small pool of water collected from several billowing waterfalls.

With the enormous sacrifice of a pack of coconut crackers I’d purchased that morning on a rest stop to a roadside 7-11 wannabe on the bumpy road to Pala U, we crushed the crackers to pieces and dropped them into the water.

Only to leap back at the hordes of catfish so thick I could have utilized them as stepping stones, that immediately began jumping on cue and hurdling over one another, flopping desperate for a taste of powdered coconut cracker.

Whatever nostalgia I’d originally felt at parting with my crackers evaporated instantly at the degree of coolness with which these fish were freaking out, plus the condoling knowledge that with another twelve baht I could purchase another, considerably drier package of my own.

After the complete consumption of my crackers, the catfish flocked together beneath the water, idle at the edge of the rocks waiting for motive to move and another innocent bystander.

Pala U Waterfall has five levels to it, each plateau a significant hike further uphill and the cascades increasing grander and becoming far more intricate with the augmentation in elevation.

I overheard a couple of hairy potbellied men wheezing on their way up to the third level joking that after reaching the fifth level you’re so high up, you meet God.

It was only after the climb.

Twisting beneath boulders and slipping barefoot between rocks.

In that gorgeous creek bed style of half walking, three quarters running, leaping from rock to rock skimming the icy clear water.

That I realized they weren’t kidding.

Because I did meet him.

God, that is.

It was a nice moment of silence where the sunshine fills every possible spot of any word at all you could ever come up with to slip in the spaces.

I was standing at the edge of the stream on a simple mossy wet boulder that fit precisely into the panorama, identical to every other boulder you’d find up, down, or around for about twenty meters.

Except that I was in a grove of translucent butterflies.

Beautiful beyond belief.

And elegantly graceful in equal proportions of gentle wonder.

Reaching my hand up, I felt the legs of tens of tiny little beautiful butterflies trusting me.

Blue and purple and white and just the most incredible yellow, they were all so delicate and pinky up for a cup of tea sort of dainty.

Skeltering up and down my arms.

Absolutely surrounding me in a thin shelter of beauty.

Not flying, no destination.

Just hovering.

In the sunlight, precisely as I myself was doing.

I reached up into the sun and it felt like it’s only real purpose was lighting up my boulder.

And I saw little raindrops almost as elegant as the butterflies themselves. 

Falling from the sky so lightly that they disappeared before ever hitting me.

And I saw God.

And I felt God.

And above all, I knew that he was there.

Driving back from Pala U, several significant hours later, sopping wet from so much sweat and too many dunks in the waterfall to count, our clothes exhausted from all that drying out, only to get drenched yet again and again, we sang an off key top of the lungs assortment of Beatles tunes whenever we could remember the lyrics.

Halfway through a unique rendition of “Eight Days a Week” artistically merged with “Yellow Submarine,” Ash stalled the motorbike with a thwacking of it’s ancient brakes.

I peered around him mouth open in mid-“Yeah yeah yeah shanananana” to see an elephant standing in the middle of the road.

Standing isn’t necessarily the best word in this case.

It was more like, venting, or, needing to vent, as it appeared to be.

There was one extremely enormous, very pissed off elephant in the middle of the road.

Oh.

Hey.

Didn’t see you there.

Something like that, more or less, describes my conscious stream of thought.

Ash’s must have taken a more neanderthalic approach, with the fight or flight route running rapidly through his skull. As he floored it.

No really, I was impressed because even with the extreme lack of floor in the motorcycle, or, presence of open air where a floor potentially could have been, Ash really did manage to floor that beast of a motorcycle.

Heading precisely and directly towards the elephant.

I, in addition to the elephant as it turned out, assumed that Ash’s plan was to swerve to the right, fitting neatly into that little slice of street that the big grey guy hadn’t yet covered.

However more full of ferociousness than of not, he stampeded towards that empty space of road and, more frighteningly, towards us, in one powerful trot of a tantrum. 

With a screeching skid, Ash turned the motorbike around and we fled backwards, in a horrified mixture of shocked laughter and disbelief that there was indeed an extremely pissed off wild elephant that seemed to be have knighted himself king of the road and wanted us to Billy Goats Gruff it across the asphalt.

He also seemed fond of stepping on us with those big old wrinkly clubs of feet of his and grinding us into oblivion, but that was a thought I slipped out the side of my brain for dwelling on at a different time.

Waiting for several other cars to pass, and watching the elephants benign reaction to their presence, we decided to try to slip in behind an automobile and quickly, and painlessly cross by the elephant.

It was a nice plan in theory.

As soon as he spotted us, the interracial motorbike, he set out stamping and guffawing to keep us from crossing his blessed asphalt.

In a shriek of sound and speed and the smell of too much confusion and a lot of petroleum.

We somehow managed across that blasted barrier and away in a flash of Hindi curse words that had sprung a leak from Ash’s mouth.

A couple kilometers down the road, we spotted a few more innocent Thai passer byers on their motorbikes and honked at them shouting and pointing, “CHANG!!!!! CHANG!!!!!”

ELEPHANT!!!!!!

ELEPHANT!!!!!!!!!!

Fortunately that was one of the few Thai words floating around in our foreign vocabularies, thanks to the way in which the cheapest laundry detergent in Thailand is brand named “Chang.”

Essential knowledge for any college student.

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Hot.

It’s too hot to move.

It’s too hot to write.

It’s too hot to exist.

It’s too hot to think of a creative name for this blog post.

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Independence.

I drank straight out of the milk jug today.

I’ve absolutely never done that in my life before.

I always thought of it as gross.

I was so taken aback, I had to drown my condolences with Oreos and peanut butter.

Or perhaps it was the other way around.

But it turns out that the Oreos here are actually really nasty and horrifyingly unchocolatey, I call them Asian-O’s.

However I am not completely certain as to the politically correctness of that statement.

So I just smother them in more peanut butter and the improvement is instantly noticeable.

That’s pretty much a universal tactic for all life’s little boomerangs of difficulty.

Anyhow here I was standing out on the balcony chaperoning the highway traffic below chugging milk straight out of the carton.

What an enlightening experience.

It turns out that you can do that when you live alone.

And there’s no one to make choking noises of disgust, or give you the squinty little evil eye.

There’s just yourself.

And a dinner of banana, tuna, yogurt sandwiches on whole wheat bread.

Keeping you company as you clean out the fridge.

And realize that expiration dates are the most impatient devils you ever came close to eating.

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The Wishing Tree.

17:37 March 9, 2554

Last night on our scavenger hunt for dessert across Phi Phi Island, we passed a beautiful enormous tree.

The kind where the roots seemed to reach up all the way into the branches.

The wiggly bark was draped with colorful cloth wrapped tight around the trunk and fastened into a decorative bow.

Nissi stopped for a minute and held her palms together, touching the tip of her forehead in prayer at the base of the tree.

“What are you doing?” I smiled.

“Making a wish.” She replied.

Thinking that perhaps this was the wishing tree, I made a little wish myself, because one never knows what to believe in.

We slept in a small bungalow on the island that evening, furnished with simply a mattress on the floor and, well…that pretty much covers it.

Elated, I used a mosquito net for the very first time in my life, and actually found it to be rather charming in a fairytale book princess sort of way.

It draped over the bed like a netted canopy. Leaks of light from outside invaded through the holes in the thatch, creating a sprinkling of stars on the net.

But maybe that’s just the romantic in me.

We were met with a number of visitors throughout the night.

I guess, sent to authenticate the rurality of the little Thai bungalow: one house lizard, a couple of centipedes, several snails, and something else that ran across Nissi’s leg during the night. We’re not quite sure as to what it was, but it certainly isn’t coming around again any time soon due to the many sound barriers Nissi broke with her horrified screech.

The next morning, on the lookout for a ferry back, we ran across tens of taxi drivers pestering us, promising to take us to Long Beach.

I couldn’t help but wonder, wasn’t that a bit far away?

With the slightest interrogation of the Scottish bartender, we discovered it was supposedly the prettiest beach on Phi Phi Island about a half hours walk away.

That made a little more sense.

We headed out of the crowded oasis of Phi Phi Island that afternoon, sitting atop the ferry for a couple of hours with no distinct destination, in the light pulse of steady rain, feeling nothing but the perpetual wind hit our faces as the boat scraped gently across the water.

Scouring over maps, we closed our eyes and pointed, deciding to head about four hours North from Krabi to Khao Sok National Park, conveniently cutting some time off that treacherous ride home.

We waited patiently in the Krabi bus station, described in most tour books as a “jumping-off point for wonderful surrounding destinations,” which I discovered to mean that actual Thai people live there!

What a concept!

A startling sight after so many days spent sweltering in the hygienic container of tourism.

Switching onto a bus heading to Khao Sok National Park, my only slight annoyance was the sixty-five year old former rocker with long braided bleached blonde hair, dragon print sweat pants and hairy beer gut spilling shirtless over into his small Thai girlfriends chair. He was re-living the glory of his former days through the speakers on his portable radio he carried with him that displayed a profound devotion to Led Zeplin.

Despite his high volumed rock music infatuation, Nissi managed to fall asleep on the bus journey, and I managed to sit there, smiling in my own existence, pen and paper in hand ready to write down the next breath that anyone takes.

It was only after exiting the bus at the very last stop and peering around into the abandoned roads of empty black night nothingness did we realize that we should have gotten off about eighty kilometers back.

I never thought about that during the journey, you see the lighting through the trees outside was oh so beautiful, and the confident bus sure seemed to know where it was going…

Sitting on the curb of nightness peering intently through my Lonely Planet Thailand Travel Guide, flashlight perched in hand, (Life lessons compliments of my father: double check all locks, make sure the gas is off, and carry a flashlight at all times) spread between us, doing our very best at not freaking out and figuring out just where we were.

After a bit of frantic flipping through the glossy pages of the tour book that somehow had a knack for looking a lot better during the day, we identified our location and called a taxi driver to come pick us up and help to perform a hotel hunt.

Waiting on the taxi to arrive, I casually mentioned the wishing tree from the night before and how beautiful it had been.

In hindsight, it was probably not the best subject I could have brought up at that precise moment.

It was right about this time, that Nissi decided to tell me the truth about the wishing tree. She hadn’t wanted to tell me the night before while we were on the island so as not to scare me.

Six years ago, an enormous tsunami had hit Phi Phi Islands as well as Phuket on the morning after Christmas, and tens of thousands of people died or were injured, the results split equally between foreigners and Thais.

The Princess Ubolratana had been vacationing on the island when the tsunami had hit and her son, Khun Poom Jensen was jet skiing at the time.

He died instantly and his body is rumored to have flown through the windows of the hotel at which the Princess was staying.

Nissis’s brother, nineteen at the time, volunteered to help pick up the dead bodies and sort them for identification. He had to fingerprint each of the corpses.

The foreigners were shipped back to their home countries and the Thai bodies were each burned.

Nissi told me that when her brother first arrived, he wouldn’t get out of the car and wanted to go back home immediately.

He wasn’t prepared for what he saw.

She says that he tries to describe what he experienced, but he can’t.

He came home smelling like dead bodies, and reeked for weeks afterwards.

As for the wishing tree, he’d had to climb it to get all of the corpses that were stuck in the tall branches.

That wish I thought she’d been making, was a prayer for the safety of all the souls caught in the tree.

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Convince Yourself.

Live every moment convincing yourself

this

is my favorite part of life.

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An Abundance of Beauty of the Very Best Sort.

23:58 March 8, 2554

We departed from the lovely, artsy Bodega Hostel, much more like a hip indie café than a backpacking refuge.

The reasons for it being rated the number one hostel in all of Thailand were more than apparent. Bright murals covered each of the walls, as Jack Johnson swirled from the record player.

And the most vital asset of all, the bathroom, had real toilets.

Not to mention that it was all so gloriously clean.

With actual hand soap, mirrors you could see your reflection through, and working fans.

The latter of course made it difficult to keep the toilet paper down as a seat covering. Seeing as it was so keen on blowing away, swept up in the eager fan, right in that instant between placing it on the toilet rim, and racing to pin it down with your behind. After one too many failed attempts I lost hope and plopped down a la mode, hoping that they cleaned the toilet seat as often as they seemed to clean that luminescent tile floor of theirs.

We left sipping orange juice from glasses clean enough that it made you actually want to drink out of them, a sincere first in all of Thailand.

We had planned for the day a speedboat tour of the islands off the coast of Phuket.

A ridiculously touristy, vaguely embarrassing endeavor?

Yes.

But we took our chances and held our breath that we wouldn’t run into anyone we recognized, besides each other that is.

The tickets cost the obnoxiously high tourist price of 3,400 baht a piece ($113.00 US).

A fact that once Nissi discovered, she simply snorted, and told me to go hide around the corner.

Not three minutes later she found me, holding those very same tickets, “Sold at 2,000 baht a pair, thank god they didn’t see your hair!”, she exclaimed.

That pretty much sums up all of Thai marketing and business management.

The whiter you are, and the more jewelry you wear, the higher your price tag goes up. Needless to say, it’s been quite an adventure and Nissi hasn’t necessarily been enjoying experiencing the other side of the spectrum too much…

Once aboard the shoulder to shoulder packed speedboat, our guide popped one hip, leaned back exuding a smorgasbord of attitude, and with a flick of his short cropped hair, introduced himself as, “Shakira.”

We performed quite a convincing role of playing tourist. Visiting beaches so crowded you literally had to wait in line, squeezing past hordes of sweaty foreigners just to take a single picture.

It was all so breathtakingly stunning, and the beauty was almost outrageous.

However the herds of human we were required to step over in order to so much as get a grain of sand between our toes, magically diminished the enjoyability of the entire ordeal.

As Shakira gleefully announced, we visited the island that Leonardo DiCaprio’s, “The Beach” was filmed at!

A statement which meant absolutely nothing to me, but I’m sure someone somewhere will appreciate.

After our “snorkeling experience” in which I saw far more plumber’s crack easily sliding out of slippery swimsuits than I did exotic sea life, we took a whirl around Phi Phi Island.  (Pronounced pee-pee)

Give yourself about three minutes to get over the name.

I couldn’t believe I was going to visit someplace called “pee-pee islands.”

Tour books actually printed it in their pamphlets!

Wonders never cease.

After several chortles of laughter and a decent share of potty talk, I was over it.

Breezily ordering tickets and selecting destinations, letting “Pee-pee Islands” slip out of my mouth so soberly, you’d think I was a native.

And it was beautiful.

To say the absolute bare minimum.

Think tropical island.

Go onto the nearest photo shop application in your imagination.

Turn up the turquoise of the water by a couple hundred notches.

Brighten the sun.

Soften the sand.

Add some texture to the coconuts hanging in bunches beneath each tree.

Let the aroma of fresh island mangoes waft nonchalantly through your hair.

And go ahead and add a “ding” to the smiling teeth of the deeply tanned European’s sunbathing in their banana hammocks, and not much else, lined up in a logarithm on beach blankets.

As is only natural in a map-less journey, it seemed as though our destination had found us.

So we promptly left the tour.

A friendly perk of carrying your life on your back in a single damp bag is that it makes for easy departure and an instant change of plans.

Dawdling along the beach, I heard my name being called.

That was a bit strange.

I know it’s a small world, but I really wasn’t expecting a reunion with any third grade teachers…I turned around to see Chris yelling my name.

Chris is better known around Webster University as, “The guy with the pink shorts.” He’s from Holland, and in the best of all possible ways, I guess wearing pink shorts is just something people do a lot of over there.

And when I say that, I mean really, really tight ones with herring bone checks on them that kind of bulge out excessively in all the most awkward of places.

Seeing Chris was the first surprise.

Surprise number two was when Chris introduced me to his girlfriend of three years.

Girlfriend?

Surprise!

You learn something new every day.

I wondered if she’d be interested to know that he asked me out on a date not a couple of weeks ago.

Wandering back along the crisp beach in search of our hut, it began to shower.

An instantaneous temperamental shift from pristine blue paradise, to dark rolling rainclouds with a thick, sinister downpour unmercifully willing to drench.

We were caught beneath a rundown overhang, pressed close to the hatch bungalow so as not to absorb the drips pelting down from the tip of the roof.

Wet.

Cold.

Hungry.

Miserable.

Rain on our Phi Phi Island vacation.

Despite the irony, I needed to pee, and I could feel a headache began to pulse its way into my consciousness.

I sincerely wished to be anywhere else in the world right then.

So I did the only thing possible it seemed there was to do.

I took off my clothes.

Running, palms wide, and mouth open into the rain like a maniac with arms twirling.

I felt the rain.

Felt each one of the endless droplets bombard against my skin.

And I felt the stares of a hundred beach bound tourists caught under the awnings.

Forlornly gazing at the sopping beach, repetitively checking their iPhones for the weather report. In much the same manner that continuous pushing of the elevator button seems to make it operate faster, frequent weather updates just may improve the atmosphere.

My sun burnt body in its bright orange striped bathing suit, the archaic one with the stretched out elastic, jumped, and danced, and smiled as I felt the mud cake generously between my toes.

I felt as though I could have walked a thousand miles out into the shallow clear water.

And just kept on running into that gusty warm wind and inhaling that sweet palm leaf smell of banana tree forever and ever.

Eventually, my meditative trance fixed on the gorgeously elegant rocky coastline was shattered, as two Thai boys ran out into the aggressive rain kicking a soccer ball.

They passed it back and forth before a couple more men ran out to join them, and a few more.

Not one to be left out, I barreled over to partake in their festivities.

Granted I was a bit redder than them and the only one with sequins on my bathing suit, and my soccer skills were significantly lower than theirs, as in, nonexistent.

But no one seemed to mind.

And with the addition of a few more players, we had ourselves a full-fledged soccer match, shirtless against shirtless amidst the white shards of bursted lightning and deep cracks of hollow thunder.

Muddy in places I didn’t even know existed.

Wet and soggy, sopping solid through.

Exhausted and out of breath.

But smiling.

I ran back into the knee-deep water to be alone, and to savor that natural type of no laundry detergent necessary post rain clean sort of nature smell.

And looking out, I realized that I didn’t know life could be this beautiful.

No really, it sounds drippingly romantic of me to say, but just standing there in the bay, toes dipped into the soft mellow sand with water so clear that if it wasn’t for the bright tiny fish darting from crevice to cranny, I wouldn’t be able to tell where sky ended and water began.

But I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be with life.

So much beauty and crackling lightning and shatters of thunder overlooking the gently ominous rainclouds on the horizon, interrupted only by jagged peaks of dark rock.

It was one of those moments.

When there’s nothing else at all in the world that you can do, besides stand there and marvel, mouth agape, but throw your head back and thank whomever.

Whatever glorious being that happens to be occupying the great omnipotent nametag of almightiness, and whisper,

“Thank you for life.”

Because there’s absolutely nothing else in the world that needs to be said.

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