Tag Archives: journey

Border crossings, travel hiccups,…and finally, Jordan!

I finally arrived in Tel Aviv, having flown the last leg of my journey from Instanbul with an abnormally high number of children aboard – I was soon to learn this is the norm around here.  Families have a HUGE number of children and traveling with all 5-8 children is certainly way more common than in the US.  Ben Gurion airport is beautiful and security was a breeze, despite my apprehensions from all the warnings I had been given about it.   Basically I just got interrogated with a few specific questions through some thick glass – I had to keep asking the guard to repeat himself as I could barely hear him with all the noise in the background. I’m sure he thought I was extremely dense and could do no harm in his country and let me through to claim my bag and get my adventure started! J

First couple hiccups included my debit card being refused by the airport ATM, and subsequently my taxi driver refusing to let me pay with a card despite my being told clearly before I got in that it would be no problem. So here I am in the middle of the night with a taxi driver who needs to be paid, me with too little cash and no clue where I am, and a debit card that doesn’t work… lovely J We found a little free-standing ATM that worked (thank goodness!) and I arrived at my little hotel…where I couldn’t sleep at all thanks to the time change. It turned out this place had an absolutely lovely rooftop deck that overlooked the Meditteranean Sea and it felt soooo good to be up there, feeling the night breezes and taking in all the sensations around me. Being awake in such a lovely setting was a great excuse to get a work out in and I felt truly ALIVE and so happy and excited to be exactly where I was and for what the next few weeks held in store for me.

Early the next morning I arrived at the little domestic airport in TLV way too early and had to wait outside the (well-secured) gates till the airport opened. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one that made that mistake so I had some good conversation to keep me occupied. And, oh, did I say that security was a breeze somewhere earlier in this blog?! Yeah…nope. They scrutinized my passport, didn’t really like what they saw, made a very long phone call to god knows who, scrutinized it some more, questioned me about pretty much everything, ran my bags through the scanner LITERALLY about 5-7 times (I lost track), unpacked my fastidiously packed backpack, and finally handed me my stuff and my passport back and told me to enjoy my flight to Eilat. Whew!

So I arrived in Eilat (very far south resort beach town on the Red Sea) but I immediately zoomed off to the Jordanian border to begin my grand Jordanian tour. The border crossing was another almost unbelievable amount of passport checks. I think I literally had to show 7-8 people my passport, stopping at each different window, checkpoint, gate, scanner. Carrying my bags down a rather long stretch of no-man’s land to the Jordanian gate, it felt exactly like something in a movie… the hot desert air, the tall white metal gates in the distance, a couple other people in the distance struggling solo with their bags as well… interesting. I’m learning to really embrace the moments though and roll with each part of the happenings as part of the adventure. It makes it way more peaceful and way more exciting too, ironically.

My Jordanian driver deserves a blog devoted entirely to him, but for now let me just say he and I were quite the buddies by the time we arrived in Wadi Musa 2 hrs later. An older gentleman with 8 grown children, he really had quite the perspectives on Jordanian culture and population, the world, the USA, people, marriage, etc etc. More on him perhaps later…

The first thing my tour coordinator had booked for me was a cooking class with the Bedoins. I really had no idea what to expect but it sounded fun… boy, was it ever SO cool and completely different than anything I could have even made up or wanted. My Jordan experiences will be continued in next blog… Have to get ready to go have breakfast and leave Jerusalem for exploring up in beautiful Northern Israel… J

 

 

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Fika, Family, and Friends… A Swedish journey begins.

Several months ago, two of my really good friends asked me if I would like to join on a trip this summer over to Scandinavia and Scotland to visit family, friends and explore. Well, of course, I said yes. Who wouldn’t, right? It was fun thing to look forward to over the better part of this year and made super easy by the fact that they planned most everything on the itinerary, leaving me only to paypal money over for tickets and activities and anticipate a rollicking good time. 🙂

Karin and Ryan...first leg of our journey:)

Karin and Ryan…first leg of our journey:)

to say i overpacked would be an understatement...me - who traveled through europe and asia with one backpack. sheesh. i think i was intimidated by how stylish the Swedes are.

to say i overpacked would be an understatement…me – who traveled through europe and asia with one backpack. sheesh. i think i was intimidated by how stylish the Swedes are.

Sweden (where we began our journey) besides being a country of lovely people, efficient systems, and streamlined designs is pretty much a photographer’s heaven of beautiful topography and an outdoor lover’s paradise, so I was very much in my element…:)

Swedes love their shrimp sandwiches, salmon, orange juice, and meatballs! :) not necessarily all at once.

Swedes love their shrimp sandwiches, salmon, orange juice, and meatballs! 🙂 not necessarily all at once.

Ry and I grabbing our first "fika" in Stockholm airport

Ry and I grabbing our first “fika” (a Swedish coffee time!)  in Stockholm airport

We partook in so many varying experiences during our few weeks overseas that I’ve been a little stumped as to how to write about it all, so I decided to just take small chunks of our trip and write about them separately and throw a few pictures alongside.

might as well grab a tattoo while getting a cuppa coffee...

for those who like getting a tattoo while grabbing a cuppa coffee…

We landed in Copenhagen after a verrry long flight and about the only thing I had time for before we jumped on the train was to try the mandatory Danish hot dog. Yummo. I became a believer. Much yummier than American hotdogs (and their ketchup – totally different and better as well….) I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. Another gustatorial highlight for me was Swedish made lemon-curd ice cream. I think I visibly swooned in delight. Forgive the digressions here so early on, but all travelers know that this is just how trips are: a veritable flood of simultaneous, sensual bombardments: airports, languages, foods, sights, sounds, landscapes, people. It all just floods over you and you hope and pray and train yourself to capture it all: the joy and sadnesses you see, the tastes and smells, the experiences and people – everything – so that you become fully present in the moment and so those memories can stay with you when you when you find yourself bumping down to earth to face a long shift at work or a lonely afternoon at home cleaning the house.

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MERA

Our home base was my Swedish friend Karin’s parents place right outside Gothenburg in a little town called Lerum. Their house sits delightfully right by a gorgeous lake, so we could not resist a shockingly cold but refreshing first morning dip off the dock. My friend, Ryan, (Karin’s husband) told me a couple years ago one of his life philosophies – repeating it again on this trip to us – is to always say “yes” to experiences if you have the chance – make memories… LIVE. So we all practiced that gamely – for the most part – cold morning swims, midnight mountain hikes, eating haggis in Scotland, getting off the beaten path, sail boat racing in the rain..etc. etc.

selfie after our first morning run in Karin's hometown! :) we were proud of ourselves.

selfie after our first morning run in Karin’s hometown! 🙂 we were proud of ourselves.

Ryan and Anders enjoying a morning cup of coffee and chat.

Ryan and Anders enjoying a morning cup of coffee and chat.

Our first lovely day in Sweden we celebrated Jody’s birthday by taking a ferry out to one of the islands in the Gothenburg archipelago and having a picnic and surprise champagne and chocolate up on one of the viewpoints. I loved the little villages scattered about beneath us and of course all the boats moving in and out of all the water channels.

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one of Ryan’s (many) dream houses

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stunning view from our hill.  out in the archipelago somewhere..

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Jody’s birthday party!! woohoo

a sunshiny nap after hike and lovely hilltop lunch

a sunshiny nap after hike and lovely hilltop lunch

Great start of an epic trip – and so fun to share it with awesome friends as most of my travels have been solo trips up to this point. Cheers! Or skål! As the proper Swedish toast goes…

Next episode: Music and Birthday festival:  Tordstock 200!!! Stay tuned….:)

Fifty Shades of Green

As is the usual case with my little (or not so little) ventures, we packed so many activities and sights into a few days that its crazy thinking back on everything that we fit in the last three days. When I say “we,” I am referring to my fellow travel nurse friend, David, and his friend, Amanda. David and I met in Washington while on assignment and I am delighted that he and his brother Stephen just moved near here on another assignment. Yay for friends, reunions and new adventures! 🙂

David picked me up after my last 12 hr shift for the week so we could start off early the next AM from his house to Yosemite and Mono Lake (4 and 6 hrs away, respectively) and still be able to take advantage of half of the day. Boy, am I so glad we started off early!

Yosemite, as most of you know, is ginormous and so crazy beautiful that one could wander there for a lifetime and still find things to do and explore. We rolled into the valley floor about midday and started off in search of a hidden trailhead David had heard about from a friend – to a now closed trail, presumably because it was so dangerous – a fact we swiftly found out while hiking up it.

Following directions Via screenshots of a blog that described in detail where this trailhead began, we started clambering over huge boulders up a steep mountain side and found our trail. To say I felt ALIVE and IN LOVE with life and this amazing world would be an understatement. It was incredible. No one but us as far as the eye could see overlooking as we climbed what can only be described as some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. Breathtaking in its grandeur and the glory of rocky mountain cliffs rising thousands of feet from the valley floor – I was in awe and delight. (in between panting from the 1000+feet climb)… As we rounded the last corner, the view from our summit of gushing waterfalls far below us nearly brought tears to my eyes.

We barely made it to Glacier Point for the sunset but enjoyed the views and a couple freezedried meals on top of the parkJ I had fun experimenting with lighting and a couple night shots. One of the highlights of the evening was meeting this fellow who had set up a telescope in preparation for a star tour he was giving later that night and he allowed me to look into it. At 2800x magnification, the planets are so beautiful. I saw Jupiter – and all four of its moons, Venus, and, in exchange for guarding his telescope for a few minutes, he turned the scope around and let me view Saturn in all its glory with its beautiful rings around it. I guess we hadn’t planned our somewhat spontaneous trip very well as we still didn’t know where we were going to stay for the night, but left the park about 9:30 PM for Mono Lake, another 2 ½ hour drive! Poor David was the only one that can drive a clutch, so allll the driving was up to him (while we slept)….

I think when we finally found a campsite about 1AM, it was the fastest anyone has ever set up camp. Within 10 min, tents were out and up, sleeping bags unrolled and into an exhausted sleep we fell. I woke up early, as usual, and re-discovered my joy of campsite mornings: hot fresh coffee, crackling fire, a quiet campsite, sizzling sausages, peace…

Peace, that is, till I had to try to reserve a campsite for the following night. I almost had smoke coming out my ears – first as the office didn’t open for 1 ½ hrs after opening time, second while waiting in line listening to an inane discussion figuring out logistics for a large camping party, and then, thirdly while actually dealing with the lady behind the counter. I shall refrain from getting too descriptive but I haven’t dealt with someone so DUMB (or slow) before. Just picture walls full of knick knacky fishing sayings, marriage jokes, old cash registers, handwritten schedules, rulers… and you kinda get the idea.. I seriously felt like saying, “Lady! We don’t want to stay HERE all day – we actually just want to be on our way enjoying our day!!” They ran that place like Nazis too. Just sayin…we could have found a better campground…like the beautiful state owned one literally a hundred yards down the road that we couldn’t see because we arrived in the dark.

I had something of an obsession to see Mono Lake and take pictures of the Tufa (towering salt residue structures) , especially at sunset and sunrise when everything turns orange and pink, but David talked me into checking out Mammoth Mountain and a couple cool things he wanted us to see. (once again, trying to cram as much as we possibly could into the day! J )

Once there, we took a shuttle bus down a very steep mountain road to see Devil’s Postpile (very very cool!) and a 2 mile hike to view Rainbow Falls. Beautiful!

Mono Lake was next and it was extraordinary. Tufa are large salt formations and they were splayed out in front and around us like something unearthly and magical. It felt like we had stepped onto another planet. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least to see some strange, mythical creature rise out of the water at any minute! After a while prowling around and deciding the sky wasn’t going to be great for sunset pictures, we attempted to visit Bodie, an old ghost town way out in the Boonies, but were turned back at the gate as it was after hours. NOT to be deterred, we vowed to come back the next day as this place was high on our list to explore.

That night we roasted up some red bell peppers, baby red potatoes and teriyaki chicken! Delicious! I should call myself a campfire gourmand or something! Maybe start an outdoor cooking show…hey. That’s not a bad idea…:)

Bodie did not disappoint in the least. I can’t tell you how much fun I had, map and descriptions in hand, perambulating about this old town, taking pictures, experimenting with angles and colors and just basically being fascinated by the history, as well as getting very sunburnt! I have just finished a book by Isabel Allende that centers a lot on San Francisco/Northern California during the Gold Rush era, so this all felt familiar and super interesting. Only 5% of the town remains now which, considering the number of buildings still standing is impressive! The following are a couple little facts and links of interest:

http://www.bodie.com

“Almost 10,000 tons of rich ore was extracted from this mine, yielding close to $15 million in 25 years. Bodie became a boomtown in 1877. By 1879 Bodie had a population of approximately 8,500 people and more than 2,000 buildings.” http://www.monocounty.org/bodie/?gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqb8kkJw3pVVl3WOYJp1rKn35YNxBhMFzULAEjlJ8OIfRoC_5zw_wcB

Just driving around from place to place was so impactful: literally “fifty shades of green” covered the hillsides and mountains and plains: soft sage colors of brush to dark, scraggly pine trees emerging straight out of rock cliffs, to vibrant bushes, and rustling tree leaves, white birch trees crowding the banks of a lake, still and peaceful forest trees unencumbered with any underbrush – all combined with vibrant blue skies and cloud formations made for just unrivaled beauty. I just could barely take it all in and tried to keep imprinting it all in my mind (sometimes via my trusty camera:)

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)

After much debate and pondering about whether to head to Bristlecone Pine Forest to take spectacular photos, we decided the sky wasn’t going to be good..:( Pretty hazy due to the ongoing fires…so, we hoofed it back through Yosemite and spontaneously stopped at Pothole Mountain after seeing this guy run up it. Easy peasy, right?! I nearly puffed out a lung but it was so gloriously worth it! Stunning. I definitely get a natural high from scenery like this. I can’t wait to go back again. Amazing. We stopped for pizza (no, not freeze-dried!) and made it home safely, accompanied into the city by the most mind-blowing sunset. It was truly a fabulous way to wind up our adventure.   A big thank you to my great companions for a lovely time.

Time for Magic

“Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?”

G.K. Chesterton

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That is one of my favorite quotes… and exactly how I feel. My heart has been bursting with happiness – really – since moving to San Francisco, and I am frankly shocked. I did not expect to feel this way nor to feel so absolutely excited every day. It is not just that there is a bazillion things to do and see, but the inexplicable way that magic keeps happening in the form of random happenings, job, housing, beauty, making new friends and renewing old relationships, etc…

Specific happenings:

Job at UCSF. No sooner had I returned from SEA than this amazing contract kinda fell into my lap – 12 hr DAYS, immediate start date, great rate. So far, its been a busy, but very positive experience. Everyone is super nice, the facility is in a lovely area overlooking the city and the bay, and for the first time in my career, I actually have hour long lunch breaks. Whaaattt?!? Kinda still in shock, but, hey! I’ll take it! Read, walk, exercise, sleep…the 60 min options are limitless 🙂

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thot this was sweet…two men and a baby out enjoying the gardens. My hospital in the background.

Probably the funniest thing that’s happened yet relates to the navy blue scrub dress code for the nurses. Till my new scrubs come in, I’ve been making do with some old navy scrubs I “borrowed” months ago from a couple outpatient centers in SD including for some reason an enormous pair of drawstring pants. Well, I tried to cinch them tight but apparently, bustling around they just kept getting looser and looser. A little hitch here and there seemed to do the trick until, well, it just didn’t….mid-patient care I suddenly looked down and realized my pants were riding about mid-thigh. How long they had been that way, I can only guess. I just couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t think my sweet patient noticed (thank God) but the caregiver in the room sure did. We both lost it a bit. Fortunately I was wearing some stretch pants underneath to keep warm so didn’t quite scandalize the unit, but needless to say I can’t wait till some more flattering scrubs arrive!

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pretty cool view

Housing/roommates. San Francisco is quite possibly the most expensive US city to live in, making it difficult to find an acceptably affordable place in any decent part of the city. I basically had just a few days to try to find a place…and its crazy how this all has worked out. I randomly emailed my photography teacher from up here asking if she had any leads for me. Just so happened she and her husband had an amazing available room for a temporary place for as long as I needed (its so great to have roommates my age) and a hilarious cat named Connor who is so funny. And now I’ve found a fantastic more permanent place in Cole Valley – an 8 min walk to work!! With another great roommate and a dog! Absolutely love Cole Valley! One of the best parts of the city to live in: old lovely houses, safe neighborhood abounding in restaurants and coffee shops, ice cream parlor;), stores, parks, super easy transit to anywhere in the city, a stones throw from weird and cool Haight Street! Already in love.

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always wanted some tomato soup shoes…

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there’s just no explanation for some things on Haight Street. Its so cool though…happy hour in a hat shop? whaat? love it. music, shoes, bars, costumes…

Random SF explorations. Uber pool! Really fun! For just $5 you can grab a Uber and go anywhere in the city with the stipulation that you may have to pool up with someone going in your direction. I’ve honestly had a great time meeting people and the drivers are fun to talk to as well.

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one of my besties up for a visit! nail and massage time!

Golden Gate Park, museums, windy beaches, art, et al. So much culture and beauty up here. This is a great place for an art and nature lover. Already been to an exhibit at deYoung, prowled around art exhibits and talked to a number of ridiculously talented artists, wandered lazily through botanical garden and had some fun practicing street photography and capturing people and scenes that caught my eye.

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enjoying a sandwich…

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music student from chicago out enjoying the sunshine like the rest of us

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cuz, really, why not…

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these two ladies have been fast friends for literally decades…welcomed me warmly to the city.

Public transit. OhEmGee…this girl is SO unused to having to take buses… but I jumped right into it out of sheer necessity. (parking is $30/day at UCSF) I have had some moments of utter frustration, sheer stupidity, disgust and defeat, but all in all have been rather proud of my navigational abilities and have utilized the somewhat unpredictable but none-the-less supportable MUNI quite frequently. Can’t wait to just be able to walk to work though!

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a little bus stop romance…they could probably get a room at booking.com if they wanted…just saying

Just for laughs…almost unbelievable:  http://www.upout.com/blog/san-francisco-3/the-15-most-wtf-moments-of-san-francisco-public-transportation?utm_source=UpOutSF+Weekly+Newsletters&utm_campaign=8f49959d80-UpOutSF_Weekender_2_19_2015_Thursday&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_54b38fbfbf-8f49959d80-73710529

Restaurants, indoor miniature golf, starry hills at night, brunches with friends, super nice people…I feel blessed and spoiled and happy. Yes. I. Do. I knew 2015 was going to be good…

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…reflection experimentation…

“One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”

True Currency

100% chance of rain…yeah, I went motorbiking anyway…I’m laughing even now at myself. Sheesh. What an experience. I alternated between singing Eponine’s dying song “A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now” from Les Mis and grinning my fool head off as I puttered about a very wet Thai countryside taking in the vistas, coffeeshops, elephants, hot springs, and Buddhas. Oh, did I mention it was my first time ever on one of those scooters? Don’t tell my mom, ok?

Anyway, it was exhilarating and beautiful and I got very wet despite my $3 rain jacket. So after a hot shower I’ve been spending the afternoon in my hotel room getting lost in computers and pictures, laundry and writing, and chocolate bars.

…I’ve migrated to a new setting: a lovely little café/restaurant owned by an Italian (yay!). Already ordered a whole carafe of wine (which the owner has already teased me about) and mushroom bruschetta…anyway …this post is supposed to be about my trekking trip to the Karen tribes outside Chaing Mai…

My good Swedish/San Diego friend, Karin, has told me for ages about her time with the village people years ago and what an incredible experience it was (it was partially her stories that started the flame of desire to visit Cambodia); and then one of the British girls I met told me about HER time doing the same thing and how amazing it was. So, I knew then and there if I made it up to chiang Mai, a multi-day trekking tour was a definite must on the agenda.

The way everything worked out still just has me SO grateful!! I ended up with another fantastic group: A dutch guy, another American girl my age and her brother and sister-in-law, and two guys from Paris. We all got along spendidly, laughed and talked a lot and had about the same level of ability and shared topics of interest which just made the experience that much better. Harald, the Dutchman is a great photographer, so we had a lot of fun with that as well.

Our guide, Supot, being half Thai and half Karen brought not only a deep respect and knowledge to our time with the villagers, but the authentic love and friendship between him and the villagers was beautiful and inspiring.

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We drove a couple hours outside chiang Mai before beginning our trek to the first village. The first thing Supot taught us was how to say “hello/thank you/goodbye” – all the same word, which we practiced and used constantly over the next couple days. I might add that I am impossibly hopeless at languages. We enjoyed greeting people as we passed, learning about their culture and watching the kids go through their little kindergarten drills. Supot was amazing: as we trekked up little mountain trails he was constantly pointing out little things from huge termite hills (the villagers put little sticks on the top of them every time they pass one to help out the termites) to huge spider holes; had us chew tangy flower buds and sour monkey fruit. Taught us about bamboo trees. History. Science. Geography. He is a wealth of information with a peaceful, confident demeanor. He spent 12 years as a monk which might explain a lot. I think we all emerged from this experience with a great respect for him. It says a lot about him that his best friend is this 72 y/o Karen elderly man. Wow. I loved that.

We trekked 2-3 hours up to another village, where we spent some time with the villagers before settling in and getting set up for dinner and the night. I had just so much fun getting to know the people and trying to communicate. Its amazing what one can convey with such a great language barrier. One guy I was “talking” to while he cooked us some soup over a little outdoor fire was absolutely ecstatic to learn I was the same age as his (rather shy) wife. They thought it was quite funny that I was mildly distressed by the slaughter of our poor chicken we brought live all the way from the market. Truly farm to table that night. Doesn’t get much more organic than handfuls of herbs from the forest, fresh chicken, open fire…

In the evening, we ate on the floor, family style and just enjoyed the next few hours of each others company – looking at pictures, asking questions. Laughing uproariously. Arm wrestling on the floor. Passing around hand rolled leaf and tobacco cigarettes, shots of (horrific) sake and vodka. Occasionally the villagers would break into a raucous round of “jingle bells” which still makes me laugh. They always loved to get to the “HEYYY!!” part. We kept them up much too late and finally retired to our communal “sleeping” room. Im not sure how much sleep I got –It got VERY cold and I kept waking up. But we had a pretty fun time – felt like a grown up slumber party.

We started trekking again the next morning above the clouds – absolute pure, foggy beauty. Little did we know what was in store for us: this day’s trekking was not for the faint-hearted. It really was TOUGH. We waded through rivers, over slippery rocks, up muddy inclines, clambering along unmarked trails. Wet, bruised, muddy, scraped, we finally made it to a little waterfall oasis where we had lunch and a bit of a swim. It was absolutely amazing: during one of our breaks, these incredibly talented guys MADE us chopsticks for our lunch – out of bamboo – with a MACHETE. They are SO talented with their machetes. Absolutely use them for everything. Same goes for Bamboo: baskets, bridges, houses, chopsticks, cups, railings, etc. etc.

Next came the cave (homemade bamboo torches too of course). I felt exactly like I was in the pages of Jules Verne’s “journey to the center of the earth”. So romantically adventurous – one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

After a VERY hot, sunny uphill climb, we clambered into the back of a truck and started our homeward journey home.

Take-away memories: The universality of love and humor… Language barrier simply fades away. Meeting new people and the kindness of strangers. Attention to details: what a difference it makes (homemade chopsticks! Real bamboo torches! Banana wrapped packed lunches!) . How LABOR intensive life without technology is: we watched these two guys HAND-saw whole planks of teak wood.

Memories I will hold forever.

Traveling has only reinforced my beliefs of the primal needs of the heart for love, belonging, community. No matter where our feet take us, we need that person and/or people with whom we can feel HOME, safe and completely accepted. Personally, I find contentment elusive without that. So, now having almost completed my carafe of wine (no judging)…here’s to unconditional love and friendship.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Lester Bangs

Aaaanndd I have all these amazing photos I picked out to go along with this whole trek but I just started shooting in raw format and am not having an easy time figuring out how to transfer to JPEG and upload so I shall have to repost this with pictures or something when I figure it out… sorry!

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sometimes I almost have to pinch myself to make sure I’m really not dreaming all these beautiful experiences up…not that traveling solo is all laugher and merriment. It’s not. It’s mixed times of incredible loneliness and unfathomable beauty; frustrations and new friendships; missed trains and breathtaking mountains; deep-fried tarantulas and tiramisu. Crazy highs and the darkest lows. Basically it takes a lot of guts, a lot of foolishness and a lot of wisdom to travel – to REALLY travel: saying “yes” to barbequed rat offered by a village host, “yes” to spontaneously changing plans, “yes” to new cultures and viewpoints, “yes” to bamboo bridges, slippery trails, hard mattresses, and squat toilets, “yes” to motorbiking through busy city streets, “yes” to being unsure what the hell you are doing – alone – thousands of miles from home; “yes” to experiencing life and this lovely world we live in.

The last few days I have had so many “moments” that it begs the question where to even start…. Basically, I radically changed my “Cambodia only” plans and ended up in Northern Thailand at the encouragement of some lovely people I met in Siem Reap. Through previous experience traveling, I have learned to listen to people who say “you absolutely have to go to such and such…” ! It pays to pay attention to those exclamations of beauty and excitement – the eyes lighting up and the heads nodding in agreement. Walking through the streets of Pai – North Thailand – this afternoon I was so grateful that I listened and followed my own constant search for beauty as well.

Pai is a little mountain town off the beaten path – precisely 139 km and 762 curves in the road from Chiang Mai – due North. The drive up there is not for the faint of heart but the views as you climb higher and higher through mountains of green jungle forest is so breathtaking that its worth every hairpin turn and the hours it takes to get there. I’ve truly never seen anything like this landscape. Tomorrow’s adventures will find me on a scooter or motorbike (yikes!) prowling around the vista points and local attractions. Can’t wait!! The actual town of Pai is a haven for hippie travelers – full of that laid-back energy: guitar players on the riverbanks, hipster little bars, yoga, but still very Thai too…massage shops all over, Thai food, street vendors, souvenirs and tour businesses galore. Just wonderful to walk around and take it all in. I kinda ate my way around the town this evening: roasted corn on the cob, spring roll, pad thai, whiskey…so much fun.

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Anyway, this was supposed to primarily be about the overnight trekking trip I did to the mountain Karen tribe/villages outside Chiang Mai…but I don’t want to this to get too long so I shall save that story (and pictures!) for tomorrow night (I hope!) Allow me to say that it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: slumber party in a remote tribal village; breaking down language barriers with lots of laughter and thumb wars; communal tobacco and hot vodka; trekking through rivers and torch-lit caves; bumping down backroads in the back of a truck, and making new friends. I will never ever forget this.

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Till the next post, take care and here’s to 2015!!  May it be truly be all that we hope it to be!

Phnom Penh to Kanchanaburi

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, 

we must carry it with us or we find it not.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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You wouldn’t believe the atmosphere of where I’m (finally) writing up my first blog from Asia: a little floating hostel in Kanchanaburi right on the banks of the famous River Kwai, sipping on Singha beer and feasting on homemade spicy Thai food while chatting up a couple other guests from California, of all places!

I probably need to back up a bit though…I have almost two weeks of catching up to do – solo traveling can be rather mentally and emotionally exhausting and blogging was the first thing to go. However, I keep getting repeated requests for updates so I am definitely attempting to give it a go here!

I spent the first 24 hours in Phnom Penh quite sick from my previous Mexico trip, emerging only once from my room to obtain some much needed Gatorade and medicine! Enough said about that. Phnom Penh I found to be quite dirty, busy, noisy but there seems to be some attraction for expats as there are quite a number of them there. While it IS the capital of Cambodia, there really isn’t that much to see or do there as a tourist. A few highlights from my time there included the following:

  • a really great cooking class (complete with an AM visit to the market to collect ingredients, lovely international fellow students)
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We learned how to make “amok” – a very traditional fish dish of ginger, lemongrass, mashed up spices, and egg – all steamed together in a banana leaf bowl. Delicious!!

  • an open air jeep ride and tour to a wildlife preserve (tons of creepy monkeys, native Cambodian deer, crocodiles, otters, tigers and other endangered species),
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feeding little fish to this very greedy otter

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okay, this is pretty cute but I still think monkeys are quite awful and unpredictable little beasts

  • and a private guided tour through the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and the horrificChoeung Ek Killing Fields
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20,000 men, women and children were brutally tortured and murdered at this former Phnom Penh hi-school during the Khmer rouge regime. Hard to even fathom such evil. How is it possible that humans can really do this to other humans…?!?

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  • the delights of eating delicious (and cheap!) Cambodian street food

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I’ll admit, this night wasn’t street food. celebrating Christmas at a rooftop bar overlooking the river.

Much more could be said about each of these activities but perhaps more detail is better for further posts when I can sort through my pictures and reflect.

Siem Reap was AMAZING and I loved it so much better than Phnom Penh! It is open and clean (er) and magical with so much to do and see and explore!

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I had such a lovely lovely time there I almost get shivers thinking about it! I shall DEFINITELY save all my adventures and pictures for another post (double procrastination at its finest…) but to highlight my time there,

  • I went on an absolutely FANTASTIC offroading cycling tour through the Angkor area, getting off the beaten path and visiting non-touristy temples, and basically having the time of my life with the coolest tour group ever: two British girls (whom I ended up hanging out with the rest of my time there), Candadian couples, a German.

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  • Tour of the floating villages and forest,
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there really are no words that do justice to how mesmerizingly enchanting and magical this was…just looking back at pictures has me transported back to fairy land.

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i took many more pictures of this unique river village but it is getting quite late so I will be posting more as i can!! it was such an incredible day of flavors (snake! and sun baked baby mussel) , sights, sounds, encounters

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  • facial and 90 min foot massage at lovely prices,
  • super interesting tour of a silk factory!! from start to finish…poor little silk worms.  cannot BELIEVE the work that goes into handcrafted silk material

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  • insane NYE countdown on the famous Pub Street.
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countdown!! grabbed drinks at an Irish pub (?!) with the Brits, a couple newly arrived and jet lagged American guys and a couple Japanese gals. down in the street was not my scene… I think that was my first time being showered with booze! At least no one got trampled here as far as i know! Cambodians DO love their NY celebrations!

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world famous bar on Pub Street

Anyway, my other lovely cycling compatriots talked up the glories of Thailand, so I spontaneously booked a flight into Bangkok, where I arrived yesterday and stayed for just one night. This morning I absolutely reveled in ART!! There is a relatively brand new contemporary art museum there (took me literally interviewing SIX taxi drivers to successfully get there. Seriously, NONE of them know how to read a map!!!) but it was well worth the effort. I photographed some of my favorite pieces. Some of them so bizarrely beautiful with Very different Thai flavor of course to most of it.

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This afternoon I railed it out here to Kanchanaburi – a 3rd class ticket on an ancient train. Seemed straight out of a turn of the century British film – corrugated metal shacks so close I could touch them with my fingers, branches whipping by the windows, near-fluorescent green rice fields, towering palm trees and sunlit hills. I felt newly strong and beautiful and happy gazing out the windows at it all, the wind in my face. And now, here I am, enjoying the night river air, good company, background Thai soap opera, and excited about tomorrow’s adventures: waterfalls, elephants, caves, and bridges!

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And now I shall attempt to insert some photos…the picky artistic side of me is loathe to include unedited versions but above are a few – some just from my iPhone.  Enjoy! and my love to you from Southeast Asia!

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