Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pine Bungalows

We have spent two nights at Pine Bungalows on the coast of Krabi. The place is totally quiet. There maybe five people at any one time on the three hundred yard beach. Nothing to do but lay in the hammocks, read, swim, and do some blog catchup. Our only heavy activity involves the ultimate beach sport, paddle ball, played in waist deep sea to you can look like a hero diving to make the return.

That's about all that is happening here. We are taking it easy and enjoying a very slow pace just before heading to the other side of the Thai peninsula. We are taking a bus across the land and then an eight hour night boat to a small island that will be our final destination on this trip before finding our way back home.

Location:Krabi Thailand

Krabi Morning

Palm tree case shadows into the sea. Their dark outlines are laid onto the soft sand under the water. Ten different types of birds sing ten different morning songs. Low tide at sunrise leaves the Andean Sea flat and calm. Squirrels chase each other across the tops of bungalows. The first slight gust of wind for the day rains down leaves from each tree as if they were waiting to stretch and shed older skin. Asiana is doing yoga on the beach greeting the new day with breath and movement.

Pura Vidal! Life is Good!

Final Tour of PP Island

At dawn we headed up a path that lead to a series of viewpoints that overlook the island. While there are hundreds of people that make the hike to watch sunset each evening there were only a handful of souls hearty enough to wake up and catch sunrise. This works well for us. At viewpoint 2 we had some coffee. At viewpoint 3 there was only us and a hammock. It's amazing how easy time goes by when just gazing... gazing... gazing...

We followed some signs that directed us through a maze of trail in the forest that advertised a remote bay. It eventually took us down a very steep hill on the other side of the island. When we arrived we found a perfect quiet secluded beach with a smattering of bungalows, a cafe, and a bar. The only way to get here was take the crazy hike or by boat. Had we known this was here we would have resided on this side of the island away from the crowds.

We enjoyed breakfast and wrestled with the idea of moving to this beach for a few days rather than head to the other side of Thailand. This is what we were looking for and it seemed funny that we were going to travel for days elsewhere to find it.

In the end we scrambled all the way back, packed up our stuff in time for checkout and hopped on a boat to take us back to the mainland. We already had our ticket for departure and just over a week left on our journey. Might as well check out a few other places before calling it quits.


We finally did some diving with just over a week left in our trip. We went with a small outfit run by a very speedy Frenchman. We were joined by three other French boys, one who dove with us, the others content to snorkel.

Out little rickety long boat brought us to the first site, Coral Garden, where we learned to put all our gear on in the water. A new method for us. We usually get everything on then flop off the boat. We have never dove outside of the Caribbean and it was nice to see different types of underwater life not found on the other side of the world.

We were honestly not overly impressed with the first dive. With no current to flow with we ended up going a small distance and backtracking over the same area. It was still nice and part of what makes it so special here is when you emerge from the sea you are blessed with an amazing view of the great karst cliffs rising out of the water.

The boat took us to a small bay with steep walls surrounding the aqua green pool where we had lunch and played in the water before heading out to the second dive site. If the first dive was not impressive the second one made up for it. Great schools of fish from tiny flashing minnows to huge groups of Jackfish were swarming the area. You could just spin around in the same spot and be completely entertained by all the movement. Asiana and I agreed that this dive was one of the best we have had in years.

Out next stop we Maya Bay on Phi Phi Lei Island - the spot made famous from the movie "The Beach". I suppose it is possible that there is a more scenic beach on the earth, but I have no idea what element would improve such a perfect place. No need for more words here to try and describe such a stunning site.

As our boat pulled away we were gifted with being able to witness the sunset over the water. The day was much more than a couple of dives. It was a full tour of paradise ending with a bit of rum on the beach watching some very talented fire dancers followed by an early retirement into the bungalow and deep sleep.

Travel Misguides

We abandoned following anything written about where to stay in Lonely Planet halfway through India. We stopped searching out restaurants soon after since it took us so much time finding the suggested vegetarian eateries than it did if we just came upon something that would suffice. To some Lonely Planet is a bible, to others it is a rough guideline, and for some the travel guidebooks represent true evil driven by minions to destroy some of the worlds secluded paradises and greatest escapes turning what was once a pristine beach into a tourist ghetto. I guess we are somewhere near the middle one using the literature to get the basic gist of an area, but relying on our own adventures to find out everything else.

I have been tearing through books on this trip. As is travel in itself isn't enough of a blessing I have had the opportunity to dig into literature that I would never have time to read Stateside. After journaling about this journey I have wondered what it would be like to have the "dream job" of writing a travel guide. I am not fooling myself into thinking I have the capacity or ambition to score such a role, just intrigued. While looking for my new paperback victim to capture my attention for the next couple of days at a book exchange I came across the title, "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?" - subtitle, A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventure, Questionable Ethics and Professional Hedonism.

After reading this tale of the authors first adventure of trying to write as an Lonely Planet informant for a section on Brazil, I will never be able to take a words the series of books has to say seriously. Not just a grain of salt, the whole shaker and all.

Without going into detail, these guidebooks started out to give "Backpackers" clues on how explore the world away from the main tourist spots on a tight budget. Now it is a mainstream phrase used by everyone to re-live the quest-for-the-best-beach or the quaint guesthouse that nobody knows about. Once directed toward an audience willing to sleep in sweatboxes with peeling paint trying to stretch every cent so they could see as much of the world as possible before returning to grad school, the books is written for an different demographic. It is spit out to show people that have a couple weeks of vacation time and a lot bigger budget where they need to go to see all the shit they can without too much hassle and wasted time in order to re-live (or experience for the first time) the adventures of world travel.

It is obvious that the best information comes from other travelers you meet on trains, buses,or in guesthouses. Their updates reach farther than any book as the beaten path is now paved for tour busses, little bungalows has doubled in price, staff much less friendly, crowded with other like yourself thinking you found a secluded gem that is now loaded with gringos taking a million picture to prove they'd seen paradise.

Anyway, I will not be reading Lonely Planet with the same set of eyes.

Doing Absolutely Nothing on the Beach

If there is a place to be lazy, it's on the beach. Most beaches will do, but PP Island helps you do nothing while making you completely enjoy it to the upmost.

The bay is extremely shallow making the tide extraordinarily obvious. At 7am it was empty of water where you could walk out a couple hundred meters before getting wet. By noon it was full of blue-green shallows. No surf at all. It's really not the kind of ocean you play in. This leads one to do even more nothing than you would at most beaches. The only time you hit the water was to cool off in the afternoon heat. The morning water was so shallow it was like sitting in a salty hot tub. Not cooling at all.

If you are not playing in the water then you just sit there, headphones dishing out your random iPod tunes, pick up your current book, read a few pages, lay down, cook in the sun, cool off in the water, read a few more pages, stare into the ocean, think about stuff, think deep thoughts, think about stupid ridicules shit...

That was our day on the beach at PP Island. The biggest difference was that this experience was loaded with visual stimulation that is unbeatable. If the green-sea-white-beach-tall-cliff view was not enough to gaze at, then the young-athletic-super-tan-bodies spilled all over the beach are sure to make you keep at least one eye open. I think there a many beaches that the majority of the people would look "healthier" is they cover up more - not this beach. Sexy beach - sexy crowd.

We couldn't have been in a better place to do nothing. We'll do something tomorrow.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Phuket and Kho Phi Phi

We blindly chose a reasonably priced hotel to rendezvous in Phuket after being apart for more than a week. Although the room was fine, we found ourselves in the that part of town made up of massage-escort shops. A place where you will wake up to find ladies and lady-boys still meandering the streets. Oh well, we were not there very long.

Asiana finished a five day course for Thai massage in Chang Mai, took a long bus down to Bangkok, spent the day there, took another night bus to Phuket, spent the next full day on a bus getting shuttled to the Miramar border to extend her Thai visa, then returned to Phuket. Three big days of a lot of buses. I just grabbed a couple of flights, Bali-Kuala Lumpur-Phuket.

Excited to see each other, we spent the whole evening enjoying a few beers and exchanging the many stories that had piled up over the previous week. We were like two little chipmunks chatting rapidly back and fourth attempting to rebalance our energies together. We purchased our boat tickets to zoom out to one of the worlds most famous beaches the next morning.

The boat was packed with people all excited to spend some time in Kho Phi Phi (PP Island). Some, like us had been traveling a while saving the beach and luxuries for the end. Others were just starting their trip having left their cold origins recently and now slathering on suntan lotion and laying out on the deck ready to cook up a base layer.

The hour and a half ride pulled into the bay at PP Island. Little white sand beaches, light green water, towering karst cliffs... yep this place looks just like the pictures in the magazines and postcards. Outside of the two main large back to back bays trimmed with long white beaches there are other small coves that one can take longboats or kayaks to. Like most of the gorgeous spots on earth, PP Island is completely set up for tourists. It is set up well, too. Bungalows, restaurants, bars, clothing shops, tour boats, snorkeling huts, and beach chair renters are packed onto the thin strip of flat land that sits in the middle of the island.

Our "Twin Palms" bungalow is just twenty paces from the beach. It is also twenty paces from all the beach bars that rock out all night distributing sound through our paper thin walls. We spent the first afternoon on the beach. In the evening, we befriended to a couple of travelers staying across from us that we stuck with for the rest of the night eating out and dancing.

I don't really pride myself on having decent geographic knowledge, but I've always thought I had a good grasp of the globe. I was a bit embarrassed to have to tell these two nice guys I never heard of the place they were from and even where it was. Eritrea is an african country sandwiched between Ethiopia, and Somalia, across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
These guys had lived in Norway for the past 22 years just finished doctor school and doing a year of travel before finally heading home to bring their medical knowledge back to their country. Their school was attended by mostly Americans, so they were well versed in English slang. We had a very fun night with these guys.

The beach is cleared of umbrellas and lounge chairs and transformed into a strip of nightclubs across the sand. Tiki torches, rope lights, small tables with beach cushions are laid out to watch the local crew of fire dancers attracting patrons. The coast is lit up with spinning fire tossed up in the air in time to the different beats the DJ are pumping out from their respective clubs. It makes for a very fun night out, dancing, drinking buckets of rum, and finally shutting down near midnight. I actually retired early while Asiana and the others held down the dance floor. It's a blessing that the party does not go on all night and everyone can drag themselves through the sand to their huts to get some rest for a full day of doing nothing on the beach the next day.

Location:Kho Phi Phi Don Thailand

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tragedy in Halong Bay

I just read more news on the boat that recently sunk killing a dozen tourists and crew in their sleep in Halong Bay, Vietnam. It was just like the boat we spent the night in when we were there. I was also filled with a bunch of tourists from all over the world. There was a young couple from Colorado aboard this tragic ship. The girl from Boulder drowned. Her boyfriend from Golden escaped and had to identify her body the next day after they hauled the boat out of the water. What a nightmare.

I actually noticed that the boat we were on seemed to have a consistent tilt to the left, but assumed it was a weight distribution thing. The sinking of the "Dream of the Ocean" (painfully ironic name) is a reminder of how fortunate we are when we wake up each day.

Bye Bye Bali

The streets are nearly empty and quiet early in the morning. Most of those who stayed out to play last night will probably not be getting up for another five hours when the tied comes in and the waves get bigger. I strolled down to the beach, swam in the sea, and stretched out on the sand, allowing the sun to slowly start cooking me. I sat and chatted with a nice older local who teaches private surfing classes. He was waiting for a Canadian whom he was supposed to instruct, but more than likely she was in bed with a hangover. I never need much extra entertainment where there is an ocean to enjoy, but in case I was bored, there was a large class of maybe 20 girls from Sweden taking their first surfing lesson, all wearing tight matching swim outfits, climbing on the board, falling off the board - captivating to say the least.

My few hours of beach time was a peaceful ending to the solo stint of this journey. Although I had moments of banter and small meals with other people, I have been alone the greater part of the week. I cannot remember the last time I have gone so long remaining completely unengaged. No family, no work, no friends... just me and my scooter and my thoughts. Actually, I didn't have too many thoughts either. And while having such sustained quality down time was refreshing, I am even more grateful for the people that are in my life. I am so fortunate to have such wonderful folks to return to. Om Shanti!

Location:Denpasar Bali

So Long Ubud

Despite getting in late from a concert last night I woke up at 7am. My many days of moving around the island have been great, but I felt like a fifth day flying around on the scooter would be overkill. All of the sudden I had no idea what I wanted to do. I have explored so much of Ubud and I logged an amazing amount of kilometers hitting as much of north and west Bali as a guy can do in so few days. I spent some of my morning writing. I drove out to a village to find a taylor to fix the rip I got in one of my pants. I layer by the pool listening to my iPod. Then moments before checkout time I decided to check out of Ubud. At the rate I was going if I stayed there I was going to do absolutely nothing. Eat, read, catch an early ride to the airport the next day. That probably would have been fine. But I left.

I heard the town, Kuta, was a different world than the rest of Bali. Basically a suburb of Denpasar, it reside just south on the beach near the airport. I was told it was crowded with tourists and surfers and the party goes on all night. I was informed it's hard to find a cheap place, I'd have to deal with a hoard of people trying to sell me shit, and the locals are not friendly Balinese I had come to know. I does have spectacular sunsets and a nice beach with world class surf.

I had my last meal in Ubud at my favorite restaurant out in the rice fields enjoying a refreshing breeze that made the terraced paddies ripple and wave. I picked up my mended garment from the taylor. Turned my beloved scooter in and hopped in a "taksi" (no "K's" on this island) and headed toward the beach.

Most of the two hour taksi ride was in traffic for the last ten kilometers. I almost jumped out to walk, needing to pee badly, but I really did not know where I was and did not feel like humping my paid around I the heat. By the way, I figured that being near the equator, Bali is just hot sly the time. I have heard from many that it's exceptionally hot right now. I was dropped off at ground zero, the spot where the 2002 terrorist bombing took place with very heavy foreign casualties. I took a smaller street toward the beach trying to avoid the pricey hotels. I took the first room I inquired about at a simple cottage a few blocks from they beach.

The coasts I had visited durning the week were mostly rocky and while the scatter beaches had some very interesting black glitter sand, they were not inviting me to kick it on them. The sparkle effect was pretty cool to look at thought there was no way you are going to go barefoot or layout without incinerating yourself completely. In contrast, the beach at Kuta is the kind of beach you want to be a bum on. And that is what everyone is doing. Lots of buff young dudes with low hanging surfer shorts and tan ass cracks and their counter parts all bronze and bleach blond. Nobody bothers to change their attire with in town as the zip around on their scooters with custom made surfboard side racks.

I pulled up a chair by a some older ladies that sold beer out of coolers and watched the surfers and sailboarders work the amazing waves. I brushed off the usual beach vendors selling bracelets, cigarettes, and sunglasses - even I was wearing mine. I could have a half dozen shades racked on my head and they would still try tell me another pair for a "cheap price". Hell, that would probably in courage them.

I put my iPod on shuffle and waited for the sun to set. It looked like the infamous Bali sunset was not going to be a spectacular one on this evening. The sun was hazed out by distant clouds long before it reached the horizon. Yet, the sunset was gorgeous. Part of what made it so amazing was that my iPod randomly played a Bach song, Toccata and Fugue, performed on the organ. I would have not been capable of choosing such powerful tune to escort the sun under the ocean.

It was after the sun had actually set that the sky lit up in brilliant shades of orange. The large waves may not have reflected the colors, but the fifty yards of wet beach stretching out to the ocean acted like a brilliant mirror. For the first time on this trip I am satisfied with the picture I took.

I walked up the main street where the nightlife takes place not interested in really going out, but I thought I at least take a looks. It's pretty much the same as every beach party town. Clubs, bars, and discos are all competing for sound space. At any given spot you are forced to listen to multiple types of music blaring out into the street, Some are thumping club music, others have the live cover bands playing the same old stuff, and way too much Regge. Many have scantily dressed go-go dancers in front trying to coax the beguiled into an establishment. None of it worked on me. I went back to my cottage to get some sleep so I could wake up early and swim in the sea before flying out of Bali.

Location:Kuta Bali

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rockin' Out in Bali

There is a young man who lives and works at the bungalows where I'm staying. He is the eldest son in the family that owns the place and each morning he is dressed in the traditional white garb serving coffee and breakfast. In the afternoon he acts as the maid tidying up the rooms. He is quite small even in Balinese terms and always has a huge smile. He is amazingly gentle. In the evening his white outfit comes off, his long black hair comes down, and I find him wearing a different black rock'n'roll tee-shirts with bands like "Led Zepplin" and "Motörhead" advertised on the front, converse shoes, and cutoff jeans. I have had beers with him on my porch, went out with to the local eateries, Warungs, for traditional Balinese food, and even joined him and his buddies for a drink of their local beverage, Irik, some of the worst tasting alcohol I have ever put my lips to, made from some part of the palm tree. He has been in an especially good mood all week because one of his all time favorite bands is coming to play on the island.

I am very familiar with "Iron Maiden". Although I never owned an album of theirs, I found all the "headbangers" I grew up with completely adoring the band. I don't know if there is a group that had such devoted followers in the heavy metal world. My friend here, Chukee, asked if I was interested in joining him and his buddies to watch this hard rock show. I don't know if I would have gone in the States even if someone gave me a free ticket, but the idea of seeing such a spectacle with thousands of Indonesian enthusiasts was intriguing. At the age of 29, Chukee had never been to a concert and to join him for his first show enough motivation for me to jump on the back of his scooter and head into the city for a full on rock'n'roll extravaganza.

I found it ironic that the show was held at the Bali Cultural Center where they put on dances and traditional Balinese music. Talk about a culture clash. Here I was surrounded by thousands of Indonesians from here and neighboring islands dawning their favorite black tee-shirt with the bands name and a grotesque image of the decomposed monster, the well know symbol of Iron Maiden, drinking Heinikin beer, and getting pumped up for the show. My friend even lent me one of his many collected band tee-shirts. I was a part of the pack.

The venue was stunning. It looked to have been an old quarry dug in the top of a hill on the southern peninsula. It was a large rectangular pit with hundred foot white rock walls. The stage was at one end and the other had steps leading up to a huge stone statue most resembling a Griffin. We perched ourselves upon a ledge overlooking the show. The crowd sparkled with lights. It seemed like half the people we're poised to record the gig on their camera phones. There will be thousands of poorly shot YouTube videos with highly distorted audio of Iron Maiden's "New Frontier - Indonesian Tour" hitting the Internet soon.

Having low expectations of the actual band was a blessing. The show sucked... or at least I thought it did. I am long over the arena rock, with the same crowd pleasing phrases barked out, and the over exaggerated stage moves. I think I kind of dozed off during the last half. I guess I was not there for the music anyway. Much gratitude to Chukee for giving me the experience - love that guy!

Location:Denpasar Bali

... continues the next day

Me and my scooter are one now. Our ability to maneuver through traffic, over rough terrain, banking through sharp corners, is as if I was born with the scooter attached to my bum.

Picked a destination in a different direction. My target was some waterfalls on the other side of the island, although I cared not if I ever really found them. I left early again and came to a beautiful lake in the highlands where I stopped for breakfast. I sat in a hut next to the water surrounded by large green hills. Again, I was the only one there. This time there were no power tools to shatter the peace. I had coffee in silence. Then just as my food came out drums and bells started to ring from somewhere to my right. It came closer until I saw people carrying flags, gongs, bamboo alters, and baskets. They were most in dressed in white and paraded down the path directly in front of me. I was amazed at my fortune. For a second day in a row I was the sole witness to a beautiful ceremonial procession. These are not shows put on for entertainment. There has not been one single foreigner that I have even seen up in the highlands. I set my camera on the table to shoot video of the happenings without looking obnoxiously obvious. I don't think I captured it too well, but I hope the audio picked up the song they marched to.

I made it to the waterfalls I intend to reach on the north side of the island. There was a short trek through the forest to get to the series of tall crashing cascades. I took a dip, swung on the rope swing, watched the monstrous butterflies hopping from flower to flower. At last I decide to make my way back over the mountains on the long journey back home. I had a tentative date for the evening.

I recorded a lot of video while driving. It was probably overkill, but there were so many images I wanted to hold on to. Pictures don't capture what it's like to come over a hill onto a temple or the roosters calling out from the side of the road as I float by. But what I think I was most hoping to get was how nearly everyone I rode by smiled, waved, and called out a hearty hello. It's good medicine for the spirit.

Location:Ubud Bali

No Offers

This is the first country I have been on this trip where I do not hear the hushed offers for marijuana. To me this proves the DEATH PENALTY is a good deterrent.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

More of the Same Same

Words, words, words... I am done with trying to put word to how much I enjoy the highlands of Bali. I took a long scooter ride up to the mountains droppings down to the shore a guestimated five thousand feet. I left at 7am and returned to my bungalow just before 4 in the afternoon. I do not know how to share the experience in words. Pictures add another dimension to it, not enough for me to keep snapping off shots though. Since I got a new memory card for my camera, I decided to tie it high on my neck and record some video of the cruise. I don't know how it will turn out. Maybe movement and sound, capturing kids walking home from school, ladies drying rice, revolving vistas, and the monkey swing from the tree as I glided under (got lucky on that one) will add another dimension to the experience.

By 9am I was already high in the hills enjoying breakfast as some home stay looking out over the rice paddies toward Mount Agung, one of a handful of the inactive volcanic mountains and the tallest peak in Bali. I thought about hitting the "Mother Temple" that was located at the base of the mountain, but was even more curious about this little road leading up hill to a little temple icon-symbol on the map. When inquiring if it was possible to get there a local told me it was much better than the original destination because it was not swarmed with tourists.

The drive felt like I was going straight up the mountain. I thought I was heading into some rain for a while until I popped out from the clouds just a hundred meters before reaching the Puranas Passran Agung temple. Other than the two fellows doing some maintenance work on the structure I was the only one there. Clouds swirling below me and the last couple thousand feet of volcano rising above me in an adorable open air rock temple... I would love to romanticize it by throwing in some blissful sound of birds and geckos, but the truth is that the maintenance men were using some sort of electric stone cutter making a tremendous racket. Still, the view was breathtaking as the clouds would open up for moments giving glimpses of the jungle valleys far below. There was a point where the mist was moving up the hill as if trying to carry me to the top.

As I approached top step crowning a long zigzagging flight down to where my scooter was parked, I looked through the swirling fog and saw a procession of people, all dressed in white, carrying fancy boxes and baskets of fruit and flower offering on their way to do ceremony. Another stunning sight. Nearly all of the maybe fifty people, men, women, and children had smiles and kind hellos as I passed them by. I did not stay to watch, my instinct told me that this was their and theirs only.

Just two hour later and I would be experiencing the opposite end of the spectrum. Down from the cool serene forest the coastal lowlands were hot muggy and I was certainly not the only one there. I stopped at cheap shack on the shorefront along the road where I saw some retired, no shirt, heavily tanned, chain smoking foreigners with a sign above saying, "Monster Aussie Burger!". The chatty old crew from down under whipped me up a huge burger that had everything you would ever normally throw between the buns along with loads of bacon, fried eggs, and beets. How could I not have a small beer with that.

To be continued... or maybe not

Location:Bali Indonesia

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great Fun in Denpasar

So, yesterday I got flagged over by the police on my scooter. I was going slow and doing nothing wrong except I am not a local. I had read a blurb about the hassle getting a foreign temporary drivers license for Bali. About hot crowded lines you could avoid if you paid enough to get into the pack door at the poise station. It was written a few years back and watching all the foreigners in town on their scooters you can rent everywhere I hoped that the license was a thing of the past. The official place, no just some kid on the street, never mentioned anything about needing one and I forgot to ask.

Well, ya kinda need one. The police were very nice. We bantered a bunch before we got down to business. Basically, they could confiscate the bike for four days and I could then come to court and pay a hundred dollar ticket... or it was possible to pay them much less and get a "warning". Sweet, I was getting a shakedown. I gave them ten bucks which I think was more than they expected. In return I could keep riding until I was able to get my license. "maybe you go Monday?" the day I turn mu scooter in.

This morning, Friday, I got up early to avoid as much traffic and give myself time to find the one police station that issued temporary licenses. Maybe even beat the crowd. I could have taken my chances, maybe dish out another ten bucks, and drove off to the beach, gone SCUBA diving, or toured some of the many sights. Instead, I decided to waste a day and avoid future stress by heading into Denpasar. I got direction for the first handful of turn out of Ubud to get me in the on the road where I might be able to follow signs. I was told to just ask people where I get there where this place was. I followed the signs through the traffic I didn't beat for an hour plus until I got to the capital city made up of hundreds of districts. I can't start to explain how fun it was stressing out in traffic, getting lost, getting vague directions, getting told is was far and impossible to find. I asked plenty of police, none of whom asked me for my license, nor could they tell me where to go. Just when I was about to give in, pull over and hire a taxi to take me there, wait for me, and take me back to my bike, I finally found the district I heard mumbled a few times and by some great act of the god found the station.

"Maybe you come back tomorrow? No electricity." uh? Is it open on Saturday? "maybe you come back Monday?"

Some of the most laughable moments are when you realize your toil and efforts have been in utter vein. After two hours of zipping around the hot city the day was already half over and I would remain an illegal driver. I found it amazing comical. Now I got to figure out how to get out of here. I figured if I just head in one direction I would eventually escape the capital.

In one of the suburbs I came across another police station where I stopped just to see if there was a remote chance they could hook me up. They were all very nice and the head honcho was abundantly friendly and fun, yet they could not get me a license there. I was given the number of the chief at the previous station whom I could call and check upon the power situation if I cared to try again later. (like I could ever find it again). He also gave me his number, Chief Inspector Nikolas, and told me to call him if I ever had any problem. With cell phone numbers of high ranking police officials in my notebook, I guess, and none of the other police caring about me driving, I figured that was enough fodder in my cannon to take my chances and get on with my life in Bali without worrying about the stupid temporary international license. We'll see.

My butt was beat up and I had another hot hour or more just to get back to Ubud. It may be a sit-by-the-pool-with-a-beer-and-read late afternoon.

Location:Denpasar Bali

Cruisin' the Island

My face and my ass is sore. My ass hurts from spending the whole day riding the roads of Bali on a scooter. My face hurts from spending the whole day riding the roads of Bali on a scooter - smiling all the way. You will never find me on a motorized two wheel vehicle in the States, but here it is heaven... or at least my heaven.

Yes dad, I'm wearing a good helmet.

It's pointless for me to ramble on about the beauty of this place. My shortage of decent vocabulary, my five adjectives, will only harm any description I try to produce killing it with repetitive monotony. I will just leave it at "wow" from now on.

Got me a top end scooter for the rest of my stay here. I chose the automatic this time just to keep it simple. I don't feel too manly about it, but there are other things I'm interested in without concentrating on playing with gears.

Picked a road out of town and drove off. My aim was to get to the volcano, but I really didn't care that much. I feel any road besides the one to Denpasar would take me somewhere interesting. I drove through forests, rice paddies, and farms. I kept thinking I would come up over the crest of a hill and head back down, but it just kept going up getting cooler in temperature every couple kilometers. Then I reached the rimmed peak looking into the valley that contains Mt. Batur. The volcano is flanked by a large lake of the same name. I guess I was lucky finding it and even luckier seeing it since it is quite often too cloudy.

I went down the winding road and circled both lake and mountain. I also got a bit lost and had to finally turn back because the shape of the roads degraded into something I'm sure the scooter renters would be bummed I took on. I drove the same road home and watched the view coast by from the opposite direction. I made it back to Ubud before dark fairly fatigued.

I got the inside scoop from an elderly Dutch lady who come here often that there is a big local full moon ceremony held only once a year. Tourist shops do not advertise this celebration that occurs in some small town where all the surrounding villages pilgrimage to. I guess it's a great cultural event to be able to witness and I would have to wear the traditional mens sarong, scarf belt, and matching head rag in order to attend. The only problem was that it's hard to find and driving in the dark in the country here is suicide. There is an occasional pothole waiting on the roads to keep you honest and hitting one would take the bike out from under you immediately. This was a celebration I was going to miss. There may have been something going on here in Ubud, but after dinner I settled for cracking open Joseph Conrad's, Heart of Darkness. Now doesn't that sound cheery?



I falsely blogged when I previously wrote that nobody was trying to sell you anything here. Every other guy on the street is interested in supplying you with a ride. They might call out taxi and I've head tuk-tuk without seeing any around, but the best one is "transport". And they all mean the same thing. Either they want to give you a lift on their motorbike or they hope you will rent it from them. It seems extra funny when everything in this town is pretty much in walking distance. It must be a universal thing in Asia - "you want rickshaw?". I think they even recognize the absurdity of it here. Across the street I hear the call for "transport" along with this driving motion done with their arms and I throw them a smile that says "are you kidding me?" and they start cracking up is if they know their lazy attempt is nothing but silly. I started messing with them and running over saying, "really? I can get taxis here? my place is a full two blocks away. I can really get transportation?". They get it. They found it all funny. But they still do it. Must be hardwired in their nervous system. I might save my breath from a hundred no-thank-yous if I just rented a motorbike and scooted down those few blocks.

Location:Ubud Bali

Monsters Monsters Everywhere

In alleys and backyards, sometimes by the playing fields and occasional market squares I have found monsters in the making. Partially completed man made creatures being built out of paper mâché. styrofoam, or wire framing, not all having an exterior skin yet and most of them are as tall as the houses are scattered throughout Bali. Although they are not done, you can tell they will be fearsome creatures.

All of Indonesia is predominately Muslim with the exception of Bali being mostly Hindu. I have learned that each year the island builds these monsters in celebration of the Hindu new years which is on March 5th, the same day I fly home to Colorado. From what I have gathered, the folks here believe that after midnight on new year the "spirits" fly through the air looking for signs of life. What they do when they find it I have no idea, nor do I really know what part these sculptures have in detouring the spirits. Basically, I know very little, close to nothing, about this event except the people here eat, play music, and generally celebrate up until midnight then lock themselves at home and don't leave for 24 hours. The whole island is hiding from the spirits for the first day of the new year. Nobody is on the streets. Nothing is open. Lights are completely extinguished, although I heard guest houses will have a few candles burning for the westerners, but they are not allowed to leave their hotels. It's a complete lockdown for a full day until the spirits have pass over the island.

Again, I may have this all wrong, but I'm not here to spend my time looking up facts on the Internet. I just think it pretty cool that there are half built monsters everywhere. I hope they are all set on fire and burned at the end.

Location:Ubud Bali

Kecak Dance

The official title was Kecak Fire and Trance Dance and it had nothing to do with the fire dancing and trance dances I have participated in at home. Ironically, at the end of my full day in the monkey forest I attended a dance show the most resembled the Monkey Chant where a large group of people sit in a tight circle many rows deep spreading outward basically mimicking a select few leaders in the neat the center, both physically and vocally. In this case they were all men, about 40 of them, and it was choreographed and well rehearsed. It used the same root chant "ta ta taka tataka tataka taka" - a more percussive sound sung in a rondo creating fast off beats like a triple-para-diddle snapping on a snare drum. Meanwhile, the group uses the same body movement, arms raised, shaking shoulders, leaning in one direction, sometimes lying back. Sometimes there is a lone soloist melodically carrying a background tune. There are abrupt temp changes and volume changes making the single hour and a half song exciting and dynamic. I'm pretty sure this was the Trance Dance part.

The fire dance took place at the same time around a multi-leveled candelabra in the center of the group of chanting men. The ornately costumed dancers played out a story using the traditional Apsara movements. There were a couple of women, I think one being a princess of some sort, a couple of demon-monsters, and a king-prince-guy-dude (I don't know), and a child who I took for a fairy (I could be horribly wrong - I had no program to fill me in) In the end, it seemed to me that the bad guy won the epic battle and the monster got the princess. Sometime things are just as fun when you don't know what's going on.

People came out and put up two foot barricades, dumped a large pile of coconut husks in the middle of the floor. Surely they were soaked in some fuel since there was a great woooosh as they were set a flame. After a minute to let them cook a bit a man either riding a horse or dressed as a horse trotted into the pyre and in his bare feet and kicked the burning embers out from the center toward the crowd creating a fantastic shower of sparks everywhere. Those sparks must be a property of flaming coconut husks. He was followed by two men with squeegee/brooms who pushed the embers back in a central pile. This was repeated a few more times until the fire was out. I'd bet big money that was the fire dance part.

I walked out into a heavy tropical rain and while others had umbrellas or ponchos I just got soaked. It didn't matter to me since the only real difference is that when it's not raining I'm soaked in my own sweat. My laundry was done just before leaving Thailand and I have not changed into anything fresh thinking the is no reasons to drench my clean stuff. Completely soaked in the rain is a total improvement for me and anyone within a couple meter radius.

My evening was spent under my porch, enjoying the downpour, drinking a Bintang pilsner beer, and pretty much typing this shit out.

Location:Ubud Bali

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monkeying Around

I checked into the bungalow next door for half the price and fewer ants marching through the room with the promise that I could still use the pool next door and pirate their wi-fi. I don't know if you could find a room in this place that is not outlandishly adorable. This town is not just full of temples, it is a temple! Every building is littered with stone statues shrouded in florescent green moss. I think I'm walking into see a temple and it's a house, guest house, or just a place to eat.

Still not feeling like leaving the place, I walked to the monkey forest just down Monkey Forest Road. It's not that I have some sort of monkey phobia or major monkey fears, but a few experiences in the past has left me suspicious of my karma with the apes. If one of these guys reacted to me like a particular alpha male at the Denver zoo, I'd be monkey meat.

I head into a stunning jungle forest thinking I might see a smattering of monkeys hidden about and the occasional aggressive one intimidating a tourist out of a banana. Thirty paces in I realize there are billions. They all surround me showing their teeth chanting the monkey battle cry as they head in quickly for the groupin' kill. Okay, just kidding, but there are hundreds. Too many to keep an eye on.

I slowly wade through. I did not bring a stalk of bananas that many buy from the vendors on the way in. I was not interested in being hassled for my potassium or even being eyeballed for the yellow fruit. I also took out my earrings. Not because I'm afraid, because I'm smart.

I did the start-taking-a-ton-of-cute-pictures thing for while. Frankly, because it was all very cute. Monkeys getting bananas from visitors. Monkeys fighting for the bananas. Some where lounging, others swinging about. Babies hanging off their mothers. Juveniles wrestling. Some just sitting and meditating. A heavy amount of grooming. The big one ripping up his own coconut. Arguments about who's mating who in front of everyone...

Every once in a while a visitor would squeal when a critter would reach up to check out the contents of their bag, but for the most part these monkeys were relatively docile pretty much going about their monkey business. (ha -monkey business) Rather than walking through taking pictures, throwing bananas, taking more pictures, finding the extra cute grooming scene with a baby nursing, take pictures of that, and then heading out of the forest within an hour, I sat on a wall nearly all day.

I picked a spot along a walkway that had plenty of monkey action, but up the path from the area where fetch-the-banana was going on. I sat a couple meters from one of the biggest old boys that I had seen. He was pretty much sunbathing. Across from me was a lush hill with scores of monkeys and behind me was a shallow gulch with fewer but where I guess kindergarden must be held there because it was loaded with babies goofin' off. I wish I could described each and every one of the thousands of monkey events and interactions that I witnessed. It would take me pages to process what I saw in ten minutes much less a days worth.

Sometimes one, usually a pretty young monkey, would casually walk up sit on the wall with me for a while before hanging from my shirt and sitting in my lap. Once they started climbing toward my head I would calmly stand up and they would just as calmly sit back on the wall.

At one point, this guy, Australian of course, squatting down held bananas over his head to get the monkeys to climb him for their treat. When he had three of them up there I started doubting my own bravado. Why was I not comfortable enough to do that? When he ran out of bananas they got feisty. At first he was laughing, then you heard the "oh outch", then "hey stop it", then "shit they're biting me". There are men there called "monkey experts" that are there for just that reason. They come equipped with a sling shot and are loaded with great suggestions like, "maybe you stand up?" or "maybe try walking to wall - maybe they get off there?". Their approach reminded me of old Willy Wonka sighing "I wouldn't do that if I were you" while looking forward to the girl dropping down the golden goose egg hole.

I could have another exciting monkey story, but I was glad I was not dancing around yelling about monkeys on my back. I use to be that guy. It's even funner to watch the monkey attack than to be the clown in the spotlight. Eventually they hopped off and his panic turned back into laughter while he made sure his friends caught it all on video.

The "monkey experts" were called upon a few more times. Once to help a man chase down a monkey that swiped a VIP bus ticket and another to coax a monkey into giving back here earring (a theft which I thoroughly enjoyed watching). The earring never came back, but the ticket was boring enough for the monkey to eventually drop out of the trees followed by the only action taken by the "expert", slinging a rock toward the belligerent beast as if to say, "bad monkey - you should keep your loot".

There was also a wonderful walk through the forest in steep canyon walls, flowers blooming on plants growing off tree that still yet cling to other trees. Monkeys hanging from vines, a la Tarzan and more moss covered statues. If I am ever short on anything to do here or if can can even dig up more time I will hope to visit the monkey forest again.

Location:Ubud Bali

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finishing a Full Day in Ubud

I went to a well known foodie hangout, Sari Organik Restaurant, where you have to trek into rice paddies to get a spectacular meal. I had the best quiche ever. I know, I know... real men don't eat quiche, but I am more than a real man!

My early morning caught up to me so I chillaxed by the pool and finished the book, "A Cook's Tour" by Anthony Bourdain that was handed off to me by a fellow traveler in Vietnam. Good and funny book about extreme eating.

In the evening I attended a traditional dance held at the Ubud Palace. To begin with, the setting was wonderful. It was in the outdoor grounds of a beautiful temple surrounded by gardens and pools of lilies, a very well decorated backdrop. As the procession of some thirty ladies came out I noticed that they were not young, some even elderly, and none of then had what I would call a dancers physique. I though this was going to be a very slow wobbling dance. Then they all took their places behind their instruments. They were the orchestra that played what I would describe as a type of golden laced xylophone. Twenty of them banged away on different pieces of metal using what looked like a geologist hammer/pick in one hand and using the other hand to mute the ringing when needed. There were a couple of gong players and a handful of women playing a wooden flute. it was like a fast choir of bells exaggerated with showmanship by twirling their pickaxes between notes. Each bell or whatever metal piece that was struck was not precisely in tune with the others giving it a slight out of tune haunting piano sound. i loved it.

The dancers were like a combination of the other movement artists we have seen in SE Asia. Posture and hand gestures were very Apsara and their irises did another dance within their wide open eyes. Amazing and pretty freakish to watch. The show was very energetic and sprinkled with large bats flitting around the stage and audience as our ally in the war against Mosquitos. A battle form which I should be awarded the purple heart medal of courage.

I am normally not a big fan of Reggie music, but sometimes in the tropics it's the best music to hop and sweat to. After a couple beers and bouncing on a crowded dance floor I retired to my bungalow calling it a day... a very long and wonderful first day in Bali..

Location:Ubud Bali

Monday, February 14, 2011

Soaking Up Ubud

Sitting under my bungalow porch watching a tropical rain cool down the day after getting a massage. I can see why most of my friends never made it out of the Ubud area. My intention was to cruise around the island, but it's pretty unbeatable right here. It has only taken me half a day to decide to make this home base and do day trips to the beach and volcanos without a backpack strapped on.

After breakfast I headed out on foot to walk the town. If the physical beauty of this place is not art enough, every other storefront is a gallery, art studio, or museum and it's not just the same type of piece replicated to be sold to tourists. Styles have a wide range and variety including batik, clothing, beaded pottery, woodcarving, and statues that fill every corner and crown each hilltop.

I walked down through winding ravines, over bridges that cross thin deep gorges, up and down twisting hills. The topography here is magnificent, embellished by lovely gardening and carved out by running water. And can I take any more pictures of terraced rice paddies? Maybe it's a coming-from-Colorado-thing? Mesmerized by so much water and vast shades of green.

To put the icing on the cake of Ubud, the Ubudians are super friendly. Their smiles and hi-how-are-yous feel genuine and mellow and are not coming from people selling anything. Actually, I dislike frosting - folks in Ubud are the yummy crust crumbs that make that last bit perfect.

Location:Ubud Bali

Ubudiful Morning

I got up this morning at 5:30 to join a nice old local man that works at my hotel for a morning walk through the rice paddies, the jungle, and the temples in Ubud. We all have different ideas of what paradise is. This is mine. So much green, flowers everywhere, white birds tiptoeing throughout the fields, little rivers and waterfalls, volcanos rising up through the mist, lush gardens, happy people... all before 8am.

Location:Ubud Bali

Switching Gears

This journey has been an amazingly powerful exercise for the brain. Going from one country to the next and then sometime returning get the gears in your head hopping around. There is no automatic shifting and the clutch is sticky sometimes. I don't know how many different languages we have learned to say " hello" and "thank you" in, but quite often our immediate response has been in a language from one or two countries ago. "oops - i think I just gave them a thank you in Vietnamese". We have also worked with seven different currencies. I have mis-calculated the price a few times. The most recent brain twist was returning to driving on the left in Thailand. Riding a motorbike in Vietnam and Laos was not a problem, but simple cycling around a city Thailand make you stay on your game. As long as we stick to saying things incorrectly and losing a dollar on occasion I think it is probably a healthy brain exercise... just take it slow and look all directions when roaming the streets.

Bop on Down to Bali

Tuk-tuk to the airport, flight to Bangkok, flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, flight to Bali... now I'm real hot!

It might seem silly to go to Bali for just a week, but I justify it when i think of all the trips I take to Mexico for a week. So while I'm on this part of the globe I thought I'd check it out.

Asiana and I have been traveling for over two months. It has been great and we have worked amazingly well together. For Valentines Day I gave her the gift of my absence as I got up at 6am and rode off. It is a bitter-sweet sensation. I already miss my traveling companion, yet I know it is good for us to be solo for a bit. You can get so use to having two people make all decisions big and small and it feels weird to be using only one brain.

I think that I tend to direct what we do on a macro level... what country and city we are heading to next. Asiana tends to work with the micro decisions like where we stay and where we eat. It feels strange to step out of the airport without standing around deciding the next course of action. I could pick a bungalow without caring if it has a bathroom and I am less concerned about the price. There is no walking by restaurant after restaurant looking at menus. "This place has beer and pastries - good enough for me".

At the same time I am sure Asiana does not have to work with the pressure of me standing by the road impatiently while she shops. She can take her time in the mornings without feeling rushed. It is quite après peu that she is taking it relatively easy staying a pleasant town in northern Thailand while I remain on the move biking from town to town south of the equator.

I love her and miss her and am thankful we are giving each other these individual experiences.

Location:Ubud Bali Indonesia

Couple Days in Chang Mai

Our trip from Laos to Chang Mai, including a border crossing, was one of the smoothest runs we have done. The long bus ride was comfortable and we slept much of the way there. I think we were even arrived an hour early.

The usual search for accommodation was quick and we checked into Grace's Boutique in the heart of the city early in the day. After procuring a couple of bikes we rode off to learn our way about the town and find the school where Asiana was scheduled to attend the next week.

Chang Mai is about as user friendly as any place we have been on this trip. The city center is contained within a rectangle mote. The traffic is reasonable allowing for easy navigation walking or on bicycle. It is pretty obvious when you are drifting off course when you breach the body of water that creates a box around the city.

The abundance of temples (Wats) at every corner reminds us that we are back in Thailand and any given bike ride one will pass a dozen beautiful ornate structures. This is another cute place I think my mom would enjoy.

In the heat of the day we hopped off the bikes and hopped into the pool at out guest house. I think it is the first pool we have dipped into this whole time. Dropped off a load of laundry and by dusk we were off again getting a feel for the city.

While Asian furthers her skills taking a week long Thai massage course in Chang Mai, I am taking a quick run down to Bali. There is probably a ton of things to do here, but my biggest concern is to make sure that she is in a good space and will be able to get around with no problem. There is probably not a better spot for her to be solo. It's a friendly city with plenty of westerners to mingle with. I think she will be happy and safe here with no shortage of things to do and see.

On our second day we did another bike run to her school trying to find the easiest route and went for a ride around "china town" and the river. Again, we spend a lot of time eating, having ice coffees, and generally popping in and out of shops. There always seems to be a reason to buy something.

In the afternoon we went to a small temple near the guest house to participate in a Buddhist meditation that we had seen open invitations to. We ended up with a small group of people listening to a monk explain the basics of Buddhism. He was super sweet and had a cute sense of humor.

I had taken world religion courses in high school and then took even more in-depth courses in my early college years. I have always known the basic principles and truly agreed that if everyone followed them we would live in a very peaceful world. The two and a half hour chat with the monk was a wonderful reminder of how a simple set of outlined bullet points can hook you up with inner harmony or at least a great guideline.

Although I am not monk and even worse, I rarely quiet my busy mind with meditation, I do think I am pretty Zen. In the moments that I am not vibrating in my highest frequency, my times of disappointment, frustration and heavy ego, I find I am always looking to follow the teachings of the Buddha to give me and those around me peace.

It was good to get an understanding or their day to day life and their education. They don't just sit around meditating all day. They are learning and developing other skills. They are interested in world politics, economics, other religions, foreign languages, and sciences. To me Buddhism is not a religion as much as a way of being. I have to admit, I don't understand why a place needs hundreds of golden statues. I probably do not know any better, but deep down I don't think the Buddha would have really requested to be bowed don't to and iconized. But hey, I don't know much about that stuff anyway.

So, Chang Mai seems really great and I'm sure Asiana will have more insight and thoughts about the place after settling there for more than a week. Part of me wishes I would hanging around for a while longer as well, but of course I am driven to move on... check shit out.

Location:Chang Mai Thailand

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Leaving Loveable Laos

I never wear shirts that advertise, but I'm attracted to the simple black and white shirt that just says, "I 'heart' Laos". It is as simple as the country itself and I truly think this place is lovable.

We had a full day in the capital, Vieng Chan or Vientiane (colonial name) before saying goodbye to Laos. It is a cute town with no high-rises, young and old temples sprinkled about, and the Mekong flowing by. Admittedly, we did not get around much, but what we saw was very nice. The easy going ways of the rest of Laos is still present making this probably the most charming capital I've been to. There is a huge assortment of international cuisines to choose from and walking throughout the town is easy. I 'heart' Laos...


Blurbettes from Asiana...Loas

Taking a moment to escape the heat of the day, our last day in Laos, our last day in Vientiene. We take a bus over the border to Chang Mai, Thailand, where I will be taking a Thai massage course, and Xilla will be flying out to Bali for a little self adventure. Good stuff!

As Xilla has dove deep in our meanderings through Laos, I just wanted to share a little bit of my fancy and concern. As beautiful and inviting as this land is, as accommodating and kind as all the locals have been, I feel sensitive to what all this tourism is creating in some of these towns. Yes, Vangvieng is gorgeous and peaceful and totally overrun with drunk tourists, everywhere.And the town caters to this. Long nights of partying and drinking and slow mornings, hungover and lounging in bars watching repeats of Family Man and Friends.

Granted not everyone is doing this because there is so much to experience, and I feel fortunate that Xilla and I are amongst those who went out of the main strip and saw some villages and went deep into the caves.

I am just saying that, I hope this beautiful little spot of Vanvieng maintains with integrity, a way that can be supportive for the enjoyment and support of the locals first, and then offer a fun and inspiring place for tourists to visit as well. I think I experienced a lot of the distortion displayed by too much alcohol ingestion (and no, not by me), and the heart full ness of the villages and the people maintaining beautiful farms, family, and charm.

I guess we get both sides everywhere we go. And it is good.

Still Stinkin'

For the first few weeks of this journey I kept saying to myself, "My clothes are so sick of me" - my way of being bothered by having a wardrobe of two pants, one long sleeve shirt, two sleeveless shirts, and a skirt...

... but after a short bit I have thought nothing of wearing the same threads for a week. My clothes and I are one and we smell bad. Nothing new for me.

My early laundry days consisted in letting my stuff soak in the sink or a bucket of soap, ringing the dark water out, maybe repeat if the water was black, rinse, and dry. Slapping my clothes repeatedly against a rock in the Ganges, while kind of fun sounding never made it on my itinerary.

In SE Asia nearly every guesthouse has a laundry service. Two dollars and half a day later my two outfits are ready to rock again and it cost me less than my electric bill running a load at home.

I still stink, however...

What would Rolf do?

Quite often I find myself asking, "what would the Buddha do?". I have many times swap it for, "what would Rolf do?". Each time I am lead to the most peaceful and pleasant solution.

There are also moments, like today, where I was debating whether or not to take another run down the river in an inner tube enjoying the reckless shanagans that the experience provides. Asiana is taking it easy today. The river beat her up good yesterday. What would Rolf do? Make sure his beloved was as comfortable as possible and go for another wild river ride.

There will be a day when I think, "wouldn't it be great to be floating a lazy river through the Laos mountains in a hot day sipping cheap BeerLao? ". I had to make sure I took advantage of the yummy moments life has to offer. I think the Buddha love tubing.

Location:VV Laos

The Vangvieng Tubing Experience

In the evening the street is witness to the young crowd, shirtless, shoeless, in bikinis, bandanas, permanent marker and spray paint displaying crude sayings worn as badges to signify some of their crazy moments while going down the river. I watched a tuk-tuk come in at dark with Australians surfing the roof singing, "f$&k you motherf$&kers!" I would bet by the next corner they would be pulling their pants down.

I must first say this, in my younger years of traveling I found the crew from down under to be an insane bunch. It is always exciting to spend some time with folks from the rowdiest continent in the world. They go well beyond danger and deep into belligerence in their quest for adventure. I wonder if it's the "convict" gene? Either way, I think Australians are a blast and a blessing. Any expression of of nuttiness towards them is in complete respect.

I had often been the one who ends up in the clinic, ends up in a sling, or at least has a part of my body dysfunctional because of doing something stupid. It took me until recently to get over the look-what-I-can-do syndrome that left me in big discomfort and rebuilt parts way too much. The kids walking the streets here are limping around, bandaged up, sunburned, their faces swollen from impact. Wrestling in the street with a large beer in one hand. Ten plus hours of drinking makes people real funny. I did not want to get that funny. Mostly, I did not want to do something that would send me to the clinic - again.

We got an early 10:30 am start. We joined three super great Swedes that we had met the night before by campfire at our cabanas. A bumpy tuk-tuk jarring up the road and a beer at the first bar and we were off down the river. Only two bars down we found an enticing zip line that looked much less sketchy than the 60 foot trapeze swing that we had just passed. Free shot of whiskey and down the line. Everyone in our crew made it safe so BeerLao was in order. And we floated on.

The liquid valley is a funny scene of beautiful Karst cliffs with jungle poured over and white limestone peaking through. The river is slow. I would not even suggest there was anything I would call class 1 rapids. The dangers line the banks where every hundred feet there is bar enticing the adrenaline seekers to fly off their rope swings compounded by a mob mentality that challenges each swinger to do some trick that has them crashing into the water at very unnatural angles.

We were told the only way you will make the whole run is to skip at least four bars before stopping, but two bars later we found a rope swing that looked tame enough for us elders to get our feet wet. This one was only a 50 foot swing and it was fun enough to ride a couple times. Floating on...

The music was getting cranked up at most of the bars. People were dancing on the bamboo decks and the party was in full swing. If Burningman only had a small river flowing through it.

We certainly made a lot of quick friends and loved sitting in the sun. I was able to avoid the pressure of doing something stupid and was content to lounge around watching others. My parents would be proud and happy I was not calling them from some foreign hospital. Unfortunately, the call of one last zip line for Asiana was too strong and the urge to be acrobatic lead her into the water in a very wrong way. This belly flop knocked all the air out of her. Luckily, a local threw her a rope because none us us could see her in the water from where we were. We would be floating the rest of the way home without any danger stops.

In the days following, we would find that Asiana could hardly move or lift one of her arms due to some intense muscular trauma to her ribs. The next day would be spent in a hammock.

Location:VV Laos

Deep in the Caves at VV

It's a good sign that I am writing about experiences many days later. That usually means we have been busy or at least we are not sitting on long bus rides. The downside is that I have some catching up to do.

Out first full day in VV we rented a motorbike and went buzzing out of town. The valley is completely stunning and we could have just enjoyed the ride all day. We pulled off down a little dirt road that took us to a small village by the river that lead to the entrance of the "Elephant Caves". A young man guided us through the fields and forests to the entrance and from there we went deep into the mountain. We were just expecting the usual shallow hole in the wall with a large Buddha or thousands of Buddhas. What we got was the longest hike through the mountain in tunnels that make the caverns in Casa Bonita look... well, they kind of looked like that. At some point I thought we might come out of the other end behind the puppet show just as the mariachi band struck up "La Cucaracha".

Our guide jumped from rock to rock while we climbed over boulders, ducked under stalactites, awed at the wonders that can make up the interior of such a cave. Tapping some of the thin long and sometimes nearly translucent stalactites would echo out deep lasting librations that sounded like crystal singing bowls. Some stalagmites sparkled like they were covered with diamonds and there were thin veins of crystal cutting across walls.

We were in hot wet air going deep in the cave and it was only three of us with headlamps. Even if you are not claustrophobic this place has the making of a discomfort zone. The adventure was exciting and full of wonderment and we were happy to see daylight once again... even if it was not in Casa Bonita.

We visited a few more caves and took a dip in the cool water at the entrance of one. Our ride back to town was just as spectacular as the out bound trip.

Location:Vangvieng Laos

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sweet VV

Another six hours of winding through the mountains of Laos brought us to the small town of Vienvieng (VV). This one street village is flanked by a small river in the shadow of magnificent Karst cliffs. The view from anywhere in town is great, but we may have found the best view from our room. We checked into a stilted standalone hut with a porch and hammock across a walking bridge from town. It is most likely the greatest accommodation we've had on our trip.

VV is loaded with young travelers here to both party and relax. This is the highest ratio of westerners to area that we have encountered.The majority of these adventure seekers seem to come from down under. There are nature hikes, kayaking, mountain biking, caves and waterfalls to visit, but the main attraction is tubing down the river... tubing down the river and getting blind drunk while visiting the many makeshift bars serving various concoctions. Some of these "happy drinks" are mixed with more than just Lao whiskey.

VV is what Goa is to India... this is a breathtaking place loaded with Caucasians being catered to by the locals.

We will be hitting the river tomorrow, for I am of the belief that reliving 19 year old rites of passages help me retain my youth. ???

Location:Vienvieng Laos

Lone American Generation

Nearly all other travelers we have encountered are either in their twenties or they are twenty years older and beyond. Also, most foreigners do not speak English as their native tongue. (Rare to see someone from USA - maybe a few Brits, Canadians, and Australians) Fortunately, until one of the Chinese languages start dominating, English is the common language that is used to communicate internationally here.

Either way, I have come to the conclusion that they majority of my peers are slaving away, living the American dream, at home in the States. I know it's a general statement, but the rest of the world seems interested in the rest of the world.

I'm happy to be making this journey now. The younger generation of travelers can be focused on the action and the opposite sex as I was twenty years ago. The generation ahead easily absorbs and appreciates all they are experiencing and are accepting and patient with circumstance. Unfortunately, their experience is limited by physical ability and they are given the luxury of a young body that can hike to the top of the mountains or live on little sleep.

So what I'm saying is I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to travel when I'm 41. A bit of aged wisdom with a touch of energetic youth. I guess what I'm also trying to say is, I question the general priorities of the average middle aged American.

Kind of on the same subject: missed the super bowl yesterday. I did not even know it happened. The whole town had no power all day and there were quite a few bothered Canadians missing the game.

Location:Vienvieng Laos

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Best Day Ever Also

Next Day:

... kept the motorbike.
Picked a different road heading out of town and cruised up it into the hills.
Found another waterfall.
Hiked through the jungle.
Road back to town.
BeerLao on the beach.
Ran into the super fun Brazilians we met in Cambodia.
Received a Lao massage.
Wine at our favorite french restaurant.
Dinner and cocktails at Utopia.

We have moved so fast on our travels and knew we were not really going to get time to "sink in". This method allows you to check a lot of things out, but it's hard to get a good feel for a place. All the downloads we've had from others was that Laos is a great place to take some time in. So we are - and it's the best place we could have chosen to slow down in. After a week in Luang Phrabang having multiple days with both bikes and a motorbike, it feels so good to know a place - at least be very comfortably familiar with it all.

I know Asiana would agree, LP is top notch. Very grateful for a week here.

Location:LP Laos

Best Day Ever

I always enjoy a day of working my way through big cities or strolling about small towns. It can be fun, exciting, sometimes charming, sometimes completely crazy. But given the option, I will always pick a hike through a forest, especially a mountain forest, and even more, a tropical mountain forest.

We rented a motorbike for the day and glided through the winding roads up to the waterfalls we toured a few days back. The light morning mist was nearly burnt off by the sun and it was turning into another comfortable upper 70's day. We reached the falls at bear feeding time. Rather than throwing big chunks of meat in a pen for them to fight over, which is what I had envisioned, the bear keepers stash fruits and vegetables throughout the large yard for the bears to exercise their foraging skills. It was absolutely adorable watching ten bears climbing, digging, knocking over piles of wood, and prodding in holes to dig out bananas.

We hiked straight up to the top of the falls and found a path that ran off into the jungle. Did I mention I love the jungle? cuz I really love the jungle. Staring up towering trees mesmerized and awe struck, gazing at the intricate designs of the flowers, taking note of the hundreds of shades and hues of green coating the hillsides. The jungle is so full of vibrant life... it is also balanced by continual death creating deep layers of musky rot under foot.

At moments we would stop and sit still and let the forest speak. Once we stopped moving the jungle would start. The two butterflies turned into eight and then we'd notice a dozen and then all you could see is butterflies flitting about. A soft gust of wind would pick up shaking the trees who then let go of their unneeded leaves raining down different colors and textures.

It's a good thing the flora had so much to say because the fauna has been eaten. Outside of small insects and other bite sized birds there are no animals to be found in Laos. No squirrels, lizards, monkeys or even rats are here. The only wildlife here are the endangered Asian bears in their refugee camp and elephants who are put to work to entertain tourists. Oh well, who needs stupid yummy animals when you have such nice foliage.

Location:LP Laos

Vietnamese New Year

I few days ago the Chinese new year was celebrated over most of Asia. The Chinese twelve year zodiac tells us that we are in the year if the Rabbit. In Vietnam, they do not have the bunny among sacred signs. Rather, this symbol is switched to the domesticated feline.

It pleases me to no end that we have just moved into The Year of Kitty Kitty!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Room surfing

Upon our late evening arrival to LP a few nights ago after the long bus trip we did the room-search-promenade. We have watched this ever evening when new recruits pull into the city. Packs of people going door to door with monster bags on their back and dragging roller luggage up and down the streets, in and out of guest houses and hotels making a nightly parade. Most of the places are full and many others are pricey.

After twenty stops we found cheap place with a shared bathroom that we settled on for the first night. It was a small box with a shared bathroom, but I was done walking and interested in getting a large BeerLao.

The next day we moved to a nicer joint with it's own facilities and a balcony. Unfortunately, it was a loud room over the street. The noise was compounded by fireworks over the last few nights. Even though Laos celebrates it's new year in April, there are plenty folks here who are setting off large, possibly home made, fireworks for the Chinese new year. These are not little firecrackers - I suspect half sticks of dynamite.

We moved to another room in the same guest house, but off the street in the back with a little courtyard. We are paying about a dollar a kilo to get our laundry done and I am a morning regular at the corner soup stand where they pour out two cups of the blackest coffee with sweet cream when they see me heading their way. If there is anything negative about place it is only that it is so far from all the people I love.

Location:LP Laos

Culinary Cross Roads

I have avoided eating meat during this trip, not because I am the strictest vegetarian as much as it looked scary, especially in India. My disappointment with the lack of variety in Vietnam prompted me to go out on a culinary limb and start ordering Pho (noodles with meats) and everything they served from the sea. I didn't want to move through a country and miss out on it's claim to fame.

LP, on the other hand, is at. culinary crossroads. The French, whom are still abundant here, left a good impression in the kitchen. We have spent whole days hopping from one restaurant to another dining on everything available including peanut butter and fruit crepes and cocktails mixed with the famous Lao rice whiskey. We have found Indian food, Thai cuisine, Malaysian treats, French wine, and traditional Lao eats like water buffalo soup. If all else fails, there is Italian pastas and pizzas. Our tummies are in heaven.

Location:LP Laos

R &R in LP

We did a couple of half day tours yesterday. One took us up the mighty Mekong to view a small set of caves. To be honest, the caves were pretty unimpressive, but the journey up the river was sweet. Our afternoon adventure took us to some local waterfalls about 30 kilometers out of town. Our expectations were low, partly based on the small falls we'd seen in earlier travels, party because the cave visit was mostly a hole in the wall filled with a billion little Buddhas. These falls were some of the most splendid we have ever visited. There are hundreds of little pools with aqua blue water splashing down a few feet into the next pool. The refreshing swimming holes are surrounded thick forests of monster trees and plants with those enormous leaves. The falls mimicked the neighboring terraced rice paddies calling us to swim in each of them.

The tour only gave us a few hours at the falls which left just enough time to hike the steep hill to the top, take a dip, and climb back down. It was also home to many Asian black bears who have been saved and put in a large enclosed sanctuary with a ton of toys and custom made bear hammocks. With so much of this area to explore we decided to rent motorbikes in a couple days and return to spend the whole day walking through the jungle and swimming in the pools.

Today, we took another pair of dollar a day bicycles and explored further into the urban areas, crossed more bridges, and climbed the remaining temples we only previously saw from a distance. We finished the afternoon lounging on the edge of the river drinking BeerLao in the beach. All activities I speak of are buffered on each side by excellent food and drink.

Location:Luang Phrabang Laos

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


We are lying in a stilted bamboo open air cozy corner overlooking the small Nam Khan river just before it flows into the Mekong. We found the best spot in a town that has a lot of good spots and its called Utopia - most fitting. We arrived late afternoon on bicycles that took us throughout Luang Phrabang. We crossed the river and walked through even smaller villages where we spent time witnessing how their whole art and textile industry operates. I helped an older local repair the leaky seams on his boat and took a dip in the river. Basically, we had a leisure day of kicking it in LP.

Yesterday, day after we arrived we had an even more chills day as we just walked the whole town and fed ourselves at various restaurants. The menus are vast here and we have been feasting on leafy greens and big salads for the first time on this journey. After viewing some of the most vibrant gardens we jumped into the raw vegetable dishes. (It is also the first place I have found my prized condiment, mustard - I'm in heaven)

This seems to be our favorite stop on this trip. My dad emailed me wishing me the best using the words, "I hope you find what you are looking for in Laos.". I didn't think I was looking for anything, but now that I'm here I think I was looking for beautiful tranquility - a tropical version of my home in Evergreen Colorado.

Location:Luang Phrabang

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Path of No Resistance

We made intentions to go with the flow and take the path of least resistance and for the most part I think the has served us wonderfully. Our movement across Asia has been aggressive, logging serious kilometers.

We have found a place to slow down, rest, relax, and take small local adventures. After so much movement, we found a great place to to stay still. This is the path of no resistance and it is nice to go nowhere.

Location:Luang Phrabang Laos

Living the Risk Part II

We grew up in a town with small twisting roads that had major changes in elevation, condition, and grades. The road from the northern mountains of Vietnam to Luang Phrabang is 300 kilometers of the windiest ride we have ever taken. It was also one of the most breathtaking.

Twenty minutes after we left the border we pulled into blue sky, the first we'd seen in over a week. We were in a different country and even more, we were in a different world. If you have to be on a long bus ride, this ten hour tour through the northern mountains of Laos cannot be beaten.

We were warm, comfortable, and happy to watch the landscape move by as our very talented driver zipped such a large vehicle from mountain top to mountain top. The hills were completely green with vegetation. Some of the mountains where like steep spires reaching for the heavens. There was not a bit of flat terrane in sight as these lush hills went on forever.

We passed through very small villages made up of simple grass roof structures on bamboo stilts. Sometimes we dipped down into small river valleys with kids playing in the water. All the way we were winding back and fourth rolling up and down.

Hardly a word was spoken the whole trip. We both had our headphones on in wonderment of the scenery that was moving by. We occasionally looked at each other acknowledging the view and our bliss.

The risk we did not even mean to take sure paid off. The ride may have been long, but there was no other way we would have seen the highlands of Laos like that. If this was a trip through hell then we should strive to be sinners.

The little feisty busmeister, whom I had originally struggled to not hate, fed us fruit, made jokes, tickled me, and even gave me a shoulder and back massage turning out a very likable character. (Asiana and I suspected he might have actually had a crush on me). The only bad part of the trip was in our mind. The fears were not real. The journey was beautiful.

We watched the sun set over the mountains as we started dropping in altitude and finally arriving in the cute town of Luang Phrabang at eight in the evening. The whole trip took about 26 hours. Lots of lessons learned... What would the Buddha do? I guess he would enjoy the beauty of the journey like we did.

Location:Luang Phabang Laos