July 27, 2014

Enlightening Self-inflicted Ruin Travel

JakartaPunkMarcoFerrarese

The air is unbreathable, hot, and terribly humid. The air conditioner perched at the top of the wall at my right is just an empty plastic shell that reminds me that there could be some extra comfort, if someone had cared to replace the wiring. Instead, rivulets of sweat pour down my forehead and temples, sliding down my spine and flowing over the small of my back, soaking into the elastic of my underwear. I had to take my shirt off to endure this first Indonesian live test.

               “Cut the set short, I can’t breathe…” Sam screams from behind the drums, his man-boobs twitch, lucid with sweat.

               “Why man? They are loving it!” I answer screaming on top of amplifier white noise between two songs.

               “I said cut it fucker, I can’t fucking breathe! I am feeling sick! There’s no air!”

OK then, roger.

This is the best travel I have done recently, hands down.

We are at the back of Khansa Studio’s rehearsal room in Pamulang, somewhere in the sprawling suburbs of Jakarta, nestled between a row of halfstacks and a small melee of young Indonesian hardcore punk believers. They are probably twenty, but the room’s so cramped it feels like they are hundreds, all blowing hot air in our faces. One has just finished walking up the wall to my right, supported by a bunch of other lunatics pushing him at the small of his back. From my perspective, I believe for a moment that the room is rolling sideways, and this guy’s trying to run with it. When Sam hits the last of four strokes with his sticks, we launch into the last song of the night, and I wonder if this still makes sense. Looking at how the kids spin and jump and crawl on top of each other, forcing me to step back against the amps, I am tempted to say “yes”. But reflecting on the fact that I am sweating as if I were playing guitar inside of a Finnish sauna, our drummer is having a respiratory crisis, and tonight – and for the rest of this tour – we will never get paid a single rupiah, my European heritage materializes with a hammer to smash the bubble of underground dedication right before my eyes. Why are you doing this, Marco?

I don’t know. Probably because these days I only conceive traveling as a concoction of brutal anthropology, self-inflicted ruin and mind-numbing exploration of the weirdest fringes available in the world. But it does indeed make me feel good, for I know that I’m probably not the only one, but certainly one of the few, to have had this vision and this cross. Suddenly all of the problematic divides among travelers and tourists disappear, because they are not important anymore. I’m only trying to make my time on Earth meaningful to my own self, I guess. Is there anything wrong with it?

MARCO FERRARESE is a metalpunk guitarist who travelled extensively and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and Malaysia. Since 2009 he’s been based in Southeast Asia as a writer, hardcore punk musician and researcher. He travelled from Mongolia to Australia in 2009, and hitchhiked from Singapore to Milano through Silk Road routes and the Middle East in 2012. He blogs at monkeyrockworld.com. Marco’s first Asian pulp novel Nazi Goreng  was published in November 2013 on Monsoon Books. Follow him @monkeyrockworld

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, On The Road

July 11, 2014

Lesson from Siberia: making it till morning

Camping in Siberia

(Camping in Siberia)

Earlier this year, I rode a Ural motorcycle and sidecar through Siberia, up 1800km of ice roads and ending in the Arctic Circle. It was one hell of a journey which taught me how to survive in extreme sub-zero temperatures. More importantly, it expanded my limits and showed me what I was capable of.

One of the most important lessons happened on the second night of the trip – our first attempt camping out. Now, I don’t know about you, but I had never camped in extreme cold before. Sure – I had tested out my equipment on a -20C night in South Dakota, but there is a world of difference once you get below -30C. That night was mild, compared to the rest of the trip, but it still hit -32C.

So – we setup camp and tried to building a fire. We could make a lot of smoke, but couldn’t get a strong fire blazing. Fortunately, with the help of a good MSR camp stove, we were able to boil enough water to fill our bellies with pelmeni. Around 9pm we called it a night. I was riding solo, so I had a tent to myself. Quickly I stripped down to base layers and stuffed the upper layers into my sleeping bag to keep them from freezing. After the long day, I fell asleep quickly.

Waking up inside the tent

(Waking up inside the tent)

Around midnight, I woke up and realized that I couldn’t feel my toes. Now, one of my biggest fears was getting frostbite and loosing a few digits. I could feel the panic rising; but, after a few slow breaths, I was able to get it under control. I tried flexing my toes, but they wouldn’t move. I took a moment to think about my options – get up and try to get my blood flowing? Aside from my feet, I was warm enough in the sleeping bag. I didn’t know how much body heat I’d lose by getting out. I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to stand on my numb feet. Too many unknowns, so I decided to stay where I was and move my legs to get blood flowing. After a few minutes of that, my core was getting warmer, but my toes were still numb. Time for a different tack. I had just enough room in my sleeping bag to bring one foot at a time up within reach. I used my hands to manually flex my toes and warmed them up by contact. After a few minutes, I could feel them again and was able to move them just a bit. I switched feet and repeated.

Each time I would put a foot down to work on the other one, it would go numb again. I just couldn’t seem to keep them going without working them with my hands. I kept at it. After I was sure eons had passed, I checked the time, only to be disappointed that only a few minutes had gone by. I began to think things through – I had several hours to go until the sun would come out and temperatures would begin to rise. Would I be able to make it until morning? Did I have another choice?

So that eternally long night, I kept at it – switching feet every few minutes and wishing I could fast forward to morning. I couldn’t control time, though, all I had control over was my will to endure. I began to relax and just focused on the task at hand.  Eventually, the sun began to rise. As soon as the inside of the tent began to glow, I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that I would be okay.

The moment I knew I'd be okay

(The moment I knew I’d be okay)

I’ve been taught that lesson before – but sometimes a reminder is necessary. Relax, breath and just focus on what is right in front of you. Keep at it long enough and you’ll eventually make it through to the other side.

Later on during the trip, I camped out in harsher temperatures (-43C) but had a much easier time. Partially I’d say it was due to my body acclimating the the environment and also because I learned a couple tricks — like filling a water bottle with boiling water and putting it at the bottom of your sleeping bag to warm it up. That definitely prolongs your comfort and allows you to get a bit of sleep – but trust me, either way, the mornings are still painful.

It’s funny how that these moments turn into a fond memory. Time and distance do strange things.

Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.

 

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, On The Road, Vagabonding Advice

July 2, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang, Laos

Cost/day:

$30/day per person

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

A stroll through the Luang Prabang morning market brought something different to my senses every time. One morning, I saw a woman with a pile of chickens on the ground for sale. I thought the chickens were dead, but one of them started to get up and the woman shushed it like a dog and it laid back down. A little further down, a large tub of massive frogs awaited purchase next to huge cuts of fish and pig faces staring back at me. Most of the food lay on the ground on tarps.

JuneVaga10

Describe a typical day:

After breakfast, homeschool and work are completed in the morning, we head out to do things like swim in the Mekong, visit the unexploded ordinances center, take a hands-on class in traditional weaving and natural dyeing or rice farming. We did a lot of wandering around the beautiful, quiet town just getting lost and finding little gems as well as riding a motorbike on the outskirts of town.

JuneVaga4

 

JuneVaga2

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

It was interesting talking with our guide from the rice farming course. He graduated from college, spoke English very well and told us he could have chosen to work in an office. In fact, for a time he had worked in an office. But he grew up near the farm and the idea of being able to work outside everyday was more appealing to him than sitting in an office, even if it meant he would be paid less.  (more…)

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

June 17, 2014

Visiting Sulawesi Indonesia: Guide recommendation for Dodo Mursalim

Dodo Mursalim

We spent a couple of weeks researching Sulawesi and found very little information for independent travel on the island. Then, I lucked into Dodo Mursalim’s contact details on a TripAdvisor forum.

Dodo turned out to be a gold mine of information and he bent over backwards to help us do Sulawesi our way.

He rented us his little house behind the mosque for a fraction of what the cheapest hotels in Makassar could offer, and it has a kitchen and washing machine! He arranged an 8 seater van rental for us for the price of a much smaller car through any of the agencies we’d contacted on the island (car rental on Sulawesi can be expensive!) and he was willing to let us self drive, which is not commonly done on this island, with terrible roads and questionable signage. He taxied us all over Makassar for three days out of the goodness of his heart, helped arrange our three days on Samalona island, and sent us off on our road trip armed with his recommendations for hotels in various towns and a list of phone numbers of contacts in different places.
Dodo has an almost uncanny network of friends and cohorts on Sulawesi.
Four separate times during our very unplanned journey around the island, complete strangers would walk up, shake our hand and say, “Mr. Dodo says, “Hello!” He wanted me to make sure you knew that his recommendation for a certain hotel is full… or can I help you with a guide… or do you need help finding….” He was attentive to the highest degree, calling to check in with us, calling ahead of us to be sure that the arrangements we had made (independent of him) and just mentioned in passing, were properly sorted and awaiting us suitably. We have never encountered a tour guide of his calibre anywhere in the world, but certainly not in the developing world, where we expect things to go a little haywire.

Nothing goes haywire on Mr. Dodo’s watch; nothing.

He also does magic tricks, tells jokes, and speaks nearly perfect English. If you’re inclined to an adventure on Sulawesi, have Mr. Dodo be your man on the ground in Makassar. He can arrange any journey you want, guided, or solo, and he’ll take care of you like you’ve never been taken care of before.

Contact info for Dodo Mursalim
donow77(AT)hotmail(DOT)com

https://www.facebook.com/dodo.mursalim

http://dodopenman.blogspot.com (visit this page and you’ll see our picture and entry in his guestbook!)

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, Hospitality

June 4, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Experiencing life on a river in Nong Khiaw, Laos

Cost/day:

$20 per person.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Both strange and incredibly, incredibly sad was seeing the many uses of empty US cluster-bomb shells. Laos was shelled continually by US planes during the Vietnam War. Injuries and deaths are still occurring to this day due to unexploded ordinances from these bombs, mostly cluster munitions. Seeing the use of the empty bombshells for flower pots, tables, etc. was shocking. Learning of this continuing–and mostly silent–tragedy was disturbing to put it mildly.

LaosVG

Describe a typical day:

After breakfast we usually do some work and homeschooling. We then head out to explore the area. We may hike to a cave that was used by the local people, including government offices, during the bombing mentioned above. Or we take a boat upriver and tube back, stopping along the way to relax on little islands in the river and watch the water buffalo. We may ride bikes to other caves and explore them with the help of the on-site ten year old guides. Or we may take a boat with a guide and then hike up 100 Waterfalls.

Exploring during the day was generally to a new place, but we always made sure to be back near the river around sunset. Watching the sun go down as the river came alive with children playing and adults coming down for various chores was a highlight. The river was the ultimate meeting point for the town.

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laosvag5

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

It was fascinating listening to our guide from the 100 Waterfalls hike. He had been a Buddhist monk for nine years before leaving that life two years prior. Apparently that was enough time outside for him. He was planning to soon reenter the monastery.

Even though he wasn’t quite back in the monastery, he told us that once that decision had been made he once again took a vow of poverty. All money he made being a guide was sent home to his mother.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I like that it is a small town. I like that the river is the lifeblood of the town. The people are kind and welcoming. The sheer-walled mountains abutting the river create such dramatic beauty. The Lao food is a welcome surprise; so healthy, unique, fresh and flavorful.

The only thing that I didn’t like was the accessibility of the town. The road from Luang Namtha was akin to being on a dusty roller coaster for six hours.

Laos2

Laos1

Describe a challenge you faced:

If I had to pick any challenge in such an easy and peaceful place it would be the minivan ride over. The roads in Laos are notorious for causing motion sickness. They are both winding and full of potholes and ruts. Often the road turns from potholed to dirt and it creates a pretty unpleasant, dusty and jarring experience, hour after hour.

Just sitting back and accepting that this experience was going to be at the very least six hours was a bit of challenge. Not having any control over the situation is hard for me. Traveling full-time has challenged me in this area and after nine months on the road I think I’m marginally better now than when I started. Progress. All in all, though, if that’s the biggest challenge, life isn’t too hard, and it wasn’t in Nong Khiaw.

What new lesson did you learn?

Just remembering to slow down and revel in simple experiences. The majority of my most memorable travel experiences haven’t been seeing the big sites that we all travel so far to see. Many of my favorite moments have been things not listed in a guidebook or shown on travel shows. Simple things in Nong Khiaw like sitting by the river every night, swimming with my wife and daughter, making mudballs with local kids that we kicked around, and just watching and listening as a little town comes alive by the river at dusk. The beauty of the place and those experiences are treasured memories now.

River

Where next?

Luang Prabang, Laos.

 

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

May 30, 2014

Becoming a better person via the kindness of strangers

Family in Siberia

(The family we met in Siberia – one of the most memorable nights of the entire trip.)

Last week, I heard that a friend of mine had been in a serious motorcycle accident in Bali. A serious accident – broken ribs, fractured pelvis, collapsed lung. He wrote about the experience – about his injuries, about being restricted to the fetal position in the hospital and now, 2 weeks later, being able to finally stand up for the first time. All amazing things to hear for someone that you care about, but what really struck me about his story was the stranger who helped save his life. A Balinese man, Kung, dropped everything and drove him to the hospital. He then stayed by his side, even skipping meals, to update friends and family, to contact the right people and to translate.

This isn’t a one-time occurrence, not even just once this year. In February, while several of us were riding Urals across the ice roads of Siberia, another friend of mine was in an accident and suffered a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula. Blood everywhere – rushed to the hospital. Many of us were spread across Siberia and weren’t even aware of the accident until days later. Again, a near stranger – in this case a mechanic we had met in a town many kilometers away, dropped everything and rushed up to meet him at the hospital. He then helped translate and ensured things were taken care of.

From my own personal experience, we wouldn’t have been able to make it through Mongolia without the help of strangers. Our ambulance (Volga) just wasn’t the right vehicle to tackle that type of terrain (surprise, surprise) — especially after a freak storm turns the Gobi Desert into an enormous mud bog. We were pulled out of the mud several times by passing truckers and had locals pitch in and help us locate parts to fix our failing steed. After one of our toughest days, and after I plunged off the road and crashed the ambulance into a huge steel pipe, we were taken in by a kind man named Bolt. He gave us a warm meal and a safe place to stay for the night. The next day, when one of our team members decided that he’d had enough, Bolt helped him make arrangements to make it to Ulaanbaatar and fly out.

Again and again, I’m struck by the incredible kindness of strangers and how I, or my friends, may not be here without their generosity. And then I think about whether I live up to these ideals. If I’m honest – sometimes I do, and other times I don’t. I’m generous with my friends and I try to help strangers out when I can, but too often, I pass people and think, “Someone else will help them out.” I want to help, but usually I’m late for X or have Y many things to do. I let my urgency overpower their need. But, I’m making progress. Over the last few years – especially since my trek through Mongolia, I do that less and less. I realize that it’s more important to push back on my “urgent priorities” and focus on the importance of helping someone truly in need. I am beginning to live up to the examples that these strangers have set.

While I don’t look for anything in return, I these actions often pay dividends. I’m reminded of another story from Siberia. After an incredibly hard and frustrating day, we were forced to backtrack many kilometers. We were disheartened and incredibly cold. Along the way back, we saw a man walking in the darkness with his son. We learned that their snowmobile had died and they were trying to get back to town. We gave them a lift and when we arrived at their home, they invited us in. Trust me, after freezing all day, the thought of warming up for a few minutes was irresistible. That few minutes quickly turned into a whole evening. We were invited in to clean up in their sauna. (Oh man, I wish I was a better writer – simply to convey how incredible a hot sauna is after you’ve spend the day trying to keep your fingers and toes moving.) Then we were invited to sit down and share a home cooked meal with them – one that never seemed to end. Then we spent the night getting to know each other, sharing stories and finally they made room for us to sleep in their daughter’s bedroom. (Again, if only I was a better writer – having a warm place to sleep after camping our first night camping out in -32C weather was… incredible.) What we did was kind, but in the grand scheme of things, relatively small. We saved them from walking several kilometers back to their home. The evening they gave us in return was one of the best nights of the entire trip.

So – here’s my question for you. When was the last time you helped a stranger? I don’t mean donating to charity (which is noble) or giving someone a couple of bucks or even giving someone directions. When was the last time that you saw someone in need and went out of your way and really put in the effort to help them out?

Many of us give credence to the Golden Rule – let’s make sure we live up to our side of the bargain.

Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.

 

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Category: Asia, Ethics, Hospitality, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life

May 16, 2014

How lessons I learned while traveling have helped me through family tragedy (and can help you)

While this is my story, I’m sharing it because we all have family and those that we love. When we least expect it, tragedies happen and the skills that we hone while traveling can be invaluable in getting us through.

Chris Plough - Siberia - 20140218

Camping in Siberia en route to the Arctic Circle (-43C)

Truth is – this year has been a roller coaster of euphoria and darkness. In February, I rode a Ural motorcycle through some of the harshest ice roads in Siberia and into the Arctic Circle. Hitting the finish line was exhilarating – an accomplishment that I will remember forever. Just hours after reaching Salekhard, I was faced with some devastating news – that Al, a man who had been a mentor and a father figure since I was 16, was gravely ill. I immediately began planning my trip home, so that we could spend what time was left together. By the time I hit Moscow, however, I had learned that he had passed. I’ll tell the story of that night another time, but suffice to say – I’m glad that I was in the company of fellow travelers (thanks Dalbs, Dylan and Karan). After returning home and helping with his arrangements, I was also faced with the challenge that both of my grandfathers are fighting terminal diseases.

Now, this may sound like the pit of despair – and that I’m likely kept from all sharp objects and belts – but the truth is that I’m doing as well as can be expected. Of course, some days are better than others – but the lessons that I’ve learned while traveling have been key to putting all of this in perspective.

Face difficult things
Many of my travels have included an element of danger – from surviving sub-zero Siberia to breaking down in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Time and again, I’ve been taught the value of facing difficult situations head-on. I’m not perfect – all I wanted to do when I learned about each of these tragedies was to put my head down and ignore what was happening. If I don’t acknowledge it – it isn’t happening, right? Wrong – ignoring the problem only allows it to grow larger or saps away the time we have left with those we love. As conscious beings, we can’t control what happens, but we can control our reactions. Regardless of what I “wanted” to do, I chose to face reality and accept the situation as it stands – which then gave me the freedom to act upon it, instead of hiding from reality.

Freedom to move
Once I had accepted the situation, the next step was to travel and spend time with my family. To some, this may seem trivial – but many people (including myself a few years ago) are mired down with false responsibilities and material possessions that keep us cemented in place. One of the greatest benefits to the Vagabonding lifestyle is the freedom it creates to follow the next adventure and travel as you desire. In this case, that power allowed me to immediately fly to El Paso to help Al’s family and then up to Washington to spend quality time with my grandfather. Soon, I will ride to Missouri to do the same with my other grandfather. This doesn’t mean that I dropped everything, but simply that my lifestyle allows me to work wherever I am and my “home base” is wherever I happen to be. I know that years from now, I’ll be able to look back on this time and realize that this flexibility is one of my greatest freedoms.

Enjoy the moment
When I’m in the middle of an adventure, I’m much more in the moment – my thoughts are nearly all present, rather than lingering on the regrets of the past or stuck on the fears of the future. There’s a lot of research around this state (being in the zone, mindfulness) and ways to achieve it (meditation, focus, etc) – but put simply, it is a practicable state and the more you experience it, the easier it is to achieve. When I’m spending time with my family, there are a lot of emotions that try to pull me out of the present, and into past memories or anxiety about the coming days. The truth is, neither of these are the right place to be – instead, the right place is here and now, while we are together and enjoying each other’s company. For us, sharing meals and playing cards at night, while joking with each other is a special time that I’m grateful for.

The journey is long and ever changing
One of the greatest lessons that my adventures taught me is that he terrain change down the road. So – no matter what is happening and how dark the times in front of you may be, with persistence and endurance, you can make it through. This is a lesson that I often need to be re-taught, which is exactly what happened while I was in Siberia. I’ll share the full story another time, but the core of it is – on the first night camping, I spent several hours waiting for the sun to rise, while manually flexing my feet with my hands in order to stave off frostbite. It was a long, torturous night that I wasn’t sure I’d make it through. Minute-by-minute and flex-by-flex I did. Eventually the sun rose and I can say that all of my lil’ piggies are warm and pink today. This lesson helps today when days get tough and emotionally dark. I know that if we just endure and continue on, that there will be lighter times ahead. Sure enough, there always are.

Knowing my life will be full by the time I get there
As I watch my grandfather’s body get weaker and as he becomes more dependent on the rest of us, I can’t help but realize that there will be a time when I reach the same point. We all will. It’s inevitable – we get older and die — quickly, quietly or slowly. I do find comfort knowing that, like my grandfather, whenever I reach that point – my life will have been as full as possible. Sure, there are opportunities that I didn’t take, too many hours spent in front of a television and potential lovers that I shied away from — but on whole, I can look back at my life satisfied. I know that I took advantage of the time I had and made a difference in the lives of those around me. Like the boy scout motto – try and leave this world a little better than you found it.

Look – there is no silver bullet when facing family tragedies. Nothing is going to make all of the pain go away or magically make it better. Like every test, however, you control how you perceive and respond to difficulty. Every challenge has a silver lining and in the case of mine, I’m fortunate to have the freedom and wherewithal to make the most of our time together. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Neither should you.

Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.

 

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Category: Asia, Ethics, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life

May 7, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Exploring Luang Namtha, Laos and overcoming sickness

Cost/day:  $20-25 per person

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?  There is a type of vehicle in Luang Namtha that I have not seen anywhere else in Laos or Southeast Asia. The locals call it a tec-tec, which I’m assuming is onomatopoeic because that is the sound the extremely loud, water-cooled engine makes.

Tec Tec

Describe a typical day:  As with all of our days, no matter where we are, the day usually starts with work and homeschool. On the days I wasn’t sick, we would ride a motorbike outside of town to explore rivers, mountains, waterfalls or temples on our own. Riding a motorbike outside the town to the local villages was the highlight for us. Just watching daily life along the river, being invited for dinner into a home or watching children play with toys of their own creation were special moments. We also spent time with guides kayaking and hiking through the Nam Ha, a protected forest with small villages and stunning mountainous and river scenery. We had no means to cook our own food so all meals were eaten at one of the local restaurants, including the night market where we would eat dinner. We had no problems sleeping in the surprisingly cool night temperatures after all of the exploring we did during the days.

Kayak Trip

 

Luang Namtha 2

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:  Our guide on a kayaking trip explained that often schools are very far from some of the villages, requiring children to spend a considerable amount of time away from their homes. In his case, he lived so far from his school that he and his father built a hut next to the school. He slept in the hut during the week, only to return home on the weekends. This, he said, was not all that uncommon in the area(more…)

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

April 19, 2014

Up Cambodia without a phrase book

landmine

Image credit

I am 15 minutes into my hike down the muddy little stream when a tree carving captures my attention. Sticky with sap and arcing brown across the bark, it seems to have been made recently.

I drop to my haunches and run my fingers over the design. After three days of living on the Indochinese outback without electricity or running water, I feel like my senses have been sharpened to the details of the landscape. I take a step back for perspective, and my mind suddenly goes blank.

The carving is a crude depiction of a skull and crossbones.

Were I anyplace else in the world, I might be able to write off the skull and crossbones as a morbid adolescent prank. Unfortunately, since I am in northwestern Cambodia, the ghoulish symbol can mean only one thing: land mines. Suddenly convinced that everything in my immediate vicinity is about to erupt into a fury of fire and shrapnel, I freeze.

My brain slowly starts to track again, but I can’t pinpoint a plan of action. If this were a tornado, I’d prone myself in a low-lying area. Were this an earthquake, I’d run to an open space away from trees and buildings. Were this a hurricane, I’d pack up my worldly possessions and drive to South Dakota. But since I am in a manmade disaster zone, all I can think to do is nothing.

My thoughts drift to a random quote from a United Nations official a few years back, who was expressing his frustration in trying to clear the Cambodian countryside of hundreds of thousands of unmarked and unmapped mines. “Cambodia’s mines will be cleared,” he’d quipped fatalistically, “by people walking on them.”

As gingerly as possible, I lower myself to the ground, resolved to sit here until I can formulate a course of action that won’t result in blowing myself up. (more…)

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, Rolf Potts

April 2, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Motorbike exploring outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand

Cost/day:

$50-55/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Without question it is Wat Rong Kuhn, otherwise known as the White Wat. I read plenty about this wat, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and even saw dozens of pictures. Words and pictures alone did not prepare me for the grandeur, beauty and strangeness of this place.

White Wat 1

April Vag 6

Describe a typical day:

In the morning I work for a couple of hours and then we set out on the motorbike for the same place we go everyday for breakfast. We  always change up where we eat lunch and dinner in a city, but once we find a good breakfast spot in town we seem to never deviate from it.

After breakfast we generally hop on the motorbike and go outside of town to places like a massive tea plantation, Buddhist caves, various wats, museums, waterfalls or hiking trails.

After our daily adventure we head back to the hotel for homeschool and to finish work for the day. We then go to the night bazaar where we see the various local and imported wares for sale, mostly to tourists.

For dinner we go to one of the many local stalls selling a type of broth soup that is cooked at your table in a clay pot with noodles, vegetables and meat.

Tea Plantation

Chiang Rai Juxtaposition

Chiang Rai Market


Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

I found it interesting talking with the manager of the hotel about various locations to see outside of town. After going through her list of recommendations, I asked which were her absolute favorites. She answered that she had not been to any of them. When I asked her why she said she didn’t have time to go due to her work and family responsibilities.

It was humbling and a great reminder just how fortunate we are to travel and see sights that often many locals are not even able to see. It’s just another painful reminder how unfair the world is.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I like the ability to quickly get outside of the town and see very beautiful sights. I like that the town and surrounding area are not overrun with tourists or owned and managed by tour agencies and large companies. It feels like the locals’ town.

I do not particularly like the town itself. There is not much about it that I find unique.  Even this, though, has a type of charm when viewed through a certain lens. I would just advise renting some form of transportation when in Chiang Rai because the magic in this area lies just outside the city in the hills, caves, rivers and surrounding villages.

Buddhist Cave

River Thoughts

Describe a challenge you faced:

I got extremely sick due to questionable food while in a village outside of town. I have eaten unidentifiable street food from Istanbul to Bangkok without even a hint of stomach troubles, but I guess I was due. The worst part was that we had to take a bus for six hours the next day.  This experience will not soon be forgotten.

What new lesson did you learn?

I was reminded that I tremendously enjoy having my own transportation, even it it’s just a 110 cc motorbike. Being able to get off the tourist trail and stop where we want has given us some of our most memorable and enjoyable moments. Simple things like finding a game of sepak takraw outside of town was just an unforgettable moment and really allowed us to see the daily life of the locals, something we always seek out.

Sepak Takraw

 

Motorbike

Where next?

Luang Namtha, Laos for hiking and kayaking.

 

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