November 7th-16th

• We left Vietnam from Hanoi on November 7th. After waiting 5 hours at the bus station (because of the incorrect advice from our guesthouse) we started our 13 hour ride to the border town Dien Bien Phu. This was to be followed by getting immediately onto a 5:30am bus for 7 hours to the Laos border and then to a transfer town called Muang Khua. At Muang Khua we would walk the 3 kilometers with backpacks to the bus station which, after a 3 hour journey through winding dirt roads, would lead us to our destination of Udomxai. The highlight of the journey was that apparently our dinner was included in the price of our first ticket. So when we stopped at a rest stop we were told to sit with four others, a Vietnamese family. The daughter smiled and scooped rice for me. She then followed that with pantomiming for me to try the dish in front of her by rubbing her stomach. I tried the intestines, she laughed in return. Meanwhile her father and uncle, both in full military uniform, had offered me a shot of rice wine…and then six more. The rest of the ride, well, I don’t remember so well.

• Udomxai was a jumping point to Luang Nam Tha, an NPA (National Protected Area) with supposedly great hiking. We thought we would have the chance to see Black Asiatic Bears, elephants, or ligers. We were disappointed to find out that it was unlikely to see any animals without doing expensive 4+ day hiking trips. We opted instead for our own free 14 kilometer walk through stilted thatched villages to a waterfall. We bolted down to Luang Prabang the next day.

• Luang Prabang is an UNESCO World Heritage City. With its old French architecture, flourishing temples and location between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers it’s easy to lose yourself in its beauty. Unfortunately, as it seems with UNESCO protected cities and the catering towards package tourism it spawns dilutes the city’s charm. In spite of that though, the city still speaks to us and we’ve been finding our way through it to the things we think of as its gems. The nearby Kuangxi waterfalls are beautiful, producing turquoise blue pools that seem almost unnatural. The Hmong night market houses a food alley where a vegetarian buffet goes for about sixty cents. And today, Mari and I volunteered at a local English teaching program called Big Brother Mouse. Mari worked with a 21 year old man who was trying to learn English so that he wouldn’t have to be part of the family business as a farmer. He reminded us how much Luang Prabang, and it’s bubble directed towards wealthy foreigners, is not reflective of the average living conditions in Laos by mentioning in conversation practice that he didn’t know if he liked eating at restaurants, since he had never been to one before. For my couple of hours of volunteering, I was matched up with a young man who took me to an internet café because he wanted me to help him communicate with a doctor he had met here before…through Facebook of all things. We spent the whole time setting up his account, posting a picture to his profile, and sending out his 1 friend request. In the end, he thanked me and asked if I would be his second friend. Something tells me he’s getting the hang of it.

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

goL yliaD

5:48 pm Friday—I touch foot to sand and yell over my shoulder, “Crack open the strawberry oreos!”

5:32 pm Friday—I’ve just overpaid the boat captain by 50,000 rupiah. He knows it and I know it. We both knew I would pay it the moment Mari and I dragged our sweaty, worn selves out of the van in the middle of nowhere as the sun was beginning to set.

5:30 pm Friday—After the 2 hour drive, we finally pull into Tanjung Batu. I smile out at the villagers who are returning home from work and all of the people on their porches. Blank stares or outright sneers are their responses. I turn to Mari and say, “Whatever it takes, we’re getting a speedboat and getting there today. I don’t think we’re welcome to stay here tonight.”

4:12 pm Friday—We just went over a huge pothole in the road. The driver had no choice but to swerve to avoid going into a part of the road that had previously collapsed. The pothole though, makes my backpack jump in my lap and it comes down on me heavy. The baby is jarred and stops breast feeding in the front seat. Why is it immodest for this Muslim woman to show her hair in public, but able to let her boob hang loose? I’m just asking.

3:27 pm Friday—I’m in the middle of the street in Berau and staring at the driver as he’s staring back at me. In front of us is the boot of the van, and it’s filled with eggs. At least 90 dozen eggs, stacked from floor to ceiling. I laugh because he seems to think I can put our backpacks on top of them. What the hell?

3:15 pm Friday—We just passed a turnoff to Tanjung Batu. Looks like we’re doublebacking.

1:46 pm Friday—My car buddy says something to me in Indonesian, which I assume means move. I oblige and we all exit the car that’s pulled over to the side of the road. And then we all take a few steps into the rainforest and pee. I find some plants whose leaves, as a defense mechanism, instantly close up when you touch them and aim my stream at them in attack mode.

12:53 pm Friday—Road trip! That’s what this feels like. I don’t know the driver or the other three men in the car that exists somewhere between a taxi and a carhire, but there’s some feeling of companionship in listening to the same music and having a shared destination. They’re my car buddies; they just don’t know it yet.

11:40 am Friday—Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I’m 55 minutes in to this boat ferry and starting to feel sick. Maybe it’s being cramped in a small boat with 29 other people, maybe it’s the low roof that’s making me feel like I can’t breathe, maybe it’s the small dirty windows that don’t allow me to see the horizon, except between the bounces of the boat.

10:38 am Friday—I repeat the Indonesian word for “head.” Then, “mouth, nose, and eyes.” The man that sold us our boat tickets has taken a liking to me as evidenced by this impromptu language tutorial and by the fact that his hand is on my thigh. My upper thigh. It’s a nice moment except for his hand.

9:59 am Friday—I’m still holding out hope there’s another way…a shorter way. But our hostel receptionist and the taxi driver both confirm that if we want to get to Derawan, our route is as follows: 1 ½ hour ferry from Tarakan to Tanjung Selor-3 hour taxi to Berau—2 hour taxi to Tanjung Batu—30 minute speedboat to Derawan. Damn you Lonely Planet!

7:30 pm Thursday—Mari and I think it’s best to eat someplace simple and quick as it looks like we might be in for a long day of travel tomorrow and need a good night’s sleep. So, we’re eating at a mall foodcourt, which turns out to be more interesting than expected as it has a karaoke performance going full blast. Funny Asians.

4:07 pm Thursday—“How can you not know how to get to Derawan but your travel agency advertises itself as ‘Derawan Travel?'” I ask the woman across from me. She mutters something to us and returns to her paperwork. Mari says, “Thanks…for nothing” as we turn to leave.

2:00 pm Thursday—“To Derawan? No, not from here. I think you have to go to Berau.” answered our taxi driver, giving us the first inkling that I’ve read the signs wrong.

12:21 pm Thursday—Our plane just landed in Tarakan. Hopefully we’ll be in Derawan by the end of the day!

11:44 am Thursday—We checked in, paid our airport service tax and got through security in eight minutes. Record time. And with a minute to spare, I buy some strawberry oreos and jokingly tell Mari, “We’ll save these as our reward for getting to Derawan.”

11:36 am Thursday—I’m in front of the ticket office of Sriwijaya Airlines and they’ve just assured me that if we buy now we can still catch the flight that is scheduled to leave in exactly nine minutes. I take it as a good sign, since we’re supposed to be able to get to Derawan from either Tarakan or Berau and this flight leaves forty minutes earlier than the Berau ones. Could it be any easier?

Posted: August 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Indonesia | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

6 Months in…

July 7th marked the 6 month mark to our travels, which brought with it the sense that we should be reflective about our time up to this point. So I’m here in a safari tent in the Masai Mara in Kenya writing down some randomness.
• Traveling for this length has caused a curious warping of time for me. It’s the never knowing the date or the day because there’s no need to (which is great), but it’s more than that. Time as a measuring tool has lost its usefulness. The last 6 months have gone by so much faster than I had anticipated, so trying to think back to February or just last month leaves me usually scratching my head. Instead, I convert it to what country I should have been in during that time, and think about the experiences in that country to gain a mental foothold about the past experiences. But if I try to just think about the experience and fit it into a time measure, it feels so much longer ago than it should. I guess I’ve had so much input to absorb—cultures, peoples and experiences, that processing it all makes my brain work in overdrive and changes temporal perceptions. Anyway, it has me all jumbled up. I must ask Mari what day it is at least once a day.
• People ask us whether we’re sick of each other yet since we spend all of our time together. Oddly and surprisingly, no. It’s been remarkably easy to get along, work into a travel groove of sharing responsibilities and watching out for each other, and avoiding each other’s areas of contention. We’ll revisit this at the end of our travels and see if the answers remain constant. But to date, we’ve had one blowup so far with each other in Istanbul, which isn’t too shabby.
• I’ve always known I liked animals but traveling has confirmed my love for them. When I look at the percentage of photos committed to animals as opposed to world heritage sites and masterpieces of art, I’m embarrassed. But I keep clicking away.
• I’m still afraid of bugs, but I’m trying. To be fair, the types of bugs we’ve encountered aren’t the ones you swat with a newspaper, they’re the types you hit with a bat.
• I’ve recently recognized that traveling has had an effect on my hygiene. I’ve noticed I’ve taken to rubbing the griminess from my neck and face into those little dirt cigars and flicking them away…often…and in public. I also clean the dirt from my nails all the time, mostly because there’s dirt in my nails all the time. Both habits are disgusting, but oddly enough I might still be the cleaner of the two of us.
• Climate change is real and its effects are being felt all over the world. It’s the consumption levels of the rich countries that cause it, but it’s more apparent in poorer countries whose resources can’t be committed to aid in us ignoring the problem. Hope we get it together.
• I feel comfortable saying the world loves Obama. I feel accurate saying the world hated Bush.
• If there’s a hope that has been growing in the last half year, it’s that I hope I am malleable enough to be changed by what I’ve been seeing and the people I’ve been meeting.

Posted: July 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Itinerary | Tags: , | 2 Comments »