Tubing and caves in Vang Vieng

Arriving in Vang Vieng you notice the huge change that is going on in this little town. The small town feel is slowly staring to fade away as large resorts are being built along the river.  One or two streets up from the river the small stores, restaurants, and hostels still remind you of what the town used to look like years ago. It still holds the quaint feel if you find the right spots, along the river downstream from the main town you can find bars and restaurants that literally sit on the water. One of the first things I did when I came was to have a beer on one of the bamboo platforms over the running water. After a short time the sun was covered over by the clouds and the rain began to fall which made the experience much greater. I sat and felt a huge sense of joy at that moment loving the water from above, below, surrounded by Lao jungle, and limestone pillars rising from the ground high above only kilometers away even though I knew I would get soaked walking back. 

 

I was getting ready the first night there and was invited to dinner by someone in my hostel room. It ended up being a fairly large group of people from all over the world. Within the first hour or two I felt as though I was friends with them for a long time. A very accepting and upbeat group of people. The next day we rented mopeds and drove out of town toward the caves and lagoons that are plentiful in the surrounding jungles. We chose near the elephant cave which has a myriad of zip lines and a fresh lagoon that is very blue. There are countless caves in the area that can be toured and were used during the indoChina and Vietnam war to keep supplies and people safe from the war. We headed back into town for lunch and then off to the blue lagoon which has rope swings, slides, and platforms to launch oneself into the clear blue waters. Many people are there hanging out on the mats and grass surrounding the lagoon having picnics and drinking. It is a very relaxed area where you can bring friends or make new ones. 

The next day we decided to do the inner tube river float that takes you up stream and gently guides you down where one can stop at several bars along the banks. There used to be many more bars along the way but due to irresponsible tourists the government shut them down.  There are still remnants of the bamboo huts that served buckets of booze along the tour. There are only two bars left that are allowed to be open on the route but they offer activities when you stop so the one or two hour float can turn into four or five. Playing beer pong and flip cup are the popular games but when we stopped we found a volleyball net which kept us entertained for several hours. We made our way to the second bar where chatted with another group for a while and made friends with the cows which roamed in the fields around the bar. There was a family of locals along the river bank having a picnic and they waved us over. We paddled over to them and were invited to their feast and a little rice whiskey. Our group chatted and played with the children, eventually we said our goodbyes. The final stop where you pull out of the river is another bar but be careful or you might miss it as I did and will have to walk a distance back to the shop where you return the tube. 

Although I only spent two nights in Vang Vieng I fell in love with this tiny town and hope to return before it is taken over by large corporate hotels and resorts. It feels like a town one could get lost. In and spend days or weeks just relaxing and exploring the surrounding rice fields, jungle, and mountains. Laos has a lovely feel to it and I can’t wait to see more of the country and immerse myself in the open and friendly culture. 

Trekking in the Himalayas 

I started my journey in Kathmandu a city filled with crazy streets and many salesmen. I purchased a ticket from the Kathmandu airport to the Lukla from the Yeti/Tara airlines for the 1st of October. I arrived at the airport quite early and was hoping to board a plane to start my journey, 6 hours later I learned that that Lukla airport had been shut down due to poor weather conditions. Luckily there was a kind guide who directed me and my group to an alternative option of taking a “jeep” to Salleri and starting our trek from there. He rode with us to the office where we bought our ticket and parted ways. We decided this was the best option as the flights have been known to be delayed for several days at a time. We rose extremely early to catch a taxi to the bus station where our jeep ended up being two hours late for pick up. This made our ride happen during the high traffic time of the morning and also at the end of a festival so many people were on the road. Our ride up th mountains took upwards of 12 hours to arrive at our destination with 11 people in the 8 person SUV. I happened to sit next to a grandmother and grandson, the little boy ended up vomiting all over me during the ride and the driver refused to stop until other people were getting sick from the smell. I cleaned myself off with my drinking water for the trip and we continued on our way. I was happy to arrive in the starting town until we realized that the town was fairly full and had trouble finding a room to sleep in. We started down the road the next morning which shifted into a hiking trail and this is where the trip started to look up for us. Although the trail climbed steeply and it was raining the experience was everything I wanted it to be. We traveled through each little town and past beautiful scenery, waterfalls, butterflies,  and rainbows everywhere I turned.


The first few days included a lot of uphill elevation gain but was good for acclimating to the height we would end up at. We passed through Nunthala, Jubling, Bupsa, Puiya, Surke, and landed in Cheplung. Cheplung is where the Guide who helped us at the airport had a lodge with his wife. We were able to spend time there and felt like we were home away from home. The wife and two daughters welcomed us into their space with open arms and gave us an experience of a lifetime. We kept on our way up through the Himalayan foothills toward the Everest Base camp. We trekked past Monjo onto Namche Bazar where it is advised to stop so ones body can aclimate to the elevatio. I stopped for two days and switched hiking partners from The awesome Brazilian couple to the cheeky New Yorker. David the New Yorker was much more my pace of hiker and a hilarious companion for the journey ahead. We set out through Sansa and around Tengboche via Phortse. This was a grueling bypass that most people don’t take when traveling toward Everest Base Camp. It gave us amazing views and a deserted trail besides a few packs of yaks along the way. We caught up with the main trail near Pangbocheand on to Periche, Dukkah, Lobuche, and up to Gorak Shep the last town before Everest. When we arrived the town was completely full and we only found a place to stay inside a lodge due to a last minute cancellation otherwise we would have been sleeping in a tent. This would have been difficult to me as I chose not to pack a sleeping bag or mat. The next day we made our way to the Everest Base Camp through the driving snow and almost a whiteout.  We were able to find our way because of two other trekkers and their guide who kindly let us follow them. The next day we made our way up Kala Pattar which is the look out point in the area, it is also a 4-500 meter climb over a short distance. After that we were still full of energy and decided to cross to Dzonglha. This was another difficult route to take but an easy path to follow as many people were hiking at this time of year. 


After spending the night in Dzonglha we made our way over the Cho La pass to Gokyo. Gokyo is a beautiful little town nestled next to five sacred lakes, all of which are kept in pristine condition. They all have emerald blue water and reflect the mountains above them like a mirror. The valley below is a magical place where one can imagine the birth of the world happened millions of years ago even though these mountain ranges are some of the youngest. The many rock carvings and prayer flags dot the paths along the way and enrich the journey one is taking through the area. I was unfortunately not feeling well from a slight fever and decided to make my way down the Gokyo valley instead of crossing the Reno La pass. This happened to be a blessing because the valley was incredible and gave way to many stupendous views and passed by 4 of the 5 lakes in the area. I happened to be hiking down when there were few people on the trail. So it was all mine to soak up. I made my way past lakes, waterfalls,, streams, rivers, and mountain side villages. It was everything that I wanted out of this trip and the solidarity gave me time to reflect and divulge into my psyche. I was given a book before this trip which was extremely relevant to my experience. It was a book on Buddhism and Jungian psychology which match quite well in their philosophy. This helped guide my thoughts along the return trip to Lukla where I would fly out of the most dangerous airport in the world. The whole trip was an amazing experience which exceeded my expectations of what was to come from this trip.  This entry into my blog/journal is a quick synopsis of the two weeks I spent out in the shadows of the Himalayan giants. I plan on divulging into the experience much more in the next few entries.

Pokhara the gem of Nepal

I arrived into Pokhara at 5:30 am by way of the night bus, I was unable to see the magnificent beauty of this town at that moment. As I was waiting to be checked in early several trekkers were getting ready to head out onto the Annapurna mountain range for several days to several weeks. I climbed the stairs of the hostel I was staying in and unloaded my gear, at that moment the sun was rising so I stepped out onto the balcony to see Phewa lake surrounding mountain range. I then realized that I had traveled to a gem hidden within the granite outcropping of the Himalayas. This place exudes calm and serenity which is a far cry from the capital of Kathmandu. There are lakeside restaurants, yoga studios, and quaint cafes where travelers can unload their stories of trekking the surrounding trails. The city is built around the lake and a clean beautiful lake it is. Spending the day renting a boat with or without a local to paddle you around is a great way to spend the afternoon. My group opted for a foot pedal boat and crossed the lake to where one of the rivers enter the lake. We swam and looked for the waterfall but gave up as this time of year there is not much flow from the river. We stopped by a lakeside restaurant and re supplied our caches of beer, cider, and crisps. After that we paddled near the middle of the lake and rested while listening to music, it was a rough way to spend a hot sunny afternoon. The next day was spent paragliding over jungle and the lake, although I got a little motion sickness it did not detract from the beauty of the experience. The opportunities here are endless from the fore mentioned activities to hiking to the World Peace Pagoda to trekking and many more. I plan to return to this area for more trekking, site seeing, and just relaxing.. 


Kathmandu, Nepal

After two full days of travel through three airports and time zones I finally arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a shock to say the least. Flying in you realize that the city covers about 20 miles square and for a population of 1.4 million it is an expansive area. Although it is dubbed the largest city in Nepal it was still a shock to me. The city is rebuilding much of the infrastructure so the streets are torn to shreds and there is dust that permeates the city. Much like Thailand the laws of the road are just a suggestion but here there are no road lines or lanes. Mopeds rule the road and if you want to see anything besides the area you are staying in it’s a good idea to rent a bike and learn to drive like the locals do. Local buses are cheap and cover all of the city but there is the issue of a lot of transfers and the potential of getting on the wrong connection. 

If you want a calm relaxing day I suggest the Garden of Dreams which has high walls that keep the dust out. Tranquility is in abundance here, flowing fountains and ponds of lotus flowers will remove the chaotic mind you acquire outside the walls. Take a book and a snack and relax on the small terraced amphitheater with cushions for added comfort. Climbing the steps of Swayambhunath Stupa also known to travelers as the Monkey Temple for the obvious reasons, as hundreds of Assamese monkeys climb around he steps and Stupa. It is a tough hike up the steep steps but well worth it over the back entrance that the taxi drivers will take you to which has far less stairs. There is also Boudhanath also known as the Great Boudha Stupa which felt more like a tourist marketplace to this traveler, which you have to pay to get into. Although the Stupa does have cultural significance to the Buddhist and Hindi people because it houses the remains of one of the 29 named Boudhas in Theravada Buddhism. It was also a pilgrimage site for the people of Tibet when they fled from the invasion of China, many decided to live around the Stupa. 

Even with infrastructure changes and chaos of the city it is a place you can find good people to spend time with at a cafe sitting around drinking tea and chatting about travel experiences. It is the hub of Nepal and definitely represents that well as you move around the city. Everyone should visit this city once in their life but maybe just for a couple days.

The Future

I realized today as I was being chased through the national preserve in Ao Nang by monkeys that I am ready to look toward my future. This has been a constant struggle for me, it has also brought me much mental anguish. It was the main topic of discussion for most of the two years I was in therapy after my daughter passed.   It consumed me as I was a planner before that, constantly conjuring up goals and making plans to see them through. They did not always come to fruition but there were always schemes in place and things to do that kept my mind and body busy. After the the rug was pulled from under my feet and the path I had put in 6 years of effort for was shrouded it was if I was lost in the jungle at night. Scared, anxious, and unsure barely scratches the surface of what I felt like at that moment and for at least a year after. The only things I was able to decide on was to travel, it had always been a life goal and luckily still was. I started small with a visit to Los Angeles to visit some dear friends of mine who had always supported me. I played tourist and went out with them and their friends. I saw that they had surrounded themselves with loving and foundational people. I then went to New York City by myself and saw what treasures the Big Apple held in store and fell in love. Standing atop the Empire State Building I came to a realization that although we believe ourselves to be individuals the human race is more like single called organisms that can only thrive when together. We feed off each other good, bad or indifferent and cannot survive without one another. Then came Thailand trip one for an entire month which fed me spiritually and also gave me a goal when I returned to the states. To do everything I can to get back on the road. My planning spirit came back in full force and with vengeance. I wrote and saved and researched until the day came to leave. This is most likely what prompted my current mindset of finding more major goals. I am ready to pick up my machete and hack through the jungle until I find a road that suits me.

Living without

In the first few days of my travels I have come to understand that I can live without. Without food, sleep, shower, or an extended plan (No, really as I am writing this I haven’t eaten in 17+ hours). I don’t know whether this emerged from my childhood and the way I was raised or the tragedies I have endured. I look at this ability as a gift much like the other existential gifts I have received due to life’s process. Although these “gifts” come about from difficulties in my life I cannot give them back as I cannot change the things that caused them to emerge. Life can work two ways which is all dependent on your persepective, the world can break you down or build you up. Being immersed in a Buddhist culture helps to remind me of this everyday. The Buddha taught of Dukkah which is roughly and I mean very roughly translated to “suffering”. As the Buddha lived 26 centuries ago the translation seems unsatisfactory. As far as I understand it Dukkah represents suffering and/or pain, impermanence, and a conditioned state. All of which in my opinion can be represented by the concept of impermenance, as everything in this life will eventually change. The only thing that can be controlled is ones own outlook on these ideas. Just as pain, suffering, change, and conditioned states come into our lives a gentle breeze can set them floating away, if we let them go. As I write these words I also admit that I am still learning to live them. I am still learning to live without my daughter. My mother, step mother, grandparents, and best friend I have become accustomed to their nonexistence. They are gifts that reside in my psyche, holding onto their personalities in my head. I often converse with them and ask for guidance. The hope is that I can keep them alive in me and try to remember what they might have said to me, what wisdom might have come from them. This is the thing which life cannot be lived without, love. Although they are forever gone and the others are on another side of the world I feel their love as I hope they do mine. This is what keeps me alive and inspired. It is what gives me the courage to, pack up and run away.

And away we go…..

I am writing this post from the inside of the Portland international airport awaiting my first flight of many that will eventually land me in Bangkok. I decided to take some time off of work and do some more traveling so I put in my notice at work and moved out of my apartment in Monterey CA. I spent a week driving up to Oregon stopping to see friends and family along the way. First I was able to visit some friends in the San Francisco Bay Area who have been extremely supportive throughout the struggles I have been going through. We ate and drank as we usually do, it felt as though we would be seeing each other in a few weeks as per the norm. I went from their house to my friends new property in Fort Bragg which is a beautiful piece of land. I was able to bask in the dreams and ambitions she has for her familys new home. It made me realize that life is all about dreams, goals, and ambitions. If someone is lacking a goal or theirs was disrupted such as mine was with my daughter then life is thrown into chaos. Life becomes a literal living hell when you have nothing to look forward to nothing to work toward. It was difficult for me at first to move on from the dreams that were ripped from my grasp. I struggled to even find small things that I wanted to work for. I am still ironing out the details but now I am starting to be able to decide what it is that I want to do with this new life of mine. I have decided to travel as much as I can, that goal might change over time but that is part of life, the change. 


So I was able to spend some time with friends and a few weeks with my Dad, his wife, my sister, and brother in law. It was great to spend extended time with them as I have lived so far away from them for so long. I was able to enjoy the beauty of Oregon, camping several times, crabbing, and hiking. The multitude of adventures reminded me of what it will be like traveling back to south east Asia. 

                                      

I hope that you will join me on my journey through SE Asia to discover the beauty and healing quality that traveling has to offer. 

And away we go….

                                                                         

Pack Up and Run Away

 

I moved to the Monterey Bay when I was 18 years old. One night I packed up my car and drove the 12+ hours it takes to reach Monterey from Salem, Oregon. I consider this place home now. I developed friendships built a family in this magnificent beachside location. One fateful day that all changed, I was teaching special education in the local school district at the time when I received a call from my wife. Our daughter had been admitted to the hospital. They had no clue what the diagnosis  was but it didn’t matter at that moment I was pulled into the seventh circle of hell. She was transferred to Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital where they informed us that she was being afflicted by Neuroblastoma  a rare childhood form of cancer.

We fought for three years to rid her of this parasitic entity that took over her body, in the end we lost. We lost everything.

This is my journey after the fact…

I was able to find a job and an apartment after my ex and I divorced. I went from teaching primary special education to fixing espresso machines and I loved it. there was still something pulling at me though. What should I do with this gift that was cloaked in feces? I say it was a gift because many people stumble through life telling themselves and others that “life is short” and “life is a gift”. There are very few things in the world that force you to realize the true meaning of those words like listening to the last beats of your 6 year old daughters heart before she is gone from this world. I know life is short and precious, I live with the reminder that it is every day. So again I ponder, what am I to do with this knowledge.

For me it came from the first time I left the area for a vacation. It was a quick trip to Los Angeles to visit some friends for Halloween. Then it was a week in New York City. The tipping point was a 30 day trip to Thailand that showed me what I wanted out of this new life that I was unprepared for. My answer was travel, this is the documentation of my travels.

“Don’t tell me what a man says, don’t tell me what a man knows, tell me where he’s traveled”

Anonymous

 

Wake up and quit

Today is the day it all begins…

I sent in my letter of resignation this morning when I woke up and then sat don to write this entry. It was a very odd feeling when I sent the letter to my employer, I don’t feel bad or guilty but I will miss the people I work with. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a formal letter of resignation. This one felt odd, mostly because I don’t have another employer I am leaving the company for. I am just leaving. I had hoped to secure a teaching position in Thailand before I left but none of the opportunities came to fruition. So I am taking this alternative opportunity and prepping to leave so that I can travel and explore. I had previously spent one month in Thailand on holiday and loved it. I have always been a traveling soul but have been restricted the last few years because of my family obligations. I went all over Thailand experiencing their culture and the cultures of the world within. I met amazing people who treated me as family and I them. I wish to see more of the world and hopefully heal a bit of my broken soul though the process. It has been a concept that has helped me throughout the most difficult times of my life but I truly believe travel therapy is the best option for me. This time with no restrictions though. After my mother passed away when I was young my father took my sister and I to Hawaii. I had the opportunity to swim with dolphins and play on the beach. This of course did not cure the pain that I carried around with me but it did show me that the beauty of the world has healing properties.

I will keep updating on the preparation progress as it comes along.