Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tonsai

Me on the boat where we went scuba diving
Yes, I think these are eyeballs. A drink that old man suddenly handed to me so I gave him some chocolate. He gave me an enormous thumbs up while immensely enjoying the chocolate.

On the long-tail to Tonsai

Noah's home
Not a bad view. Tonsai

Noah crushing the route

Tonsai in the sun

Tonsai from a small cave we hid in when this rainstorm moved in while we were climbing.

Tonsai sunset

Railey and Tonsai from an early morning run viewpoint

The past few days I have been in climber's paradise. If any of you rock nuts in the States ever find the need to go to a beach surrounded by massive overhanging limestone cliffs peppered with stalactites and dangling climbers, head to Tonsai and Railey near Krabi in Thailand.

This place is incrededible. Besides the overwhelming beauty of the place, it has become the prime place for those of us fortunate enough to be able to travel to come and "bum". There are cheap bungalows everywhere in the jungle just behind the beach, restaurants, minimarts, and lots and lots of bars for the climbers and beach bums who flock here.

My reason for visiting Tonsai was not climbing, but to visit a friend from CSU, Noah. He told me to look for the yellow tent on the beach near the slackline. Ok.

The only way to get to Tonsai is by long-tail boat, so after a bouncy ride over 3-4 foot waves, me and 7 other climbers arrived to stare slack-jawed up at the cliffs surrounding the beach. I found Noah's tent with no problem but no Noah, so his tent neighbor Anton showed me around until we were forced to take cover from a torrential downpour in Anton's tent. When the rain finally let up several hours later, Noah had returned and it was great to see him.

The next 2 days I spent getting up early to run, attempting to climb, realizing how much strength I've lost while traveling, getting rained out by monsoon-like rainstorms and enjoying good rice and chicken and banana pancakes. I met lots of very cool people at Tonsai and ended up bailing from Noah's tent when everything got pretty damp during one rainstorm and running to a bungalow to hang up everything I own to dry, including me!

It was a strange place to me though. All these people who claimed to be living such a simple lifestyle here on this gorgeous stretch of sand and sea, spending all day climbing and eating and all night drinking and eating, sometimes for several months at a time. It just had a strange vibe for me, I don't know how to explain it, but it was fun to see and I am glad to have moved on to Krabi.

I have met some really really cool people here already; Martin and Frank from Argentina, Joe from Britain and Bill from Chicago. There is a night market down by the water where all the food carts go at night and you can sit at tables nearby and get really cheap, really really good food! I had noodles with seafood and a Thai iced tea, followed by a banana roti (pancake) with Nutella on top. Mmmm.

My plan is to head up near Bangkok in the next day to work on an organic farm run by a friend of a man my Da plays music with. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands dirty and meeting some cool people also volunteering there. It's my understanding that for the work I do, I get a place to sleep and food! Nice! I will stay there until I need to cross the border to Cambodia before my visa expires, where I will hopefully also be able to volunteer and meet up with my friend Will from CSU. I'm so stoked to head to the farm!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mountain Girl Under the Sea

I am officially

scuba dive
open water
certified!

After three days of movies, pool training, four open water dives and a test I can now go diving with anyone else who is certified anywhere in the world! Woo hoo!

I started with pool training alone with my instructor, Neal, since nobody else had signed up to take the course this week. He showed me all the equipment and how to use it and then we went in the water to practice 26 diving skills; everything from how to find my regulator if it got knocked out of my mouth to clearing my mask to how to communicate I've run out of air and need to share with my diving buddy to get to the surface. I was having a blast playing with my buoyancy in the pool, swimming all around and moving up or down with my breathing. I couldn't wait to get into the ocean! Neil said he had never gone through the skills so easily and quickly with a student which made me feel great!

Another woman named Elsa ended up signing up to start the next day, so I had a day off to relax and study. In short, I got talked into renting the motorbike with another Dutch girl again, went to another beautiful beach, got pulled over for nothing and talked my way out of a 1,000 baht ($30) ticket. Whew.

Then two days of open water dives on the reefs of Racha Yai. It was incredible! The weightlessness of the ocean and the freedom to maneuver anywhere, the pull of the currents, the fish all over the place! I really can't describe it well in words, so hopefully a few pictures will augment my ramblings. My favorite was the octopus. I'm going to try to upload a video of it for you! I'm addicted and so happy and grateful to have the opportunity to learn this! It's such a huge world to explore under the sea. For example, I learned that there are more species of sea cucumber than anything else on earth. That's including beetles! Who knew?

Lookin good, feelin better
Hingeback Shrimpies

Triggerfish moving corals with its mouth. One chased me.

Open ocean!
Whose floor is this? Seahorses. Forever.

Shoutout to Boulder

Rainbows

Feeeeeling eeeeely

Whoa! Lionfish!

A flutefish and me

Elsa and I diving!
Coolest octopus! I spotted it hiding under a rock!
Ok, EE people, don't tell but I fed the fish. At least I held on to the banana peel to throw in the trash and not in the sea.

Stoked. I look like a little boy.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pumped on the boat going to Phi Phi

Swimming area where "The Beach" was filmed. I accepted my role as tourist today.

Me on THE beach

Rabbit, this one's for you


Sgt. Major up close and personal

Around Ko Phi Phi

Monkey Beach...

Khai Island. Awesome

SEA CUCUMBER!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Los Diarios Motocycletas

This was by far one of the best days I've had on the trip. I started out with another early morning jog on the beach, barefoot this time. I really only saw a few people on the beach until I reached the end of it and I saw a bunch of tiny hermit crabs scuttling around in the sand. I was watching them when an old Thai fisherman beckoned me over and showed me two that were fighting and crawling all over each other. We watched them together then I said thank you in Thai and kept running. It was very humid and a bit of mist came off the ocean with each wave that broke in the pre-sunrise light.

After jogging about half way down the beach, I saw the same Thai women I've seen each morning. Lots of smiling and waving and this time one of them just hugged me full on around my stomach! I hugged her right back, it was so wonderful! Then at the end of my run I saw one of the women I had stretched with before. She called me over and explained how to make the flabby parts of my arms and shoulders strong: 300 air punches each day. So we began to do that and stretched and talked about how she was a massage therapist and watched the sea. Her name is Sorn.

Needless to say I was just so happy from the interactions with the happy people on the beach. From there my day just got better!

Somehow I've had the good fortune to have spent a lot of time on motorbikes this trip; Jaime and Luis' in Spain, Niraj's in Nepal. But I've always been on the back, usually holding on for dear life and grinning like a maniac. So when I found out I could rent a motorbike for 150 baht (about $4.50) for the entire day, I was hooked.

The woman just handed me the keys to the moto, showed me how to put in gas, showed me that coincidentally the tank was almost empty and helped me turn it on. I paid, she didn't even ask to see my license, and with a wavering look to Julia I took it for a test ride around the quiet street our hostel is on before she hopped on back. The ride was a bit...jolting at first but I quickly got the hang of it and thankfully it was an automatic.

Julia got on the back and we were off! I immediately turned the opposite direction of the gas station for some reason, so giggling, we pulled off the road and I turned it around after almost hitting the curb going 2 km/hr...But after that it was smooth sailing! We accelerated into the flow of traffic (did I mention they drive on the opposite side of the road here too?) and found the gas station no problem. Then it was on the open road cruising up the coast of Phuket overlooking beaches and jungles (both concrete resort jungles and green forest ones).

It was SO MUCH FUN! What an exhilarating feeling to be flying down the road with the wind tickling your face and being able to see everything. The motorbike was totally agile, very quick and even kept accelerating up the many hills we encountered. So fun. Julia and I were just giggling the whole time.

It took us about an hour and a half to get to the national park and Gibbon Rehabilitation Center that was our first destination. It was such a cool organization! Gibbons are the primates with really long arms that are super-fast at swinging through the jungle from branch to branch, or as it's technically called: "brachiating". They are poached to be pets or tourist attractions which entails killing the adult gibbons and collecting the baby after the mother falls from the tree. Most times the babies don't even survive the fall. So to counteract these horrific crimes, people who see captive gibbons can report it to the Gibbon Center who takes them, nurses them back to heath if need be, and gradually teach them to forage, help them find a mate if possible, and prepare them to be released back into the wild. It's so so so cool and the volunteers were awesome. If you're interested, they require a minimum of 3 weeks but it looks SO SO COOL. Check out their website: http://www.gibbonproject.org/

There was a waterfall about 300m up the trail past the Gibbon Project so we walked up there and jumped in the cool pools surrounding the base of the waterfall. We swam until Julia saw an enormous spider running across the water, then we jumped out screaming and laughing and dried off on a rock in the sun watching the colorful butterflies flutter around.

We hopped back on the motorbike with a mission of shopping. We drove down to Phuket Town which was full of traffic. Luckily I had been on a motorbike in Nepal before this so it seemed fairly mild and I was able to dodge the cars and honk my little horn at them. We parked and prepared ourselves to be attacked by shopowners selling their t-shirts and wooden elephants. I got a fantastic floppy beach hat that makes me feel very 50's glam and Julia got a beautiful sarong and wooden elephants.

By this time we were really hungry so we kept our eyes peeled for a good-looking food cart on the side of the road. When Julia shouted "I think those were fried bananas!" I immediately pulled over and we feasted on them as well as fried sweet potatoes and spring rolls and of course Thai iced tea! YUM!

It was pretty hot and late in the afternoon so we jumped back on the bike one last time and cruised back to Karon Beach and the Pineapple Guesthouse, reveling in the fact that we survived the roads of Thailand and me definitely wanting a motorbike. I won't be that bad in the winter, right? We found Lisa and headed to the beach to swim and watch the sunset, then went to our new favorite restaurant for noodles and curry dishes for 40 baht and ended with a delectable banana pancake with chocolate. Rough day.

Snapshots of Thailand


Parrotfish

garbage on Khai Island...

Goodbye Khai Island! You are so tiny!

Karon Beach, 5 minutes from my hostel

My lunch from a food cart: fried fish, chicken and papaya salad

Julia and I on our MOTO!


Gibbons at the Rehabilitation center we visited today

Me and the waterfall

Julia and I at the waterfall

Julia and Lisa on Karon Beach

Me on Karon Beach

The sleeper train

Wat Pho Temple, Bangkok

Reclining Buddha

Vikas and I with our Kratongs

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beached in Phuket

I'm in island paradise. This place is gorgeous: white sandy soft beaches and crystal turquoise waters. I can see each toe all the way through the water on the beach that is maybe a 5 minute walk from my hostel. It's nice to be out of the city.

After a train ride that was supposed to be 12 hours and turned into 18 hours and then a 6 hour bus ride and a ride in the back of a taxi truck, Lisa and I finally arrived at the Pineapple Guesthouse on Phuket. Actually, the train ride was quite nice, we had a sleeper car and had our own bunks with curtains and pillows and blankets, and glaring lights all night long, but it was comfortable, if long. Not so bad since I was asleep for half of it!

The landscape on the way here was incredible; limestone cliffs on the sides of rounded mountains rising individually from the landscape and covered in lush vegetation. The hostel is great, very clean and the staff are super helpful and friendly.

The first day we were here we met another girl who wanted to do a tour to Ko Phi Phi on a boat, so we all signed up together so it would be cheaper. We got picked up from our hostel and taken to the pier where we all loaded on to a boat I'm pretty sure was supposed to hold 25-30 people but had over 45 packed on. Oh well, we made friends!

After an hour ride on the boat, we arrived at Ko Phi Phi Ley, a small island with a really well known beach because it's where a lot of the movie "The Beach" was filmed. In real life it was swarming with tourist boats but the water was so clear blue and beautiful and the sides of the island rose straight out of the water it was still breathtaking. We explored some of the paths to the other side of the island then jumped in the water for a few minutes before being herded back on the boat by our guide Sunny yelling "Numba nynteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!" to go directly across the bay to do some snorkeling off the boat. It was cool, not the clearest water because of all the traffic but still fun to see the fish and use my underwater camera!

We then headed to monkey beach which was an environmental catastrophe. I hated it. As we got off the boat we were instructed not to touch the monkeys but to throw them bananas, which were supplied (they are wild animals and can be dangerous). Strike one. Now the animals are dependent on tourists for food. Then we got off the boat and people immediately disregarded the instructions and handed the monkeys bananas and tried to pet them. The monkeys were irritated but tolerated the other monkeys' (aka humans) behaviour because they got to gorge themselves on fruit all day. People were taking pictures and trying to get close, following the monkeys all around. I just think it could be managed better for the monkeys' sake.

Next we arrived at Ko Phi Phi Don, the beautiful beach island most people picture when they think of paradise. We got to eat a buffet style lunch in a restaurant right on the beach and wander around the town a bit, then hopped back on the boat "Numba nynteeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!" and rode for another 45 minutes to Khai Island, which was a spit of buttery soft sand and black rocks just barely above the water. It was also decorated with beach chairs and umbrellas (2 for 150 baht, miss!), snack shacks and a restaurant. I hopped right in the water to snorkel and quickly found myself alone among the rocks on the other side of the island chasing fish and floating watching them come as close as they dared. Actually, because the people feed them, one nipped my elbow.

Lisa and I spent the next 45 minutes in the shade...I knew my back was totally done for from all the sun I got that day...thank you aloe vera my saving grace! Then we were back on the boat for a last ride to Phuket and to be dropped off exhausted but happy. It was actually really fun, I met a Spanish couple and got to chat with them and a nice guy from Turkey whose name I still can't pronounce.

Today I signed up to take a PADI open water scuba diving course. I am so excited! The diving here is world-class and because it's so popular it's very cheap here and the quality is still very high. I start Thursday, and get to do 2 pool sessions then 4 open water boat dives! Cool!

Lisa and I met a girl named Julia from Michigan who came from racing a solar-powered car across Australia. She's really nice and we all went to the beach today to swim and lay in the sun (my back was totally covered always...aaaaaaand I'm a lobster :). I got some awesome lunch from a street vendor-papaya salad with tomatos, shrimps, peanuts, spices, lime...and other delicious flavors all in one, grilled chicken and a grilled fish. Yes, an entire fish grilled. It was so delicious!

I've been waking up early and running on the beach. I love this time of day; it's cooler and everything is quiet and there are very few people on the beach. Yesterday I was running and 3 Thai women were shrieking and laughing and flicking something out of the surf and onto the sand. They picked up a good-sized crab, laughing, and let me hold it then explained how to tell if it was male or female and giggled because the ones that are male have a phallus shape on their bellies. It was male. Then I got to let it go and with lots of smiles and waves we said goodbye.

This morning I saw them again and lots more smiling, waving and "sabaidee mai ka?" (how are you?) which always gets big smiles! I got to see a large fish flopping around in the bottom of a fishing boat and took a closer look to find 3 large squids also in the boat and the fisherman grinning at my curiosity. Then at the end of the run I was stretching next to 2 Thai women and we ended up stretching and doing yoga looking out at the sea. Pinch me.

Thanks for all the emails and comments, I am thinking of home fondly and still dreaming of powder snow...when I'm not in the powder white sand!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Loi Krathong--Welcome to Bangkok!

Last night I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on the day of Loi Krathong, a festival of lights, giving up things that don't serve you and love. Loi means light and krathong is float, so let your imagination go wild in a country full of waterways!I met a guy from India named Vikas in the hostel right away and we went out to see if we could catch any of the last bits of the festival even though it was already late, at least by Nepal standards (maybe 9:45pm).

We hopped in a tuk tuk, a 3-wheeled vehicle with flashing lights and 3 seats behind the driver and no windows, then high-tailed it to the closest pier to our hostel.We arrived just in time; we each bought a Kratong, a delicate creation of banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles (35 baht each, about $1) and walked through the milling crowds to the pier. There we wondered what to do as everything seemed to be confusion and waiting around. So Viki, as he told me so I could remember his name, asked a Thai woman if we should float our krathongs right then. She said "No! Wait for fire!" which Viki correctly interpreted as "There will be fireworks then we float them"

Shortly after the big fireworks show started, sparkling off of high rises and the rushing river below. The crowd was perfect; tons of "oooh!"s and "ahhh!"s filled the air throughout the fireworks display. Then we hurried down the dock, lit our candles and incense and sent the krathongs out into the water. It was a beautiful sight, although the stiff breeze that held off the immense heat of the night quickly distinguished all the candles, it felt good to send it off with my worries and think of loved ones.

Today I learned that although a city might look well organized, me navigating it smoothly is quite another thing indeed. In short: lots of boat rides on an overpriced ferry in the wrong direction, lots of misinformation and confustion regarding entrance to the Grand Palace and meeting a really great girl named Vanessa from Australia.

Hopefully tomorrow will be smoother...Thai massage is in the cards!

A Few More Visuals from Nepal

Throwing pots in Bhaktapur!
Pokhara World Peace Pagoda

Buddhas in Pokhara

Pokhara from World Peace Pagoda!

The one far right is Machhapuchre, my favorite! It means fish tail, can you see it?

Sunrise over Annapurna South from tea house
A few steps


Gorkha Museum


Typical Nepali kitchen



Karina at Poon Hill with the Annapurnas