Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Trails!

  Hello again everyone.  This will be my final blog, at least for a while, as I am coming home.  When I left you last, my dad was on his way for the third time on this journey to see a bit and have some fun.  Since Nima and I have started our journey, dad has managed to see 7 countries as well, pretty sweet!!!

  Rita, Allan and I met my pops at the airport in Christchurch and it was great to see him, and catch up with more family stuff.  We only had a two weeks to see two countries, so it was a bit quick, but we had a blast.  Allan and Rita took us south a bit for day one where we saw some of the beautiful New Zealand countryside and had some awesome fish and chips.  The next day we were off and runnin in the little white 89' honda, with yours truly at the helm.  It was over Arthur's pass the the west coast from the east coast in one day.  We even managed to dodge the snow on the way over the pass.  We landed in Gray mouth where we went out before making our way further south the next day.  Day 2 of our road trip around the southern Island was a good 300 miles, and stopped along the way to see our first glacier.  We made it just shy of queens town before we had to stop due to fatigue, but the next day we were in beautiful Queens Town.  The town itself was named after the Queen of England who wanted to commemorate it as her town, hence the name Queens' Town, the Queens implying the ownership of said town.  Anyway it was rugged snow covered mountains climbing out of one of the largest lakes in New Zealand.  Dad and I caught a gondola up to the top of one of the mountains to see the view, grab some lunch, and try our hand at the luge.  Man those things are cool, they are like some kind of green friendly down hill go carts, that can stop and turn on a dime.  We had a few good races before callin it a day.  Day three we had to start our journey back to Christchurch, and stooped at the little road side town of Twizzel, which had the coolest name for a town so we figured, what the hell right?  It was here we had met a few good old New Zealand boys at the bar.  One of these guys new more about base ball than almost anyone I have ever met, and has never seen a live game, he said my beard made me look like Brian Wilson, some pitcher for the Giants, to which I assured him that that was why I grew the beard in the first place, I said all Giants fans are required to have them.  We had a good night with these rather red neckie fellows.

  One more night and it was back in Christchurch with our fam and their dog Mac.  We had a great New Zealand meal of Sausages potatoes and veg, it was brilliant.  We also got to see the New Zealand All Blacks kick some Ausi butt in rugby, and now I know who I will be rooting for in the World Cup, pretty exciting stuff.  The next morning at 4 am we bid Allan and Rita adue at the airport and it was off, back to the land of Oz, only this time it was out of the snow and to the tropics of Cairns.

  Stepping off the flight in Cairns, which is pronounced cans, was like going from the mountains to Hawaii.  There were palm trees blowing in the wind, people in beach ware, crocodile warning signs, it was sweet.  We had a taxi driver take us to a place close to town / the beach and he found us the perfect place.  We were two blocks from the ocean, and about three from down town, and this was a cool city.  It is a population of only about 140,000 so not to huge but plenty to see.  Dad rented us a car and it was off and exploring.

  Cairns itself doesn't have a beach because of some marshlands and an endangered mud skipper fish thing, I think it was the fish from Ren and Stimpy, muddy the mud skipper, so that was cool.  We headed north to Port Douglas, where we saw one of their magnificent beaches, complete with all the warning signs you would expect from Australia.  They have Crocks here that can get up to around 24 feet, gnarly!!  There are also jelly fish as big as the tip of your finger that can kill you, but most of these things just get eaten by the great white sharks, so all in all your pretty safe.

  This night there was a huge concert in Cairns, and somehow in true O'Bannon fashion we ended up in the Vip section of the after party, chillin with the bands.  It was a rather wild night that started with a chat with a fellow bearded fellow, who somehow had connections, and once you have had a certain amount of drinks, things just seem to happen yea know.  Anyway dad and I tied one on and had a blast, and I managed to keep from getting my ass kicked somehow.

  The next morning we had promised to go see the peoples place up in the forrest, and though we felt like we had been kicked in the head by a kangaroo a few hundred times, we attempted to find it, but weather or not they made it out there that morning was information we were not privy to, and despite our greatest efforts, we could not find them.  They sure were a cool crew though, and the drive was well worth it.  Other sites we saw were a huge waterfall up in the rainforest and we made it by a killer little zoo.  It was more of a wildlife rehabilitation center, where they were trying to raise the numbers of some endangered animals from Australia and other tropical regions of the world.  We got to see a baby koala in the pouch, and feed a kangaroo, both very important to do on a trip to OZ.

  A trip to the northern tip of Australia would not be complete without a venture into the dangerous waters to see one of the natural wonders of the world; the great barrier reef.  We threw caution to the wind, and were actually the first two off the boat in the first reef location.  I must admit it was a bit erie swimming out there in the deep waters, looking hard for something huge lurking in the shadows, while still understanding that that fleck in the fore view could be the jellyfish that kills with pain, but that being said, once there were a few more bodies in the water you realized that the best thing you can do is just enjoy the beauty of the reef.  It was really something to be seen, like an under water grand canyon, though that is still something on my list of things to see.  We had a blast and used one of those under water cameras to catch some classic reef life, like chillin with Nemo.  Don't miss this if you can.

  Well, with just one day left, we used it to chill by the Cairns lagoon in the sun and kick back, it really was a great few weeks.  From the snowy, glacier filled mountains of New Zealand, to Snorkeling in the tropical reefs of Australia, can't have a more vast vacation than that.  It was a great book end on the shelf of Nima and Is' adventure, a little vaca before it's back to work.  It has been 1 year, 3 months, and 9 days since Nima and I set out to England, we've been through 20 countries, seen waterfalls, monuments, temples, churches, a few wonders of the world, and eaten just about everything, edible and not, we've slept in places most wouldn't allow their dogs, been hassled, bearly made it out of countries, and have had some sicknesses I probably shouldn't mention.  We have also seen some of the most beautiful sites known to man.  I really like that line, 'it was the best of times, it was the worst of times' and when it comes to traveling, that rings true, but another line that rings true is 'in the sunset of disillusion everything is aluminater by an aura of nostalgia' which I think means you remember the good stuff.  So in a nut shell, it was just the best of times.  Now it is off to the next adventure, and I look forward to seeing all of you very soon, thank you so much for reading, and if you hadn't, maybe we never would have written this journal.  Much love to everyone out there and remember, the world isn't so much your oyster, alot of people think those stink, but you are writing the story of your life, so make a cool one.  Matt O'Bannon, out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

There and Back Again

  Well well, everyone, how are you.  It really has been too long, but this blog stuff can really be hard all by your lonesome.  I have now been trekking around New Zealand for the past four weeks, and let me be the first to tell you that this place is as beautiful as they say.  Its like questing across middle earth with a midget by your side and some lambas bread in your pocket, there is nothing quite like it. 
  I flew into Christchurch, which as we all know has been devastated by a nasty run of earthquakes.  It was really hit badly, I have never seen a city hit so hard.  It really looks like the scene out of a post apocalyptic movie.  The main downtown area is all gated off and guarded by the military, like some kind of quarantine.  They will end up loosing over 1,000 buildings, thats not to mention the 3,000 red snickered homes that will need to be taken down as well.  Christchurch is the heart of the southern island here its really sad to se all the devastation.  Here I got to stay with my wonderful cousin Rita and her husband Alan.  They opened up there home for me to stay, which was so great after months without family or a solid place to rest.  We had a great time, despite all the trials they have been through recently.  We laughed alot, had some great meals and talks together, and I gave them a hand with a few little trouble areas of their house, which has actually stayed together quite well.  They live in one of the most beautiful places I have seen on my travels, overlooking the pacific ocean where they can see a spectacular sun rise.  Whenever I tell other Kiwis where my cousin lives they say what a nice place it is.  Rita and Alan also sent me off with a car to take on my journey, and its a stick shift and yes they drive on the other side of the road.  This added to my adventure.
  After a much needed week and a half, it was off north to try my hand with a bit of pruning at a winery.  The place is called Antills Winery, and they make a killer Pino Noir wine.  Janice and Julian shared with me all the secrets that they picked up over the years and it was very inspiring.  I would say that I am ready to plant a bit of a vineyard when I get home, after a bit of research of course.  we also had great talks of politics and religion, which I think are excellent topics of conversation and are widely regarded as taboo.  It was great fun, drinking wine and watching some South park with their son Rauld.  It was here that Sarumon hit my with a freak snow storm, the likes of which haven't been seen in years, but being the harry hobbit that I am I forged on pruning on the storm.  I Also had an interesting adventure on a tourist train, that I had to jump off whilst moving otherwise I may have been stuck in the wrong town. I had a great time with this super cool family, and  a great place to get some killer Pino.  They sent me on a quest with a bottle of their wine and one of their Apricot Liquor to give to some friends in the North.
  On my way through the misty mountains I met with a wood elf friend and her clan at the ski fields above Hanma Springs.  I stayed with them for a few nights, drinking spirits and smoking the longbottom leaf in the night, along with trying to tame the wild mountain by day.  My snow boarding level is low, but I tangoed with the rope toe beast, and got my ass handed to me a few times, but after a while I got the hang of it.  It was great to get together with Abbie again, after hanging out in Thailand and Lao. 
  I had kept my fateful steed in the parking lot below, and when I met back up with the White Honda stallion, which I now call Shadowfax, it was through the mountain pass to Takaka.  Traveling swiftly through the land of the Long White Cloud was beautiful, and I spent one night with the steed.  I hiked around Takaka, which as a place, really reminded my of Santa Cruz, you know the whole, where the mountains meet the sea, along with plenty of VW busses and old connoisseurs' of the Longbottom leaf.  Here I was almost taken by some retched quick sand but I managed to escape with my life.  I completed my quest and was rewarded with two nights rest and some killer dinners from Reg and Claire, friends of Janice and Julians.  Also I helped shovel some hours manure into a truck.  This place was Santa Cruzes dopelganger I swear.
  From there it was down the costal Highway 1 back to Wiapara for the night at the winery, a quick day of pruning and back to Christchurch for the arrival of my father in two days time.  Its been a blast and if you ever get a chance, take a trip to Middle Earth, who knows maybe you will meet Gandalf, I know I did.  I will report back in a week or two with the exciting conclusion to the Trip Around the World, and if anyone is interested we are having a get together at the shop/ranch to celebrate the end of the trip.  Its on  September 17, hope to see you there and if I don't just remember, all who wander aren't lost, but most that wonder are confused, or something like that.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

He just smiled and gave me a Vegiemite Sandwhich

  Hello again to all my friends and loved ones back there in sunny California.  Here I am rapping up my time in Australia quickly, moving on early tomorrow to go to New Zealand.  I have had a great few weeks since the last post, I mean I have been in the bush for a little while, but now I have really been deep.  From Beechworth it was a ride to Sydney, then a train to the final stop, then 6 hours on a bus to its final stop.  Then a truck ride 20k's out of town and 10 down a dirt road.  My destination was Piliga Pottery, outside of Coonabarabran.  This place was really a little slice of paradise if I have ever seen one.  They started from scratch 26 years ago and built up a place to be proud of.  Every building was built by them and they were all unique and very cool, as well as energy efficient.  They were self contained with solar and a generator, they saved all their rain water to drink, and used the grey water for orchards.  They built with mud brick and straw bail and trees they milled from their own property.  This was all on 8,000 acres of the most authentic australian bush you could imagine, I know this because Johanas took me on a tour  down a rode he and his brother,Bernard, built.  The last people to have seen this land would have been the aboriginal tribes, I'm pretty sure we did this tour in a fried out kombie, but it wasn't on a hippie trail and we didn't smoke the zombie till later that night.  So I spent the two weeks working on this killer barn style accommodation, made of Iron Bark, hebel block and brick.  They needed some windows trimmed out and some other trim work as well.  They were an awesome crew out there, Maria was the mom and owner of the place, her sons were Johanas and Bernard, there were two other wwoofers, Tina from Germany, and Anne from Ireland, Julie worked on the art in the pottery, then on the site there were Kingsley and Mitch.  Quite the characters, all of them really.  Aside from working out tails off everyday to meet a deadline, we spent our knights jamming around a fire, or drinking goon and beers over deep convos of those crazy people living in the cities.  The birds and other wild life were something else as well.  Hadn't seen one Kangaroo at all, I was beginning to think that the ozzies made up the creature all together, but then when I got out here there were heaps of them.  One day on lumber run to a bush lumberyard we hit one of the poor fellas.  There are like deer the way they spook and run, but one hop in the wrong direction and they are right in front of you, there is no dodging them.  It was over instantly, but the guys stopped and checked to make sure it was dead, then took its legs and tail for food, rather than waste it.  Its a rough but real life, and a few nights later Tina cooked it up in a traditional German meal, so I guess  can tick eating road kill kangaroo German style off of my list of things to do.  There was a great veggie garden, there were pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, ducks, geese, chickens not to mention all the other wild birds.  If you look at the pictures you'll find one horse with Australia on its forehead, pretty cool horse.  It was like living at an awesome artists village for a while, with all the different ways to do art, aside from the pottery there was a blacksmiths and a wood workshop where they put out awesome pieces.  Not only had Bernard and Johanas both build there own houses, they even make their own door hardware, and turn their own sinks, they really took build your own to an extreme.  This was a great way to spend a few weeks.  Now I am headed to the next Island, unaware of what I may find, but if my luck keeps up I just might find myself in another cool place.  Thanks for reading and remember never ask to see anyones map of Tasmania, unless your in Tasmania and they have a map in their hands, its code for something else it turns out.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wwoofin in the Land of OZ

  Gday mate from the land of Oz.  They actually call it that because the three actors that played the scare crow, lion, and the tim man were all originally from Australia.  I bet you never heard that before, and thats cause I just made it up.  That would make sense though, you can tell people that thats what you read on the internet now though.  So its been a while since my last post, but if its any conciliation its only because I have been deep in the bush for the past few weeks.  Now that your mind is out of the gutter, I have been in Talengata and Beachworth, two little towns north of Melbourne and south of Sydney.  Do you know the capital of Australia, I'll give you a hint, its not Sydney, or Melbourne for that matter and to tell you the truth I can't even remember the name of it right now, kind of random that its a city I have never heard of though.
  So I spent my last week in Melbourne in a shady, cheap rent motel, which is sort of like the Saint George down town.  It was dirty, but the drug dealers I lived with were cool, and once you got over the constant knocking at the door, it wasn't half bad.  Two nights before I went north I stayed with a good friend of my friend Brians'.  It was nice to be out of that other place and with friendly faces again.  Got to catch up with my old scouting buddy and I laughed my ass off just like old times.  Melbourne is a cool place and I regret not getting pictures of it, but it took some getting use to traveling alone.  The architecture reminds me of the Boardwalk and is of a similar era, which is because Australia had there gold rush around 1860, shortly after ours.  They even have old cable cars just like San Francisco.
  For my next move it was time to wwoof, which has almost nothing to do with dogs.  It stands for willing workers on organic farms and it's an international program.  You sign up and get a book with all the farms in it, you are insured while working and you basically just call up, agree to a certain amount of hours to work per day, usually between 3 and 5 a day, and you work for food and board.  Its great because you can find a place that might be right for you, and they all know your background and work experience.  The first place I made it to is a camp for kids complete with a lake for canoeing, a climbing wall, challenge courses you name it.  They need general help around the place and were happy to take me on.  I was given my own room in a killer little place with a TV and cable and everything.  Day two of being there I had to learn stick shift so one of the girls who worked at the camp gave me a crash course and I  was off driving what are called Utes.  Cool car.  The place was rad, it was Peter and Merry and the other worker Irish girl was Jan and they were all great.  The food was awesome and they had free beer for us.  Free beer.  I still cant get over it, you want to raise work ethic all you half to do is offer free beer.  So I went to their footie club and learned Ausi rules football, which is like Anarchy on grass, but with uniforms.  I got to go out horse riding through the beautiful countryside and then got to hold a wombat.  There what would happen if a bear mated with a rodent, size look and everything.  It was a funny little creature and it has a pouch like a kangaroo and a shell like an armadillo under its fur.  A camp of kids came so I stayed an extra week to help out.  I taught the kids Prusiking, which is a fancy way of saying ascending a rope with a device or knot.  In any case it was a great couple of weeks, I learned alot, met cool people, and even made a proper mexican fiesta for 13 people.  Wwoofing is a great way to meet real people, and you can give your wallet a break at the same time.
  From Talengata I traveled to Beachworth, an old gold mining town, where I met a great family to stay with.  There's Jason, Melanie, Finn and Adele.  There a super cool family with some cabinetry help needed, so I've got a little experience with that.   I am staying in a gypsy caravan surrounded by the beautiful country side, with cattle and chooks (thats Australian for chickens) roaming around, pretty sweet deal.  Jason is from Canada originally and has been here in Oz for the past 10 years raising his family with Melanie and the two of them can really play and sing some bluegrass, so needless to say we have been havin a great time jamin away on some of my faves.  Melanie plays the Uke and Jason plucks on the banjo and the two of can throw down some harmonies like you wouldn't believe.  Jason also DJ's on the local radio station and I accompanied him there the other day, helped him pick some songs, and he even let me play.  At night I usually end up helpin Finn, who's 7, build his STAR WARS lego set, or helping to defeat Jedi Knights in the Force Unleashed.  I have really been lucky with where I have landed the past three weeks. 
  So here I am in Beachworth, Australia, working with wood and playin my days away until the wind blows me to my next destination.  We will see what the next place has in store, maybe Urtes perhaps.  Until next time remember to avoid ex cons on the Grey Hound and always fart upwind, or down wind, I can't remember.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One Year Later

  Hello everyone, and thanks for logging onto our one year anniversary Special.  Yep one year ago today we set out from sunny San Francisco to adventure across the world and I though it would be nice to reflect on some of the highlights of the trip.
  Our first stop on the world tour was jolly old England, where we had a great time exploring Swansea for one and I got to meet Nimas extended family and friends.  We were there getting our ducks in order, and Nima getting all fixed up with their health care system, for around three months, but got to escape to Croatia.  Here we got to see the best waterfalls of all time, in the Plitvitca National Park.  This was for sure one of the major highlights.  Another great time was the little Island off the cost of Zardar where we climbed a rickety old tower, after a couple of brews of course.  After our return, I went to visit my cousin Robby, where we attempted to drink all the beer in Ireland, to no avail. 
  Next it was time for our Euro trip.  Nima, Noga, and I drove to Ireland where we spent an exciting two weeks with Bri and her friend Lilly.  We camped on the beach, sang songs around the fire, ate fish and chips in Dingle bay, and confronted a fear deep in my soul when we explored the haunted Hostel.  After that back through England to France, where we met Jake, drank vino, ate croissants, and dodged a condom bomb from the buildings above.  It was a whorl wind ride to Barcelona,Spain to meet my dad.  We explored the city till we made our way down to Bunol, and the Tomitlla Festival, where Nima almost was squished to death on her 22nd B Day.  Dad flew us to Rome, where who can forget, the Colosseum, as well as all the killer food.
  Then it was back to Barcelona where we hung with Mia for a couple of days.  Next it was back through France to 'Le Arch de la Borie Nobel', a commune with no electricity.  We spent a great two weeks there, working along side the land, we met new friends and got a second wind to continue.  October Fest!!!  A few communes later we found ourselves in Germany, in a rockin little community and one of the best rave/hoe down/shindig I have ever attended.  We checked out the Check Republic on the way, and Stalag Luft III after.  We cruised to Berlin, began couch surfing, and saw the Berlin wall, along with other historic places.  We passed some friends in Hildeshime on our way to the Netherlands.  We stayed in Utrect, and ventured to Amsterdam on a few occasions where I didn't smoke any pot.  At this point we looked and smelled homeless, and this was due to the fact that we had been sleeping in the car or on communes for three months, some nice people actually nocked on our window and gave us food.  It was through Belgium and back to England. 
  After a few short weeks, we bid our car and the western world good bye and made our way to Turkey.  Two of the best things in Turkey were our awesome couch surfing hosts and the little Pirate town of Olympos, where we saw the eternal flames of the Cimera Monster.  India here we come.  We kept it secret, but now I guess its safe to tell the world that our first week in India we got caught up in some kind of international diamond smuggling scam, where we spent the week in fear, trying to escape some con artists.  Hence why we ended up in the safety of the English Embassy.  Wild.  Also who could forget the classics like '32 hour train ride', 'where's the western toilet', and my personal favorite,'Now you pay me for holy lak.'  India, I know I put you through the ringer sometimes, but I got to thank you for preparing me for anything.
  South East Asia time.  We went north from Bangkok, while Nima recovered from Giardia and Bronchitis, and chilled out at a paradise called Pie.  River, sun, beer and guitar.  Just what the doctor ordered.  Lao bound, where we had such a great time zipping through the forrest, then we had a great time floating down a river, drinking buckets and smokin, as we went off 30 foot rope swings.  Down to an epic cave river journey on our way to Nam.  In Nam we learned alot about the war, saw some things to blow our minds and saw the people who have really grown into an amazing nation.  Cambodia was no stranger to death and destruction, but the people are kind and gentle.  Walking around their Angkor Watt at dawn was stellar.
Souther Thailand to the the Islands, where we had the buss and boat rides from hell, to get to our first Island paradise.  Then their was rain, and more rain, then a break for the best snorkeling ever, then just rain till we took off.  Indonesia and the Island of Bali were great.  My dad came for the second time to see us, and Lena and Mark came as well.  The Monkey temple and the waterfall where we drank poo coffee really stand out in my mind.  Then after dad went home, it was off to the Gilis, and we got to chill to our hearts content.
  Nima and I had to go our separate ways, but I assure you she is doing quite well and she is continuing to inform me how awesome our home is, which we both new all along.  A quick update on my end.  Im in a city in Australia and haven't yet adjusted to being able to take pictures without Nima, but I will soon.  I couch surfed with a killer guy, not to be confused with a guy killer, and we went to a wear house party with a bunch of squatters, then the next night, I was invited to a rock concert in Melbourne, which was also awesome.  For the past week I have been in this dump of a place, but the rent was cheap, and I love it.  My roommates smell like April 20th and there is always incense burning, we go to the pub, play pool, and jam in the room.  I am really livin the dream.  Caught up with a Boy Scout friend the other day, and at the end of the night I stumbled onto the Tram, back to my hole.  Next I will write you from a farm, and I will have pictures.  One year, 19 countries, countless stories, and more to come.  Well thanks for tuning in folks, and remember, traveling is great, but Cali is the best place on earth.  That being said, I'll continue to look every once and a while anyways.  Oh yea, don't believe in drop bears. 
Matteous out.

Friday, April 29, 2011

353 Days to Paradise

  Wow, here it is...  Paradise.  We found it amongst the islands of Indonesia; beaches that stretch to infinity, great surf forever, cheap wine, and an ocean the likes of which you only see in post cards.  Its true, this place does exist, Nima and I as well as Lena and Mark spent about a week there.  The Islands we visited were Gili Trawagan and Gili Meno.  When I say Islands that go on forever its really because we are on an Island where one of the first days we rented bikes and road all the way around it, and there wasn't an unscenic spot.  We had snorkel gear with us and where ever we saw fit we jumped in and took a look at what the sea had to offer, it never let us down.  We attended an awesome full moon party where we drank with the locals and danced till we were to drunk to, who ever says danced till they dropped were just colorfully editing the facts.  Whilst Nima and I caught up on chillin, Mark and Lena took diving lessons, and had a great time; saw seven foot veggie sharks, giant sea turtles, you name it.  There aquatic adventures got us a free ride to the next island.
  Population 350, Gili Meno is really a travelers dream come true.  The place is empty.  While looking for a place to stay I had a bathroom emergency, I am good at these by now so I already had a map of where to go in my head.  The winner was a little shack on a sandy road by the coast, where it looked like there only stock were a couple of packs of Marlboros, and a bear or two.  They let me use the facilities and I in turn bough a beer. The reason I told you this tale of triumph is only because we happened to stay near this diamond in the ruff, and happened to dine there for one of the best dinners on our trip.  Amazing white snapper while we lounged on a pillow laden hut, gazing on the surf.  On this island we used horse drawn carriages to get around, and they took us to our ocean side hut.  Anywhere you snorkeled was like sticking your head in some rich guys aquarium, without the whole awkward  meeting and asking if you can do it.  There is land for sale on this pearl, and if you can part with 30,000, you might be able to land yourself 6 acres beachside.  We spent our days here sifting through shells on the beach, chillin with Nemo, and oh the best part, sippin the local vino.  For three bucks you can score yourself a refilled 1500 ml water bottle of Palm wine, or for six you got the same amount of rice wine.  The palm smells like a fart, but other than that its all good, I am actually partaking in some now.  The rice wine is like some of the best saki ever, either way you win.  Leaving this place was like removing a nasty hang nail, you really don't want to, but you know that if you don't you'll end up in some Indonesian prison somewhere, you know how it is.
  Anyway we had to get back to Bali for our fights out.  We bid our farewells to our traveling companions and bailed to Sanour.  Nima and I spent three excellent air conditioned days awaiting her flight home and my flight to the land of Oz.  They flew by, to say the least, and now you as the readers are stuck with me.  We had such a great time on our travels together.  353 days traveling this world to the best of our abilities and now its time for Nima to get home.  I love ya babe, great time.  The world is your oyster, so make sure its a big one with a pearl.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hotel Balifornia

  Bali bound baby.  After a night in the airport, and a quick visa overstaying fine, we were off like a turd of hurdles to the land of beaches waves and beers.  A couple of puddle jumps we were out of the rain and into the sweltering equator heat of our touristic destination.  Into Kuta we ventured, expecting the worst, but hey, we've been to India.  This has become our travel mantra so to speak, and other travelers agree its a good one. 'Hey, we've heard Vietnam is a little tough, people ripping you off, and its dirty.' Someone might say, to which we respond, 'Really, didn't notice, we've been to India.'  To which they might add, ' Ok thats good to know.'  Any way, Kuta is what any tourist center of a country that survives on tourism might be like.  We found a place with a pool and hunkered down for a few days till my pops arrived.
  Man it was great to see my dad, I got to hold the sign and everything when he got off the plane, and I waved it in front of everyone, just in case he had some kind of identity change while I've been gone, but there he was.  We had a great few days of catching up in Kuta, but steered clear of the ocean there.  A storm had washed in some trash, but it was nice to chill and wait out my dads mellow to non existent jet lag to wear off.  Dad had an exciting helmet-less ride through the crowded streets to be shown a rental car, and rented it to escape from the ride back, so now we were mobile.  We headed south first and explored the beaches of Nusa Dua where we got our beer on the beach and watched the surf.  We also got to check out the locals farming some sea weed, an interesting concept.  After a mellow day at the beaches, Nimas high school friend Lena showed up with her boyfriend Mark, so now were were a party of five.  It was great to be surrounded with smiling familiar faces and we drank weak beer and laughed till the wee hours of the morning, it was about 11 or 12 at least.
  Time to go north in our left sided manual trail blazer packed to the brim, with dad at the helm, and me as navigator, through the tinny twisted signless streets of Bali.  Dad made a great pilot, saw a bit of papa shine through for sure as we made our way this beautiful place.  On the way we stopped at a temple, and had more fun than a barrel of monkeys, because instead of a barrel there was like a thousand of them.  They were jumping and swinging on trees and people and if you even let on that you were thinking about getting some bananas to give to them they were on you quick.  We had a good time until one of the daddy monkeys with two inch fangs decided that he wanted our bug spray, so Nima tossed it to me and at a certain point you just don't care about bug spray that much, you know.  One of the workers at the park charged it though and it ran off.  That day we made it all the way to the north coast, where we chilled at a beach side resort with a pool.  Pretty plush stuff, needless to say I slept like a baby in our AC room.  Up north we visited a killer waterfall, yet undiscovered by the hordes of travelers.  It was nice to see an amazing waterfall again.  While we were there we hung with a local organic farmer who offered us his home grown vanilla beans, anise, saffron, we ate one of his cacao fruits, and we delighted in his home made poo coffee, and before you start, I just don't know what to call it, you know the coffee from The Bucket List thats digested by a sivit, then you turn it into coffee, yea that stuff, it was an awesome place.  They even gave us jungle umbrellas to ford the monsoon that hit us on the way out. One night we hung with some locals at their bar, jammed a bit, and listened to their version of Hotel Balifornia, they really rocked. We finished our northern excursion with some of the best snorkeling I have ever seen on an Island off the west coast of Bali.  We floated above a 30 meter droop off at the end of a reef, I didn't know tropical fish could get that big.
  Next on the agenda was Sanur, a beach paradise on the east coast of the Island.  This was a sleepy little hang out, just our speed, with a reef break like a mile from the shore.  We spent more days kickin it, and really relaxing for the first time in a long time, and hey I know what your thinkin, 'Matt what's so hard, you don't even work, you just travel and have a blast all the time,'  but let me tell you, I've been to India, so step off yo.  We had a great time with my pops, and I'm sure he had a great time too, the two weeks flew by way to fast, but there's always next time, and that next time will be in New Zealand.  We said our steamy eyed good byes at the air port, but that was only because we had saw dust in our eyes, we are men ya know,  and Nima and I headed into Legian to regroup for a couple of days.  Love ya pops, thanks so much.
  In Legian about all we did was eat street soup, that was awesome by the way and all the locals were eating it, and I tried surfing, and failed, should have stuck with the old forgot my wax story, but it was cool to get my ass kicked by waves again.  Next it was a boat ride to the Gili Islands, a string of little paradise Islands off the coast of the island Lombok.  Its here where we met up with Lena and Mark again, since Sanur, and our foursome got bicycles (there's no motorized traffic on this island, or Police, just horse pulled carriages) and snorkels and have been swimming with sea turtles ever since.  This little Island, that you can bike around in an hour, is going to be tough to leave.  Summer camp is the only way to describe the mentality of this place.  Summer camp with shrooms and muslims that is.  I'll leave you with some advice I read on a sign here.  Do you like being touched by strangers?  Neither do the Turtles, respect ALL the locals.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Puddle Hopping in Paradise

Through out our trip in the south of Thailand and it's beautiful Islands the phrase "gotta go though hell before you get to heaven" rattled around in our brains.

We began our journey from Bangkok again, taking an over night bus to Chumphon and from there catching a boat to a tropical Island paradise. This whole trip was a huge cluster, and to top it all off Matt had some awful tummy bug which sent him into painful  stomach spasms roughly every 1/2 hour. We began by chasing a man who had taken our tickets from us and then walked off briskly down the bustling alleys of Bangkok. It took us a moment or two to respond by which point the man was nearly gone; so off we went bounding frantically down the street with our packs (currently weighing about 17 kilos each.) With a little luck we found him and our bus and began the first leg of the trip.

The Bus it self was quite comfortable, we watched a movie and it seemed that Matt had almost recovered from his tummy aches... But four o'clock in the morning came and we were woken up and chucked off the bus, bags and all on the side of the road in the rain (once again for those who follow the blog.) The panic of it all sent Matt's poor tummy into a violent fit of anger which in turn sent him, clutching his bum and running for the toilet frantically. He then found himself pleading with the toilet guard, who wanted 5 bath ($0.15) which he didn't have, explaining that it was an emergency. A new pair of pants and a 1/2 hour wait later we were off again, spirits dampened but non the less on our way.

The next leg of the trip was the 3 hour boat journey to Koh Tao, a little Island in the Gulf of Thailand. Island hopping, sounds nice huh? I was bit worried even before we got on, my mothers incessant warning of the ocean may have fallen of deaf ears but, some thing of it always lingers in the back of my head; and only adding to that i find that most of my boat excursions are spent leaning off the back vomiting violently. We left the safety of the harbor with a boat full of giggling children and smiling happy faces and arrived in Koh Tao with tear streaked faces, vomit covered clothes, adorned in life jackets and soaked to the bone. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. We got out in the ocean in our 50' boat to find 5 meter swells       (as high as our boat) and torrential rain. I spent the ride hanging on to the deck while the ocean tried to gobble me up and puking my guts out along with a good 20 other people. I never went back inside but Matt tells me that the down stairs seating area looked like a scene from a disaster movie. Windows that normally looked out on the horizon were fully submerged in the seething oceans and people were completely terrified, all in life jackets and clutching each other. This weather is actually unheard of in Thailand in this season, but there you go. We made it alive, both of us! We got off on a rickety Island dock that was practically tearing apart in the storm. At that time I wasn't sure if I was going to make it home, or ever even off that little Island, getting on a boat in 3 days was absolutely on the bottom of my list.

Enough horror stories, the trip from hell was over, we found a nice little room and the sun came out to grace us with it's presence the next morning. We rented a scoot with massive dirt bike wheels, without them it would have been impossible to go anywhere the roads were so bad. We spent two days scooting around the Island, we found some beautiful beaches and did a bit of snorkeling which is always lovely. Koh Tao had a lot to offer, considering it's slow Island pace. The nights were filled with fire dancers and parties, and our days were spent swimming and watching the tide roll across the shore while drinking a fresh coconuts. Living the True Island fantasy.

The gods looked kindly on us for our next little hop; we had a beautiful day and smooth ride to Ko Lanta which is a big Island in the Krabby region of Andaman Coast. This area of Thailand was interesting, predominantly muslim and not heavily touristed in comparison to other Thai Islands. Matt and me found a beautiful bungalow for 300 bath ($10) which was ideal... however we found out later that we were sharing it with some strange cross breed of a bird and a wasp. Giagantic-flying-black-stinging-beasts that had actually bitten holes into through the bamboo and built hives inside (I couldn't even bite a hole through bamboo?) We lived together quite happily once we had gotten the territories sorted. It rained and rained and rained while we were there (4 days.) We managed to get out and see a little bit of the island regardless. We went to a beautiful little ancient village which was once used by the chinese as a port, the houses were around 200rd years old and stood on stilts over the sea. Other than that, more coconuts, more beaches, but the rain really put a damper on the beach life so we moved along hoping to out run the weather.

Ko Phi Phi next, an little Island with absolute breath taking beauty. But like anything in that category, wined and dined, used and abused, and left out to dry but the hordes  euro flash packers that comb over south Thailand's beaches.  Ko Phi Phi is actually the Island from the movie 'the beach' for those of you who have seen it (I haven't.) We only spent 2 nights here due to the astronomical price of the place. The day we arrived we hiked one of the mountains that forms Ko Phi Phi and down the other side to a far off beachy cove. A great walk but we found our selves tromping through the Island Jungle in a torrential down pour on the way back. The next day we decided to take a long-tail boat ride over to Phi Phi little sister of a island 'Phi Phi Ley.' And by some miracle the storm lifted right before we left and the sun painted the ocean electric blue again. Phi Phi Ley is a national park so the island and coral's true nature and beauty is being preserved. We snorkel over there, which was unbelievable, a myriad of rainbow fishes swimming right past you, perhaps even brushing your leg with their fin as they went. There were also these giant polka doted red and blue fishes that were eating the coral, or so it appeared, you could hear then chomping down and crunching away. I never knew the ocean could be so beautiful but there it was, and the sun was out for the first time in over a day, it was heavenly. After snorkeling our boatman took us to Maya Bay which IS a screen saver. We spent and hour or two strolling to silky smooth golden sands and then the storm  began to roll back across the sea. You could see it coming, so we embarked on the journey back and though the rain was liking our heels we made it back relatively unscathed. We are so happy to have had that 3 hour gap of good weather to really take in the stunning beauty of this place.

This was the last Island stop in Thailand for us and we made our way to Phuket airport where we actually spend an surprising bearable night sleeping on a abandoned stairwell.  I am writing you now from Bali where we have more stories to tell, thanks for reading.
xox ~Nima

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Temple of Doom

     Chaos struck on the bus on our way to the famous Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as it was called 30 years ago.  Waiting for the bus to start, Nima came down with the sickness I had just gotten over, and she came down with it fast.  I'll spare you the gruesome details, but lets just say it was not one of the best bus experiences of our lives.  For a couple of days we let Nima recover and kicked it in the famous city.  One day I went to the War history museum, which was both shocking and mind opening.  Growing up in the US, I of course had no knowledge of the Vietnam war, other than what I have seen in movies and attempted to pry out of the brains of my teachers, but it seems to me that the whole conflict has been conveniently swept under the rug.  Since I have been in Vietnam I have read much about it and this war museum really seemed to put it all into perspective, with a play by play, date to date  description of the quarter century the US was in Vietnam.  This was their fight for freedom, and though the museum felt a bit like propaganda, there were plenty of pictures of the protests of the americans; burning their draft cards, the Ken State shootings, the marches on Washington, the museum was not anti american, just anti american government. 
  When Nima felt better we made our way to the Cu Chi tunnels, another reminder of what a people pushed to the brink will do for freedom.  There are over 200 km of under ground tunnels the Viet Com built to survive in, a few hours down the road from Saigon.  During the war the US dumped agent orange and burned the forrest and farm lands above these tunnels, driving the people under ground and many of them lived there the length of the war.  Their survival methods were amazing, floating food down the river to be brought under ground, hiding the smoke from the underground kitchens.  Their gorilla fighting techniques were horrendous, booby traps that sent chills down your spine, there is no doubt in my mind why boys came back from that war in the state they did.  It was explained to us by our tour guide, Jackie Survivor, as he was called by the american GIs, how they were able to fight and kill without being seen.  We crawled through these tunnels, and made it despite the overwhelming claustrophobic feeling pulsing through your nerves, and how these people lived like this for years I may never know.  Nima and I were some of the only people on Jackies tour that have ever made it through all the way, but I'm not surprised seeing as how my shoulders barely made it through in a couple of places.  We didn't come traveling to dwell on the sufferings of others, but being that this is one conflict we as americans and the Vietnam people share, I think we owe it to future generations to at least remember what happened.
  After our days in Saigon it was time to to enter the Land of 10,000 elephants, but most people know it by its smaller title, Cambodia.  My passport is now full, after this last border crossing, which brings a feeling of accomplishment as well as uncertainty.  It is my hope that future border guard gods will look upon me with sympathy and convince the guards to simply squeeze the stamp in there 'somewhere.'  Anyways, to the capital, Phnom Penh, then away as soon as possible, which was the next morning.  We should have given the place more of a chance, but after Nam, we didn't want to go to the Killing Fields, which is as depressing as the name implies, and though I wanted to shoot an AK 47, I didn't want to do it at a place you could pay to shoot a cow with a rocket launcher; yea you can do that, plus we are running from the heat, which at 80% humidity and 100 degrees is pretty sweltering.  The money here is also interesting.  They use the US dollar, but instead of change, they use their own currency, 1,000 riel is 25 cents.  We ran all the way to Siam Reap, the home of the Temples of Angkor.  Built for the god kings that united what is modern day Cambodia about 800 AD, these looming tower like stone temples are a most excellent place to spend the day exploring.  The place is expensive for backpacking travelers, at $20 per day, but I must say it's worth it.  We awoke at five am and headed to the most famous Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise, but unlike the hordes of other tourists there, we explored the temple by ourselves, in the dark which added to its creepiness.  The sun wasn't up till 7 so we still got to see it above the temple, the best of both worlds.  All the temples were awe inspiring, but our next favorite was featured in the movie Tomb Raider.  It had ancient trees, who's roots were dripping through the stones that held the place together.  There were signs with warnings like 'climb stairs at own risk' or my favorite, 'unsafe area,'  which is usually proceeded by a 'do not enter,' sign, but not here in Cambodia, your warned and I guess thats enough.  I had my hat, but I really could have used a whip, but there's always next time.
  That afternoon in Siam Reap we treated ourselves to two different much needed delicacy's.  First we had chocolate shakes for the first time in over a year, then we found Mexican food in Cambodia!  And I had a burrito and saw that it was good, and on the second day I had another burrito, and saw that that was good too, and Nima had a Chicken Chimichunga, and on the third day we came again.  God we needed that.  We left that town reluctantly and made our way to Battambang, not to be confused with Katmandu, where there isn't much to see, but it's a nice town none the less.  Yesterday we took a tuk tuk around to see a few of the sites in the neighboring area, the first of which is the bamboo train, which Nima pointed out would be a great alternative to walking in the post apocalyptic world.  What they do is take rail rode axels and wheels, throw them on a track, then top it with a bamboo platform and an engine.  They connect the engine to the back axel with a fan belt, and you are off down the tracks.  When you meet another oncoming trolly, you judge which is liter, and deconstruct the chosen cart, a very unique travel experience.  We also witnessed another famed temple, and a place called the killing caves, which we didn't know were on the agenda, but went along with it anyways.  Now I am sitting here in my Family Guy underwear sweeting, and hiding from the heat that's waiting for me just outside.  Well I hope the tsunami didn't affect Cali to much, we are quite far enough away from all the catastrophe.  Hope all is well back home and I'll leave you with some great advise I got from a drunk Ausi one time; Don't stand on Jellyfish.  I guess its better with a drunk Australian accent.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Viet Nam

I am writing you now for Saigon, Vietnam; the rising red dragon of Asia.

Leaving Lao Matt and me took a local over night bus from Savannakhet Lao, to Hue, a city on the coast of Vietnam. This meant that we found ourselves half asleep at 4 in the morning in no mans land, the border. I will let you know that we had become more and more suspicious as to the business of the bus we were on... It was carrying about 10 people along with 100rds of burlap sacks full of cole. It began to be a questionable subject... why was this bus carrying cole across the border? Did they not have cole in Vietnam? The only answer we found plausible was that cole is a great way to hid something that you don't want the border control to find. It's dirty, no one's gonna want to dig around in it; and it just so happens to be a ideal way to clog up a drug dogs nose. Of course we were a little less relaxed about our bus journey than we had began feeling. By the time we made it to the border our nerves were buzzing back and forth, so much so that we (the travelers that we are now) let ourselves get coned into giving some random man on a motor cycle our passports to get them stamped. Luckily the $3 that we were paying him was enough to draw him back but we both spent a good half hour on the verge of hysteria. We got our passports back and of course the middle man was not necessary, we had to walk passed the stamping office regardless. Our next hurtle was getting though the bureaucracy before our bus left without us, the bus driver seemed to have no problem with that. In the end I had to chase them down the road yelling as matt collected his last stamps, they had our bags you see. Unfortunately the excitement doesn't end here, it's about 9 in the morning now and we're dew to arrive in Hue at 11. There's always the lingering question when your on a bus 'where are they going to drop you off.' Now we've been dropped off in some fairly strange places all of which were totally manageable but not this time. The bus driver beckoned to us to put on our massive back packs and make our way to the front, they tried to convince me to get off while the bus was still moving, i refused. So they had the decency to stop for 30 seconds and chuck us and our stuff our the door on the side of the road. So here we are in Vietnam, no currency, a foreigner on the the side of the high way  only to find that we're 15 km out side of the Hue. It takes the cake for bad bus experiences for sure.

Now there were no Taxi's or Tuk Tuk, only motorcyclist who are trying to convince us that they would take me into the city for $5 and then come back and get Matt. Not a good plan we thought. Just as we gave up, with us and our bags in a heap on the road side trying to catch a car to take us together into Hue, Lady luck came to our rescue at last. A little mini bus (local) pulled over and beckoned us in, we had just enough money to pay for a ticket and figured that where ever it was going was better than where we were. It actually took us within walking distance of our hotel, a bit of a walk with our bags but we weren't complaining.
So that's day 1 in Vietnam.

In Hue we went to see the old Imperial City and the forbidden Purple City where the Emperor Gia Long and the Nguyen Family would lounge around in their fortress surrounded by concubines. It was really nice, not completely restored which gave you the feeling that you were discovering it yourself. I think that because this is a Communist state (awful way to use the word communist but...) they haven't put much energy into preserving it. They have tried so hard to get rid of the monarchy and religion that keeping the palace in good condition is not one of their priorities i guess.

After Hue we found ourselves wondering around Hoi An, another beautiful Unesco World Heritage Site. It's a city full of scenic streets dotted with ancient teak houses and adorned with with little red lanterns. It really does look like something out of a fairy tale. Apart from it's appearance there is nothing to do. We've found on our travels that Unesco World Heritage site are generally quaint, beautiful, boring, and completely over run with uptight (usually french) tourists. So we moved on fairly quickly to Qui Nhon. Qui Nhon is quite little beach town, similar to Hoi An in the way that it's beautiful and boring... but it is much more enjoyable because it's almost completely void of tourists. We had a good few days there, but there is really nothing to do besides swim and even that left you wondering why you never saw any one else doing it. We gave up in the end when Matt decided that this bay was home to the 'Vietnamese Man o' War' which our imaginations let us believe was some kind of sting ray or jelly fish or creature from the deep that you really didn't want to meet.

From Qui Nhon we went to the next beach town along the way, Nha Trang. Nha Trang has got a lot to offer, a lot of restaurants, water sports, islands, you name it; it is also a major tourist destination but not only for westerners, even other Vietnamese people find them selves vacationing there. We spent our days here laying on the beach (we soon forgot about the Man o' War) and dinning on cheep beer and crab. Matt got a new hair-do here from a road side barber... it's basically a mohawk with a little something else going on.  The 'Do' brought a crowd of locals all flabbergasted at this strange haircut, I don't think they'd ever seen anything like it. He debuted his mohawk at a fabulous drag show that night. With out any effort at all we found ourselves in the midst of some outrageous Drag Bar where we played pool till the wee hours of the morn.

Nha Trang is also home to the famous 'VinPearl' which is like something out of a movie. An Island resort which along with a Spa on the other side of the Island is a massive Amusement Park. Of course we went right! We payed 360 Dong ($18) to take the gondola over to the island and then every thing was free. They had Water Slides, Monkey acrobatics, Roller Coasters, an Arcade, a beautiful beach, and even an Aquarium. It was a good day, running around like little chillies. Matt was Water Sliding until the sun went down.

Nha Trang brought us to Dalat, a beautiful mountain town. But we did absolutely nothing here because Matt was running a fever of 102. Exciting really, having a fever in the land of Dengue. But he's recovered nicely, really only a 2 day bug, and now we're here in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the rest of the stories will wait until next time.

XXX ~Nima

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kong Lo on a Jankey Scoot

  In case you are wondering, I recovered after Vang Vieng some how, though I have a bruise the size of a frisbee.  We had some fun in that town.  A few hours down the river was the capitol of Lao, Vientiane, one of the sleepiest, chilled cities I have ever had the pleasure of traveling through.  We were only there for a couple of days, but both Nima and I could see staying there for a while.  Old temples and crumbling French villas are an ongoing theme in Lao, as are great street food stalls.  We made our way through a killer night market, offering truly exotic and strange foods, along with some carnival games, on our way to the Lao Bowling Center, which looks deserted till you step around the tarps and through the side door.  The only thing this place was missing was his Dudness himself. 

  Next on the list of things to do and see was Tham Kong Lo cave, a seven kilometer river through a mountain.  The best way we found to get there was to go to Tha Khaek and rent scooters for the 200 km ride to the small village near the cave.  We were recommended Mr. Coo, but he was out of scooters, so we got a deal from Mr. Andy, who had bargain scooters, and we soon found out why.  This was the first time on an manual scooter for me, well semi manual; gears but no clutch.  The ride there was smooth, but I could foresee problems in the future for our scooter that was held together with rubber-bands, especially when it failed to button start, then failed to kick start, and we were forced to push start it from there on out.  We  had a good night with our little motorcycle gang, and caught some shut eye at a great little roadside place.  The cave was really like entering the underworld.  We paid our boatman the 115,000 kip for the three of us, our old pal Dominic included, and took off motoring our way through Hades.  We watched the light at our backs fade to nothing, and the ceiling of the cave grow to cathedral heights.  Our little wooden boat slowly filled with water, and as we ascended deeper we had to get out and walk through a stalactite forrest as our boatman took our boat out of site around a corner.  We were all relieved to find him again.  This place was like the cave in Pirates of the Caribbean to the tee, minus the pirates and the gold.  It was great watching our guides force the little canoe up the rapids, looking like cave gnomes with there little lights on their heads.  When we emerged into the light of this new world, it was raining, but worth it as we saw the mist climbing over the peaks of the mountain we just passed under.  A few minutes break, then it was back.  This was a killer experience.

  Our gang decided that 120 miles in the rain was a bit much with our close consisting of shorts and tee-shirts, so we opted to stay for another night.  Then, with our gang bidding us farewell early, Nima and I embarked on the journey home solo, with our jankey, rubber band bound scooter.  We could feel the transmission slipping as we wound through the mountain pass in 1st gear, the foot break hit the ground on left turns, and we discovered a strange clunking sound that continued non stop, till the chain broke.  Man it was fun.  Next we got to flag down a truck, hoist the scooter into the back, and get dropped off the nearest mechanic, who found my pink bandana and beard to be the funniest thing ever and spent the entire time fixing it laughing.  They overcharged us, but I straitened them out, to the laughs of all the towns people who had gathered around to see the new clown.  We spent the next 50 miles nursing the transmission which was bound to crap out at any time.  At one point, with 30 miles left to go, it did just that, but with Nimas last push start, we made it all the way back.  I really feel like I know a lot more about these machines now, thanks to Mr. Andy.

  We spent Valentines at our guesthouse in Tha Khaek, drinking Lao Lao and beer with some new found friends.  The next day we hauled our sore butts to Savannakhet, home of the Lao Dinosaur Museum.  This town offers the best busses to Hue, in Vietnam, and other than that, not a whole lot else.  This museum, though, was one of the coolest I have ever seen.  It reminds me of a junior high school gym, and is home the the bones of a stegosaurus, which they found without having to dig, just right there in the surface.  When we asked them why they didn't hang some bones on the walls, our guide said they were to heavy, we asked how heavy, then he took us into the back room to just, ya know, pick up some 200 million year old dinosaur bones, so we could feel for ourselves just how heavy they were.  Our guide was digging them out since the beginning and we saw him in the video about the excavation.  So like I said it was one of the coolest museums ever, I picked up dinosaur bones for under a buck.  Tonight we head to Vietnam on a night buss, so I must bid you farewell, and khawp jai lai lai for reading.  Happy bleated Valentines Day to everyone and remember if you kiss someone, your kissing everyone they kissed, which is only like 3 steps away from Keith Ritchards, so what do you think about that?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Buckets of Fun

Laung Parabang is where matt left us so thats where I'll begin.

Perhaps a few of you have been wondering why you call Lao Laos, or vise versa; we can all hold the french responsible for that one. The country was under french rule up until 1953 and we all know the french have an insatiable appetite for extra T's and unpronounced S's so the poor Lao people now have been recognized world wide as the Laos people, which is horrible close to the plural of lice. So now that we have that cleared up it'll makes sense why Laung Parabang is a beautiful little city full of crumbling old french villa's and the more modern traditional bamboo and teak houses. Laung Parabang is one of the Unesco World Heritage sites because of  this beautiful collision of cultures and of course the 15 or so temples (Wat's) that have been standing on the river peninsula for decades. The streets are lined with very sheek cafe's and restaurants full of mostly french tourists, ex-pats, and a few back packers; and some where in the mix of all this there's 100rds of tangerine robed monks from ages 5+ going to and from the Wat's. Matt and I woke up one morning at about 5:30- 6:00 to see the procession of monks with bowls in hand, collecting rice offering from the towns people.

In Laung Parabang we had  collected quite a possie of Flight of Gibbon friends so, as you do with friends, we spent a few too many nights drinking a few too many beer-Lao's, good times. One terrific thing we did learn about from our crew was of the Korean BBQ. A wonderful way to enjoy a BBQ, I've never seen one in the states so i'll give you a quick idea of how it goes down... perhaps it too hard to explain completely but there's lots of pictures of our wonderful dinner. The Idea is your cooking a noodle soup and a bunch of pieces of very thinly sliced meet in the same pan... It's already getting complicated isn't it! This is one of those situations where the picture is worth 1000nd words so just check out the pictures and get yourself one if you are lucky enough to find a vendor.

Laung Parabang was not easy place to leave with it's wonderful crumbling cafes but sooner or later we had to step out of the fairy tale land and back to what we were hoping would be reality.

After a long journey south through the most stunning mountain range we found smack in the middle of Sodom, or Gomorrah, or maybe something like Tijuana; Vang Vieng is a city brimming with  belligerent hooligans. The restaurants are not only trying unload a hamburger, onion rings, and a large beer-Lao but then they hand over the "other" menu. The "Special" one that is hidden behind the counter that offers all kinds of mind altering substances; from ganja, to mushrooms, to opium, and perhaps you want it all blended up in "Happy shake." Upon our arrival I though 'oh lord what am I doing here groveling amongst the hordes of intoxicated foreigners?' But we had come with a Purpose! We wanted to drink yes... but we also wanted to do the infamous float down the Nam Song River in inner-tubes. We found our self a room, the hardest town to find a room in i think, and we holed up for the night.

I have to say my experience here turned around very quickly. Vang Vieng is not really Lao at all, perhaps like vegas isn't America, or Tijuana isn't mexico, but all of the above can be a great way to spend a few days, and this one is certainly a Adult Theme Park of sorts. We hoped in our tubes about noon, 4Km up rive and came to find bungalow bars lining the way along with an assortment of rope swings, water slides, Zip lines, and anything else extremely fun and potentially lethal... this of course depends on how much you've drunk and where you manage to land. It's funny you know, in south east asia you find yourself buying and drinking "Buckets" of alcohol, literally. They have taken the idea of a simple cocktail, something along the lines of whisky and coke, and instead of a glass you get it in a bucket! With the handle and everything. So a few buckets in your toasting in the sun watching what might as well be a circus act. There's people swinging and jumping in the river in every direction and your just crossing your fingers for the poor guy with a pink bucket on his head you has floated into the line of fire. You do this tubing from bar to bar as they try to lure you in with free joints and such, when you find a place that tickles your fancy you wave enthusiastically that the rope man. He's the guy who sits there lassoing tubers all day and pulling them in. I think you can imagine what state people find themselves in at the end of the day and i am also sure that it will not surprise you that we didn't make it the 4Km back. We were unable to carry on about 2Km down. We waved down tuk-tuk driver who was lingering by the river bank hoping to bring in some easy cash. It's even more embarrassing to admit that our failure that day drove us to madness , so much so we made a second attempt. Time two i stayed a bit more sober, Matt on the other hang got to drinking 'Lao Lao' (rice whisky) with the local fisherman so i can't say the same for him... but either way, drunk or not we made it our second time.

Quite an achievement in Vang Vieng. We did have a wonderful few days on the Nam Song looking up at the absolutely stunning mountains as we drifted along, though i looked a bit like a lobster and now I'm left with some awful tan lines. Aww well.
Ciao, Amore Con i Baci!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Treetop Flyer

  As we make our way through the thick jungle, hacking our way through vines and bamboo trees, we come to a clearing that's more of a hole out of the canopy, with a thick cable wrapped around the massive strangler fig tree at your back.  You hook on, check your straps, and fly out over the forest as the ground disappears fast....   Welcome to Lao.
  We left Thailand, and Pai in particular, with heavy hearts and made a two day journey through Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong and across the famous Mekong river on a longtail boat to Lao.  This put us in Huay Xai, and rite away we knew we weren't in Thailand any more.  This country is one of the poorest in the world, though they manage to keep their standard of living surprisingly higher than some countries I have seen.  Their money is the Kip and its about 8,000 to the dollar, which makes for a strange exchange rate, we're paying 60,000 for a room and it is cheap, and our standard meal is around 45,000.  You really feel like a high roller, you know what it feels like to take 1,000,000 out of an ATM, I do. 
  After our first few minutes we found the office for the The Gibbon Experience, which we have been looking forward to since Dharamsala, India, but haven't, for the life of us, been able to make contact, even though your suppose to book 6 months in advance.  They 'just so happened' to have two more spots to fill for tomorrow, but we had better book it or they will be gone, so we went for it.  This is the most expensive thing we have done at $290 per person for 3 days and 2 nights, but after months of thought it was easy to part with it, I mean when are we going to be here again.  Also it's for a good cause.  It's kind of like poacher rehab in the way that your guides are reformed poacher, making more money for their families by taking tourists on treks than they ever did killing the animals.  So here's the game...
  We meet up with our crew of eight, one of whom is our Irish / German buddy from Pai, Dom, and cram into the back of 4x4 Toyota truck and head into the mountains for about two and a half hours.  An hour and a half of this is on a dusty highway, and the rest is rugged mountain roads, through rivers and what not.  We get off, well dusted, and hike through a village, some farms, and finally to the Jungle for three hours over thin bamboo bridges.  You can imagine the scenery if you have seen any movie about Vietnam.  They hand us our sandwich wrapped in a banana leaf, and point us to the waterfall where we can swim in the aqua blue water and cool off.  As the fish nibble at our feet we catch our first glimpse of what we are in for.  Looming 180 feet above our heads is a tree fort, the likes of which I have only seen in movies.  After our swim we are suited up with harnesses and marched up the hill to to our first attempt of flying.  There is a platform attached to the base of a tree as well as a cable that stretches out over the canyon and out of sight to the trees on the other side.  Our guide gives us some safety tips, lets us know the stats of the line; its 380 meters long (about a quarter mile) and is sitting 180 feet up, and zips off into the distance.  After a minute we here a 'clear' and we are off.  Really there is nothing like it, I mean treks are one thing,but getting to jump from one side of the canyon to the other to continue your hike is really something else.  The best part was that, after a few more zips, our guides led us to our tree house for the night, and took off giving us freedom to explore the canopy on our own.  It was great.  That night we ate a great meal, drank the wine that was provided; though we were told not to, and fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle far below.
  Day twos' accommodations, reached after a few hour hike and a beer in a village, was even more mind blowing.  I can safely say that most of us felt like ewok from Star Wars.  The tree itself was something to be reckoned with, but adding in the two story tree house and the three entrance / exit points to different parts of the ridge line surrounding you, its just a recipe for wickedness.  It was this day we got to try the biggest line at 430 meters long.  It was here that I learned a neat trick from the guide.  He chopped a two and a half foot piece of bamboo, cut a little hole in the top and in the side, added another little piece of bamboo, and within minutes I had an awesome bamboo bong!  He said, 'later we use bamboo bong.'  So I said, 'OK!'
But it was a tobacco use only kind of situation, but another story for the stoner archives.  I don't think there was one complaint about the food, the beds were great, and we had drinking water on tap in the house.  Wow the spiders though, they were fun. 
  Day tree was another new set of zips, along with the hike there, and all I can really say about these was that the view from the line was the best this day.  You could see for miles.  All in all we must have done about 20 zip-lines,  hiked maybe 8 hours, and really had a blast.  The biggest animal we saw was probably the spiders, unfortunately, but no regrets doing this trip.  After the hike back, and a couple of beers at the village we took the dusty trip back to Huay Xai, where our new crew went out for drinks, already reminiscing the good times.  Nice to meet all you guys and we hope to see you in Cali.
  Nima and I are headed to Laung Parabang now where we hope to kick it for a few days before floating on down to Vang Vieng.  Stay safe back home and remember you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but nosey friends are best unpicked.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Easy Rider

Hello Hello
So... Matt and me have been spending our days and nights relaxing in the river bank bungalows of Pai Village, Chiang Mai. This is certainly a little hippy hub of the world, veggie yummys and rasta bars on every corner. They have a night market every evening which is full of such tasties as deep fried fresh potatoes crisps, banana nutella waffles, BBQ'd sweet corn, and even Pai's very own Sushi chef who slings his rolls road side.  So here we are fattening up so we can starve again for the two days of bus journeys to Loa. We've been trying to leave for three days now but this sleepy little village apparently has a strong grasp on us, we find ourselves full of excuses every day of why tomorrow will be a better day to travel.

Besides the lounging days and the camp fire nights Pai is surrounded by beautiful rolling mountains that are brimming with forests and rivers. We heard that about 7 km down the road were some very nice hot springs, so Matt and me rented a Motor scooter for the day (100 baht = $3.30) and scooted our selves out to them. The swimming was lovely, one pool after another which allows you to pick your temperature, Matt and me hung out about 5 pools apart.  Other than the swimming though there is something very special that goes on at the source. The Thai's, being wonderful people, have come up with the rather silly but truly delicious thought to use the springs to boil eggs in. Where the water bubbles out from beneath the earth the pools are lined with people who all have a long bamboo poll with a bag of eggs tied on the end, all cooking away in the water. Of course we had to try this ourselves and after a 1/2 hour wait we had the best boiled eggs that have ever crossed my lips. Perhaps it was the anticipation? An idea I will certainly bring back to California springs soon.

Riding though the warm mountain air on our little scooter has been so liberating. Singing born to wild at the top of our lungs, hair blowing in the wind. You know... Easy Rider minus the chopped Harley and replace it with 120???80 cc scooter that is sea foam green with rainbow speed stripes. Great fun. Besides the hot springs we've visited a few waterfalls... very nice, but for those of you who have kept up with our blog 'after Plitviska in croatia i don't think i'll ever look at a water fall the same way.' We haven't really done any swimming due to our knowledge of the lack of sewer systems around these parts; though you do see other tourists, usually quite drunk, floating down the river in inner-tubes.

One thing that we saw here that is truly unique to me was the Pai canyon. The sediment is some kind of sand stone that must either have little creeks running though it or be victim to horrendous rain storms. The effect is that you find your self on little trails, big enough for 1 person only, that stand alone; on either side the earth has fallen away leaving gaping canyons and cliffs. You weave though the forest canopy like this on the trails trying to battle off the vertigo and to defiantly keep your footing. Really stunning, never seen anything like it.

I'll leave you with that and the photographs of course, we're going to make our way from here Chiang Rai then Chiang Kong and then Lao. So until then we'll be safe and hope you enjoyed the reading.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pad Thai, Chiang Mai & Muay Thai

  Sa wat dii everyone and greetings from Thailand.  Thailand is a Kingdom in South East Asia that looks like the head of an elephant, with enough imagination, oh and minus the tusks.  The money is Bath, pronounced bot, and its 33 bath to the dollar.  Its a 15 hour time difference from California, which means add three hours, change the date, and change the little am/pm symbol; the only bummer is that I can't watch sports, then report to you who won the games early so we could make money betting, I still don't understand why, but its some kind cleaver trick the sports companies pulled.  The Thai people are great, very chilled out, friendly, actually the entire country almost has a SC vibe.  Though I was skeptical of the food, I was pleasantly surprised about how good it is.  Pad Thai is what I usually order, but I have yet to have something that I didn't like. 
  We flew in to Bangkok on the fourth of January, and were headed North, but Nima came down with a fever on the 6th so we hunkered down in our mellow little teak jungle house, away from the noise of the city.  Nima soon got well and we got to visit with Nimas family friend Greg, who comes here once a year, so his advise was great.  We saw some of the sites and went to a great weekend market, where I got a hat, yep a cowboy hat.
  We bailed out of Bangkok, and headed north, to Sukhothai, near Suk Weing, just down from the river Muinch Poon.  This little village was once the capitol of the first Thai Kingdom, and is riddled with old shrines, and ancient Buddhas.  We rented bicycles and rode through town.  It was cool to see such old monuments in peoples front yards being used to dry clothed, or beef jerky in some cases.  Here we stayed in a Bamboo Bungalow where we were able to download Machete, the best movie ever, staring Danny T. 
  After a couple of days we met up with a Spaniard, a German, and an Indian American; not to be confused with the American Indian, on the way to Chiang Mai.  Our party of five rented motor scooters and we headed out of town to the Temple on the Mount, where we climbed the Dragon Steps to the top of this jungle temple.  In retrospect I wish I had a slinky, that would have been great.  On the way down we checked out the waterfall and headed to get Falafel.  That night we met up with our old friend from London, Jamyang, at a Muay Thai boxing match, which was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.  It's like a very respectful dance sort of fight with kicking.  The music and the mood are great, we sat ringside at the blue corner where we watched the men gambling, shouting and drinking.  The women who fight are nuts, not the type of girl you want to mess with on the buss, unless your not a fan of your teeth.  Mid way through the matches, they stopped and four fighters entered the ring, were blindfolded, and proceeded to punch the crap out of each other for about ten minutes,with total disregard for the ref, who managed to dodge most of the blows.  All of this while disco lights flashed.  It was the best comedy I have seen in years.  
  So here we are in Chiang Mai on the down low till Nima overcomes her next little sickness.  She's all good, its just that the medication makes her feel a bit crappy.  We are stationed at this great little reggea bar called the Freedom Bar where they are currently blastin some Marley right outside our window, so nice.  We are headed to Pai next.  Well everyone, I hope the winter finds you well and where sleeping bears lie make sure to set your phone to silent.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Smoke on the Ganges

  Week three in India and we're alive and well and as tired of being ripped off as Germans are of Hitler jokes.  I mean if you have the slightest want to become famous just get your egocentric butt to India, where just for being white you will be asked every question imaginable, entire groups will stare at you for as much as eight hours at a time, and every family wants a picture of you with their grandmother and children.  Its kind of neat at first, but then you begin feel like some kind of freak, I mean I am some kind of freak, and I am use to a few strange glances in my own country, but hear you begin to think, OK OK what's wrong with me.  I just say for the sake of anyone that plans to take a trip to India, just so they are aware, oh and when you pack, be sure to bring a pair of those rose tinted glasses.  But I digress, where were we.  Yes, the all together 9 hour late train from Delhi to Chaki Bank, after which we take a 3 and half hour buss to Daramasala, then a quick 45 min buss to Mcloed Gang, the home of the Dali Lama.  This put our total travel time from Agra to Mcloed Gang at around 32 hours, but it was worth it.  Going there was like taking a vacation from India on account that its a place largely made up of Tibetan Refugees.  Its cleaner, the air the Himalayas is fresher, their are more trees, less crap everywhere, it was great.  We threw down some didge to get a nice place for Christmas and stayed at the Pema Thang Guest House, the place where Richard Gear stays when he comes to see the Dali Lama.  But seriously, all hamster jokes aside, he seems like a pretty cool guy, he really seems to care about the Tibetan people.  We had a great Christmas dinner of pizza and beer while we watched TV, though it sounds normal, it was magical, even our sit down toilet was magical, its the simple things ya know.  We spent four days relaxing there before our next trek to Veranasi.
   Just a short 4 and a half hour buss ride and a 2 hour delayed 22 hour train ride later we were at the famed smokey Ganges shore town.  We are in crunch time at this point, no time to lollygag, so we are switching our tourism meter from Californian to Asian; they are the power travelers of the world with the ability to see all the major sites in Europe, for instance, in less than one week.  We saw the cremations on the riverbank, took a boat ride, meandered through the markets, ate a few tasty meals and were out of their quick.  We met a great guy from France named Carlos, who urged us to go on the boat ride, and at the price of a whopping dollar it was worth it to get some pictures of the place from afar.  We also saw some kind of ceremony on the shore of the river and had front row seats.  I have no idea what it was for but it involved bells, singing, fire and flowers.  Another constant highlight are the monkeys of course, watching them from the roof of our guest house in their own man made jungle is pretty wild.  The way death is dealt with there is truly a mind opening experience, its not swept under the rug or ignored, it's right there in your face.  I must say it's a beautiful thing.
   Another 5 hours down the tracks brought us to Bodhgaya, made famous by the Bodhi Tree, where Sidartha became enlightened and transcended into the Buddha.  Beggars, thieves, and con artists aside, it is an interesting place.  The Buddhist Mecca.  The tree itself just begs to be climbed, and if anyone took the trees opinion into consideration it would probably much prefer that to the constant full prostration of all these funny ape descended creatures.  We visited some of the temples, and took a stroll through a local mud house village, where the people were great and everyone greeted us with smiles and namastays'.   On another note,  HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE.  Our midnight was spent on a rickety rickshaw bounding through dirt roads in India, and we were stoked to be having a unique experience as our proverbial ball fell.  I hope all of yours were unique and awesome as well, and for Gods sake will someone pleas have a beer for me, cause I am beginning to think beer went extinct in India.
   We somehow made it onto a train to Calcutta, and let me tell you it was by the skin of our skinless teeth.  First of all we didn't even have a real ticket, we were 39th and 40th on the list for one, and next we got on the wrong train.  So we stowed away and played it dumb, which worked out surprisingly well.  A good meal and a dirty hotels' night later we were off to the airport to catch our flight to Thailand.  So we must bid you farewell India, and hey you could do with a few more trash cans, and maybe a public toilet or two, and a few more sanitary engineers or an awesome janitorial team.  Well we love you all and remember what goes around comes around, if what your referring to is a boomerang.