Category: Uncategorized

Getting settled on Oahu, Hawaii

Almost 2 years in the making, my move to Oahu has finally come to fruition. At the end of January, myself, my boyfriend Jonathan and our dog Pono made the journey back home to the Hawaiian islands where we first met over 2 years ago.

Taking our dog to Hawaii was a feat in itself. We had to endure a 4-month waiting period because Hawaii is a rabies-free state. After getting our dog’s blood work done on the mainland and waiting, we were finally ready for takeoff on January 21st.

Pono flew well, and Hawaiian Airlines took excellent care of him. By the way, Hawaiian airlines is the best! Their seats are a soothing blue color and they play relaxing Hawaiian music when you are boarding the flight. They gave us a cheese and fruit platter and served everyone a “snack”: Maui onion chips and a free Mai Tai! I definitely recommend flying Hawaiian next time you visit. They will start your trip full of aloha.

We arrived at Jonathan’s family’s house in Honolulu. They put us up for several weeks while we hunted for an apartment. Jonathan’s mom and aunt are Korean, so we feasted on amazing dishes during our stay, including her one and only gochujang crab stew:

You can't even comprehend the deliciousness
You can’t even comprehend the deliciousness

Not to mention, his dad, who is Japanese, steamed 2 whole Opakapakas (Pink Snappers), then served them up with Chinese parsley, onions, green onions and crisped the skin with hot oil. This picture is before he set off the building’s fire alarm with the oil’s smoke:

Hawaiian pink snapper
Hawaiian pink snapper

After a few short weeks staying with Jonathan’s family, we were lucky enough to find a 1 bedroom privately owned condo in the Kapahulu neighborhood of Honolulu. We just love it here!

I can get used to this view from our lanai (balcony)
I can get used to this view from our lanai (balcony)

Of course, being on Hawaii, we had to hit up the beach. Pono has never been to the beach in Hawaii, so we wanted to take him somewhere he could stretch his legs off the leash. We took a trip to Bellows Field Beach Park in Waimanalo. It was a cloudy Sunday, but even a cloudy day in Hawaii is amazing.

You can see Pono on the left hand side of the photo exploring
You can see Pono on the left hand side of the photo exploring

A few days later, we decided to cruise up to the North Shore through Haleiwa town and to Waimea Bay Beach Park. In the winter, the waves and the wind make the beach not suitable for swimming except for aqua-man-like folks and brave surfers. The waves were crashing against the shore and a caution tape closed off much of the high-surf areas of the beach.

Waimea Bay Beach Park
Waimea Bay Beach Park

From the North Shore, we cruised around to the east side and visited Kualoa Regional Park in Kaneohe. I loved this place because it has great views of China Man’s Hat, and its relatively quiet, uncrowded and secluded. Not to mention the behemoth Ko’olau Mountains flank this beach park, making the scenery extraordinary. The waves are gentle because of a break wall, and there’s plenty of interesting creatures roaming about, including crabs, birds and roosters.

Jonathan and Pono enjoying a nice beach walk
Jonathan and Pono enjoying a nice beach walk

 

Me in front of China Man's Hat
Me in front of China Man’s Hat

 

The Ko'olau Mountains just across the street from the beach
The Ko’olau Mountains just across the street from the beach

Overall, an amazing day in paradise. We look forward to getting more and more settled into our new home and exploring more amazing places on this beautiful island. Aloha!

Kualoa Beach Park
Kualoa Beach Park

My crazy-awesome adventurous life!

Things are crazier than usual.

I’ve been traveling full-time for exactly 4 years now. It’s as if I ran straight off the stage at college graduation and into a vagabond gypsy van, chock full of the interesting characters I’d eventually meet on my travels, beckoning me to caravan along.

As it goes with traveling, once you catch the bug, it’s hard to shake it.

Since leaving my home of Chicago land about 4 years ago to broaden my horizons, I’ve visited and called the following places home: Philadelphia, PA, Australia, Hawaii (Big Island and Maui), Wyoming, San Diego and Temecula, Denver, Cortez (Colorado) and now back semi full circle to Wyoming. What a whirlwind of adventures!

Before I started traveling, I became obsessed with the idea of living a wild life. I ached to know what it was like to scrape by. I needed to live by the seat of my pants. I had to be taken aback by the magnificent scenery of my dreams.

I haven’t lived anywhere longer than 3 months in 4 years. When I say things are crazier than usual, the past year, I’ve been moving about every 1-2 months. I travel seasonably because I have to connect to this Earth and its scenery. It’s who I am and why I am.

Every time I go home and reconnect with old friends, they can’t believe that I’ve just blown into town or even have the freedom to come and go so naturally. I cherish the time I get to spend with close friends because it reminds me of where I come from and the person I used to be. Often, though, I feel ashamed to “boast” about my experiences, embarrassed by what they probably don’t or can’t say: I’m not capable of sitting still.

And they’re right. I opened a can of worms that first time I packed my car and headed east. Now I’m addicted, possibly for life. I absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way!

So here I am, raising my dog in a studio motel in Jackson, Wyoming, surrounded by incredible mountains and the charm only the west could provide. My boyfriend is just as crazy as me, lustful over any experience that is new, thrilling, wild or adventurous.

I just spoke with a writing mentor who is full of awe about my integrity and reminded me that it used to be acceptable for society to “get by” together in an insane world. Then America became money-hungry, brand hungry.

My writing career is finally starting to take shape. I’m going to be published in Mabuhay Magazine, the in-flight publication for Philippine Airlines. My dreams are coming to fruition. I can’t give up on my dreams of becoming real, old-fashioned travel writer.

The reason why I travel is the reason why I write: to share my experiences of this crazy world with others so they might just get up to some living themselves.

I’m done trying to box myself into a social media channel, tirelessly self-promoting and getting drowned out by stupid filtration systems that optimize more “relevant” (read: marketable) content. For so long I felt little value as a writer because I couldn’t get 10,000 twitter followers or a million blog subscribers. What I realize now is that that’s not my dream at all. That’s the dream of some profiteering dream-killer who wants to sell his ideas as my own.

I’ve gone rogue more than once and I’m finally giving up on the idea of writing engaging content for Buzz feed. I feel liberated. It’s like skipping all the neon flashy lights of New York City’s Time’s Square. Instead, I’ll be ducking in and out of dodgy Ramen noodle shops in Chinatown, feeling a sense of exhilaration only I could create.

And so, while I wrestle with what it means to live a normal life, which I’m sure is true of all of us, I’m not going to be afraid or embarrassed of who I am, my writing style or my lifestyle choices. We need more people to stand up to the man and live their lives the way they were always meant to. Mine happens to take the shape of a traveling waitressing act with a cute man and a mangy dog, but it’s mine and it’s perfect.

 

3 comments

Exploring the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon

I wake up in Portland city’s confines early in the morning and not surprisingly, it’s raining. The weather doesn’t deter my good mood, because today I’m going to explore the Columbia River Gorge National Recreation area. Nothing makes moss look a little greener than a light mist in the air.

The day starts with a walk around Laurelhurst Park in an ironically named part of the city for such an overcast day, Sunnyside. My couchsurfing host Tom and his shepherd dog Sadie are enjoying an off leash walk while I meander around the lake snapping pictures of ducks and flowers. The park is painfully beautiful, green and lush. It’s hard to hate the cold in the late winter air and the precipitation when you see how enchanted a simple tree can look in the temperate rain forest.

Portland
Flowers along the walk at Laurelhurst Park in Sunnyside

My travel companion for the day and good friend Jeff lives in Vancouver, Washington, just over the Oregon border. He picks me up and we’re off.

This is my first visit to the Pacific Northwest and I’m charmed at the scenery. Because of Oregon’s geographic location, snow, especially near Portland rarely falls. This day in March, the peaks of the gorge are dusted lightly with snow, making for a dramatic contrast to the gray sky.

Portland 2
The Columbia River Gorge view from Chanticleer Point

Our first stop heading east of the Columbia River Highway is Chanticleer Point which gives us our first vista of the gorge including the iconic Crown Point.

I pause to read about the gorge’s geological history and learn that molten basalt from cracks near the Idaho border shifted the Columbia River Gorge north to its current location. Due to some melting ice dams in Montana during the last Ice Age, water surged over the top of Crown Point, cutting through layers of stone quickly, thus creating the greatest concentration of high waterfalls in North America.

portland 3

This particularly piqued my interest. Not only was this initial vista impressive, but there were endless waterfalls along our drive to discover. Not a shabby afternoon for a girl from the flat Midwest.

We drive further and enter Guy W. Talbot State Park and I’m astounded by the sheer height of the surrounding trees. Because of the lush landscape, I am immediately reminded of fairy tales of my youth, half-expecting a fairy to grace us with its presence. This place is amazing.

After parking, we follow the paved path from the park for a short quarter-mile hike down to Latourell Falls, sometimes referred to as the lower falls. We access it after crossing a bridge which dates back to 1914 and was constructed with special lightweight materials because of the unstable, wet soil.

As we approach Latourell Falls, the mist from the falling water graces my face and gives me a chill. I’m not slighted or annoyed, but rather, exhilarated. The waterfall is pounding with an intensity I can only harvest respect for. I inch my way toward it, being careful to watch my step over the slippery rock. I finally get close enough to feel the earth rumbling beneath my feet and its power rocks me to my core.

Jeff enjoying the front-row view of Latourell Falls
Jeff enjoying the front-row view of Latourell Falls

We get back in the car and drive down the winding, old highway bursting with basalt lava flows, giant ferns and amazing twists, turns and curves. I love this drive; it’s nothing short of magical.

Jeff and I continue onward to the double-tiered Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest fall at 620 feet. Sourced from the underground Larch Mountain springs, it’s good to visit year-round. It doesn’t dry up in the summer like many other waterfalls.

A gaggle of tourists funnel up and around Benson Footbridge which allows for a bird’s eye view of the lower cascade. The bridge was built in 1914 by Simon Benson who also was one of the original builders of the old Columbia Highway.

I take a moment to look out at the entirety of the gorge from the bridge. The colors are stunning and ethereal; the way the sun refracts on the gorge wall makes the hues vivid and impressive. I can hardly believe that where I stand is place of natural beauty. It almost seems like a scene I might have conjured up in a dream.

The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls
The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls

All of the sights in the gorge are just a short 30 minute drive outside of Portland city proper, each stop along the way demanding proper attention.  Whether it was a short hike, a photo shoot or a stroll around to gain different perspectives of the forest, the Columbia River Gorge is a great place to visit any time of year.

The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls
The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls

On the ride back to the city, Jeff and I talked at length about the Pacific Northwest and its unique geographic location. We pull off at Cascade Locks and check out the Bridge of the Gods which spans between Oregon and Washington State.

The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls
The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls

The scene is romantic: A light fog mists the air as we walk the grassy park near the water. Suddenly the Union Pacific rolls by and blasts its harsh horn into the twilight. It’s chilly, damp, austere. The sun begins to set and the scene is warm, the trees evergreen. The Pacific Northwest in late winter is melting, renewing itself for a new day and season.

Dispatches from Thailand…Vol. 2

Many of you may remember the entertaining and cumbersome first installment of my week-long journey through Thailand. If you haven’t read yet, catch up here. Like I mentioned before, sometimes brutal honesty makes you plenty of enemies, but that is a risk I’m willing to take.

———————————————————————

The next morning we were awoken to the sound of the phone ringing –  the concierge. Our tour bus had arrived. We were about to embark on a long, seemingly endless day of travel down south to Koh Samui, but had we known beforehand how long the midnight train was to Koh Samui via Surat Thani, we wouldn’t have signed up for a day-long bus tour of rural Thailand tourist sites.

The tour van pulled up to our hostel and Madeline, Jess and I were the last three people to pile in with our suitcases, backpacks and luggage. Our van was jam-packed with Westerners, luggage up to their throats, and none of us knew where we were going. Some poor newlywed couple sat next to a teetering pile of luggage which threatened to topple onto them and crush their noble dreams for a future together.

This pilgrimage, it was clear, was not meant for the capricious traveler, the independent type who lusted to blaze their own trail. All of us tour-goers were jammed like sardines in the bus and stuck for hours with no getting out while the maniacal driver curved out of Bangkok and into the rural abyss.

Jess and Madeline had struck up a conversation with a young American girl from California who just finished her tenure teaching English in South Korea. She was talking about her experiences and travelling around Asia. She admitted that South Korea wasn’t “as fun” as an experience as she thought it would be, but she did love Japan. It was obvious she didn’t much care for Thailand.

“This country is just one big tourist trap! Every where you go, someone’s just trying to sell you something,” she complained.

I was inclined to agree with her based on what I had seen and experienced thus far. I had flashbacks of our tuk-tuk scam runaround. I knew that the experiences we were having were partly our fault. This is what I got for trying to cram a trip to Thailand in a week. Anywhere you go for only a week you’re likely to suffer, either knowingly or unknowingly, falling victim to a stereotypical tourist trap.

Our van shook onward and I watched people pass us on motor bikes against the swampy rice field backdrop. I was haunted by the severity of the scenery – the rice fields a poignant, verdant green, the sky overcast and the air thick with exhaust.

We finally arrived at Amphawa Floating Market, a rich cultural experience, easily turned tourist trap if you spend your time shopping, not eating. You will see the same souvenir you will find anywhere in Bangkok, the vendors attempting to earn top dollar, peddling it for as much as they could get away with.

After I blacked out and bought a pair of knock-off Birkenstocks, I made my way to the reason for the season: the floating food stalls. As far as the eye can see, large floating boats served up scrumptious goodies to hungry patrons. An old woman in a boat on the canal caught my eye – her collection of greens and spices could light up the night.

I got closer to observe her technique. She used a basket, filled it with noodles, then dunked it int a boiling pot of water. She then effortlessly put together one of the best meals of my life by preparing a bowl of fixings for the noodles: bean sprouts, cilantro, radishes, chives, chiles. She took the noodles out of their bath, poured some broth in the bowl, handed me some chopsticks and I dug in. It was a fantastically spicy little lunch.I enjoyed the smell of fish oil and relished in the sweet burn of my noodle bowl as my legs dangled freely off the side of the canal wall. While my feet flirted with skimming the water where this old Thai woman has been selling noodles probably her entire life, I realized I had the best seat in the house.

Back to haggling prices with vendors. Before waiting for our river cruise, Madeline, Jess and I had a bit more time to kill. Once you get started with shopping, it truly is hard to stop. The Thais are really good at approaching you, as if it was pre-destined that you would spend a chunk of change at their particular stall. They always knew you were coming, that you would haggle down, that you’d always meet somewhere in the middle, and before you know it, you’ve trotted away with a piece of junk you didn’t even want without even knowing what just happened. It’s a fun little sport, really. When you ask the price of a particular souvenir, they use a calculator to communicate:

“How much is this bag?” I asked

The vendor typed “800” on the calculator and showed me.

“No way!” I responded.

I took the calculator and typde “200,” offering them my rebuttal.

Before long we settle on something in the middle. It’s like gambling, but you pretty much always lose.

I felt embarrassed about some of our interactions with locals because I felt like a tourist, not a traveler. I vowed, against all costs, to not fall for the typical touristy debauchery. I’d much rather spend a good amount of time in one place, say 6 weeks to 3 months, exploring the intricacies of an area and getting to know it as a local. Instead, I swooped in for a week, got a taste, spent a bunch of money like a stupid, fat tourist, then left. It happened to me. Surely somewhere as rich and vibrant as Thailand was worthy of more than a week-long romp session at the markets, but there I was buying into the fantasy, which became my reality.

Our boat is finally ready for take-off, a welcome relief from the hot weather. We started cruising down the river and enjoyed a scenic ride. It was eye-opening. We passed rows of palms, houses along the river, in the river, built on planks ABOVE the river . . . a Southeast Asian Venice, if you will. But there weren’t any gondola drivers, just steadfast Thais chain-smoking and not really giving a shit when a particular sharp turn rendered half his passengers soaked. We passed houses with people doing their dishes outside, right in the river, soaping, rinsing, repeating. Dogs meandered about looking hopeless, laundry air-dried in the wind. Some locals waved as we passed. Most just stared.

Once the ride ended, we were escorted to a pavilion for lunch. A great thing about Thai people is that they absolutely love to eat. Makeshift food stalls adorn pretty much any corner – in the city or country – and any occasion is a good one to pop a little something in your mouth. Our spread for lunch was impressive – stir fried vegetables, cashew chicken, red curry chicken, pad Thai, pineapple pork and sticky rice. It didn’t matter that I had slurped down a bowl of noodles just an hour before. I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.

Inevitability, after getting our fill of spicy foods, we had to make a stop at the bathrooms. This was my first encounter with a squat toilet- essentially a porcelain hole in the ground you have to squat over, undoubtedly getting shredded quads in the process, a bucket of water and ladle sitting next to it to aid flushing. The idea is to squat, do your business, then ladle the water in to flush. I was flushed. How on Earth was I supposed to stay suspended for a undetermined amount of time (I did have plenty of spicy food, mind you) over a hole in the ground without making a mess? I did yoga, but nothing could have mentally or psychically prepared me for this endeavor.

Luckily, the Thais installed some Western toilets for people like me who are too ill-equipped to adjust to a hole in the ground. My run-in with the squat toilets were not nearly, over though. We would meet again on the ferry to Koh Samui and I had no choice, bumbling over waves, sea water jetting out from the hole in the ship’s bottom, to somehow balance and aim.

After lunch, it was back onto the tour bus for our next excursion: The Bridge over River Kwai. Jetlag, our old friend was starting to get to us, and it was hard to appreciate the gruesome history . At the time, we didn’t learn much about the once Death Bridge, used to haul cargo to India, built by POW and Asian slave laborers, many of whom lost their lives because of dangerous work conditions. Since the eerie visit and revisiting my photos, I’ve been able to appreciate the cultural significance of the bridge, but at the moment of our psychical presence, my brain was still somewhere sleeping in the Western world.

The next 20 hours feels like misery upon misery as we are stretched thinner and thinner, cramming more and more excursions in, hoping to eventually make it to our final destination – Koh Samui. It’s a miracle we lived through the weird and wonderful experiences that came next without losing our minds to jet-lag and exhaustion.

After putzing around the Bridge, we felt defeated and wanted the day to end as quickly as it had begun, wanting desperately to just make it to our night train so that we might finally be able to relax.  No dice. Next up was a visit to the Tiger Sanctuary.

No visit to Thailand is complete without a visit to the Tiger Sanctuary. I wasn’t entirely keen on the idea of petting a drugged out 1,000 pound cat, but hey, we had to stick to the itinerary. The tigers are sedated just enough that tourists can take pictures with them. Lovely. Upon our arrival, we were corralled around and had to change clothes into neutral colors. I suppose my neon pink raincoat would inspire the cat to take a giant bite of me. I could see it now: “American tourist mauled to death at exotic feline sanctuary.” That would look good on my resume, right?

We were led into the tiger canyon, our feet muddy from the recent downpour and our spirits temporarily lifted from having a few run-ins with local animals, like a herd of boars. Jess got in line to take a picture with the tigers, nearly all of them lying there, unmoved, drugged. Their handlers poked and prodded the beautiful beasts, wrestling them a little, too. I envisioned worse-case-scenarios playing out in every direction I looked. Over 50  tigers among the half-brained tourists lined up for pictures and one stood out. This one was chained to the Earth, seemingly adverse the effects of drugs. He paced back and forth quickly, scoping out the scene. He knew who was in charge here, even if the stupid humans temporarily forgot their roles.

After Jess’ picture, we dragged our sorry asses away from the tiger spectacle and were headed on the next adventure: a completely packed, hot 2-hour shuttle bus drive to our night train that would somehow eventually deliver us to Koh Samui. As we rode through rural Thailand, I thought I was going to die. The combination of jet-lag, hot temperatures, close proximity to strangers and mind-bending experiences was enough to send me into a near panic state. I literally felt terrible. There was no down time on this trip.

We stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break an hour outside of our train stop. The rest of the crew would ride further on to Bangkok. I actually felt bad for them. Another hour on the bus and that would be the end for me. I’d either die of exhaustion or frustration, or simply become a cold-blooded killer, running through these foreign streets, wielding what? My backpack, blood-thirsty for revenge against anyone who dared put me in this situation, until of course, I happen upon a mirror and see my own sorry reflection staring back at me.

Finally we are dropped off at our train station, the three of us, our prospects looking grim. We’re starved, but still find the energy to haul our things over to the platform while Madeline inquires about our train’s departure time.

I find a bathroom and pay the troll 5 Baht to hopefully have a Western toilet to relieve myself. Could I be so lucky? YES! No toilet paper, but I have that covered with a little shimmy shake technique I picked up on the road, the little resourceful traveler that I am.

Unfortunately, our luck runs dry there.

“Our train doesn’t come for another 3 hours!,” Madeline reports.

We look around at our situation, where we’re forced to kill 3 hours before sweet, lovely salvation of sleep is reached: We are in the threshold of Hell…or at least some version of it. Trains pass by, choking us with black, hateful exhaust. *Side note: The pollution in Thailand is such a cause for concern that Jess continuously challenges the queen to take a ride around the country with her so that she can personally point out how, exactly, her people are living.*

We’re disgusted in many ways by this train station and can’t help but feel exhausted, miserable, and although we’re together (and the only Westerners in sight), our spirits have dropped to an all-time low. We feel alone.

Time crawls and we try scoping out this little town for food. We go in shifts, as someone has to watch all our belongings. Madeline agrees to sit with the bags and Jess and I venture off in search of sustenance.

It was dark as we walked down the street, a temple glistening in the distance. A nice sight to take in, but not helping our ravishing bellies. We step over a decrepit man sleeping literally in the street, not even on the sidewalk. I’m careful not to step on him, motorbikes whizzing past me, not paying attention and nearly running me over. I guess what people notice differs.

We walk up the block, make time to snap a few pictures of the temple, incredibly, given that we’re starving and crabby, on the brink of a psychotic episode. We scour the streets for a reputable place to buy something eat, giving up and resigning to our likely dinner of fish-flavored chips at 7-11 when we spot it: A food stand! With a line of locals! Score!

We have no idea what we’re ordering or where we are going to eat it, but by the looks of it, a bag of fried chicken pieces and a bowl of soup is the popular choice. When it’s my turn to order, I attempt to signal something that might resemble “1 Please!” Everyone in line turns around and stares at me. The woman/man taking order glares at me and literally has black eyes. His/her hair is spiky and reminds me of an unfriendly cat. Jess has similar “success” as she manages to order a bag of fried whatevers.

We sit and not long after, they deliver to us our treasure: DINNER, in a far-off land with no one around who knows our names or speaks our tongue. Jess and I conclude that her meal is pork rinds (who could really be sure, though) and my soup is a safe bet, but the meat is of rather mysterious origin.

Before traveling to Thailand, I studied up briefly and read a chef’s comment on Thailand’s street food: “Just bloody well eat it!” As I took the brave plunge again and again, the chef’s advice rang in my ears.

After getting our fill, we returned back to the train station, just in time to realize that our 2-hour wait-a-thon starts now.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

Meet our adventure seeking, debt-crushing soul machine!

She’s our pretty little baby. Our pride and joy. And she drinks like a drunk and makes one reminisce fondly of the 80s, when life had soul and class. She’s our 1985 Class C Travelcraft RV.

Here she is!
Here she is!

I’m proud of this little beauty for several reasons:

1. She signifies freedom: No leases, no leashes. There is no worse feeling that working a job you hate, being stuck in a financial commitment to someone else. What’s up with that? We want wind in our hair, the freedom to break free and explore and let the wind blow us where we may. Traditional life is not set up for that hippie dippie shit. So we wrote our own rules.

Home is where ever you park it!
Home is where ever you park it!

2. She makes financial sense:  When our truck broke down last summer, so did the traveling seasonal lifestyle. I was heartbroken, but I knew we had to hunker down and save some money. Luckily Jon came into a bit of money and we purchased our new RV for $4,250 (A steal because it’s in GREAT shape!). Now we are “home-owners” and our home is absolutely and 100 percent paid off. All the money we earn now will go almost exclusively to savings and our next adventure instead of paying a nameless face money for rent.

We are paying not even $300/month to park our RV and have full hook-up in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in the country, if not world. We are living and working in Yellowstone National Park on a contract. We earn very good money. Hardly any of it will be pissed away to rent.

Parked at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir in Wyoming
Parked at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir in Wyoming

3. She represents a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle that I’m proud of: Because of the lifestyle here, we will be going to bed around sun-down, awaking at sunrise more or less, consuming less electricity. Not to mention, everything in an RV is SMALLER, so we require MUCH less energy to house us than traditional apartments or homes. We have a generator for dry camping and water tanks, meaning we could live off-the-grid for longer periods of time. I hope one day to install solar panels so we can truly be self-sufficient!

The interior...You gotta admit, she's got stttyyllleee!
The interior…You gotta admit, she’s got stttyyllleee!

4. RVing is fun!: We are now “Free Agents” and can live where we choose for as long as we choose. As I said, we are currently in Yellowstone National Park. I literally have Bison and Elk in my backyard. I can go watch for wolves and spot bald eagles. Nature is the antidote to a stressful lifestyle. Not to mention, without the $1450 monthly rent and bills looming over our head, it’s a pleasure to watch our bank accounts grow and plan for our next adventure.

When you feel stuck in the grind, remember there are options. I  hated my job in Denver. It was stupid to have to work that much and save (if I was LUCKY) $20 a week. Now I’ll be able to save much much more than that to finance my lifestyle. After getting settled in here at YNP, there is a sense of calm I hadn’t experienced in quite some time. Anxiety used to be my closest companion in Denver. I never saw Jon because of his odd hours. When I did see him, I wanted all the fun things of our relationships crammed into our short, if even existent weekend: Flirting, cooking, adventuring, love-making, taking the dog out, exercising, etc. These things in a relationship are supposed to happen naturally, but when you are strapped for time, it’s impossible. Now we work together which is very nice (a lot of couples in the seasonal world work together. It’s a marvelous experience!) and have a bunch of free time together. We understand each others’ struggles at work and we aren’t struggling in our personal lives. I couldn’t be happier!

DSCN1228

I will post tips and tricks to living in an RV full-time for those curious about it. The benefits far outweigh the sometimes minor inconveniences and I would love to share them with you.

Also, we are busy planning our next adventure already, as our contract here ends October 7th! I think somewhere sunny and warm for the winter might do the trick. We hear the Florida Keys are nice that time of year! 🙂

Freedom at dusk
Freedom at dusk

Rocky Mountain Runaround

The Colorado mountain towns are enchanting. It’s hard to see them in the distance from Denver’s city center, beckoning weekend go-getters and warriors to traverse its beauty while working the grind. It’s a nice treat for anyone to explore the Rocky Mountains, and Breckenridge, Vail and Steamboat Spinrgs, all world-renowned ski destinations are equally awesome places to visit in the summer.

We picked 4th of July weekend for a visit. The traffic up the mountain on 70 West was treacherous, but the scenery more than made up for it. The first stop was Frisco, a fun little mountain town with a scenic lake and trail system. After hunkering down accommodations for the night, it was off to Breckenridge for a little exploring.

What a town! The gondola runs right through it and its as if you are living in a snow globe, minus the snow in the summer, of course. We parked and took a stroll through town. The river runs through it and there are several restaurant and bar patios that over look the river. Even the touristy Bubba Gump’s had a quaint charm!

River running through Breckenridge
River running through Breckenridge

 

Lunch was at Downstairs at Eric’s, a divey family fun joint located downstairs on the main drag. It was like a local’s version of Dave and Buster’s. The good news was that they had cheap pitchers of PBR ($6!) and the most delicious Thai peanut wings I’ve ever tasted.

Enjoying some exploration of Downtown Breckenridge
Enjoying some exploration of Downtown Breckenridge

After strolling up and down the main drag, enjoying the scenery, we took a gondola ride up to the resort. Some mountain towns charge an arm and a leg for a lift up the mountain (Steamboat Springs in the summer is $22 one way per adult!), but in Breckenridge, it’s free! We enjoyed some mountain scenery, climbing up and up, and eventually riding down and down.

Getting Rocky Mountain High
Getting Rocky Mountain High

Next we took the scenic drive to Vail. Vail was charming in a European Resort town sort of way. Everything is ritzy, glitzy and glamorous. The hoi paloi sit around eating $18 BLT sandwiches, rocking their Ralph Lauren Polo shirts. If you can get past the dichotomy of rich mountain living, Vail is a cool spot to cruise on the free shuttle between the villages, catch some live music in the square and people watch.

Driving to Vail
Driving to Vail

We opted to save our hard-earned money on a not-so affordable-anyhow sushi dinner back in Frisco. The catch to mountain towns? Everything’s expensive! Pack groceries from home if you want to save a buck!

Instead of calling it quits and heading back to the city limits the next day, we made the pilgrimage to Steamboat Springs for the day. I love Steamboat Springs because it’s off the beaten path. Breck and Vail are relatively close to Denver, but Steamboat is a good 3 hour haul. The drive out there is unbelievably scenic, rustic and full of western charm.

Upon arriving, it being the fourth of July and all, the city was bustling with activity! Old cars revved up and down downtown Steamboat. The Yampa River, which courses through the city, was teeming with tubers, rafters and kayakers. BBQ smoke could make even a vegetarian salivate and red, white and blue adorned street lights and corners all over town.

Keepin' it classy
Keepin’ it classy

We grabbed lunch at a nifty family deli and butcher called Steamboat Meat and Seafood Co. They serve up tasty Boar’s Head sandwiches, cold cuts, seafood and steaks. We enjoyed lunch on the patio, watching families float the Yampa. It was a quintessential All-American afternoon.

Good 'ol fashioned fun!
Good ‘ol fashioned fun!

Facing a daunting 3 hour journey back to Denver, we called it quits and relished in the views of the rolling mountains and hills on the way back to the city limits. Calmed by the country’s placating effects, we watched fireworks from our apartment window that were being blown off over Coor’s Field. One can say that this was on the of the best 4th of July’s in recent memories.

 

And the river runs on just the same, in Steamboat Springs, Co.
And the river runs on just the same, in Steamboat Springs, Co.

Give me a home, where the puppy dogs roam…In Evergreen, Colorado

Colorado is an amazing place for several reasons: 300 days of sunshine a year (in Denver, at least), craft beer practically free-flowing from water fountains, liberal politics, amazing festivals…I can go on and on.

So it didn’t catch me by surprise when my neighbor recommended perhaps the most amazing off-leash dog park I’ve ever seen. Among other amazing attributes that make Colorado famous, it’s probably most loved for its limitless outdoor recreation opportunities.

Elk Meadow in Evergreen, Colorado was no exception. The ride from Denver is about 35 minutes up the mountain to Jefferson County. You are immediately greeted with open spaces, amazing mountain vistas, lush evergreen trees and incredible fresh air. Mountain bikers race past your car and even McDonald’s looks worth a visit with its log cabin motif.

DSCN0946

Upon arriving in Evergreen, you’ll notice it’s a quaint mountain town with plenty of opportunity to explore its natural beauty. Elk Meadow Park spans roughly 1600 acres and offers hiking, biking and views of the Continental Divide. Most importantly for dog owners, though, it offers an off-leash dog recreation area.

The off-leash dog area is about 2 miles down the road from the main entrance to Elk Meadow Park. Once you arrive, especially if it’s a weekend, you’ll be greeted by a boatload of furry friends and their owners’ cars. We didn’t have a problem parking, as people are coming and going all day long.

DSCN0943

Enter Elk Meadow Off-Leash Park. An amazing lush landscape literally tucked into the mountains where dogs can roam free! Best of all, you can get your hike on while Fido runs alongside of you, playing with other amazing, fun dogs along the way.  There are two spacious fenced in areas for doggy playtime, as well as nearly 3 miles in trails and a creek for the dogs to play in. TIP: There is no water here for dogs, so make sure to bring some for your furry friend! With over 107 acres to explore, you and your dog will surely get thirsty.

Everything is awesome!
Everything is awesome!

Pono, Jon and I hiked 2 loops while enjoying the great scenery. Anyone in the metro Denver area must immediately bring their dog to this park. It’s by far the best place I’ve seen. Even if you don’t have a dog, this park is worth a visit just for the hiking and views alone. The best part is, it’s only a short drive from the city. Once you get your country fix, you can head on back to the city and catch happy hour. Score!

To learn more about Elk Meadow and their Off-Leash Dog Park, visit : http://jeffco.us/parks/parks-and-trails/elk-meadow-dog-off-leash-area/

Hangin' with other dogs on the trail
Hangin’ with other dogs on the trail

Rockin’ out at Red Rocks, Colorado

An easy day trip for any Denverite looking to get out of the city confines is Red Rocks Amphitheater, just 15 miles west of Denver in Morrison, Colorado. The only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world, it’s well worth the price tag to see your favorite musician jam out under the stars. What’s more is that Red Rocks Park has 868 acres of land to hike and explore.

Beginning the hike: remember, Fido has to be on a leash!
Beginning the hike: remember, Fido has to be on a leash!

My sister and I took the short, pleasant drive from Denver to Red Rocks this past Saturday to do some hiking. It’s open everyday of the week, the trails opening an hour before sunrise and closing an hour after sunset, giving you ample time to explore this unique geological region. It’s at 6,450 feet elevation, so be prepared to be a little short of breath when hiking and to drink plenty of water while you acclimate. After you’ve caught your breath due to the thinning air, you’ll have to catch it again as the sight of the magnificent rock formations come into view.

DSCN0892

After parking, we decided to check out the amphitheater itself, where “all the magic happens,” so to speak.  After climbing up what seemed like hundreds of stairs, the music venue took shape. We were between two giant monoliths, Ship Rock and Creation Rock. Whilst taking in the view, I was nearly bowled over a few times by hustling work-out fanatics. Red Rocks Amphitheater is an outdoor enthusiasts dream: fitness buffs jogged up and down the stairs, frog jumping up the bleachers and doing push ups in any space they could find. There must have been over 100 people getting their daily workout on, but it hardly felt THAT crowded. The open air and scenic view made the space feel infinite.

You'll feel small next to this thing!
You’ll feel small next to this thing!

We decided to hike the 1.4 mile loop trail called Trading Post Trail. Red Rocks park is unique because it’s comprised of two different zones simultaneously: the great plains and the high mountains. Hiking along the trails, observing the beautiful red sandstone rock formations, you are greeted by dry, arid conditions and cacti, but round the corner and you hear a bubbling stream and observe verdant, rolling hills in the background.

DSCN0902

There is no lying: in the hot, midday sun with the elevation and rocky conditions, this hike is moderate. After hiking for about 2 hours around Red Rocks park, my sister and I were beat. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be in good physical condition to hike the surrounding area. The views and the fresh mountain air are worth the trek.

DSCN0904

Red Rocks Park is completely free. On days of concerts, the park closes down in the early afternoon, so plan accordingly. I want to go back around sunrise or sunset to see the way the light refracts off the red rocks. On a clear day, you can see Denver’s Downtown skyline, so keep your eyes peeled!

Tips:

Bring plenty of water

Wear hiking shoes or gym shoes. The terrain gets slippery with broken rock shards.

If you bring your furry four-legged friend (as I did), they have to remain on the leash at all times.

It’s a pretty high traffic area on the weekends, so don’t expect to “escape it all.” You’ll be taking plenty of tourists’ photos, but the good news is, you’ll have someone to snap yours!

Don’t forget your camera

And oh yes…have a great time!

On the futility of staying thin

I’ve always been semi-hedonistic. Growing up, I had to attend P.M. kindergarten because I couldn’t get out of bed before 10 a.m. As a baby, my mom told me that I would sleep 9 hours throughout the night, take 2, 3 hour naps throughout the day, then go to sleep around 9 p.m. for the night. I must have been a godsend.

In between the hours of blissful shut-eye, there was another pass-time I enjoyed immensely. To this day, it proves to be one of the driving forces behind my life decisions: food. I love to eat. I always have and I always will.

I spent mornings sitting, watching cartoons, messy-haired and happy to be devouring white toast slathered in real butter. In was so sweet, salty and perfect. The best way to ease into a day. I’d “help” my mom bake, bemoaning to lick the spoon after she was done mixing.

Lunch was, and still is, the best part of the day. Nothing bad could happen between the hours of 11-2, and I’m still beholden to that. Why would world leaders wage war when they could so easily suggest, “How ’bout lunch?”

Lunch for me was a time to sit in my yellow chair watching Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles and eat my beloved lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of American yellow cheese, potato chips and french onion dip. Day after day I would look forward to this lunch. I STILL look forward to this lunch if I have the ingredients lying around. Some people have fried chicken and waffles, some Afghan kabobs with yogurt sauce, some a hot bowl of lentils, or dried cuttlefish candy. Me? I had Jay’s potato chips and Dean’s French Onion Dip. And all was always right with the world.

I’ve always been chubby. Recently, I said to my boyfriend, a bit playfully, but still exasperated, “Baby, there’s something you have to know. No matter what I do, how much I work out or watch what I eat, I will always be a little chubby.”

“You’ll always be a little sexy,” he replied.

It made me feel better. I can’t say that I’ve necessarily resigned to having a little junk in the trunk. I COULD eat nothing but clean and work out hardcore 6 days a week. But that’s not me. I’m more of a sloth, kicked into high gear occasionally by an oppressive predator. Once my psyche gets to me, I’m more conscious, making good food decisions, running miles on the treadmill. But the whole time, I must say, I’m wondering about the new restaurant across the street’s small plates menu. Could an amuse-bouche be the end of all my hard work?

It wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii that I truly realized all the food offerings out there. Suddenly I wasn’t in the land of sausages, hot dogs, roast beef, fried chicken and popcorn (Chicago). I was eating fresh fruit off the tree. Not that I hadn’t eaten fruit before, but there’s something deliciously sinful about living in the Garden of Eden, more or less, and sucking down a ripe Papaya or Pineapple. “Forbidden Fruit,” I thought to myself.

I met traveller’s from all over the world. We would cook and concoct for hours in the open-air kitchen with whatever anyone had in their pantry or could forage from the property. It was a much more authentic version of the cooking show “Chopped” except we didn’t know any time limit. In fact, the cooking sessions would downright become the staple of the better part of the evening. From the hours of 4-8 p.m, we would build menus, source ingredients, blend, chop, add some kava or maca for a little VA-VA-VROOM, taste, dance, smoke, laugh, then serve up an amazing meal.

We’d make vegetable curry, wild boar pulled pork sandwiches with homemade pineapple chutney, Molokai sweet potato hash with truly free-range chicken eggs. I remember the first time I cracked open a chicken egg from one of the chickens living on our property. Holding it in my hand, the egg was relatively smaller than the ones I was used to. I had a carton of eggs in the fridge from the grocery store, imported from the mainland. After cracking our free-range chicken’s egg into a bowl, I was delighted: The yolk was a magnificent shade of orange. It was like the rising sun in my bowl. No wonder it had become a staple of the American breakfast. Out of curiosity, I cracked open a store-bought egg into a bowl and compared then. Gone was the deep, beautiful hue of the yolk. It was replaced by a dull, barely yellow yolk. If it could stand up-right, it would be flaccid and defeated, like a punch-drunk boxer.

It was these experiences and more than made me consider food’s role in my world. It was, I decided, the love of my life. Before moving to Hawaii, my first real foray into a city’s foodie scene was Philadelphia. Living on the east coast was a chance for me to sample eclectic, traditional and ethnic cuisines from all over the world, with a regional flare.

My first job in Philadelphia was working at a French-inspired bruncherie in center city. Everything was home made from scratch, down to the pork sausage. The owner Marshall was a young, determined and skillful chef. He like to get his hands dirty and do things his own way. Afterall, it was HIS restaurant. This was my first experience working in a chef owned and operated restaurant. Things were fun, chaotic and reminiscent of a family.

One day I clocked in for my shift. It was my turn to juice the oranges, a job in which I despised. It was always a sticky mess and it seemed a very big waste. Not much juice comes from one orange, mind you. The machine we had made the job relatively easy, but contributed to a lot of waste and took a good hour to scrub clean. Before rolling up my sleeves and getting the sticky mess on with, I went to the back to say hello to the kitchen as I normally did to start my shift.

After making my way past the dishwashers, I wanted to say Hi to Marshall. I rounded the corner and there it was: a full, dead pig. Marshall had a crazed, but gleeful look in his eye, as he was butchering the animal right before my eyes.

“How are ya, Jill?”, he asked casually.

As Marshall and I explained pleasantries, the pig’s eyes stared lifelessly up at the ceiling.

“How long is this going to take?,” I asked, nodding toward the dead swine.

“A few hours, at least. It takes a long time to properly butcher a pig. This guy right here will supply all the meat for our restaurant for the next month,” Marshall said.

I was shocked. A month? I imagined someone in the dining room ordering a side of bacon. Marshall would be in the back, a mad-scientist, his knife glimmering and say, “Coming right up!” He would hack here, hack there, and suddenly, a side of glistening, greasy, delicious bacon would appear. The brunch guest would be appeased, if only for a moment. And it would continue on like this. A side of scrapple? “2 minutes!” Marshall would cry, and he would slice and dice, and the pig would just lie there and produce pork products for the masses. All month long, a sadistic turn and burn.

Of course it didn’t happen like that. Marshall would butcher the pig, package and prepare the meats for smoking outside if necessary, label them and put them in the walk-in freezer, or fridge. He would send us waitresses occasionally in the walk-in for more items for the line.

I consider myself pretty tough, but watching that pink-skinned animal in its entirety being made into pork products seemed like massacre. But, a deliciously intriguing massacre. I remember stopping to snap a photo of Marshall holding the pigs head next to his own, knife in one hand. He had done it. I had witnessed it. Now I could get back to juicing oranges.

On and on like this, throughout my years. Food coming and going. Things I had to try. Samples that demanded I pop into my mouth. Working shifts at restaurants when I would be starving and staff meal was the saving grace, besides hopefully walking with $200 and having a shift drink.

So how could I imagine that I would stay thin? The only thing that would and could stay was food. Food was always with me. I will always be hungry, physically and emotionally for food. I salivate when I look at restaurants’ Yelp pages. I make lists of all the new places I want to try. I have to read all the chefs’ memoirs, of their cruel and demented accounts of the food industry. It’s like passing a car accident without looking. You can’t help but get sucked into it.

I have accepted that I will never be skinny. I made a vow to stay healthy, though. If food and I could walk hand and hand into the sunset, never to be seen again, we would. And we will. But I will have control, even if it’s recognizing food’s role in my life and respecting it. It’s not all about taste and texture. Ultimately, it’s nourishment. Eating is something we essentially have to do everyday to survive. It’s a blessing, and a curse for some who struggle with weight management. Nourishment is the first instinct we seek upon birth. We seek nourishment from our mother’s bosom. As we grow older, we seek nourishment from Mother Earth’s bounty. And we do, as we continue, on the circle of life.

Just like the sweet massacre of the pig, so has been the role of food in my life. I have hated and loved eating simultaneously. I have enjoyed a meal so much, I never wanted it to end. I have hated the way certain meals had made me feel. In the end though, my amazing body would process the nourishment, and I would forge on. The food had done its job to sustain me. Now it was my turn to psychologically process what had just happened. Should I do it again? Would I eat that again? Will I spend my hard-earned money at this restaurant again?

People are picky about what they eat, and for good reason. The old adage rings true, “You are what you eat.” I guess it means I eat a little chubby, sometimes. And that’s okay, because the extra meat on ribs springs forth a conversation, evokes a thought. My food produces food for thought. It springs forth a litany of conversations, arguments, essays. It’s role has met and exceeded all of my expectations, like a humble, gracious, long-term employee. All it asks in return is a little respect. And that will take me a long way.

 

Dispatches from Thailand…Vol. 1

I’ve debated for the longer part of 2 years whether I wanted to publish this, either on my own blog or pitch it out. Out of fear of ashaming and outing a once good friend due to circumstances beyond my control, I believe the friendship is exhausted, unfortunately. There’s no reason to keep the following a secret. After all, all the best writers make plenty of enemies.

———————————————————————

I’d never go back for only a week. And that’s only the beginning.

The trip was Madeline’s idea: she’d backpacked through southeast Asia just after high school. She raved about the food, the culture, the amazing scenery. I was all in.

Here we were 23 hours from where started, somewhere on the other side of the world – a far cry from Chicago. Three girls on a half-brained scheme to tour Thailand in one week. The plan was simple: Meet up with Madeline and her flight attendant friend Jess, use their airline benefits (thank you flight attendants of the world!) to jet off to the other side of the world, practically for free, and take in the sights. Stupidly, I had agreed to let Madeline play tour guide, given she had been to Thailand before. There was no backup plan. It was all here and now.

We were hot sweaty and jetlagged at Bangkok’s airport. First order of business: money.

We elbowed our way through the crowds as best we could on the moving platform to the ATM. First rule of international travel? Let your banking institution know you’re going.

Jess and I successfully withdraw the equivalent of $100 US money to play around with. It comes in the form of Baht, the Thai currently. It’s enough for the cab fare to the hotel and a beer and a bite, at least.

It’s Madeline’s turn. Her card won’t spit out any Baht; it’s been placed on temporary lock. She didn’t tell the bank she’d be out of the county.

“It’s okay Madeline, we have you covered this time,” I offered.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me!,” Madeline lamented. “This trip just isn’t meant to be! I’m leaving on the next flight home!”

The luxury and curse of at-your-fingertip flight access is that you are afforded the opportunity to make rash decisions. If she really wanted to, in her frustrated, travel-wearied state, Madeline could have caught the next flight out to Narita, Japan and wait for the next plane back to Chicago. How anyone could manage that, mentally or emotionally, after flying so many miles is beyond me, but it was certainly possible.

I had never seen someone so angry over something so little. Surely neither I nor Jess would leave her at the airport empty-handed. We would spot her some cash until tomorrow.  In any case, Madeline stomped off, leaving Jess and I bewildered and abandoned in a foreign city I knew next to nothing about (*Note: always have a Plan B in case you tour guide loses it).

Jess and I spent the next hour trying desperately to find Madeline in the seemingly endless airport, which was somehow BUSTLING at 1 a.m. After traveling 7,000 miles in 23 hours and dragging around our luggage, we came across the “Lost and Found.” Miraculously, through a combination of broken English and sign language, we were able to croak out, “We lost our friend! She ran away. Can you page her?”

The search was futile. Resigning to the fact that Madeline was probably listening to the safety procedures and preparing for liftoff to go back home, we grabbed a cab from the tourist booth- another mistake that cost us 1000 Baht, about 600 more Baht than the standard fare.

It was hot and muggy, even at 1 a.m. I could tell we weren’t in the states anymore. Hello Bangkok!

We were driving on the left side of the road. Our cabbie didn’t speak a lick of English, nor did we speak a lick of Thai. He tried to find our hotel for the better part of an hour, circling around the immediate vicinity, but not quite able to pin point it. I can’t lie: I was scared. The cabbie drove, backed up, turned around, doing this ugly dance about 10 times, narrowly avoiding a family of five on a motorized bike zooming past us.

We saw the streets. In Bangkok, it’s all about the STREETS. The streets were alive. They breathed and omitted pollution. They sold sex and dinner for 30 baht and offered Thai massage, lottery tickets and turtles in a bag. Stray dogs were everywhere. And so were the lady boys.

Jess, rather naively, questioned: “Who are all these girls? And what are they doing out so late?”

Only the discerning eye could tell that these girls where actually lady boys, or transgender/cross dressing Thai men who make natural women look like dogs. They are every bit as beautiful as natural women, but their disgusting offerings cheapened them to the likes of a whore. Lady boys continuously primp themselves, hoping for a fare, some business. Like robots on a programmed schedule, they pull out their compact, cake on some more powder and touch up their lipstick. A lady boy’s vanity rivals any sane (or insane for that matter) woman’s.  When not putsing around in mile-high heels over open sewers and smoking cigarettes, they traipse over to 7/11 to buy Pepsi, not making eye contact with anyone, but hoping desperately to be seen, if not touched.

We finally make it to the hotel and start a frantic plea to the overnight concierge: “Our friend Madeline’s not feeling good. She went home–” we start, as the room was in her name, with her credit card.

“Madeline from Chicago? She’s already here and checked in,” the concierge offered.

A cruel joke.

We ride up to the fourth floor, our jaws agape in disbelief and anger. We’re speechless. We walk into our room, and there she is: completely showered, relaxed.

“What took you guys so long?” Madeline asks.

She’s been looking for us! What a laugh. We try to avoid an all-out war. My head is spinning with images of the Bangkok streets and in the battle of me versus jetlag, the latter is the promising victor. Madeline offers a lame apology and we all simultaneously collapse into bed.

No one sleeps. Like on the plane ride, I lay with my eyes closed for five hours and think “good enough” around 6 a.m. to head down to breakfast.

By 7 a.m. we’re down at the continental breakfast, happy to be alive, munching on home made Pad Thai, fruit, and fueling up on the best goddamn coffee I’ve ever had. Three cups later we make a loose plan of action.

Madeline suggests the tourist mecca known as Koh San Road to start, so we head in that direction.

Again on the streets. Every other corner is a rummage sale trying to peddal worthless and probably illegal goods. I contemplated buying one of many passports lining the sidewalk. Surely a cool, albeit illegal souvenir.

After a few blocks, a friendly Thai history teacher intercepts us.

“It’s your lucky day!” the teacher began. “Today is a holiday!”

Yes! There was some light at the end of the tunnel after a long and shitty travel day. Little did we know,  any scamming Thai local will lead you to believe it’s a holiday for 20 Baht!

According to our new tour guide, today was the one special day of the year that an extra special Thai temple was open to the public. He even summoned a “Government Official” tuk-tuk for our traveling needs. Our driver agreed to take us all around Bangkok for 15 Baht.

I felt so special. “How could I be so lucky?” I thought as we piled in for the ride of our life.

Tuk-tuks are more of a novelty turned headache. We crammed in, the 3 of us, and zoomed off into the streets of Bangkok, destination and destinies unknown. All we knew was that we were going to see some rare shit, and that was good enough. Who wouldn’t want to be us?

We weaved in and out of traffic, our driver beeping indiscriminately at anyone who dared cross his path or THOUGHT about crossing his path. In a pair of gray Converse, the peddle was to the metal as we whizzed up streets, over bridges and through neighborhoods. It didn’t matter that none of us knew where we were going, where we would end up. We were going somewhere, doing something, somewhere far off, exotic. How many people could say that?

We arrived at our first Buddhist temple. I didn’t quite know how to act. I’m sure this place was sacred, so I just acted cordial, on my best behavior. I heard Monks chanting in the distance.

“I’ll wait here,” our driver said beside his Government Official tuk-tuk.

We took pictures outside of the temple before removing our shoes and entering. There were a few people inside praying along with the monks who make a sea of orange with their cloaks. I stared in awe at the giant Buddha. It glistened in the hot Thai sun. A magnificent sight, surely, but a whirlwind nonetheless.

Back to the tuk-tuk driver. We zoomed through the streets again, choking on pollution, snapping selfies and making up for lost bonding time. We continued to visit random temples. They were all beautifully adorned with gold, statues, and outfitted with chanting monks. All of them were nice, but the trip was becoming repetitive. Jetlag was starting to settle in along with exhaustion.

Madeline piped up to the driver that we wanted to be dropped off at the water taxi so that we might cruise up the river to get to Chinatown.

“We have to get gas coupons first,” the driver said.

We arrived at a tailor shop. Upon walking in I saw expensive coats, jackets, furs, ties and other accessories. It was hot as hell outside, much too hot to think about buying a winter coat. I wasn’t  interested and neither were the girls.

It turns out we had been scammed. We were harassed to buy cashmere coats and silk ties for an exorbitant amount of money. No wonder our ride only cost 15 Baht. When we refused to pay or counter offer them, the shop owner called us stupid and chased us out of the store.

Jess talked to our driver and pleaded with him to drop us off at the river ferry.

“I want my day of pay!” the driver demanded.

He made off with $6 US, obliged to drop us off at the ferry.

We rode the ferry toward Chinatown. The river was pretty nasty. In fact, a lot of areas of Bangkok are pretty nasty. The streets are strewn with litter, people are sleeping in the streets, feral cats and dogs with open wounds and mangy hair are scrounging for food, komono dragons lurch out of city sewer pipes, I mean, you name it.

The river ferry is fun and no-nonsense. Every stop is a dock, and the ferry stops ALMOST long enough for everyone to get on, but hardly. The ferry driver routinely leaves behind around a dozen people who may or may not have had one foot on the boat already. The ferry zooms forth, and poor, unsuspecting suckers are left stranded, scratching their heads with no choice but to wait for the next maniacal captain.

We arrived to Chinatown and I was feeling bad, dizzy. I was tired, cranky and starving: I was hangry (*Note: Hungry + Angry = Hangry).

Asian food is good, probably one of my favorite cuisines.  I have my first of many street vendor meals in Thailand from a Pad Thai cart. Basically the rule of thumb for ordering food in Thailand is to just point to what everyone else is eating and say, “1 please!” Minutes later, steaming hot noodles with mystery meat, peanuts, cilantro and chili arrive. You have to top it off with chili flakes, fish sauce and peppers (all found on any respectable make-shift table in S.E. Asia) and you’re set for foodie bliss. Let the magical ingredient combination wash over you and save your tortured soul! Sweet misery!

I down my noodles and some water and feel better…if only for a moment. My travel companions turn out to be typical women: shoppers. I’m screwed.

We hit the markets of Bangkok’s Chinatown. If you really want to go a bender, go to Chinatown jetlagged. It’s crowded, and I mean arm-to-arm, can’t move, just-get-pushed-to-the-next-place-like-you’re-on-a-conveyor-belt crowded. A veritable labyrinth of stalls, women, junk selling for mere pennies in wholesale quantities. There are women in colorful burkas from the middle east buying purses in bulk, people snatching up umbrellas, fans, stickers, earrings, wallets, shirts, sunglasses, junk upon junk for as far as the eye can see.

In between what appears to be a never-ending alleyway of stores, going deeper and deeper into a dark abyss (sunlight is void the further you meander), turning you into a shopping zombie, the occasional motorbike nearly bowls you over and you come back to your senses and try some meat on a stick or freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  I opted for a good old-fashioned Pepsi, which was served to me in a plastic bag with ice and a straw. Welcome to Asia: Land of waste and weird.

We escape Chinatown. Jess and Madeline make out with hello kitty stickers, 3 purses each and a menagerie of what I perceive to be worthless shit.  Next on the agenda is Koh San Road.

Bangkok streets never sleep. They’re fueled on haggled dollars, Chang beers, cheap smokes and doomed backpackers like ourselves and Koh San Road is no exception. It’s the stereotypical tourist trap, though I felt a lot of places I meandered to unsuspectingly turned out to be tourist traps, too.  For example, one lady trying to make a buck was wearing a court-jester hat and was draped in every gimmick you’d ever see for sale at a Fourth of July fireworks show in the States. She shoved a wooden frog in our face and wanted us to buy it. I guess those are the experiences you remember when you try to cram a tour of Thailand into one week.

Backpackers inhaled cheap beer and Pad Thai that had been sitting out for hours. Rhianna over the loud speakers reminded everyone that she fell in love in a hopeless place. This place really did feel hopeless in some ways. After getting our fill of cheap thrills, we stumbled home and crumble into bed at midnight, scarred for life, but exhilarated.

———————————————–

*Names have been changed.