Border Crossings and Jail Threats

Thursday

We departed from Chiang Mai around 9 a.m. on the shuttle headed for Chiang Khong. The driver stopped halfway into the five hour ride somewhere in Chiang Rai to give his ankle a break from violently sealing the pedal to the floor for the past couple hundred of k’s.

The stop ended up being a pleasant surprise. We were given permission for a quarter of an hour to explore the White Temple, Wat Rung Khun. The buddhist temple was blinding and absolutely stunning, like a bridge in a crisp white wedding gown that indecisively chose to decorate herself with too many jewels so you couldn’t decided what to focus on.

I felt like I was walking around the set of The NeverEnding Story. 

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A few hours later we arrived at Chiang Khong. Chiang Khong doesn’t exactly have a lot going on, which was fine because we were only in the mood to stroll around in the sleepy town. We went out to dinner with Jackson and Lyndsey and called it a night before our border crossing and slow boat the following day.

Friday

This particular morning was pretty crap.

That might be because we were told to be up and ready by 8 a.m. and at 7:15 a.m. our idiot guide was slamming on my door telling me to get in the truck. Thanks to him putting us up in the wrong hotel, we need to be at breakfast somewhere else without more than a 2 second notice.

He was furious with me and I can’t say I was very apologetic for his own idiocy. Sorry dude. I’ve dealt with elite scamming scum likeminded indiviuals the past three months; and this particular morning I wasn’t in the mood to spend the next 12 hours half-showered still in my pajamas.

While trying to find a quiet spot to enjoy my powdered coffee and my own miserable company, this same guide decided to set up his folding table scam shop just outside the reception of the hotel we were supposed to (and already paid for) have stayed at…also the one I could be enjoying a shower and a change of clothes that very same moment.

He carried on, ripping off every poor budget traveler with every opportunity he could. He was charging for coffee (that was included in their package), transfer to the border (also included), and offering up exchange rates that even a Zimbabwe bank wouldn’t accept in exchange for their once existent currency.

By the time I tasted the undissolved sand in my coffee, I was fully aware that this guy sucked, and I was confident that his ego was so inflated that his feet didn’t even touch the ground.

Next up, it was our groups turn to deal with him. We forked over our transfer tickets and exchanged some baht into kip. He told us Laos had locked currency and it would cost $20 to get anything out of an ATM, regardless of the withdrawal amount. James handed him 3000 baht and the sucky man handed him back the equivalent of a quarter of what it was worth in kip. With my XE Currency app in hand, I immediately called him out. He didn’t appreciate me one bit as he had already decided he didn’t like me earlier that morning. We asked for our money back and he handed us exactly half back, claiming that is all we gave him. He flat out just pocked half of the money we had handed him seconds ago.

“Very funny. The rest of our money?” We said loudly.

We weren’t impressed with the magician and probably shouldn’t have put ourselves in that situation. Our voices were raised and obviously inflated with anger.

I think we forgot we weren’t in India – the land where screaming gets you further in life.

He didn’t respond well and immediately morphed into a crazy raging defensive lunatic. Long story short, he threatened to call the police, send us to jail, and in the end our bags were thrown out of his truck and we hung off the back of another pickup to get to the border crossing into Laos.

The border crossing was pretty hellish. Still pissed off, I apologized to the Laotian border control for sticking my ass in the air while repeating down dog and sun salutations in attempt to chill the heck out.

By noon we were finally on the slow boat.

The slow boat is primarily a tourist boat that takes travelers down the Mekong River. It shouldn’t be called a slow boat. When everyone said ‘slow boat’ I imagined we would be crammed into a little wooden row boat with a man dressed in a two tone onsie, a variation of a sailers hat, smoking a pipe while playing an organ and intermittently paddling us down the Mekong.

It’s not slow. It is fully equipped with a roaring engine that has some serious guts.

The whole trip has the potential to be quite boring.  If you have good company, some cash for onboard beers, snacks and playing cards then this is easily an enjoyable way to spend a day (well, two).

The scenery that passes by is a sweet green hazy welcome into Laos.

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We moored at around 4 p.m. and found a hotel to make home for the short night in Pakbeng.

Pakbeng was surprisingly sweet. There were several options for eating and drinking, but besides that there wasn’t much to see or do so that’s how we spent our evening.

Saturday

We boarded the boat around 9 a.m.

Unfortunately we chose seats wrong and there was a very sick, maybe dead body that was brought onto the boat about 45 minutes into the ride so James and forfeited our seats and shared the stairs as a seat for the eight hour journey. It wasn’t necessarily a fun day but it sure beat any day in India.

We arrived into Luang Prabang and I have to say I was a bit nervous. I wanted badly to love everything about Laos, particularly Luang Prabang.

The first impression one receives after walking up the stairs from the dock might not be the best, but oh how quickly one can fall in love with Luang Prabang!!

 

Last Week in Goa – Goodbyes, Anjuna Market and Overnight Train

February 9-12th 

Our last few days at Mandala flew by. Actually, the whole five weeks flew by.

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Anjuna market

Jackson, Lyndsey, James and I all piled into a cab at about 8 a.m. and headed to Anjuna market. None of us had been before and since we all had the morning off, decided this would be the day to do it. The market is sprawling over a main road and creeps right up to the shore.

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Its spacious, open and going in the morning is a brilliant idea. Just briefly we wandered into the ‘hippie’ zone, but since everything there was basically the same as the local stuff, we decided the inflated price and attitude didn’t deserve our limited time.

That said, without a budget I would have bought this 5,000 rupee dress in a heartbeat…Okay and realistically these gold pendants too…

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The market was beautiful and I do believe is one of my absolute favorite markets so far!

Perhaps it was that I was thinking about how I would need to pack my backpack that evening, but I ended up leaving with only a handful of things. I got an elephant printed toe ring, a ganesh incense holder and an emerald bead to create something for later.

While Jackson and Lyndsey decided to be smart and head back to the cab waiting in the parking lot, I convinced James to make use of every spare minute and all of the sudden I realized those pretty detailed ceramic looking piles of things definitely needed to come home with us.

So we went on the 2 minute search for drawer knobs. Drawer knobs? I’m kidding right? Nope, the Martha Stewart in me is back in full swing.

You bet I had a blast digging through the brightly colored options searching for ‘the’ drawer knob that I will someday put to beautiful use.

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Thursday, February 13th, 2014

It was our last day at Mandala.
Looking back, this place was exactly what we needed and wouldn’t exchange it for anything different. Having Jackson and Lyndsey arrive was a godsend, a good reminder to get excited about this adventure rather than focus on the things we miss.

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These things will be there when we are ready to return to them.

So we spent the day happily reflecting. We finished a load of laundry, packed our bags, said some goodbyes and made one last walk to the beach.

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Sitting on the beach, we both became silent and began to reflect on what has happened and what is about to come. As much as we may have wanted to be on auto-pilot and take a reset break during our 5 week volunteer vacay in Goa, I think it’s safe to say I learned a few things.

There were some interesting personalities along the way here, and how we chose to (or not to) deal with them was an entertaining experiment. I continue to learn how to deal with personalities I likely wouldn’t encounter in my normal world at home.

So for these introductions, I’m grateful. It tests my patience, BIG TIME. Getting to work with locals inside of a business operating in India was a treat. I learned a lot. I was warned that my way of thinking of the why and how things are done would be challenged.

Whomever it was that warned me, thank you.

The whole five weeks has been inspiring thanks to three individuals: Manoj (29), Ramit, and Netish (19). These guys are smart. Dang, are they smart. Netish can speak Hindi, Nepali, and English. While he writes in the first two, he very quickly learned how to do the last. Ramit went to school and studied language. It is amazing but not surprising then that overnight he went from being nearly mute to engaging in long, fullfiling conversations. He is brilliant.

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Manoj. Oh Manoj. This boy has a heart of gold. He smiles. Always. He works so hard and takes pride in every gram of work he puts onto a plate. If you ask him for something and he doesn’t want to do it, he will look at you with his kapha eyes and say “Sure, why not? No problem.” Having these three guys around everyday was a gift from someone somewhere that knows dang well what’s best for me. I truly wish the best for these three.

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I asked James, “When were rich, can we come back and get these guys?” James delivered a smile that meant he would let me believe that forever, but realistically this would be the last day I would say goodmorning and goodnight to these boys. I wish there were more people like this on the planet. The world could use them.

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We cleaned up and packed up and sat in the restaurant for one last time. I listened to the sound of the propane flame and Hindi laughs float behind the curtain. The smell of spices stained the air. More than any other moment I appreciated this place more than I ever had.

Funny how that works right? In every relationship, vacation, celebration, good meal, I always become flooded with gratitude and can clearly identify what I found happiness in the very second before its over.

That’s life right? Maybe the humble ones see this from the start. Who knows.

We said our goodbyes and took a cab to Thivum train station.

Friday, February 14th, 2013
Our train was delayed an hour. It was of course a gorgeous night so we hung out next to the tracks before we realized one hour meant two. By 7:30 p.m. we switched platforms and jumped on the train.

We had 2AC tickets (meaning there are two tiers of bunks per berth). It was a massive car with two levels of beds lining the hall and then four places together in one cabin separated by curtains.

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Despite the fact that I was on bottom next to the car door and the man selling chapati needs to scream to the Himalayas that chapati and chai are for sale every 15 minutes, I slept like a rock and we were ready to roll the next morning to explore a new southern city.

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I was up around 7 a.m. and hung out the side of the train watching green and orange scenery pass and people getting an absolute kick out of running and jumping on and off the train.

By 9:30 a.m. we were at Kochi station. We waited 45 minutes for our rickshaw driver. He took us out of the industrial area towards Fort Cochin where we would spend the next two nights.

Goa – Redi Fort, Arambol, Recipes, Mapusa Market

Friday, January 17, 2014

The agreement we have while volunteering is to work six days on and have one off. Our first day off came on Friday, January 17. We decided to rent a scooter for 300 rupees a day so we could reclaim our freedom and expand the circumference of the place we called home.

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James is driving and I’m the freaked out passenger hoping to Ganesh we arrive at our destination with all limbs and skin attached. While driving about 1 km, it is guaranteed you will see the following: five people with massive exposed road rash covering 25 percent of any one (or two) limbs, a scooter packed with five people, a scooter with one dog and a man also balancing something on his head, someone with a neck brace (and/or cast on an arm or leg) and for the grand finale, at least one bike accident.

So yeah, I would say I have every reason to be freaked out.

We cruised through thick jungle-like forests to get to Redi Fort. The 16th century fort is buried in the thick forest and crumbling gateways, but it’s incredible. You walk through the forest and immediately feel like you are on the set of Jungle Book or Jumanji. 

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After an hour or two we wandered down the beach.

Redi Beach is incredible.

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Besides a few flea-infested (but still cute) puppies, nobody bothers you. We ended up having a relaxing day at the beach before we got back on the scooter and headed back toward home.

We spent the night in Arambol.

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Every night as the sun sets around 6:30 p.m. all of the creative, high, drunk, beautiful, entertaining, talented, not-talented, but momentarily believe they are, young, old but can’t accept it, colorful people gather around to create “The Drum Circle.” It happens every single night in Arambol. People play various instruments, all chiming in and contributing to the tropical sounds while collectively the audience creates a circular enclosed stage where the crazy people have epileptic seizures (aka dance).

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It’s entertaining.

We had a great time, had some dinner on the beach and overall a beautiful day off!

January 18 – January 24, 2014

The next week was spent performing our usual routine. I taught yoga, we did handstands on the beach daily and we played in the kitchen and reception.

I created several new recipes and have updated all of our recipes pages – so check ’em out!

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Especially the sweets one!

On our next day off on Friday, January 24, we got on our scooter and drove to Mapusa. 

This is a crazy city 13km north of the capital city, Panaji.

Luckily our day off corresponded perfectly with the Mapusa Friday Market. 

It’s absolute market chaos and I absolutely love it!

Spices, produce, underwear, watches, blankets, clothing, dynamite, scarves, cat food, whatever. Everything and anything was sold on blue tarps stretched over the hot cement.

It’s a riot of noise, colors, smells, people.

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He patiently haggled his way around the congested narrow pathways with me for several hours. I agreed that the market can be a bit exhausting, so by the early evening we returned to Mandrem beach where we happily gave up the scooter so we could erase the idea of losing a limb late in the evening when all of the already off-their-rocker individuals took things to a whole new level.

Like every night off, we spent the night hanging in Arambol.