Rails form the perfect pathway for exploring unknown landscapes among familiar neighborhood territory.
I’ve been back in the States for nearly equal time to that for which I was abroad (13 months each) and I’m awed that nearly everyday brings fresh reason for reflection. This is my second winter (after escaping two winters in favor of perpetual tropical suns), and I took the day to marvel at a world transformed by the magic of snow, and cold, and ice.
Magnolias await their chance at spring, holding back their buds.
Nashville experiences more deep freezes annually than most would predict for its placement one state solidly below the Mason-Dixon Line. In the burn of consistent summer temperatures of the 90s and 100s, it is impossible to conceive of winters with spending weeks below freezing, much less whitened landscapes. Yet here is the proof. Continue reading →
It’s barely 8am and the sun is drying out the puddles from yesterday’s rain. In all regards, it’s a morning just like all the others except that it’s the morning of my last full day in paradise. Tomorrow I hop a flight–or rather I hop 4 flights–which after about 40 hours will deposit me in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.
It’s a really strange feeling to know that the routines of travel–which have become familiar and comforting in their banality (packing, repacking), their repetitiveness (banana pancake anyone?), and their excitement (always new horizons)–are a thing of the past. I feel like it’s the last day of high school: long anticipated with a mixture of anxiety, opportunity and anticipatory nostalgia.
I’m glad to be heading home, really I am. Saying so many goodbyes over the course of the year has taken its toll; the other side of this coin however is all the great people I’ve met, made friends with and been sad to part ways with. This year has had it’s ups and downs, as I knew it would and left me emotionally bankrupt at times but also far more resilient and calm than I could have imagined when I embarked on this destination-less voyage.Continue reading →
Currently I’m stuck in Ambon, Indonesia. I want it to be an idyllic, oozing sort of tropical provincial capital city but my optimism has mangled to carrion. Death by bugs, rain and bland bustle.
Despite the guidebook’s attempt at a favorable description, Kota-Ambon fails to live up to anything but reality: this is a bonafide bustle in a country that holds up universally-execrated Jakarta as a model metropolis. Ambon fits the mold of its big, mean, ugly older sister city: it’s polluted, littered with trash and produces odd smells that mix feces with NASA-grade adhesives. It is uninspiring to the extreme despite its picturesque seaside setting–and I’m a devout “always look on the bright side” kinda gal. What a shame. My impressions are not rectified by the citizens who seem to have either an unfortunate lisp, poor comprehension of anatomy or highly misinformed English teachers–or might they be cursed with all of the above? “Hallo Mister!” children and teenagers jubilantly proclaim to me as I stroll past in teal skirt and purple sunglasses.
Before arriving to Ambon I’d read the Lonely Planet guide and brushed up on travelers forums about my short-stay home. The research hardly required even one cup of kopi rorobang, the local answer to caffeine-injected rocket fuel… Prior to immersion I learned that Ambon is best known for three things (besides its aforementioned notoriety as the capital of one of Indonesia’s most scattered and largest regions): Continue reading →
More than New York City, Bangkok is the city that never sleeps. Motorbikes zoom past, tuk tuks chug along, street cart grills hiss and fry, people are on the move. And, more than anywhere else I’ve visited during this trip, Bangkok is the city that buzzes most and demands the most from its visitors. It also rewards the determined.
10pm, traffic, moto-taxis, office lights and BTS all full speed ahead.
Stay attuned, watch where you go, immerse yourself. It’s not safety per se that obliges your full attention but rather a vigilance to not be subsumed, silently and with little fight, which excoriatingly threatens you. Famously when the lead character is lost in the Hangover 2’s Bachelor party Blitzkreig another whispers: “Bangkok has him now, and she’ll never let him go.” There’s no truer line in this Hollywood party blockbuster. Like a sailor on rough, unfavorable seas the existence you so cling to and feel entitled to is at best fickle and fleeting in the merciful grasp of this beast. Don’t forget this merry piece of trivia.
For all the effort that Bangkok demands to occupy its havoc, the plight tribulations resurrect generously fruitful. Any long time inhabitant will proudly share their tales of urban conquest–tales akin to epics but which pass as the everyday survival. The citizens are an inexplicable blend of grit and suave, with a determination born out of salmon-swimming-upstream diligence and the finesse enough to navigate with daring, strategic congeniality.
Bangkok rushhour: you’re perpetually swimming against the current, gasping for air.
I can’t really put my finger on this place– it would take lifetimes to map the pulse of these 8.2 million inhabitants–but in my fifth reluctant visit I’m am starting to taste the umami beyond the bitterness. For starters there’s the food: a bounty of it and damn good. Stay away from the touristy places with simplistic names (e.g. “MyThai Love”) instead search out places with humble street fronts and a few poorly lit menu photos. Look tempting? Take a lean 30 degrees to the left or right of the frontman and glimpse the interior. Is it packed with chattering Thais? Go there. Sultry breast of duck with wonton in fresh broth beckons.
Humble, no-frills duck. Tastes unimaginably better than it even looks.
As you dine observe the customs of the patrons and proprietors. In the best places you’ll find a harried owner darting from table to table with an affable air and dogged love of his offerings. He may even sing to the praises of his dishes, staff and customers. Alternatively scan the room for the hawk eye, the manager/owner who watches over all with precise vision. The servers do not dare look up to catch her gaze but they are profoundly alert to the scrutiny they must constantly bow under.
Typical set up of a street stall. Carts like this can whip out between 3-8 dishes within less than 2 square meters.
The energy of Bangkok is palpable, like a troop of teenage boys on prom night. Anticipation is placed on every moment and even the briefest lapses in the doting attention of suitors are punished with swift disregard. Flatter the courtesan that is Bangkok. Her beauty may be mysterious and vaguely grotesque yet nothing short of full, consuming yearning (albeit with no promise of reward) will suffice. That is the mystique, the addiction, the folly that Bangkok offers. Play by her rules like an unquenchable but daft suitor; observe and attend to her. Be aware of thine enemies at all times.
Beautiful, astounding and sometimes harsh Bangkok. Click here to see more of the Grand Palace, Boat Taxis and temples.
This is the High-Stakes Gamble that is Bangkok: The stakes are towering but with study, luck and intuition the table is mighty favorable. So, do ya feel lucky?
Get spun by the whirr of this great city–careful where you land.
It’s hard to believe it was nearly 15 years ago that my mother and I argued over banal shit (oops, sorry mom: banal stuff). We’ve both changed by multiple measures since those days of being co-hormonal and grinching about the laundry, what to have for dinner, each others’ driving skills (or lack thereof, depending upon perspective).
Both of us have experienced tremendous losses of multiple loved ones. Sometimes we’ve shared those losses: uncle/brother, best friends, parent/Opa. Each subsequent loss has left us each more tender to the world but raw towards each other, isolated and hurt in our grieving. More often than not, our mournings have been separate as we glimpse at one another, cautiously offering empathy from afar but never quite comfortable co-habitating in the difficult emotional spaces of tragedy and disease.
The quote may belong to Emerson but it is the parenting philosophy embraced by my mother.
I aim to be optimistic and always provide a genuinely encouraging portrayal of travel and life on the road but right now it feels downright dull and aggravating. Aggravating because of the combination of a plethora of options and my indecision paralysis are slowly driving me nuts. I know I don’t really have anything to complain about and I know my life is damn good; I’m blessed beyond measure to be able to travel footloose and fancy free–but I shall whine a bit regardless… Without the urgency of a compressed timeline (e.g. vacation, sabbatical) or the restrictions of needing to adhere to a specific itinerary, I find myself feeling listless and uninspired for the first time in months. I’ve been going for the better part of a year and it appears I’ve hit my slump.
For the record: I adore Waffle House (scattered, covered, smothered).
My drive to pack up the backpack and hit the road is on hiatus. The itchy feet that plagued me months ago are feeling heavy and reluctant to put on more miles. The novelty of unfettered travel has lost some of its luster and now I feel like I’m sitting alone on a sticky vinyl booth inside an all-night diner; it’s 1am. The broken fluorescent lights twinkle off the dented silver milk tin next to my bottomless cup-o-joe as an indifferent waitress stares down at me. Though there are no other customers, she is impatient and irritated with me. Continue reading →
Inevitably you will get sick. Whether seasonal flu, polluted lungs from smoggy city streets, or the dreaded travelers diarrhea variety it’s only a matter of time until you’re hacking up a lung or sh*tting out your internal organs. These are not the pretty stories of independent travel but they are universally shared and amount to an element of a backpacker’s bonafides…
Unhappily, I’ve experienced these three illnesses plus a nifty handful of weird infections, discoloring funguses and inexplicable fatigue. We’re not in Kansas anymore and the viruses and bacterias are a whole new kind of evil.
I’m 2 ft away from the ocean. The tide is coming in and with each wave breaking on the shores, the water laps closer and closer to my lounger. A woman with a tray of pineapple and mangos on her head just walked by. Two local Khmer boys are playing in the surf.
It’s all pretty idyllic. A photo is attached of the little girl who sat with me for about a half hour trying to sell her bracelets. She looks how I feel, okay I still have a small smile on my face (it’s not so bad). If they’re not selling bracelets the girls rub my legs observing that I haven’t shaved in a couple days and offer to “thread” the hair off. It’s like plucking each hair, only more efficiently done with a tightly wound string. Hard to describe or envision until you see it. Yes it hurts, but only a little.
I’ve been on the roads nearly 9 months and all of a sudden that realization has gripped me with some emotional response I can’t pinpoint. I don’t think I’m homesick (where is home these days anyway?), I don’t believe it’s boredom or loneliness… I’m kind of at a loss to describe it. Maybe it’s travel fatigue, fatigue from all the constant new information and decisions. Tired of the price haggling and tight budget keeping. Temples run together, island hopping has lost some of its appeal, long bus journeys see, more grueling than adventurous. What’s a girl to do?
Elephants, ostrich, wildebeest, zebra, and lions: Ngorongoro has it all!
World Elephant Day falls on August 12 and its mission is “to spread awareness, share knowledge, and provide solutions for better care and management of both captive and wild elephants.” Although the topic of elephant protection is not the darling phrase of conservation philanthropy that it was in the mid-90s, elephants around the world are still very much in need of sustained protection efforts: