It's a Wander-full World
Continuation of mistakes turned lessons

I am SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO STUPID!!! For not listening to myself, for not listening to Jenny, for not listening to Mom when she said to re-read my blogs to figure it out.  I was so insanely unhappy the last few weeks, just because of my own stupid head filled with regret.  I skyped everyone I could think of to help me figure it out, how to be happy with myself, where I am, where to go, what to do.  Mom said to re-read my blogs. I didn’t. I should have. I should have. Hindsight man, it’s KILLING me.  I know I said this is being alive, but this kind of living is killing me from the inside. Or making me stronger I guess.  If I had just done that simple thing and re-read my last blog, and this one that I wrote upon leaving Laos, I would have known what to do. But I was fighting. Stubborn Taurus. I was fighting myself, fighting Mom, fighting the people that know what they were talking about.  Here is what I wrote.  If I had read it a week ago, well I would have saved myself a lot of money, a lot of time worrying, a lot of stress, a lot of everything.  Why why does it take me so long to realize what I’m doing wrong and fix it?! Unbelievable.  Here is what I wrote.

I think Sae Lao Project was a gift to me from Paba.  From the Universe. Paba is part of the universe, and so am I.  Both our energies are still out there.  I used to make him play “restaurant” with me on our weekend shopping trips. He always just wanted to spoil me and get me anything I want ( I mostly wanted to play restaurant). Now the universe leads me to a restaurant out in the countryside of Laos, where I fell in love with the place. And the owner, Sengkeo needs help and wants me to run the restaurant, just talking to people what I’m good at and learning how to cook.  I said if  I found a place that I loved, I would have the freedom to stay awhile. Now I can stay for working at the restaurant. And I said I would like to learn to cook or something.  This is exactly what I had in mind and more.  When I was young playing games of imagination, I always pretended I lived way out in the countryside, getting my water from the lake with a pail, feeding piggies and ducklings as part of my morning chores.  The restaurant is at this farm on a beauitufl lake way out in the countryside.

And I wanted to teach, and be a summer camp counselor. This place lets me see if I like that.  I love it, kids give you such energy.

And I wanted to see how it felt to be a volunteer coordinator since that’s what so many NGO’s and struggling nonprofit projects need.  This place would allow me to do all of these things that I’ve been wondering about, in one place, where I wouldn’t have to pay.  These are all things to consider staying.  I’m currently on a bus to Vientiene then to Chiang Mai so technically I’ve already left.  But I can come back.  Some “mistakes” are truly lessons. And some lessons are expensive. If I’m out the price of this bus ticket to chiang mai, so be it.  The universe has me on this path for a reason. Maybe it takes leaving to realize how much I loved it. Maybe I’ll find something more perfect.

I can’t help but feel I should have stayed longer.  It’s no use since I’m on the bus now anyway, adventure ahead. But truthfully I could have stayed there for longer, working and learning and teaching, for free. But there’s that nagging question of What is best??  Will I always feel this way?  I also wanted to teach monks!! And this would let me do that too.  Most volunteer programs cost money, but this one would not.  Why is it that I didn’t stay?

I also wanted to know what farm life was like, and it gave me that too.  At least, rice farming and gardening.  Basically a startup nonprofit in paradise to let me do what I want with it.  But I want to see more.  I don’t know if I want to get stuck in a place.

I could also stay there awhile doing environmental research and helping set up ecotourism.  Can I do this any place?? Is this just my first real experience with it?? Maybe I need to see more so I can do more at SAE Lao.  See how it’s done other places.  Maybe there are bigger reasons than me making fruit shakes in the restaurant, bigger reasons for me being on this bus to chiang mai now. Damn I don’t know why I left on one hand. On the other, I don’t know what I’ll find.  This is what traveling is about? 

Learning, learning.   I walk out one door, another one opens.  But that’s the thing about doors, you can usually go both ways. I can always go back. 

I will never know what happened at SAE Lao regarding myself and figuring out what I want during this month; but then, I also won’t know what didn’t. 

If I stayed, then it would be a choice between silent meditation in December over Christmas, or going home to be with my family for that holiday.  A true choice between togetherness with my family and silent solitude.  But is this just me putting too much stock in Western traditions like the December holidays?  But like Aunt Tami said, I am still an American.  Hm.  Maybe I’m here to save myself the turmoil of  choosing between myself and family…but I’m still going to have to choose that in the end, won’t I?

Part of me wants to say Damn, part of me wants to let the thoughts flow off the waterfall.  

Should I be traveling with a friend like this?? Hm, well I am, and it’s because it’s what I wanted at some moment in time. I’m mourning leaving this place because I know what I’m leaving behind; it’s keeping me from having an open mind about what may happen in the new place. Thailand.  I did only want to spend a month in Laos. I can always go back.

Now written from Thailand…WHY DIDN’T I GO BACK SOONER??

Fuck, maybe Ed was right….It isn’t just this situation that I’m feeling this way about. I’ve felt this “why why why why stupid stupid stupid stupid” regret about 50 million things in the past few weeks, not just about this. Maybe it is just in me. How to fix it, how to fix it….

I’m so tired. I’m so tired of spending my trip in Thailand trying to fix myself. Trying to fix this feeling.  I thought weeks ago that maybe I should just check myself into a silent meditation retreat.  One friend suggested it, and didn’t give me much more support. I thought that was insensitive and was hurt, and also thought that maybe it is right.  Of course, now if I do that and it does help, I’m only going to be kicking myself for not doing it sooner.  And that feeling is EXACTLY what I’m trying to let go. Regret and self hatred for making the wrong choices. But as EVERYONE has been telling me, there are no wrong choices, there are choices, and they simply are.  And we learn from them.  This trip to Thailand sure has been nothing like I thought it would be.  I did say I wanted to travel not to have fun on a beach with friends, but to learn about myself.  I feel like I’ve been breaking and losing myself so much, and picking back up and dropping down all over again, over and over.  Hopefully there is light at the end of this and I am learning some valuable lessons about myself.  All you can do is hope and be grateful.  I don’t know how I’m going to even begin writing about all of these ridiculous lessons.  I should have been doing it all along.  I’ll just try to remember what the lady at the yoga studio said “Stop shoulding all over yourself”

I’m still alive

And if emotions are a testament to how alive we are, I’d say I’m living to the max.  Sorry to any that are following that I’ve been absent on here for about a month.  It has been the most topsy turvy rollercoaster of emotions of my life so far.  And it’s all 100% self created in my own head.  Nothing major has been happening at all, I just think that since I left the farm and entered Thailand 2 and a half weeks ago, something has been straining and stressing and breaking in my head and changing me into this terrible, indecisive person whom I hate.  Today I am doing what I should have done a week ago, that I knew I should have done, and that I still insisted on wasting a bunch of time and money and worry NOT doing….today I am going back to the farm in Laos to help with a volunteer event.  It’s spending a lot of money on visas and buses and whatnot and means wasting the Thai visa that I spent a day’s bus ride and too much money obtaining, but I think I’m finally doing what is right for me.  Ed from this farm in Thailand that I checked out told me to notice what happens when I go to Laos, that things won’t change, that the change needs to come from within.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. I”m going to spend today trying to sort this all out in my blog, like I SHOULD have been doing all along. We all make choices, for whatever reason, and hindsight is always 20/20, a gift and a curse, mostly a curse these days.  It’s been my own personal form of self torture, regret regret regret.  More on that later.  But first, here is the last entry I wrote when I was at the farm over a month ago…

16 days now…?  Karina and I have discovered that time takes on a new meaning here. Some of the Swedish (OK, maybe just Karl) call it being day-wild: a state that usually occurs whilst traveling when you have no concept of what day it is at any given moment.  But here at SAE LAO, it is especially strange. It’s simultaneously stagnating and flying by; static and dynamic; routine and erratic; the day seems to drag on and then all of a sudden it’s gone and you have no idea where it got to, and there’s still so much to do, but in Lao-time. Lao-time is a somewhat famous saying with most travelers here, meaning everything takes much much longer than you’d expect, but relax and go with the flow baby, you’re in Laos.

As much as I enjoy everyday life here, especially now that I’ve been here awhile and developed some sort of routine, helping out a baby project like this one is really difficult.  Starting your own project is never easy and Bob can use all the help he can get.  He really is so generous, with his time, efforts, money, his whole life really.  That’s what I’ve seen at the few small nonprofit projects I’ve seen so far; they are some wonderful causes and are insanely hard to run.  There is never enough money.  And you need money for EVERYTHING.  There is never enough time or management.  Bob does everything here, a million projects going on at once- running a restaurant to try to generate some income to keep it going, building a kitchen for the restaurant that actually has a lockable door, taking care of the multiple rice fields for his family (unbelievable amount of work this time of year, harvest time), running his guest house in town, taking care of his family of 5 who don’t even live at the farm site.  It is AMAZING he manages to do all of this and with such energy and passion for his cause and his goals. 

And then, you need volunteers. You need them to teach English because the goals of the project are to create a positive relationship between the travelers who are already here and the local community.  Without this place, there would be no real connection between the two that exists for anything good. There are never enough reliable, educated volunteers who are willing to be here for the long term, long enough to really make an impact.  There are plenty of short-term volunteers, but you need someone to coordinate them.  That job also falls on Bob.  They need a volunteer coordinator and one who can jump in and take care of the exhausting English teaching program (left completely to the volunteers to run, Bob has almost no involvement with it).  It is now almost my time to leave this place because my month-long visa is almost expired, and I’m feeling some pressure to stay.

Bob has made it clear he would never beg or really pressure anyone to stay; those who want to help, help, and that’s the way it is.  If you want it to be your project, it can be your project too.  But he’s expressed to me that he wants me here, could really use the help.  There won’t even be anyone to continue English teaching at the primary school when I leave next week.  Conditioned by a lifetime of having a Jewish mother, it is now impossible for me to leave without a thick layer of guilt.

            I need to do more research into Vang Vieng.  I want to see just how bad this tubing business is.  I know it’s harming the local culture and that is irreparable at this point.  I want to know how it’s harming the local environment.  Bob took all of the volunteers on a crazy awesome hike on the last Buddha day.  It was probably the most dangerous, technically scariest hike I’ve done high up crawling hands and feet over rocks so jagged they were cut like knives.  Through a Fern Gully jungle.  It was magical but you could see the deforestation.  Only a couple old, big trees left out there.  Bob spends his valuable time doing this hike with volunteers so we can see the motivation for the project.  Because of development, the Laos people are destroying their own forests.  They’re not educated enough to know these things don’t grow back.  The purpose of SAE LAO is to educate them in sustainability and provide an eco-tourism site where some ethical traveling can be experienced.  Generating money for the local community through a means other than selling alcohol, drugs, Friends re-runs in every restaurant.  Laotian mothers and fathers are up half the night hawking baguette sandwiches and nutella pancakes on the street to drunk tourists.  This is the lifestyle it’s become now.  I see why Bob is doing this.

I’ve seen from this place, from the hike, the caves, the golden rice fields with purple jagged mountains towering above, and the blue lagoon, what a beautiful environment this is, highly worthy of protection.  But the Laotian government, like most in the developing world, is of course more concerned with generating income for its people, for boosting the national economy.  The party on the river provides that.  They’re not worried about protecting its beautiful places, its disappearing resources.

I’ve seen from the people in Nathong village what Laos culture is really about.  I’ve given alms to the monks at 6:30am on Buddha day, then taught the younger monks English in the evenings and watched one of them kick a soccer ball around with more skill than I could ever dream of.  I’ve seen the women weaving the most beautiful fabrics and then got the chance to wear some while visiting the temple.  I spent a Buddha day sitting by the roadside sharing BeerLao and music with the young Lao guys who work construction at the project (they’re skinny but ripped!  No English either). They jumped into the stream suddenly and caught a snake one day for lunch! They scraped the teeth out with a knife and I took a turn holding it before they killed it and cooked it up for a delicious soup. It was sad and probably sounding very anti-vegetarian of me, but I’m primarily veg (sometimes) for environmental reasons, and this is definitely the most sustainable lifestyle I’ve ever experienced.  Plus I’m not passing up the chance to try snake when my friends have just impromptu hunted it!

I’ve worked in the rice fields for 4 sweltering days now, hauling armfuls of scratchy rice bundles filled with spiders over wobbly woodplank bridges, arranging them into a pile two stories high to protect from the possibility of rain.  Spent a day getting baked in the sun in the rice field while the Lao guys tried to fix the threshing machine, which took the entirety of the day (Laotime man).  We passed the time making animal figures out of the mud with Bit-Noy (meaning little duck), probably one of the world’s top 3 cutest toddlers, Hom, the 11-year-old boy who lives at SAE LAO and helps with everything, and a round and jolly Laotian farmer.  This deteriorated quickly into a huge mud fight, Laotians vs falang (the word for foreigner, literally meaning French).

Most falangs (foreigners) only meet Laotians in the form of bartenders, waiters, guesthouse owners, and tuk-tuk drivers.  Damn shame, these people are fantastic!  The more it’s developed, the more the people, especially the younger generations, will change.  At least SaeLao is trying to change it, offering an alternative.  Bob is very realistic about the fact that the culture will change, it’s what happens over time.  At least he’s here doing something different.  A Lao person with an education in how Western society runs things, able to do something positive for his own society.  Of course the people here like the tubing, they like the money; but they can’t see or won’t see what it’s doing to who they are.  It’s changing everything, literally from the ground up.  I’m intrigued to talk to the environmental agency in Vang Vieng and learn what it’s really like. Deforestation, river pollution due to development. How do they handle all the waste generated by all of these people?  No recycling out here.  They burn everything.  What about health care?

The other side of paradise

Sae Lao Project, Vang Vieng. I’ll come back at ya with an entry from Mai Chau, Vietnam, and Luang Prabang, Laos….but this is where I am at the moment. Pictures to follow when I have more time and internet. Spend a few days catching up, it’s quite wordy:

I can’t believe I’ve been here 5 days already.  Here being the rural countryside of Vang Vieng, Laos at the SAELAO Project.  saelaoproject.com/

I am so content.  Just one hour ago I was laying in a hammock strung from the thatched roof of a bamboo room (our dining area) over our fish pond, hearing nothing but crickets and frogs- the sounds are still here as I write this from my bungalow room.  How can I even begin to describe what this place is like?  Rural paradise.  Complete isolation and the simple life, farm life, Asian farm life.  But with almost no direction or oversight; we can do as we please.  We work our asses off and then relax in the most peaceful peace one could imagine.

Tonight it’s just me and Karina, the Australian gal I first met in Hue, met back up with in Hanoi, and traveled to Laos with; unbelievably, we have the whole place to ourselves, the other volunteers having left yesterday.  How the hell did we land here?  All of our friends and nearly every other backpacker that sets foot in Laos goes tubing in Vang Vieng.  It’s basically a big drunken orgy on the river here: loads of free shots, beer poured down your throat, bar hopping, drug experimenting (they sell the drugs at the bars here, gotta watch out for police in on the deal), giant water sliding, dancing, limbo-ing, drinking-game playing, accidental/not-remembered self-injuring via rope swings into the water.  Basically, the biggest party you could ever imagine on this side of the world.  Sounds like my kinda scene.  But for some reason, various reasons actually, it just didn’t appeal.  I definitely thought about it- giant party, all my friends are going, why would I miss it? 

I have a lot of reasons, but that is a different entry for a different time.  I just didn’t want to be part of that crowd that literally pisses (or pukes, or bleeds) all over another culture.  A beautiful culture whose traditions have so far not been trampled by globalization to the extent that they have in Vietnam and Thailand.  I’m not traveling to party, although I have definitely gotten in my fair share, and don’t regret it for a second.  I want real experiences, real people, ones that I’ll remember, ones that I can’t get anywhere else.  So my searching brought me here.

Our very own countryside retreat…in Laos of all places.  A volunteer bungalow- everything here is bamboo, the floors, walls, and roofs – big enough for 10. The stocked kitchen- we had a great and hilarious time sorting through all the Asian spices and ramshackle cookware and cooking up a big pot of veggie soup tonight. We have to cross several bamboo bridges, rickety rock pathways, and shaky wood planks over the lake area just to get from our rooms to the Community Center (made of mud bricks).  The first night was quite the experience doing that walk in the pitch black of night, naturally not realizing we would need flashlights (“torches” as everyone else in the world calls them) to get to dinner. Karina and I literally were stranded at one point not knowing which way to turn shouting for help in the dark and falling over everywhere laughing until we eventually found our path.

Ok, I can easily get all over the place with how in love I am with this place.  I will try to sum it up:

I wake up early to the sound of roosters.  Crawl out of the mosquito net.  Towering rocky mountains come out of the clouds; I can only see the peaks rising up in the morning mist.  The sun peeks out, glimmering off the watery field that stretches between the bungalows and the rest of the project.  I do the bamboo bridge obstacle course to the tiny separate bamboo kitchen, make a big kettle of Lao coffee on the propane stove.  Eggs and baguette sandwiches for breakfast with the other volunteers, a couple from Seattle, Jerome from France, Karina and myself.  Various tasks (there are endless jobs to be done at an ever-growing project) and relaxing all day.  Help serve whatever customers turn up to the restaurant for lunch.  I talk about the goals of the project with the tourists, tell them what I’m doing here; get them set up with fresh fruit shakes and recommend what’s good to eat (I get everything on the menu for normal meals). 

Around 1:20 on Wed, Thurs, Fri, we walk down the road to the village school, where we teach English to grades 3, 4, and 5 until 3:00.  Maybe hang out with the kids after school learning their games on the grass lawn. It’s hot now, and we’re tired. Time for a dip in the Blue Lagoon- some of the bluest water in the most unlikely place- the biggest attraction in the city apart from the tubing party.  It brings a steady stream of tuk-tuks touting hungover tourists past our place every day.  Only 1km walk from our new home, we get to go every day, for free as a volunteer.  Pass the 2 water buffalos bathing at the same time every day in their mud puddle; say Sabaidee to the people at the gate, and hello to Mary, a sweet 14-year-old girl who is one of our students.  Climb the tree, jump off into the refreshingly brisk blue water- paradise.   Chill out until you dry off, walk home and watch the sun set over the crazy beautiful mountains, casting its orange and pink reflection in every pool of water on the property. 

At 5:30, the younger girls from the village come for English lessons, whatever we feel like teaching them.  At 6:00, the older boys and girls, and a couple of monks come to join in learning our language.  And we learn theirs.  Teaching stops when Meo (awesome amazingly hard-working and funny 20-year-old who helps run the place) brings out dinner for us- fried rice or noodles.  Or something a little different on Buddha day (there are 4 per month here), when no one works and every body drinks all day: Meo would never shirk his duties, but instead very drunkenly made us one very cabbage-filled soup. After dinner, sink into the quiet; sitting around on mats reading books until the bugs get to be too much.  Find our way back to the bungalows by flashlight, pausing on the bridge to turn it off and take in the expanse of the stars.  Read together under mosquito nets until sleep hits, much earlier than anywhere else on this trip, and as it should be.  Such peace is unreal.

Things done here so far besides that:

-Tried my hand at rice picking. FINALLY. I’ve been wanting to this whole trip, but every time I approached a local in Vietnam to see what it’s about, they seemed to not understand I was trying to lend a hand in the field.  Now I see why they were probably just pretending not to comprehend my gestures.  They must have understood better than I ever would what a LACK of help a foreigner in the rice field is.  I have no idea what the hell I’m doing out there.  Harvesting rice is fucking HARD work, and I came away with a fresh and ridiculous amount of appreciation for every grain I eat from now on.  I’ll never forget the look of disgust on Dam’s face (the woman who single handedly runs the kitchen and restaurant) as she watched me try to handle my own sickle and imitate her perfect bundles of rice, hacking away through the field as if she’s been doing it her whole life (oh wait…).  It was a truly humbling experience, difficult, but fun as shit.  I never want to forget Dam’s mother, the sweetest older Laotian lady, who was wearing a shirt with one giant marijuana leaf on it, and who doesn’t speak a word of English, kicking all of our asses at harvesting; she tore that field up.  I want to be that badass when I am an old lady.

-Went caving with Sengkeo, or “Bob”, the founder of SAELAO.  It is his dream, his vision, that created this place; he is one of the most hardworking, inspired and inspiring people I’ve ever met.  And on his day off (Buddha day), he always chooses to spend it taking new volunteers on a local adventure.  The Poukham Caves, in the lush green, steep mountainside next to the Blue Lagoon. Felt like Indiana Jones: with headlamps we climbed up the side of a jungle-strewn mountain and entered the first chamber, an enormous and impressive rock cavern graced by a golden statue of a reclining Buddha.  From there, we descended into pitch-black caves, dripping with stalagmites and stalactites; crawled around through tunnels our bodies could barely squeeze through; and slid down the slippery rocks onto unknown surfaces, avoiding sharp drop-offs and plunging pits.  Emerged muddy and elated for a jump into the lagoon.

-Perfected my  spring-rolling techniques and learned how to make fresh fruit shakes and prepare bamboo for a stir-fry.  Helped cook and serve a meal big enough to feed 37 Korean visitors out of our one-stove/one-blender/one-sink thatched-roof kitchen.

-Repeatedly cut my finger with a hand-saw making 10 million (ok, 50) bamboo planter pots, Bob’s idea to get the local people involved in growing a garden for SAELAO, which in turn gives back to them.  Also learned that bamboo is useful for everything: floors, walls, roofs, signs, planter pots, food…everything.  Lessons in bamboo.

The Vietnamese Motorcycle Diaries continued…

The next day in Hue, Karl, Sean, Kai and myself geared up again for the next leg of our journey.  We went slowly up the coast, only a few hours each day due to the rain, and stopped over mostly in boring, shitty looking cities, but obviously had some genuine experiences that way. I won’t go into too many details of the moto trip, as much of it was passing through tiny villages and nondescript cities, so here are some highlights:

-The wind in my face, sometimes a bit of water, but being OUT in the world, flying.

-Rice along the roadside.  Passing padi after padi, it’s very interesting and beautiful to see how all that rice the world eats is actually handled.

-Pig trucks- we passed several of these giant trucks schlepping hordes of big pink oinkers lounging lazily in the back.

-the never-ending search for the next Banh My- the most delicious Vietnamese sandwiches they sell everywhere.  Eggs, cheese, pate (occasionally), cucumbers, chili sauce on a fresh baguette mmm mouth’s watering just thinking about it.  In Dong Hoi, we met a really sweet old man who helped us find these sandwiches.  He sat and talked to us for awhile about his experience in the war; he had been a South Vietnamese soldier from 1971-1975 and talking to the American troops helped improve his English.  All three of his grown children have been to college.  These local people are so nice and open and helpful; it’s amazing how welcoming they are to a race of people that utterly destroyed their country.

Sean gave him that hat since he liked it so much!

-Following our new friend’s tour guide advice, near Vinh, we explored the tunnels built by the Vietnamese as a place of refuge from the barrage of bombs being dropped. 


Our guide was a dwarf-sized old man who basically could only grunt to talk, and he had lived there as a boy, raised in the darkness.  We entered the pitch-black tunnels, now carved out big enough to stand, but we could see the line where the roof once had been; these people basically had to crawl around.  Like mole holes, the tunnels twisted through the hillside and tiny rooms were designated for school, meeting hall, maternity ward, bathroom (one bathroom!), each one was only a small cave inset in the wall.  It was dank, the floor was slippery, the walls were rough, there was absolutely no light or fresh air; you felt entombed just walking around in there for a few minutes.  They lived there for 2 years.

War is insane, by the very definition of insanity.

 -In Dong Ha, or was it Dong Hoi (?), exhausted from driving in the dark on these crazy roads, we checked into the first hotel we could find.  It was a local-family joint, where they barely spoke any English, but invited us to sit with them on the floor of the lobby and have dinner.  We tried their spicy dishes, and I cracked up watching an older Vietnamese man skeptically taste the Oreo cookie I offered him.  I bet he’d never seen anything like it in his life!  What a way to ring in Rosh Hashana.

-The next day, for the Jewish New Year, we decided to treat ourselves and checked into The White Palace, a gorgeous luxury hotel in another shit town…for only $25/night! That’s $12.50 each to live like a King on a plush white fluffy bed, gold curtains, good TV, and even gold-wrapped toilet paper!  I went to the supermarket and bought apples, honey, bread, and wine to celebrate the Jewish traditions with my old and new friends.  I felt so incredibly lucky, blessed, and grateful to have the fortune that let me venture to new worlds, stay in a place like that (even for just one night), buy traditional foods to share with my friends, and to have family and friends back home who I know love and support me and are celebrating the same way, a world away.  L’shana Tova.

-Our last city before the big one up North was Than Hoa.  Starving after a morning on the bikes, we went off in search of food, particularly pho (rice noodle soup).  Almost every other shop here is a café, but none of them offer food.  We mistakenly stopped at Café Pho only to find out they have no pho; but just then a white guy ran out of the building next door.  Having been tourists in touristy areas for the last couple months, we were prepared to hear his speech about whatever hostel or bar he worked for, but only got a very earnest HALLO!  Turns out, he is originally from Sweden (and hence was incredibly thrilled to find another Swede in our group) and has been teaching English at the university after following his Vietnamese wife to her hometown.  The lovely couple and their friend, Kirk, an expat who is also teaching English there, were so excited to see other foreigners…apparently a novelty in this small city…and treated us with such warmth and hospitality.  They showed us the best noodles in town, saved us from our accustomed exhausting search for a decent and cheap hotel by taking us to a good one they knew, and took us out to dinner and breakfast the next day!  Man these people must have been starved for some English conversation.  They even completed the deal with a job offer…but I for one don’t want to be stuck there.  It was a fine city, just not for me. Honestly, if we hadn’t chanced upon meeting them, I probably wouldn’t have even remembered the town.  But it just goes to show, a little hospitality can go a long way.  I will remember that place – the city set in the middle of gorgeous karst mountain landscape- for a long time.  I hope to be able to show visitors that same kindness wherever I live one day.

-Hanoi- back in the city I had originally fallen in love with in Vietnam…only now I’m not so sure why.  It’s definitely different to get into a huge city on a motorbike with not a very good map and hordes of honking bikes around you.  Finding the hostel was quite an ordeal, but we managed.  Cities are SO populated!  Absolutely nuts.  The Backpacker’s Hostel was full of young travelers, the drinking crowd largely.  It was a weird change of pace from our lives on the open road, but it felt good to eat some nachos!  I walked around the lake and the crowded streets, talking to locals, soaking in the street culture.  But in the rain, I felt myself languishing at the hostel.  After 4 days, it was time for an escape into the mountains…I chose the village I’d heard so many good things about from fellow SASers who had gone there on their trip to Vietnam.

Rivers, ocean currents, Waterfalls of life

Today started heavy.  I didn’t realize it until breakfast, which was preceded by fruitless hours of online research for volunteer opportunities in the countries I’m visiting, searching for one that sounded right for me.

 

Traveling is heavy. Two and a half months in and it’s starting to sink in.

Catalyzed by a dream in my early-morning slumber about Sokleang, a girl at the orphanage in Cambodia. In my dream, I hugged her as she was crying; I started crying too, and could literally feel the weight of her sorrow.  I wanted harder than I’ve wanted anything that I could take her tears and transfer them to me through that hug; that I could carry her pain so she wouldn’t have to.  In reality, Sokleang is one of the brightest, happiest girls I’ve ever met.  Subconscious symbolism.

The dream just set something off and I nearly burst into waking-life tears over tea.  Luckily, my very new friend Anabelle registered my expression at breakfast and helped me escape for a walk along the Mekong River, where just last night we joyously celebrated Luang Prabang’s annual boat festival, a truly magical celebration of life.  Anabelle has spent her last few years traveling through West Africa, and then working in D.C. at a think-tank for Obama (I’ve learned so much about politics from her already).  As someone who has been there, felt that, she helped me understand my emotions.

Seeing what we see in developing countries is hard. Once you know, you can’t un-know.  Traveling without a deadline is such a whirlwind of activity- where to go, what to see, who to go with…you don’t get much time to process everything (Testified by my lack of progress on this blog alone. You want to write it all down, but there’s so much to do in the moment.)

It’s so crazy, the ups and downs.  I know I’m rooted underneath, but I need to process all this emotion, the weight of the world felt so heavily on my chest.

I’m loving every minute of Laos. It is the most beautiful culture I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and I’ve only been here 2 days. Yet…

I’m frustrated and beyond confused.

How can I be here, enjoying all of these lovely places?  I left my beautiful home to step outside of my fortunate circumstances, see what else is out there, to see how I can best help.  And what, I’m riding motorbikes, and walking through rice paddies, and meeting lots of cool backpackers at hostels, and eating as much Asian food as I can find?

I once glimpsed Africa.  I stumbled momentarily into the poverty and beauty of India.  I’ve opened my arms to Cambodian children when they needed to cry.  But so briefly.  All of these.

Every day, and the more I research, I learn about more problems in more countries.  More people to meet in new places, where my presence, our presence is more needed.  Every day researching organizations just opens the door to infinitely many more.

And then there is my own country.  A building revolution.  So many ways to help there.  Where do I go?  What do I do?

Honest, raw, current emotions: I feel like I’m half-assing everything and haven’t done enough with my privileged education and circumstance.  I thought traveling would give me some resolution, but it’s only opened up all these feelings of “I am trying, but it is not enough.”

This IS why I’m out here, to feel this, and Anabelle reassured me that it wouldn’t be normal if I wasn’t feeling like this; seeing some of this stuff is painful and real. She reassured me that it would be difficult, but like any pain, there’s no way to go around it, only through.

It builds up over time and comes crashing down.  I need some time to process. To think and cry and cry some more for the world. Release emotion and then figure out how to act.

Amazing advice from an amazing person. But then…I am in Laos.  And all my friends are going to a giant waterfall.  I’m not one to like being left behind.  I climbed into the tuk-tuk unable to paste a smile on my face, went to the falls, and it completely recharged my battery.

I didn’t sit in the mud by the river and cry and release today, which might have been good.  But I trembled with fear at the top of a waterfall and then released it; threw myself off into crystal water and emerged to breathe and barely catch a faint rainbow in the mist.

I felt the sunshine on my skin and the warmth of my friends’ love around me.  I don’t need to be in a temple or monastery today; God is here and nature is a powerful thing.  It’s what I learned on Semester at Sea, a Voyage of Sustainability, with Jenny Finn:  how to sustain myself.  With all the crisscrossing ocean currents of emotion that flow through every body’s every day, we’re rooted in a deeper, stronger love that holds us all, like the force that keeps the tides steady.

It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel so small.  That what you’re doing is not enough, and you’ve missed too many chances and it’s too late.  And to feel that others are doing so much more than you…how and when did they get so far ahead?  My friends who are so much more informed about world affairs, experienced in working with organizations and governments and making real changes at the same age as me…it’s easy to feel defeated and deflated and…small in comparison.

But it’s not a race; it’s better to feel inspired and connected.  How lucky am I to know people like that.  I can be like that. We all can.  Take someone who inspires you and talk to them, and change your situation if you’re not happy in it, if you feel like it’s not enough.

We’re all here to support each other in building a better world. At the end of the day, it’s OK; we’re all loved, and we’re all trying.  Just keep trying.

I stood with a tree today.  On my walk to the larger falls, I stopped to notice some smaller ones. They were rushing powerfully and beautifully over the edge.  But there was also a tree growing up out of the water, silent and so strong.  There will always be the rush of emotion and action and life, just a few seconds away.  Staying rooted will sustain you; so you can be quiet and steady and strong, even in the ever-flowing current.

Reaching the upper falls was like setting eyes on El Dorado…white water fell in infinite tiers from the sky; falling from such a height, my eyes could not strain to see that far.  Awe- some. Standing at the bottom letting the rush of all that power hit me, I felt something that seemed so ridiculously unattainable hours ago at breakfast… I felt…alive and grateful and strong.  I am here, and I will try, to do good things.

rained in Hoi An, and on our Hue (pronounced “hwaay”)

Hoi An was, in a word, quaint.  It was a throwback to Vietnam before modern technology.  Little winding quiet streets, old-school architecture, and silk lanterns everywhere.  At night, the town is lit by the colorful lanterns, which reflect along the river, making for a very romantic scene. 

 We got a bit stuck there due to the rain.  Met up with Kai and Sean, who had bought a motorbike!  Opportunity later presented itself, and we followed suit, purchasing a sweet Honda motorcycle for about $250. 


Pretty much the only thing to do in Hoi An, tailoring and silk capital of Vietnam, is to have clothes made for you, expertly done and super cheap.  Karl and I went to the same tailor as Kai and Sean (where Sean had 3, yes 3, suits tailored exactly to him, one of which is green linen), and I got a beautiful wool peacoat made for me and shipped it on home.  Our tailor was so nice, and we hung out there for a couple days, while she brought us local dishes for lunch, iced coffee (the Vietnamese coffee is amazing!) and sugar cane juice while we tried on our clothes and edited them at our leisure. 

Sean and our tailor, Thut (sp?):



 I took a cooking class, dragging Karl along for the fun. Learned how to make spring rolls, barbecue fish in banana leaves, and familiarized myself with the spices, flavors, and herbs of Vietnam.  Very excited to try out these recipes at home, and hopefully teach them to Coley so we can have some more worldly pescatarian dishes in our repertoires.

 

Onto Hue in the rain!  Realized quickly that buying a motorbike in the middle of the rainy season was a bit of an impulsive decision.  We ended up spending more than intended buying full-suit poncho’s for ourselves and one for the bike.  Captain Jack Sparrow (aka Karl) suited up in his blue plastic suit, pink dish gloves for driving, and Star Wars helmet. 

On the road, ready for battle:


I myself was donning the same rain pants, bright green poncho, and my newly purchased rain shoes…gold and purple high-tops.  Clearly, the only sensible option for running around in the rain.  That, and Hoi An specializes in custom-made shoes and boots; rain boots, however, were nowhere to be found, so for $20 I custom-ordered the most ridiculous shoes I could think up.  And they did keep my toesies much drier than my Tevas. 

Dish-gloves, helmets, and plastic-wrap on and we were on the road again!

We drove up the coast through winding cliff-side roads over valleys filled with fog.  It was a crazy weird and beautiful land out of some fantasy video game.  Riding on a bike in the rain definitely makes you appreciate buses after awhile.  The streets here are crazy. 


Giant buses and enormous trucks pass us on the narrow lanes at breakneck speeds blasting our ears off with their horns.  This actually became quite normal procedure to us after awhile.  The rain steadily falling, darkness looming, and we passed a gnarly accident…a bus overturned in a rice paddi.  It was a terrifying sight- an upside down bus, police and people gathered round, and tarps covering bodies (?) on the road side.  We found out later there were 4 deaths and multiples severe back injuries as a result of the accident, and may those souls rest in peace.  I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved I was on a bike, or more terrified at such a bad sign.  When we finally got to Hue, we collapsed into the first hotel we could find in a fit of relief, happy to be alive and dry at last.

From there on, Hue was, to be honest, boring as shit.  Not much to see anyway, and absolutely no incentive to explore in the rain.  We hung out at the Backpacker’s Hostel, relaxed, talked to a lot of other travelers from all over the world, and I improved my billiard skills (a much needed accomplishment.)

Memorable Hue moment: made good friends with a local Cyclo driver, Lam, whose life was so boring at the moment he offered me a free cyclo ride.  A cyclo is a giant bicycle baby carriage.  The passenger sits in a little seat up front while being pedaled around by someone on the back.  After a few days languishing in the hostel, I felt that I needed some direction.  Lam took me like an adult child in a pram and showed me the local life in Hue….pedaled me to a café where I sat drinking coffee and tea with 20 other bored Vietnamese moto-taxi drivers doing the same thing.  Ie not much.  Lam and I discussed (I’m using this term very loosely given the language barrier) differences in food costs over rice soup in the rain, and he helped buy me an umbrella for the Vietnamese price (they really upcharge tourists everywhere).

The next night, I was out to dinner with friends when I ran into Lam again, and we all switched situations.  My gang and I each hopped on the back of the cyclo and pedaled the cyclo drivers around for awhile!  Great fun, until one of Lam’s friends tried to rip off one of mine.  Well, some things never change.

When the sun finally broke through, a group of us explored the Citadel- the old walled city where the emperor lived. It was pretty nice, and historical, and quite boring…but not a bad way to spend a day walking around with a group of new friends (One swede, portugese, Austrailian, and Israeli).  Walking around this previously war-torn city, we got into a fiery debate about the ethics of war in general.  I love these talks.

Back in the mountains…

Halfway up the mountains ^ Met some locals hanging out at the waterfalls on the way, they were very friendly:

Dalat was incredible.  A little European-looking town high up in green mountains centered around a picturesque lake complete with swan boats.  We stayed at the monk’s beautiful home and he treated us like his children, literally calling us Son and Daughter.  I was expecting a stark little hut in a village.  He actually lives in the middle of the city, in a beautiful 2-story house with 2 separate Buddhist shrines, a flat-screen television, and one crazy awesome garden full of avocado trees!  Upon arriving, I helped him weed the garden for a bit, which brought back so many memories of yard work with Paba.  At night, he dressed me in a warm down monk’s coat and we drove around the city on his motorbike, and I met his cousin’s family.

Early morning prayer complete with monk robes:

 

He woke me at sunrise the next morning, and I somewhat grumpily but gratefully struggled into the monk robes of purity he gave me.  We began with prayer-singing at his upstairs shrine to Buddha, and reading of a parable, which turned out to really strike a chord in my heart.  So much that it brought me to tears halfway through my recitation, which I know means it’s ringing true with something in my being.  It surprised me to react so emotionally right away.  So he made me read it again.  I cried, he cried.  He attributed these emotions to the Buddha, which I felt must be right.  Not even 8:00am and I was sobbing together with a monk.  Where the hell am I?

He left me to my thoughts and tears and prayers to write down the parable so I will always carry a copy.  And told me to go back upstairs and pray every so often.  So I did.  And then Karl awoke and we all had a lovely family breakfast.  And off to the pagodas!   Karl and I on our bike followed “Father” on his own scooter as he drove us around to 8 different pagodas (the Vietnamese word for “Temple”) that day.  What a cool way to see the sights! 

My “odd couple” travel buddies, Karl and the monk:

We got to meet all of his monk and nun friends and he showed us how to pray properly in the Buddhist shrines. 

Ancient, Chinese-looking architecture housing giant statues of the Buddha. All the décor was lotus flowers, lotus lamps, neon lotus things that spin like disco balls.  Old world religion in the new world.  Vegas-type flashing signs lit up behind the beautiful statues.  In the old days, they would adorn their temples with gold and beautiful fabrics. That’s all still there, but with technology thrown in.  Offerings of flowers, fruit, incense, money, and Oreo cookies!  As “Father” rushed us around temple to temple, shouting at us to Hurry Up!  He simultaneously reminded me of Paba and made me wonder “Aren’t monks supposed to practice patience?”

Every time I looked ahead on the road, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that we were racing around a beautiful mountainous area following a monk on a motorbike.  He took us in, treated us like family, and taught me some lessons that I hope will stay with me forever.

The ride back through the mountains was rainy and steep; I was definitely glad to have such an experienced driver taking care of the rough road.  I’d driven down part of the mountain in the rain and was absolutely appalled when I looked up to see just how high up we had been before.  I DROVE that?! Karl is more than a little crazy or too trusting to put his life in my hands like that.  But we survived.  And it was awesome.

Back in Nha Trang, we returned the bike (sad farewell) and hopped aboard a night bus to Hoi An.

This is a post about not always making the “right” decision, and the lessons it can bring.  Partly written on the bus, frenzied, partly written from the border crossing station, more settled…it’s a bit of a roller coaster of emotions.  But worth posting.  The descriptions of where I’m going are nothing without the human side of this journey.  Any day, any moment of any life is a lesson and a test to see how we best can live.  Here’s today’s lesson.  And stuck on the bus, I wrote a good 6 pages of blogs, so be prepared for a full Vietnam update on the who/what/where.  But for now:

Listening to your heart is actually much harder than it sounds.  I’d been feeling stuck in Hanoi, a little paralyzed.  This peaked my last day there, when I knew I felt rushed, had to decide whether to leave to Laos that day or the next.  I read my horoscope, which I haven’t done in a long time (usually just fucks with my decision making even more), and it told me to stay, I’d much happier if I took my time to stop and smell the roses.  This rang too true- gave me a specific answer to my question, but for some reason, I still wanted to rush and leave.  I spent the day in a fit of indecision flipping coins and walking around the city trying to figure out whether or not to board that bus. Is it really that big a deal?  Felt like one. 

On impulse around 5:00 I jumped on the bus with everyone, and almost immediately (but too late) my gut knew that was the wrong decision. Consequently, I didn’t even say a proper goodbye to Andy, this great guy I met that works at the hostel.


Now here I am, physically stuck on a bus in the middle of the countryside in a huge unexplained traffic jam stop.  Our tour bus is jammed in the middle of a long line of trucks and we have been stopped for hours.  I could be back at the hostel, writing and catching up on e-mails and correspondence, taking one more slow day to say goodbye to Vietnam, and hanging out with a cool new guy.   AND I found out that in my rush, I left my favorite new scarf there (fucking beautiful handcrafted scarf from my trip to Mai Chau).  WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN???

I wish I wish I wish I could turn back the clock just a few hours and decide to stay. Stay. Stay. Why does this happen?  And it’s the worst when you know it’s completely your own fault.

I’m trying to see that any experience is a lesson in listening.  This one I’m learning the hard way.  Every moment I sit here waiting is seeped in regret and “what could have been” had I just broken from the pack and done what I wanted.  This feeling was absolutely awful and barely went away on the first half of this 20-hour bus ride. I just wasn’t sure at the time what I wanted.  How can one be sure in any given moment?

Either way, here I am, stuck with it, dealing with it.  On my way to Laos.  Things I am grateful for.  Honestly, if Cambodia taught me anything, it’s that these are first-world problems; things could always be a LOT worse.  So I will try not to waste time being unhappy.  Regret is the most useless thing in the world.  It’s hard though, really hard, a battle of the mind. 

That’s the thing about being physically stuck in a place, it makes you cope with all your boiling emotions.  You can’t let them get the best of you or you’ll go crazy.  They’re still there in the end, but not letting them control you will only serve to help, yourself and the other people around you.

“If it is a small problem, you should not worry, because you will soon find a solution.  If it is a big problem, you should not worry, because you will not find a solution.”

-Dalai Lama

Thank you, Kai, for sharing this bit of wisdom with me.  Don’t sweat the small stuff; and really, it’s all small stuff.  So what if I didn’t go with my gut?  It is my own happiness in a night and day that was changed.  And all happiness is impermanent anyway.  It’s good to practice being in control of your mind to BE HERE BE NOW.  This was a lesson, a test, and it is only a mistake if you gain nothing from it.  Now I know, the hard way, how to better listen to my heart.  And even if things go “wrong”, I am still here, it is still now, and there are always a million other worse situations I can be in, so stop stressing about it.

It’s all mind games really.  Overthought, go away. I have better things to think about in the here and now.

The here and now of posting this is in the border crossing station to Laos, where we have been stuck for a couple hours.  Apparently there was a landslide last night, causing the road to be shut for at least 5 hours while we sat there; now it’s lunch time for the Laos border people, so we are waiting again and…I feel fine.  Happy.  Glad to be here, be alive, with these great people.  It doesn’t matter what could have been.  All that matters is what is.

Nha Trang: everything happens for a reason.

Taking it back a couple weeks now:

NT was/is pretty much a backpacker beach party town…but I wanted something more in the end.  Had a great time in the nightlife with Kai, Sean, Tim, and Jordy- wild times began with Tequila Suicide shots (I did not partake, merely watched, and laughed): snort a line of salt, take the tequila shot, squirt the lime in the eye.   Kind of a ridiculous alpha-male competition between Australians and Americans.  The night that followed included a bar made completely out of ice, followed by a warm midnight swim in the South-China Sea. 

stoked for the aquarium

The 5 of us had a great time exploring 4 coastal islands on a $6 boat-trip. 

We spent the day diving and back-flipping off the little boat into the clear turquoise water, checking out the aquarium, eating as much dragon fruit and pineapple as we could take, dancing to hilarious Vietnamese karaoke, and chilling out on a private rock beach, complete with a rainbow arcing across the bay.  Paradise.

As much fun as the tourist attractions can be, it’s always a good travel goal to meet the locals, and I made some very good friends in town.  Patrick, a Frenchman, owns the best creperie and wine bar in Nah Trang, and we spent a good deal of mealtimes there, chowing down on French delicacies a la Vietnam.  His staff of Vietnamese girls around my age were so friendly and I quickly made breakfast plans with MyMy.

She took me to her favorite spicy-noodle street stall for breakfast, a bit of shopping and relaxing.  I ran along the beach, exploring the fishing areas of the beach during the day, and went out for a real local experience with MyMy’s friends at night.  They took me to the Vietnamese discotheque, which is like a loud bumping rave…except without the drugs and instead the dance floor was packed with seemingly flamboyantly gay Vietnamese boys getting their groove on.  


Karl met me in the morning (after having parted ways in cambodia a few weeks before).  We began with my favorite local sandwiches for breakfast on the beach. 


Upon getting out of the water, an old nearly toothless man struck up a conversation.  He turned out to be a monk from Dalat, the mountain town I had been hoping to visit, and I spent awhile listening to him (what I could understand anyway) as he showed me the sutra (Buddhist teaching) he had spent years upon years writing by hand.  I asked if I went to Dalat, if we could see his home, and if he would teach me some Buddhism.  He smiled a toothless grin and wrote down his address.

I had been a little lost until this point, wondering why I had been hanging around beach towns just like at home, and searching for an omen.  This one seemed impossible to ignore.  Walking around town, Karl and I talked about it…

What if we really went to stay with a monk in the mountains?  How could we even go about finding this place?

We passed a place to rent Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Another obvious sign.

What if we rode there on a Harley??

Deciding to follow the signs of the universe, we headed back to the beach to inform the monk that we would be paying a visit, and made plans to meet him in Dalat the following afternoon.

My stomach was in knots when we awoke the next morning…had we really agreed to do this? How stupid!  I’ve never driven a big motorcycle before…and all reports showed it to be raining in the mountains!  The bike had trouble starting, then ran out of gas after a few blocks.  My mind was shouting at me not to go, that I was being incredibly foolish.

But I’ve been realizing that sometimes those voices in my head telling me not to do something and shaking up my nerves are conditioned by caution and fear…the lessons of trepidation I’ve learned my whole life in order to keep me safe. And by safe, I mostly mean sheltered. 

But have I ever broken free from them before?  Only a couple times have I dared, and those experiences have been wildly successful lessons in joy and freedom like I’ve never known. 

So I sucked it up, we got some gas, and were on the road…with only a vague idea of the direction to Dalat.  By asking locals by the roadside every few miles, we  soon were rumbling along the most beautiful country road passing green and yellow rice fields and small villages.  The trail twisted up into the mountains past rushing waterfalls and views that got more breath-taking the higher we climbed.  Karl was driving of course, for the first couple hours, until I got brave enough to take a turn at the helm.  Oh. My. God. I love motorcycles.

I knew it from the first time I was 7 and sat on the back seat of Dad’s friend’s Harley as he inched down the road.  In my tiny black leather jacket and braces, I recall vowing then and there that I would one day own one of these amazing machines.

15 years later and here I was, the full power of the roaring engine beneath me, a Swede on the back, a monk miles ahead, and I was in control.

Thoughts picked like grains of rice along the roadside

L’shana Tova! I’m staying in a luxury hotel for $12/night, a respite from the rough life on the rainy road, in order to celebrate with the new year, Rosh Hashana.  Being in this palace (having the fortunate blessing to have this option), exploring Vietnam with good friends, and being fortunate enough to go buy traditional Jewish food to share the holiday with my travel buddies, makes me insanely full with gratitude and appreciation.  A happy, healthy new year to all :)

Moving slowly up the coast in the rain It came to me in Dong Hoi, why this moto trip up Vietnam appealed much: It’s a perfect metaphor for my life right now. Every second of it floods my senses and makes me aware of how free I am.

A bus is nice for watching the scenery…it’s comfortable. I can sit back in my cushy seat and get to my destination quickly, watching passively from the window as the other people in the world exist and live their own lives and thrive right there next to the highway. I can fill my head with my old favorite songs on my ipod until eventually my eyes grow weary from all the watching and fall closed in pleasant sleep. And when I awake, hey look at that! I’ve arrived. Somewhere.

A motorcycle, however, takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you right in the action, with all those other foreign people. Well I guess I’m the foreigner here. Whether driving or riding on the back, I’m not even permitted time to check out. Every bump in the road wakes me up to the present moment, and every passing motorist and bicycling school-kid is a chance to spread a smile and make that human connection between strangers from different lands.

We all have that choice, all the time, between going into your own world, checking out…and waking up, tuning in, which I’m finding is best done by connecting with others.

I’m passing all the same scenery that I would be in a bus, but the greens and yellows of the rice paddies, and the pinks and oranges of the sunset, are so much more vivid without the protective pane of glass in between.

Every moment I’m faced with the choice of where to navigate next, with only a detailed map full of unpronounceable names- unknown roads to unknown cities, recommendations of fellow travelers, and lost-in-translation directions from locals to guide us. The possibilities are literally endless. Being faced with the choice of where to physically go every day seeps me in the realization that my life is at the same crossroads. A million possibilities (how lucky!), a detailed map of how to get where I want to go, plenty of advice from those who have travelled those roads before, and the knowledge that I can always ask for directions along the way (though they sometimes may be a bit confused).

The only thing now is to figure out where I’m trying to get and why! I have no clear answer to that question yet and so I’m doing the only thing I can…exploring my options. And accepting and absorbing the education that gives me. Soaking in everything and then using that to figure out where I want to go next.

A motorcycle ride definitely isn’t the easiest endeavor in the world, nor the most comfortable, but I am learning. Some lessons so far:

it is always up to me.

It is good to have reliable and relaxed travel buddies.

Study your map, the better off you will be.

Meet people. Smile at people.

Look at the colors and appreciate your vision.

Sometimes in the matter of a few meters, the worst smell can turn into the sweetest, instantly ironing out the crinkle in your nose.

Think about those who have been here in these places before in different circumstances and be grateful for where you are.

Put yourself out there, outside of your comfort zone. Wake up.

And let life happen to you.