Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Update of sorts from a girl out of sorts...

thoughts, ideas, and general randomness from 'the road.'

Observing a passing landscape is more enjoyable from an open window than a closed one, if I can't smell a place how can I understand it?

Walking along the street in Luang Prabang I smelled orange oil from the green skin of a peeled orange that a grandmother was sharing with her grandchild. It brought back the face of la chapina who always sold me overpriced oranges on the Belize/Guate border. She'd jam chile salt in them and I would always buy two, one for me and one to give to my driver.

Drivers slow so as not to atropear (run over) baby chicks, dogs, roosters, small children playing on the road's edge, and pigs. Our bus squealed to a stop yesterday to spare a chick's life, which made me think about just how valuable that small bit of animal protein and bone must be to a rural Lao family, and also highlighted the deep respect the otherwise wild driving bus drivers must have for that fluffy bit of life. The more grown up and gallant roosters with their orange heads and green tails always beg the question, of 'why'd the chicken cross the road?' as they race across almost leaving a cloud of red dust in their hurry.

I have been quietly suffering from what I can only equate to an amputation or deep heartbreak since May. I miss C.A. like I cannot quite explain. I tried to compare it to dating the wrong man whilst knowing you are in love with someone else, a simile which my parents found quite captivating. Nonetheless it is true, I feel like I left my heart somewhere along the Panamerican which seems ridiculous in the face of all this beauty.

Vang Vieng and I have finally made a truce. I stick to riding a bike through the jaw dropping landscape to visit its plethora of caves and leave the river and its fashionable tubes to its more hip visitors.

Happiness surely equals noodle soup.

I miss long sleeves and pants.


Monday, August 17, 2009

self-reliance and a very beautiful road

a blog entry inspired by two minds...

"When you are traveling you are your sole support system, and that is hard and it gets tiring." -AG

Garrie makes an incredible point here, something that for so long I had been wanting to put into words. Every time I go to make a decision I have only myself to rely on, an exhilarating and exhausting prospect.

“Travel, which is nearly always seen as an attempt to escape from ego, is in my opinion the opposite. Nothing induces concentration or inspires memory like an alien landscape or a foreign culture. It is simply not possible (as romantics think) to loose yourself in an exotic place. Much more likely is an experience of intense nostalgia, a harking back to an earlier stage of your life, or seeing a serious mistake. But this does not happen to the exclusion of the exotic present. What makes the whole experience vivid, and sometimes more thrilling, is the juxtaposition of the present and the past--- London seen from Harris saddle.” (Paul Theroux – The Happy Isle of Oceania, which by the way is an INCREDIBLE book)

In my case it was Lake Atitlan seen from the karst of Vang Vieng, and that moment was so strong I felt like the breath had been knocked out of me. In the presence of so much beauty I was reminded of how much I miss my home. And maybe that is what this is, a realization that for me, Central America is home. It took flying half way around the world to realize that. I was talking to Sarah today about the possibility of coming back and she said, 'coming home?' and my heart said, 'yes, coming home.' I am home sick, which is a strange and yet lovely realization.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

que EMO gringita!

The other day someone said to me that we never realize what we have until it is gone. This isn't a new or original idea, I think there is an extensive collection of literature, music, and art all dedicated to it, but it has been a long time since I've felt that way. I'm not sure if it is a result of being on the road for more than 2 years, or if it is my spiritual superiority over normal mortals, but I have started to learn how to appreciate what you have in front of you. I spend a lot of time thinking about this concept, especially as the world feels posed on the brink of a big shift (2012, global warming, financial crises, failing monsoon rains). My conclusion is that I think we should spend more time appreciating what we have right now and not worry so much about the stock markets, the price of gas (petrol for you pommies), and Jessica Simpson's fat but beautiful tour.

I find myself using my day to day struggles as good fertilizer for writing and for spiritual development. Even my reoccurring loneliness for friends, family, and far off places has begun to feel like reminders of what a great life I have rather than something that brings me down.

Yesterday on our epic overland tour of Highway 1, a drive which means a lot of back tracking over hundreds of kilometers (an incredibly inefficient travel day for an Edward like me) through Vietnam, I started thinking how we can never get away from anything. You can fly 100,000,000,000 of miles from home and find yourself depressed over the same thing. As soon as we accept our reality, as soon as we drop our habits of reacting the same way everytime we start on the real journey.

It's funny I created this blog to record my travels, but more than often it feels like a one sided conversation about spirituality, laced with personal references (inside jokes we called them when I was 13) and my weird sometimes romantic, sometimes existential, sometimes humorous views on the world that I am a part of.

Today I am in Vientiane, sitting by the window in cafe JOMA. I've limited myself to one cup of coffee and have been keeping watch of the weather for the past hour while I wait for the Internet to resume. It was very windy for 20 or so minutes while rain made vague threats and finally culminated in a brief but violent storm. Now the leaves are calm again, stirring in a slight breeze, and the sky has lightened a bit, though a dark patch remains. There is steady traffic at the 24 hour atm. I've got Emiliana Torrini playing on my ipod and I am not sure if it is the gray sky or her voice or the coffee or the rain, but it feels very Seattle-like this afternoon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

the best place in vietnam

I realized something last night: I have gotten complacent in my travel. Jaded or hardened or whatever you want to call it, but last night snapped me out of it. We were on the SE2 bound for Hanoi, in the plushy Livitrans cart: luxury attached to a howling creaking mess of cars that reek of urine, durian, and sweat all mixed in with stale cigarette smoke. And I have to say something right now, I have gone flash packer because I f---ing hate that part of the train. I hate sleeping on patched dirty mattresses with only a thin sheet between me and god knows what. I hate the cockroaches and the mice and the slimy feeling of everything on the train. I feel like I am caught in some Orwellian nightmare rocking my way through a ghost-like Vietnam cast in misty silhouettes.
Some how one of my passengers convinced me to walk the length of the train to the bar car, through eleven miserable stinking cars just to buy some crap Vietnamese beer. I went because I had this feeling, one that kept coming up: I'm stagnating. I've gotten to used to comfort: air conditioning, tourist food (free brekkie), private transport, I'm getting boring. Vietnamese trains should stink, they should be nasty and freezing cold. I finally said to myself, "I'm not scared of smells, or dirt, I dig this shit. I love the raw wild west chaos that C.A. used to dish out daily and which Vietnam will dish out if I just let it." So off we went, loosing balance, running and shouting, crashing into people's feet, stepping over floor picknicks of ramen, and getting stared at for 11 cars. And we arrived into the most brilliant fuck off bar strapped to the back of this clattering mess of a train. Greasy steel tables crammed between wooden booths, every one filled with 4-6 Vietnamese yelling over tables littered with Heineken cans, balled up pink napkins, cigarette butts, and plates of seafood (side note- train seafood is a terrifying thought). We grabbed the last spot, half a booth with a table covered in bins of silverware and chopsticks and cracked two bia 333 (ba-ba-ba). It was the kind of moment that calls to mind cramming pax on overfull chicken buses (GET ON, WE'RE IN F----ING GUATEMALA!), it is that feeling of being absolutely at home with the clamoring chaos of the world around you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

'you go number 2.'

I just got in from my most recent motorbike tour through Hue, which hands down has to be my most favorite thing to do in Vietnam. It is the ideal way to experience all the beautiful minutiae that make travel so exhilarating and breathtaking. Probably more so because motorbikes are so classically Vietnamese and somehow accentuate the whole experience, just like a good wine can do for a great meal.
The rice is turning gold in this part of the country and the stalks have begun to tip over from the weight of the grains. The lower part of the stalks remain green leaving the fields a lush green bronzed with ripeness. It is funny for me to think back on my first trip through Hue, when they were tilling the muddy fields and burning stalks from the last harvest. Now these same fields rest on the verge of another agricultural cycle and I am still here being stunned by Vietnam's beauty.
We stopped at one point to see water buffalo and two calves neck deep in green water staring at us from behind a cluster of giant bamboo. Then we passed a cyclo loaded down with fire wood being peddled by an old man. Another cyclo creaked by with two meter and a half tall gas canisters. Two girls squatted on their heels played in a flower pot, lost in their own world. Above it all the purple gray clouds just obscured the late afternoon sun. How much poetry can be locked up in one hour in Vietnam?
On our way home from the tour a moto passed me, the man driving was dressed in a white button front shirt with thin stripes, his girlfriend straddled behind him in a flowing pink blouse with a cascade of ebony hair down her back. He smiled at me as they passed, his girlfriend reaching under his chin to secure his teal helmet under his chin. They were so beautiful that it made my chest tighten, not in that air brushed hollywood way, but in that beauty of fitting perfectly into the scene.

The title is quote from one of the moto drivers explaining that one of my passengers would now be riding behind another girl after we lost the use of one of the bikes to a flat tire. It consequently made me giggle into the wind for five minutes straight.

tạm biệt!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Train Phở

Across the street from the Ga Nha Trang (Nha Trang train station) is a row of food carts, bánh mi, nước mía, and then 3 phở carts. My favorite is the third, and in my pathetic terrible vietnamese I ask for, "Phở ga." Into a small plastic container go soft rice noodles, young onions sliced longways with most of their tops taken off, little rings of green onions, a squirt of plum sauce, a squirt of sweet chile, a bit of boiled chicken, bean sprouts, and finally, stock. My favorite part of the process is the stock ladeling, the lady swoops the ladel over the top of the steaming pot, scooting the fat, bits of bone and other stock making debris out of the way, then it is one and a half ladels of steaming stock turning the plastic container into a noodle swimming pool. The whole thing is packaged up in a plastic bag with a spoon and wooden chopsticks and back to the train station I run.

I would wager that until you have experienced the incredible-ness of Phở you haven't really experienced vietnam. Though my train phở is always enjoyable it doesn't hold a candle to my favorite the phở from Saigon.

My first night in Saigon I ate phở on a child-sized plastic stool at 2 in the morning. Knees near my ears, two of my passengers by my side, ripping basil off its stem and smothering the whole mess in sweet chile sauce, it is one of those perfect travel memories.
The nice thing about phở for me is that it is a comfort food. I used to go to the Phở lady up the road from my dorms after especially nasty cold rowing practices. My mom introduced me to the place and the lovely Vietnamese lady that ran it. She always gave my brother extra noodles and served us homemade yogurt at the end of the meal. It was where I first got hooked on lemon juice. It was a little slice of Vietnam before I even knew what that meant.