My dreams are haunting me. Not the sort that come when I’m asleep. It’s those that come during my waking hours; the endless ideas that flash past my inner eye, pestering me, poking me incessantly, and attempting to spur me into action. But they are ridiculous at times, how can I possibly take the first step into brining them into this world? For example, every time I see escalators, which is quite often as I’ve been moseying through cities quite a lot as of late, I picture the escalator flash mob and choreographed dance I’ve seen play through my head a thousand times or more. I watch street musicians busking in the Bangkok streets and I get a flash vision of a festival where busking was a regulated and encouraged element, yet another message promoting personal creative expression.
Ah and then there is Pretty lights. . .Oh Pretty lights how your music tears my soul into shreds with its artful breaks and seamless combination of music styles from across the century. Their music lights up a certain place in me that I have never seen before. I cannot shake my conviction that I must collaborate with them at some point. That will be my pinnacle, the star at the top of the arch of my career as a dancer. That is my ultimate dream. I want to create events and build and build my company until I can afford to enlist the talents of Pretty Lights and then I will bring forth the proposal of a multi hoop dancer choreographed piece to one or several of his songs. Oh ultimate bliss. If I do ever make it to that moment, of dancing to Pretty Lights before an ocean of people, I could simply just die right then and there. I’d be satisfied.
It’s enough pressure to make a heart collapse from the pain. I WANT all of my ideas to come into reality. It’s as if they have a power of their own and they have come to me begging to be brought to life. So I scribble them down as best I can before they flit off to the next person, their next potential portal into this world. But a scribble. . . what a pale comparison to the wonder I see ignite behind my eyes, the full color visions that play just to me, begging, please, make me happen.
Recently I’ve been seeing an abundance of flash mobs happen in my head. One of my favorite of late is a bubble parade where thousands of participants flood the streets with waves of bubbles big and small. BYO bubbles would be encouraged for participants but for those wanting to join little bottles of bubbles could be passed out for free. Bubbles are pretty cheap so it would be feasible to purchase boxes of bubbles. A quick search on google shows that when bought in bulk each bottle can cost $1 or less depending on the size bottle. Hell sidewalk vendors could even sell them at $1 a pop and cover the cost. Or for $2 a pop and the proceeds could be donated to a charity. But details aside, a calm breezy San Francisco day could provide the absolute perfect conditions for a bubble bonanza.
And yes, to add to my misery the backdrop to my visions is inevitably San Francisco. Despite all the reasons why I am afraid to root down in America right now and why SF in particularly is a daunting potential home, SF is the place I am inexplicably drawn to, where my ideas call me to plant them so they may blossom.
But why bubbles you might ask? Well I have a great answer for that: I have absolutely no clue. Why not bubbles? Why do we humans partake in artistic expression in the first place? But above all, why do these ideas pick me to pester? All I know is that sometimes when I close my eyes I am transported into a potential future where the most beautifully bizarre scenes are possible. Where I can just about feel the breeze, tinged with brine, brush my face as my eyes take in millions of bubbles rising from the streets, from the people, pure joy in little ephemeral packages soaring to the sun.
I seem to be connected to Cairns in North Queensland as if by a rubber band. I just can’t seem to stretch myself very far from this place. I’ve spent the last few days on a short road trip down the coast with one gentlemanly old man and then turning around and returning back up north with another equally gentleman-like older man. They’re harmless, these ones and simply in need of a bit of company as they travel, from one swimming hole and nature-bound campsite to another on the winding months of holiday they allow themselves in their retired years. Both of them were surprisingly grounded, self sufficient individuals who understood the value of the sea breeze, and of mountain air rustling their failing hair; of the salt in brine and crisp of spring water on their skins. Both understood the power and nutrition one receives when submersing oneself in the pounding water of short falls. They were two of the most alive retired people I’ve ever met.
Dave, my ride down south, is a 70+ year old retired man with a grandchild who is nearly my age. He eats well and enjoys a good naked dip in the ocean before breakfast, followed by as many dips in freshwater creeks as his can possibly fit into the day. He also enjoys painting and carries his paints with him on his travels in case the mood strikes to capture the trees and plants around him. He has a particular appreciation for the mottled camouflage look of some tree barks formed by the delicate layering of pigment, lichens and moss, something he says is a delight to paint.
Jeff, my ride back up north is a 60+ year old man who retired early when two close friends of his suddenly died and he realized the worth of his days. With two kids well raised and on their own, an ex-wife who was removed from the picture and enough money in the bank and in assets to comfortably support himself, he hit the road. Now he spends the summer months in his home outside Melbourne and escapes to the warm winters of the north where he whiles his days walking his dog through the scenery, hiking and taking dips in fresh water pools. Occasionally he finds the perfect place and the perfect weather to fly his aerochute (which he stores in the back section of his caravan trailer). From way up there he gains a whole unique appreciation for the scenery in which he travels and he even manages to take photos of the sights. He wanted to get us up in the air and it certainly would have been such a treat but it has been too windy of late and we couldn’t fly. His companion golden retriever, Shannon, is his right hand man and a bright one at that. This dog was 11 years old but you would never know it for how he leapt up creek beds, jumped into frigid mountain waters and generally went wherever Jeff went. If he couldn’t follow he would steal one of Jeff’s shoes to say loud and clear “you aren’t leaving without this!” He couldn’t stand to be led by a leash and instead preferred to hold his leash in his mouth and walk himself. Getting to know them, and seeing the bond between man and his dog made me ache with eagerness all over again to get a dog of my own when I return home.
I’ve now been safely deposited back in Cairns and am posting up for the night at a tidy and quiet, all girls hostel. It is a perfect place it seems, to finally get around to some writing. I also managed to get up to some public hoop performance in and around down town Cairns today. I had fun and certainly impressed a fair few people but was met with the recurring realization that I limit my impact by not fully engaging with the crowd. I am getting better at looking up and making eye contact but I do not hold eye contact and I don’t know how to introduce myself or maintain an outer monologue to the crowd. I’m patient with myself, however. I know I will learn these things in time, I just could use a mentor and teacher to help graduate to that next level of hoop dance: performance.
I’m lying in the back of the four wheel drive, bright yellow goliath of a van purchased by my travel companions, Anna and Ari. They are a sweet and delightful couple from Canada and the US, respectively, who I met through couchsurfing.com while staying in Cairns. A few days ago the three of us set off for a camping adventure into the Daintree Rainforest and beyond, and now we are making our return to Cairns after a deeply satisfying venture. I am reclining on the bench seat in back and my feet are resting on the wide window opposite me as we bump along this deserted highway through the bush lands of northern Queensland. The scenery of golden grasses and sage colored trees slides easily beneath my pink painted toes. When the trees end the scenery gives way to wide open grass plains, framed by distant hills. Cows are a constant feature of the landscape and every so often a kangaroo comes hopping into view before quickly scooting off into the brush.
This trip up into the rainforest and tablelands north of Cairns was, in a sense, a test of this van’s four wheel drive capacity, its fuel consumption, and our comfort in it as a long term camper van. Though our venture was at first off to a troubled start, the short five day trip has proven to be a grand success. We left Cairns with the intention of heading up towards Cook Town (the second to last human outpost of any significance on the north east coast of Australia) via the Bloomfield 4wd track. The Bloomfield track begins just north of Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest, a popular tourist destination along the coast whose claim to fame is that it is the meeting point of two world heritage sites: the ancient Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately we didn’t get very far along our mission before we realized the gas tank had quite abruptly dried up. This was troublesome because the van only runs on LPG, a difficult variety of fuel to find in more remote areas. Upon our realization, we were forced to back track nearly 40 anxious, nerve racking minutes with one solitary bar on the fuel gauge before finding a station that carried LPG. This left us with some serious questions on whether or not the van’s gas consumption would out run the miles of rough dirt track through the dense jungle that lay between us and Cook Town. To add to our doubts, we heard from a friend that sections of the track were washed out due to recent rains. It didn’t look too promising that we were going to make it up to Cook Town after all!
We decided to think it over and stay one night in another popular tourist town, Port Douglas. After having dinner with some friends at a local back packer hostel, we set off down the coast and found a great, hidden and little known place to camp right next to the beach. I left Ari and Anna to have the privacy of the bed in the van and I set up a tarp, camp mat and sleeping back out on the beach beneath the breathtaking night sky. The moon was out with a shining brilliance that lit up the heavens. Slipping silently under the silken moonlight were thousands of thin clouds, arranged like luminescent tiles across the sky, ethereal and light as gauze. Where the clouds broke, the inky black sky was studded with fierce stars, shining like diamonds against black velvet. On the deep blue ocean, the moon light rippled and broke into a countless glittering shards, winking on the easy movement of the waves. When my eyes had taken their fill of these riches, I laid my head back and breathed deep letting the crash and hush of the waves wash through me. I slept easy and deep, that is until I awoke to a throng of mosquitoes eating me alive. Thankfully, such things are easily handled with handy repellant and a good dose of tiger balm to cool the itch.
The next day we did a bit more research and found out that the track was in good condition and fine to travel. We also discovered that indeed LPG was available in Cook Town and received confirmation that we would easily make it there on a full tank of gas, given the size of our tank. The good news spurred us onward, so we plunged once again onto the road, this time with a properly full tank of fuel.
This proved to be a fantastic decision. The dirt track that we traveled cut through the beautiful dense jungle of the Daintree Rainforest, chock full of ancient varieties of ferns and palm trees. This lush vegetation broke only to give way to glittering rivers winding through the undergrowth. Our van handled the river crossings and rough terrain with like a great yellow beast. Had she been able to roar in triumph, I’m sure she would have. Instead it was us, her loyal passengers, who cheered and grunted in victory after some of the more difficult climbs and crossings. The gas gauge held up beautifully too; we reached the halfway point between our starting point and Cook Town and we still had a tank which was more than ¾s full. If you were to believe the gas gauge that is, which at times appears to be on drugs, bouncing down a bar, then up two bars, then down two bars, back up one bar . . . and so on. Unfortunate gauge behavior if you are trying to determine if there is enough gas in the tank to make a detour even deeper into the bush. . .
Our first night camping along the Bloomfield track, we stayed at a lovely little isolated road house owned by a character named Pete. Posted all around the small shop were signs encouraging way ward travelers to buy something to support the store. Signs such as: “PAY MORE FOR LESS HERE! Because here is a blooming hard place to get anything to, even you!!” Or even better “%60 of travelers coming to ask for directions do not buy anything to support our store, %40 get to where they are going.” Pete and his wife were great folks, helpful and welcoming to the nth degree. In the morning Pete gave us a lesson on how to crack a whip and each of us managed a pretty impressive crack after only a few minutes instruction. We mentioned to him that we were hoping to make it to a nearby fruit farm to try the exotic miracle berry that makes everything you eat taste sweet. To which he replied, “Why go that far? I have a miracle berry bush right here!” And so he did, just next to the front door of his store. The bush was devoid of berries save three hidden beneath its leaves. Armed with a brilliant red berry each, we set down with slices of lemon to begin our miracle berry experience. After first carefully opening our berries and rolling the relatively large pit, coated in a thin layer of flesh, around and around our tongue, we then took a lick on our lemons.
Oh my, did they taste incredible! It was like they had suddenly become lemonade fruits. They tasted just like sweetened lemonade and it was a taste you just couldn’t get enough of. We quickly were taking walloping bites out of our lemon slices, hungrily devouring this incredible flavor. He also gave us some fiery Tobasco sauce to try but, while it was a puzzle for the tongue, such an intense spicy burn paired with resounding sweet, it didn’t taste nearly as blissful as our lemons. He brought out more lemon slices and we ate those up to, as easy and quick as if they were slices of orange.
Pete also took us around back to show us his mammoth of a motor home/tank. This vehicle nearly rose perhaps 5 meters off the ground and sat on tires around a meter tall. It could seat 18 people and he once used it to take tourists on bush safaris. The monster of a machine was once a German tank vehicle built for war and able to tackle just about any terrain. He pointed out the massive metal bull bar in the front, in particular two curled “tusk” like protrusions that could be folded down when traveling through thick bush. “Yeah, she has no problem mowing down trees about this big around when the front gates are down,” Pete said while creating a circle with his arms that was perhaps a foot or more in diameter. She was a creature to behold alright but sadly out of commission as the last venture into the bush left her with a shattered windshield and three out of four tires busted. As each tire costs $2,000, Pete replaced the three tires, left the windshield broken, and with, a heavy heart, parked her out back for an extended rest. Plants were winding their way up into her frame and she was unthinkably dirty when we saw her but he assured us that such a rare and powerful machine is still worth upwards of 150 thousand dollars, even in her present condition.
Before we extricated ourselves from this delightful couple’s endearing but rather sticky company, Pete told us how to get to their local treasure, a waterfall honored by the Aboriginal people as a sacred space. The only concern was that to get there we must drive another hour on a dirt track even deeper into the bush. Whether or not our gas tank could sustain through this detour and the remaining distance up to Cook Town would remain to be seen. We just couldn’t resist the chance to see this spot.run
Off into the bush we trundled in our giant yellow beast of a van! We roared our way through more creeks and over countless bumps and hills, passing beautiful scenery of golden grasses amidst tall arching eucalyptus trees. Beyond the trees was a blue sky that coudln't be beat. I tried in vain to capture the passing landscapes, craning my head and arms out the window and snapping away at random.
After more than an hour of traveling on gut churning dirt track we finally arrived at the camp spot near the falls. As the day was quickly waning we wasted no time in heading out on the trail to the falls. Technically the Roaring Meg Falls are a sacred place for the Aboriginals where only women are allowed but Anna and I brought Ari along anyways, making several silent prayers of forgiveness to the Elder’s sprits hoping this might help make up for our digressions from the tradition. At several spots along the trail there were signs posted forbidding the use of cameras to take any photos in respect for the Aboriginal Elders. The Aboriginal people believe that photos steal one’s spirit and it is feared that any photos taken at Roaring Meg Falls will capture the Elder sprits and hold them prisoner in the cameras of the tourists. So dutifully we put the camera safely away and let our eyes soak up the surrounding beauty, taking only memories with us when we left.
I cannot adequately describe the feeling that rose in me when we stepped out of the bush and gazed at the scenery that dropped away before us. When we emerged from the dense trees and brush the sky opened its arms and a yawning gorge spread wide to meet it. The waterfall, frothing white and surging with power, tumbled down a series of rock cliffs and landed in a vast deep blue pool before snaking delicately off into the distance. But the falls, we now realized, were just a piece of this scene. The power of the place was felt from the massive stone cliffs, from the open mouthed sky and the wide range of hills and valleys that could be seen clearly from both sides. The trees, a coppery green, could be seen in fine detail from great distances; they air was crisp and absolutely clear. In fact, all the colors had a distinct richness: the deep blue green of the river before the falls against the shocking white of the water’s froth; the olive green and gold trees against the piercing blue sky, and the cool shale colored rocks the firm backbone beneath all that beauty.
It was a place that silenced you and bid you sit still, and watch a while, wait a while, and listen. . .
So this is what we did. We found some solitude and some silence before the graceful roar of Roaring Meg. And what she had to say cannot be said.
I am not sure how or why but some pretty magical things happen in Ubud, Bali. For starters, the other day I came across a message on my Facebook wall that two of my favorite people, Liana and Josh Murillo had decided to come to Bali to celebrate their Honey Moon. Not just Bali. They had come to Ubud. I was, at the time, at a wifi café in down town Ubud and this news nearly made me fall over with delight and utter shock. Of all the places in the world for them to choose for their honey moon they chose the exact town in which I currently reside. A quick check on google maps showed me that the hotel in which they were staying was maybe 400 meters away from where I sat in that café. This time I really did fall over. I nearly scrambled out of the café and went tearing down the street to find them just around the corner.
But I didn’t. I calmed myself and decided to try to call first rather than crash down their door unexpected, on their honey moon no less. But several calls to their hotel came to no avail to get a hold of them or figure out exactly in which of the three locations of the hotel chain they were staying. So finally, after wrapping up our internet binge, I told my travel companion Brice that it was now or never. If I did not go searching for them that night I most likely would never run into them, and I couldn’t let that happen, not after such a ridiculous stream of coincidences. So we walked down the street about five minutes until we came to the first of the three locations of their hotel. The moment I stepped foot on the grounds my heart started to race. They were here. I just knew it. But a short conversation with the reception desk informed us that no one from the US had checked in that day. Strange.
So we begin to walk slowly out of the resort, gathering our resolve to find them at the next location, just a bit farther down the street. I had one foot on the steps leading out of the resort when I heard “Erin? . . .”
“NO WAY!” I shouted. I just couldn’t believe it. “Say it again!!” I pleaded.
To which I heard, “Erin?!”
I went tearing towards the voice and plowed straight into a Josh!! My surprise and my delight were beyond measure. In our massive hug explosion, Josh lifted me right off the ground and my legs did a little mid air dance. After laughing and gasping and smiling bigger than I thought possible, we collided again into another gleeful hug. It just didn’t seem real: running into such a good friend way the hell on the other side of the Earth.
Liana had just stepped out to make a run to the ATM so Josh, Brice and I went to sit at the dining room to wait for her. When she returned I attempted to hide behind the nearest 4X4 wooden pillar and as she came running towards me, obviously having seen most of the bulk of me protruding from either side of the pillar, I jumped out to hug her. Our love force created quite a collision and left us each with a good bump on our heads. Not caring in the least about having just crashed our heads together, we held each other tight and did a little two woman jig around the patio. What joy to see her after over a year since our last meeting!! I could hardly let her go. So much emotion came flooding into me and too many words wanted to spill from my mouth all at once. I told her how proud I was of her and Josh and how happy I was for the two of them. How happy I was to see them now! When I was disappointed I could not see them for their wedding. What a perfect balance that I was able to see them on their honey moon; simply too perfect to believe.
Liana, Josh, Brice and I spent the evening together, along with the entire tour group Josh and Liana were traveling with, first going to see a traditional Balinese dance and theater show and then to a tasty nearby restaurant. Over dinner Liana and Josh told me stories from their Wedding celebration and gave me a precious glimpse into the day I was so sad to have missed. At one point in the conversation, Josh mentioned off hand something about winding up running into me, in Bali, and I was overcome with disbelief all over again. “What!?!” I demanded of Powers that Be. “What!?” I exclaimed again. “How is this possible???”
The list of coincidences that brought us together continues beyond what I had previously known. Josh had almost gone with Liana to the ATM but decided last minute to stay back, for no reason in particular. He had been passing time inside their room but walked out to head to the reception at the exact moment Brice and I walked by on the path opposite their porch. Who knows if we would have found them if these things had not lined up so well? The Random Forces have a way of seeming not so random at times.
We wrapped up our night at the hotel, taking a look at the fabulous painting Liana and Josh had purchased earlier that day and chatting about the probing and interesting books each were reading. Before long Brice and I bid them good night and happy travels, as it was getting late and we all had to get up early the next day. But before parting we took a group photo to commemorate the serendipitous occasion.
As Brice and I slowly made our way back to our hotel, I held tight and tasted deeply my pure joy in being able to see such good friends at such a significant time in their lives. I looked up at the blinking stars above and sent a radiating beacon of gratitude out into the universe. “THANK YOU!” I thought loudly to the Everything. I returned my gaze to the earth as we walked, shaking my head in stubborn disbelief.
I’m riding on a local bus through the Laos countryside, heading for the Thom Konglor Cave, an apparently massive cave that can be toured by boat. Currently, I’m travelling with Van, a warm and strong hearted man from New York who I met one night out with a lively bunch of travelers in Vientiane. This is to be my last expedition before leaving this lovely country. I don’t know exactly what it is about the people and the culture here but even some really nasty turns in my travels have done nothing to dampen my appreciation of Laos. As we left the bus station and drove through the outskirts of the city of Vientiane, I felt this sense of calm love for everything I saw slide past my window. I loved the piles of fresh colorful fruit sold by roadside vendors. I loved the shops selling kids hula hoops next to brooms, bikes and motor oil. I loved the cows wandering the city streets, searching for grassy patches by the road. I loved the small children riding with their mother or father on a motorbike, perched standing on their parent’s lap, holding, with tiny hands, onto the stems of the rear-view mirrors. The city gradually fades and soon we are driving through small towns and rice fields, some with farmers bent low over the bright green shoots of the rice plants, arduously working to gather and bundle their harvest. More cows line the roadway, roaming free as the billowing white clouds above.
In about four hours time we arrived in the tiny town of Sien Kam. We stumbled out of the bus a bit dazed and thoroughly confused as to what to do next. A short interview with a kindly elderly gentleman with surprisingly fluent English pointed us in the proper direction in which to find our next ride. Just up the road a tuk tuk taxi was waiting to gather more passengers before beginning the journey into the mountainous countryside. He was leaving in thirty minutes so we passed the time relaxing the shade and, in my case, munching on snacks purchased at the nearby shop. I had found nori, one of my favorite snacks, and as I was happily crunching away like an oversized lizard I noticed an adorable young boy, held by his grandmother, was looking longingly at my treat. I tore him off a piece, fully expecting his guardian to kindly refuse the offer, but to my surprise she let him take it. He grasped the dark green seaweed in his tiny chubby hands and his face lit up into the biggest melt-your-heart baby grin as he took his first taste. I nodded and smiled with him, patting my belly, hoping this was an international gesture for “mmmmm tasty!” I’m not sure if he understood but he smiles bigger than ever, his chubby cheeks opening wide enough to show his first baby teeth, and that’s enough for me.
Soon the driver motioned that it was time to go, so we filed into the tuk tuk and began the drive up into the hills. The flat landscape of Sien Kam quickly gave way to dense mountainous jungle set to a backdrop of stunning shale-colored limestone cliffs. The cliff tops were jagged as shark’s teeth; their faces woven with jungle trees and vines. Some exposed patches were streaked with light beige stone, creating a beautiful contrast to the predominant dark shale color of the cliffs. These cliffs were perched above us like giant stone guardians, towering over us at each bend in the winding road. Sometimes they were quite close but at other times we could see in the distance, through a light mist, an entire expanse of dark stone cliffs woven with jungle and painted with streaks of beige. The landscapes in Laos have been nothing short of mesmerizing in their beauty and this venture into the countryside only served to underline this statement, perhaps even to highlight it and place it in all-caps and bold lettering.
After an hour of gawking, open-mouthed, at the passing scenery, we arrived at our taxi’s final destination, Kan Koun Kam, the first in a series of villages in the valley that lead to the Konglor Cave. After some investigating, we found a fantastic bungalow at a simple resort which looks out over a river. Our resort had the added bonus of being one of the only places around (if not the only place) which rented motor bikes so the following morning we rented ourselves a bike and tore off in search of this legendary cave.
Now most people with a destination in mind might first consult a map, or ask for directions before hitting the road, but Van and I preferred the wanderer’s approach and instead tried every possible route other than the correct one, before finally landing on the road that leads to the cave. In fact the very first turn we made out of the driveway of our hotel was incorrect. That said, we did discover some lovely things on our errant wanderings. First, we meandered into the nearby village, past more serene cows, one of which was lovingly licking its kin, past smiling and giggling village children, past ramshackle huts and shoddy wooden fences enclosing bright green grassy pastures. This place was the most idyllic little peaceful village and it stretched no larger than the interior of a Walmart store.
When the road ended in a pasture we turned around and bumped and jostled our way right back out of the village. We rode past all the smiling children who waved again with just as much enthusiasm as if they hadn’t just seen us moments prior, past the serene cows licking one another, past the dreamy green pastures, and out onto the main dirt road in search of the next possible route. Our next wandering journey took us up into the nearby hills, through beautiful dense jungle and up past a spectacular lookout point. When we had driven for a good twenty minutes with no signs for the cave we began to suspect our error. A short interview with a toll officer confirmed this suspicion, so we turned around and headed back, again. We loped and wound our way through the gorgeous dense jungle, on the tight and winding steep mountain road, back to the spectacular lookout point where we stopped to take in the view of the valley below. This view alone was worth the hour detour into the mountains. Below us stretched the river which wound through the valley, the humble village sitting just up the road from the tiny town of Kan Koun Kam, and the vibrant green rice fields extending into the distance. Running the boarder of all this wonder were ranges of the limestone cliffs, lording over all like omnipresent gods of the valley below.
Finally we gave in and admitted that we had no idea where we were going so we rode into the main village, Kan Koun Kam to ask for directions. In no time we received proper directions and sped off on the last road we hadn’t yet tried. This road was gloriously paved and smooth, unlike many roads one finds in Laos, and stretched straight as an arrow for nearly the entire 40 km journey to the cave. Lining the road on each side were more majestic shale-colored cliffs set behind seemingly endless rice fields. Every now and then we would drive through a little “village”, no more than a modest stretch of ramshackle bamboo houses, and wave at all the happy smiling children who simply burst with friendly calls of “Sabaidee!” and “Hello!”. I marveled at the simplicity of the lives of these humble people, and yet the stunning grandeur of the surrounding landscape spread in their back yards. And they all seemed so happy, despite the hardships of living as poor farmers. A certain peacefulness in their hard worn faces echoed the serene beauty of the land in which they lived. I gave a silent prayer to the Forces That Be that no resort developer finds this hidden gem of a valley and decides to build a golf course over all the beautiful rice fields.
When at last we reached the cave we quickly hired a boat and set off, as the park was closing soon. Unsure of what to expect, we followed our two guides into the wide mouth of the cave and carefully climbed into one of the many long narrow boats which lined the dimly lit river bank just inside the cave. In no time we were speeding deeper into the blackness, slicing easily through the dark waters. The brilliant green patch which was the cave’s mouth quickly shrunk behind us and soon blinked out completely as we rounded a bend in the river. Complete darkness draped heavy around us, broken only by the shafts of light shining from the large headlamps worn by our guides. As they shone their headlights around us we began to get a sense of just how huge the cave really was. As wide as a freeway and tall enough to fit a four storey building, the cave’s enormity and presence were as palatable as the damp yet fresh and cool air that moved in its interior. To behold such a space gives one a feeling of expansion, of being lifted up into the air.
At one point, we pulled to a stop at a sandy bank and followed the younger of our two guides up the steep shore to the beginning of a cement path. Van and I pulled out our phones to light our way but this quickly proved unnecessary as our guide closed an electric circuit and light came flooding into the cave. Somehow these ingenious people had routed an electric cable all this way, deep into a cave filled with water, to create one of the most spectacular lighting displays I have ever seen. The lights ranged from a warm orange color to a shocking cool blue to a brilliant pink. Each light was set to illuminate one of the many massive cave formations scattered along the river bank. As we walked along the cement path these flamboyant cave creatures towered over our heads, their shining color a blinding contrast to the dense darkness from which we just emerged.
Our guide was practically running past this spectacle, ushering us quickly along a rehearsed route of which he had long grown bored. I wouldn’t have it, and stopped often to study the surface, frozen in stone, of what appeared to be gigantic oozing mud monsters in pink, orange and blue. So beautifully strange. The older guide brought the boat around via the river, and at the end of the walking path, we scrambled back inside the narrow boat and continued speeding up the river.
At times we moved past patches of rain, oddly isolated as if a permanent rain cloud perched just above. In a sense this is what was happening. The rain was from other water ways flowing through the stone above us and fell from cracks in the cave’s ceiling. We sped along for some time and I started to wonder if we would ever make it to the end, until at last some light began to filter into the cave. We rounded a bend in the river and a small fire work of vibrant green light burst in the distance. We were looking out the mouth of the beginning of the cave at the lush jungle found just on the other side. When we emerged out into the light it was like moving between two starkly different dimensions; in one moment we were in the cool, dark quiet of the cave and the next we were in a sensory overload among the biting neon green of the jungle, the heavy warmth the air, the incessant orchestra of jungle insects. It was intoxicating. My heart sank when after just a few moments in this sensory bath our guides turned us around and plunged us back into the cold and dark cave.
Back past the patches of rain, back past the formations, back along the entire winding length of this snaking river cave. We arrived back at our origin where we bumbled out of the boat and steered ourselves into the light doing our best to process all the wonder we had just seen.
We were low on fuel so before jetting off into the sunset we stopped at a market outside the park to fill up. As we were buying fuel a gorgeous female dog belonging to the shop came to me to introduce herself and then led me into a shed adjacent to the shop where she kept her just born litter of little baby pups. I lost my knees. They were just gone. It was all I could do to just kneel there, hands over my mouth and bask in their unbearable itty bitty beauty. Each one could easily rest in one hand. Their eyes were still shut and they wriggled around on the floor like little turtles, padding the ground with the sides of their miniscule paws, unable to stand and walk. I couldn’t help myself; I picked one up even though their mama looked at me suspiciously. Its tiny nose moved quickly back and forth and its head bobbed up and down as it tried to make sense of his surroundings. What a little wonder! I was mesmerized. With reluctance, I put the puppy down and saddled up on the bike. Sunset was coming, and quickly.
As the villages and rice fields swept by us, the sun sank lower and lower in directly front of us. To get back before dark was a race against time and, with this in mind, we pressed forward as fast as we could. Up above the sky above blossomed into a flood of orange light, dappled with deep gray purple clouds. Unfolding before us, the final kiss of an epic day: a silencing sunset.
I now am in Luang Prabang, Laos, after having taken a two day boat journey down the Mae Kong river from the Thailand Boarder. The boat trip was lovely in and of itself: a nice slow meandering journey through jungle landscapes, beautifully arching hillsides extending into the distance. This being loose and laid back Laos, we were free to light up whatever we felt like, kick back in the cool breeze and watch the scenery go sliding by. My travel companion, Raviv, a kind, polite Israeli man, and I passed the hours reading, chatting and lazily snoozing. I did get up to some writing but not nearly enough; I'm still so far behind in documenting the last month!! Upon our arrival to Luang Prabang we found a nice clean guest house that actually provides towels! This is my marker for an extra fancy guest house, and lovely luxury as my travel towel is dinky and just about as absorbent as a sheet of cardboard.
The following day we lost no time in venturing out to visit the main tourist attraction out of Luang Prabang which is the Kuan Si Waterfall. My travel partner, two other Israeli men we met on the slow boat, and I began the search for a tuk tuk taxi, resulting in the one hilarious circus of a morning. My Israeli counterparts wouldn't settle for anything but the lowest deal possible and the taxi drivers wouldn't settle for any less than 6 passengers, two more than our number of four. Thus we spent over an hour driving in circles around the small down town cat calling at other tourists in attempt to get them aboard our taxi, first in one tuk tuk, then, after becoming angry and impatient with our driver, switching to another and continuing the same activity. This approach, of course, did not work. No one wants to be catcalled into a tuk tuk. At the end of our patience we demanded the driver leave for the waterfall immediately, and dumb luck had it that at this moment we picked up two extra tourists. At last, we set off for the waterfall.
Once reaching the site and dutifully paying for the 20,000 kip ticket that no one checks, we quickly realized that all the trials were well worth the end result. This place looked like it had sprung to life off the pages of a story book. The dense jungle was lush green and verdant as ever with winding earthen pathways of a moist deep brown and woven over and between small pristinely clear brooks. The light filtered through the narrow gaps in the voliage and flitted like glittering insects across the plants and pathways of the forest floor. We walked in silence along these pathways, stopping now and then to let the panorama of sounds fill our ears: the shimmering hum of jungle insects, the quiet burbling song of the stream, and the twitter and caw of jungle birds. Soon we came upon the first of a series of swimming pools created by the river which flows from below the waterfall. The pools are absolutely striking in their beauty as the water is the color of misty turquoise, set over a backdrop of striking green jungle. The water is cool, refreshing and absolutely perfect for swimming. At the main lower pool there is a rope for all the monkeys (read: humans) to swing from and go flying, in every incarnation of silly mid-air flail and dance, into the water below. You can also swim up to the cascading lower falls and sit beneath them (on the most perfectly placed and smoothed underwater boulders) for a relaxing water massage. The water below these short falls is deep an you can even walk above these falls to jump from the top into the frothing churning waters below. In short, this swimming spot is another of nature's perfectly sculpted playgrounds.
And this is just the first swimming hole. Up the river there are more story book pages unfolding before your eyes, more misty blue water over flowing gently from one misty blue pool into another, more damp, dense jungle opening its arms just wide enough to let this shimmering river flow through. The water itself feels so nice against your skin; its concentrated minerals feel nourishing somehow. Little fish hover around the rocks in the water and will clean your skin for you, whether you want them to or not. They especially love to clean your wounds, which leaves one feeling worried yet thankful, thinking perhaps it is a good thing for the skin after all.
Continuing up the path, we came upon the big mama, the mother Waterfall of this whole water wonderland we have discovered.She is a powerful cascade, creating a steady breeze in her waters wake. The mist at her base is cool and as soft as an iced kiss. I'm simply speechless, grinning like the moon and pinned, unable to move. When at last I prize myself from her gaze, I explore some acrobatic possibilities offered by the bridge stretching to the opposite shore. From there, I climbed the steep, wet and dense earthen path, winding over tree roots, under low jungle canopy, up steps dug into the earth, up and up and up even farther, to the origin of this majestic fall. The water at the brink of the fall was quiet and still, in sharp contrast to the rush and roar of her daughter below. This incarnation of the river was peaceful, haunting, and beautiful; a clear water lagoon twinkling in the filtered light. The eye of the forest nymph twinkled back. Well above the brink of the fall, the waters were smooth and slow, quite safe for swimming and yet still someohow dark and uninviting in the low canopy. But a tree there called to me so I sprung into the emerald water and whisked myself up the tree's easily sloping trunk, firm and strong as an elephant's. Hanging like an enlightened monkey from the branches of this tree, a familiar idea flowers in me: acrobatics in the natural element. My body the tool to dance in all dimensions across her contours.
All in due course.
At one point in the day I managed to capture a video of me hula hooping in front of some of the pristine overflowing pools of the lower falls. I couldn't imagine a more idyllic backdrop for a hoop video. A place like this makes you sit for a moment in complete and utter wonder that the random forces of nature, the minerals, the algaes, and everything in between, were at work over all these centuries, creating experiential artwork for the sake of it.
Take a look for yourself in the photos below and tell me what this place inspires in you.
I arrived yesterday to the Lau village for the Sunshine Network massage course and am still getting accustomed to the life here. The village feels like worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai. Even sleepy Pai feels like a booming metropolis compared to this village. The village rests on a hill and the pathways that wind through its simple huts and small wooden buildings are mostly raw red earth and mud. There is one road that runs through the village but every other pathway is earthen with perhaps some cement steps here and there. Over these paths and under every building, the village animals roam free. Pigs of all sizes, multitudes of chickens, dogs, and children all scurry this way and that through the scattered huts. The huts are all bamboo with thatch or corrugated aluminum sheeting for roofs. The villagers, who appear more Burmese than Thai and who speak a language that is nothing like Thai, wear simple clothes often decorated with bright fluorescent patterns. They regard us with a mix of distrust, curiosity and kindness. I certainly don’t feel like I am in Thailand anymore.
Each morning I wake up at 5:30 and prepare to head out to meditation and yoga. The sunlight is just starting to peak above the hilltops and illuminate the swirling pre-dawn clouds in misty blue light. Walking through the village up to the platform where the meditation and yoga takes place, I come across mama chickens with their baby chicks scurrying around their feet. I come across little piglets with their tiny tails wagging back and forth. I come across dogs and ducks and sometimes a large adult pig comes lumbering into my path and shares my walk with me for a short while. The animals have been up for some time now (the first roosters begin to crow at around 3:30) but with the heavy determination of a tired body I’ve managed to fall back asleep until my alarm wakes me up. Every now and then though, a rooster manages to meander his way into my dreams and no amount of tut-tutting him or putting him out a window in my dream world stops his intrusion into my happy sleep.
The platform is a beautiful wooden structure that looks out onto an expansive view of the surrounding hillsides. As we sit for meditation, the early morning sun light just pierces through the clouds and radiates from behind the hillsides opposite the platform. My meditation practice is still, thus far, quite fruitless but I sit just the same and attempt, with all my will, to stay still, not swat at the mosquitoes, and focus on my breathing. We have been instructed, in the Vipanassa manner, to simply sit and breathe, and, when they occur, to just watch our thoughts and how they wander. So this is what I do. I watch as I think about hula hooping, potential career pathways, home. I watch as my legs go to sleep, dense and heavy and burning like I’ve just shoved them in a red-anthill. I watch my frustration that I can’t meditate worth a damn and my posture keeps slinking down into a mush of lazy bones and weak muscle tissue. I watch my determination to sit there anyways, straighten my back for the umpteenth time, quell my judgmental mind, and breathe. Just breathe. It is so simple, you think it would be easier, but 30 minutes of meditation stretch for seemingly endless hours.
Yoga has been wonderfully challenging and always leaves me feeling thoroughly wrung out and desperately hungry for breakfast. I keep wishing it would be possible to somehow record each sequence our teacher, Helen, employs because they are perfectly suited to my level; just challenging enough to make it interesting and fun but not so hard that I cannot complete them. Helen, a previous student of the course, has a wonderfully playful method of teaching and often employs partner stretching and even group supported stretching, which I just love. It really spices up the normal yoga routine. I fear that I when I begin practicing again on my own I will be dreadfully bored by my solo, rudimentary practice. For now I am just soaking up the yoga knowledge she is bestowing upon us and loving every breath of it.
The massage course itself, the reason for which I’ve come to this foreign Lau land within the Thailand Kingdom, is absolutely fantastic. Before we begin each day’s instruction we sit and chant a Sanskrit prayer of world healing, sit in meditative silent for 5-10 minutes, and then chant another prayer of protection. The opening prayer is simple and short and is repeated over and over, gaining in volume gradually until we are singing with full heart and gusto. Then, just as gradually, the singing reduces in volume to a whisper, then a hum, then silence. This silence falls around us like a vibrating curtain, humming with energy, glittering with the golden light of our intention. Throughout the course of week and a half we learned two opening prayers for healing, both of which sound hauntingly beautiful when we harmonize together and sing them with heartfelt spirit.
The sequences of techniques we are taught feels more like a dance than a massage. They flow together so much better than the ones previously taught to me at the first Thai Massage school I attended in Chiang Mai. In addition, we are learning far more active stretches and whole body manipulations, which is what I hoped to learn in coming to Thailand to study massage. We are instructed to take a few minutes to center ourselves and focus our intention before beginning each massage session. Thus before beginning each segment of our practice, we all sit in silence again, close our eyes and rest our minds.
The last most fortunate detail about my time here in the village, the kiss on the top of it all, is that I am here, sharing this unique experience with a crowd of the nicest, most fun and genial people I could have ever asked for. We are from all corners of the globe: Australia, Italy, Germany, Austria, Ukraine, England, France, Canada, USA, Spain, Switzerland, and Israel, and yet we set aside all our different identities and languages and come together each day to learn, to drop in and give each other healing touch. We spend our breaks eating and chatting on the meal platform, going for walks through the village and in the surrounding hills, or taking coffee or tea at one of the two family compounds where they serve coffee or tea. Life is simple and the rhythm of our days is easy and relaxing.
One night Natalia, the lovely and unusual Ukrainian woman, decides we are to throw a surprise birthday party for Sumi, the equally lovely and good humored (and quite pretty) Australian woman of Indian descent. So we spread the word for everyone to meet at this particular platform at this particular time, when Sandra, a wonderful Austrian woman and talented masseuse in the course, will be keeping Sumi occupied down at the meditation platform. In the mean time, Natalia, Adrian, a very funny and amiable Austrialian man and my best friend in the course, Adrian’s friend Mint and I race off to the neighboring village find fruit and other tasty treats to compile a birthday “cake” of sorts for Sumi. In the end we compile 7 different kinds of fruits into a wonderful flower mandala of a fruit platter, stick a candle in the middle and call it cake. Natalia had also bought balloons which we blew up and used to decorate the platform. We sit in the darkness of the platform for some time waiting for Sumi and Sandra but at last they climb the stairs and our happy birthday song just about gave poor Sumi the shock of her life! We then happily dug our hands into the beautiful fruit platter and ate it up like hungry baboons. Natalia’s present for Sumi was a presentation of some of her fabulous phography (Natalia is a photographer by trade and has taken some really breathtaking photos on her world travels), I gave Sumi a hula hoop dance, and Chris, another man on the course gave Sumi (with some severe encouragement and rib jabbing by Natalia) a song played on his ukulele. We danced some, dodged the bugs swarming around the one light fixture on the platform, played a few games and then, in time, sleepily bid Sumi and the rest good night. Getting to bed past nine is getting to bed quite late when you are waking up at 5:30 so we all took an early night’s leave and went to sleep before long.
Sure there are some small inconveniences and discomforts about living in the village. The toilets are all squat toilets which despite many adjustments and trials, are still just as difficult to use as ever. It rained for a good part of the course and as many of the paths are earthen, and thus veritable mudslides in the rain, this meant that getting anywhere was a treacherous task indeed. This was especially true considering that the footwear of choice in the village are flip flops, as you are so often slipping your shoes on and off when entering and exiting the huts. The rain also has an unfortunate way of raising all the smells of scattered dung and filth from beneath the houses and along the paths and alleys between the huts. That said, the rain was beautiful, as jungle rain tends to be.
The food was also nothing to sneeze at. Sticky rice and pumpkin, plus some excellent fruit, for breakfast, everyday, sticky rice and over cooked veggies for lunch, everyday, and more sticky rice and over cooked veggies for dinner, yes, everyday. You really start day dreaming about sausage and cheese in times like these. Or pancakes, or noodles, or anything different. 12 days of the same food every day can be rather testing. But again, these were minor discomforts in the scheme of the entire experience.
By the end of my time there I felt I could confidently give a 2 hour flowing Thai Massage. I knew it was possible, if quite uncomfortable, for me to sit still for a whole half hour in attempted meditation. I felt stronger and more fluid in my yoga practice. And most wonderfully, I felt like I had connected with some really beautiful people who I hope to meet again on this crazy beautiful journey called life.
CC and I have been in Malaysia now for just over a week. Our flight back to Phuket, Thailand was yesterday but we missed the flight due to Burger King. Silly story. The details really are not that important but the moral is: never eat Burger King at the airport 15 minutes before your flight leaves. Or really, best to just avoid the place all together. In any case, we have one more day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to kill before our flight leaves today at 10pm. Our time in Malaysia has been spent almost exclusively in Kuala Lumpur but there are still some things we haven’t done in this beautiful city so we can still make use of the extra time. Today we are going to learn how to Batik, painting on silk using wax and dye. I’m actually quite happy we missed our flight and have extra time so we can do this as it was on the bucket list for our trip.
Plans are a funny concept when you are traveling without a tour group. You make them with some sort of hope of seeing all the neat places people tell you to go see in a particular country or place. You make them about what sort of time frame you will be in place and when you expect to be in the next place. But plans, as it goes, never really predict what actually happens. They are the rough sketch of the future but often times a whole new painting is created over them.
CC and I had planned on going to see the island of Lang Kawi, apparently a just breathtakingly beautiful place of jungle and tropical white beaches, the Cameron Highlands, a mountainous stretch of tea plantations, and Melaka, a unique city where the mix of cultures between Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian is strongly apparent. What did we do instead? We partied our faces off.
Yes, instead of touring the greater Malaysia, we spent our entire week in Kuala Lumpur going to the club. This is what happens when your wonderfully gracious, entertaining character of a host owns two clubs in down town and invites you to go out, every single night, with him and his crazy cast of hilarious friends, until dawn breaks, you sleep off your hangover and do it all over again the following night! Now I should add that had I been alone in my voyage I am not sure if I would have permitted this trend to continue for one entire week. I really am quite sad that I did not get to see more of Malaysia and less of the bumping and grinding music of the club. That said, we really did have a fantastic week and had ample time to explore the grandeur and elegance of Kuala Lumpur.
We also spent one blissful afternoon touring the Genting Highlands, a glorious stretch of mountainous jungle one hour out of KL. It was raining nearly the entire time we were there and the mists hung thick over the trees but it was still just an incredibly beautiful place. We stopped at a resort perched at the top of a hill with a commanding view of the mist laden jungle below. We soon had to leave this resort due to the arrival of a party of people who had reserved the place. So instead we paid a visit to Aba, a lovely, spirited elderly man and prominent political writer in Malaysia. He has taken the success of his 50 some odd books and put it toward creating what he calls the University of Life. It is an expansive and winding garden, sprinkled with bungalows housing artists and writers from all walks of life, and containing thousands of species of plants from around the world (which he smuggles into the country, quite easily, he says because plants don’t make so much noise in your luggage).
He invited us into his house, fed us delicious coffee and local sweetened black tea with milk, and told us all sorts of stories about his life, the lives of his 10 children and the love and pride he has for his garden, his school of Life. Any artist or writer can stay at the University of Life for free for as long as he or she pleases. Any interested people should check out his webpage at www.shalattas.com or his facebook page www.facebook.com/Syed Hussien Alattas. The address is Pondok Pak Habib, Taman Hana, Wadi Hussien, Janda Baik, 28750 Bentong, Pahang, Malaysia. Good luck getting a taxi to take you out there, as it is rather off in the boonies in the mountainous jungle outside of Kuala Lumpur. But if you can make it out there it is well worth it. The place is simply vibrating with a lovely energy. The ponds ripple and shimmer with humongous koi fish, slipping out from beneath wide lotus lily pads. There are meditation decks, and seating circles in the shelter of the arching trees and vines. There are doorways leading to nowhere and walkways which only make circles. It is a playground for the wandering mind, a hideout for the restless creative spirit to wander and alight upon new ideas, and quite a place to see.
On another adventuresome evening, earlier in the week, CC and I headed out on our own to visit China Town in Kuala Lumpur. I had decided to bring along my hoops because, well, leaving them at home feels like leaving a limb so just in case the opportunity arises to use them, I often bring them along. And I’m always glad I do. As we perused the stalls, the shopkeepers were understandably curious. After one shopkeeper gave us a good deal on some of his merchandise I decided to show him just how I used the peculiar rings. I gave the shortest of shows, right in the middle of the walking lane, stopping traffic and instantly gathering a crowd. The simplest of tricks evoked shrieks of delight and applause from my eager audience. I felt it rude to block the walkway for too long so I quickly wrapped it up and gave a bow, but they wouldn’t have it! Whole groups of people around me called for more, and so, much to their enjoyment, I continued my dance. Call it egomaniacal but I just love doing these impromptu shows. I love showing people something new, something they have never seen before and might never see again. Traveling, I am shown so many new things every day so it feels nice to give back a bit and bring some of my culture to them in exchange for them showing so much of their culture to me.
After touring China Town we stopped for the most delicious skewer BBQ dinner at a street vendor restaurant. At this place you choose from a wide buffet of raw skewers, ranging from whole squid (my absolute favorite) to baby tomatoes, to corn, to chicken shish kabob, to imitation crab, you name it. Then they take your selection and barbeque it with the tastiest sauce smothered all over it. Except the corn which they smother with butter and sprinkle with salt. MMMMMMMmmmmmhmmm. Just wonderful. I kept fantasizing about this place the whole week, hoping to make it back there but never managed it. While we ate we made the acquaintance of an energetic middle aged Malaysian man who turned out to be a yogi, salsa dancer, and club manager among other things. He invited us out for salsa dancing and so, in the middle of Malaysia, a whole world away from the Americas, we went out salsa dancing!
And what a great time we had too! It wasn’t the largest dance floor but the music was live and the energy was inviting and just right. We danced primarily with our new friend and another older Asian man who was just the sweetest, smiling gentleman of a salsa dancer. After getting our fill of salsa we sat out on the patio and listened to the rain crash down upon the awning above our heads. It is the monsoon in Malaysia right now and boy does this rain mean business. It just floods out of the sky in thick sheets so heavy you are drenched in mere minutes if you are unlucky enough to get caught out in it unprotected.
Loosened up and warm from salsa dancing, I felt the urge to hoop slip quietly into my muscles. Not one to argue with my muscles, I picked up my hoop and began just playing, dancing for myself, even closing my eyes. When I opened them I had gathered a crowd, yet again. It was getting late and the salsa night was ending so many of the people in the club started wandering outside to see what the attraction was. So I began to perform in earnest, inspired by the energetic swing and rhythm of the salsa music blaring in the club and calmed by the presence of the rain. With the thunder of rain on one side of me and the banging beat of the salsa on the other, I wove unique and heartfelt dance indeed.
After I had finished many of the people passed around my hoop, all hoping to try to keep the darn thing swinging around their hips. Not many succeeded but the kindly Asian man I had danced with before found the most creative and adorably clownish ways of using my hoop that even I hadn’t ever thought of! Hand it to a middle aged Asian salsa dancer in Malaysia to teach me how to use my own hoop. What a character he was! He walked over the hoop with it placed vertically between his legs, making it appear that the hoop simply popped out of his ass! It created a really great illusion, done in either direction. And then he handed the little hoop to another man and together they did partner hooping with the big hoop and little hoop!! I was so incredibly delighted!! Here I was, thousands of miles away from my circus family, and yet I had found a transient family who understood play! Oh I can’t describe the joy I felt at discovering this. It makes sense that I found this at a salsa gathering though, because salsa is a sort of creative play too.
Our Malaysian friend invited me to come out and perform at his club the following evening, offering to compensate me for my performances. This would become the first of three performance gigs I acquired at various bars and clubs during my stay in Kuala Lumpur. Our couch surfing host offered for me to perform at his clubs as well and he paid me quite well for my time. It is funny how I have to leave home to realize that I have everything I need within me to become the performer I want to be. I simply need to trust myself and keep hooping and keep hooping and keep hooping and never stop.
Location: Koh Tao, Thailand
The last two days have been absolute diving bliss. I decided to do my advanced open water course with a dive outfit out here on Koh Tao, an island off the east coast of Thailand. I followed a belly feeling that Big Blue Diving was the right dive outfitters for
me and I am so glad I did. My dive partners and my dive master were absolutely lovely people and we had some really memorable dives together. The price ticket for the whole experience was a larger sum than I had planned on putting towards diving in Thailand but it was well worth it. Not only did I raise the level of my certification, I received a new dive card that I can now use as my main dive card for the remainder of my trip (a huge relief because my old dive card is at home in CA). In addition, I was able to improve some of my dive skills while exploring beautiful reefs. All for a ticket price far lower than I would find back in the states. All in all a really great decision.
The first day we did a buoyancy skill dive where we had to swim through hoops, straight, upside-down and loopy loop (not easy by the way), using our breath to control our trajectory. We did a few other skills to hone our buoyancy control before coming back in because the visibility was terrible and we had just about run up on our air. The next dive was a navigation dive and my dive buddy, Matt, and I did rather well following our course though at the time we didn’t think so. It only became apparent when we stumbled across an anchor line that we had followed the course just fine. We continued on to find the correct anchor line and having some extra time and air explored a short out-and-back trajectory before completing our dive.
The last dive of the day was a night dive, and possibly one of the loveliest night dives I have ever experienced. We entered the water just at sunset and the sunsets on Koh Tao are legendary. In order to reach the buoy line we had to swim directly east. Floating on our backs as we kicked we had the most incredible view of the panoramic painting spread out before us. The golden orange light of the setting sun splashed off the water, dousing the ripples in the same vibrant colors that danced across the sky. We dipped down below the deep blue surface just as the sun sank below the horizon. Diving at night sounds at first like a terrifying venture but there is still something so comforting to me about being held by the inky ocean. A different array of creatures prowl the night waters, massive barracuda, neon blue spotted rays, and black and white stripped sea snakes. These sea creatures might sound menacing but they are beautiful and so graceful and they leave you happily alone as long as you pay them the same courtesy.
At one point in the dive, our dive master Dan had us gather on the sandy floor and turn off our flashlights. This was so we could take a moment to let the full weight of the night envelope us as well as to allow us to see the phosphorescent plankton that surrounded us. Every time we moved, our hands would paint a bright green trail of little glowing plankton. The plankton looked like bright green sparks flying this way and that in the wake of the current created by our hands. I tried moving my hands in the forward weave pattern of poi dance and they trailed behind, glowing like a streak of green fire! We then lifted off the sand and swam for a short stretch in the dark waters, the glowing plankton dancing in our wake. At the end of our dive, when our heads broke the surface a glittering blanket of stars greeted us. So many stars!! I had forgotten how much I missed their presence, traveling and living in cities for the previous weeks. We lay on our backs as we kicked back to the boat and admired all of our favorite constellations and even the distinct arch of the milky way. Just a most incredible and memorable dive.
The next day was a full day trip out to a dive site called Sail Rock, considered to be the best dive site off the eastern coast of Thailand. It is a favorite due to the reliably clear waters and the greater likelihood of seeing large sea creatures due to its deep sea location, far off from any other island. Our first dive was clear and beautiful above 24 meters but below this point, where we were to do some deep water nitrogen narcosis tests at 30 meters, the water was thick with silt and algae, creating just terrible visibility. One of my dive partners began to have an anxiety reaction due to the bad vis and the nitrogen narcosis effects so we aborted the exercise and rose to a more shallow depth to complete the dive. In between dives we lounged on the boat, letting the excess nitrogen in our blood gradually off gas through our breath, until all at once a loud commotion began in the water and on another boat. Something big had been spotted! A WHALE SHARK!! Just about anyone who owned legs began tearing around the boat, snatching up masks and snorkels here, fins there and then diving recklessly into the water to catch a glimpse of the great fish.
I was a little late diving into the water and I kicked fast to catch up with the crowd, breathing heavy into my snorkel. My legs burned but I kicked hard and fast, determined to see the whale shark. As I approached the throng of snorkeling onlookers I began swimming on my back to catch my breath. Some men on a near by boat were hollering and pointing right at me and it took me a moment to realize why. As I turned around and dipped my head just below the surface I saw the enormous shimmering form of the whale shark swimming directly at me. It came right up to the surface, so close to me I felt like I could reach out and touch it. One of my dive partners was floating next to me and I almost reached out to hold his hand. The moment of grace was that powerful. Time seemed to stretch as the shark slipped gracefully by and then vanished into deeper waters. The brilliant blue spots on its back, glittering in the light, were the last of it to disappear.
We kicked around on the surface for a while longer, hoping the whale shark would return. And it did, briefly but only in deeper waters at the level of the hovering scuba divers below. Soon it was time for our second dive and we entered the water eagerly, hoping this time to swim with the shark with greater freedom of movement. Sure enough, halfway through our dive as we explored around sail rock, the beautiful graceful form of the whale shark came into view. We spotted him directly below us and I called out mentally to the fish, calling it beautiful, sister, most elegant creature of the sea. The next moment the shark was rising towards me, seeming to recognize my call and respond by coming to me to show off its iridescent, glittering skin. Again it slipped by me so close I felt I could touch it, and so graceful and slow I felt like time had stopped. There were so many divers all hovering around it, it nearly had no place to swim, but it never seemed to feel threatened or afraid. It just glided this way and that, seeming to enjoy all of the attention.I have never had a dive where I felt the presence of such a powerful and graceful creature such as this whale shark. We were so lucky to have seen it as it is still quite rare to catch sightings of them. Earlier that day, on the way to the dive site, our dive master's fiancée announced confidently that we were going to swim with a whale shark that day. I thought to myself "Okay, lady. Whatever you say. But I seriously doubt it." Goes to show just how wrong I was.
Last night my new friend and hostel-mate Jo and I went out for dinner and some drinks. We stopped off at this little restaurant near our bungalow hotel where the prices are half of the other restaurants and the food so tasty! I ordered the green papaya salad, medium spicy, and it was DELICIOUS! Oh, I couldn't feel my face halfway through and I was breathing fire while feeling an odd mild euphoria wash over me, but it was wonderful. I thought of my dad and how much he would have loved that salad. The lovely cook and wait staff both laughed with me at how my body was trying to cope with the spice but were also kindly worried and a bit perplexed. "I only put two chilies in!" said the sweet woman who prepared our food. Yeah two fiery hot Thai chilies in a dish that could fit in two cups! But still, I told her, through watering eyes and running nose, that it tasted incredible, because it did.
After dinner we wandered around in search of a cold beer or two and came across some elaborately dressed Lady Boys advertising for a "free" cabaret show. I put free in quotations here not because they charged for the show but because it was required that you purchase a drink and the drinks started at $150 baht for a small Chang beer. Still it turned out to be well worth it. For those reading who haven't yet guessed what a Lady Boy might be, they are essentially Thai drag queens, however they are notoriously the most unbelievable (or rather believable) drag queens on the planet. The Thai Lady Boys look so much like women and do such an incredible job exuding the presence and mannerisms of a woman (not to mention disguising their loins so well it has you peering, squinty-eyed, searching for the missing bump) that it is sometimes easy to forget that in fact you are witnessing a male drag queen.
The show, as it turns out, was just wonderful! Very much worth the inflated price of beer. Some of those women, I mean men, Lady Boys rather, are so damn sexy! There were a particular few that "sang" (really they mouthed the words, sometimes rather well, sometimes not so well) with such passion! And they danced with such rhythm and sway it made you want to jump up and dance with them. There were so many acts one right after another that it nearly made you dizzy. Their cast wasn't that large so these characters were doing costume changes in mere minutes from one incredibly elaborate costume to another. Quite a feat. Also how tiring it must have been to be dancing your heart out every 5 minutes as your next number came around, and then your next and your next and so on. . . Both Jo and I were so impressed! I'm so happy she insisted we go see it. I was put off by the beer price but how right she was!! It is not everyday that you get to see a Lady Boy Cabaret show in Thailand.
After the show we realized we were really in the mood to dance. So we wandered the heavily touristed streets of Chaweng Beach, Ko Samui, in search of some good beats to get loose. We found such a place and let it rip! Ohh it felt so good to just DANCE. Funny thing, I was wearing a shirt given to me by the lovely goddess woman Reida, which has printed across the chest: Just DANCE! Quite appropriate. The whole night just got me buzzing again to chase an education and perhaps a career in dance, performing and teaching. So thanks Lady Boys of Ko Samui. Your spirit rocked me and gave me renewed inspiration to dance. Just without so many sequins, nipple slips, and high heels.
A fiery fairy who has set off to explore Asia and discover new things about the world and herself. The journey is one to fully realize her strength and an unwaivering faith in her personal power.