Wednesday, October 17, 2012

bringing it all back home

"... mama, mama many worlds i've come since i first left home." you wanna know what mixed feelings are? buy a ticket home after nearly fifteen months on the road.

barn envy.
yup, it'll be good to set foot in our house after all this time away. yup, it will be great to see friends and family again. but, damn, travel is awesome. "they" warned us it would be.

i can say this, we've learned that our idea of "home" is changeable, which only magnifies the "mixedness" in the feelings. we've made a home in places where we've only spent a few days. our mantra has been "home is where we are," and we've found that to be true. well, except for vietnam, but that's a whole other post!

this summer we've been lucky to make our home on a 30 acre farm/orchard draped over the green hills of northern slovenia, complete with a 150 year old (or so) farmhouse and, man, is it stunningly beautiful. go ahead, think of your mental map of europe and try to place slovenia in it. this time last year, when we came through for the first time, we only kinda-sorta knew where it was. not to get all rick steves on you but it's the hidden gem of europe.

wow, have we enjoyed being farm folk! ok, pretend farm folk, yes. but we've mowed broad areas of green grass and large meadows keeping them tidy, and we've tended a huge vegetable garden as if it was our own back forty. we've harvested and eaten whatever we could, and whatever we couldn't, we've canned or pickled and put up for the winter. hope our friends like grape jam! it was made from the grapes growing outside their back door. we've stacked wood for winter and walked around the property with our thumbs in our (mental) overalls, nodding our heads and saying out loud, "yup, good livin'."

not our cows but the neighbors'. there's some good cheese about to come out of those.
when we were done with that stuff, we stepped out our front door and went hiking for a couple of hours. these hillsides are laced with trails and we walk out one side of this farm through the trees to visit our closest neighbors a mile away. we didn't even know we had neighbors until the trail literally went through their front yard. and we've hiked through the woods only to emerge an hour later in a 900 year old town below, all on beautifully marked and well traveled paths. hell, we could walk to another COUNTRY from here on a marked path. austria is right over there (i'm pointing north)!

trail markers painted on an outhouse and leading
right through someone's farm

our friends have been generous in allowing us to take care of their place for these months. i'm sure they see it as us doing them a favor but i can say for certain that it's worked the other way around. what a fantastic way to wrap up our time on the road.

but for now, it's back home we go. wonder what "home" will feel like this time around? we're approaching it as just another part of the adventure.

we'll report back.

man, we'll miss this place. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

anniversary day!

"twenty years ago today, sergeant pepper told the band to play..." - the beatles

on a hill somewhere in slovenia. 

twenty years ago today michelle and i moved in together.

20 years! the mind reels. it feels like 20 minutes. michelle was starting law school (the next day!) and i was, well, probably hiking in the hills avoiding responsibility. in those days, we could barely afford to go car camping for the weekend.

today, however, after 30 countries and countless miles together, we're sitting on top of a hill in slovenia looking out over rolling green countryside and loving the fact that we had no idea this would ever happen.

we could reach for the weak "relationships are like travel" metaphors, but we won't. we'll save you the sappy thoughts and cut to the chase.

to all of our family and friends, old and new, thank you. thank you for making our relationship stronger through your love, friendship and humor. especially the humor. and when we told you "we're quitting our jobs to travel around the world for a while," thank you for not laughing in our face. thank you for saying, "yes! go for it." for the record, it was great advice...

it's been an excellent ride so far! we'll report back in another twenty years. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

slovenia: beer and god

saint ignatius church, built in 1759, rdeci breg, sovenia.
most of our sunday mornings are spent reading and drinking coffee, but... when we're in rural slovenia and we're hanging out at a pub at the bottom of our mountain and someone's just bought us a round and the pub owner says in broken english, "you should come to church tomorrow," we go. but we weren't ready for the next sentence, "yeah, i'll be pouring beer."

in this particular case, the church is a 250 year old chapel on the top of "our" mountain with one of the most wonderful views around. we'd hiked to it on several days and lamented each time that it was locked. turns out, it's dedicated to saint ignatius, a bit of a tough dude, and this sunday was "saint ignatius day." it also turns out that this is the only church in slovenia dedicated to st. iggy. that's quite a feat, too, since if you knew just HOW MANY churches there are in this country you'd think they would run out of saints pretty quick and start doubling up. it's a miracle.

god's country. our walk to church one time in slovenia.
the next morning we were a little nervous as we got dressed for church. after being on the road for more than a year our wardrobe is a tad limited and we didn't want to offend. we had no idea what folks in the hills of northern slovenia would wear to church. on top of which it was already baking hot at 10am and we were pretty sure st. iggy wouldn't have a.c. (note to self: jeans and sundress seem to be fine.)

we made our way to the top of the mountain, parked the car about a mile down the last bit of road and walked the rest of the way surrounded by green. lots of locals do the same, so we had plenty of company. as we broke through the pine trees and into the clearing where the old church sits, we came face to face with a crowd of people, half of them with pints of beer in their hands and it was only 11am! hallelujah, indeed!

this area is a pretty popular place for weekend hikers and clearly a lot of them were on the mountain this morning and, just as clearly, a lot of them had no intention of going to church. we said hi to zvanko and janja, owners of said pub who invited us, and made our way into the church. sadly, past the beer booth but, oh yes, we'd be back.

a stolen moment through the scaffolding during service. inside saint ignatius church, rdeci breg, slovenia.
they're slowly restoring the inside of this church so most of the pews have been removed and the crowd was spilling out the front. we really wanted to get inside this historic place and see a slovenian church service. so we wandered around the side, found another door, slid in behind the priest and took a seat on the children's bench. they eyed us curiously. and there we sat, listening to an old dude in white robes muttering on in sloevenian and it was perfectly wonderful. sunlight was pouring through the old windows, choir was singing, congregation was chanting, we were standing up and sitting down, watching everyone else's movements so we'd know what to do.

after the service we hung around as most people emptied out, this would be our only opportunity to look around in here. i knew our ticket was to ask a question of one of the college-aged girls sitting across from  us since most young people here speak english, and get the low down on today's service, the beer tent outside, the beautiful countryside and, well, just get to know the "neighbors" a bit. well, one thing led to another and next thing we know we're being introduced to friends, family, comrades, the priest... seemingly the whole town.

later, when i explained that in the u.s. a bar or liquor store can't be within a certain distance of a church, they were dumbfounded. they all just shook their heads, even the guy studying to be a priest. monks and monasteries have been brewing beer across europe for centuries. see here, for instance.

memorial to partisans: in memory of those fighting here on march 4, 1945
who gave their lives...

after meeting mom and dad, our new friends invited us to the hunting lodge up the road that was serving goulash and sausage. this, too, is quite special as it's a members-only lodge (hunters around here are held in the highest regard) and only open to the public once or twice a year. this was one of those times. with promises of "we'll see you there," we left them behind and walked up to lovska koča klančnik (the hunting lodge), another hike destination of ours and the site where in 1945, near the end of world war II, nazis shot seven slovenian partisans.

our new friends from ribnica and lovrenc, slovenia.

oompah music hit us as we arrived and there were tables hewn from the local pine trees across the lawn filled with people in the sunshine who clearly had been here a while already. i can't remember how we did it but we succeeded in ordering, and actually receiving, goulash and sausage and beer and wine, half in slovenian and half in english. with lots of body language and smiles thrown in.

we found our friends and sat around talking for the rest of the afternoon. they live on a farm opposite us in the next "obcina," or county. they also informed us that lovrenc (pronounced: low-rents), the village, was beginning a three week festival with a church service and feast the next sunday, music on saturday nights (that's where we'll be) and, get this, a new fire truck for the town! apparently, that's a huge deal as there's going to be a big party for that. charm factor: 10. by the end of the afternoon, the mother of the family was inviting us to their farm for dinner and a lesson in how to pick wild mushrooms of which, she assured us, our farm had many. we'll report back.


later that day... out the back door. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

always share your strudel!

last summer while on a train from austria to slovenia we made a new friend, an american who, with his wife, bought some land and an old farmhouse in the rolling hills of northern slovenia just across the austrian border. well, we had some strudel and some other viennese foodstuffs in our bag so we passed them around and got to talking. although we were headed to slovenia, our compartment-mates convinced us that we must see graz, austria along the way. so we grabbed our bags, hastily exchanged contact information and jumped off the train for a night in the lovely little city of graz. a couple of days later, while we were staying on pahorje mountain overlooking maribor, we received an invitation from mike (guy from train) and paula (wife of guy from train) to spend some time out at their farm.

catholicism: prettying up the the countryside for hundreds of years.
muta, slovenia, founded in the 14th century.
it's embarrassing to admit now that our first thought was, "what if they're ax murderers with a lot of time on their hands at their very remote farm?" it's true, we did. we were new to our travels and this was our first encounter with the incredible, spontaneous generosity of total strangers that we would often experience on this trip. but our second thought was, "why would we embark on travel if not to meet new people?" regardless of whether they're ax murderers or not. no offense to ax murderers.

long story short, we spent a day and a night out on the farm hiking, talking, eating and enjoying mike and paula's company immensely. we also fell in love with the countryside, and i mean fell hard. it's stunning. the drava river valley, west of maribor, is one of the most beautifully serene stretches of landscape we have ever seen. when we left, we jokingly said, "if you ever need someone to farm-sit, let us know." maybe not so jokingly, as we really meant it, but we never thought it would actually happen. i mean, we were on our way around the world in the opposite direction. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

one year on the road!

"lost my boots in transit, a pile of smoking leather." - robert hunter

getting friendly with the wildlife of cambodia.
one year ago today, we left our home in california for a year "on the road." sixteen countries and nearly 30,000 miles later, we're heading back to the good ol' u.s of a. for a couple of weeks. we're not stopping there, though, but more on that later. we are very much looking forward to some time with family and friends and, believe us when we say this, we can't wait to be in a country where we understand everything that's being spoken around us.

"been lots of places, seen plenty things." - brutha iz

this has been one fantastic year. if we were to make one simple observation from traveling through such diverse cultures, it would be this: the world is full of good people. whether it was the people whose country we were visiting or other travelers with whom we crossed paths, it's the people who have made this such a great experience.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

living la vida cuenca

the "new" cathedral, built around 1885, downtown cuenca, ecuador.
after three weeks of laying on the beach in puerto lopez, ecuador we dragged our lazy butts out of our hammocks and made the seven hour bus journey up to cuenca, a spanish colonial city sitting at about 9,000 feet at the southern end of the "spine of the andes" that runs right through the country.

we actually stood on an ande. this trip continues to bring those kinds of moments. like "oh my god, we're floating on the irrawaddy river," or "holy cow, that's the black sea," or "check us out, we're actually crossing the mekong river," or "no way, you call this toilet paper?" moments of wonder.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

welcome to ecuador: you want a hammock with that?

buenos aires, 5:30am, waiting for a taxi.

arriving at night we had no idea where we ended up. after a day that began in buenos aires at 4:30am and ended after two taxis and three flights, we heard the sound of the ocean somewhere nearby. but it was pitch black and we were wiped out. the fine folks at la hosteria mandala showed us our room and a beautiful looking bed and zzzzz...

in the morning, however, wow. buenos aires was turning cold and the leaves were falling from the trees and we were needing to wear our jeans far more often than we wanted to. so, scheduled to be in cuenca, ecuador to house-sit during the month of june, we decided to spend the next three weeks at the beach about 100 miles south of the equator and we high-tailed it to puerto lopez. hello pacific ocean! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

buenos aires: i can't quit you

sunset over buenos aires, argentina.
we came to buenos aires planning to stay for a month and welcoming the opportunity to sit still after 9.5 months of constantly moving around. we loved it so much that we added two more weeks, and then tried to add yet another two weeks. alas, the airlines made that impossible but we would have if we could have!

we were sitting around the other day asking ourselves what makes buenos aires so uniquely wonderful, what sets it apart from other destinations? aside from quirks like milk in a bag, or dinner at 10pm, street salesmen selling everything everywhere, its obsession with the falkland islands, wine served in porcelain penguins, the talented dog walkers, people with mate cups and thermoses of hot water permanently attached to their bodies... well, we'll get to those in a minute.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

los barrios of buenos aires, some random shots

again, i take the map, the wife takes the camera, we cruise the neighborhoods and this happens...

turns out, some of the best alfajores in town are right around the corner! palermo, buenos aires, argentina.

ford falcon wagon, these things are everywhere in buenos aires. they produced them here for years (thanks chris!).

Friday, April 13, 2012

los colectivos de buenos aires. or, i feel like a freaking genius!

that's right, this is an entire post devoted to figuring out a form of public transport. 

one of my most favorite things to do in this world is to figure out how to get from point a to point b and full-time travel provides that opportunity in a big way.

a sample of "los colectivos" in buenos aires taken from our bus stop in el barrio de palermo.

the wife is good at research, very good in fact, and loves to make lists. this is where the team effort comes in and just one of the many reasons why we travel together so well. she makes a list of the places she would like to visit, hands said list to me and says "get me here." i smile, find map, and off we go...

we added it up and figured out we've taken some form of public transportation in 23 countries.

linea a, buenos aires metro system.
we're now in buenos aires and it has a subway system with, as they will proudly tell you over and over and over again, "the oldest underground line in the southern hemisphere, linea a." it's really quite cool, in fact. sure it's a bit gritty but it gets us some places and it gets us there in style. they've preserved the old cars and stations; check out the seats and lamps. during a particularly brutal rush hour we also experienced our first attempted pickpocket here. fun!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

to buenos aires, an open apology

we've been in buenos aires for three weeks and we've lost count of how many times we've spoken the single most useful piece of spanish we know, "lo siento por nuestra espanol." "sorry for our spanish."

needs no translation.
sure, it's a weak ploy to elicit someone's empathy where they then speak to us like children, but that's the point! and it works, too. :) however, we learned today that although it's correct to say it in other spanish speaking countries, in argentina it's typically used ironically. oh, that's just great!

we've taken spanish classes for 20 hours, diligently done our homework, conversed with our teacher, studiously read signs around town and tried to interpret them, and asked questions to others in lines. we often get shrugs but sometimes we get a "conversation." each day, in the privacy of our apartment of course, we attempt to have entire conversations with each other solely in spanish and if locals were listening in i'm sure they would think we were mentally deficient or they would just roll around laughing.

but then, then we step out on to the street and it sometimes seems like we've learned nothing. we take the bus everywhere with conversations being the soundtrack around us. and buenos aires presents a very fast and quirky kind of spanish, too, almost italian sounding, which adds a certain amount of, oh i'd like to say spice, but it really is more of "what the freak did he just say? i mean, i heard 'tambien,' and 'bebida,' so has something to do with drinking also..." that's our internal dialog. then, just as suddenly, the next sentence is completely lost.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

buenos aires first impressions

the argentinian flag, buenos aires.
the jet-lag has started to lift. after a 28 hour travel time across 12 time zones from kuala lumpur, malaysia to buenos aires, argentina we were slammed. we're happy to report that we're now falling asleep and waking up at normal hours, like normal human beings.

it's autumn in south america but the sun is shining in buenos aires. yesterday it reached 80 degrees. that's some autumn.

first impressions: this city is HUGE! there's a ton of people, a lot of cars, a lot of meat, a whole lot of red wine, lots of statues, very long streets and the spanish spoken here is fast, quirky and almost italian sounding. we like a lot of those things.

luckily, we have an apartment ten floors above the traffic and the streets with big windows and lots of light.

Monday, April 2, 2012

so long southeast asia, it's been a great ride!

way back in november of 2011 while walking around istanbul in our "these were never meant for cold wind and rain" kind of clothes, we looked at each other and said "it's time." that day, we booked a flight to thailand and landed where any sane, reasonable human would like to start a trip through southeast asia, a tropical island in the andaman sea.

bai sao, phu quoc, vietnam

it's been four and a half months and five countries, not counting a 36 hour layover in kuala lumpur. if you're the kind that counts passport stamps, i guess that would make six countries.

bayon, angkor thom, siem reap, cambodia

southeast asia has been rewarding beyond anything either of us expected. before arriving, we knew the most about thailand, of course, as thailand's a very well-worn traveler's route. but we had no idea of what we'd find in laos or cambodia, and just a little bit about vietnam. and what we knew absolutely nothing about was myanmar (burma). in fact, we were surprised to learn that we were allowed to even enter the country at all. the u.s. fear machine, being what it is, makes it seem a place like myanmar is the most dangerous, forbidden territory on the globe. well it's not, and we loved it.

but we're saying goodbye to all these incredible places and saying hello to south america.

buenos aires!

this is a short post because we're packing as we type and we're stoked to get going. we're not so stoked about the 3:30am flight departure time and the 28 hours in the air, however, but it was the best deal we could find and we're willing to bear it for the pleasure of argentina where we have an apartment rented for the month of april. muy bien!

adios, we'll report back.

this is clearly NOT vietnam. kuala lumpur, malaysia.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

smiles, everyone, smiles

readers of a certain age will remember ricardo montalban's reminder to his employees on fantasy island. that's exactly how it felt to us as we rounded the headland on the west side of koh rong saloem, an island off the shore of south cambodia in the gulf of thailand, a two hour boat ride away from sihanoukville.

here's a little video of our arrival.

pier at sunset, koh rong saloem, cambodia.
the golden sand of "lazy beach" came into view complete with a jungled shoreline, basic wooden bungalows popping out of the greenery, a rickety old wooden pier jutting into the blue water and smiling employees making their way from the breezy bar down to the boat to welcome us ashore.

our first thought was "THIS is the southeast asia beach we'd been looking for." aside from the four other boat passengers, the driver and the staff approaching us on shore, it was our beach. and one of those wooden bungalows popping out of the jungle was ours, too, complete with a hammock for each of us.

not one, but TWO hammocks at our bungalow, "lazy beach,"
koh rong saloem, cambodia.

as we carried our packs up to the open-air bar/reception/restaurant/hangout space, someone approached with ice cold glasses of some fruit drink and said "drop the bags, have a drink, carry on to your bungalow when you're good and ready. i suggest a swim first, however."

well, this was off to a good start. and it only got better.

koh rong saloem quickly became our favorite beach in all of southeast asia. it filled that fantasy, deserted island idea of empty stretches of beach set in clear blue waters we've all dreamed of. directly out our front door, a mere 30 second walk led us down to a stunning beach with gentle waves, an endless blue horizon during the day and, it facing west, some mind-blowing sunsets.

a 30 minute hike through the jungle to the other, east-facing, side of the island brings you to this.
a completely different type of sand along with stunningly clear, blue water. koh rong saloem, cambodia.

a sad fact of life in southeast asia is the sheer amount of trash that washes up along beaches all across the southern coast. not here, though, it was clean. occasionally an old net would wash ashore from the fish and squid boats constantly bobbing offshore. this bay was framed by rocks at either end of the beach which provided some pretty good snorkeling. no effort. just rent a mask and fins for $1 and float a few feet into the water... FISH! and sea urchins, and coral.

our bungalow came with a pair of  charming, and LARGE, geckos who helped to keep other critters to a minimum. we named them nick and nora. they were charming most of the time, until they found our bag of muesli at 3:45am.

and these were no ordinary geckos, these were geckos on steroids called "tokays." they sit completely still, too, like statues. when michelle first spotted one, she thought it was a decoration. i thought "there is no way i would have opened that door and NOT noticed that thing before." i poked it with a broom, it jumped, it yelled and skittered away. so did michelle. :) and when you hear them chirp, you understand the onomatopoeic name. apparently they're territorial and consider your cabin as their "turf." we watched a high-speed chase around the bungalow when an interloper appeared. these things went from dead-stillness to the speed of light up the walls, across the ceiling, under the beds... we didn't know where to stand.

pretty much says it all. koh rong saloem, cambodia.

back to that ricardo montalban comment earlier. i asked the young dude behind the bar "come on, be honest, do you feel like ricardo montalban from fantasy island each day that boat pulls around the headland and in to view?" <blank stare> "too young to know the reference?" <nod> "give me a beer, please."
it's now been a few weeks since we spent these days doing absolutely nothing at lazy beach but i'm certain it will continue to stand out among all the beautiful beaches, cities, villages and towns which we've been lucky to visit. if only lazy beach would give commissions for blog posts like these, we'd write one every day.

"our" beach at sunset, koh rong saloem, cambodia

an indulgent photo but this pretty much captures the vibe. this may be the
most relaxed russ has ever been.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

they told us this would happen

before we left home, back in july 2011, we read a ton of travel blogs and talked to as many people as we could to answer the millions of questions we had. one recurring theme was "you're going to get tired. you're going to reach a point where you need to take a break. when that happens, forget the budget, find a nice hotel and enjoy it for a few days." essentially, take a break from your break.

our view from breakfast this morning where we're writing this post.
villa paradiso, phnom penh, cambodia.
we thought "no way, how could travel fatigue ever set in? travel is awesome and you're literally on vacation every single day." now, this is in no way a complaint but truth be told, travel is a lot of work. well, we seem to have hit that moment.

we wouldn't necessarily call it fatigue as much as "this city is freakin' hot and we're covered in sweat five seconds after we step out the door. perhaps it's time for some creature comforts, like an a/c unit that functions for the full 24 hours promised?"

after weeks through the serene countryside of northern laos, then through the quiet southlands of cambodia we arrived in phnom penh, the chaotic capital of cambodia. as i type this at 10:00am it's already 88 degrees. when we arrived on the bus the other day at 1:00pm, it was 97 degrees. being budget-conscious, we duly checked into our cheap but well-reviewed guesthouse and were happy to find ourselves in a cool, quiet room. but after a couple of times walking through the bar at the front of the guesthouse, we started to feel a little queasy when it dawned on us that the only people there were pasty, middle-aged white guys with young, beautiful cambodian girls. as a german woman described them to us back in thailand, "transactional relationships."

welcome to phnom penh. bus station upon our arrival from kep.
just LOOK at all those people. 
then 6:30am the next day, BBBBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZ! outside our window! turns out, we checked in on a sunday, all was quiet, but on monday morning a coffin production workshop (yes, coffins!) was a few feet from where we were sleeping and the grinding and sanding and pounding and yelling sounded as if they were in our room. michelle popped her head up, looked at me and asked "we should move, yes?" i nodded, now wide awake. we step out of the room and a rat goes shooting down the hallway. strike three. i mean, it's a big city in southeast asia, rats happen, we get that but it was enough.

view from the 'foreign correspondent's club' on the
river front, our happy hour location for four nights running.
the serenity of the riverside belies the hot chaos behind us.

we scoured the town for another place, got a reservation from a highly-rated little guesthouse, returned to get our stuff from the first place (BBBBBZZZZZ still going on in full force) and upon arriving again were told, "i'm sorry, while you were gone someone booked your room online, now we have no place for you." wait, what? well, awkwardness followed (he was french, after all :)) and i suggested he just say no to the online booking. he grunted and relented. that kicked off an awkward couple of days in a dark room with an anemic a/c unit.

SCREW IT! we're moving across town, we're blowing our budget and finding a pool. done. we're now at the villa paradiso, a green, lush, quiet oasis in the middle of a loud, dusty, chaotic city with the temperature quickly rising and we love it.

we have had nothing but wonderful luck with our accommodations. we are not complaining in any way, travel really is as awesome and fulfilling as we ever dreamed it would be. but you know what? others were right, it's good to blow some cash and remind yourself what a great shower, a nice pool, working appliances, fantastic staff and an oasis to return to each day feels like. listen to your elders.

if EVER there was a worthy world cause. phnom penh, cambodia

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

our $12.50 bungalow

our bungalow, with wifi!, nong khiaw, laos.

here's the thing about southeast asia, it's cheap. no news flash, i know, but it's still mind-boggling.

that bungalow over there on the right, the one in front, cost us $12.50 a night. what you can't see: from that porch is an amazing view of the nam ou river in northern laos. this is their "top-end" accommodation at nam houn bungalows in nong khiaw. for us, it was one of the best places to pass hours in the hammock doing nothing but watch the boats go by and the sun set behind the mountains. incredible.

we'd just floated downriver to nong khiaw from an even smaller town called muang ngoi, which will forever hold a very, very affectionate spot in our hearts. it's a village only accessible by boat and there we had a bungalow for $11.50. think about what you would get in the u.s. for that much money. you couldn't get anything, could you? maybe $60 will get you a room at a motel 6 along a freeway off-ramp somewhere.

nam houn riverside guesthouse, nong khiaw, laos.
any bus ride through laos will illustrate why things are cheap, i mean there are people living with not a whole hell of a lot. this didn't seem to affect their outlook on life, as we met some of the most wonderful people on our travels in that country, but it's clearly evident there's not a lot of cash flying around.

now, thailand's a different story: i had a conversation with a friend in chiang mai about world currency, something i thought i once almost understood. or maybe value is more accurate a word. now i definitely understand a whole lot less about how the world works. in chiang mai, where we stayed for $20 a night in a very fine room for a few weeks, where said friend was also staying, we ate some incredible food, had massages nearly every day, cheap transportation wherever we needed to go, and these things barely cost us a couple of dollars each time. life in chiang mai is really, really good. infrastructure is there for pretty much anything you need. people aren't living hard lives as you would expect in a place with prices like that. i talked to a guy from the u.s. who, with his thai girlfriend, bought a home in a nice neighborhood of chiang mai, completely gutted it, and rebuilt it from the inside out for a total of $60,000. all this with a view of the ping river. i sat open-jawed with my beer halfway to my face when he uttered the total.

medications, too. we purchased tylenol for $1.50, cold medication for $1, an entire course of antibiotics for $4-$5, and these weren't asian brands, either, they were companies like phizer, glaxo-smith-kline, merck... american companies we all know, at a fraction of the price. why is that? another friend was in town and needed a visit to the emergency room. he's a retired doctor who reported "that was one of the best medical experiences i have ever had. top-notch doctors, outstanding diagnosis and prescription filled, all for $25. i was in and out in under an hour."

our $10 bungalow, koh lanta, thailand.
on koh lanta, an island in the andaman sea, we paid $10 a night for a bamboo bungalow a few minutes walk from the beach. $10! we'd walk out in the morning to be shaded by palm trees in the breeze and eat breakfast of fresh papaya and mango and, i might add emphatically, really good coffee.

we're now in cambodia and have been here for nearly a month. so far we've stayed in a guesthouse in siem reap for $16 a night, a bungalow on otres beach for $10 a night, a bungalow on a nearly deserted island for $40 (this was a splurge! but worth every bit of it.), and a guesthouse in kep for $20 a night.

what you get for the cost spans everything from air conditioning to just a fan, a cold water shower or sometimes even a hot water shower and surprisingly, more often than not, comfortable beds. i remember only one very uncomfortable bed and it was basically a futon seemingly gone flat back in the 90s. a word about the bathrooms, too. typically they're tiled rooms with a toilet, a sink and a shower head. no shower stall or curtain, just a shower head. if you think about it, where else could you take a pee, brush your teeth, have a shower and clean the bathroom all at the same time? it's win-win-win-win.

almost every one of these rooms has had a mosquito net, and thank god. for the entrepreneurs out there, here's a suggestion. if you care to start an import business to bring window screens to this part of the world, you know, the part of the world with ALL THE MOSQUITOES? you'll be rich. there are none to be found, it's truly astounding. you're welcome.

hammock rentals, $2 for all day, along the sea.
they would even make you fried rice or noodles and
bring it to you while you swayed. kep, cambodia.
if our cambodian visas weren't about to run out, we'd still be in kep. if you're thinking of traveling to cambodia, and if you aren't, you should be, find your way to kep. seriously, now. kep has been a sleepy backwater on the south coast of the country, "the little sister" to kampot, as they're fond of saying. well, kampot is cool, but kep is on the water with some of the freshest crab in the world. that's their major claim, fresh crab. i would add an ever-present breeze, lush greenery, a tremendous national park with the best-marked system of trails in all of southeast asia and the most laid back population we've ever met. we sat in our restaurant and ordered the "kampot pepper crab." then we watched the woman wade out into the waves, retrieve a crab from the basket floating in front of us, take out a crab and walk back. minutes later, that poor sap was on our table and wow, was he tasty. if you aren't a big crab fan when you arrive, you will be when you leave. but things are changing, the money is pouring in, you can see it all over town. the people aren't here yet, but the hotels and roads to support them are going up as i type. oh, and that crab meal? $4. see what i'm saying?

our bus on the road between kep and phnom penh.
it's a beauty, no?

we took a bus from kep to phnom penh this week, a distance of 90 miles. ticket price? $4.50 per person. granted, not business class on british airways or anything, but a fine bus with full size seats and air conditioning. the funny thing is, the longer you're in this part of the world, the more skewed your expectations become. upon arriving in phnom penh, michelle noticed a sign for the bus in the opposite direction but here it was priced $7. "my god! $7? that's insane." let's be honest, we're talking the price of a large latte at starbucks.

being in phnom penh, the prices of things reflect "city" living. what we're talking about here is that entrees are now $4-$6 and tonight with dinner we purchased a "jar of beer," a pitcher really, for $3. and it was happy hour so we got another for free!

as i was typing this post, sitting in our $25 a night guesthouse (city prices) in phnom penh, the power went out. did we mention it was hot? no? well, it's nearly 10:30pm and it's 86 degrees. so long air conditioning. when the power goes out, they shrug their shoulders and say "we get our power from vietnam," like that explains everything.

here's a parting shot: a scooter ride along the south coast of cambodia.

no one else around to take our picture, so we did it ourselves. that there is the
gulf of thailand in the background. believe us, although we've been traveling for
seven months we are still astounded by the places in which we find ourselves.
and by how goofy humans look in helmets.
kep, cambodia. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

cambodian life as seen from the back of a scooter

they say travel changes people and it's true. take my wife, for instance, who from the back of a scooter across several southeast asian countries now has morphed from holding on like the responsible woman i used to know to something akin to buffalo-freaking-bill leaning out to the side with a camera in her hand.

road from kampot, on the way to market, kep, cambodia.

these were all shot from behind my head over the last couple of days as we've driven around kep and kampot, cambodia, on the very southern end of the country. it's the former vacation hang out of the french before being run out of the country in the 50s. 

luckily, we rarely exceed 35mph on these roads, otherwise said wife may have been long gone.

muslim girls on mopeds, kep, cambodia.

lunch can be had at 30mph... that's a huge vat of
steamed rice on the back there. kampot, cambodia.

holy monks in a minvan, batman!

about these roadside restaurants, reality hits home regarding the food you're eating when you take a stroll through a market like what this little video reveals.  but talk about fresh!

"restaurant," where typically we've found some of the best food.
side of the road, emissions and all. kampot, cambodia.

just chillin' after school, kampot, cambodia.

that's right. that there is a HUGE bronze durian, a.k.a. the worst smelling fruit in the world. it's right smack in the middle of the main traffic circle in kampot, which bills itself as the durian capital of cambodia.

life on the side of the road, near kampot, cambodia.

it's always a surprise when they actually drive near the shoulder and not in the middle of the road.

cambodian people's "pRaty."

cambodian people's "praty": maybe you'd think this party would start promising more money for schools, huh? just a thought.
road from kampot, and this is the "good" road!

we rode behind this dude for a few miles on a potholed, dusty road. he's on the back holding a five gallon water jug in one hand and a bag of paint cans in the other. his arms have got to be several inches longer today.

ok, not from the back of a scooter but this is a typical gas station stop in cambodia. $1.25 per liter. he hand cranks the gas from the 55 gallon drums up into the glass containers on top. then points his finger so i can watch a liter drain out. when i speak even one word in khmer he lights up and starts babbling on like i know what he's saying. it's total entertainment every time. i'm sure my reply to him, in khmer, meant something like "elephant poo, nice sunset." my khmer's not that good.