Wednesday, October 22, 2008

in this installment, james decides he has to suck it up and read/watch alex garland's "the beach."

Millions of the world's population are now mobile. Not just ready to bolt if the need arises, these folks live as nomads who journey as far as possible from their cultural ties. Not just frat boys on an international sex quest or artists searching for inspiration outside the commercial glare of America, there is a very large subculture of life-long travelers.

I met one on Koh Tao, and over the course of four days we struck up an ongoing conversation and hopefully friendship.

Originally from New Zealand, he got his first taste of travel life in his college years. Ingrained in Kiwi culture is the belief that young adults need to travel the world to gain a better perspective on life - this is also true in Australia - and he set off like so many of his school mates.

Only he never went back.

He now makes his home in London, missing New Zealand but unable to return after his experiences around the world grew him a bit too large for the small bowl of Kiwi culture.

He was in Berlin in 1989. He has two chunks of the wall in his London flat and was at the famous Pink Floyd concert.

He was in Rawanda when it imploded and hid for two days with his travel companions while entire groups of people were hacked into pieces right outside their hiding place. Then they finally snuck out and crossed the border, they broke into two groups. He fell into the first, the second was kidnapped and executed.

He finally settled in Israel. He traveled there with a girlfriend to work at a Moshev, but soon they broke up. He loved the culture and decided to stay while she moved on. After a while he began to date an Israeli girl. She got pregnant and he decided it was finally time to plant roots. When the son was four years old he was killed when the Moshev was bombed. The parents survived, but the pressure was too great and they split up despite his protests. Her family demanded she now marry an Israeli man. He found his way back to London.

I met him in Thailand, where he was spending a month reading and smoking hashish. He gave me a copy of Shogun to read and is heading to India for six months.

He's 46 now and won't be back to London for over a year. And when he's there, he still won't be home, because he's tried twice, and each time the world swept him back into its current.

Monday, October 20, 2008

in this installment, james fights fire with a french canadian rastafarian buddhist who plays the harmonica and makes monkey noises.

There's nothing better for escaping the midday heat of Thailand than lugging enormous jugs of water up vertical steps to put out an inferno that used to be a bungalow.

We were strewn out over the restaurant tables like cats, not reading, not eating, not talking, just trying to doze to pass the time and heat. The quiet guesthouse had been inundated with Spaniards and Germans in the late morning, and now they too were overcome by the sun - though a few still bobbed in the water.

Then a boom, and screams, and running around the corner to see a staff bungalow - grass roof and driftwood walls - is not a box of flame. It spreads instantly to the hut next door, then quickly to a tree that will lead to more buildings.

A few sat in their seats and watched (French, enough said). Two ran to grab cash and passports then headed to help (myself and the French Canadian), and the Spaniards (mostly women) instantly formed a water lugging assembly line up the hill. The men spread around the fire and began to toss pitiful amounts that evaporated before contact. There was no saving what was burning, so we began to douse the third bungalow and trees.

Fifteen minutes later, the two bungalows were ash, but otherwise nothing was damaged. I got some footage, but not much, since I felt guilty every time I pushed REC ... this is why I'm not a documentarian.

Well, that's all I'm gonna write now. I'll post video when I'm back in Korea. I have to sleep. I just got back from night diving with a giant jellyfish and tomorrow morning I'm doing my deep dive with sharks!

Friday, October 10, 2008

in this installment, james almost faints in the jungle.

Ok, so I wanted to get to a more secluded place to do some writing, swimming, etc. And there was this place listed in Lonely Planet that sounded good, but the number was out of service, so the only way I could get there was to hike across the center of the island, about four miles, 1,000 foot elevation at the peak, 95 degree weather, through the jungle, on a road about four feet wide lined with coconut shells to keep it from washing away completely during the rains.

I almost passed out, twice.

Finally, after an hour I peaked, then saw ocean through the trees on the other side. I quickly decended to sea level and rounded a corner and ... I'm not even joking, this place looks ripped out of a Pirates movie ... bungalows botted on the hillside, linked with intricate criss-crossed stairs, some wood, some cement. And all lining a private cove.

I made my way down to the water and found the restaurant and office ... on a patio that ENDS at the water. I ordered food and drink and relexed before my walk back ... but not before securing a room for two weeks.

Within 200 metes of the restaurant there is cliff jumping, trail hiking, and snorkeling in a shark pool.

I'm not even joking. It's so amazing ... and for, get this, $6/a night!

The boat picks me up in an hour. Thing is ... no internet for two weeks. So this is going to be my last blog for a while!

There's a chance I'll make it back over to this side in a week or so,but if not, expect be on the interweb around the 26th or so.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

in this installment, james swims with the fishes, but not in the gangster sense.

First off, Happy Birthday to my Father, who is 40-years-old today!

Second, I got to swim in open water today, and get right next to the most amazing assortment of coral, fishes, and worms. The best were Christmas Tree Worms, which are those weird fan things that stick out of coral and jerk back incredibly fast when you try to touch them. The move so fast they just seem to disapear.

I was completely in love with diving before I descended, just looking down the buoy line that disapeared into the vague shape of a rock, swarming with blue and yellow fish, was enough to fall in love. Although, lots of those fish enjoy coming up and biting you, which doesn't hurt so much as freak you out.

Unfortunatly for me, they seem to like leg hair.

It turns out that Crystal Dive Resort, where I'm staying and taking this course, is the second cheapest place in the world to get your scuba certification. It's very very tempting to drop the cash on two more days of training, then I could dive up to 30 meters (100 feet!) instead of 18. Being able to go lower would mean I could see sharks around the island (safe sharks, not flesh eating Spielberg sharks). I have the time but don't know if I have the money ... I could always some back, and for any of you interested in a vacation, you can get here for $1,000, rent rooms for between $4/10 a night, and meals also rangs from $3-10 depending if you want local cuisine or Italian (there are TWO competing Italian restaurants, one owned by an actual Italian man, NEXT DOOR to each other on a 21 square km island!).

Oh well, even if I can't afford the extra training I plan on snorkling like every day!

This place is gorgeous, but I havn't had a chance to explore just yet. I've been too busy diving!

It's a bit more expensive for internet here, so I'm signing off. Miss you all and can't wait to see you in December!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

in this installment, james gets taken for a ride ... to nowhere

Bangkok was ... interesting. My "room" was a closet with windows that wouldn't close so I could hear the perpetual roar of tourists all night and a window to the hallway with no drapes so I had florescent light shining on my face all night. No television, free soap, or room to move. Oh, and it cost a third more than my room in Cambodia which could hold an entire soccer team.

So in the morning I rushed around, trying to find this Israeli travel shop that everyone raved about. I finally did ... and got a cheap flight to the big island (Koh Samui). Then I had hours to kill so I thought I'd browse around the city. Ten minutes later I caught a bus to the airport because I'd rather sit for four hours in the sterile, uncomfortable world of an airport than hang around Bangkok another minutes.

It's horrid.

Then my flight was delayed, and rather than walk onto the plane, at the last second they detoured us to the tarmac where we got on a shuttle to a completely different plane.

The flight over was incredibly beautiful. The sun was setting behind cloud formations that I've never seen in real life, only in magazines.

I landed on Koh Samui and was really impressed with the scenery. I asked to be taken to a particular port village so I could head to Koh Tao (the smallest of the three islands, where all the diving is) in the morning. My driver wanted to take me to HIS hotel, and when I refused he stopped the van so I could get off. Told me I could take my pick than, but this was the village.

He lied. After walking around for an hour, looking for the cheap guesthouse listed in my Lonely Planet, I found a confused motorbike driver who finalyl figured out I was in the wrong village. I had to snag a room at the cheapest place here (twice the price I could have gotten at the other place) but at least it was a TV so I can listen to Sarah Palin on CNN and take a dip in the pool.

I made my deposit for diving with a British diving company. If there's room I'll start tomorrow. And I'll be on an island that's only 21 square kilometers, so I'm hoping to spend most of my time there snorkeling with the free equipment I'll recieve from the dive company! Got I hope it workd out. The two bigger islands are a lot more touristy. The middle one is better (can't remember the name, it's VERY Thai) but every full moon they have a party that attracts tourist and locals alike from all corners of Thailand. Basically, the beaches are shoulder to shoulder with drunk people. I kind of want to witness that, but I don't think it's worth the trip price over to get annoyed with idiots.

I can't wait to explore in the daylight, from the air these islands look like the places I used to stare at for hours in National Geographic.

No, not the topless tribe women. Sheesh.

Friday, October 3, 2008

in this installment, james buys some sweet cambodia coke.

Today after the temples we voted to take our driver's advice and visit the "floating city." Matt was good enough to front the cash (outside my daily budget ... which is sad since it was not expensive by American standards!) and we headed south of Siem Reap.

The road was build on a sort-of levy that stretched far out into the water. I thought were were at the lake, the lake our driver told us was the largest body of fresh-water in South-East Asia, but it turns out were were still "on land."

Further out, the road was lined with shanties and full-blown houses, all resting on rickety wood poles about five inches in diameter. The front walks were a patchwork of twigs and planks that seemed to stretch magically and sans support from the house to the road ... often times lined with multiple motorbikes.

This place is loved by tourists AND locals, who head out to fish. It's SWARMING with people, living and traveling multiple directions on a road not much wider than a single vehicle. As usual, Mopeds and Tuk Tuks abound.

Eventually side by side buildings stop, replaced by boats. We hopped into one and cruised out through the wide channels that cut through the tree tops.

Yes, I said tree tops. Those patches of dense foliage that you just assume are relative to seaweed? No, they're trees. Wood trunks, abundant green leaves, the usual. Thing is, these trees can survive completely dry or completely submerged. Don't ask me about the science, I don't have a clue, especially since even Lily Pads need a floating solar panel. But that's what he told us and that's what we saw. Imagine if your yard flooded and your apple trees disappeared up to their highest branches ... it was quite something to realize.

For thirty minutes we weaved around single-person boats, floating schools, floating houses, floating ball courts (not even joking ... imagine one of the smaller gyms at your local Boys and Girls Club floating in the middle of a third world country with metal grate instead of cement walls) and a floating restaurant and gift shop.

Just before we cleared the village for open water, a small boat snuck behind us, crossed our wake, and paced out speed. A five-year-old girls leaped to our boat, toting a plastic pail filled with Coke and Sprite and Angkor Beer (fast becoming my favorite - like Asahi, with a smack of ancient stone ...). She was adorable and precocious and wasn't leaving our boat til we bought some. This is standard fair over here ... kids will follow you up to a quarter mile begging you to buy trinkets, drinks, flutes, t-shirts (and don't bother pretending to speak only Spanish, they are multilingual when it comes to selling!), but never before have I been cornered while in a moving vehicle!

So I bought two, gave one to Matt, and the girl leaped back to her own boat. The whole experience was very surreal.

Turns out the legendary size of this lake was not exaggerated. Like the Great Lakes in the American North, the horizon ends in water for 180 degrees at the river mouth.

The lake is enormous but only 40 feet at its deepest, making it a constant state of Sediment Brown and making it quite easy to totally and utterly pollute!

We made out way back, stopping at the floating gift shop of course, where our guide pointed out other awesome things on a map and we got to watch their tank of live Crocs, and then hit the road back to Siem Reap.

It was an awesome adventure, and already added to my list of life goals that grows more expensive every day, is to fund a floating English school that I can visit when I want.

The place was impossible to describe, and unfortunately even though I shot some video a 2 megapixel camera cannot do it justice. For the best idea of what it was like, watch Waterworld. Just take out the lame ending, fishmen, and the anti-smoking campaign, and that's pretty much what it was like.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

in this installment, james chats with brits over the sound of chanting buddhists

Up at 6am for breakfast and conversation with some other guest house patrons: a chatty South Korean, quiet Brazilian, and beauty-pageant qualifying couple from Sweden. The Korean was in the final two weeks of a seven month tour of the world, the Swedish couple was two weeks into a 9 month tour of the world. Great folks.

On the way out I noticed that the grizzled Australian that is ALWAYS drinking iced coffee at the same table every night and morning was climbing into a truck for a local demining company (Cambodia is still littered with land mines and it's unwise to tread off the beaten path).

I'm hoping to strike up conversation one of these mornings and maybe volunteer some time in exchange for a great story!

The temples are astounding. Ankgor Wat is tourist crowded, of course, but the grounds are so large it's easy to spread out. Bayon is much, much more awesome because you can climb over every nook and cranny! Matthew almost fell, it was awesome.

Time for cold water. More later!