maybe that'll work. im getting lazy...
10 June 2012 

 Well, there ya have it. The blessings have already started. I got picked up at a gas station in Moshi by my guide to be, and after talking at their office, I decided to go with the 7 day trek and not 6. To my surprise, there were already two other people going on the 7 day and that if I went with them, I’d get a discount! Yes, I will take that....thank you very much. Then walking into my hotel, I met the two people. A mid 20’s couple from Sweden. OK, its time to charge my plethora of electronics. Ciao

11 June 2012 
 Its time. Today is the day. Day 1. The attempt to climb will start shortly. It is breakfast time, and as I have no idea what my food will be for the next 7 days, I’m enjoying overpriced eggs and juice. 

 NIGHT TIIIIIME! Day 1 is in the books! I had a few weak spurts, but overall a great day. All clouds, in the rain forest all day, and our vertical assent was 1200 meters. From 1800 (the park gate) - 3000. Tomorrow will be 800 vertical, and will take us about 4.5 hours, two less than today. 
 Arriving at camp this afternoon/evening was nothing short of amazing. The tents and chairs and “mess tent” was set up and waiting, and after a short rest we had hot tea and popcorn. Next came the carrot soup and bread. What a dinner. All 3 of us were pleased. Nice dinner we agreed....then came the potatoes and fish fillets, haha. Wow, impressive! I’m definitely full now, I thought. Midway through, another vegetable soup was served and I was speechless. This would be a very nice meal in a house. An amazing meal for a picnic. But all of this carried up a mountain on people’s shoulders? C'mon....
 Needless to say....dinner was tasty. 

12 June 2012

 Day two is in the books. Literally. Dinner is finished, my tummy is full, and my neck is sunburned quite bad. I sit in our mess tent writing by candle light not because I have no other light source, but because somehow, it just makes it that much better. Our dinner each night is accompanied by candles, and it has been wonderful. Another 3 course meal was had and we just got finished star gazing. They are un-be-leave-able. Johan is using a 15 second shutter speed to try to capture the Milky Way, and really, what you can see from up here is truly breathtaking. In the states it seems that you can see thousands of stars. Here it is millions. It almost looks like there is more white in the sky than black. Standing there with my head tilted back feeling the cool breeze around my neck I got a bit excited again and realized I am really lucky to be getting to do this. Despite there being +/- 100 people at this camp alone on this night, I realized again that I’m one of a few that get to experience this. Life is good. 
 We had a few sections of our trek that bordered “technical” or “climbing.” I enjoyed them. This morning, we started out walking in the rain forest under complete cloud cover, but were soon through them where sunburning was free and liberally distributed to everyone. I’ve only had a few light headaches so far, but tomorrow apparently, will be the start of the challenge. Challenge? Hmm, what exactly have the past 2 days been? Just kidding, it has really not been that bad. Do as they say and go slow and all will be fine. After all, the hike is scenic. Why not just cruise, and have a casual walk. You get to camp and although you get to rest, all you will be doing is sitting. 
I’m quite confident that I will sleep great tonight. I realized last night that earplugs DO work for me. Add that to being on flat ground tonight.....I’m excited. 
Tomorrow we climb to 4600 meters, then hike back down to sleep at 3900. We are at 3800 tonight so hopefully I’ll push through, without any major difficulties. Well, I could keep rambling but I’m yawning and should try to sleep. I do not even know the time...

14 June 2012

 The dogs are barking now!! Not literally, that is just what Vernon Taylor, my grandpa used to say. Its been a long two days. Well, technically a long day and a short one. I decided to keep up with a porter for the last 30 minutes or so on our decent into camp last night and I paid the price. Thinking “up fast” is bad but down fast isn’t, I opted to go for it. What I didn’t think of is that my heart/blood/oxygen would still have to be pumped and keep up. A horrible headache and nausea ensued and my evening plans changed in favor of Advil and a nap. I’d recovered by dinner and after a bit of chitchat I turned in for what would be my best night of sleep yet. 
Today we got to start late because we’re on the 7 day plan. up until now the 6 day people and us have done the same thing. The camp we will sleep at will only be their lunch stop. They will continue on for another 4 hours and relax (try to sleep) until midnight when they will start their ascent to the summit. I do not envy them at all.
 We on the other hand, will relax for the rest of today, and have another easy day tomorrow. 3 hours of hiking today, and 3 tomorrow. Then rest all afternoon and get up ad midnight tomorrow to summit. In every way the 7 dat choice is better. Especially since they gave it to me with no price change. 

15 June 2012

Dinner last night was good and we got to visit with the porters for a bit. One is 19 years old, one 20, and 22 I think. Its just so crazy to me, it really is (their lives). In too many ways to discuss....but some comfort comes from their acknowledgement that this is a good job, and I suppose it isn’t fair to them to compare their style of living to that of someone in another country. But is that a copout on my part? I don’t know. I do know that I don’t like being waited on and catered to. Especially by people who could use more assistance than myself, even if it is their job. 
Well, this is the dawn of the day that I will summit. Tonight at midnight we will set off for the top. 

 It is 5:15 p.m. now and we’re at our next/last camp (before the final climb). I forget the name of the camp. My headache reminds me of the altitude though. 4600 meters. Thankfully it has not been horrible every day. I think we all know I don’t do “sick” very well. 
 It didn’t take us very long to get here today, maybe 2.5 hours. What we walked through was called the alpine desert. The camp here is just below the snow line on the mountain and when you are not in direct contact with the sun, it gets cold fast. I just took at 2.5 hour nap. I’m glad I did because after the nap yesterday, I slept very little last night. Even as I’m writing I keep having to put on more clothes. It’s going to be a cold night, and even colder walk up the mountain. I’m a little worried though....I sure hope I have enough clothes. I should be good. Walking helps keep you warm. 

16 June 2012

WOW! What a day. Man what a day. I climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro today. I can summarize the ascent to the summit like having the flu, and being forced to walk up a never ending gravel hill in the dark with snow and ice where the temp is 15 degrees Fahrenheit and you are forced to breathe through a straw. Oh, and you start at midnight having no sleep and arrive at the top just before sunrise. So that is how Kilimanjaro is. But that is just the summit night/morning. The preceding 5 days are like walking up stairs for 4-6 hours per day. Yes, you still have the straw in your mouth. 
 When I got to the camp at 3100 meters this afternoon I spent about 5 minutes enjoying the ability to hold my breath for longer than 2 seconds and not worrying about passing out or throwing up. 
Oh ya....thats the other thing. En route to the summit, I couldn’t decide if my “Heart”/blood was going to burst out of my neck, chest, or head first. That altitude is something else. When I got to the fake summit, Stella Point, I literally laid down. the guide made me sit up, but I actually started crying. Why? I don’t know. Because for the previous 3 hours I really didn’t know if I was going to make it? We saw several people do an about face and accept their failed attempt. It gave me an uneasy feeling yet encouragement at the same time. It also might have been because I felt so awful, sick, hurt, and exhausted that THAT was the only thing my body had left to do. Or it could be that to my right was the congrats sign, and in the background was a breathtaking (literally) glacier, and to my left was the sunrise, peeking through 2 inferior mountain peaks. 

You can see the earth’s curve when you’re out on the ocean, when you’re in an airplane, and from where I was sitting. Man...the sunrise. I could actually see the earth from the same perspective as a commercial pilot; and I was sitting on the ground. Despite a few very sparse clouds above me, I had a beautifully clear sky. And even though I did need a little help from the guide, I still walked to 19,340 feet to see it. The mountain did require me to throw up 200 yards from the top though, before I could get a picture. Nice entrance fee. 

The decent was equally awful for the first 300 meters, and then something happened. Adrenaline. And a full shot of it. I felt great, awake, and excited. I naturally started walking faster, and that turned into some crude style of gravel sliding/skiing. It was amazing. Me and the guide were blowing past people like they were standing still. Some actually were I guess, haha. But most were trying to do this weird type of side step tiptoe thing where they were using their hiking poles....we didn’t need no poles haha. We were cruising. Upon reaching camp, the guide told me we made it down an hour and 15 minutes. it was supposed to take 2.5 hours. Hello nap time. My goal has been reached. 

What is traveling and why do people do it? What is the personal appeal? Can anyone differentiate between a tourist and a traveler? And why on earth did I come to Kenya? Was it solely because I had a week to kill or because I justified a 6 hour bus ride and a $50 visa as “been there done that”? Is all this a sad attempt to have a diverse passport? Or was it out of pure convenience that I thought about ticking another country “box”....because those reasons are a far cry from what meaningful travel should be. I can promise you that. I just barely came, but upon seeing the urban sprawl as the bus topped a small hill skirting the city, I felt mildly rejuvenated. It was different and offered something new. 

The excitement that had been building as the ride was ending took a big hit when I called my couch-surfing (C.S.) contact and was informed that he had no money for a bus ticket to come up and get me. His request was that I get a bus down to where he was. No big deal I thought....

Wait, yes it was. Crap. Um ok how about a cab. Ya...i’ll take a cab. After 2 discussions with drivers I agreed on 1500 Kenyan shillings. Thats $17. Grrrr. Not cool. So we drive....and drive....and drive....and drive some more. As we venture further to the South, thats the direction the quality of life goes also. South. Where the heck are we going? No worries. Hamna shida, “no problem” in Kiswahili. After about 6 phone calls between my driver and my C.S. contact, direction inquiries from almost a dozen locals, and multiple u-turns, I had given up on time and caring. Its been at least an hour.....probably 1.5 hours. At this point I’m glad for a fixed cab fare and not a running meter. We finally pull into one of the neighborhoods...can I call it that? Its the quality of the remote villages in Tanzania where I've spent the past 2 weeks. Except its twice as cramped, triple the people, and theres 2-5 story “projects” style housing everywhere. Really? This is the place?? Huh....whatever. “Roll w/ it Von.” 

We the middle of the street no less. Wait a few minutes and BAM! In pops this head saying hi through my open window. This must be the C.S. guy. So I pay and get out. 

Our walk down the trash lined street is soon traded for a trash covered narrow alleyway that runs along and in between multi-floor half finished concrete buildings. We turn and go through a rod iron safety door that looks like it belongs in a Martha Stewart commissioned jail. We climb stairs that are made of half broken cement and I’m told their apartment is at the end of the building on the 2nd floor. I can see the feet of another guy sticking out of the doorway as we make our way down the walkway. Staring through the doorway I see two padded lounging chairs up against the wall, side by side. Opposite of them is the matching couch. None have cushions, rather folded material to sit on and some extra pieces draped over the arm rests and chair back to liven up the decor. I side shuffle in, because the chairs cover all but about 6 inches of the doorway. Reggae music is blaring and I now feel that these guys are the self appointed DJ’s of this cell block. One friend is sleeping on the couch, and 2 others double up the occupancy of the other chair so as for me to have one. All people introduce themselves to me, are super polite and hospitable, and speak good English. Yet somehow, I'm not in my comfort zone, or so far out of my element that I’m just...not really enjoying the moment. 

The sporadic come-and-go typical conversation that accompanies a newcomer is for the most part overshadowed by the blaring reggae fest that is going on in this 8’ x 8’ living room. Which apparently is not affecting the sleeper on the couch, yet I can’t hear any of the questions when they’re asked to me. 

I’m invited outside to the walkway where the options are to sit on a bucket, stand, or lean over the railing. The view from the second floor is of roosters crowing and chickens pecking, dogs barking, and many mirrored illusions of this exact building. Almost every one a photocopy of the previous. People are stacked upon people: wet hanging clothes out to dry on sagging ropes, babies crying, kids throwing sticks and trash, and people shouting or talking. I can count half a dozen leaning telephone poles that are carrying 4 times their weight in wire and would make quite the payday for a copper thief in America. 

Welcome. Welcome to the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. 

I have, at this point, thought of 3 friends. 
  1. Alex Harrison. Alex loves reggae music and would probably be loving this. I consider myself mostly laid back, but still occasionally feel the need for first world amenities. He on the other hand, would be standing, dancing, and probably wearing some sort of single piece shirt/robe thing that he picked up in Thailand or India. 
  2. Chris Thomas. Chris is often my inspiration when I find myself being scared, insecure, or too closed minded to fully appreciate the situation. He's the voice on my shoulder that says, “Suck it up Von.”
  3. Phil Leal. Phil is on the other side, aiding sometimes in my “ummm, maybe I shouldn't do this” feeling. I feel like I am to him what Chris is to me, which isn't a bad thing. Balance is good, always. Phil is just more cautious and reserved than I am I think. 

I kind of think Phil would have seen the place and not even exited the cab. And Alex, well he would have had his head out of the window smiling, like a dog in the wind. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m conflicted and don't know what to do. I came to Nairobi with no plans, and said I was open to anything. But am I open to this? This might be a little extreme. I tell myself to ride it out. After all, “Travel is truly experiencing other cultures and lands - embedding yourself in them, participating, living.” At least, thats what I keep telling myself. 

So afternoon turns into evening, and evening into dusk. We’re still on the porch/walkway...whatever...and I get passed a bag of leaves. 
 “Do you chew?” Kennedy asks. 
 “Huh?” I say, “Tobacco? No.”
 “No, Khat.” He says, while I'm holding the bag. 
 He reaches in and gets a pinch and bites off the leaves and says, “See?” 
 Yes I see, I think to myself but I'm not eating leaves. You're crazy. 
 He says, “Its stimulus, it keeps you productive, plus it helps us not sleep much. Maybe like 2 hours a night.” 

I smile as I think, “Ya, umm...I’m not going to chew on organic green leafy Kenyan speed. No thanks.” Well, Kennedy says its not drugs and it wont hurt me and that it tastes sweet. I’m still holding the bag and realizing now I'm really in the ghetto. Realizing my backpack is inside full of electronics, and that I have the equivalent of 2 months wages in my pocket, I feel like my bargaining position is somewhat limited. Am I in a scene from a undercover cop movie where the kingpin is testing my allegiance to his cartel? I spot a single leaf and continue to bite it off and chew. (Sorry mom.) And what do ya tastes like a leaf. Imagine that. They smile: test passed. They can rest assured though that that is the end of my induction test. I’m partial to my leaves in a bowl with Italian dressing on them.

It gets dark and chilly so we go inside. All 5 of them, ranging from 23-32 are surprisingly politically savvy. They want to watch the news. Were going to pause Reggae Fest 2012?? Awesome. Well, half way through the power goes out. Apparently this is common. Does this mean I’ll get to sleep in silence tonight? After about 15 minutes we decide to go buy food. Food? Here? “Mmmmm suck it up Von.” - Thanks Chris. Be where you are, I remind myself. So we walk from stall to stall, each illuminated by propane torches or candles, and me shelling out the cash for dinner. Kennedy is going to make fish stew. So we buy the chopped up bone in tilapia, and several veggies and make our way back to the flat. Still no power anywhere. Kennedy goes in to start cooking, and by go I mean use the mini table that is beside the 1 bed in the 1 room that I guess I'll be sleeping on. Am I finally traveling?? Because truly a new experience. I’m certain. 

I'm tired and fall asleep in the chair. I don’t how, but I do. I’m awoken by Kennedy and am a bit disoriented. Its made worse buy my contacts. Things are blurry. I regain my thoughts and am given hot hot stew and maize bread. A pitcher of water and bowl to wash my hands in, and oh eating utensils. We’re taking the hands on approach I see. I give a silent prayer for the safety of my stomach and the soon to be contents there in and go to town. Oh how I hate picking out fish bones. I finish and we’re one-third of the way through an old American movie when I realize its Jaws, but it’s not the original. Maybe 2, 7 or 49.... I don't know. Killer sharks invade fresh water somewhere up the Bayou. I’m quite tired again, and by the time the credits roll, I'm ready for some sleep. Even though I'm not too keen on the arrangements, I'm going to attempt the bed. I request the mosquito net, grab my mobile and headphones, and lay down. Using the White Noise app on my phone, the oscillating fan drowns out the reggae and I'm left to think and sleep. 

Laying there wanting to sleep, I am again, thinking of adjusting my length of stay in Nairobi. I don't know what I THOUGHT it’d be like or how I expected to get around, but this is not holding my interest. Upon arrival I had decided to go back on Friday and not Saturday, and now I'm scheming up a way to leave even earlier yet preserve my good standing with my new housemates. I guess this is where my inability to be straight with someone/them shows through and I like the idea of telling a lie better. I decide that if I am awake to take the 8:00 bus I will, and if not I'll opt for the afternoon choice. Proud? No. Relieved? Yes. Disappointed in my weakness? Getting there....

I wake up to movement on the bed and what do you know? It’s 6.33 a.m. Lets do this. Mission: Migraine is ready to start. I hesitate, as I do with almost everything, then get up. Check the time again and open the room door. I realize the movement I felt is the addition of 2 more people to my bed.  I almost step on another guy sleeping on the floor. A bit of sadness and remorse for them, the situation, and what I'm about to do, but I battle on. I wake up the guy laying on the couch and ask where Kennedy is. Out pops his head from under the sheet on the floor. He is right under me. Given the amount of “Khat” (green leaves) they’ve chewed I'm a little surprised to see anyone sleeping at all. Equally surprising is that they sleep with the music off. So I start off my story about my migraine and that I might just need to go home. I explain I've been trying to sleep for the past hour and its not helping. They ask what pills I take and I say I don't know the name. “They’re yellow capsules.” (What!? Why am I compounding this lie!?!? What an amateur....) And as luck would have it...James says, “Oh! I have some of those. Kennedy they’re on the shelf. Go get them.” Great....This is karma. Out pops the pack of pills and THANKFULLY they’re red and yellow. I politely decline and say that mine are all yellow and I should probably wait until I get home. 

The driver comes at 6:55 and in hop me and Kennedy to start my second $20 cab ride. Well, again I'm thankful for a fixed fare because we ask no less than 15 people for directions on where this bus station is, and by the time we arrive, it is 9:00. An hour late for taking the bus. But at this rate, I don't care. I’m glad to be in a place that I can walk around independently, and I'm over the awkwardness. Frankly I don't care if they see through my lie...I can handle it from here. I settle the fare and off they go. I get my bus ticket for 2:00 p.m. and set out to find the locally famous and tourist spot Java House. I’m in need of some first world flair. 

It is now 12:15 and I’ve been here in the coffee shop writing and reading and eating for the better part of 3 hours. I've had ample time to reflect on my decisions as well as the past 24 hours. I had battled through the questionable and concerning situations. No sickness from food or drink. I’m alive and still have not been mugged. The earlier situation I found myself in was different, new, and locally authentic. Completely. Why then, this morning, did I jump ship? Did I jump ship?  While I ended my stay and Kenyan trip a day early, I still gained a new perspective and experienced a different culture. Did I attempt and fail or did I just finish early? 

I am not opposed to challenging myself. I am not opposed to risk or (a little) pain for the opportunity of a unique experience. I am, after all, the same person who lived out of a pick-up truck for 4 months in L.A. and told only one person. I’m also the same person who has swam with sharks without a cage, ridden real bulls, and battled altitude sickness to climb Kilimanjaro. It is pushing your personal boundaries and extending your comfort zones that make you remember how many millions of ways are available for you to experience life, to explore the fringes of my physical and emotional perception. It is good for me. It is good for everybody. In the end, it is usually the mental barriers we place on ourselves that do most of the fencing in. So did I leave because I was finished and ready to move on or because there was no king size bed, crystal glasses, and personal shower at my disposal....

It's now 2:00 pm and time for my return to Tanzania. I'm at the bus early and get to choose my seat. My legs are already thanking me for my choice. I spend the next 30 minutes or so analyzing my decisions in my paranoid mind and watching the sporadic wildlife out my bus window as we cruise through the Kenyan countryside. I look back and see that the 2 Italians have a Kenya and Tanzania Lonely Planet book. I ask if they’re first timers or returning and that question was the catalyst for the next 5 hours of great conversation. After discussing my upcoming European plans, I was invited (an Italian demand) to come visit. They live in Bologna and guarantee that I'll have an unforgettable time. They were shocked that Italy wasn't already on my list, and now that I know people, I would not be allowed to pass up their country. 

So before I was able to complete an opinion of my Kenyan accommodations, I was given the opportunity to make more friends and experiences. And it is only now that I conclude my Kenyan experience might not have been an open and closed independent trip, but more of a prelude and facilitator of future travels. So again, I'm reminded to chill out, and take things as they come. It pays to remember that every journey is a story, and every story is an experience, and now I have experienced Kenya. 

To or from.... Here or there.... Does it matter what you're doing? Does anybody care?

While trying to corral my thoughts into sentences about how other people/peers see travelers, I keep getting distracted. There's no doubt traveling, and even the anticipation/reminiscing of trips adjusts your thinking and perspective, but I'm realizing that it also has the ability to change and increase the creative/intellectual part of your brain.

Before traveling abroad I didn't read and wouldn't write. Why would I? "I'm busy. I do stuff." But soon after departing the 50 nifty, I stumbled into this whole new world of words. I realized that smart people write, and they read what other smart people write....and aspiring smart people read the aforementioned. Even though that seems simple enough.... I was amazed with my findings. (Now, I'm not implying that I'm smart because I'm writing. Smart people document and inform. I am....umm this is, an opinion. Editorial maybe...) Point being, I changed. And I was hooked. The books I picked to read were mentally exercising, on top of being enjoyable. And just like physical exercise, you're more apt to excel if you find your self-motivating niche.

Traveling outside your comfort zone, and more importantly outside of comfort... makes you do more than just gaze.  Maybe it's because your location is new and intriguing, or you need landmarks for directions, or because being in a foreign land heightens your self security receptors....but in the end, you require yourself to visually investigate and analyze what is going on around you. When this happens, the thoughts you produce are planted in your mental farmland that would otherwise lie dormant or be filled with the daily routine of "getting through the day so it can all start over." What you're doing is cultivating fresh produce for your mind. It's like laying off the cheeseburgers and deep fried snickers for a while and having some steamed vegetables and tofu. Your body needs that.

So get out, go do something you've not done before, or or go somewhere new. Different. Make it picture worthy and necessary of documentation. You'll love it and people will love your story.

An hour ago I decided that I should sit down and write because the day has consisted of hours of meaningful conversation with a friend whom I have not seen in many months. Its been a slow moving day, and that has caused my brain to be relaxed and calm. Its often difficult to slow your mind down and sit still if you’ve been thinking about 5 things at once and going 90 to nothing for hours on end. So after cleaning my desk and setting up a lamp that had made the journey to Oklahoma with me from Korea, I found myself sitting very still, quietly and relaxed at my desk, with my entire house completely silent, unintentionally attempting to mimic every breath more successfully and more accurately than the previous. I was staring directly at the wall in front of me, and could hear every miniscule nuance of my breath. I can only guess that if I had been counting at the same time as doing this, I might have very well hypnotized myself….or at the very least, allowed myself to fall into a deep meditative state. When I came to, I decided to open my laptop and digitally document my current conversation with myself.

Despite not being employed yet, I’ve made little time to sit and think since being back stateside. I’ve not opened one book, nor have I written anything. It’s a little disappointing that the geographical location of a person has such an impact on the importance one gives sentences. Being abroad, I felt my writings had purpose, and that I had a duty to my current self, my future self, and to others to document my day-to-day happenings, even if they weren’t day-to-day.  It’s unfortunate, however true it may be, that we feel we have to be “doing” something (ie: traveling abroad) to warrant documentation. I think that to people who admire you, and genuinely feel connected and want to know about you….to them most anything you say can and will be intriguing.

I know that last week, I was looking for socks at my parents house, and found 3 of my dad’s old leather self-tooled belts from years ago. And while he didn’t write about how he made them, or give detailed feelings about that time in his life, standing in his room looking at vintage art that he had independently and masterfully constructed allowed me to peer into a time of my dads life that would have otherwise been unknown. Now sure, I’ve seen his leather work before, and have even seen him in action. I’ve probably even seen these belts before, I don’t know. I have a great relationship w/ my dad, and I know his history…..but if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then physically grasping a one-off personal artistic account of a specific time in a persons life has got to be worth ten fold. And unintentionally…he documented and preserved historical personal facts that gave me the opportunity to see him unscripted, raw, and genuine. And that’s not to say that if you can’t make something or draw something then there’s no reason to document…its that people are intrigued by people. Just look at media and celebrities. And its even more intriguing if you and the other person have a personal or emotional connection to each other. The things that you do and the things that allow someone else to peer into your brain and see the physical manifestation of your thoughts and personality… be it 5 hours, days, or even years later…will be appreciated and forever cherished by someone.

So I guess that was the long way of saying you should keep giving accounts. We all should. Be it with words, pictures, or tangible objects, of how you spend your time. And I think I can even go as far as to say that if you don’t have something worth showing, then you are not successfully utilizing the time God has given you. I didn’t make a new years resolution, but I do think I’ve found my goal for this year. “Live your life so that you CAN’T say, ‘Same ‘thing different day.’” 

20 October 2011

Vacation 2 has commenced. Destination: Cebu City, Philippines. Length of stay: 4 nights…. assuming you count that we get in @ 1:00 am Friday and leave for the ROK at 2:00 am Monday morning. My buddy Phil told me about cheap tickets Tuesday morning @ yoga, I cleared a Friday vacation day with my school on Wednesday morning, bought the ticket that night, and was on the plane less than 24 hours later. Just the way I like it. Phil has attempted to orchestrate more of an itinerary than I have, him having figured out ferry times and prices and things to do and see…and all I’ve done is secure free ‘couch surfing’ accommodations in Cebu City, which is where we fly into.

9:20 p.m.: What? These seats really are for Asians. Or midgets. This ride better go by fast b/c its certainly not going to be comfortable.

3:35 am: Touchdown. Scratch that…it was more like a slam down, wait just kidding slam down again ok now stand on the brakes kind of landing. I guess that was our ‘wake up and get off the plane’ call. As soon as I clear immigration (and get my coveted stamp in my passport) I'm heading for an open corner of the airport and getting some shuteye before my undetermined plans commence.

We’re herded out of the airport, having no chance to secure sleeping arrangements, and so a taxi driver says he knows a cheap place for us to stay. Adventure 1 has started. We walk a few 100 meters/yards and pay for what can only be described as a closet. (Which is fine w/ me, if you’ve known me for at least 4 years, b/c this isn’t the first closet I’ve lived in….)

8:30 a.m.: I woke up and paid for a taxi to the island and my vacation was once again entirely from a local’s perspective. Shacks and shanties, trash and dirt trails, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any more behind the scenes than this. As we’re walking down the road now, we see a dive shop sign and walk towards it, greeted by a guy on the road that unbeknownst to us, will end up being our tour guide for the next 2 days. We look at a few beaches around the area, all with entrance fee’s…. and after negotiating, we decide that its better to just have him take us to the near by islands via boat so we can snorkel and have some beach time there. We get to feed the fish, and I actually see a ton of Koreans. They’re funny to me. They have shirts and shorts on, a hat, a life vest, goggles and snorkel, are holding on to ANOTHER life vest, and being taxied around the shallow water where they can see the coral and fish via their ‘guide’ who is paddling them along.

In our negotiated package with our tour guide, we will get to SCUBA dive tomorrow, and have a lunch prepared for us on the boat. This also includes the island hopping and snorkeling today, and it has cost me $100 USD. That is an awesome price and I’m pretty stoked because this is finally a vacation where I feel like I’ve been somewhere picture perfect.

We’re going to our 2nd island now where we’ll enjoy some chilaxing on the beach and (I expect) some overpriced snacks. 30 minutes later we arrive.

Once on shore, we have a walk-through of the island on our way to the beach. The lifestyle is very primitive. There happened to be an elementary school on the island, and so I walked up and smiled. Before I could even get out a “hello”… the kids had assembled on the front steps and in complete unison, said “Good afternoon mister. Nice to meet you.” I was beyond moved. Shocked I guess. I’m seeing over and over how societies and villages of people survive on fractions of what the majority of the western world has; yet they seem exponentially more content.

We finish our island hopping and make it back to shore. We promise Joseph, our guide, that we’ll be back around 9 or 10 tomorrow for diving and hail a cab into the city to find lodging. We decide to stop at SM Mall, the biggest in Cebu city, and this is where the disgusting differences of life become severely evident. In a span of 45 minutes, I go from an island that struggles to provide their children with pencils, to locals barely making ends meet doing services for vacationers, to seeing people shopping at Gap, eating Pizza Hut, using wireless on their smart phones, and being overloaded with shopping bags in a 4 story mall. It’s definitely true that the Philippines have no middle class.

We find a nice hotel near city center that will suffice and it sets us back $30 USD. Not going to break the bank…but I was really hoping my Couch Surfing contact would pan out. Oh well…maybe tomorrow. Time to check my eyelids.

Day 2

9:00 a.m. Ahhhh…. continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel. A McDonalds voucher, in the form of the Filipino cop-cat called Jollibee. I actually think I like the Philippines the best out of the 2 S.E.A. countries I’ve been to. It’s hard to explain why, but it might be mostly because of their English ability. Its kind of like Thailand and Mexico had a baby, except it grew up in the states and speaks English with a slight an accent. There were resemblances between Thailand and Mexico I remember…mostly because of the colors of things, and how they acted. But now, in the Philippines, it’s even stronger because they have Spanish roots from colonization and language.

We’re set to be strapped to cement blocks and swim with the fishies today. Not in the “I made the mob mad” sort of way…. just scuba diving. (You wear a cement belt to keep you underwater)

We finally met up with our guide at 10:30 and suited up for our dive. We boated to our spot, which ended up being somewhat close to the (not so pretty) island where we rendezvoused.  After reviewing a few basic shallow water diving techniques, we proceeded to deeper waters. The whole experience was nothing short of breathtaking, perfect coral or not (it was not). The only bad comment I have is not being able to TALK while I was underwater. I couldn’t tell anyone how cool it was. I guess that’s a good problem to have. We swam in somewhat shallow water for another 10 minutes or so, gradually going deeper to the depth of about 5 or 6 meters…. and then all of a sudden…. BAM! Drop off. I’m talking deep. Deep into the underwater abyss. It left me stunned, really. I had just went from shallow water diving, trolling along the coral looking at the ground, while not really paying attention to how deep I was…(not really needing to)…. To floating like a cloud, hanging effortlessly, suspended in the water by the perfect combination of added artificial weight and body buoyancy. I was experiencing my first true indescribable feeling of floating. Flying. Levitating. I was just there. No moving. No nothing, just breathing. I had turned around and positioned myself vertically where I could just look at that wall of coral face to face… as if it had a face…. and in complete awe at what I was doing. Never scuba dived? DO IT.

We descended down the wall of coral, maxing out at about 16 meters, and after seeing several more amazing creatures, started our ascent to the boat. Upon surfacing, we were greeted by our meal, complete with fresh bananas, and the best, most amazingly fresh, perfect mangos I’ve ever had.

6:30 p.m. We finally met up with our Couch Surfing host, Sean…. and I think he lives in the nicest high-rise apartment building in the entire city, no joke. 15th floor, and 18-foot windows that span the height of the 2-story corner unit he calls home. Two other CS’ers had been there about a week, Amy and Shannon, who were from Toronto and San Fran respectively. Two super cool girls with some awesome stories. The inspiration they gave me, and the zeal they both had relit my desire to go…to SEE…. something fierce. Ugh I can’t wait. We talked into the wee hours of the night, with discussions ranging from religion and politics to college and countries.

Our last day brought rest and relaxation, and we walked part of the city. We say some of the ancient city history, as well as the original cross Magellan had planted. It is apparently still in its original spot. He was actually killed here also. Later that evening we had another amazing dinner then tossed my towel and book in my backpack and headed out the door. Back to the ROK I go. Good morning students…..

Well, I finally played for the first time since I hurt my ankle. It hurt but felt super good…all at the same time. It felt great to be back on the field. A month is about a month to long. Football and working on cars are the most therapeutic things I can do for myself.

The new “generation” of English teachers arrived this weekend. (It goes in 6-month intervals). There are about 6-10 I think, counting all 3 possible programs. They all seem really cool and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun together. My first week of class is now down in the books, too. Mixed opinions and reviews I suppose. It all went ok, everything considered.

I keep thinking of people and things that are making me anxious and impatient about coming back to the states. I keep telling myself to “be where you are” because I know it will just get worse if I dwell on things that are on the other side of the world. Also because I know that a lot of the feeling is just to go. Go somewhere. Sure, I want to go back to Okla, specifically, but I also know that I like my job here, and that I HAVE a job here. I need channel my thoughts into the present, because my teaching will begin to suffer (more haha) if I don’t. Being in the “counting the days” mindset makes a person distant and allows them to have no regard for their quality of work.

I’m also finding that despite my preconceived opinion, I DON’T like having to call plays on my life in 6-month intervals. I thought I knew that I didn’t like making long-term decisions or commitments, but I didn’t know the short-term stuff was just as stressful. Finding confirmation that I’m working toward a long-term career goal would help the process and make me surer of my decision-making. People are already asking me what I'm going to do in January, and where I'm going to do it. Koera, America, Gimcheon, Seoul, Daegu.....ugh. 

When I was 14 or 15 my friend and mentor told me I’d be more likely to acquire something if I put a picture of it on my wall or where I could easily see it every day. So I cut out the Fox Racing moto-x gear and pinned them to my wall. A short while later the clothes were out of the plastic and I was wearing them out of my room. (I think my parents disapproved of my purchase, but that is beyond the scope of this talk.) Then, a few days ago, a professional American football player I follow on Twitter, Ochocinco, discussed his “vision board”. Curious, I looked at the picture, and it was a collage of many different desired achievements. Some had to do with finance, others possessions, and even health and mental goals that were expected to be achieved. Feeling like I’d seen this before, I realized that circa 2000, my mentor also instilled in me the benefits and effectiveness of having an active goal list…except we organized a book. In said book, there were several different categories, much like the described vision board. In addition to the categories, they were subdivided into long-term and short-term goals, so that I could actively see my progress. It’s also interesting to note how quite often, my short-term goals were in conflict with my long-term goals. That self check and balance is still quite useful. Well…as if there was ever any doubt… I know I still need to be actively referencing my goals and making sure I’m making escalating moves. Anyway, words for thought. Ciao! 

Cambodia by way of Bangkok started dark and early this morning, and in pure Thai/TESOL fashion…nothing was organized. The limo bus and mini bus/van was overbooked despite them verifying AND 2 people not showing up. We’re going to the market today in Bangkok….”the” meaning ANYTHING market. Me and my buddy Josh will be searching out AP journalism and press passes and credentials haha.

We will go to the foreigner district tonight that is famous in the infamous world travelers circuit. Tomorrow all the mix of English campers/college girls from Japan and Thailand will be going to the royal palace. We will part ways and start our journey across the Cambodian border in search of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

I had to call in the cavalry yesterday and have $ sent to me from the ‘rents. (Thank you.) It was pretty frustrating because Thursday I get paid in Korea and I’ll just be sending it right back. I have money sitting in my American account but forgot my American debit card, so I can pull none out. And I have my US credit card but nobody can take it because they’re not that advanced apparently. So, Western Union had to step in.

Friday after the last day of class we went to the beach and were fed fresh pizza and ribs by the school and sang karaoke with the Uni girls we’d been teaching. Saturday me and Josh went to Rayong, a town about 30 minutes away on our rented scooters so that we could eat at The Sizzler and to find the Western Union. On our way back while cruising on the shoulder like is customary for lil scooters on the highway, this COMPLETE idiot fur-rang (that’s foreigner in Thai) came super close to making josh lay the bike down and go in the ditch. It was not pretty. Luckily everyone came out atop their bikes.

7:00 a.m. came suuuuuper early. We walked to where the bus was supposedly going to pick us up and found nothing. After searching for an hour, I saw a white guy and after a quick chat we had a great deal of knowledge on how to make this trip work. We had to take a city bus to the big bus terminal, get on a bigger (and thankfully nicer) bus and went to the border. At the border we had to get out again, cross, take another taxi bus to another bus terminal and wager a charge to get us into the city. And it is this complicated all the time, anytime because of dissention between the Khmer’s and the Thai’s. The border was super hot, dry, dusty and filled with many shady looking areas and people. I also got to walk past my first live round, loaded AK assault rifle.

Halfway between the border and Siem Reap I experienced my first “gringo trap”. There were already 2 other busses parked as we entered this unexpected parking lot. We were told to get off and that this was a time to rest and get some food and drink, and that in 45 minutes we’d be leaving to go the rest of the way into the city. The only saving grace was that despite them technically being hustling street gypsies, we were greeted outside the bus by the sweetest, cutest little kids in the world. And boy did they know English! Granted, they knew exactly what they needed to say, from repetition, but surprisingly, most of them could really have a good conversation with you. Their little scheme was to hold out tied and twisted string bracelets and say “here. For you. Free.” And then to pull out coins from other countries and then ask you for your coins.

Finally it is time to leave. We got back in the bus and about 5 minutes into our journey I feel the bus driver do a pretty hard brake check so I poke up out of the seat and then the air brakes grab again. Now I see a car that is sitting perpendicular to the road ahead of us and it is completely blocking the road. As we get closer I look at Josh and we both have the same facial expression of curious “oh no” paranoia, so then I glance to the right and then the left…really hoping NOT to see pick-ups full of gun toting Khmer-rouge about to pounce on us. There isn’t…yet….so we’re good. The car pulls forward, stops. Then back, stops. And because the bus is fully stopped now, I’m really wondering what’s going on. The car driver looks at us, then looks around, and I check again to see if we’re about to have a mandatory give away. Now the car driver pulls forward again, this time turning his wheels slightly, then back again with them turned opposite. He is now facing the other direction, and it is apparent that this guy has successfully performed the longest, most difficult u-turn in automotive history.

Getting into Siem Reap….I am in awe. It is a very interesting place. It is a super bustling place. The first things I see are LOTS of little motorbike taxi things called tuk-tuk’s and on either side of the road are glamorous, multi floor, hotels and suites, complete with accent lighting and wonderfully landscaped fronts. Obviously this is a tourist façade…the actual country isn’t like that. But what I came to realize is that labor is cheap, they still do good work, and the U$D will go so far that even IF they charge “ridiculous” (to them) tourist prices…it only comes out to $20-60. I tried to get Josh and Haley to splurge on an expensive 60$ room, but our tuk-tuk driver took us to a 20$ establishment, and it was immaculate. I don’t think the beds were memory foam, but it was firm and when you laid down it became soft. Fake memory foam. They have everything else fake; I guess it’d be sad if that were left out. 3 full size beds in the room, all tile floor, and the bathroom was NORMAL. It had a full size tub, the shower head came out of the WALL….ABOVE my head, and not a hose that was connected to the sink faucet like the rest of Asia, there was a shower curtain, and there was room to move in the bathroom. “I have finally arrived,” I thought.

We unpacked, showered, and decided to go walk around. We found the nightlife street, and the restaurants had the same thing going on as the hotels. We found a cool looking place that served exotic meat that you grilled yourself…and we (the 3 of us) ordered snake, ostrich, kangaroo, frog legs, alligator, and unlimited side dishes…. For….wait for it…..30 dollars. 30 dollars! Total! And it was enough meat for all of us. It was truly impressive.

The next day we had an equally amazing meal, mine cost $6.50, and it was ratatouille pasta with chicken. It was spicy and oh so tasty. Walking around after dinner I saw a guy wearing a Cambodia soccer style jersey on, and asked him where he got it. He told me the night market for $5. Brilliant. So we walked to the market and it was closed. We turned around and were walking around again when I saw him pass. I confirmed w/ him that he paid $5 for it, then pulled out a $10, actually it was Haley, I only had a $20…and said, ‘you want to double your money?” He laughed and didn’t think was serious, but after I explained to him we were leaving at 7 a.m., he laughed again and took the money. So I got me a Cambodia jersey. Yeah!

The Cambodia side of the return trip home was decently tolerable. This time the customs/immigration line was long and it was hot, but that was only the beginning of our irritating problems. We got fed story after story, and getting back to the stinky little town of Ban Phe couldn’t have been more difficult I don’t think. Or longer for that matter. It took us a full 12 hours. Everything turned out fine though, and we came away with an amazing experience and a few pretty good stories. 48 hours and I'll be on the plane bound for Korea once again. 

The concept of light is based on total darkness and without it there would be no light. If we didn't have to tolerate and drudge through the bad, we wouldn't know how to, or even realize that we were, enjoying the good.

My TESOL class is as organized and predictable as a rodeo bull. optimist would say is perfect because that's how teaching really is. However, that is not why I paid $1800. My class time has gone from two 5 day weeks to two 3 day weeks plus the next Monday to now removing the last Monday. I've been given a fraction of the training but still required to teach and be judged as if I had all the training.

That being said....

The people I'm taking the course with are "quite proper". In England that means awesome/top notch. But seriously...I've already made some way cool friends and have even found a lil time to have fun. We rented scooters Saturday and put well over 100 miles on them. We rode for miles and miles along the beach road, swam all afternoon and once it got dark we headed back the other way to the big city next door and had a SMORGASBORD of American food waiting on us. (We went to an American place called The Sizzler). We cruised back in the dark; and honestly, there couldn't have been a more relaxing, energy recharging way to spend the day. With music in my ears, wind in my face, road at my feet and sun on my was just awesome.

Two days ago we found some unique street food that consisted of deep-fried grasshoppers, silk worms, and baby frogs. I chose the frog.

Because they cancelled my last teaching class on Monday, I now have a full week of free time before my flight back to SoKo. I think me and a few friends from class have decided to pay a bus to take us across the border to Cambodia on Saturday. The other people in the class have been hired by Disney and need a visa extension for Thailand so a border run is needed regardless. So I suggested we make a trip out of it.

Cambodia, as you might recall, is most notably known as Brangelina's personal adoptive agency....kidding....

But seriously, it is a very low income, non-westernized, underdeveloped 3rd world country. Circa 1980 they had just gone through a horrible government backed genocide from the then military dictatorship. I've been told that despite their historical problems, and having a very low standard of living, the people are still some of the most polite and happy in south Asia.

2 more days!! (AND another stamp in the book)

…It was the worst of times; it was the best of times. It was 2 days ago, Friday the 5th. It had been 2 weeks of ridiculous busy-ness and it was finally over. I had completed my 2 weeks of English camp, and was starting my summer vaca. I had been so busy that my schedule and to do list were all sorts of discombobulated. I needed to do one 3 hour TESOL assignment per night to finish on time, and half of my friends were trying to say their goodbyes because their 6 month contract was up. (I cant BELIEVE that was supposed to be me.)

I started playing mini-soccer (5 aside) and it’s been a blast. Its outside and there and you can kick the ball out, unlike in American indoor, but there are no throw-ins. Just kicks, like in the states. Last week I had 4 goals. Yup :) This week I got a sprained ankle that crippled me. I’m now the owner of 1 kankle. I slept ok Friday night but my idea of getting out of bed was short lived after I tried to put my foot on the ground. As a result of my foot, I also had my first experience with the traditional oriental clinic where I received electric/shock treatment and acupuncture. I’ve got mixed feelings about the latter. I can’t say I was an instant fan. If I’m honest though, it might have helped just a bit. 

Today (Sunday) I can limp-walk but a turtle could give me a good race. I’m on vaca now but not doing much and I still have to do one TESOL assignment per day. I leave for Thailand on Wednesday and start my class the following Monday (15th). 

Thailand is one of a handful of places here in the east that is a tropical paradise. I'm pretty stoked to go and going on a trip solo will give me some “me” time. Unfortunately for this trip, most of my time will be spent in a classroom. Despite it not being all fun in the sun, this is a good program and having the TESOL certification will open up many more teaching opportunities for me. Speaking of…I’m already feeling the pressure of the “what now” talks that are looming in my not-so-distant future. I feel pretty strongly that Korea and I are not done with each other, that much is certain. But in what capacity... that is the question. Job, city, pay, and start date are all things I have to decide on and without having an established pecking order I don’t know which one to decide on first. I’m finally feeling a few small American withdraws, so I know I’ll be back in February, I just don’t know if it will be for 2 weeks or 2 months. Where is my magic 8 ball?

[Update] before I could even get this typed up, the Thailand drama aired another episode. My teacher/tutor has been on vacation so communicating with the program exec’s has been slightly difficult. Needing to discuss my arrival I ended up talking with one of the directors, and he was very confused about why I was coming to Thailand to take my course in august. I told him that I was coming in august because that is the only time I was able to do it. Then he politely asked me if I could show him on the website where they offered a course in the month of august. To my dismay, there was no such course. So after a few hours of stress and panicking, we figured out that 2 months ago there was a course offered in august, but they had removed it. See? I’m not crazy. So to make the long story longer, they’re letting me show up in the middle of their 4-week course and complete my hours, but I start 2 days early, and finish 3 days early. My plane lands at 1 a.m. I have a 2-hour car ride to my coastal city. And I start my class at 9 a.m. I guess sleeping will not be part of this week’s schedule. 

(I'm aware that the title and the opening line are not meant to go together...but thats ok. Neither do bow-ties and jean shorts...and I rock that.)