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Life is a Journey, Savor it.


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We Walk

Rails form the perfect pathway for exploring unknown landscapes among familiar neighborhood territory.

Rails form the perfect pathway for exploring unknown landscapes among familiar neighborhood territory.

I’ve been back in the States for nearly equal time to that for which I was abroad (13 months each) and I’m awed that nearly everyday brings fresh reason for reflection. This is my second winter (after escaping two winters in favor of perpetual tropical suns), and I took the day to marvel at a world transformed by the magic of snow, and cold, and ice.

Magnolias await their chance at spring, holding back their buds.

Magnolias await their chance at spring, holding back their buds.

Nashville experiences more deep freezes annually than most would predict for its placement one state solidly below the Mason-Dixon Line. In the burn of consistent summer temperatures of the 90s and 100s, it is impossible to conceive of winters with spending weeks below freezing, much less whitened landscapes. Yet here is the proof. Continue reading


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The End of this Chapter

It’s barely 8am and the sun is drying out the puddles from yesterday’s rain. In all regards, it’s a morning just like all the others except that it’s the morning of my last full day in paradise. Tomorrow I hop a flight–or rather I hop 4 flights–which after about 40 hours will deposit me in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.

It’s a really strange feeling to know that the routines of travel–which have become familiar and comforting in their banality (packing, repacking), their repetitiveness (banana pancake anyone?), and their excitement (always new horizons)–are a thing of the past. I feel like it’s the last day of high school: long anticipated with a mixture of anxiety, opportunity and anticipatory nostalgia.

I’m glad to be heading home, really I am. Saying so many goodbyes over the course of the year has taken its toll; the other side of this coin however is all the great people I’ve met, made friends with and been sad to part ways with. This year has had it’s ups and downs, as I knew it would and left me emotionally bankrupt at times but also far more resilient and calm than I could have imagined when I embarked on this destination-less voyage. Continue reading


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High-stakes, big rewards Bangkok

More than New York City, Bangkok is the city that never sleeps. Motorbikes zoom past, tuk tuks chug along, street cart grills hiss and fry, people are on the move. And, more than anywhere else I’ve visited during this trip, Bangkok is the city that buzzes most and demands the most from its visitors. It also rewards the determined.

10pm, traffic, moto-taxis, office lights and BTS all full speed ahead.

10pm, traffic, moto-taxis, office lights and BTS all full speed ahead.

Stay attuned, watch where you go, immerse yourself. It’s not safety per se that obliges your full attention but rather a vigilance to not be subsumed, silently and with little fight, which excoriatingly threatens you. Famously when the lead character is lost in the Hangover 2’s Bachelor party Blitzkreig another whispers: “Bangkok has him now, and she’ll never let him go.” There’s no truer line in this Hollywood party blockbuster. Like a sailor on rough, unfavorable seas the existence you so cling to and feel entitled to is at best fickle and fleeting in the merciful grasp of this beast. Don’t forget this merry piece of trivia.

For all the effort that Bangkok demands to occupy its havoc, the plight tribulations resurrect generously fruitful. Any long time inhabitant will proudly share their tales of urban conquest–tales akin to epics but which pass as the everyday survival. The citizens are an inexplicable blend of grit and suave, with a determination born out of salmon-swimming-upstream diligence and the finesse enough to navigate with daring, strategic congeniality.

Bangkok rushhour: you're perpetually swimming against the current, gasping for air.

Bangkok rushhour: you’re perpetually swimming against the current, gasping for air.

I can’t really put my finger on this place– it would take lifetimes to map the pulse of these 8.2 million inhabitants–but in my fifth reluctant visit I’m am starting to taste the umami beyond the bitterness. For starters there’s the food: a bounty of it and damn good. Stay away from the touristy places with simplistic names (e.g. “MyThai Love”) instead search out places with humble street fronts and a few poorly lit menu photos. Look tempting? Take a lean 30 degrees to the left or right of the frontman and glimpse the interior. Is it packed with chattering Thais? Go there. Sultry breast of duck with wonton in fresh broth beckons.

Duck with wonton, noodles and fresh broth.

Humble, no-frills duck. Tastes unimaginably better than it even looks.

As you dine observe the customs of the patrons and proprietors. In the best places you’ll find a harried owner darting from table to table with an affable air and dogged love of his offerings. He may even sing to the praises of his dishes, staff and customers. Alternatively scan the room for the hawk eye, the manager/owner who watches over all with precise vision. The servers do not dare look up to catch her gaze but they are profoundly alert to the scrutiny they must constantly bow under.

Typical set up of a street stall. Carts like this can whip out between 3-8 dishes within less than 2 square meters.

Typical set up of a street stall. Carts like this can whip out between 3-8 dishes within less than 2 square meters.

The energy of Bangkok is palpable, like a troop of teenage boys on prom night. Anticipation is placed on every moment and even the briefest lapses in the doting attention of suitors are punished with swift disregard. Flatter the courtesan that is Bangkok. Her beauty may be mysterious and vaguely grotesque yet nothing short of full, consuming yearning (albeit with no promise of reward) will suffice. That is the mystique, the addiction, the folly that Bangkok offers. Play by her rules like an unquenchable but daft suitor; observe and attend to her. Be aware of thine enemies at all times.

Beautiful, astounding and sometimes harsh Bangkok. Click here to see more of the Grand Palace, Boat Taxis and temples.

Beautiful, astounding and sometimes harsh Bangkok. Click here to see more of the Grand Palace, Boat Taxis and temples.

This is the High-Stakes Gamble that is Bangkok: The stakes are towering but with study, luck and intuition the table is mighty favorable. So, do ya feel lucky?

Get spun by the whirr of this great city--careful where you land.

Get spun by the whirr of this great city–careful where you land.


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Ode to My Mamacita

It’s hard to believe it was nearly 15 years ago that my mother and I argued over banal shit (oops, sorry mom: banal stuff). We’ve both changed by multiple measures since those days of being co-hormonal and grinching about the laundry, what to have for dinner, each others’ driving skills (or lack thereof, depending upon perspective).

Both of us have experienced tremendous losses of multiple loved ones. Sometimes we’ve shared those losses: uncle/brother, best friends, parent/Opa. Each subsequent loss has left us each more tender to the world but raw towards each other, isolated and hurt in our grieving. More often than not, our mournings have been separate as we glimpse at one another, cautiously offering empathy from afar but never quite comfortable co-habitating in the difficult emotional spaces of tragedy and disease.

The quote may belong to Emerson but it is the parenting philosophy embraced by my mother.

The quote may belong to Emerson but it is the parenting philosophy embraced by my mother.

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If–>Then: Planning & Decision-making

I aim to be optimistic and always provide a genuinely encouraging portrayal of travel and life on the road but right now it feels downright dull and aggravating. Aggravating because of the combination of a plethora of options and my indecision paralysis are slowly driving me nuts. I know I don’t really have anything to complain about and I know my life is damn good; I’m blessed beyond measure to be able to travel footloose and fancy free–but I shall whine a bit regardless… Without the urgency of a compressed timeline (e.g. vacation, sabbatical) or the restrictions of needing to adhere to a specific itinerary, I find myself feeling listless and uninspired for the first time in months. I’ve been going for the better part of a year and it appears I’ve hit my slump.

For the record: I adore Waffle House (scattered, covered, smothered).

For the record: I adore Waffle House (scattered, covered, smothered).


My drive to pack up the backpack and hit the road is on hiatus. The itchy feet that plagued me months ago are feeling heavy and reluctant to put on more miles. The novelty of unfettered travel has lost some of its luster and now I feel like I’m sitting alone on a sticky vinyl booth inside an all-night diner; it’s 1am. The broken fluorescent lights twinkle off the dented silver milk tin next to my bottomless cup-o-joe as an indifferent waitress stares down at me. Though there are no other customers, she is impatient and irritated with me. Continue reading


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Arrived in Ayutthaya!

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After a lazy morning, rainy river taxi ride, and serene experience at wat pho in Bangkok (famous for the huge gilded reclining Buddha and as the birthplace of Thai massage) Kate and I hurriedly commuted across Bangkok and onto a train bound for the historical capital of Siam: Ayutthaya.

We couldn’t have timed it any better. Arriving at Sam sem station near the Dusit area of Bangkok at about 4:40, I stepped up to the window, announced my destination and paid a whopping 28 baht (28 baht, less than $1!!!) for a train to Ayutthaya! Not 5 minutes later the train arrived and we hopped on for the 2 hour ride north.

Upon arrival we had one of those cliche tuk tuk rides in which the driver insists he knows the location of your destination yet proceeds to drive in circles for the better part of an hour. Oi vey.

Luckily neither Kate nor I needed to pee and, thanks to my handy stash of PB&J survival materials, we’d sated our hanger. This left us only slightly annoyed at the inconvenience but also slightly chuffed at our sunset cruise around the ancient city. We watched the sunset over brick stupas and glimmered in awe as flood lights turned the millennia-old city into a dramatic scene that transported us to wonderment and awe….

Our hotel is delightful & dainty and gives free bike rentals so we’re sunscreened and ready to explore!!!

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Paradise for Auction

Port Barton, where young men hold strings attached to boats as if they were walking the family dog. Yet here in Port Barton the boat holds far more importance than the family dog, it holds a great deal more importance than pretty much anything else, save for maybe prize-fighting roosters.

Fish are obviously the stock and trade that form the lifeblood of these small coastal towns. Picturesque bays harbor collages of floating murals and bundles of sticks that make for typical Filipino rigs. In recent years the maritime trade has shifted from fish to a more lucrative catch: tourists. They are bigger, more plentiful, easier to find and carry a higher reward. This is a refrain heard multiple times throughout the Palawan archipelago.

Fishermen and their children have quickly adapted in the span of half of a generation to cater astutely to international tourists and the prey that they hold most dear: snorkling, mineral water, brightly colored sarongs, recognizable food made to order at all hours and, above all else, beer.

It’s startling to see the influx of tourism at work. Where pristine coast exists one wonders if there is also an accompanying expiration date. How long until resort developers and hotel chains “discover” these paradisal wonderlands..? For El Nido the assault began about a dozen years ago and the traffic of tricycles on its central streets and crowded beach fronts of ocean-facing bars are evidence of having reached a cultural and economic tipping point. The local industry has slide irreversibly into dependence upon foreign money and tourism; I doubt there is any way back now. Also evidence of this anxious transition are the counter-balancing handpainted signs: “Land Not For Sale: NO TRESPASSING” and “Lot Available, Tourism ONLY.”

There is a sense that a goldrush has come to ruin the charms that pass as a venerable attraction in this place: genuine slices of lazy tropical paradise. It is gorgeous. Sharp limestone karsts burst out of azure seas and sumptuous creamy beaches. The tall rock faces and fascinating formations are framed by tufts of mango and coconut trees below, smatterings of lush green canopies and stark white tree trunk silhouettes atop. Actual monkeys reside in the forests and most beaches really are accessible only by boat.

This is heaven.

The color of the water is beyond difficult to describe, I have spent the last two weeks contemplating its qualities and aquamarine of supernatural origin is the best I can muster. The tint of the seas honestly does seem otherworldly, rich teals, lush and welcoming chartreuse, soulful royal blue. Sporadically but with mystifying frequency the water is so crisp and clear that the tint of the water permeates to the ocean floor some twenty feel below. It teams with ocean life and there is no end to the fascinating and curious life forms cohabiting there. Bright purple-yellow blobs (coral?), blue-grey starfish with meaty fingers like hotdogs, sharp black anemones, orange and white striped clown fish, nearly two dimensional flashes of rainbow with radiant red in the middle, massive schools of tri-sized fish (minuscule, tiny, and small) appear as undulating silver flashes that surround me as I bob at the surface taking it all in.

No wonder people come from far and near to experience this bliss of vibrancy. No surprise that those with means would have the will to capitalize on the inexplicable beauty. Ah! but therein lies the cruel flipside of any beautiful place and it accompanying tourism: it creates a curse and leaves a wake of despoiling behind. The pristine beauty of a place attracts ownership and commodification in the form of predictable package tours. The presence of tourism demands an economy geared towards suiting the travelers needs: predictable services, accessible points of interest, cheap souvenirs, bedding options in abundance and designed for multiple budgets. Often this economy is highly seasonal and mercurial.

Port Barton feels like even more of a paradise than El Nido, hardly comparable in my esteem. I cringe even to write about the mystique of PB for fear of adding to the din of contaminating attention this lesser-known ocean-front town inevitably will attract.

El Nido is hardly sophisticated but it nearly seems so in as much as it is adept at catering to daily surges of tourists. Compare that with Port Barton: serene, no tricycles to be found, calm people, doleful dogs lounging about and a cadre of boats tucked up right next to coconut trees that shade the narrow beach. By nightfall the only sound is the lapping, sometimes crashing sound of the waves.

The only things to dislike in PB would be the void of modern convenience (electricity from 6pm to 11pm only), over-friendly locals (broad smiles and unobtrusive, enthusiastic conversation), absence of Internet (non-existent wifi or otherwise difficult to locate), and stunningly slow pace of life. (If you’re really in the spirit of what this place is, none of those things really count as bothers.) The only thing distasteful is the cockfighting and noise it’s patrons generate. Otherwise, give me difficult to access, even more difficult to leave Port Barton over the bustle of convenient El Nido anyday, thanks.