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Life is a Journey, Savor it.


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Ambon, Indonesia brought me to my knees

Currently I’m stuck in Ambon, Indonesia. I want it to be an idyllic, oozing sort of tropical provincial capital city but my optimism has mangled to carrion. Death by bugs, rain and bland bustle.

Despite the guidebook’s attempt at a favorable description, Kota-Ambon fails to live up to anything but reality: this is a bonafide bustle in a country that holds up universally-execrated Jakarta as a model metropolis. Ambon fits the mold of its big, mean, ugly older sister city: it’s polluted, littered with trash and produces odd smells that mix feces with NASA-grade adhesives. It is uninspiring to the extreme despite its picturesque seaside setting–and I’m a devout “always look on the bright side” kinda gal. What a shame. My impressions are not rectified by the citizens who seem to have either an unfortunate lisp, poor comprehension of anatomy or highly misinformed English teachers–or might they be cursed with all of the above? “Hallo Mister!” children and teenagers jubilantly proclaim to me as I stroll past in teal skirt and purple sunglasses.

Before arriving to Ambon I’d read the Lonely Planet guide and brushed up on travelers forums about my short-stay home. The research hardly required even one cup of kopi rorobang, the local answer to caffeine-injected rocket fuel… Prior to immersion I learned that Ambon is best known for three things (besides its aforementioned notoriety as the capital of one of Indonesia’s most scattered and largest regions): 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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Getting over the funk

Inevitably you will get sick. Whether seasonal flu, polluted lungs from smoggy city streets, or the dreaded travelers diarrhea variety it’s only a matter of time until you’re hacking up a lung or sh*tting out your internal organs. These are not the pretty stories of independent travel but they are universally shared and amount to an element of a backpacker’s bonafides…

Unhappily, I’ve experienced these three illnesses plus a nifty handful of weird infections, discoloring funguses and inexplicable fatigue. We’re not in Kansas anymore and the viruses and bacterias are a whole new kind of evil. 20130815-192354.jpg

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Oddities and the modern traveler

We are a mysterious breed, we travelers. I think I spend about as much time trying to make sense of my fellow travelers as I do getting to know the countries and people I visit.

bus comic Continue reading


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Made it to Bangkok […and it only took 16 hours]!

If you follow me on social media, then you know my train left 6.5 hours behind schedule. You also know that I was quite pleased by this delay because it provided me with a few extra stolen hours to close of this 7 month chapter of Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand living.

Rather than wait a few infernal hours at the train station feeling stranded in a city that I’ve started to refer lightly to as “home,” I decided to better use my time by going to SheDance at The Yoga Tree. Continue reading


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Flying Solo, finding a balance

I like flying solo. I like it that my days are my own. I like that I get to set my schedule and go where the winds take me. I enjoy quiet meals alone, or alone in the company of a book.

I also adore afternoons spent with a friend, poolside and catching up in our respective latests. I like dropping by a friend’s shop and whiling away the hours laughing and learning words in another language. I enjoy showing up for a yoga class and then trying out a new lunch place with a classmate.

Life is in the balance. Finding time for myself creates peace and serenity. Too much time alone and without the warm love and stimulation of people to care about leaves me feeling dingy and isolated. Continue reading


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Beguiling Filipino “CR”

In th Philippines I eat pink chewable pepto bismol tablets as if they are candy. The candy is especially helpful on long bus rides inching along at top speeds of 25 kph through mud and muck in the middle of nowhere jungle. A recent 141km journey from El Nido to Roxas took four hours and included an impromptu stop that nearly broke both axels off of the lime green Roro Coach.

Waking up in the mornings there’s a gurgle in my tummy and a feeling of sheer dread. I automatically evaluate my restroom options for the day and in the immediate vicinity. Filipinos are fond of inexplicable devices that pass as toilets. A favorite is the itsy bitsy commode; these are white porcelain bowls the size of a toddler’s training potty and they are no more than a foot off the ground, usually pushed deep into a corner and smack dab against the wall. It creates a predicament for men and women alike: to squat or not..? Aim and good luck? Sit? (Heavens no to sitting!)

To say toilet paper is lacking would be a gross misstatement. To call it a luxury would also be a misstatement. Toilet paper is a precious resource retained by the ultra-privileged, the 1% if you will. It’s fitting then that we tourists seem to be the only ones concerned with its presence. Befuddlingly, it’s easy enough to procure TP and is readily available in most stores, yet it has been appropriated for a great many causes which do not involve its appellate purpose. The Filipinos utilize TP as FT, face tissue and who knows what else. At any rate, it’s lacking in proximity to actual toilets and so is soap for that matter. Befuddling.

The common Filipino nomenclature for the bathroom further drives home the fact that the joke is on us tourists, as if the name used to refer to restrooms is in itself specifically intended to administer a very small but inescapable dose of justice to balance the scales of dignity. Or perhaps the nomenclature is more benign than that and intended to merely perplex, amuse and describe… It accomplishes each of these feats…

Whether it be a deluxe apparatus with stalls, seats and flushing capabilities, or a mere hole in an outhouse or just a corner at over-that-there beach, each of these spaces is universally referred to as a “comfort room.” It’s the bane of many a traveler in The Philippines who find the CRs beguiling at best and cruel, punishing torture devices with a demonic sense of humor at worst.

One determination about the CR is beyond argument, you’ll find no comfort here.


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Flight Roster of Filth

125 passengers on a recent Tiger Airways flight from Bangkok to Clark air base (budget airport 2.5 hours north of Manila):

3 families (5 kids total)
18 total female travelers (2 older teenage backpackers, 3 white female travelers, 15 Filipinas)
~20 Filipino men (including a group of about 10 adorable, 30-something gay men)

85 (the rest): bald spots, sunburns, oversized, overwhelmingly middle-aged to older white men Continue reading