Day 259

Houston, Texas; 21 October 2008

The Party is Over
I start a new job in the morning. My days of wandering the globe with no worries of tomorrow are officially ended. Re-enter the world of projects, problems, and deadlines.

Reality Check
I am considering leasing a house that costs roughly the same per month as full living expenses in Thailand. Houston Rent Cost = Thailand hotel + 3 hot meals + kung fu lessons + beers + massage. .....maybe I should have stayed. ...... 3 months from now I may be kicking myself.....

maybe I can rent the extra bedrooms as a 'hostel' to offset my costs.

Full Circle
The oddest thing is that after traveling the globe, I find myself crashing at a friend's apartment that is in the same building as first apartment I had upon moving to Texas in 2000. I walk by my old apartment on the way to the grocery store. I wonder if Louise is still in #25.... she melted her microwave once with a grease fire on her stove. I wonder if Fidel Castro still works at the supermarket?... he's been working there almost 19 years.


Egypt: Day 1


30 August 2008, day 207 of my travels. Arrive in Cairo via Egypt Air from Athens. I had the privilege to sit next to a Katrina of Australia on the airplane. We had a nice chat. Unfortunately we were with different tours, but it was amazing how many times we crossed paths in the next few days. Turns out different tour companies travel the same paths. Pickup at airport provided by "On The Go", my tour company. Kate and Ali got in around the same time so we were off on a van ride through the most insane automobile traffic yet. 3 lanes and a shoulder easily fit 6 rows of cars. It is no problem for a van or bus to stop on what we would consider a 'freeway' to pick up people standing on the side of the road. Saigon takes the prize for insane motorcycle traffic; Cairo for automobiles.

Caught a glimpse of the pyramids on the way to the resort. Pyramids - mission accomplished.

After a short rest at the hotel, around 12 people in our group headed off for a dinner cruise on the Nile River. Because of the aforementioned traffic, we were late. Luckily our tour guide had some pull and they held the boat for us. The food was good, the view from the top deck splenid, and the belly dancer was entertaining. However, the dervish dancer was mind boggling. Dervish dancing (wiki) ranks near the top of "human skills". This dude could spin around in a circle for about 15 minutes without falling over from dizziness. All while twirling this large decorative dress around and doing other balance tricks that most people would find difficult while standing still. Oh, and he had a midget dervish dancer as his warmup act. Unfortunately I did not bring the camera for this one. Need the pint size backup camera asap. The D80 does not make a good dinner date.

The three musketeers from down under drove the cruise boat for a few minutes. We survived.

A few of us had beverages at the resort afterwards. I ran into 3 dudes that shared a hostel room with me in Athens. Turns out they were on the Intrepid Tour with Katrina from the airplane. I ran into her the next morning as she was burning one while waiting for her bus.

Here is the tour I did. On The Go- Road to Jordan. Photos and further blog to follow as time allows.

I have realized that this website has a bigger purpose than just showing off some photos and trying to tell a decent story. If it inspires only one of my friends, or even a complete stranger to set off on a journey of their own, be it 1 week or 1 year, the hours behind this laptop will have been worth it.

Happy travels.


Day 200

23 August 2008

I celebrated 200 days on the road with 3 hours of massage this evening. $30 US. Walking the 100 yards from massage place to hostel, it was the usual crowd trying to get my dollars- taxis, beggars, and hookers. Best hooker line of the night:

Hook: Where you go?
Me: Home. Bed.
Hook: My friend and I come and both give you massage.

At this point, you just keep walking. You never stop- its easier to keep moving. If you stop, then they're holding your arm and trying more chinglish on you. And that is life in Bangkok. If Vegas is America's playground- Bangkok is the world's playground- minus the gambling. Regardless, I love this place.

Looking back on the trip, it kinda went in Phases. Today ends Phase III of the trip and Phase IV starts tomorrow. Phase I was the initial push from New Zealand to Hong Kong. Phase II was the random wanderings from Hong Kong back to Bangkok. Phase III was nearly 2 months in Chiang Mai learning Kung Fu, getting in shape, making friends, and catching tropical diseases. Phase IV takes me westward...........

Back at the Suk in Bangkok. Still one of the coolest hostels around. Hit town this afternoon and went shopping for new reading material- one of the Thai boxers was on the TV Olympic coverage- he must have been going for gold, because every TV in a store window or in a public area was tuned to that channel with a massive crowd of people around it. National pride is alive and well here. No camera with me however, which is a bummer because 4 stories of people leaning over railing in a central mall plaza to watch a TV is quite a site. Waiting to find the Panasonic Lumix LX-3 to procure as a new backup camera. Shoots RAW format, has a 'fast' lens (f 2.0 - 2.8), full user control on shooting modes, and ISO 6400. There is a massive camera store in a city I will be visiting- hopefully they'll have it.

Random thoughts

No feedback yet on favorite photos. I take that as "too many good ones to choose from."

I like Facebook. It is handy for reconnecting with people you lost track of, or forgot that you knew at all.

I really like 'street meat'. This is chicken/beef/pork/etc on a stick- bought from street vendors- it rocks. Grab a green tea shake from another vendor and you have a quality, nutritious meal. I may grill some street meat when I get home......

I have deleted over 3000 photos in the last week. Got another thousand or so to go. Thats what happens when you shoot 350 and keep 60 of them.

Guinness pints are $6 in Bangkok.

Can you tell the difference between an Aussi flag and the Kiwi flag?

Men's diving is on the TV at the Pickled Liver English Pub. They have free internet.

Rock on.


Road Trip

Lunch in Laos

I had to make another visa run last weekend. Being as I had already done a run to Burma (Myanmar as the commies call it), it seemed prudent to hit a new country. A Laos run can be done via tour van for around $25 US, in a single day. That would be too easy. However, I've seen those poor bastards climbing out of that 14 person van when it drops them off at the hostel after 8 hours of riding. They look like death warmed over other than that smile on their face that they are out of that van for good. No thanks.

I picked up the Honda Phantom on Friday night along with an extra helmet- just in case I could find a young lady crazy enough to ride shotgun to Laos. Didn't happen, probably a good thing, for reasons to be mentioned later. Anyway, I hit the road around 07:45 on Saturday morning. It was a great ride, nice sunny day, not too hot. On the ride, I determined 'Lunch in Laos' would be a better blog title than 'Visa Stamp in Laos', so the goal was set to have lunch there. A few hours later, I was in Chiang Rai, turning off the main road on to the back roads for the "shortcut" to Chiang Khong and the ferry to Luang Probang, Laos. The fact that my map did not have road numbers on the back roads 'complicated' the journey. This hadn't been a problem thus far, but throw in the fact that the map is plain wrong, and you have a difficult navigation situation. Bottom line, I missed the shortcut, took the long way through the back roads. Not a problem, other than the back roads were the most pot holed stretch of asphalt I have seen, ever. Large potholes are a 'limiting factor' for attainable travel speed, especially on a motorcycle. This added an hour or so to the ride. Made for a late lunch.

After double checking with Thailand Immigration that they would let me back in the country, I boarded the ferry and for $1.10 and I was in Laos. I forgot to factor in the cost of a visa to enter Laos, this turned out to be around $50. Sign said $35, but I'm not one to argue with communists with guns. Maybe they needed extra grocery money...... Cleared immigration, walked about 200' to the first restaurant I saw, and had great fried noodles with chicken and a coke and water for less than $2. Factor in the visa, and it was about a buck a bite. Lunch completed, it was back across the Mekong to Thailand. And no, I did not buy any souvenirs.

By now, the clouds were brewing between me and my desired route to the scenic area of the Golden triangle, so In the words of Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway- Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome- I took the main highway around the rain back to Chiang Rai. Approaching Chiang Rai, just like my last visa run, there was a large wall of rain between me and home in Chiang Mai. I high tailed it to town, got a hotel, and went straight to a European style restaurant. I sat down, and 3 minutes later it was raining. I love it when a plan comes together. Had 3 fillet medallions, each with a different sauce. Best steak I'd had in 6 months or so. Got a brilliant 2 hour Thai massage for $10. Ran a pool table for an hour or so against a drunk dude from Cardiff (the capital of Wales) and called it a night.

Got up in the am, had a crappy breakfast, chatted with a fellow from Israel, and hit the road. The scenic route home was spectacular. It also further displayed Thai incompetence at making an accurate map. I wanted to hit a national park, that on my map, had three scenic overlooks. Where the "Mae Nam Fang National Park" was supposed to be (according to my map), I instead found the "Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park". I payed my $6 to get in, thinking they would have a better map and I would see something cool. For something cool, see the photos. On paper their map, looked splendid. Ground truthed, it was as bad as my original map.

I gave up on the three scenic overlooks and decided to concentrate on the one that both maps kinda agreed on. Hit that and then hit the road south to Chiang Mai for what should have been a 2 hour cruise. The road started out flat and straight, but then hit some hills and curves. That equals fun on a motorcycle with dry pavement. On the curves, I was able to keep pace with everyone but this crazy dude in a Mercedes. On the straights though, I was passed frequently. A 500 cc bike just doesn't have the balls to achieve and maintain adequate speed. Lesson learned- stateside, buy a bigger bike. Again the monsoon season raised its ugly head and I had to start dodging rainstorms. I hunkered down under a tree for an hour or so in lieu of driving through a massive downpour. It was relaxing, I watched spiders, worms, ants, and centipedes doing their thing. Got back on the road, and this begins the discussion on.......

Limiting Factors

After a day on the road, when I lay down to sleep, the visions going through my head are of my bike and myself sliding across a highway curve towards a guardrail or oncoming bus. It takes a while to clear these visions so I can sleep in peace. That said, wet pavement is a limiting factor for attainable travel velocity on curvy mountain roads. Not being an expert rider, I error on the side of caution in the velocity department. ~Limiting Factor #1: Wet Pavement.

Back on the road, it became obvious there was another storm passing in front of me. It was a typical summer storm, not raining where I stopped, but 300 yards away it was pouring. Therefore I retreated to an unused tarp set up by the road construction crew, and waited for it to pass. ~Limiting Factor #2: Walls of water dumping from the heavens.

Hit the road for a little longer after this one passed and ran into another massive wall of water. This one required stopping for dinner. I don't remember what I had, but it was cheap. (Lunch was cheaper- Pad Thai and a Coke for $1.20.) By this time it was also dark, which becomes another limiting factor. The headlight on the Honda sucked. Any speed over about 25 mph was severely overdriving the visibility provided by said headlight. Doing the math, this becomes 'not good' when you've got 65 miles between you and home. ~Limiting Factor #3: Lack of sun / dim headlight.

Got back on the road since the downpour had changed to more of a light shower, and I was out of smokes. (Not drinking turns you back to other vices) I stopped at the first road side shop that was big enough to have said smokes, and the nice man there gave me some newspaper to put under my rain jacket for extra insulation. It gets cold when every part of your body not under the rain jacket is wet, even in the tropics. The newspaper helped eliminate what could have been another limiting factor, cold.

Still in the curvy roads, I determined the best way to overcome the visibility factor was to follow a car, allowing their headlights to illuminate the path far forward and giving you a set of tail lights to follow. While cornering on a motorcycle, you should look to the 'exit point' of the curve- where you look is where your bike naturally tends to go. Tail lights make a great exit point. Sounds great in theory, until you re-introduce limiting factor #1: wet pavement. Problem is that most of the cars on this stretch of road were going way faster than I cared to go on wet pavement. I finally found a small Isuzu pickup carrying what appeared to be 180 cubic feet of onions. On the curves, hills, and short straight stretches, his max speed of 30-40 mph suited my travel plans nicely.

This worked great until we dropped out of the hills to the plains. His max speed increased, thereby introducing the next limiting factor, pain induced by inadequate equipment. I rent bikes from Mr. Beer. For this trip, Mr. Beer had no helmets with visors. Visors are great for protecting your eyeballs from things like bugs, rocks, and raindrops. At speeds above 40 mph, rain drops start to hurt when they impact your eyeball. I would compare it to having your eyeball tatooed. Limiting Factor #4: Pain.

Sunglasses work extremely well for eyeball protection during the day, so it seemed like a good solution. Don the shades and haul ass. Cuts down on your overall visibility, but it was manageable on the straight flat roads on this stretch of highway. Fingers make decent windshield wipers for shades. My onion truck pulled off the road, so I had to get a new buddy. Lacking slow moving onion trucks, I tried for a few cars. Over 55 mph, rain drops start to really sting when they hit your face. This makes it difficult to keep up with fast moving traffic, so I was relegated to around 50 mph in the slow lane. By this time it was a 4 lane highway, with frequent overhead illumination. Eventually the sunglasses got wet on the inside of the lens, which is basically impossible to clean while driving. Throw this in with the mist kicked up by passing cars, and the fact that every drop of water makes cool halos around all the light sources, and I'll just call it Limiting Factor #5: Lots of Water.

Eventually I made it home to the hostel. What should have been 2 hours, took over 6. This incurred an extra day of rental charges, since I was about 3.5 hours past Mr. Beer's closing time. I still wouldn't trade it for that van ride.


Tropical Illness

Dengue [DEN-ghee] fever usually starts suddenly with a high fever, rash, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, and muscle and joint pain. The severity of the joint pain has given dengue the name "breakbone fever." Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are common. A rash usually appears 3 to 4 days after the start of the fever. The illness can last up to 10 days, but complete recovery can take as long as a month. Older children and adults are usually sicker than young children.

CDC Dengue Page

List above is incomplete; it also makes you fatigued and leaves an unpleasant metallic taste in your mouth. In fact it makes Tabasco Sauce smell like something on the floor of the flotation section of a heavy metal milling facility and taste only slightly better. Cyanide compunds come to mind. And that effect lingers for days...... How do I know? I had the damn dengue fever. Down for 9 days. No jogging, no kung fu, no... well you get the idea. Some people go straight to the hospital and stay on an IV for 10 days, so I consider myself fortunate that my hospital visits were limited to four times for bloodwork to make sure I didn't need to stay there on an IV. Other people don't even realize they have it. Only 304 cases in Chiang Mai from Jan 1 through June 7, 2008. I believe they are calling it an 'epidemic'.

The major complication is that apparently it messed with my liver. Pending a second opinion from my crack medical team back in the states, Doc Thailand says I can't have any alcohol for 30 days. Therefore I am drinking a Sprite at the Chiang Mai Saloon. Sobriety is depressing, yet intriguing. 28 days left........

My friend Azli is back in Chiang Mai. His photographic abilities never cease to amaze me. Check here for the best portrait shots I have ever seen.

Did I mention that Tabasco sauce tastes bad. Eggs without Tabasco... I don't know how I am still able to eat breakfast every morning..............

Crack medical team has confirmed. No booze for 28 more days.


Muay Thai

Went to a Thai Boxing match a few nights ago with a bunch of folks from Singapore. Thai boxing, Muay Thai, is like regular boxing in that the fighters wear gloves. But they also use knees, elbows, and kicks. It can be pretty brutal. Went to one in Bangkok a while back, it was boring compared to this one. We saw a few knockouts, and a dude get his leg jacked up by his opponents kicks. Hard to fight when you can't stand up.

One round of entertainment between rounds was this. Four fighters in the ring, blindfolded, with one referee. So the blindfolded dudes walk around and try to pummel on each other. Occasionally the ref couldn't get out of the way fast enough, so some dude would beat on the ref until he could move. And then the ref would kick the dude in the chest... it was great to see him fight back. Good clean family fun.

The after fight entertainment was a vegas style cabaret show. Weird thing though, the dancers were all "lady boys". They look good, but they are dudes. Entertaining, but disturbing. I should be able to get some pics of the fight and the dancers from a dude that took his camera.



As in constant location. Haven't moved for 15 days. Not gonna move for a while longer. Living on the cheap. Learning Kung Fu. Was gonna learn to meditate, but they wouldn't return an email or answer the phone...... they must've been too busy meditating.

Kung Fu
Been to about 9 classes, finally got punched in the head earlier today... but I got to hit a dude also, so it's cool. My teacher says I need to work on balance, maybe for a week or so. Lots of kicking. Pretty sure I've kicked more in the last week than since I was a baby with my feet kicking in the air while I was helpless on my back. Haven't had to paint any fences yet, but it may yet come. Started learning the single stick today. Pool sticks and broom handles are gonna have all new uses. It is humbling to watch the dudes that have been at this for a while- they are fast. The teacher, Master Jade, doesn't strike fear into your heart at first glance, but he is quicker than lightning, with the balance and agility of a cheetah. I'm pretty sure he could kill anyone I've ever met, if needed.

Speaking of death, I did the most insane thing of my trip over the weekend. Rented a motorcycle. Honda Phantom 500cc Cruiser. Put over a hundred miles on it. This was not a random whim, there was a purpose for this insanity. Even though I took a motorcycle training course back in Houston a few years ago, this was the first time I had a bike on a public road. I figure it is actually safer to cut my teeth on a bike here, rather than back in the states. (a) They are common here, so everyone on the road is on the lookout for bikes. Not so much back home. (b) They often have special bike lanes. (c) Traffic generally moves slower. At 65 mph, I was often the fastest thing on the 4 lane divided highway. Back home at that speed, I would be an 'obstacle'. Anyway, gotta make a 'visa run' this coming weekend. That means leave the country and come back in to get the visa renewed. Standard options are fly or spend 6 hours in a minibus. Flying is expensive and 6 hours in a minibus sounds about as much fun as having teeth pulled. So I'm gonna take the bike to the border.. about 250 miles round trip. Should be a good day... other than when it rains. It rains almost everyday here.....

Should not have published that last blog about total trip losses. The waterproof Olympus got nikked at the Sunday night market last week. I was stone cold sober. I think the strap was hanging out of my pocket. Boom gone. Could have been worse. Current conundrum is whether to go waterproof again, or get something with a viewfinder. I like viewfinders. I hate taking pictures on an LCD. And that is about the biggest dilemma on my mind... life is rough.

Bit Torrent
Downloaded some pirated software the other day. Put myself on a self-education plan to learn the most powerful photo editing software around. I figure a few hours a day, and I be up to speed pretty quick. I got a lot of photos that could use a little cleanup. Also, to pull off a photography career, this will be an essential skill. Time will tell.

Barack Obama
Spent some time reading his website. That further convinced me this guy is just another typical tax and spend Democrat. Basically an idiot. Why we would even consider a politician from Illinois as the leader of the free world is beyond me. Illinois is a messed up place. This guy's proposals range from a few sensible ideas to the completely ludicrous. God help us if he gets elected with a sitting Democratic majority in Congress. His promise of pulling out troops in 16 months and leaving a small "reaction force" is political double talk. He is promising the impossible and giving hope to the bad guys. The Taliban are sitting around praying to Allah that he'll get elected. Bottom line is, should he win, I'll be home in time to lock and load.

The remainder of the trip plan is slowly coming together.