Bangkok to Khao Yai National Park

I would never have guessed that I’d be convincing myself about rock
ergonomics, embracing my newly-acquired backpacker lifestyle while knowing that–whatever the challenge– I could do it. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing.

It’s finally time I start writing about my adventure traveling throughout Asia

My travels began in Bangkok, which treated me poorly; see previous post. Upon waking up on my third day I encountered two people whom I had met the previous night. They were Chilean and had just arrived in Bangkok. I had met the brother in the morning. He was staying in the same dorm as myself. I, being an early riser, was walking about as he continually got up to go to the bathroom, which at some point resulted in a brief exchange of words. I’m confident he was wasted the night before. His sister I met the night before at around three in the morning. It was by no means a formal meeting; she waltzed in barefoot, her brother nowhere in sight, still dancing to whatever tune was in her head from the bar she had just left. We went upstairs at the same time and I, directly behind her, thought to myself that she was walking really funny. noticed she was walking funny. Assuming she was just drunk, I chuckled to myself and continued towards the men’s dorm as she continue hobbling up to the female floor. I later learned that she had pedal edema
(swelling of the foot) due to her recent work in a New Zealand fish factory, in which the typical shifts were twelve hours. For her job, she had to stand for those twelve hours. In any case, breakfast was free at the hostel. Naturally, sober, hungover, or still drunk, everybody convened. There, we formally introduced one another while eating scrambled eggs and toast.

The fact that I spoke decent Spanish allowed us all to connect pretty quick, which was nice. Being sick the entire day before, alone, I not only enjoyed the company but also the brother-sister relationship dynamic they shared; it reminded me of my own siblings. We warmed up to each other. My knowledge of (Mexican) Spanish was very arduously tested through their Chilean Spanish, which was filled with slang and words that meant something else than what I previously thought they meant. As we began to wrap up breakfast, the brother invited me to join them going up North. Not only was the South flooded at the time but I also, for whatever reason just didn’t feel like going to the South yet (and still don’t– I left Thailand without heading that way). Heading North felt right.

After breakfast, we walked outside and hailed a cab. We wanted to go to the bus/train station, telling him we were on our way to Khao Yao National Park before stopping in Lop Buri. Khao Yai was as beautiful as any national park: wildlife, although we only saw monkeys and the occasional bird. While writing this I actually learned that several parts of Danny Boyle’s film, The Beach, featuring a young Dicaprio, were shot here. Lop Buri, on the other hand, was small and known only their insanely brazen and numerous monkeys. They were known to walk all over you and known to pull passports, wallets, and whatever other things lived in traveler’s pockets. Admitting it was a slow day for him, he volunteered to drive us all the way to Khao Yai National Park, which was quite a distance. However, after calculating the cost and time of getting there by bus, we accepted. We were also limited by the sister’s feet, which were quite swollen and would remain so for at least a week. The price was about the same.

About two hours later, we arrived in Khao Yai. Almost as soon as we arrived, just after we had spent a few kilometers swerving through monkeys while altogether stopping the car and letting them cross at their leisurely pace in some points, it began raining. It was mostly a light rain but our poor cab driver’s car started having issues going up the long winding asphalt roads. We were either too heavy or his car too weak– or both. In any case, the brother and I continually hopped out to push the car up, allowing it to gain enough traction and speed to make it up hills. On the third or fourth time however, his car started smoking and he pulled over, clearly distraught. I don’t know shit about cars and the language barrier prevented me from understanding what was actually wrong with it; it’s likely he also didn’t know. However, he was very insistent on taking us to our destination and also clearly apologetic. We didn’t blame him and did the best we could to console him and let him know it was OK. Despite his still insisting on being able to take us, he conceded and helped us flag down a car, explaining to them the situation. They smiled at us and motioned for us to hop on the back.

The Duo

Stuffing ourselves and our large packs among camping equipment and boxes, we sat our butts on the rainy floor of the pickup and began our two-day hitch-hiking excursion in and out of Khao Yai National Park.

The family who was transporting us were also clearly looking to camp. Together, we were turned down by two camps due to them having reached capacity. The campground that didn’t deny us entry was completely packed– tents setup in every direction. “Fuck,” one of us murmured. It was the weekend. We had no tents and relied on rentals, of which we quickly learned were already all taken. Of course, the rental people spoke absolutely no English and were clearly unsympathetic to the fact that we spoke no Thai; barely any eye contact was made on their behalf, which I took in stride and smiled regardless. A kind Thai man in front of us, who spoke English quite well, told us that if we waited there would likely be items returned which we could rent. We waited. Not long after, people returned some equipment and we managed to get a tent. ONE tent. I don’t know why we were trying to skimp on money at that point, it was our first week of traveling. However, we did, even though we could have gotten a bigger tent, or a second, small tent. Our single tent was only made to fit two, which was clearly stated everywhere. Big mistake.

As you can imagine, the night was rough– more for me than the siblings, who had each other to lean on. The brother and sister slept like rocks, quickly and easily. I was amazed. After sitting there, crammed against the side with a rock poking into my lumbar, bags at my feet and head, I gave up and decided I’d rather sleep outside; mosquitoes were not a huge issue from what I saw. Besides, I this cocoon-sheet-mummy thing, which would keep me protected from bugs. Upon walking outside to a suitable place, I find that the grassy floor was damp and out of the question. I had few options, of which the more
suitable was the top of a stone garden hedge whose surface was somewhat flat; at least it was consistent– no sharp protrusions. My other option was a cement bench but I found the rocks somewhat ergonomically geared to the contours of my body whereas the bench was just flat and hard. I would never have guessed that I’d be convincing myself about rock
ergonomics, embracing my  newly-acquired backpacker lifestyle while knowing that–whatever the challenge– I could do it. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing. With no choice, I squeeze back into the tent where I nudge myself in the corner, closest to the zipper-entry, with my DSLR at my feet and using a shirt as my pillow. I suppose exhaustion overcame me. I managed to get some semblance of sleep, waking three hours later to sunlight and heat.

During the day, the brother and I trekked for some hours, moving through the jungle-like terrain that ran parallel to a river. Despite crocodile warning signs advising against swimming, we saw none. We also saw no elephants, which we had hoped to see. Still, the trekking was nice.DSC_0572.jpg By that time, my ability to understand and respond in Chilean Spanish was compromised and my travel partner noticed. We laughed about it and admitted how exhausting different languages can be when we are not wholly proficient in them– his English was worse than my Spanish. We spent the rest of the day hitch-hiking from different trekking and view points while his sister rested her foot at the camp. By three, we packed up camp, returned everything, and flagged a car to get us out of Khao Yai towards Pak Chong, where we planned on taking the train. DSC_0561.jpgA group of older ladies, who turned out to be teachers in the far North of Thailand, picked us up. We stopped, ate lunch together, and continued on our way. It was raining again, which made the ride in the pickup more of an experience and, somehow, more enjoyable. We arrived in Pak Chong and waited a few hours until the train left, drinking beers and using wifi to tell people back home we were not dead after all.

We purchased tickets for the commuter train, which was a local train. We had no idea what to expect. The train journey, however, will be left for a future post.

Spoiler: I had no seat for five hours…

That Land of Half-Truths

A stranger that I have only known for two days noticed the sadness that I carried with me tonight and approached me as I straddled the ledge of the hostel’s fifth floor, overlooking the center of Patze, Laos. With a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and an inexplicable sadness in my eyes, I automatically responded with a fake smile: “I just get like this sometimes. But don’t worry, I wont jump. I am not depressed or anything.” We both kind of laughed and she made an enlightening comment about how the fall wouldn’t do much anyways, I would just bounce off the aluminum roof below or get caught in the wires. We laughed and she left. I finished my beer and felt like crying.

Despite having so much time to myself in an environment that facilitates positive emotions– I mean, come on, backpacking for an undefined length of time is a dream for many, and it has been exactly that for me, for years– I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home. That melancholic weight that just seems to yank me towards the ground persists; like gravity, but so much stronger. And so much more invasive. Tonight was just one of those nights. Those closest to me have seen me in these “bouts,” if I can call them that. My response has been typically to drink, preferably alone, and reflect while listening to a bunch of sad fucking music. I can’t say that it helps the feeling, or that I feel even remotely better, but there is a release that occurs in those moments. In the morning, I wake up and everything is (usually) back to normal.

In secret, I have seen a therapist. That was a load of shit; the first two meetings were purely introductory, the “tell me about yourself” shit, which leads me down a diatribe of self-pity and mopiness. Nobody wants to hear it and I sure as hell don’t want to repeat it. Naturally, I stopped going. My remedy since has not changed much. Maybe, at most, I surround myself with others. That just results in people telling me that I look or feel sad, down, depressed, or just plain weird; thanks, for the reminder. Fuck off.

But now things are different: I don’t have a job, I don’t own much (neither here nor back in America), nothing and nobody is tying me down to anything. Yet, here I stand, in Pakze, Laos, half-way across the world sometimes feeling the same as I did back home. Honestly, I don’t believe myself to be depressed. Searching around me, here in Asia, I find no cause for it. The cause is not external, it is interior. I finally realize (and actually believe) something that someone close to me told me years ago: I lead a life of small, half-truths because I am not honest with myself.

These half-truths affect others, but they are not malicious and I don’t even intend for them to exist. I guess that is usually the case with others, though.

These half-truths, or lies, are lies to myself; unfortunately, they just sort of leak onto others oozing like the clear puss from a scab. You only notice it when you touch it, often by mistake in the midst of haphazard movements.  The irony is that I have always considered myself so aware; about other people, their feelings, and their problems. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with myself, with my feelings, and my problems. This must have happened long ago. So now, here sits an the overly aware but miserably unaware person. Perhaps, as a collective, we are all so incredibly aware and knowledgeable about this or that, yet hopelessly unaware of the very essence of ourselves and of each other. Or, perhaps it really is just me.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t mopiness, like the introductory-therapy-session type of sappy talk I engaged in with my two-time therapist years ago. This is progress. I feel some weight being lifted. In a way it’s more like “promissory weight,” as in a future weight being lifted. But that weight is so heavy, that despite being in the future, I already feel ripples as they travel backwards in time. It’s a reverse-drip, the water-droplet coming up and into the faucet; the neurotransmitters flowing up-stream, which they almost never do.

I will transform this land of half-truths into a land of authenticity, both with myself and with others. Reading Clarice Lispecter’s novels, wherein she deals with the dilemma of how to say things that shouldn’t be said (for a variety of reasons), I internalized that dilemma. Yet, unlike her characters, I never let those scenarios play out as they should have; I stopped short. I am not as strong or determined like her characters. I know what I have to do. I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

I think these next couple of months will be challenging in many ways but not in the way I thought they would. I (hope) they will uplift me and take away the weight that I feel when I lay in bed awake at night, thinking, thinking, thinking, not sleeping. I hope, too, that they will lessen the weight on those affected by my land of half-truths.

As I walked past my friend, after writing this, words were exchanged: “You don’t look so sad anymore.” I responded by insinuating that it must be the beer(s). As I looked away, again caught in a moment of vulnerability and surprise, there was a pause and a response: “No, I see it in your eyes.”

Khao San Road: Missing the Mark

It’s January 24th, 2017. Twenty days ago I arrived in Bangkok. The twenty-hour flight that yielded a fifteen-hour time difference was like time-warp, disorienting. That same night, I ate and drink scrupulously, waking up with a bad case of food poisoning wherein I threw up everything in my body for a whopping fifteen hours. It led me to question many things, namely the scorpions I ate, and the random, unrecognizable foods my new friends and I coaxed each other with, as well as the excessive towers of Chang. They left in the morning. Fifteen hours later, I was still lying in the top-bunk, alone, mustering the strength to get up and vomit only for fear of vomiting on the beds below. I  believed that my time spent in Brazil had granted me some sort of immunity, making me at least less prone to illnesses. To say the least, those first 48 hours in Bangkok were sobering, humbling, and a little intimidating. I began to question my trip.

That same night, in a (surprisingly awesome ) hostel bordered by a lady-boy house and a loathsome, disgusting back-alley filled with piss, cats, leftover bottles, and half-eaten food trays– a straight-shot to Khao San Road– I met several people with whom I connected. As I tried to keep up with my new, local friends, I realized two things. First, drinking in Thailand will drain your money faster than anything else. A large, 500ml beer is double the price of a delicious, mouth-watering Pad Thai. Second, I was not here for this. It got me thinking about the question many of you asked me. “What am I actually doing here?” I thought.  “What do I have in mind?” I can assure you all received half-assed, vague, and likely unsatisfying but calculated responses. By now you must know I like to hold my cards close; what I know is not for everybody to know. I am open, yes, but I am by no means an open book. I am travelling because I know I will find something. Ironically, I don’t know what. Honestly, I don’t want to know what. I know my path through these lands will have many corridors to explore, some spiritual, some social, but mostly unknown. I want to explore them all.

I know I am one among many passing through here, however my twenty days here have already reaffirmed that I am much more than that. I like to think I am more conscious and more aware. I care about different things, and frankly I believe I care more. That is not to say that I am better, or they less. Just that my life has been conducive, (or perhaps even necessitated), a deeper awareness of myself. This same awareness can be confusing and conflicting. Yes, that more accurate: conflicting. 

I know many of you have been asking me to upload pictures, write blurbs, etc., which it seems I have refused to do until now. I had to experience things through my own eyes first before pasting things on the web like so many others. I am not here for you yet I am here because of you. In all honesty though, my journey is your journey.

With this little preamble, I leave you to enjoy some of my favorite parts of this trip. Here, I share with you my mistakes and lessons learned, my insights and thoughts, and my trajectory throughout Asia. This is not just a travel blog; it is as geographic as it is mental. I also know that would not be here without many of you and several of you have been instrumental in facilitating this trip, whether it was by housing me in the months I was prepared to be homeless in order to save up, or by giving me extra shifts at work, or even by simple encouragement. You have all motivated me in your own ways. I think you know who you are. I hope you know who you are.

Wishing you the best.