BootsnAll Travel Network

I was Punk’d by the Cambodian police.

September 25th, 2007

It’s been amazing as I’ve traveled through Southeast Asia how culturally different all these countries are and yet so close geographically. I mean, imagine driving eight hours south of Madison. Firstly, why would you want to, and secondly, you’d be in, uh, a cornfield. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind and I’ve traveled too fast to really get a feel for Vietnam or Cambodia, I think. I’m back in Thailand now, at a beach on Koh Chang and it is, inevitably, raining. Maybe God just doesn’t want me to get skin cancer. Thanks, dude.

After Vietnam and the Mekong delta, my friends Zoe and Rich and I, a British couple I was traveling with for a while, headed into Cambodia via the slow boat. Though the geographical barrier was just a river, it was amazing how different the people looked and acted. Laos is so laid-back, Vietnam was kind of a shock to the system with all the hubbub and Cambodia reminded me of Africa – a little bit of a wild frontier, people approaching the buses to sell fruit and other food, lots of little stalls set up on the street. Very raw feeling.

Got into Phnom Penh, the capital, and were dropped off in the backpacker ghetto, and I mean ghetto. All the other places I’ve been, the tuk-tuk drivers will say things like “Lady, need tuk-tuk?” And when you say no, they say “Something?” implying drugs and sex – whatever you want, I’m assuming. Here in Phnom Penh, they dispensed with formalities entirely and would wave bags of weed at you as you walked down the street. Ever-present as well is the 8-year-old-kid mafia, bands of mostly adorable little girls roaming the traveler areas selling photocopied books, bracelets and assorted other junk. “Lady, you buy!” No thank you. “You buy later!” They’re super-sharp and a lot of fun to chit-chat with about their lives. In Cambodia they have a particular talent – they ask you “Where you from?” and then they tell you the capital city. They know more country capitals than I do, that’s for sure.

It was during an interaction with these adorable little tykes at Angkor Wat that everything went a bit Pete Tong – that’s cockney rhyming slang for wrong. Who the f!@# is Pete Tong, anyway? But I think it’s funny. So we were eating lunch at the park and were positively swarmed by these little girls selling bracelets and figurines, and I reached into my purse to pull out my wallet – wallet go bye bye! Only had about $12 cash in there, but I also had my $20 Angkor Wat admission ticket and a little notebook that I like to think of as a junk drawer for my thoughts and email addresses etc. – irreplaceable. I was understandably upset and (wrongly) assumed one of the little street punks had deftly reached into my purse and taken the wallet while Zoe, Rich and I were all distracted by the bracelets. We said as much to the kids, like “We know you took it, shove off,” that kind of thing. I said they could keep the money, just give me back the notebook and the admission ticket, which the admissions people would have made me re-buy. It caused a minor uproar in the restaurant, which my motorbike driver overheard – we’d each hired a little scooter to take us around the site all day – and he was like “Are you sure you lost it here?” I was pretty sure, I said. The only other time I had my wallet out all day was when I had to show the ticket at the first temple, and then I put it back in the purse, or so I thought. I had little hope of ever seeing it again, though.

Moto man disappeared and then reappeared about 20 minutes later, saying someone had found the wallet on the ground outside the temple, where I must’ve dropped it, and turned it in to the police – yay! He even said the admission ticket and the money were still in it. So I sheepishly apologized to the kids, we went over to the police station to collect it, and here is where the Punking began. I was like, “Do you have my wallet?” And thus ensued 20 minutes of them acting cagey and using my faithful moto driver as an interpreter. They want you to describe it, he said.

“OK, it’s white and blue and it has the same pattern as this purse and a little handle. Do they have it?” Well, he said, “How much money was in it?”

“Um, I already told you there’s $10 USD in there (all the ATMs in Cambodia spit out US money – crazy, eh?) and some small amount of riel (their money). You already told me how much was in it when they found it,” I said, getting a little edgy.

The police thought it was hee-larious that I was unsure of the exact amount of riel in there, and I started to think this was turning into a shakedown. This whole time, they had neither confirmed nor denied that they had it; the moto guy was acting like I had to describe it so they could go look for it. Then the cops wanted all my personal details, written by me, in their loose-leaf notebook, including age, where I was staying, what I thought of Cambodia, etc. By this point I was getting pretty agitated, yet trying to keep my cool. “Do you have it or not?” I kept asking. Then, suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I spied, from underneath a baseball hat on the table, where it had been hidden the whole time, my wallet. HAHAHA. Hysterical laughter ensued. They had me write “These are the best police ever!” in the notebook and then pose for a picture with them, me and the wallet. Man, I wish I’d taken a picture too, but I was so happy to get the wallet back that I forgot. So funny, those Cambodians!

Oh, and Angkor Wat was cool, too. Toured around on mopeds all day. I put some pics on Flickr, and may I suggest Wiki for you nerdy types? Also checked out the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh, as well as a former high school that the Khmer Rouge used as a torture chamber. All very grim and depressing. Pics on Flickr if you’re interested. Now, after parting from Zoe and Rich in Siem Reap yesterday, here I sit next to the beach in a stupid Internet cafe cause the weather sucks. Just a few more days here until I depart for India on the 5th. It better be sunny. xx


You say liberated, we say fell. Tomato, tomahto.

September 20th, 2007

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It’s been a whirlwind ten days, everyone, and as I sit down to write this post about Vietnam – the little bit of it I saw anyway, I’m already in Cambodia. I left you in Luang Prabang, Laos, I think, after an aborted attempt to enter northern Vietnam overland from there. I was in a town called Mung Noi and I made a tactical error regarding transportation. I decided to take a bus from near there to a faraway town called Sam Neua, three hours from the Vietnam border, without realizing exactly how far. I caught a truck-thingie, called a sawngthaew (pronounced songthew, I think) which is basically two benches on the sides of the back of a pick-up, with a little roof, to a town called Vieng Khan in the middle of BFE and was stranded. No more buses. But there was a guesthouse there where you could stay and they would wake you up in time to catch the night bus, which passed through on the way from the capital, Vientiane, to Sam Neua.

The bus arrived at this guesthouse at 1:30am, and I, having not really slept, got on it, facing 12 hours (just to get to Sam Neua!), lights on, jam-packed, Lao pop blaring and no seats left, just kindergarten-sized plastic, backless stools in the middle of the aisle. Sitting on one of these stools, I thought, “Becky, you don’t have to do this.” So, I got off the bus and went back to bed. Decided to fly to Saigon from Vientiane, the Lao capital. No virtue in suffering, a wise traveler once told me!

Back to Luang Prabang on another truck-thingie in the pouring rain, me and all my stuff got soaked, plus there was a lady puking blood or something on there. Seriously, I think she had TB. Thank god I had my shot. When she got up off the soaked floor, where she was laying, there was literally a pool of blood. Spent the night and decided to take the night bus from Luang Prabang to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. Totally different situation! This night bus picked up at 6pm and arrived at 6am, so I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. And it wasn’t, except for the drunk Lao guy sitting next to me hogging the seat all night and the combination of Lionel Ritchie and Lao pop that played all night. What is it with developing countries and Lionel Ritchie? I half expected some Bryan Adams, too. The kid behind me enjoyed it though, or at least seemed to as he sang along to “Say You, Say Me.”

So, blah blah blah, a few nice days in Vientiane and then it was a flight off to Saigon! Whoa, sensory overload! The car and scooter horns, my God, the car and scooter horns. Deafening. Laos is so rural and green and quiet, except for the 5am roosters, that I was kind of gobsmacked by Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City to the commies. And the traffic, my God, the traffic. Crossing the street is an art form, as no one on the legions of scooters seems to pay attention to either “crosswalks,” or lights. You have to walk very slowly and make eye contact with the drivers to prevent being mowed down. What an adrenaline rush! We started crossing the street just for fun!

Vietnam is an interesting place. I’ve never seen a country embrace capitalism so wholeheartedly – every single building is a store. Kids patrol the streets selling photocopied versions of books, gum, candy, postcards etc. You can’t walk two steps without being assaulted by cries of “Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?” and an offer to buy everything else. Yet a distinctly anti-American vibe persists. Saigon was liberated in 1975 from the evil Americans – it says as much in propaganda everywhere. I toured, along with hordes of other tourists, the Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon. They’re 220 kilometers of underground tunnels which the Viet Cong used to attack Saigon. Before the tour, we watched an anti-American propaganda film, talking about the bravery of the VC, who earned special “American-killing” medals. Then we walked around the grounds, which really look like Platoon or something, stopping to see an American tank that had fallen victim to an anti-tank mine, sitting exactly where it had been blow up in 1969, I think. Four Americans died on it, he said proudly. I’m no patriot, but I have to tell you, it made me kind of sick to my stomach to see people climbing all over it and smiling for pictures. We got to go about 90 feet in the tunnels too, which they had to widen for us fatty Westerners, and at one point I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl. Very claustrophobic but fascinating. There’s a picture of the tank on Flickr, and the opening shot on this entry is one of the cartoon illustrations showing Americans getting maimed, displayed with the traps set by the VC. Also a few pics of those on Flickr.

Next day it was off to the War Remembrance Museum for more. It was a worthwhile visit, though. Lots of photos of the war and some tiger cages that the VC got thrown into when caught. The atrocities committed by the Americans were on full display, pictures of My Lai and the effects of Agent Orange. All very sobering and thought-provoking. It would, of course, have been better if the Vietnamese government acknowledged some of the atrocities the VC committed during the war, or mentioned the “reeducation camps” it sent southern Vietnamese to after the war was over. But, I kept forgetting, this is a “communist” state. It was, to say the least, a very interesting few days.

Took a 3-day tour from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, where we floated around and endured a 3-hour boat trip in a downpour underneath a tarp. Instead of canceling the trip cause of the rain, I think the guide was like, “Well, they paid for it, so they must want to do it.” Right. Anyway, I am really, really ready to get out of the rain. Took another boat ride from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Cambodia, where I now sit, starving to death and ready for lunch. I think this entry is long enough, don’t you? Laters!


When it rains, it pours.

September 10th, 2007

At least here in Laos, where the weather has been unrelentingly Laosy. Hahaha! I’m back in lovely Luang Prabang, Laos, and it just stopped raining. And I don’t mean drizzle, people, I mean a 12-hour downpour.

(Just as a side note, as I write this, I’m also researching fares on Lao Airlines, and their Web site looks like it was designed by a retarded 5-year-old. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the airplanes.)

But I digress, back to the rain. Left Luang Prabang about eight days ago to go to Luang Nam Tha, which borders a protected area of the country, offering eco-treks into the jungle. I really wanted to see some rural life, and scenery, but was uncomfortable with the whole idea of a trek into the wilds to view the natives in their natural habitat. This particular area of the country, though, got great reviews from guidebooks as well as other travelers for leaving a light footprint on the culture and environment. So off I went. Spent the 9-hour bus ride chatting with an Israeli guy I met and watching Lao pop stars (I think, anyway) doing karaoke or something with Hawaiian shirts and leis on. They all stood in a circle dancing, and each would take his or her turn singing. Oh, how I missed you, iPod. After the musical warm-up, we were treated to a Lao-dubbed version of Charlie Chaplin in The Tramp. Um, guys? That’s a silent movie. From 5 billion years ago.

Arrived in Luang Nam Tha, able to retell the plot of The Tramp in Lao, and it was – yep, raining. My new friend, Erez, was interested in trekking too, and tried to convince me to go on a three-day hike instead of two. Thank god I won. We checked out a Lao bar that night (more video karaoke) and spent the next day (in the rain), watching South Park and drinking Beerlao, the national brew. Met another woman the day before, searching for accommodation, and she wanted to go trekking as well. So the three of us signed up for a two-day trek to a village, including an overnight stay.

Hit the local market that night to buy some gear, cause I came unprepared for the jungle and…wait for it…leeches! Aaaaah! I almost turned my city ass right around at the word. But, I thought, you can handle it. So I bought a rain poncho, some bright green plastic shoes, which I will post a picture of, and two pairs of socks, for a grand total of $3.50. Eat your heart out, North Face and Columbia. Those shoes friggin’ rocked, BTW. Others were slipping and sliding, but not this girl!

Hit the trail, and it was – partly sunny! In the group were me, Erez from Israel, Tamara from Austria, Alice from Italy, Jamie from the U.K. and a 66-year-old Japanese dude who put me to shame. Walked on a nice flat bit by the river for awhile, and I thought, “This is going to be fun!” Then…the uphill started. And continued. Oh boy, am I out of shape. Around lunchtime it began to: Rain! Hard! But guess what? No leeches! Well, two little ones stuck to my shoe, but I got them off right away. Yay! We continued on for the rest of the day in the rain until arriving at the Thai Lu tribal village where we spent the night. This was the part I was most looking forward to, as it would be all cultural and stuff. Well, readers, it sucked. They put us up in this long house-style room away from the village, cooked for us, but did not eat with us and generally never even acknowledged our presence. I guess I wanted “authentic” eh? The village chief was busy entertaining agriculture ministers or something, too. Doesn’t he know I’m American for Godssake?? The night was spent in the company of our group and our two guides, who tried to get us all wasted on Lao Lao, a home brew whiskey endemic (and yes, I mean like a disease) all over the country, that tastes like a combo of lighter fluid and rubbing alcohol. Yum!

Woke in the morning for the 10k trek back to semi-civilization, and there wasn’t even a pretense of sun this day, just a full-on downpour. About two hours in, we were given a choice: the long way or the short way. The long way was super-muddy but flat, and the short way was semi-muddy and had “one-half” hour uphill. All but the retarded 21-year-old chose the short way. Here’s how it went down:

Me, after a half-hour uphill (San Francisco uphill, just so you know): “Um, how much longer are we going up hill?” “Because we’re, (gasp) like, in the middle of a huge hill.”

Our guide, Pon: “Half an hour.”

Me, half an hour later, cursing under my breath: “Um, Pon? How much longer up hill? Because it kind of seems like we’re climbing up and over a mountain.

Pon:”Half an hour.”

Me, after, yes, another half an hour, now wishing self and everyone there serious harm: “Seriously, dude, you said ONE half an hour, not ONE hour and one half. I hate you.” (I didn’t say that last part out loud)

Pon, inside his head: Shut up, you complaining American. We’re all suffering, but you are the only loudmouth.

We crested the mountain, finally and had some lunch in the rain. Tromped on for about four more hours, and the shoes did their job. Uphill I was a whiny brat – on the flat and downhill bits I ruled! The mud didn’t stop me! Except when I stepped in it up to my knees. I embraced it though, and decided to stop fighting it. If only it hadn’t been pouring, you could all see just how muddy I got. Couldn’t whip out the camera in the downpour, you know.

We arrived in a village somewhere around 4pm, and boy was I ready to hit the hot shower and beer. Went out that night with some people from the trek, to a Lao kids’ talent show in honor of their first day of school and then hit a nightclub with karaoke, where some chick in a high heel stepped on my left big toe and ripped off the toenail. Ouch. Next day, it was off to a town called Nong Khiaw with Tamara from the trek. This will be Part II of the rain series, I think, as I’m sick of typing, getting hungry and wanting to go to the Hmong market. Will post pics and carry on story tomorrow, maybe. Till then, may your skies be sunny, people.


Warning – vegetarians beware the following image!

August 31st, 2007

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Above picture was taken at a market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I took a cooking course (pics on Flickr) and we went to the market before heading out to the organic farm where it was held. I turned a corner and there it was – a smiling pig’s head. Uh, gross. I of course was thrilled at the photo op! The class was great, learned how to make a green curry paste (raw ingredients pictured below) which turned into green curry chicken, a stir-fry, a tom yam, which is a soup usually containing shrimp, but in my case it was “tom yam gai” which means chicken. Also made spring rolls and bananas with coconut milk for dessert. And the best part is that we got a cookbook at the end! Yay! The food is really amazing. I put a bunch of pics up on Flickr for you foodaholics. And who isn’t, really? Also a bunch of monks and some transportation pictures.


So I’m blogging from Luang Prabang, Laos. It’s a gorgeous city and kind of anachronistic (God, am I smart or what?) because it’s filled with this colonial French architecture, yet set between the Mekong River and another one whose name I haven’t bothered to learn. The Nam something. God, I’m lame. It’s beautiful, lush and touristy in the right way – not overrun, little restaurants next to the water with trees strung with fairy lights and few tourists cause it’s the rainy season, which I’m actually enjoying despite my remarks about constant deluges. The weather is very dramatic and the rain cuts the heat. Got here a few days ago via Chiang Khong, Thailand, and a two-day “slow boat” trip up the Mekong. It left from Muay Xai, Laos and everyone spent the night in a town called Pak Beng, then the next morning on to Luang Prabang. Didn’t get any pics of the boat – duh. May go take some of similar boats to give you alls an idea. It was a fun trip – turned into a booze cruise mid-way through each day, as it was filled with backpackers- all the Lao people were sitting in the engine room. Nice, eh? This group of drunken backpackers, BTW, was totally different than what I described in Thailand. Right. 🙂 I think maybe I just decided to loosen up and join them. The first day it rained quite a bit, but the second was bright and sunny. The river is pretty wide and very muddy – it looks like the chocolate river in Willy Wonka. The boat just kind of chugs along for about 6 hours before putting up for the night, and the same is repeated the next day.

Have met quite a few cool people in this stretch. Met a Dutch guy (sorry, faithful readers, no hanky panky) in Sukothai and we traveled together from there to Chiang Khong, but then got in an argument over a fan in the room, of all things. I wanted it on, he wanted it off. He unplugged it, I plugged it back in – and that was it, really. We were on the same boat of course, but have studiously avoided each other the whole time here in Luang Prabang. Wow, I’m getting into a lot of fights lately, eh? Maybe I should take a Thai boxing class or something to release all this pent-up aggression. Met some others on the boat though, and have been hanging with them. Went to a waterfall today, toured some more wats and stalked the monks for their pictures… and that about does it! I’ll leave in the next few days and head for a northern town called Luang Nam Tha, a base for eco-treks. I wasn’t going to do one, because basically, big, white minivans pick you up and drive you out to “remote” villages to view the natives in their natural habitat. Yuk. But this one has gotten great reviews, and most of the profits go right back into the villages. So, if I want to see Lao village life, this is what I gots to do. I’m in for a 9-hour bus ride over crap roads with no air-conditioning. Sounds like Africa! Sorry for the short entry folks, but nap time calls. Love youse!


Phuket and bucket do not rhyme

August 23rd, 2007


Hey all – I decided to carry on with the blog after all for you loyal readers. 🙂 Putting a bunch more pics on Flickr too.

First of all, when they say “rainy season,” let me tell you, they mean it. I left you on Penang, where dare I say, I was one crabby chica. Traveling for this long on your own is bound to have its ups and downs, and I was definitely on a down. Malaysia was, for lack of a better word, bo-ring. I thought it was going to be very exotic, but all I can say is that they have a serious hard-on for 7-11s. As you can see by my Bangkok photo essay on Flickr, this trend continues in Thailand. I’m here in Sukothai, waiting out a deluge in an Internet cafe, and there’s a 7-11 two doors down, thank God. But back to Penang.

A few interesting things happened despite the bo-ring place…

1. At the hostel in Penang, I had just gone to beddie-bye, with aforementioned killer ear infection, when I heard a tremendous crash! (That sounds like The Night Before Christmas, doesn’t it?) Anyway, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter, thinking someone had dropped a TON of plates, maybe an entire cabinet, and discovered that a girl had walked through a plate-glass window! Not even a clear one. What a retard. It was pretty gross though, blood everywhere – and I don’t even think she was drunk. Ambulance was en route when I went back to bed.

2. On the minivan (more on that later) up to Thailand from Malaysia, this dude from New Zealand, hippie-looking dreadlocky guy, thought the driver gave him the finger in the rear view mirror, and maybe he did, but I wasn’t paying attention. So this guy gets right up in the driver’s face and starts calling him a cu#@, and saying “You know what you did!!” The driver pulls over and starts waving his cell phone, going, “Police?? Police??” Well, we got to our destination a tense hour later and the driver dumped dude and his woman somewhere random, they exchanged more words, and then the driver grabbed a metal pipe from the van! Punch-up! No, it ended non-violently, unfortunately, (JK!) and the rest of my day was a bore. Eight more hours in the minivan. Which brings me to my next observation:

Africa = where Asian minibuses go to die. Seriously, this thing was swank. No duct tape holding cushions together (I couldn’t even see stuffing!), no rust, Thai pop played at a reasonable level, three seats held three people – no chickens, no fish, no large plastic tubs of food. No one rushed the bus to sell us anything and my B.O. was by far the worst on there. And no one looked at or talked to anyone, including me. Let me reiterate: BO-RING. I have to give that to Africa – it’s certainly the most vivid place I’ve ever been.

Spent a night in Phuket (pronounced Poo-ket, which is still funny I guess), in the same shithole where they filmed the Bangkok scenes from The Beach. Took the boat to Ko Phi Phi (island) and I swear to God it was like a frat party or a Contiki tour bus exploded on the boat. Dear God in heaven, I thought, please help me. There was some douche bag on the boat with a t-shirt on that said “Sex instructor, first lesson free.” Awesome! Let’s go, big boy! At least he had a shirt on though; there were at least three guys who didn’t even bother to wear a shirt – on a 3-hour ferry ride – and stuck their “Phi Phi Ferry” sticker right on their chests. It’s was like Thai Cancun here, for reals. So, if you can’t beat them, join them and, in the spirit of the location, I got absolutely, AA-worthy, blind wasted! There’s a particular drink in southern Thailand, tailor-made for the backpacker set, called a “bucket,” which is a mixture of Thai whiskey, Thai Red Bull (which is illegal in the U.S., BTW) and Coke, actually in a sandcastle bucket. So, before dinner, I had three beers (empty stomach = idiot), then with dinner, split a bucket four ways, then after dinner, had two more to myself! It was 2-for-1! Spent the next day dry-heaving and wishing I was dead. I think that ship has sailed, my friends. I just periodically insist on boarding anyway.

Since the rain carried on there for the duration, I decided to head up to Bangkok a few days ago. Took the overnight backpacker bus from Krabi and arrived at 5:30am, deposited on Khao San Road, Thailand’s backpacker ground zero. Transport is so different here; the whole country seems set up for 20-something travelers, and I have to say the “let’s get wasted and party” thing doesn’t really suit me anymore, despite my par-tay on Phi Phi. I thought with so many other travelers here it would be easier to meet people, but I’ve found that Africa was actually much better. Many, if not all, of the backpackers here are 20, English, and travel in packs. Though I did see lots of other lone travelers in Bangkok, sitting in restaurants, there’s not a lot of opportunity to meet them, since everyone stays in individual rooms in guesthouses. Oh well. Spent three sweltering days in Bangkok, escaping to the air-con comfort of a mall and movie the first night, which I spent in an interior room a little wider than a coffin. Splurged on relative splendor the next two nights – a room with air con and my own bathroom. Saw the wats (temples) got a pedicure, ate, ate and ate…noodles, rice, curry. I’ll blog about Asian food next time.

So, back to Khao San Road. This is the street Leonardo walks down in The Beach if you remember it. It’s full of cheap clothes stands, cheap beer places, Internet cafes, pad thai food stalls, 7-11s, Boots Pharmacy, Thai people saying “where you go?” and pointing to their tuk tuks, which I swear I’ll get a picture of, women saying “masaaaaaaaaaaaaage” in a really long, whining voice – you name it. It’s like an alternate universe – more ‘Thailand does Cancun’, I suppose. I stayed nearby, not on the mothership. Went to a bar there my first night, purely because it was air-conditioned, all by myself. (Cue strings).

Ended up getting into a fight, about American politics, with me defending us, if you can believe it. This wasted, wasted Irish guy, 24, began his monologue (I can’t call it a conversation) by telling me all about his trip around the world (Canada, California and Vegas, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand) and how the exposure to all those like diverse cultures had, like, totally changed his viewpoint on the world. I expressed some dislike of the SexyBack vibe I was getting in Thailand, and he agreed, saying that on this trip to Thailand, his third, his eyes had finally been opened, since the last two times he came here, it had been purely for sex with Thai prostitutes. But no more. Then we started talking about money for the trip for some reason – oh, I know, cause he was traveling with a posse and bankrolling two of his friends – and I said, “How did you save all that money?” Well, he didn’t actually save it, he said, more like ripped off his former employer for 30,000 Euro. Still has 20,000 in the bank!

Then, after reassuring me repeatedly that he’s not a bad person, he started in on the States. We are so racist, he hates the south, the government is horrible, we support terrorists, the people are assholes (not me!) etc. Agreed in some cases, but seriously, dude. It was on. I think the conversation ended with mutual “fuck offs.” I totally won though. The next day dawned bright though, with the prospect of a trip to the Indian embassy ahead of me and more deliciousness to come!

I’ll leave you on that note, since this is already long and I know no one is friggin’ reading this anyway, apart from a few of you awesome posters. Please leave me some comments if you are reading and let me know what you think. It’s for you, readers, all for you. Mom, Dad, Janet and Karen, that means you. You are obligated to write on here. SO DO IT. xx


Is anyone still reading this thing?

August 12th, 2007

Hi all! Here in Georgetown, on an island called Penang, still in Malaysia. And boy is it H-O-T. Seriously, I’m melting. I’ll give you all the short version, cause I don’t think anyone is reading this thing anymore. My enthusiasm is certainly starting to flag…

I think I left you in KL. Well, on the spur of the moment (should that be hyphenated, AQUA staff?) I decided to fly to Sabah, a Malaysian province on Borneo, to scuba dive at Sipadan, one of the best sites on the planet, according to Jacques Cousteau, who “discovered” it in 1989. Here’s a link to wiki if you’re interested:

Well, if it’s good enough for Jacques, it’s good enough for me. So, I flew to Semporna thinking, who could possibly go here? A small island off the southwest corner of Borneo, surely I’ll have no trouble finding a place to stay etc. HA! Everything was booked solid. The world is very, very small, people. Remote locations = don’t exist anymore. So, I split my time between three different rooms in two different hotels and dove with two different companies, on three islands, including Sipadan. Was lucky I was able to do it at all! The dives were incredible, amazing, everything I hoped for and more. A 30-meter drop off on an underwater wall, covered in coral, swarming with reef sharks, a huge tornado-shaped school of barracuda and more turtles than I could count, some bigger than me. Inches away. Unfortunately, nine dives in three days has left me with a raging ear infection, which I guess I’ll have to deal with in Thailand. It was worth it though. I guess.

Flew back to KL and stayed in a guesthouse down the street from bedbug central. Left the next day by crappy bus (still nicer than African ones though) for a town called Tanah Rata, in the Cameron Highlands area of Malaysia. A lovely, temperate climate and tea plantations awaited, as well as two cool English dudes and an English girl, also on her own. Spent three days there, toured a tea plantation, watched movies and chilled out. The hostel had signs up all over saying “Beware of jangle rats; don’t bring food into the dorm; No food, no jangle rats.” Jangle, of course, means jungle. Though we did speculate that perhaps they were jingle jangle rats and would break into song momentarily. Anyway, the jangle rats took a liking to my backpack, my big backpack that I’m living out of, and chewed a huge hole in it, as well as in a piece of fabric called a kikoy that I got in Kenya and was using as a shawl/blanket/towel. I feel so violated – it’s like someone broke into my apartment! That thing is my apartment. And the underwire popped out of one of my bras. Sigh. I sewed them both as best I could, but some duct tape would come in handy for the bag. Try explaining duct tape to someone who doesn’t speak English.

That’s it for now. I’ll get some pictures on here, maybe later tonight, or at least on Flickr. One of the dudes I dived with is going to send me some underwater shots, so I’ll post those too once I get them. Take care all! xx


Don’t let the bedbugs bite…

August 2nd, 2007

Hey all, blogging from busy Kuala Lumpur. It’s my sixth day in Asia, and I’m still reeling a little, to be honest. I can’t seem to get over the jet lag and am tired during the middle of the day and wide awake till late into the night. Although it could just be the heat that’s making me sleepy…

Arrived in Singapore in the early afternoon – through customs in like five minutes. It’s without a doubt the most immaculate city I’ve ever seen, verging on sterile. This girl was ready for some sterile, though. The subway stations are cleaner than 90% of the hotels I’ve been staying in. Speaking of the subway, they have these little plastic credit card things instead of tickets, and you return them for a dollar deposit – nifty, eh? Hardly anyone even jaywalks here; I saw no one litter. The city is very, very green though, lots of trees and shade, thank God.

Got to the hostel, sweating buckets in the steamy heat, checked in and was told, no problemo, you can go anywhere anytime, all alone. Really? Hooray! So I set off through Little India, eating a wide swath of destruction as usual. The food was incredible – I was eating 4 or 5 meals a day, and I’m not kidding. Walked and walked and walked, despite the steamy, sticky heat, just for the sheer pleasure of being able to walk around freely. Went to the downtown area, caught some fireworks for the “practice show” for Singapore’s independence, ate dinner at around 10:30 at a 24-hour food court near my hostel – pork won ton noodles and a Tiger beer – delicious.

Day 2 I met a girl from Canada, also on her own, so we teamed up for some sightseeing. Went to the Botanic Gardens, shopped on Orchard St., one of many, many shopping areas – the city is really one big shopping mall. Mostly just walked. And walked.

Day 3 = my birthday. My new Canadian friend left, and I spent the day largely on my own. Got a pedicure, had some coffee, looked for some new Thai pants cause mine got ruined in a wash in Africa, and took myself to Raffles Hotel, an old Singapore institution and had a Singapore Sling, which was invented there – $20 for a cocktail. I’ll just check that one off the life list for good.

Took the bus to Kuala Lumpur, which is kind of like a grittier Singapore, the afternoon of the 31st. Stayed at a hostel/guesthouse called the Green Hut, and guess what I got again? Yep, bedbugs. Christ. I thought I got a few bites two nights ago, so I switched beds, apparently from the frying pan into the fire, cause I’m covered, literally, today. So disgusting. Worse than the last time. So I moved to some other guesthouse in the neighborhood, not the nicest, but at least no bedbugs. I hope. A bank machine also ate my card last night after I went out – to the Hard Rock Cafe. Don’t laugh- it’s cool here, I swear! Luckily I was able to retrieve it this morning. I think the machine has an eating disorder, cause mine was in a stack of at least 10 other cards it tried to digest.

That’s it so far, people. I was going to go north from here tomorrow on the “jungle train” – doesn’t that sound cool? – but instead: I booked a spur-of-the-moment flight to a town in Malaysian Borneo called Tawau so that I can dive an island called Sipadan! It’s supposedly one of the top 10 dive spots in the world, and I was going to just head north on peninsular Malaysia and skip it, and then I was like, “Hey wait a minute! What the f!@# am I thinking?? I’m this close to somewhere spectacular and I’m not going?” So, I’m going, and I booked a one-way, so who knows when I’ll return. I have to be in Bangkok on October 4th, that’s all I know. Oh, I put a bunch more pictures on the blog – enjoy.


Africa For Dummies

July 26th, 2007


Hi all! Blogging on the morning of my departure from Africa – it seems like forever that I’ve been here. I was going to title this one “Out of Africa,” but really, it just seemed way too obvious. So instead, I’m going to compile a few tips for you in case you should decide to undertake a journey like mine. I’ll give you a rundown of the last week though first.

Spent nine days on Zanzibar for some much-needed beach time. I sort of, kind of have a tan now, but my stupid antimalarial medicine is getting in the way – one of the side effects is increased sun sensitivity – but in my case, it seems to be preventing me from turning a golden brown. I may just stop taking them, since I forget half the time anyway. Then at least I’ll look nice and brown against the white hospital sheet.

So, hung out in Stone Town on Zanzibar the first two nights with a bunch of dudes I met in Lamu and Dar Es Salaam – ended up at an African hooker bar one night. At least the dudes told me they were hookers. Took off for the beach and met up with two girls that I’d met on a ‘spice tour’ of Zanzibar, which, although interesting, mostly consisted of tromping through the bush and looking at plants. Not sure what else I was expecting…so, shared a room with these two lovely (that was for you, Fiona) girls, both med students, and a good thing too, since I needed minor surgery: swam past and brushed against a sea urchin! Ouch! At least 4 little spines got stuck in my foot. One of the local beach boys (basically a dude who’ll sell you anything, and I mean anything, you want) came over with the local cure – a Fanta soda bottle full of fresh pee and a papaya! “No, no, I’m fine,” I protested, to no avail. So he dumped the pee on my foot and rubbed the papaya goo all over it to “draw out the spines.” Not sure what the pee was for, except perhaps for a joke. So I hobbled back to my part of the beach with my pee foot, waiting for the miraculous cure. When it didn’t feel any better the next day, I made one of my roomies dig out the spines with a needle and tweezers.

After they left, I moved myself from the beach where I was, called Nungwi, to one a little further down, called Kendwa. Weather wasn’t great, rained a few days in a row for a good part of the day, but as soon as the sun came out, I was out there! The bar where I was staying hosted a party one night and I ran into two Dutch guys who I first met in Cape Town 2 and 1/2 months ago! I think the one dude was on E or something cause he was sooooooooooooo thrilled to see me, overly thrilled. He told me how the first picture on his camera is of me, him and this obnoxious Zimbabwean tour guide we met in Cape Town. Not sure if I shared that story or not. So, he left me with his email, with little hearts written all over it.

Left Zanzibar for the epic trek to Nairobi, spent the night in Dar at the same shitcraphole motel I’ve stayed at each time, killed the obligatory cockroach as soon as I got in, and then completed my date with destiny: got the last Harry Potter. Hooray! I basically got off the ferry, cabbed to the motel, then walked as fast as my chicken drummy legs could carry me to get the book. And got some much-needed western-style hair product for my crazy afro. Spent the next day on the bus with Harry, as well as most of the next day in Moshi, where I stopped to try and glimpse Kilimanjaro – no luck. All clouds. Finished the book just in time to sell it to a fellow American in the hostel for $20, after I paid $38 for it – not bad!

Hit Nairobi uneventfully, have spent the last few days sending things to London for pick up at a later date, getting my stupid plane ticket worked out finally, shopping etc. Met a cool dude from the UK who agreed to carry my jeans and warm shoes to London so I can get them when I return there in November. We ate dinner last night at a hotel around the corner and were entertained by a Kenyan guy in what looked like a waiter’s uniform covering Kenny Rogers’ songs on a synthesizer. You haven’t heard The Gambler till you’ve heard someone with a Swahili accent sing it accompanied by a synthesizer, my friends.

That’s it, you’re up-to-date. I’m just killing time till my taxi comes to take me to the scary bus stand for the airport. There’s a shuttle from here for 1200 Ksh, which is almost $20, or I can take a taxi/bus combo for 340 Ksh, which = more money for beer at the airport. Unless I get mugged on the bus. Which probably won’t happen. But, I babble. Without further ado, here are a few tips for an enjoyable time in Africa.

Read the rest of this entry »


Pole Pole in Lamu

July 21st, 2007


Pole Pole (Polay Polay) translation: slowly, slowly, or, ‘take it easy.’
Hey all, blogging from Zanzibar, my final stop on the Becky Africa Tour 2007. Well, actually, I’m going to stop in a town called Moshi, which sounds like a video game character to me, to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I thought I saw en route to Nairobi the first time, but didn’t. Oopsie. Otherwise, I’ll be here for the next week, at the beach. Went to the beach one day in Lamu, but it was a disappointment – very windy and rocky. So we’ll see what Zanzibar has to offer. But for now, back to Lamu. I took the bus from Malindi, the “good” bus, with armed guards. I guess the road between the two towns used to be pretty heavily preyed upon by bandits from Somalia. I couldn’t decide if the soldiers made me feel safer or more worried… Stayed, for the majority of the time in a guest house called Casuarina, a picturesquely crumbling Swahili building, tall and a little maze-like inside, with a thatched palm roof and an open balcony to catch the sea breeze. My room had a big double bed with a mosquito net, which I love sleeping under – very, very romantic, but the mattress was so thin I felt the slats of the bed every night. Bathrooms were pretty bad – no hot water. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I had a hot shower.

Lamu is a center of dhow building as well, and all the traditional boats have this blue carving on the wood. I took a dhow trip with a bunch of other tourists on my second day – all girls, a few Canadians and Brits. Spent most days hanging out in cafes, in one called Bush Gardens – not sure if the joke was intentional – but the owner is named Satan.

Me: Nice to meet you; I’m Becky.
Him: Hello, I’m Satan.
Me: Could you spell that for me?
Him: Just like in the bible.

OK. It was at Bush Gardens that the true meaning of pole pole became apparent: You order a juice and a companion orders a tea, for example. Someone will make your juice, fresh passion fruit and lime in my case, and then, after they are done doing whatever they have to do to a passion fruit to get the juice out, and juicing the lime, let’s say 20 minutes, they’ll put the tea kettle on to boil. Dinner = a two-hour affair. Luckily, I had nothing better to do than sit there and read or spend most days wandering the streets, soaking up the culture. Went to “ladies night” at the local bar – one free soda! Other impressions of Lamu – no cars, they get around on donkeys and try to convince stupid mzungus to take an embarrassing donkey ride. I can just imagine them talking about which one is the bigger ass in Swahili as they lead the donkey along. Anyway, I gave it a miss, but all those donkeys add up to one thing: lots of donkey shit, everywhere. And the electricity in Lamu is sketchy at best, so you can be walking down a dark alley in a mine field. And me with no flashlight. I got some funny statistics though: 3,800 donkeys, 4,500 cats, 45 mosques and 19,000 residents on Lamu. I’m not sure who counted all the cats, which are everywhere, all strays, and oddly, almost all calico. I thought much of little Gracie. The buildings are beautiful though, but like I said, crumbling everywhere. No one seems to fix anything here.Everything, from the roads to the buildings to the buses, is in some state of decay. Most of the clothes people are wearing seem to be the castoffs of the west, actually. All the clothes and shoes you donate to places like Savers get sold to some third party if they don’t sell there, I think, and then get resold in African markets. I’ve seen countless Green Bay Packers jerseys, for example, and the other day I saw some dude with a “Smith Family Reunion, July 5th, 2005, Charleston, South Carolina” t-shirt on. There were also lots and lots of veiled women here, with only their eyes peeping out from flowing black tents. They definitely got a raw deal, as the men are all in white robes, which is at least cooler.

So, all-in-all, Lamu was very enjoyable. Got some culture, ate tons of seafood and coconut rice. Met a Peace Corp girl and her boyfriend on their way to Mombasa the same day as me, so we were all on the same bus, in the back: big mistake. It was so bumpy, aka, filled with the usual potholes, that at one point I had my sandal clasp undone (though they were still securely on my feet) and we hit a pothole so huge that they flew off and under the seat next to me. The best part was that there were speed bumps on this road – I mean, could a more arbitrary speed bump even exist? I think not. Spent the night in Mombasa, which seems a nice enough town. Got around in little tuk tuks, a preview for Thailand I’m guessing. Will try to take some pictures of them for you.

Bus the next day to Dar – which I was not looking forward to. A long, long dusty ride, with a seat that was stuck in a reclining position and a seat mate who was taking up his entire seat and half of mine. I kept trying to nudge him back, to no avail. And then he noticed me struggling with my seat, trying to get it to sit upright and he very kindly reached across me, touching my chest in the process, to help. There were these two British kids (19 qualifies as a kid now) sitting behind me who saw all of this unfolding and I found out later that they were remarking on its hilarity. Got to Dar without serious incident though – one flat tire and one more border crossing, spent the night at the good old Safari Inn, met some dudes randomly in the restaurant, and set out the next morning for Zanzibar, where I now sit. That’s it for now folks, probably it till a wrap-up “Becky’s impressions of East Africa” entry from Nairobi, where I’ll arrive on the 25th, leaving for Singapore on July 27th. Hope you’re all well and I’m out to the beach. xxx


Jambo from Kenya!

July 7th, 2007


Hi all! Blogging from Lamu, Kenya, a small island off the northeastern coast. Finished the safari on the 3rd. Was very cool, but I don’t have my journal with me right now, so details are already fading. Let’s see what I can remember.

Day 1: Met the group (five Brits, two Scots, three Aussies) at the departure-point hotel. Nairobi, BTW, wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared it would be. My expectations were so low, I guess if it wasn’t an absolute cesspool, I’d have been impressed. So, we left about 9:30 and stopped at this Starbucks-y place in the burbs called Nairobi Java House and – I RAN INTO SOMEONE I KNEW. From Madison. I took an ecology class a few years ago, the second half of which focused on Sahelian African ecology, and, I ran into the TA, who was there working on her post-doc degree. Crazy, huh? I had been thinking a lot about the class, too, in the last few weeks. So we exchanged emails and shock. Anyway, after that it was off to a place called Nakuru, to see flamingos, rhinos, zebras, water buffalo and lots of gazelle. The first zebra we saw, we all probably stared for 10 minutes, and as the trip progressed it was like, “Oh, a zebra? Bo-ring.” But excitement was fresh among the troops on day one. Camped that night at a rustic place, full of huge, biting red ants that crawled up your pants legs and stuck to your jeans. I began to worry.

Day 2: Off to another lake to see some hippos. Weather was doody though, and we got there late, so they just looked like big gray rocks in the water. And you can’t get too close, because despite how cute they are, they’re apparently very dangerous. If you get between them and where they want to go, you = toast. The campsite was considerably nicer though, thank God.

Days 3-4: I think we went to the Masai Mara this day. The women in the Flickr shot are Masai women, who accosted us upon entry to the park to sell beads and bracelets and stuff. I bought some stuff, so they let me take the photo. Spent two days here in lovely permanent tent thingies, saw tons more wildlife, giraffes, a lion close-up, etc. Toured a Masai village, and hung out in one of the houses with a woman and her kids. They stay in the villages for nine years before moving on, and the “road” and common spaces are made up entirely of cow and goat dung. Today, of all days, my camera battery goes bye bye. Some of my safari mates got great shots of the Masai women singing though, so we’ll see if I can get my hands on them.

Day 5: Travel day. Bo-ring.

Day 6: Hello, Serengeti. Saw everything, again here, plus huge herds of wildebeest. Not migrating yet, though, cause the rainy season has been long. Saw a huge herd of them running through a dry creek bed though…let’s see, camped this night in the park, and this is where accompanying National Geographic-like picture for this entry was taken.

Day 7: Off to Lake Victoria. Took a long boat ride and toured a village on the Lake. We were followed by dozens of kids, literally, all wanting to hold our hands the whole time. By the end, we each had at least 10 kids attached, one for each finger. Was very cool, but also felt a little weird walking through people’s homes. I like to think that they are getting at least some monetary benefit from it though, and I don’t know how else tourists could get a chance to interact with locals. Apart from doing something good for humanity like volunteering, and I’m way too busy being a hobo for that. Spent the night in a beach-side cottage.

Day 8: On to the Ngorongoro Crater. Flat tire #2. Got into camp late, ate dinner at 11pm, went beddie-bye. Up early on Day 9 for a jeep ride through the crater. Was amazing, incredible, favorite day by far. Our jeep had an open roof, so it felt like you were really out there with the wildlife. Almost right away, we saw two cheetahs sitting on a rock. My camera is crap for far away shots though, so I’m going to have to rely on my safari mates for those shots. Saw lions, hippos, wildebeests, etc.

Day 9: Left for Arusha, town in Tanzania. Got there mid-afternoon, had my first semi-warmish shower in days. Hung out, had a big feed, a few beers and hit the hay.

Day 10: The clutch goes bye-bye on the truck outside Arusha. Luckily, there was another truck owned by the same company at our campsite from the previous night. It was called into action to get us to Nairobi. Trip was uneventful, but we hit Nairobi traffic at around 5pm – holy mother of God. Got to the hotel around 7:30. 7:30! Showered and met safari mates for a splurge dinner at a restaurant called Carnivore. What do you think they specialize in? Ate meat, meat and more meat. Said goodbye to all around midnight.

That’s the safari in a nutshell, peeps. Was awesome, but I’m not a group person. Duh. 10 days was just a little too long, any longer and I would have had to strike out on my own again. No one is the boss of me! So, here I am in Lamu, after an overnight train ride from Nairobi to Mombasa, which was as cool as it sounds, where I had a great conversation with a Kenyan man about my dad’s age in the dinner car. Talked about Kenyan history, politics, national psyche – you name it.

Him: My daughter is 32.
Me: Me too. Him: Are you married?
Me: Nope.
Him (slight pause): Oh.

I’m an oddity here, people. I think I’ll start saying 22. Next was a bus ride from Mombasa to Malindi, on the coast about four hours south of Lamu. Something of a package-tour destination for Italians. Weird. People said Ciao to me as much as Jambo. Spent one night there, and it was off to Lamu where I now sit. Check it out on Wikipedia, people. Very chilled out, old Swahili culture, and by far the best Internet connection I’ve experienced in days and weeks, hence the long entry and lots of new pics on Flickr! That’s it for now. Off to photograph a fancy pool and hopefully have a dip in it. Then maybe a nap. Ahhh. Keep the emails and comments coming, love them! xxx