Wednesday, December 17, 2014

This was India and this was me.

So I'm back in Bangkok.
I hate selfies, but, uh, it's the Taj.

My home away from home (honestly, I have to have a HQ or I'd go insane).
I don't really know to describe any of this, but I'll do my best.
Each country I've visited - a month in Cambodia, a month in Thailand, and a month and a half in India - has felt like I've lived three different lives. Sure, I'm essentially the same person. I have the same lame jokes I share with new friends, I laugh at inappropriate times, still crave my daily coffee, etc., etc., etc. But as they say in Southeast Asia, "same, same, but different." I didn't really think about this until after I came back from India.

As mentioned, I've made Bangkok my home base for sanity reasons and thought I'd feel at "home" here after the madness (beautiful madness, that is) of India.

But I didn't and I don't.

After India, I'm different. I don't quite know how, but I am. Immensely so. I was here in Thailand for all of October, but the me then is not the me now.

My life in India was vastly different than Thailand's life. I've seen bodies cremated, I've crashed multiple time and been in strange hospitals in Mumbai at odd times in the morning, I've swam in an ocean when the power to the whole coast went out, I've gone to silent discos, I've sat in the next room over from the Daila Lama, I've taken well over 100's of hours of train rides, slept in temples, gotten wasted off Bhang Lassi...


Good, great, amazing friends.

I'll stop. I could go on and on and on

and

on

and...

But, as I've touched on this many times already, it's the people that have changed me.

I've met and had the absolute fucking pleasure to meet, travel, and, yeah, love some of the best people life has to offer all around the world. Travelers are a strange crowd. You're with them 24-7 and you suddenly know them more than people you've known your whole life back home. Honestly, India is pure madness and I don't know how I would have done it without meeting and traveling with these amazing individuals.


Maria! Also, our train broke down. Again.
But it's not just about collecting relationships like Pokemon, it's about what they've done to me. They've made me really live in the moment. To feel and appreciate it all. Because travel, if anything, is extremely temporary. You know it ends, and you re-arrange your travels in order to extend those goodbyes. Hell, I bounced back and forth through India in the craziest, most insane way just to see and be with these people a little bit longer. I'm no longer traveling to see the sites, I'm chasing that human connection.

Continuing on this line, this isn't just India. It happened in Thailand and Cambodia, too. And it will happen again. The hellos and goodbyes. What I absolutely hate and love (not really) about travel.

So I'm back in Bangkok for a few days before the next country, at Glur again, meeting up with old friends (Mac and Noi's bar is still my favorite)and new friends alike, milking every moment as much as I can. It's sappy, I know, but that's the truth.

I have one story I want to share. I have plenty more, but here's the deal. You know those jokes/stories where someone says, "oh man, you're going to love this one! A horse goes into a bar and..." and then they get to the punchline and all you can do is a polite golf-clap laugh, because, yeah, it wasn't in the least bit funny or entertaining? And then the person always says "oh, you have to have been there."

This is what traveling has become. I take off my hat off to those travel writers. It's a skill I just don't have (yet). Because telling stories to people not experiencing this is getting more and more difficult. Some stories are just so surreal and honestly just too insane to put down in words. Or, sometimes, they aren't - some of the stories I have are mundane and simple and, honestly, beautiful in the simplicity. But even then, I've yet to figure out how to convey that in words that really radiate to you, the reader, a sense of being there.

I'll do my best.


On the temple grounds, you are required to cover your head. 
So, there's basically three types of toilets in the world. Western (thank God), Eastern (basically a hole in the ground with foot grips), and Japanese toilets (which, let me tell you, are just as amazing as you've maybe read - they talk to you and perfume you all up, and I'm sure I could have found an MP3 player if I had looked hard enough).
A few of us stopped over in a city called Amritsar before meeting other friends in Dharmasala. We ended up sleeping for free in a communal bed at a Sikh temple. The Sikh's are amazing people (Sikh's are followers of a monotheistic religion called Sikhism) and this temple alone houses people for free and feeds over a 100,000 people a day (read more about it here).

And on the first day there, I had to go to the bathroom. And bad. I'd resisted using Eastern toilets for a number of logical reasons, and this temple only had one Western style one meant for the disabled (I was close to faking a limp). But I took the bullet and got in the stall (uh, trust me, this story has a moral, I swear). I readied myself over the hole. And let me tell you, it's a challenge if you're not used to it. You really have to aim and make sure to make it to the target. And don't get me started on the cleanup........

So, what's the problem? People have been pooping this way for millions of years. The problem was that the door had a large "viewing" hole in it, so the people queuing up for the stall could look in.

Uh. Yeah. 

So here I am, awkwardly doing a floating wall sit (without a wall), and this old, bearded Sikh face is watching me do this through this "viewing hole". Expressionless, like he's seen this a million times.

And, you know what I did?

I did what I've done a lot here in India.

I said "fuck it" and went with it.

Because that's what India has helped continue to teach me. To let go. 

And if you've ever heard my philosophy about life it's pretty simple: I think life is a long lesson of learning how and when to let go.

And, no, do not get me wrong, this isn't about lowering standards, this is all about learning that we are so protected in the west. Even in this post, mentioning the act of shitting is probably looked down by a few (read: probably a lot). By why is it shameful? We all do it.

We (the west), overprotect and censor everything, from making sure every single thing is sanitary, clean, and acceptable. I would almost go out on a limb and say we have over sanitized our life. That's not to say that India couldn't improve on a lot of things (read: trash), but I do love how the people live with their means and aren't afraid to touch life without gloves.

When you're living off a single backpack and relationships, you realize you don't really need most of the comforts from home. When you strip down life to the bear bones, it becomes so very simple and you start to really wonder why we complicate it. Love and a backpack. And that's it.

But I'm pretty hypocritical, because I still will always want my Western toilet.
Dharm action.

Another great thing that about India is that it helps you let go of control. India is a nightmare for people who want control or who love to plan. Why? Because your train will be late. Everything will be late.


India is a strange land. I will admit it's a beast to navigate most of the time - the train system is a great example of this. Alone, it's daunting. Together, it's manageable. Just like anything in life, going alone only gets you so far - it gets you confused and lost in Chennai at 4am waiting for the coffee shop (that doesn't actually exist but the tuk-tuk driver swears it does) to open in order to charge your computer and phone, while waiting for a train that you're waitlisted on and even if you did get a seat, it will probably be delayed half a day and you'll miss your flight (can't tell at all that this happened to me, right?).

I wrote before that travel is all about being alone, essentially - I used that Bush quote from Glycerine: "I'm never alone, I'm alone all the time". But, you know what? I retract that. That's bullshit. Yeah, there are times when you are alone, that you need to be alone, but it doesn't have to be that way at all.

It's not that way.

I don't feel alone at all.

Go back up and re-read that paragraph that I mentioned some of the awesome things I've done in India.

Replace all those I's.

They most certainly are supposed to and are We's. They will always be.

India, I thank you. We thank you.

Monday, December 15, 2014

This and that.

"Look, you can either curl up under your bed covers and live a safe, dull, insulated life reading about other people doing things you wish you were doing. Or you can join the real world. If you venture into the real world, you risk living your life to the fullest. You risk the rush of climbing that mountain, of dancing all night, of scuba diving in reefs of mind-blowing color, of standing in the rain on an ocean viewpoint, watching huge waves crashing against the rocks, of meeting the partner of your dreams. You risk getting exercise and breathing fresh air. You risk making life worth living."

-From a random book I don't know the title of, sent to me via text from my good friend Shane.

Also, I will be writing a lot about India soon, it's just taken me a long time to process it all. Stay tuned. And stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

You.

India is a long run-on sentence that ignores structures, keeps adding "ands" and commas, and goes straight for the style points.

India is a short succinct sentence that ends quickly so that the next one can start and doesn't bleed too much over.

This is you.

You walk down the street and the cars and the cows and the motorcycles and the tuk-tuks zip past you (there is no pedestrian right away, in case you were wondering at all). You have to leap on the concrete blocks in the middle of the road because you are a moment away from getting utterly smashed into the wall by a rogue cow or vegetable cart or, well, both. The dust swirls in the air and invades your lungs, sticks to your skin and clothes, and creates a constant cough that echoes like a strange symphony when in a tiny metal train that breaks down every thirty minutes. Like a Dr. Seuss line, you smell every smell you've ever smelled (smelt?), be it good, questionable, great (the food stalls selling strange and beautiful food for almost pennies on the dollar take the cake) and the horrible (the urine smell drifting can knock you over if you're not ready).

The street sellers sell everything from balloons the size of sumo wrestlers to knock-off Sony products to peacock feathers. And the people, oh man, the people are absolutely everywhere, in every direction, zig-zagging through the traffic of buildings and lights and sounds. You get asked to be in a photo from strangers, again and again and again, and people swarm like drunken bees (especially if you have blonde hair).

 
Every sense is on full alert, like you're suddenly a Spiderman in a city of millions, a country of more than a billion, and an economy that has a trillion dollar GDP.

You arrived in Bangalore and felt far too alone in a place with a never ending flow of bodies, and ended up in the the beach-bum state of Goa and met amazing new people that you're thankful to the stars and back for meeting. You party until 5am and every place from the clubs to the strangely culturally-sensitive KFCs blast house music at all hours of the day. After a billion swims, you travel (but not alone anymore, at least for now) to the capital city of Mumbai and swear to God that you'll never complain about traffic back home, ever, ever again in your life. You go to Delhi on a sleeper bus that hates tall people and, yeah, apparently bladders as well. You see the Taj and it's even more majestic and beautiful and awe-inspiring than you ever thought it could be. You take the cheesiest photos with your friends and you take more selfies than could fit in that Kim Kardashian selfie book. And then you experience the sweep of poverty.

And the poverty here is heartbreaking. Of course, Cambodia (though the government physically jails the homeless people in Phnom Penh to make it "look" less poor) and Thailand had it (I'm still making stopovers in Bangkok [super cheap] so no comment on that country yet), but India is a mess of poverty. It's too much to take most of the time. Whole families sleep on the sidewalks, with little more than blankets and pots and pans. And these sidewalks aren't even New York City standard, covered in dirt and mud and shit and pee and everything in between. And the city buzzes around them. And you, trained as a social worker, know absolutely not a single word to describe it. At least not yet. 

And then you head to Varanasi and, no surprise, even more cows, but now add hundreds of monkeys climbing every building, shaking poles, and cruising the street like they own the place. Dozens of small little kites litter the air. You type this on a balcony overlooking a basketball court that has turned into a kitchen that is prepping food for a nearby wedding. The street is blazing with life, drums thumping, people dancing, horns wrecking havoc on the ears and senses. You look out and see a blast of muted color on buildings, women in saris, men staring, clothes hanging from every known edge, and a million people collaging together like a puzzle that shouldn't go together, but somehow, someway, it just...does.

You try to think of how to type this. How to explain it. But you can't. 
You have to live it. 
You have to get up out of your seat.
You have to stop typing. 
You have to open the door and let it happen. 
You have to -

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Adventure > Writing

I don't know how they do it. Travel writers that is. I love writing. In fact, sometimes the urge to write gets to be so intense that I drop everything I'm doing and walk-run-dash-sprint (in that order) to a computer (I think a lot of people think I have a lot of horrendous cases of diarrhea or something) in order to spill everything onto the page. It's weird to say, but there's comfort in writing sentences, in finding just the right word to describe something. It's magical. Like, a Disney-like magic moment where things "click", if only for less than a blink of the eye.

That all said, it's getting harder and harder to write. Specifically, to find time to write. And no, it's not because I'm not experiencing enough or that I don't have the words to describe it all. It's just that - for the first time in my life - words can and are getting in the way of the adventures.

I see it like this. 

There are some people who take WAY too many pictures. To them, every moment has to have a picture. Which, fine, I get it - memories for the kids and all. But when you stare into a screen to get that perfect angle or stretch out the selfie-stick-thingee, thinking, "Hmm, I wonder if my Facebook friends will like this?", you're essentially tearing yourself away from the moment. Your eyes are a wonderful thing, and so is being in the moment. The minute you're sucked into a screen instead of what's going on around you, you lose the chance to be a 100% in that small segment of time that most likely will never happen again in your lifetime. And that perfectly centered, creatively-done picture? Uh, here's the deal, it's basically going to be liked a few times on the social networking site of your choice, then it'll slink back into some obscure album that no one except future stalkers and future boyfriends/girlfriends (which, could be the same person as the stalkers) will see again. That's not to say I don't take a lot of pictures - I do and love doing so - but I do my best to practice being present as much as I can.

This reminds me of the scene with Sean Penn (Sean) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where Ben Stiller (Walter) wonders why Sean, after waiting for what seems like an eternity to take a picture of an extremely rare "ghost" cat, decides to ditch the camera when it finally appears.

Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it?

Sean O'Connell: Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.

Walter Mitty: Stay in it?

Sean O'Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.


Writing has turned to that. I don't have a lot of time any more to stop and reflect. Of course, I MUST do it from time to time (I originally wrote this on a train ride that looked like Hogwarts' bus had one-night-stands with a WWII submarine and a 3rd world prison, but it got deleted. So, one guess of where I'm typing this! Oh, you got it? You're goooood, you know me well).

Okay, wow, that was a long ramble with the point just being this: expect less writing from me from here on out. I'll do my best to do it at least one to times a week, but no promises. There's an adventure waiting as I type this. Friends to make laugh (or, really, friends to make me laugh). And a new world to explore.

I can't be in the coffee shop writing when the world is just outside the door.

Second order of business. What am I up to? Well, as I've mentioned before, I don't want to bore you with: I/we went to A then to B, and then oh God, crazy things happened at C! So, here's some choice pictures and some stories and some thoughts. Scratch that. Wifi sucks, IOU.

Last order of business. And this one is a pretty personal one. But, if anything, that's what this blog is all about: a journey that changes me (still have no idea why people even read this kind of stuff though).

I've always had low self esteem. For a ton of different reasons that would fill this entry up to the maximum word count real quick-like - from my own (society driven?) judgement of my looks, my character, my intelligence, and so. All of it, my qualities that make me, me, I thought (foreshadowing alert! Past tense used there!) were sub-par, so to speak. I've been blessed with a really good disposition though and can pretty much ignore it most of the time. I think people believe I have a pretty high self esteem. And for most of the time, I certainly do.

When it (my lows self esteem) rears its head is when it comes to relationships and the believing in myself. Relationships: they've always crashed and burned (well, not all, some just fizzled all undramatic like). I blame a lot of this on me. I wasn't ready and I didn't think too highly of myself (bad combination and I think a billion romantic comedies have this plot line). I've always thought it weird when someone gorgeous took interest in me. My response: I usually just run. I always thought there were "leagues" and the gorgeous ones - in beauty, and intelligence and humor, were always a few tiers up. Unreachable, I guess you could say.

It also appears when I think about the future as well and where I will end up and what I will do for a living. Everyone told me I was destined for great things, but I never really thought I was "good" enough.

I don't think that any more.

In fact, in two and a half months, across three countries, while meeting and traveling with countless different new people, I think I've really found my worth.
This trip has tested all my abilities and I've met all the challenges thrown at me (and then some!).

Low self-esteem? That's bullshit. 

Let's look to the all mighty Wikipedia for a definition:

In sociology and psychology, self-esteem reflects a person's overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, "I am competent," "I am worthy") and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame.


I've found that the only thing that ultimately decides my pride, my shame, my triumphs is so extremely simple: it's me.

I am in control of what to think about myself.
After going on countless adventures, opening myself up to strangers (usually, it's the other way around for a social worker), and challenging myself to do everything I thought I was horrible at (directions is a good example...) I've found that I should never, ever think of myself as "not good enough" for anyone, or not proud of who I am and what I do, or, or, or... 

Yeah, I am in control. And I'm deciding I never want to let my self doubts interfere again.

And I can't pinpoint a single eye-opening scene that did this for me during this road trip of a journey, time blurs together.

-Maybe it's being away from the Western culture telling me what makes someone beautiful or successful or worthy (hint: it's not what the ads on your television tell you it should be). 
-Maybe it's seeing that I have a ton of great qualities that I've never actually acknowledged because I'm very codependent and do my best to always focus on others and not myself.
-Maybe then, it's this enormous amount of self-reflection time I've been given.
-Or maybe, just maybe, this is just me growing up.

I used to be scared to chase the things I thought I wasn't good enough for, relationships, my future, and otherwise.

So, Past, Present, and Future walked into a bar.

It was pretty tense.

But the past is just that, gone up and past (don't worry, I'm not going to break out into poetry. At least not this time).

I'm speaking in all future terms from now on.
And this time, I'm making my own terms. Confidently, loudly, and most importantly,

Proudly.

As for India. It's growing on me. It's beautifully mad. That's the best way to describe it all.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A life made of scars.

(Mom, if you're reading this, don't freak out. I'm still safe. I swear).

Edit: This is not to say that a person shouldn't be safe. Being dumb is one thing, letting life happen to you instead of being scared of it is the whole point. One should live dangerously, but safely so. Confusing? Oh yeah it is.

Met some new friends here at the Prison Hostel and we all decided to go to the club (well, let's be honest, multiple clubs [edit: a few days later we all went to a silent club! You get headphones and choose the channels to dance to! Crazy]). There's about six of us (from around the world) and I jump on the back of a motorbike with a super, chill guy named JC (from Chicago). It's his first time driving the bike, so he doesn't know where the horn and lights are. But he's driving safe, alright? (JC, it was worth it, except the pain that is. That sucked).

Fast forward later in the night and we're going to the next party. It's JC, myself, and a cool girl named Tove (from Europe). We follow our group but get completely lost in the jungle of small, maze-like streets.

So picture this. We're lost, cruising down the most insane streets and we can't figure out how to turn on the headlights and turn off the blinkers (we drive in style and flair here in India). We turn down a "road" that looks pretty legit. But WHAM! SNAP! CRACK! Massive brick piles in the way.


Pile of bricks. Many piles of bricks.

We go down.
And, a little hard to imagine, I know, but we are all laughing like absolutely insane people.

I land on the exhaust and get a pretty nasty burn [edit: after a hospital visit a week later, it was most certainly a third degree burn. Ouch]. But I'm still cackling (more on why later in the blog). Sidenote: Tove also has a pretty decent burn from an earlier, different accident (it may or may not happen a lot here). We get back up, dust of those boots, and Little Engine that Could it again. We get even more lost in a side-street that looks like were entering Narnia or Oz. We find our way back and we're cool.


Next night, JC crashes again, twice. The first was good (it was only a ditch), but the 2nd time we almost fly into in a lake/river but spun out right before the water. We're pros at crashing by now and we basically stand up as the bike gets taken away from us.
Like bosses.

But, yeah, again my leg hits the exhaust (thanks missing guard) and I have another good sized burn underneath my knee.

We all were laughing again (mostly because we survived the crash again, and we feel like, legit, right. Maria is laughing [well, giggling, from her view on another bike]).

So, why laugh?
Crashing is not funny and neither are burns or worse.
And it could have been oh, so much worse.

JC keeps remarking how amazing I was taking in the crashes and burns.

And that's the thing. Why freak out? Why get mad? Yes, they're scars, and yes, they hurt, and yes they suck.

But it comes to this: scars can also prove a life lived. It proved you were in the here and now and have one amazing story to tell those grand kids one day.

You can point to it, your life, and say, "I was there. I lived it. I existed and I truly LIVED!" (this is half of a bad paraphrase from the quite excellent One Hour Photo)

No matter what you believe in (or don't believe in), you're body is going to be gone one day.

One day, you're body will be decomposing in the earth. Gross, I know. Whatever tattoos you had, whatever scar, whatever anything you had will be food for the worms.

The point is: it's just a body. It really is. And scars prove that you lived a life. It reminds me of that quote "I don't want to tiptoe my life just to arrive safely at death."

So, yes, I was laughing. So was JC. So was Tove.

Because I'm in India, on a sketchy motorbike, with a new driver in the craziest backwards streets living a life many only get to dream about. What a fucking amazing scar.
These scars will prove I lived. Sometimes unsafely and sometimes with too much safety.

I wouldn't take any of these scars back.

Never, ever.

For a million years.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Time to Goa

So, uh, where do I start?


Walking to the beach
I'm hungover. Very hungover in fact. It's 9:30am and I went to sleep last night/morning at about 5:30am. Uh huh. So the question becomes: why in the world am I awake?

And the answer is sappy and dumb and lame and I don't care.

Because: this is an experience of a life time and sleeping feels like a waste when I'm here. When I'm living a life that is this insane I can't afford to close my eyes for even more than a second - I can sleep anywhere in the world, but this is once in a lifetime. Currently, I'm in an Indian coastal town named Goa. And I'm staying in a hostel that's designed like a prison (yep, you read that right). I felt alone and extremely detached in Banglore amongst the people and the crowd of lights and sound. It didn't help that I didn't meet even a single fellow traveler there. Here, it's the opposite. It's full of backpackers and Indians who want to escape the city life. It's the strangest place I've been yet. It's not India, but it is. Does that make sense? I was only going to be here for only two days, but I've met some pretty cool people here who have convinced me otherwise. Again, human connections from across the world. It's what makes travel life changing. Goa is the party before I flee North and get all spiritual (I'm planning to go see the Dalai Lama speak and that's my sorta end point in India. I think. I don't know, travel is so very fluid).


View from the hostel
And, thank God, this was nothing like the Hotel of Horrors mentioned last time. I mean, it's not exactly a five-star hotel - it's called prison hostel for a reason - but there's actual people here! Real, live people! How great is that? There's no need for 4 deadlocks and no hose/toilet cleaner for a shower!

Okay, quick check.
Are you still reading?

Really, you are? I mean, thanks and all. Very cool. But this is kinda boring, right?

How does one talk about "the beach life" without sounding very, extremely boring. "Oh, we swam and then we lounged around for a while in the sun." Ugh. Are you asleep yet?

That said. This is what I was up to:

The other day I went to Anjuna beach and was there for about 8 hours drinking, swimming, and meeting new friends (sidenote: Indian men are very touchy feely. They really like to hug and shake hands. A lot. It's a little strange at first but you get used to it). And I'll say this, there were times when I was swimming that I was downright creepy looking. Picture:  a big smile plastered on my face and cackling like some kind of evil villain from a cartoon show who just conquered the world. God, I looked insane. Yet people still approached me and talked with me. Go figure.

But this is the point in the post where I get wildly off topic. So, sorry, time to get serious for a moment.
Beach, please!

I noticed this first in Cambodia, but absolutely everywhere in Thailand. It's no secret that in Asia, "white is better". The 7-11s sell hundreds of different creams and you see people all the time walking down the street with a weird white paste caked on their face. There's no arguing that white is the goal here, but the reasons why are confusing and it's hard to know what to believe. Some say it's the definition of beauty and white means rich (is this ingrained?). Others talk about how dark = worker class, in the field slaving away all  day and = no money. Is it right? I don't know. I really don't. But it shocked me at first. I wanted to laugh and tell everyone that white did not mean better or more beautiful. I wanted to tell them that it was just a social construct that had no basis in facts. I wanted to tell them that their skin was beautiful just the way it was.

But I can't because it would be hypocritical.

It might sound weird that Asia wants to be whiter, but the West wants to be darker. We have countless suntanning booths and lotions and everything.
Because in the West, tan = sexy.
Why?
Good question. I happen to be attracted to women with darker skin and I have no idea if it's a nature/nurture thing. Is it culturally driven because I was brought up in an environment that values tan over white? Or is it something else?

There's absolutely nothing different between that and the Asian whitening culture. Both make no sense, but the definition of "beauty' really is dependent on where you're from.

I'm not saying it should or can change or that it's wrong or right. Simply an observation.

Back to it.
Yesterday. This is the busy Goa(n) life:
-Breakfast at a cafe in "town" with a new, awesome friend, Maria, from Venezuela. And when I say town, I mean  a random strip of maybe 15 stores and restaurants (and more cows).

-Beach time with Maria and Andreas, a cool European also from the hostel. The waves here are insane. In Thailand, it was dessert flat. You go swimming out into the water, and you're basically like "oh, this is cool, but is that it?" But here, the waves are punishing and brutal and BIG and crashing. Some of them hit you with such force that it temporarily knocks your soul from you. Snot and spit are shooting out of your face and (again) you're laughing all crazy like while this happens because it's so surreal and unbelievable that you even have the chance to be smacked in the face with a killer wave (I still need to learn how to surf...). It's pretty damn great. To say the least.

-Went back to the hostel and dove into my book. Everyone else is talking and sharing and being social but I had to be that nerdy guy that is sucked into a good book. It sorta has to happen like this. Oceans away from home, but I can't escape myself (Sidenote [I do a lot of these, don't I?]: Read S. It's one of the best books I've ever read. I'm very close to finishing and I was glued to every page. It takes commitment, for sure, since it's like nothing you've ever read before (well, House of Leaves is a good primer), but it's worth it. I swear. It's a trip of an interactive experience and one that stole a lot of time in paradise. It was that good).

-During this time, Maria and I wrote 4 lines for a song that Andreas is writing. It's very legit and about life in Goa and the his and our time in the Prison Hostel in general - here's his soundcloud here, give him a listen, very worth it - guy's going to be famous. Just wait.

-Everyone goes to a street market and there's a live band, and of course, we have to jump in and start a Congo line for "Summer of 69".

-It's 12am and the night is still young. Everyone goes to this gigantic club that has a cover, but free drinks after that (read: 50% awesome and 50% worst, most dangerous idea ever). Met a lot of cool locals who gave me advice on my future travels through India (if you're reading this, thank you!). You see, I'm very, very clueless about what I'm doing, but that's worked out for me for 2 months now, so why stop now? I don't do Lonely Planet or any other tour guides - let the people who know it best be my guide.

-It's 3am. Probably should go back.

-4:30am. Nope.

-Wake up at 930am because I don't want to miss even a second of this. Seriously, I know I already wrote this further up in the page, but I have to type it again. I feel horrible right now, working on a few hours of sleep and am pretty, absolutely hungover, but I'm alive and typing this in India. INDIA!

And Goa:
It's like a hippy town. No highways, dogs everywhere, and a very relaxed beach area. Never really been to Mexico, but this makes me think I'm there. So very green, like a mix between Thailand and Washington, but as was pointed out to me recently: everything is super, super brown and everything is very muted. There's a haze around for some strange reason. Crickets sing in the night.

This is a place to lose yourself in. Simple, party life. One ATM, no malls, cows everywhere.

It's unlike anything I've seen.
Met lifelong friends here.
But always and forever traveling on.
Like the beat of an endless drum.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Travel movies for your traveling soul.

I almost went to film school a long time ago. Got in and everything. Instead of attending though, I dropped it before even starting (lost my deposit) and enrolled in a community college instead. It was part madness and part brilliance. I've always wondered what my life would be like if I hadn't done that, but it's completely okay, because I've never lost my deep admiration for movies. 

There are some that have radically changed my life. I'm in love with travel movies. Movies that make you want to get off your ass and actually LIVE are the ones that really get me. I love even more to see others be inspired. So I'm going to share with you my favorite travel movies. Hopefully, on a boring Friday night, you'll watch one or two of these, and they just might become your favorites, too. UPDATED ON 11/5/16


9. The Road Within


There are things I don't like about this movie, for sure. On a whole though, I love this idea of throwing three characters, who struggle with the life that was given to them, and putting them on a ridiculous road trip. One characters has Tourette's, one has an eating disorder, and one has an extreme case of OCD. This movie is hilarious at times, but throughout its running time, it gives a peak into how these character's "issues" sometimes define who they are as people, even if they don't want them to. This movie shows how these characters move past a simple label and push toward a life that isn't defined for them by the DSM-V.

The ending is hit-and-miss for me, but it's still a wonderful movie worth your time.

Favorite quote:
Alex: [Vincent wants to climb a mountain] What if it sucks?
Vincent: What if it's amazing?
Alex: What if it's dangerous?
Vincent: What if it's exciting?
Alex: What if we die?

Vincent: What if we live?


8. Monsters


I forgot to add this movie in my original list. It's a slow burn monster movie about two very different people thrown together in unlikely circumstances and made to travel together. Like a good zombie movie that really isn't about the zombies, this movie's monsters take a backseat to the love story that unfolds really, really slowly. It gets at you, but only if you let it. I get why people could see it as boring and long. But it's also intense if you dig in and go along with the character's transformation. I adore this movie and it would be way higher on this list if I wasn't lazy enough to change the order all around.

And the soundtrack here? Gorgeous.

Favorite quote: 
Samantha : I don't want to go home.

7. Wristcutters: A Love Story


Ok, so this one is a strange one. It is a travel movie, I swear. Warning: it might be offensive to some, so I warn you that if you find the topic of suicide a trigger, probably best to skip this one and avoid it. It's about a kid, Zia, who kills himself and gets sent to this purgatory-type world full of successful suicides (which is like our world but just a lot more depressing and hopeless). He gets a job at a pizza joint and becomes good friends with a Russian Rocker, Eugene, until he discovers that his girlfriend also committed suicide after him. So with his rocker friend by his side he roadtrips this strange world to find her. They meet up with another girl, Mikal (played by one of my celebrity crushes, Shannyn Sossamon), who thinks she was sent there by accident, and joins up with them in order to find the "Man in Charge" to get sent back to life. And Zia, along the way, realizes that maybe Mikal is who his life needed to make it worth living. Like any good travel movie, they aren't the same people after the trip is over. It's not for everyone. It really isn't. But I love this movie and the ending gets me. Every. Single. Time.

Favorite quote:
Kneller: Once upon a time there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. And they grew next to each other. And every day the straight tree would look at the crooked tree and he would say, "You're crooked. You've always been crooked and you'll continue to be crooked. But look at me! Look at me!" said the straight tree. He said, "I'm tall and I'm straight." And then one day the lumberjacks came into the forest and looked around, and the manager in charge said, "Cut all the straight trees." And that crooked tree is still there to this day, growing strong and growing strange.

6. The Way

It's a pretty simple plot: asshole, rigid, by-the-books dad, and the dreamer son. Son goes hiking the Camino de Santiago (ancient pilgrimage routes in Spain to where the saints might be buried) and, unfortunately, dies. His father goes to Spain to get his son, and ends trekking the entire trail to spread his ashes. It's like the Wizard of Oz where he meets characters that are completely opposite of him. The travel, and the people he travels with, challenges and change him.

What connects them is this: they are broken. Hiking and traveling to try and fix themselves. But the question becomes: can you fix deep fractures and breaks? And if you can't, how do you deal with them and move on and accept yourself as beautiful and flawed at the same time? It's a beautiful film about how it never is too late to forgive yourself for past mistakes.

Favorite quote:
Daniel: You don't choose a life, Dad. You live one.

5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


We all want to do big and epic and mighty things in life. Walter is someone with a boring life who imagines the wildest of adventures. He lives out these fantasies because his life is, well, boring. He's good at his job, but he wants more, in his life and in his relationships. It isn't until he must go on a journey to Greenland and Iceland and Afghanistan, that he begins to live the life he had daydreamed. His daydreams stop, because he's finally living his dreams. It's a beautiful movie and it gets better every time I see it. Also, the speech by Sean Penn about being in the moment is very important and still something I'm doing my best to practice on a daily basis.


Favorite quote:
Walter: To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.

4. Americano


AmericanoI think I love the tagline more than anything else: Do what scares you. Also, huge fan of Joshua Jackson. He seems to do a lot of these kind of "find yourself" movies. An American goes on vacation in Spain with two friends, a couple who can't stop bickering, and meets the woman of his dreams - someone who challenges every Western thought he has. Maybe he doesn't want to go back to the 9-5. So he must decide what's more important - a successful career way away from this women or love?
Hint: the answer is in the movie's tagline.

Favorite quote:
Narrator: The story of our life, in the end, is not our life, it is our story.

3. Darjeeling Limited

The first time I watched this, I'll admit, I didn't like it. I didn't understand it. But after a second and third and forth time, it really truly grew on me. Travel changes these brothers. It helps heal brokenness (both mentally, and for one brother, quite literally). It's a chance to self-examine themselves and their relationship with others. 

One scene in particular hits me hard, a very serious, very sad, scene in the middle of all the dead-pan humor. It really does an excellent job at showing that traveling showcases the very best and the worst of life. It's unequal parts of roughness and healing. And what a great mixture for one hell of an adventure.

Favorite quote: 
"I love you, too, but I'm going to mace you in the face."

2. One Week

I adore this movie. About a seemingly happy individual who is about to get married and gets news he has a very serious case of cancer. Instead of getting right into treatment, he's selfish, buys a motorcycle, and travels throughout Canada. My favorite thing about this movie, and it might take a few watchings to really connect all of the side stories, is that the movie is less about him and his personal journey or realizing he didn't really love his fiancee, but more about the effect he has on the people he meets. Little, chance encounters butterfly effect good things, without him ever knowing it. It really is a nice touch to show that human interaction changes lives.
Really, the film asks the viewer this: what is the minimum in life? Meaning, what's the minimum in life to make you happy? And if you know what that is, are you fulfilling it? This movie is genius. I learn something new each time I watch it.

Favorite quote:
Narrator: When you get those rare moments of clarity, those flashes when the universe makes sense, you try desperately to hold on to them. They are the life boats for the darker times, when the vastness of it all, the incomprehensible nature of life is completely illusive. So the question becomes, or should have been all a long... What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live. What life boat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfill? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write? (Written on a black board during this scene: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.")

1. Motorcycle Diaries

Ah, as I've mentioned this here before, I won't get into this too much. I love this movie because it's less about how an individual can change the world and more about how the world can change the individual. This is a great movie for social workers. Travel here starts out as almost a buddy comedy until the duo experience crippling poverty first hand. One scene in particular, where Ernesto unites those who are poor and sick with those who are not, is extremely emotional. This movie, hands down, is one of the most powerful movies I have ever had the honor to see.



Favorite quote:
Ernesto: Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. I am not me any more. At least I'm not the same me I was.

And because this is my favorite movie, one more:

Ernesto: What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land.

So there you have it. Enjoy friends. Until next time!

Monday, November 3, 2014

India, Nick. Nick, India.

I had to search for a coffee shop. This was my first priority.
Anything would do. It's what I do to remain calm. To get a chance to breathe. Caffeine helps. So I was able to somehow by the grace of God get to a really nice one (I did a review of it on TripAdvisor here if you get to Bangalore).

So, good. I'm having a good coffee and my mind can relax.

I landed in India two nights ago, and wow, it was so much different than Southeast Asia that my mind pretty much melted on landing. I grabbed a taxi, got to my hostel...and...and, wait, before I go on.

Let me describe to you this hostel. Let us call it, say, The Hostel of Horrors. Yeah, that sounds appropriate enough.

First off, the bathroom. No shower, so, well, I used a hose "thing" that I think was for showering. Or maybe it was for cleaning the toilet. It was pretty hard to tell. Either way, it only extended a few feet from the wall at my knees so I had to crouch down very, very low. My calf muscles are burning and I'm sure I got some good toning in my legs.


Outside my window
The bed. The bed was made for children. Or several hobbits. I'm sure of it. And I think the staff knew it, too. So they fashioned two of them together thanks to the magic of duck tape and a sheet (I really, truly wish I could snap a picture that did it...uh...justice). Sneaky, right? I slept in the fetal position all night, which wasn't too bad, the loud music outside my room and cows mooing didn't bother me because I was exhausted from getting only four hours of sleep the night before and being on planes all day.

The outlet for electricity sparked every time I put something in it, and I had to MacGyver a support system out of my backpack, a chair, the TV remote, and a bar of soap in order to hold up my power adapter into the wall and prevent it from falling out. I also watched it with a strange intensity because I just knew it would catch fire. Those kind of adventures love me. Fire and mayhem, that is.

I opened up the drawer above my bed to get some blankets. Unless I've gotten really strong in the last two months, I tore off the door like the Hulk. Awesome. It could have been made from wood, but it could have been cardboard. Like the shower, it's pretty hard to tell.

The door had 4 deadbolts. Why? Because I grabbed this hostel in the middle of absolutely nowhere, for dirt cheap, way off the grid of the city. I have not seen or heard one foreigner or another guest. 

There's a hole in the wall that may or may not be a hole to the next room.

The Western-style toilet self flushes (which it shouldn't) in the middle of the night. Because, science. I think.


Bangalore, M.G. Road
That all said, the staff are rad and the WiFi is absolutely phenomenal. Go figure.

As horrible as it was, it's too funny to be mad or angry about. It's part of the journey that separates it from Eat, Pray, Love (sorry, I can't stop bashing that movie). I'm not rich, I can't stay in 5-star hotel rooms with my $200,000 book advance. What I do have to do is kill a cockroach every once in a while and bolt the doors and sleep in my clothes because I don't really want my skin on whatever that stain is.

But travel is all about letting go. And it's pretty hard to learn to let go when you're not willing to be in a situation that forces you to.

I got my coffee. I'm off to a new place in the center of the city. I feel good.

Bangalore itself is nuts. The streets buzz with a million motorcycles and cars, every street echoing more honks per second than all of New York City (And Cambodia, forgive me for any bad things I said about your roads. You're the Leave it to Beaver of roads compared to India!). There are people everywhere, every side street, every nook and cranny. Cows lazily walk through it all. It's dirty and hot and disorganized. Everyone stares at me, the only foreigner looking completely and utterly lost and disoriented. Stands of food I've never seen or imagined line the street sides, the spices even hot when I breathe them in. A New York minute? New York has nothing on this place. It's absolute chaos.
Organized? Maybe.
Somehow.
Or, well, maybe not in the least bit.
It's madness but...but...there's more to it than that. It's alive and sprawling and the pulse of life is stronger than ever here.

As a new friend of mine, Alejandro, said of his recent trip to India, he greatly disliked it at first, but by the end he had grown to love the madness and chaos of it all. He didn't understand it by then end of his journey there, but still was greatly changed by the country and its people (his blog, by the way, is AMAZING and this guy is legit. He quit his job and started traveling and adventuring. Pretty much my new hero. His blog is in Spanish, but you can translate it over with Chrome. Click here for the link, give him so love and check it out).

It's chaos.

And I kind of like it.

Except for that shower. That was horrible.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tattoos and Memories.

How do I describe the last week or so? Everything happened all at once and as I've mentioned before, it's all way too much to process and write down most of the time. That and there are just too many adventures that push my writing to be very secondary.

The last thing I want this blog to be is boring. I DO NOT want it to follow this formula:

My favorite picture from the islands
a) I did this.
b) Then I did this.
c) Finally, I did this. Isn't that so cool?

Nope. Not going to do it. That sucks to write and that sucks to read.

Hard life
But, being the hypocrite that I am, here's what I've been up to!

Instead of a linear narrative though, here are some choice pictures and events that have made my time in the Thai islands pretty much the best time I've ever had. I'll keep it short though, no rambling. As per the usual, viewing this on a phone may look really strange.

Tattoo!
I wasn't going to get one, I really wasn't. Everyone back home warned me about getting a random tattoo in a random Asian shop. Like almost all the warnings though, it's simply not true. The places on Kho Phi Phi (click the link to learn more about these hot, fantastic, and crazy loud islands) are very legit. In fact, it probably is even cleaner over here (and, plus-side, you can get completely wasted while getting the tattoo! I didn't, but it's pretty cool to know I could have if I wanted to). 


Breath stealing, am I right?
On a monkey search
On Kho Phi Phi Don, everyone who is anyone uses bamboo tattooing. It sounds archaic, but in fact, like most things the West laughs at, it actually is a lot cleaner, less painful, and heals quickly. That being said, I still hate needles and anything that punctures skin (thanks a lot Fire in the Sky, I hate you). Thankful, my extremely rad travel friend, Felice, who I met in Chiang Mai and joined up with again, convinced me that, of course I had to get a tattoo here. It says "remember who you wanted to be." I wrote about what that means to me here (beware though, it's a very sappy and Oprahish post).

 Fire Dancers!
What can I say about this other than it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. On the beach, these dancers throw fire around like it's no big deal. Hell, they even had a 6-7 year old kid doing it! Very rad.

Yeah
On that note. This island never, ever sleeps. It's pretty awesome, but at the same time, it can get to you. The walls (and when I sa walls, I mean cardboard like pieces of...something) of the hostel/hotel shake into the wee early morning hours. So prepare yourself if you go. Bring earplugs. Or headphones. Or enough money to get smashed. Or all three.

Birthday!
I thought river rafting and hiking in the jungle in Chiang Mai was cool (read: it most certainly was), but this birthday topped it all. Snorkeling, monkeys, visiting the beach from The Beach, Thai boxing (yep, the kids are doing that as well!), good food (fried ice cream! Wait. What?), Christmas cards, music-activated shirts, so much swimming, good beer, strange limbo parties, bar games, Jenga, the best company to do all these adventures with ("Hide your 2012 self!"), and sunsets across the Indian Ocean.

2 Legit 2 Quit
But I'm back solo and in Bangkok hanging out with Mac and Noi. Going to Halloween parties (thanks Nida and Phol, you're both awesome!) and such.

And tomorrow, back to starting over.

I fly to India.

And this will happen again.

Here we go. New adventures. New friends. New life.
Journey never sleeps, right?

Cheers.