Giant boulders and camels oh my!

April 21, 2008 Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Namaste!
It’s been about a month again and I can’t believe how time flies.  It seems like only yesterday we were gathering firewood with our Ladakhi friend Ilan and then making Israeli dinners by candle light. Yes we are still in India, but sometimes the experience is of another world completely.
After leaving Varkala we headed North to Kodai Kanal.  Because we are in India, traveling is not what it seems and it took us 6 days to get to Kodai. We stopped in Munnar where the clouds part to reveal the most succulent patch of green earth situated amongst the hills and the friendliest people.  We stayed long enough to hike 12miles through the tea plantations where women in work saris and sumo wrestling leg armor, cut tea leaves for 8 hours and 100rps ($2.50) a day.  We bought enough spices and coffee to feed a small brigade of…..well coffee connoisseurs and chefs and left the dew covered hills for Kodai.
We arrived in the rain and spent the next two weeks in the eye of two consecutive cyclones from the Bay of Bengal. They brought thunder, lightening, and power cuts. After a night in Kodai, we met a group of Israelis who raved about a small village called Vattakanal about 4km outside of the city.  After the lush fertility of Munnar, we were disappointed by the drabness of downtown Kodai and took them up on there recommendation.  To our wonderment, we found a semi secluded hillside where every other house is for rent and the views are astounding. We moved into the top floor of the “Kibbutz”  (a group of Jewish Holy men lived downstairs and  we were treated to Friday night singing and prayers) with 8 windows facing the valley all covered in the same red curtains!? and a propane stove and fireplace that proved essential. We made friends with a great couple; a Dutch woman and Israeli man who taught us how to make shashouka and Dutch pancakes. We spent the next two weeks living the life of luxury…..by candlelight. There was no power for the majority of our stay, but the fireplace kept us warm and the propane stove kept us fed. When the clouds finally parted, we were presented with the most breath taking views of the valley from our front door. We made friends with a guy from Ladakh who has lived enough life for four people in his 23 years. On the second to last and last mornings of our stay in Vatta, a French hippie man brought us fantastic French pastries (he made them, authentic French I would say even if made in India) to our doorstep. We almost thought twice about leaving, I mean a French man who brings you pastries in the morning, what else do you really need?
We spent a few days in Bangalore, a bustling IT capital with a shortage of Internet cafes but the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. We took a train to Hospet and found a worm hole of relaxation in Hampi where the giant boulders balance in the most peculiar ways and the people are deep and friendly.  We stayed at Shanthi Guest House in a bungalow that shared a faucet with the water buffaloes and a restaurant that you never had to leave.  We met some of the coolest people from Australia, England, and Canada. We slack lined (tied a tow rope between two palm trees and tight rope across it, absurd yet oddly exhilarating) and bouldered (rock climbed without all the fancy stuff, just shoes and a “hope to goodness I don’t need it” matt). We had esoteric conversations in our beloved restaurant pavilion where you can spend the entire day reading and ordering snacks amongst the floor cushions and watching the sunset behind the red Stonehenge size boulders.  We wandered amongst temples and saw our first Rajasthani gypsies (yes they weren’t in Rajasthan).
With a heavy heart, a fever, and the accompaniment of 4 friends, we left Hampi after 10 days for Mumbai on a night bus. Mumbai (Bombay) is India colored within the lines.  The streets are wide and clean and the constant littering non existent…to an extent. We caught up on our urban cosmopolitan fix while being asked about 5 times if we wanted to be extras in a Bollywood (would have been cool but not enough time) and left Mumbai and our friends for Aurangabad to see the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.
We arrived in Aurangabad at 4am after sharing one sleeper seat in a train car packed beyond its capacity. India seems to defy space and matter constraints. In India more people, or animals, or objects, or all of the above can seem to fit in less space than we would reasonably estimate in the West. All done in good humor.  We wandered the 13 hundred year old Ellora caves that are simply amazing. It wouldn’t be very hard to convince me to live in a cave when the temperature out in the sun is somewhere around 100 degrees F.  We saw all the Buddhist caves, one Hindu, and one Jain. “I bet I can tell you what will be in the next cave…..another giant Buddha!” (Malachi by the end of the day). We also gaped in utter amazement at the Great Kailasa Hindu Temple that was built completely out of the mountain. The foresight and dedication not to mention the moolah it would take to convince someone it was a good idea to build a temple out of a mountain, is mind boggling. We fit into a share jeep that may have comfortably fit 11 people but instead again defied space and fit 22. After a frustrating and hot discombobulated day in Aurangabad, we made it to Ajanta and were even more impressed by the 2000 year old Buddhist caves that had paintings resembling a hybrid of Egyptian and Mayan art. Makes you wonder what kind of cross pollination was going on that we don’t know about.
We stayed in Jalgaon for a night at the most remarkably clean and modern interior design guest house we’ve seen in India and caught a sleeper bus to Ahmedabad. Here we are, the 21 of April 2008 and we’ve made it to the state of Gujarat. The women wear their saris opposite of the women in the South, and I’ve seen more gypsy women that brighten my heart.  I get completely goofy with excitement every time I see one and Malachi is getting tired of being poked in the arm and told “look!” every few minutes.  We’re heading to Diu on the coast tonight and from there to Bhuj. I’m going to start emptying out my backpack in preparation for all the goodies I know I’ll be buying.  (Mom and Dad, no doubt there will be another box heading your direction soon!)
Hmmmm I think that about covers what we’ve been up to, save for all the really juicy details not appropriate for a mass email (just kidding, but seriously) and I hope this finds everyone happy and healthy.
Love to everyone!
Kenni

PS. Carrie we got a “blessing” from Lakshmi the temple elephant!
PSS. The camel reference in the subject is because this morning we saw camels for the first time pulling carts down the street here in Ahmedabad. I’ve heard a camel safari is a must, but you’ll never want to repeat the experience.

Life of the beach is exhausting…….:)

March 10, 2008 1:42pm

Varkala Beach, Kerala, India

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since I divulged our exciting India adventure onto a computer screen.  Quite a lot has happened over the course of just a few weeks.  We’ve now been in India for 1 month and outside the US for almost 2.  Surprisingly it seems like we’ve always been on the road, it’s amazing how you fall into a routine: “You carry the sitar, I’ll carry both the violins, oh and don’t forget to buy more bottled water and we’re running low on toilet paper.” The essentials.  Thankfully food, water, toilet paper, and a place to lay our heads at night are our biggest concerns. No worrying over gas prices and deadlines for term papers (sorry for all of you who have to worry about one or both).  Instead we watch the US exchange rate fluctuate with avid interest and are appalled when the Canadian Dollar rises above the US dollar. (They are both at 40 rupees to each respective $ for those interested, the best we’ve seen so far). Catching trains and laughing at wily auto rickshaw drivers has occupied our attention.  So has eating French food in places where French is more widely spoken then any other language and answering the incredibly repetitive almost mantra inducing questions “Do you want to come into my shop?” “Where are you from Madam?” “Taxi?” and more recently “Fresh fish? Cold beer? Maybe later”  We are never bored to say the least.

After leaving the spectacular liveliness of Kolkata, we traveled by night train to Puri. The small beach side town of Puri is in the state of Orissa, south of Kolkata. I had a lovely day of horrific stomach flu, which colors my entire outlook of our stay there.  Thankfully, knock on wood that is the only time I’ve been sick in India. While lying on my back in bed, I became incredibly familiar with the intricate mandala-like design painted on the roof around the base of our rickety fan. There were five, sometimes six petals on each of the flowers ringing the outside edge of the red,orange, blue design. I couldn’t figure out if it was a symbolic purpose or merely the ascetic preference of the artist. I was also treated with a magnificent array of bed bug bites all over my calves and feet from the forced repose upon our less than 5 star quality bed.  (Malachi escaped the invisible army, but they caught up with him a week later in Mamallapuram.) I counted 75 bites on one leg, and 45 on the other.  I’m still at a loss about the insanity of the human body being able to sleep through hundreds of insect bites, but not being able to sleep through the occasional buzzing of a mosquito on the OTHER side of the mosquito net.

We took a city bus from Puri to Bhubanswar and received our first taste of what travelling cheaply with 3 instruments would be like.  Our luggage was divided throughout the bus and placed in various racks and besides various seats to accommodate the press of people who ride comfortably packed like sardines.  Once in Bhubaneswar we found a craft fair showcasing crafts from all over India and attended the free Odissi dance concert held outside and amongst the ethereal stone pillars of the Temple Complex of Mukeshwar.  We sat down in plastic red lawn chairs surrounded by an enthralled Indian audience, when we were beckoned forward by one of the overseers of the performance. We were motioned into the VIP seating area in front of the red lawn chairs and separated by more than just a flimsy metal fence. I was horribly embarrassed to be sitting in VIP for no reason other than my skin color. There were cushioned red and gold benches that were sparsely occupied and looked as though they belonged in the atrium of some old maharaja’s palace.  The only faces who we now sat surrounded by were white or very well dressed Indians.  I was sweaty and rumpled from the day’s bus trip and successive stroll around the dusty craft fair, and in no way did I look as if I belonged in VIP seating.  If I was Indian I would resent the treatment of us spoiled Westeners. No wonder skin whitening advertisements abound. On t.v you see popular Western brands espousing their whitening results to an Indian audience.  The memory of colonialization has been harsh to such a beautiful people.

The Odissi dancing was done beautifully.  My favorite was a young man who has been dancing with his specific guru since he was 4. (He must be at least 18 or so now) Odissi is such an amazing synthesis of storytelling, spirituality, and interpretive dance that conveys an entire spectrum of emotions by the tilt of the head, the flick of a wrist, and the coy glance of beautifully khol lined eyes.  Hopefully I’ll find a teacher to study with while I’m here.

From Bhubaneswar we took a 20 hour train trip down to Chennai in Tamil Nadu. I love the train. Even waking up to “Chaaaaiii gram, chaiiiiii graaamm, chai gram, chai, chai, chai,” and “Koffey, Koffey,Kooooofffffeeeyyy”  Melea you described it perfectly.  The random snacks handed through the windows at unnamed train stops to reveal some of the best meals, have been eagerly excepted, even if later tireless attempts to find the same dish in restaurants proves to be difficult. If it is one thing that we’ve discovered, it’s that eating in India is always an adventure and a surprise. One dish by the same name can be made in infinite ways, and all of them delicious, even if they weren’t what was expected.  The only dish that I have tasted and I’ve utterly and completely loathed and found to be the most disgusting thing in the world, of course was one that was made with bananas. Malachi enjoyed it.

We spent only a few days in Chennai, enough to find myself a beautiful red and gold sari that I have no idea how to wear, but couldn’t resist the beautiful fabric. The highlights of Chennai were the harrowing auto rickshaw that left my knuckles white and my heart palpitating and watching the new “Rambo” in a theatre full of wood floors, lazy boy like seats, and cheering Indians.  Of course we watched it because it was the only English language film being played.  Just like in Thailand, we stood for the national anthem to be sung before the movie, and were treated to a 15 min intermission of a 1 1/2 hour film. Be glad you didn’t have to see “Rambo” Mom, it was what you would expect from a Rambo film, blood and guts. I did  enjoy hearing the Indian audience cheer at all the cheesy hero lines and at the triumph of good over evil though.  The incredibly friendly staff at the Paradise Guest House, made our stay much more enjoyable in this not very touristy city.

A 2 hour bus trip brought us to the very mellow, very relaxed, and shopping oriented town of Mamallapuram.  Carrie, the Greenwoods Guest House was great. We spent a couple days wandering the endless Kashmiri shops and dining in places like the Bob Marley Cafe that featured an enormous poster of Bob Marley, but played Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  I woke up early one morning and bought Malachi a silver bracelet for his birthday. It really is difficult to keep secrets and plan a surprise when you are with someone 24/7.  Malachi had been debating on buying it the entire day before, and finally decided to buy it, so we went into the store later that day only to find out that the bracelet had been purchased already by “someone” else. I gave it to him the next day over his birthday dinner.

On Malachi’s birthday (Feb, 24th) we made it down to Pondicherry on another 2 hour (empty!?) public bus ride while making faces to a beautiful little girl.  This was after a failed attempt one day before. A sitar and two violins doesn’t make for easy access to packed city buses.  Pondy (as most people refer to it as) is a French mecca full of French food, French people, and French street names.  We had dinner at the French cafe Rendezvous (it’s in the book for parents) for Malachi’s b-day, after which he spent the next day sick. Thankfully we’ve been sick at different times.  I had dinner one night in a French restaurant which was run by a very large round French man, with a smaller version of Gerard Depardieu’s nose. His size at once made me aware of the decadent French food I was eating, but also reassured me that he must not only eat, but enjoy what he served. I watched him great people with the very European kiss on each cheek and almost thought I was in a France, not the south of India.

We found an amazing coffee shop (Coffee.com) full of mazagrand mochas, French baguettes, home made ice cream, and friendly family owners. We visited Auroville and found it’s mission and purpose great, but not quite the friendly easily accessible place we were hoping for. Completely understandable considering this is 2000 people’s home, not a tourist destination.  It was established by a French woman known as the Mother 40 years ago to be a cosmopolitan city belonging to humanity where people can pursue there dreams of research and education in whatever they please. Not a place for the transient travelers that we are at the moment.

From Pondicherry we took a bus up to Chennai and bought an unreserved train ticket to Mysore. Not a good idea. A young guy from Chennai explained the whole process to us while we waited for the train conductor to let us know if there were any available sleeper seats.  I was designated as “the one who should ask because you are a white female, and therefore the train conductor will of course listen to you.”  I managed to get us two seats and was again designated as “the one to bribe him because you are a woman and you won’t have to pay as much.”  The people we sat with explained the entire process and even chided me on trying to “bribe” the conductor in front of the “public” even though I thought I was just paying the remainder to the cost of the tickets, not bribing him. The “bureaucracy” of India.

We made it to Mysore in Karnataka without a hitch.  We ate amazing Mysore Masala Dosas, and visited the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.  I was nervous and excited and a little daunted by the fact that I was actually visiting the place where Pattabhi Jois taught (now his grandson Sharath does the teaching along with his mother).  I dropped off my application with the date May 1 as my starting day, but I’m going to use the next two months to decide if I really want to go.  The program at AYRI is designed only to take two hours of classes in the morning. I think instead I would like to study not only asanas but also meditation, philosophy, Sanskrit, and live the intensive ashram experience.  I’m still debating. Georgia or Heidi if you have any insight let me know.

After Mysore we came by over night train to Varkala in the state of Kerala.  We’ve been chilling out on the beautiful cliffs, enjoying the sun and the super power waves of the beach, while staying at the amazingly friendly MK Gardens.  Salim the host made the entire house the most delicious dinner on the rooftop Saturday night.  We’ve been attempting to make it to some yoga classes, and decide where we want to go next. We’re thinking Kodai Kanal (Thank you Thomas for the recommendation, we’ve been carrying around the list you and Carrie compiled for us).  From there North.

We’ve met some amazing people from all over the world, some that we keep bumping into, and the experience has been fantastic. I love it. India captured my heart in Kolkata. The South has been lush and green and beautiful, but I miss something about the crazy hecticness of the North. I’ve laughed uncontrollably with a rickshaw driver at his attempt to tout us and I’ve almost been brought to tears by the poverty and inhumanity that India forces you to acknowledge exists every day.  I’ve admired breath taking sunsets, and smelt the incredible retch inducing smell of hot sewage.  I’ve eaten French dishes for dinner and Indian savory snacks for breakfast. I’ve drank delicious hot chai on the train, only to discover I must throw the cup out the window to dispose of it. (No trash receptacles, all my counter littering instincts cease up in terror every time.) I’m continually assaulted by the complexities of India and the amazing opportunities for reflection on some of the most  heart wrenching aspects of humanity.  I look forward to each day and what crazy experience it will bring.

Sorry for the novel, I’ll either try to write less or more often from now on.

Lots of love to everyone,

Kenni

ps please write back, I love hearing from everyone!

Kolkata

Monday February 11, 2008 Kolkata, India

Since the last time I wrote, Malachi and I have traveled by an overly airconditioned night train to Chiang Mai, by public bus to Pai, moped around the lush valley of Pai, spent a night and a day with food poisoning, wandered up and down Khao San road one last time, and hopped a plane to Kolkata, India.  It’s been quite the last 2 weeks.

On January 29th-30th we took the night train to Chiang Mai; it was long and cold but very enjoyable. You would think that in a hot country that you could never go wrong with air conditioning, but I froze during the night. The sleeper train was very comfortable and surprisingly clean.  Most of the people in our car were Dutch.  For being a small country, they sure have a lot of people who travel abroad.  Not so many Americans.  I’ve only met a few.  Lots of Canadians and lots of Japanese.  I think it is wonderful how much people of other countries travel.  I wish it were the same for Americans.
About an hour outside Chiang Mai our train had to replace its engine.  We spent an extra 5 hours on an 13 hour trip.  Perfect time for reading books, catching up on journals, and listening to iPods.
Once we made it to Chiang Mai, we found a nice quiet guest house with big spacious rooms with wooden floors for very cheap.  We wandered around Chiang Mai and found the most amazing art gallery.  From the outside it looked as if a garden full of vines and trees had overrun the little shop.  Postcards and small paintings with optimistic sayings drew us inside.  Once inside it felt as though we had entered into the heart of a tree.  Almost like the where the Lost Boys from Peter Pan lived.  We were surrounded by beautiful bright acrylic paintings on simple canvas stacked on every available surface. The artist’s name was Johnny Gallery and he had Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue” playing throughout the catacomb of paintings.  It was a very surreal place.  Uplifting and beautiful words painted on gorgeous back drops done by a Thai man who wears a white t-shirt and white head band painted with his sunsets and words.  The most friendly and unassuming person you can imagine. An artist through and through.  We fell in love with a painting of a sunrise outside of Chiang Mai with the saying “Do not worry if you missed the sunrise this morning, for tomorrow shall make you another” written on the bottom.  What a great thing to wake up to in the morning, especially knowing that neither one of us are very good at waking up early…..
The next day on a whim we decided to take a bus to Pai.  We didn’t have the time to go to Luang Prabang, so instead we decided to head to the eclectic small city of Pai.  We rode a very old, very orange public bus 4 hours up into the mountains.  It started to rain on our way and only enhanced the spectacular green of the hillsides.  We could have been traveling through the North Western US except of course for the palm trees and native Thai speakers.  The forest was dense and oozing fertility.  I’m very grateful that there are still places like this in the world. Places where the air I breathe is manufactured and recycled.  The canopies that are created by vines scaling the mature trees, looked like the perfect home for fairies.  Of course they probably house all sorts of creatures I’ve never seen or heard about before.
Pai is situated in an amazingly green valley full of rice paddies and rivers. It reminded me of home, the valley part, that’s about where the resemblance stops.  We spent the next week exploring the many delicious restaurants, the countryside, and the shops about Pai.  The people of Pai are a mix of very hippy Thais and expats from all over the world.  There are many long term residents who have opened restaurants catering to French, Italian, Greek, coffee connoisseurs, vegetarians, and organic conscious people.  Our favorite was The Sanctuary.  An organic restaurant with fabulous juices and pastries. We rented mopeds for a couple of days and rode around the country side.  I felt like I should be saying “ciao” like Eddie Izzard. On our last night we ran into a Dutch couple from Amsterdam who Malachi went fishing with on Ko Chang.  They were very friendly and we spent a few hours listening to live music and chatting with them.  That was the same night I spent the entirety puking my guts out.  We were suppose to leave Pai on Feb 7th to catch our train back to Bangkok on the 8th.  However, it would have been impossible to ride a bus down the windy hilly road back to Chiang Mai. I really felt for the Spaniard from Ko Chang anytime I thought of getting on a bus that day.  Instead we both felt horrible (food poisoning) and watched movies on Malachi’s iPod.  Thank goodness for technology.
We spent the next day (feeling hundreds of times better) traveling to Chiang Mai and from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.  We spent our last day in Bangkok at a computer super center looking at mini laptops (guess who for…) and at the zoo.  Animals behind cages is always so depressing.  They were the only monkeys we saw in Thailand.  When we picked up our laundry that night, the launderer told Malachi I was a catch and he was very lucky. How am I suppose to leave a country that tells my boyfriend he’s lucky to have me? Thailand has been wonderful. All very beautiful and we only saw so few places.  Three and one half weeks was not nearly enough.  I will come back to the land of horribly smelling dried squid on a stick again.  The people were wonderful and the food delicious.  There is so much more I want to see.  We didn’t make it to the tiger temple.  I didn’t get eaten Mom.  I will see them in India instead. 🙂
Yesterday we flew from Bangkok to Kolkata.  We woke up early to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  We have learned so much in the last few weeks.  The price we paid for the taxi to the airport was 1/3 of what we paid the first time when we left the airport. It is amazing how seasoned you become with regards to haggling.
When we got to the airport, we found our ticket counter.  The one with only 3 counters for about 150 people.  Mostly Indians.  Standing in line I experienced my first taste of the staring to come. I guess the little bit I’ve tanned in Thailand has not given me enough cammoflage.  On the plane Malachi sat next to a man from Jaipur and he was incredibly friendly.  We haven’t been able to really connect with any Thai people, mainly because we don’t speak Thai, but already I feel so much more welcome here in India.  Everyone on the plane was more social and outgoing.  We met a guy from Northern California/Oregon and a girl from Montreal who we split a taxi with from the airport.  They’re incredibly nice and we’ve talked quite a bit.
I can’t believe I’m actually here.  We’ve been planning this for so long that it seems a little surreal to actually be here now.The taxi from the airport couldn’t have been more different from our one in Bangkok.  Here in Kolkata, all of the taxis are yellow or white Ambassador Classics that are dinosaurs of the Raj age.  The infrastructure is nothing like Thailand.  The roads are old and well beyond their expiration dates. People everywhere. Women in beautiful saris and men holding hands (a sign of friendship). The taxi drivers are liberal with their horns.  Malachi described it perfectly: “they drive using echolocation.” The streets are noisy and noxious.  The pollution makes your eyes water and your lungs scream in protest. But there is no animosity. The friendliness is palpable.  I was instantly smitten.  I feel much more welcome here than I did in Thailand.
We experienced our first Indian meal and it was everything I hoped it to be. Delicious. The chai is hot and sweet and spicy and perfect, served in a small clay disposable cup. A much better idea than paper cups.  The dosas are finger-licking good (literally).  The smells of the street vendors are alluring and many. We walked through the park near the Victorian Monument and I couldn’t take my eyes off the women dressed in gorgeous saris relaxing and having picnics in groups with husbands and family. What boring clothing we wear in the West.  Today we went on an adventure to find a music shop where Malachi could price sitars and decide where we want to go from here. Everyone wanted to help us find where we were going and not even asking for money, just genuinely wanting to help. Every time we pulled out a map we attracted an entire crowd of helpful smiling head bobbing Indians. I’ve already fallen in love with this country.  The poverty and filth is also extreme. For every extreme there is an instance of the exact polar opposite. It’s a woven quilt of opposition that encompasses everyone and everything.  Maybe that’s why it feels so welcoming.  India welcomes all aspects of life. The good and the bad, the brutality and the kindness, and manages to make all of it Indian.
We’ll be heading South to Puri in the state of Orissa tomorrow night.  It’s great not having an itinerary.

Love to all of you and I’ll write soon again about the land of color and spice,
Kenni and Malachi

The Frenzy After the Calm

January 28, 2008 Monday 11:35am

I want to be lying on the beach with my pineapple, mango, coconut shake, reading my book and soaking up the liquid sunshine of the beautiful Thai beaches.  Instead we are back in the crazy, hectic, sensory overload of Bangkok.

Let me explain, since my last email, we travelled by bus and ferry to the island of Ko Chang.  We decided on Ko Chang not so much because it was a place that called to us specifically, but because our friends from Quebec said they had a good deal on round trip tickets and we hadn’t decided where to go yet.  Ko Chang sounded as good a place as any.  Maybe a little less popular and a little more rugged than the islands of Ko Samui or Ko Pha Ngan, which sealed the deal.

While on the bus to Ko Chang, I happened to get locked in the bathroom.  The toilet was located in the bottom of our double-decker bus.  The door looked like it was made for a hobbit and there was a latch on the outside to keep the door shut.  When I entered the miniature room, I realized there was no light (aka it wasn’t in working condition) so I had to hold the door open to let in enough light to see.  Inconvenient but not enough to deter me.  While I was attempting to hold the door while the bus swayed from side to side creating the same sort of turbulence as an airplane, the door was suddenly forced closed and I heared the latch click.  I was shocked and it took me a few seconds to register what just happened. I thought Malachi must have been playing a joke so I sat in the dark for a few moments in order to not give him the reaction he was obviously waiting for, such as yelling or banging on the door.  I’m not extremely claustrophobic but who really wants to be locked in a hobbit size toilet on a Thai bus, so I told him it wasn’t funny and to let me out.  There was no answer.  My second thought was maybe it wasn’t Malachi.  So I knocked on the door.  No answer.  By now I was completely perplexed.  Why would someone lock me in the toilet?  I kept knocking. I figured that if no one let me out that eventually someone would need the toilet and I would be released.  But if no one needed the toilet it was only another 5 hours, so I guess a dark, cramped, smelly bus toilet was as good a place as any to meditate or attempt to take a nap……. I knocked a little harder this time and voila, someone opened the door.  I was actually surprised, I had almost come to believe that I would be trapped in there for some time.  It was one of my fellow passengers that I think was Italian. I looked up at her and her expression didn’t seem surprised or concerned, maybe even a little peeved as she said “Oh” and turned around and walked back up the stairs. I wasn’t sure how to react. I think my face pretty much said “Yes you just locked me in the toilet and I have no idea why, so please don’t do it again.”  I finished and went back upstairs and sat down.  Malachi was watching “The Rock” which was playing on the bus television.  Everything seemed completely normal.  I told him I was just locked in the bathroom.  At first he didn’t hear me so I said it again.  He said “What? What do you mean?” I explained and I could tell he was genuinely surprised.  It wasn’t Malachi.

Anyway the beach is much more exciting.  When we approached Ko Chang on the ferry, it looked as if we were entering Jurassic Park or maybe the Congo.  The jungle covered mountains rose up out of the sea and gave the impression that all sorts of large creatures were hidden amongst the trees.  We actually meet some of those giant mammals the next day.  We went for an elephant trek where we were able to wash, feed, and ride the elephants.  I think it’s actually a very clever way for the Thais to fool Westerners into paying to do elephant house keeping chores.  It was actually a ton of fun.  The elephants were majestic as always, maybe a little bored, but to someone who doesn’t ride an elephant everyday, it was fun.  I would have liked there to be a little bit more information regarding how the elephants are being saved and protected and how our money was helping that effort, but maybe that is a little too Western of me.  It was enjoyable just being a tourist.

Malachi and I ended up staying at the Treehouse II in Long Beach on Ko Chang for the majority of our beach bumming.  We met Ted the South African, Tania the German living in China, and Boris the Slovakian on the taxi trip to the beach and who were to become our dinner companions.  Taxi I think is much to formal. It was actually a truck with two benches in the bed with a canopy roof over the top.  Not the most comfortable considering the hilliness of the drive.  I sat next to a Spaniard who threw up the majority of the trip and I rubbed his back while he was retching.  The poor guy was miserable. The least I could do, or even think of was to offer him a little comfort.  Thank you Mom for the times you rubbed my back when I was sick.  I think it helped him a little.

Once we got to Long Beach, we dropped our bags in our lovely beach side bungalow made from thatch, and headed to the beach. We went to the restaurant to have dinner that night and as I surveyed the rest of the patrons, I recognized a face and it took me a moment to register who it was.  The woman who locked me in the toilet on the bus 3 days before was there.  A little surreal I guess, but we never ended up running into each other and there was no locks on the outside of the bathrooms so all was well.

We spent the next few days swimming, snorkeling, eating, doing yoga, and reading in or around the water.  At night we had dinner with our new friends sharing stories and eating fish that Boris the Slovakian had caught each day.  Speaking of fish and Boris, one night we decided to go to a little shack down the beach and have seafood.  We picked out our Red Snapper BBQ fish; there is something erie about meeting your food face to face before you eat it.  Then only to open up the tin foil and stare straight into the eye of your chosen sacrifice.  Almost enough to make you become vegetarian.  But if that doesn’t do it, watching Boris eat the eyeballs, lips, cheeks, throat and other various apparent “delicacies that are the best part of the fish” would do it for you.  Suffice it to say the fish was delicious, but I’m moving towards the digestive tract of an herbivore.

We had a blast at the beach and enjoyed every minute of it, but (and this is where I insert my utter detestment of cigarettes) there were smokers everywhere. When I dreamt of spending days at the beach I would never have guessed that the refreshing and sweet air of the ocean would be tainted with cigarette smoke no matter where we went.  I can’t believe how much Westerners smoke.  It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand how you can enjoy the beauty of the sand and the ocean while dragging on a cigarette non stop. Grrr, enough of my rant, but it really was unbearable at times.

Malachi is a little burned (I wore tons of sunscreen) and my sandals are full of sand, but we loved it.  We had a very hard time leaving yesterday, but we are off to new adventures in the North.  I think we’ll be going up to Chiang Mai tomorrow with maybe a stop at Kanchanaburi for the tiger temple. I promise to not be eaten, then on to Lao and back to Bangkok.  We fly to Calcutta, India (it was cheaper to buy tickets to Calcutta than Chennai, only $187 one way!) on Feb 10.  We’ll keep everyone updated. Oh and Malachi put new pictures up with people actually in them.

Thank you everyone who keep writing, I would like to write to everyone individually but I won’t always have the time.

Mom, is it a business week or full 7 day week?? 🙂

Oh and happy late B-Day Joanna, I’m glad you had a fabulous time in Mexico

Grandparents: I’m sorry I cannot write everyday but I am doing fantastic and I will write as often as I can.

And an interesting note for other Psenaks, Boris said Psenak is definitely Czech….or maybe Slovakian I can’t remember which.

Talk to you soon!

Love to you all,

Kenni and (Malachi even though he’s writing his own email too)

Bangkok II

Hello from the heat.

I’ve never really appreciated, or even understood air conditioning until today.  It’s about 95 degrees and beautiful, but crazy hot. The Internet cafe has air conditioning thankfully.  It’s a long way from Alaska.

Anyway, thank you everyone who wrote back.  It’s so cool to be such a long distance away and still be able to communicate with all of you.  Yesterday we saw the real Bangkok: from the back of a tuk-tuk.  Imagine a motorcycle motor with a bench behind the seat and a roof.  Three wheels and a lot of guts.  I can’t believe what a Thai driving test would be like.  The streets of Bangkok are jammed packed and relatively quiet.  Malachi and I sat on the edge of a round-about last night and just watched everyone, as we commented on how Bangkok traffic is ordered chaos.  There is never an accident, but I can’t believe what kind of attention you have to have to follow the traffic patterns.  There doesn’t seem to be as many lights as there should be, and drivers take liberties whenever they are available.  Today I was in a store and a motorcycle came down the aisle as if he had utter confidence that he should be driving through.  Bizarre and amusing all at the same time.  I’m completely charmed by the city. I love the hustle and bustle and the friendliness.  I don’t feel unsafe at all, the only thing I have to watch is being too kind and paying way too much for something that I didn’t really want in the first place.  I have gotten the hang of haggling, it is easier to do with men than women.  Women are more intimidating.  Probably because they are the ones who shop in the market places themselves.  It’s hard to bargain with someone that is good at reducing prices themselves.

Back to the tuk-tuk; when we were wandering through the wat at the end of Khao San Road with Nick the Canadian we met the night before, a couple of guys gave us a lot of travel advice and warnings, and an itinerary of wats to visit.  Probably a standard route, and we probably were ripped off a bit, but it was nice playing tourist and a few cents isn’t all that much in the greater scheme of things.  All three of us piled into the tuk-tuk and stopped at the beautiful gold standing Buddha (which is immense), the Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple), the Lucky Buddha, and a very posh tailor shop.   The tailor shop was recommended by a tourist agent at the Lucky Buddha and it was very professional.  Not even close to being in the same category as the tailor shops on Khao San, more like something you would find in Italy with rooms and rooms of silks and very professional staff.  Considering the fact I will probably get skirts a plenty in India,  I decided to get a dress and Malachi is contemplating a shirt. Not quite the budget of a backpacker but I think the experience is worth the rate.

After the tuk-tuk we wandered around and happened to stumble upon a British couple who were coming out of a beauty salon where the woman just had a facial.  She was raving about her skin and how soft it was.  They said it wasn’t a tourist place, it was where Thais themselves went.  Her skin was absolutely beautiful, so we stopped in and I did a facial while Malachi had a foot massage, and the only other customers where Thai.  I fell asleep half way through listening to a Thai soap opera on tv.  It was the best facial I’ve ever had. I wish I could have seen what she did and what she used.  When I got up Malachi was passed out in the chair where he had his foot massage.  It took awhile to wake him up and the masseuse thought it was hilarious.  She didn’t speak any English but  He was completely out of it but obviously enjoyed his foot massage. We decided to call it a night and headed back to our room.  A very calm night to a jammed packed day.

Today has been more wandering.  We’ve decided we need to get out of here asap, so we should be heading down to Ko Samui maybe Sunday.  Beaches, beaches, beaches.  I can’t wait. We’ll probably be there for close to a week and then perhaps head up to Chaing Mai  and fly out of Bangkok.  Nothing is official yet.  We’re playing it by ear.

Love to all of you,

Kenni

PS. We tried fried worms yesterday! They tasted salty but you would never guess it was a worm. Something more along the lines of a hallow chip. Oh and Melea we’ll try to find the Happy House. And we did find the banana roti vendor, if we weren’t so tired last night when we did, Malachi would have been all over that.

Bangkok

January 17, 2008 Thursday 11:24 am

Malachi and I have made it to the metropolis of neon lights and tuk-tuks, also known as Bangkok.  We spent 21 hours getting here from Cali and when we finally arrived we lost a day and threw our internal clocks off.  We flew in at midnight on separate flights from Tokyo and amazingly enough we found each other in customs right away.  The crowd of people yelling out taxi rates in front of the airport was a sensory shock.  All of the cabs are bright neon colors and about the size of a small sedan.  Pink cabs and green cabs pelt by on the amazingly pristine paved roads.  We split a taxi with a young guy from Vancouver, Canada and an older couple from Quebec.  It cost us about $4.50 each to drive the 45 mins to Khao San Road.  That gives you a bit of a gage on the price of things.  Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.  We wandered around Khao San Road for about 45 mins until we found a nice budget guest house tucked out of the hustle and bustle.  It was clean and quiet, perfect by our standards even if the toilets reeked of backed up sewage.

Khao San Road is known as the backpackers’ haunt of Bangkok.  You see more white faces here then any other part of the city.  Even at 1:30am, the road seems like a permanent carnival.  Lots of bars and late night snack food. Balloons being sold to drunk couples stumbling out of bars, and young women sitting on the sidewalk amidst rubbish cooing babies to sleep.  Dogs lay in the middle of the street and cats roam free, unconcerned about the people or auto traffic.  It’s all rather surreal.  We haven’t seen the real Bangkok yet, but we have plenty of time.  I’ll post pics tomorrow.  There is an Internet cafe downstairs from our room.  Right now it’s time to go eat. I had fresh pineapple this morning from a street vendor and it was delicious. ( clean street vendor, for those of you who’s first thought was nasty bacteria…. you know who you are).  There are beautiful things everywhere, hopefully we’ll have room in our bags for everything. If not, Mom and Dad you’ll be receiving packages.It’s hot and sunny, last time I checked it was 85 degrees and humid. I think it’s comfortable, wonderfully warm.  Malachi is dying already and our first shopping stop is for a pair of shorts.

PS.

Mom and Dad: we are safe and healthy, we’ll keep you posted on where we are heading. For now we’ll be in Bangkok for a few days.

Love to you all,

Kenni and Malachi

The Rolling Stone Starts to Pick up Speed

The one way ticket has been purchased. The 10 year Indian visa still rests safely in the pages of my passport, and the rush begins to get all of my ducks in a row.

At the top of the list is finalizing research proposals. Although I will be physically out of the country, I will still be enrolled in school for the Spring semester. I am using the richness of this trip to influence my academic research. Both visually and written. Not only will I be documenting my trip through the written language, I will also be toting along a video camera. I am hoping to produce some sort of video diary/ documentary compilation of my adventures and misadventures. I know there will be at least a few.

The list that must be whittled away at before December 28th is long, but the butterflies in my stomach are starting to flutter in their familiar harbinger of the Unknown to come.

Excitement. Lots and lots of excitement.