Monday, August 26, 2013

Pad Thai in Thailand... OK!

In a complete attempt not to bore you I decided that it might be better to write a kind of long post, sorry, about my trip to Thailand instead of just posting my itinerary, as I originally was going to do out of pure laziness.
One of my best friends from the states that I have known since high school has been living the exciting life of traveling around Southeast Asia and I had the opportunity to join her, her boyfriend and his friend for a mini vacation/break from Senegal. I have not seen her in entirely too long, she had moved to South America after college, so of course I jumped on the chance to not only catch up with her while were both capable of being in the same place at the same time but also to explore the beautiful, and exhilarating, country of Thailand. 
My first impressions of Thailand were great, everyone was very welcoming and it was great to be in a civilized country again, as politically incorrect as that may sound. We spent the first three days of my part of the trip in the capitol city of Bangkok where we ate street food, visited some of the most famous and beautiful
Shopping street near hotel
Temples around and did some shopping in the infamous street of Khao San Road where you could do, find and eat just about anything. Of course the first meal that I ate in Thailand, dinner with Kari in a little café just outside of our hotel was Mexican food. I figured that I needed to not only get in as much Thai food as possible but this was my chance to get all those other ethic foods that I crave while in Senegal including Mexican, Indian and Italian.
After our time in Bangkok we all decided that we wanted to get out of the city and head up north to the mountains of Chiang Mai. We took the night train from Bangkok, which arrived in Chiang Mai only two hours late which the delay I was accustomed to at this point and was honestly a better form of any sort of transportation in Senegal. We were aware that monsoon season was welcoming us and, being in the mountains the rains were particularly worse than any other part of the country during our trip. With that being said it was hard to just walk around town and get lost since we relied on public transportation to get to specific sites; though there was one day where we put on our ponchos and walked to the Women’s Correctional Facility to set up appointments for massages and got to see a few more sites along the way. And yes, I did say massages at a correctional facility; the women
The rice fields we passed on our way north
to Chiang Mai
are trained so that they have a skill once they are out of the institution. They were more than friendly, very professional and gave great Thai massages which I found out are not meant to be relaxing but was more of an hour of stretching, twisting and kneading our bodies. One of our day trips was quite memorable and that was to the
Elephant Nature Park just north though still in Chiang Mai. We had a van pick us up at our guest house which not only brought us to the park but showed a video that was from some travel channel describing the problems that elephants in Thailand face today (forced begging, physical and emotional abuse and demanding physical labor). For a country that truly respects and worships elephants they are horribly mistreated, solely as a source of income, and Sangduen ‘Lek’ Chailert has created a sanctuary for the gentle giants that she is able to buy or rescue within Thailand; along with the elephants in the park there are hundreds of dogs that are also abandoned or rescued. We spent the day feeding, bathing, more feeding and watching the elephants in a
more natural habitat. You could tell they were all happy and treated well. It was a great experience and would recommend anyone either visit the park or support them financially with a donation if feasible.
After the mountains we were ready for some fun in the sun and headed down south. We could not find a direct mode of transportation, within our budget, so we took the overnight bus from Chiang Mia to Bangkok and from there the bus to Phuket Island. Phuket was a great little island and since it is not Thailand’s high season for tourists it was more tranquil than a raging party, which was really nice. We were only in Phuket for three days or so but we managed to devote this time to the beach. The beach near our hotel was nice but the second day in Phuket we went to Kata Beach, which was so beautiful. We spent the day laying out, and by that I mean on a beach chair under an umbrella since we are past our days of tanning and ruining our skin, swimming in the water with the tubes that we bought and drinking Maté, which is an Argentinean tea that Pablo and Vera were obsessed with. It was a
great day at the beach but I was getting restless and needed some excitement, I can only lay on the beach for so long. We met one of Kari’s friends from her time teaching with Berlitz in South America for a beer, she now lives in Phuket, and she recommended Krabi. We were off.
Krabi was beautiful. It was not like any other part of the world that I had ever been to with the hundreds of cliff style islands off the coast. You can’t help but be taken away by the landscape, and I quickly realized, the culture of Thailand and Krabi specifically. We were technically in a town maybe ten mintutes south called Ao Nang and it was the perfect spot to settle down in for about four days. Our hotel was much nicer than anything we had been staying at, we somehow got a deal online, and was nestled next to the mountains with a less than five minute drive down to the beach, which the hotel offered a free shuttle to every hour. We had Indian food for Pablo’s birthday the first night followed somehow by tequila shots at a bar called The Crazy Gringo. It was a fun night out with everyone but I had a great trip planned for the next day all for myself and could not wait to get to bed and awake to my adventure.
I rented a motorbike to tour around on for 200Baht for 24 hours, around $6.50. Kari would not get on the bike for the fear of her life, I understand that, but I had to get out and see some sights without relying on public transportation and figured as long as I wore a helmet and drove aware of my surroundings nothing too bad could happen, well nothing that could not already happen traveling as much as I do or living in Senegal; you forget, until you don’t have a car anymore, how liberating it can be. I started the morning talking to an absolutely useless woman at the community travel center to help tourists and after getting absolutely nowhere with her I decided to grab a map, hope for signs and get lost. I had all day and only a couple of things that I absolutely wanted to do so I figured I had plenty of time. Fairly easily I found what is known as Tiger Cave, which is a hike comparable to
Me at the beginning of my road trip,
Kari snagged a photo from the bus
Stairway To Heaven in Hawaii but not as long or scary; stairs heading up the side of a mountain leading to a temple at the top with breathtaking views of the region where apparently tigers used to occupy. I assumed that I was just in horrible shape considering how tired I was once I reached the top but heading back down there was more traffic than when I started and I quickly noticed it was everyone who was getting their butts kicked on the way up, which I felt a little better about. Since I had a swimsuit on and brought a towel I took the opportunity to dry my cloths over the railing while I rested drinking Gatorade (THAILAND HAS GATORADE! WHAT?) now that I think back on this situation, it was very Senegalese of me but I was the only one up there so I feel a little less guilty. After properly dressed I headed to the temple where there was a 360
˚ view of the mountains, the coast and the city. There was a very loud buzzing noise that was heard from the top and after asking some Japanese tourists, and them translating it on their phone, it was coming from an insect called a cicada. While I had never heard of them I found their sound very peaceful but persistent at the same time. After the hike I was back on the bike to try and find the Shell Cemetary where slabs of mollusk fossils are found along the coast. Along the way I ran into a Fisheries Research and Development Center where tanks and ponds used to house and test marine species could be found. I specifically fell in love with a stingray that loved attention and was not afraid of people. The shell cemetery was great because it was home to fossil slabs that are over 75 million years old and were remains of snail shells that piled up on top of each other and cemented together by silicic matter. It was cool to see a little part of history. I stopped at a local market the way home to buy some snacks and since it as almost dark I decided to eat my lychee and mystery tea drink that was recommended by a vendor on Krabi beach while watching the sunset. The perfect day. The next morning I had a couple hours left with my motorbike so I could not think of any better thing than getting expensive, but worth it, McDonalds breakfast to eat on the beach before the tourists started to come out for the day. I still had some gas left so I drove up and down the coast for a couple hours until I had to return the bike at 10am. At one point I remember seeing a sign saying that Krabi was in 22 kilometers and I remember not feeling quite as calm or relaxed as I was in that moment than I have had in a long time, especially not since moving to Senegal which can be a very anxious place.
The next day we took a Hong Island day trip which actually consisted of multiple islands off the coast of Ao Nang which had proved to be even more beautiful than any other coastal parts of Thailand that we had been to thus far. Islands with steep cliffs, turquoise coves and blue waters were the sights of the day and with a local
On the boat during the islands tour
packed lunch on one of the islands we could not have asked for more beautiful surroundings for the day, though beautiful does not even begin subscribe it.
My last night Kari accompanied me to a sort of last minute tattoo expedition where I got a, planned just unknown as to where I wanted it, Black Capped Chickadee tattoo just under my collar bone in memory of my grandfather who had died while I was in Senegal. I got the tattoo using the traditional Thai bamboo method, which consisted of a needle tied and waxed onto a bamboo stick and then speared into my chest. Sounds more painful than it was and it is beautiful. The best part about it is that it catches the corner of my eye and reminds me of my grandfather and back home in general.
The crew headed to another part of Thailand while I took a van back to Bangkok to catch my flight back to Senegal; well to Ethiopia where my flight was delayed 12 hours and we got put up in a hotel with breakfast, lunch and dinner and then off to Senegal, but that was fine with me.
Thailand will have a special place in my heart and it is a country, and a part of a wonderful mysterious region of the world that I will be back to visit and explore. I have always had an attraction to Asia and I don’t know if it was because there is such an influence in Hawaii, my love for many Asian dishes or just the mere fact that I had never been but it was a great experience and I can’t wait to return. Thanks Kari for a great trip, take care and see you soon!

Until next time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My New Pet Chicken

It seems like just yesterday that I was on a flight from Minneapolis to Honolulu writing a blog entry on my computer as I listened to a mix of airline provided music and the hustle and bustle of surrounding passengers. I was on my way to visit friends and family before heading off to Senegal to serve as a volunteer in the Peace Corps.  This year has proved to be quite different than what I had been expecting, though honestly I had no idea what I signed myself up for. I am left now, freezing on a plane with Ethiopian Airlines, flying to Bangkok, Thailand to take a break from my underdeveloped life, scratch this itch to travel, and catch up with, an oldie but goodie, friend.
The last few weeks at site had been sort of crazy as I prepared for vacation. Days were filled with tying up loose ends of projects to be as independent as possible
Nene (my mother) and I doing laundry before my
big trip to Thailand!!!
while I am gone and my nights entailed things such as either helping house stranded volunteers who could not make it back to site because of the seemingly never ending rain that the rainy season has brought or watching and attempting to name constellations and planets on the roof of Rachel and Kim’s (my new site mates- we have four Americans roaming around Velingara these days!) house concluding that we don’t know nearly enough about our solar system and reverted to an iPhone app to pinpoint stars of interest.
My last day at site before my trip to Dakar was spent in the usual pre-trip manner of cleaning, laundry and dishes and those not so usual, debating about the difference between China and Japan with my host brother and a visit to a village where my business training session was being duplicated. Speaking of that, my thank you present for holding the training was a chicken, alive and well which is how I plan on keeping him though my family looks at him as their next meal. I asked the village what his name was and they said Gertogal, which means chicken in Pulaar and when
Gorko and I on our bike ride home 
I explained that I knew how to say chicken in local language and wanted to know what they call him they told me Gorko, which means man. Wasn’t quite sure how to respond to his name but I went with it and biked home the 3k to my house with his legs tied together to my handlebars. My mother and grandmother, who is in her 90’s I would like to remind you, were speechless when they saw me ride up to the house, muddy of course because it is rainy season, with a chicken tied to my bike. They just laughed while I told my grandmother “si o falla namude okarah makko mbotugol” (if he is hungry give him lunch (I could’t think of the general term for food and lunch got my point across) and “si a lappi makko, mi lappi ma” (if you hit him, I will hit you). She used her hand to cover her mouth in her usual way while laughing and my mom continued on preparing the break fast meal of coffee and bread.
I told myself that I would finish the grant for my chicken feed project before I left for Thailand but with predictably unpredictable events things got a little delayed and I am left trying to email grant questions to my counterpart, Cissé, in hopes that he can make it to an internet café to check his email and respond. A prime example of things not going as expected and causing delay in the project timeline came this last week when my counterpart traveled from Tambacounda to my town of Velingara (about two hours by public transportation not counting waiting times to fill up a car) to see some machinery that will grind and mix ingredients into feed. Cissé called the owner of the machine the night prior in hopes to have the trip go as smoothly as possible, which just proved that no matter what you do you can never truly be prepared. We met the man in town and went out to the abandoned house where the machinery rests to find out that the man did not have the key and in fact it was locked inside the building. There were two problems that I had with these statements, one being how is a key locked inside of a building where you would need the key to lock in the first place and two, why didn’t you mention this minor detail last night when Cissé called you? Not only did he waste my time but he also wasted Cissé’s time and money, paying for a trip out of his own pocket only to look at one of the two machines from 15 feet away through a metal fence. Now at this point I have been in Africa long enough that even though I find myself frustrated or feeling awkward in certain situations it is in fact because I am American and nine out of ten times the Africans that I am usually in the situation with don’t even seemed concerned or phased (I say Africans instead of Senegalese because these characteristics stretch further than the borders of Senegal). This being said I was just approached the situation as ‘oh you don’t have a key, ok, we will come back later’ thinking that is what Cissé was thinking when in fact he is a little more western that I had originally given him credit for. As we walked away from the situation Cissé literally said to me “ugh, Africans”, though being an African himself, while later explaining to the guy that he had called him prior for a reason and next time he comes he wants the key in his hand when he confirms a date. Peace Corps volunteers love those characteristics in a counterpart. We are used to working and interacting with people on a professional level in a certain way in The United States, which is very different than how most things are done here in Africa. If we land upon a counterpart that respects meeting times and does their fare share of project tasks we are beaming and, if they do most of the project work like Cissé has been doing, we are enthusiastic and that much more excited about the project. Hopefully the airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has Wi-Fi so I can hold up my end of the bargain to get the grant sent out as soon as possible. And I say hopefully they have internet because, as a small side story, last night while staying at Trevon’s house I told him that I was going to try and get some work done before my flight on the internet because I assumed the airport had internet and he started laughing so hard saying that he would be surprised if the airport had internet at all and that I forgot where we live. He had a very valid point but since a handful of people in the security line felt like cutting because their business was apparently more important than anyone else’s it took forever to get to the “gate” and I didn’t have much spare time. An interesting observation on that is that the most unsurprising part of that situation was nobody seemed annoyed at the fact that people were cutting in line! I know I sound like I am five but cutting in line! Seriously? Are we in middle school? Between that and the fact that there is no sense of personal space I was more than happy to get on the plane with my seat and its predetermined area of space with my book and headphones.
This leaves me to where I am now; on a 23-hour adventure to Bangkok, to a completely different world from where I live, where I am from and the area in between where I find myself now, surrounded by people who either really don’t get international airline/airport etiquette or have never been on the plane before and it is just about anyone’s guess as to which one, but life is good.

A French Connection Copyright © 2011 -- Template created by O Pregador -- Powered by Blogger