She’ll have been here the better part of two weeks by the time she leaves. Coming in after work she goes on about the weak-shit guys that drool after her, talking about the hurricane that has been her last couple of years. We settle in like we did in high school. She boots up Netflix and I’m locked in for the next four hours on video games. She’s going off about her day in that aggressive, high volume, rapid speech way she speaks. It wouldn’t matter if she’s blowing off steam about her trifling friends or about how tired she is. It all comes out of her with that signature velocity.

Honestly, I’m checked out of the conversation. I mean, barely capable of a courtesy response. She’s going off anyway. There are stories she’s trying to bait reactions, gravitating closer to my ears and upping the volume.  I’m trying to get the dialogue out of the wizard that will tell me how to get some badass war hammer I need.

I will myself to pause the game long enough to grab a real bit of conversation. She bitches in circles, like I do, so I’ve heard it all before with a few new developments. She knows I’m barely hanging on but keeps on going anyway. After awhile she’s just absent-mindedly letting it flow while she mass snaps everyone her latest bodily addition. Laughing at their reactions to her impulse.

This is how it has been for four different leases now. Making new best friends every three months and complicating those group dynamics by fooling around with them all. She makes whole new groups of best friends faster than I can keep up. I’ve got enough memory for one name with no face and an associated event per clique.

She does her thing like this. Recklessly laughing and bitching at all the silly attempts by her would suitors she’s not thinking twice about.

She passes out with her headphones plugged in and the TV going. This isn’t a midday nap, it’s lights out for baby sister until the sun has long slipped under the mountains. I’ve hit my limit on bashing bandit skulls. I’ve got to go and walk life back into my legs. There is a slight murmur and roll over as I move past her. Her phone never stops going off while she snores.

I think about how noisy I’d have my house if she weren’t here right now. I’m done for the day and I could use some dramatic sci-fi shit like Sunshine exploding through my house or some loud-ass music to fill the spots where my thoughts and to-dos should be developing. (I’ll barely remember to put my girlfriend’s lemonade away like she asked.) Yet, I don’t way to disturb the quiet. My sister is still for what feels like the first few hours in months of partying, fooling, dancing, working, drinking.

While now asleep, I’m ready to hear about the shit going on in her life. Get riled up with her. Yell about the injustices in work life, the inconsistencies in friendship. I’m thinking I should have been a more willing participant in her one way conversation earlier. The same thought and process as the day before as she came barging in with her whirlwind of stories.

So I’m in the kitchen now reading and eating a sandwich with suspect bread. Her phone has slowed but not stopped. The sun is down and her friends are stirring.

I’m happy I can afford her a lapse, a break to slow and sleep in her continued efforts to whip her life along, careening up on walls and over rocks. Smashing through trees and boys. Her full speed life. In the midst of all that she has these few hours to be still and recover right before that one text lights up the room and finally wakes her up. Then she’s off getting ready and groaning about going out and which of her friends are acting like bitches. How she doesn’t want to go, as she grabs her dress and make up and speeds out the door.

“Are you coming back tonight?”

“I don’t know. I might come back early when I get irritated with my friends or I’ll get drunk and pass out at their house.”

And then I’m looking forward to tomorrow when her hurricane comes smashing down my door with the details of tonight. Only to realize it’ll be the last one before her storm moves westward to crash into our mom and brother.

 

 

We drove the length of the island, the four of us, in a handful of hours. The landscape moved from cityscape to jungle to farmland to beach, in just the duration of a couple of good conversations. There weren’t any signs, a map or Siri telling us how to get to where we wanted to be. Instead, we made a steady spiral toward our goal, sticking our heads out the window to ask whoever might be within asking distance. We pulled up to the unmarked beach, looking like it was set to receive hordes of tourists that never came. Out of a row of barebones shacks came a couple of amicable, older Dominicans with a cooler. It contained the fish that they had caught not a few hours earlier. There were bigger than my hand in all dimensions and colored the most vibrant hues of geeen, yellow, red and blue. For a miniscule amount of money the family would cook us up a fish each of our choosing, along with some cold drinks. We passed the time running into the ocean and jumping off sandbars into a meeting of fresh river water and the salty sea.

The meal was simple as are most meals I’ve come across while travelling. Two pieces of tomato and one of lettuce made a salad, a helping of rice and beans and the gloriously cooked fish. To this day, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had and the best fish I’ve ever eaten. No sauce, no spices. just the flavors of the foods ands some salt. We spent an hour or so talking and digesting. Then, moved down the island coastline checking out several uninhabited beaches, each one more incomparably beautiful than the last.

The water was warm, pristine and calm. One of the beaches was so tame that schools of fish swam around and through us. Sometimes nibbling our legs and feet, other times leaping out of the water.

The last beach we went to, the shore ran to the horizon on end and the other stopped at a rock outcropping that poked its way into the sea. In that outcrop there was a particularly large rock jutting out. With no one to tell us no, three of us swam out to jump off of it. As we pushed deeper and deeper toward the rock, the gradient of the blue of the sea darkened. Light blue, blue, dark blue, darker blue, darkest. The old fear of the deep end of the pool came rushing back to me the further out we got, as images of what lay below me clouded my thoughts. Sharks, squids, the kraken. The water was so dark you could reason it was black.

We got close to the rock and just a few feet under the surface of the water was a sort of rock flooring. Happy for the chance to stand and rest my arms I put my feet down. First thing my feet touch are the spines of a sea anemone. Tons of them are nestled all over the rocks. Looking more like a mine field than a sanctuary I decided to forego navigating the sea anemone with my feet and just keep swimming. We get to a point where the rock sloped upward out of the sea and into the sky. Unfortunately, father time and the tide has not looked favorably on this batch of rocks as they were chipped and battered into a series of razors that made climbing it near impossible without cutting into bare feet worse than a sea anemone could. We were about 20 minutes out from our spot along the shore and nothing to rest on save these barbed rocks. I stopped and floated above the colonies of anemones. The barbs were matte black and the orb they protected was a velvet red. Any nook worth resting in had one of these guys poking out. On either side I was walled in by sheer rock faces. Just the path behind me and the one in front that wound its way around these gigantic rocks. Occasionally, the flooring below me would fall away to nothing but the depths of the sea. Nothing fogged up the view down, no shapes looming below just infinite blue. I took my time swimming around this path laid out by water.

Rather fatigued, eventually, we swam back to shore against the current away from all of the sharp objects we had just come across. We would successfully jump off all variety of jumpable cliffs we could handle, including a rope swing off a 30-40 foot cliff into sinkhole and into pools etched out by waterfalls.

Even though we did not make it to the top, the journey to the cliff and many parts of that trip were liberating due to the thrill of saying yes and the rush of adrenaline and panic as you think of all that could go wrong then jump anyway and see yourself alive and fine afterward.

In my travels I’ve found that hesitation will lose you once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. By saying no, I would not have actually felt the spine of wild sea anemones, never experienced the relentless downpour of the amazon rains are capable of, nor would I have met the countless exciting and interesting people on the road, in hostels, bars or river trips. Never tasted the indescribably delightful tastes of the handfuls of fruits that look poisonous, rotten and/or alien.

Sometimes you forget your swimsuit in your last hostel half a country away. Sometimes a mysterious, red fungus grows on the top of your foot. But I’d never trade them if it means I get to ride an elephant in a Thai jungle, camp in the Amazon, lay on pure Dominican beaches, travel like a Brazilian and live like a Spaniard.

Lost my journal for the two days we spent in Pai, a wonderful jungle/mountain/hippie town. Very small. Every bar and restaurant in this two-street town had signs asking “Are you Ting Tong?” which is the Thai/Pai word for hippie. Our hostel, Darling View House, had the most picture-perfect shot of the whole town below it. Being low season, we had the entire top of this treehouse hostel to ourselves, which included a large, 360 degree patio. Complete with hammocks, reclined chairs and didgeridoos. The owner? Total Ting Tong. Her smile was so natural and permanent that it stretched past her mouth and eyes into the least stress-induced crows feet I’ve ever seen. Her natural brown hair was wash with streak of grey and white and she owned it. Jenn caught her in a foot pool, full-body swaying to an acoustic cover of that one everlast song. She was unceasing in her graciousness, one time being woken up by a group of us rather drunk tourists, including a young, British doctor, John and Yvonne, a boisterous Dutch girl, all of us yelling, sharing stories and ordering more beers while our host, forget her name, insisted that it was all ok as she shuffled about in her nightgown and her eyes sealed shut in sleep.

The town is packed with bars, restaurants and bamboo tattoo shops. I tried so hard to get a bamboo tattoo of a narwhal but no one would do it for thirty bucks… It was a brief stay but it included one of the definite highlights of this whole trip: a two hour elephant ride in and out of the jungle and into a rushing river. The elephant, which we named Werner, and his driver had a much better relationship than the ones of my last elephant experience. They had their disagreements, sure, but there appeared to be a general understanding and respect. They played well off of each other.

Let me tell you now that riding an elephant bareback sounds romantic but they are big, wide and big creatures. I have short, squatty and, most importantly, inflexible legs. The four of us (our driver, who we decided was worthy of the name, ‘Mogley,’ Aria, Jenn and myself) were positioned along Werner’s spine starting at the neck and filed behind where I brought up the rear which on the elephant seating chart means, give or take a vertebrae, right at the apex of Werner’s height and width. An hour never seemed so long and Werner couldn’t have moved any slower.  A combination of doing my best to enjoy the wonderful scenery all around me while finding any way to save my taint and groping Aria to avoid falling off the back of Werner became Thailand’s most uncomfortable workout. Toward the end I was finding all sorts of creative ways to stay on the elephant and find any semblance of comfort. This included a backbend/bridge move, a squat, a heavy 45 degree lean in either direction and even just saying, ‘fuck it all’ and standing up. You could say Werner and I built up a little rapport of our own by the end.

Amidst all the pain and sweat, we reached a brown, river with a strong current. The elephant moseyed his way into the middle and that is when the duo of Mogley and Werner really shined. Suddenly, a slew of commands came from a stoic Mogley, standing on the rump of his companion, who, slowly and steadily, laid in the water. This new movement caught us unawares and we moved to grip the rope, the elephant and each other tighter. Then the elephant rolled to his side and we slid and clawed our way to his dry half. There was one moment of clarity in the middle of the panic of an impending death by elephant squish, where Aria and I locked eyes as I was slipping to my doom. Aria asked if I was all right and I reply with a simple ‘nope’  and through this millisecond of eye contact I communicated all my last wishes, regrets and joys of my short life and as I lost the last of my grip of elephant skin, Aria grabs my arm last second. Just like in the movies. My hero hoists me to safety.

Apparently, this whole time Jenn, who is comfortably seated on Werner’s neck, didn’t realize the severity and certainty of death caused by the elephant’s movements. She finally looks back at her struggling companions and helps us up. Finally, we are safe and resituated on the back of the elephant. Not two seconds later, Mogley barks out again. Werner shakes. Shakes and shakes. And for as long and as valiantly we struggled to stay on the elephant, he flings us off just  as quick. We hit the water and the begins to carry us away. Then we realize that we can stand and we see Mogley and the elephant are staring at us.

The next half hour is filled with us laughing, screaming and climbing the elephant’s head and trying to stay on while he throws us back off. It took very little to make this happen. He also sprayed us with river water from his trunk and did a few other tricks. It was hard to leave the river, all the wear and tear from the ride is forgotten. We got back to the camp and fed Werner some bananas. Mogley opened a Chang beer, sat and watched TV like the most miraculous life event did not just happen five minutes ago.

I will say my ass and legs were sore for three days after. So if I can make a recommendation, keep the walk to an hour or better yet, skip the walk completely and spring for washing and feeding and playing with the elephants in water instead.

muay thai fighting. obviously a thai phenomenon, they are held every night here in chiang mai and all over the country. last night’s fight was slated as the greatest fight of the summer, featuring seven fights, one of which included an international fighter and another was a blind fight (what does that mean? our best guess was pirates with eyepatches. first one to poke their opponents remaining wins the prize). we get there around nine, beers in hand and it turns out to be this little enclave of tightly packed bars. bars with a very similar feel as the ones from pattaya. sure enough tight-dressed lady(boys) in were parked around pool tables and entryways in hordes. eyeing every male walking by.

we get escorted to this vast opening that is walled off by a huge tarp that read, ‘BIG FIGHT TO NIGHT (sic)’ we hand over our VIP tickets and the tarp is parted and we slide past. we are walked by our host to a three-seater bench with royally decorated pillows and a coffee table. she seats us and two gracious beer girls greet us immediately. jenn spots a hookah and since aria has been nothing shy of jonsin’ for some hookah action he jumps up and gets to ordering. we were told we wouldn’t find it in chaing mai but find it we did. another round of beers, ringside seats and now hookah. we were ready. then another waitress comes by and says we can’t have the hookah front row because it’ll irritate the people around us and the fighters. we tried finangling because we we wanted to be where we were but we wanted that hookah. aria did his absolute best and it got the waitress relatively heated. this, i think, is the moment she fell in love with him. we struck an arrangement where we wouldn’t lose our seats so we could hop back up there whenever we felt like and had the hookah set up not too much further back next to a big leather couch.

this place is gaudily lit. there is some sort of screeching, traditional music blaring that can best be described by a quote from it’s always sunny on vietnamese music, “it sounds like whales raping each other.” there is hardly anything that conjures the words ‘official’, ‘clean’ or even ‘legal’. we are having a great time settling in. the waitress that aria bartered with was fully enamored at this point and was constantly checking up on us and, more importantly, on him. she had a terrible snaggletooth so from now on she shall be referred to as ‘snags’. she was loud and welcoming and made herself very comfortable with everyone. she got us to buy her a drink and ran around with a penis-shaped whistle that she’d take turns blowing then thrusting with it toward her patrons.

not surprisingly, the fights didn’t start on time. when the first two fighters came out, our three jaws dropped. they were ten years old. ten. i guessed twelve but snags set the record straight. we were expecting grown men to be doing the fighting but here these kids are, that don’t have an ounce of fat on them and look like four foot tall babies. we were nervous and immediately enthralled. should we be scared? disgusted? ecstatic? the correct answer is all of the above. the fights were very ceremonial. the whale music started to make sense when the fights commenced. they bobbed to it, prayed to it, stretched to it. before and after the fights the warriors were very respectful of each other, the crowd and their sport. after each fight the victor would go across the ring about bow to each member of the other fighter’s party and often embrace their opponent. 

as i type this, i still cannot believe we watched pre-teens beat the living hell out of each other. if you don’t know muay thai is a fighting style that incorporates knees, feet and elbows. it can be vicious. so bell rings the drums and whales get louder and the kids go at it. most of the people i know, from big to small, scrappy or otherwise could have been dropped by these kids in seconds. it didn’t matter that they had no muscle mass and were not even 100 pounds. they were quick and when the fight was on they became monsters. taunting and going for killshots. aiming for the head with their deadly kicks. relentless assaults with their knees to the torso. the their faces were consumed with adrenaline and wrath. it was well officiated so the kids never got bloodied but one did get knocked out and you don’t need to see blood to know that some of the hits these kids took hurt like hell. the first three fights were all kids. ages ten and probably 12 and 13. then there was a clownish intermission of two guys and a midget with gloves and blindfolds on. the midget took his off halfway through and just started aiming for their junk. it was silly. then the big fight was actually adults, you could feel the intensity, you could hear the blows land and the screams that followed. big hits and blood and knockouts. after the official fights, other fighters came on to put on a show and have their time in the spotlight. which means they didn’t hold back. they were spin kicking, jumping and just going for the flashiest and deadliest attacks. i could not take my eyes of the ring.

there was an elderly australian couple next to us ringside and they started telling me all sorts of facts about fighting in thailand. because they been to these things “far too many times.” they claimed that the kids have to fight or they don’t eat and that many fights are rigged, as well as, the existence of bare-knuckle boxing in undisclosed locations where they fight to the death. the lady who called herself a “blood thirsty bitch” has been to one. she knew where and how to get the best deals, the best fights, the best bets. she was a pro at watching these kids and adults destroy each other.

i came out here seeking new levels of culture shock and i certainly got what i asked for. the fights alone would have been enough with age appropriate fighters. the youth pushed it over. the sounds made it real. then if i could pull myself away long enough i realized that the only other guy at the bar we were at was at the bar shoving money into thai girls bras and grabbing their asses all while another thai lady rubbed him down. we saw him at the atm later, smiling blissfully. one of the bars was called marinas ladyboy bar and that place was packed. there was gambling, there was prostitution, there was everything. and while i haven’t confirmed this i heard from jenn that snags offered to follow aria into the bar, i still have to follow up on this. it was a truly unbelievable experience.

Just heard a story about a Scot’s first day in Bangkok. He hopped on a tuk tuk and asked to go to his hostel, somewhere near Khaosan Road. So, the driver takes off and in transit offers the guy some weed. The Scot buys just two grams and they continue on their way. Once at Khaosan road, the tuk tuk driver goes up and down the street a few times, finally stopping in front of a police station, saying, “They can point you in the right direction.” So, the guy gets out and asks the cops where his hostel is and they respond saying that they will help but they have to search him first. They find the two grams on him and threaten him with seven years in prison. Or, they offer, “You can give us 400 British pounds and we can forget what we see here.” So, not wanting to waste seven years in Bangkok prison, the Scot goes to the ATM and pull out the money and forks it over. In disbelief, he finally makes it to his hostel only to find out that in his panic of giving the cops his money, he left his bank card in the ATM, however far away it was.

Talk about a terrible first impression of a country. It’s hard not to think that the tuk tuk driver and the cops weren’t in cahoots. Most other businesses play off of each other like that here anyway (ie. travel agencies and tuk tuks, hostels and tuk tuks, restaurants and everyone). 

The trek was incredible today. Started with an elephant ride. It was love at first sight. I love elephants. Went right up to them. Shook hands, pet them, fed them their own greens. They’re really playful. A couple of them would swing their trunks and throw the leaves in the air or on their head. The ride itself was honestly ok. A little cramped and uncomfortable. Sat with a large Spaniard from Madrid. Driver was impatient with our elephant, who kept stopping to eat, which is what I wanted him to do the whole time. Then he’d just stop randomly, I think to piss off the driver. Never took the same route as the other elephants, which was great. Just tromping through the jungle. It was bad, at one point the Spaniard and I were talking, the elephant stopped and the driver had had enough and whacked him hard over the head with his hook/mallet. It was like kids watching a dad hit a mom. Both the Spaniard, Paco, and I couldn’t suppress our shock. I made sure to feed my elephant a whole bushel of bananas. Greedy bastard inhaled all of them in seconds. I love and miss him so. Can’t wait to go back or better yet swim with them if that, indeed, is on the table.

From there we went bamboo rafting. A nice, tranquil experience. Just rickety enough to think we could tip at any moment. Really pretty. Afterward, they took us to a hill people village. Very small. No electricity. Super nice, along with everyone else in this country. Bought some trinkets. They have a few different plants that contain tobacco. I got to try some, wrapped in a banana leaf. Smooth and very strong. Apparently, it is a sign of beauty within the tribe to have completely black teeth due to the tobacco which they put in their mouth like dip, not smoked. Lady next to our group, weaving a scarf, on cue, flashed her…pearly blacks? Totally black. Girls get married at around fourteen and can churn out about eleven kids when it’s all said and done. These kids grow up and around eight years old are put to work in the rice fields. Tour guide cracked me up the whole time offering ‘monkey brain stew’ and ‘baby elephant BBQ’ for lunch. He also told us that a doctor came to the village to show them how condoms worked, using a banana as an example. Apparently, one of the men took the demonstration literally and put a condom on a banana and hung it on his door. Oddly enough, he kept having babies so he’d move it from the door to different windows, until, several kids later, someone re-explained condoms to him. Really started talking to a dude from England, Matthew, who is serving in the Royal Navy. Drives submarines. Great guy, total nerd. We talked about all things. Also, met a newlywed couple from Steamboat. Small world. 

The last leg was on hour hike to a monstrous waterfall that I got to lounge at for awhile. Shot a janky crossbow and left! 

Thai people across the country have been goofballs and Pino(?), our guide, epitomized that. Guy had me giggling the entire time. Besides the englishman, I was usually the only one laughing. Got Matthew sold on Doritos Locos tacos, as they don’t have Taco Bells in England. He claims he’s going to open his own. 

The following is a transcript of my time on what turned out to be an 18 hour train ride:

I’m on a train straight of that one Wes Anderson movie I can’t remember the title of… Midnight Express.Myanmar Express…I forget but also Slumdog Millionaire. I got assigned a car…coach, of course. There are sliding inter-car doors for high speed, train-wide chases. A restaurant car. I hope there is a snack cart to complete a little more of my Harry Potter dreams of becoming a wizard. The food menu is absolutely riddled with errors. The train keeps making Bioshock noises. You know, the one that happens as your camoflage becomes active. I believe there are pull out beds above the seats. I haven’t tested too thoroughly. I was hoping for a brief minute in time that I’d actually get a room/apartment/thing to myself that looked like the ones in HP, Brothers Bloom and that Wes Anderson movie. I can’t wait to see what other movie tropes this train can fulfill for me. It is very grey in here. It’s also much longer of a ride than I originally anticipated. Closer to fourteen hours than the six. Hope the iPod will last. Good thing I have a whole book ahead of me. Also, speaking of movie tropes being fulfilled, I think when I get to Chiang Mai, I’m going to have a driver with a white sign with my name on it waiting for me. 

Yep, it’s official. They’re beds. Small, transformer beds that stack on top of one another. I found this out because I got caught fiddling with my seat and it got stuck while the ticket police tapped their toes at me. 

Snack cart happened. Not a witch and no chocolate frogs but it happened. I’m so excited that I’m on this train. 

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Well fingers crossed still but I almost just got kicked off the train because my awesome travel agency booked my ticket a day later than they planned for. It’s Saturday and my ticket is for Sunday. I’ve already been on the train for at least a half hour. Funny thing is how many hands that ticket went through before anyone noticed. The agent who booked, the runner who printed and delivered us the ticket. Two cab drivers, info desk girl at the train station, four security guards/ticket checkers and myself, of course. Had to pay them 50 baht more and I’m still on just moved seats. I was not about to be dropped off in the middle of the countryside for a day. I was next to some lively, older UK ladies. Now I’m next to a cross-armed, probably Thai lady with a surly disposition that reminds me a lot of my old, grumpy, dog-hating neighbor Paula. I think she’s upset that I’m now seated on what was her footstool. 

The UK ladies, the waitress lady who served me my beer and OJ and even the guard who called me out were very supportive of my cause. That cause being my not being kicked off. 

Haven’t received my ticket or my 50 baht in change from the first guard and now the new guard wants my ticket. Once I told him that the other dude has it he double checked his list and sprinted, rather, jogged the other direction. good things. good things. 

The Thai Paula keeps checking the aisle. Especially when guards pass. So either she is a fugitive or she’s waiting for them to kick me off the train again. 

 

(When they found out I did not have the right train they immediately moved me to the timeout seat, which was a half-seater next to the shitter. I had just bought two drinks and my hands were already full of my bags and a kilo of lychees that I got too excited about (a kilo of lychees is a lot of lychees). There were audible ooohs and aawwwws as everyone in my car thought I was being thrown off. I really felt like I let them down. Then after that episode I tried to sleep which hardly worked as our train broke down about three hours in for about six hours, making some horrendous noises in the interim. Overall, a thrilling overnight train ride. Totally worth my overexcitement.)