Thanks! & We're back! & Mingie!!!

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” - Mark Twain

Even with the double negative, I think it's a decent quote... and it turns out Kimbo and I still like each other. Travelling with a companion for 350+ days straight is tough at times, but also very rewarding as you learn more about each other and grow and love and learn patience. So, in the end I think we did alright.

So this is our last post... I'll be busy (skiing, mostly) and if anyone has any questions, suggestions, or just wants to talk, we're available anytime... feel free to comment or e-mail us.

This year has been a special year for us and we feel quite privileged to have taken this opportunity to travel and share our experience with y'all. We learned a lot on this trip... a lot about local issues we don't pay attention to in the US, that the world is a big place (we only went to 8 countries), and that we really like fruit shakes and monkeys...

However, the biggest lesson of this year was of humanity. Caught in a hail storm and biking during the heat wave in Australia, lost in the streets of Seoul, or watching Lek sing to one of the baby elephants; we experienced kindness and generosity at every turn; no matter their religion (or no religion), race, or income. Through this experience, we hope to repay everyone's hospitality in the years to come, and vow to keep paying it forward to make this world a better place and maintain amity (couldn't avoid the cheese).

Anyway, here's the short list of thanx to everyone who helped us out this year... I'm sure we missed a few folks here so I'll apoligize beforehand. First a big "thank you" to every participant/host on warmshowers.org, couchsurfing.org, and WWOOF.org

To Moses and Lucinda for taking care of Mingus, letting us store our gear/stuff, kim's car, and for providing a roof over our heads. (Check Mingus out with his new Christmas gift). We can't thank you enough.

As well as Steve & Margaret Schmidt (Kimbo's parents), who took care of our mail, taxes, finances, and kept a close eye on the arrival of my reentry permit and green card. Without y'all, being away for a year wouldn't have been easy. Thank you.

In Australia
  • Jeff, our warmshowers host in Sydney - going sailing on my birthday was quite a highlight.
  • Catroina, our warmshowers host in Kirrawee - loved your place, and enjoyed the yoga session.
  • The Woinarski's for hosting us in Berry.
  • Frank and Sue, who took us in when we got caught in a freak hail storm.
  • Peter on Raymond Island from saving us from the heat.
  • Jim and Heather - the best WWOOFing hosts on the planet.
  • Kevin and Robin Ralston in Melbourne - Y'all are awesome... and much more mature than your bro... and me for that matter. Hope you visit the Bay Area soon.
  • Neil Mann - thank you for accomodating us on such short notice.
  • Roman, an inspiration to us as we met him right after he had just biked across the Nullabor plain...
  • To Kate who we spent a few magical weeks kayaking, diving, snorkeling, and being chased by Cassowaries...
  • To Frances and Daniel for hosting us after we realized on the plane that we're headed to Gold Coast, not Brisbane...
In Tassie
  • Greg and Dorothy- our warmshowers hosts in Hobart.
  • Arile - the most determined cyclist I will ever meet, I'm sure. Took everything one step at a time... we especially enjoyed our day at Wineglass Bay with you.
  • Tony and Amy, a very friendly couple, and Amy the first Aboriginie we got to talk to for a while... very inspiring lady... will remember you always.
  • The fellow hikers we met on the Overland Track...especially the Aussies who kept calling me "marathon boy"; Tadashi, a fellow Japanese hiker; Jonas and Joe, who gave us a lift after we missed the bus as I had to run back to get my tent; and the Germans who paid the tab at the bar.
  • Vicky and Malcom - our warmshowers hosts in Lonnie, I know we kinda over stayed our welcome, and after selling our bike we weren't really "touring" but y'all were amazing hosts...and we may have to go back just for your chutney and good company.
In New Zealand
  • Our friends who helped break in the Shevanigan the first 2 weeks of our trip! Julie, Bako, Jenny, and Tim.
  • To the Teears, who served us a feast in Christchurch.
  • Max! - our favorite frenchman, hope your career in Madagascar goes well.
  • Jon - our WWOOF host in Queenstown... runs a tight ship... hope you're still healthy... thanx for making Kevin cut the frozen chicken, that was entertaining.
  • Julie, Russel, and Em for taking us sailing, fishing, and giving me some great paragliding advise... we hope you can come visit us sometime.
  • Steve and Margaret Schmidt - it was fun sharing the Shevanagan with you for a little over a week. Thanks for visiting.
  • Tolchers - great to see Matt, Alex, and Rosa in your environment, and thanx for letting me play in your soccer game, although I lost the game by missing that PK and the 1 on 1.
  • The Browns - Renton, Pauline, Suzanne for hosting us, and explaining the rules of rugby while Tony showed us how it's done.
  • Jan and Warwick - for letting us stay at your beautiful home... I really enjoyed your trampoline.
  • Last, and certainly not the least, Kevin and Laura... who made every adventure so much more enjoyable.
In Japan
  • My parents, who really took care of us, and I got to feast on some of my ma's cooking once again...
  • Moses, who made traveling around Japan an enjoyable adventure. Thanks for eating everything my dad served you. What a guy.
  • Tsuji - you're hilarious.
  • Will Candler who we met up with in Tokyo for a day.
  • Kyle, our Couchsurfing host in Mie.
  • Ayano, our Couchsurfing host, who cooked up a memorable Japanese BBQ in Nagoya.
  • John, our kiwi Couchsurfing host in Osaka.
  • To Becca for hosting us for 2 weeks, taking us camping at a music festival, and showing us around Hiroshima.
  • Lopez for making the most delicious Okonomiyaki I never knew even existed.
  • Bom san - for being awesome.
  • Victor - an A-bomb survivor - and also happens to be the most likable person you'll ever meet.
In Korea
  • CSing hosts: Josiah in Busan, Dave in Jeju, Paul in Seoul...thanx for your hospitality. Hope to see you back in the US sometime.
Back in the States in August/September
  • To Hoefty & Elena, Amy & Lincoln, Kevin & Laura... for all getting married within 4 weeks of each other... no seriously, we feel very fortunate that we could attend your ceremonies.
  • Stujo & Jackie & Amaru - y'all rock... Jackie - keep an eye on that guy.
  • Cam & Jasper & all the A-town kids - thanks for the bed and taking us whitewater kayaking and rafting.
  • Louis & his neighbor - for the canoe and having the facility to cook a 40 lb salmon.
  • Stevee B - thanx for guiding us down the canyon.
In Nepal
  • Achyut - our CSing host in Nepal, very helpful...thanks for cooking us dinner, arranging our trip, and picking us up at the airport.
  • Sean... what can we say about our travel companion for 3 weeks. We enjoyed every one of the 100s of card and dice games...maybe you'll win one in the future.
  • Toby, Hugo, Amanda on the Annapurna Circuit. Love the British humor...please come visit us.
In SE Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos)
  • In Rae Leh - Caroline, Joern, and Akirapuppy - definitely enjoyed climbing with y'all.
  • Fred (the dirt cricket) for making us laugh, and inspiring us with some great stories, and giving us some great ideas... like buying scooters in Laos.
  • Jasper for visiting us for 5 weeks...Thanks for the memories.
  • Funk for helping us be polite by drinking plenty of Lao Lao with the locals.
  • Miriam for just being plain awesome.
  • Mama Banana and husband in Muang Ngoi, Laos. Thanks for the good luck bracelets and maybe we'll come back someday with kids.
  • Our couchsurfing host, Toom, in Bangkok who is the most generous person we met. Amazing guy, simply couldn't have done Bangkok without him... also to the other folks we met staying at his house in Nonthanaburi.
Thanks again for the memories, the stories, the advice, the laughter, and the good times. It was a good 2009.

Happy New Year!


Top 10s...

The last few weeks I've been trying to catch up... and I'm sure no one has been able to catch up with my Usain-ish blogging speed. And as it's the end of our blog, I figured I'd put a Top 10 list for fun while editing my pics from this year... some are more or less than 10, alas it's fuzzy math... (for our sake as well, as my memory isn't all that great... that's why I take a lot of pics)

Top 10 foods - the iffy ones first...
  • Prepackaged horse stew (japan)
  • Various street foods (Thailand/Cambodia/Laos)
  • Noname Poo (Thailand) literally translated (Noname = deep fried, Poo = Crab)... was an obvious choice when I saw it on the menu
  • Deep Fried Snickers/Twix/Mars Bars on the Annapurna Circuit (Nepal) ... quite delicious actually...
  • Giant Red Ant with Herb (Cambodia)
  • The Lao Lao with Scorpion, Centipede, and a Cobra biting it's own tail... (Thailand, Ko Lanta) on the day I met Me and Him!
  • Rat Tail? - Anyway, peer pressuring Jasper to eat this with the locals was fun... pretty gross but well worth seeing Jasper suffer.
Good Foods...
  • Grilled Turbo at Ayano-san's BBQ. Had a blast at the BBQ playing with kids and being introduced to the Japanese style BBQ... although Moses kept making the baby cry.
  • Grilled Fish at the night market in Luang Prabang... oh my... get there right when the market starts kicking off (around 5 pm)... and they have it grilled perfectly. We ate 4 I think...
  • The Fruit Shakes in Thailand, Cambodia, and Nepal.
  • The Indian Restaurant (Nazim's) in Vang Vieng... I think we ate there 5 times.
  • The Cheesus Burger - though it might not be the healthiest...
  • Lopez's Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima
  • Sushi in Japan....
  • The Enchilada at Chhomrong - the most satisfying meal of 2009 for sure.
  • Oysters in NZ...
Memorable moments Things we missed
  • Friends and Family
  • Mingus! (of course)
  • Racer 5 (or any west coast ipa)
  • A good Burrito
  • My gear (bikes, skis, climbing gear, kite, kayak, etc.)
  • the Sierras - although we visited the Himalayas, the NZ Alps, the Sierras are different... and very special.
  • Take a trip. Short, long, exotic, or just to your local wilderness... I recommend taking more trips.
  • Go light... especially if you are headed to cheaper countries like Thailand or Nepal... everything is pretty much cheaper over there anyway if you think you forgot something essential.
  • Try the food... well maybe not the giant fried cochroach... but my dad always told me to be an adventurous eater and look at me.
  • Go volunteer at Lek's Elephant Nature Camp... or at the Organic Farm in Pai... or WWOOF, or just hop on your bike and ride...
Finally... we'll leave you with 2 quotes...
  • “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
  • "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover" - Mark Twain

Lek's Elephant Nature Camp! - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Happy Holidays!!! We are in full relaxation mode here in Auburn, AL, we got back to the states a few days ago, and we've been busy updating the blog. I can't believe this was only a week ago.

After Louang Prabang, we sold our bikes, and got back in the bus... all the way to Pai. A very relaxed place in N. Thailand... a very different feel from S. Thailand btw (and cheaper to boot). A small town, but a big destination for those following the banana pancake trail. We suffered the bus ride with Miriam, rented scooters (2$ a day!), went to a few yoga sessions, and took a cooking class. That's Kimbo, Tee, and Meee

But on this entry I want to bring awareness to a situation that most folks probably don't know about... we certainly didn't... and as the traveller I feel the obligation to spread awareness... that sorta off-sets our carbon footprint right? (at least in a karmic way, I trust)

And it has to do with the Asian Elephant... and who doesn't like Elephants... I mean they may not be not as cool as monkeys (debatable), but definitely more than kangaroos or koalas.

We visited Elephant Nature Park (another great recommendation by the Dirt Cricket...) just north of Chiang Mai. And we had no idea, but Asian Elephants are in need of some serious rehab.

Here's the basic problem... Elephants were domesticated for use in the farming and logging industry. There were an estimated 100,000 domesticated elephants in 1900. Today there are only 3,000 domestic elephants remaining with another 500-1,500 estimated in the wild!!! There are numerous issues, but a major one is that logging became illegal now (a good step as it created massive landslides... and also destroyed habitat for wild elephants... the domesticated elephants were destroying the wild elephant's habitat).

So many elephants were out of a job. And many Mahouts (the elephant keeper) had no choice but to abandon their elephant or to take them to the streets to go beg... (yeah, seriously... see the video from National Geo link below).

Many of the abandoned elephants foraged for food in the near by farm. Most folks in Thailand are still farmers... meaning they depend solely on their single crop yield for their annual income. And the abandoned domesticated elephants, who don't know how to survive in the wild ate their single source of income for the year. It's like placing all your eggs in one basket and a hungry elephant came and made a big 'ole omelet... you'd be angry too... but quite often these elephants were killed by farmers.

The Elephant Nature Park was started by Sangduen "Lek" Chailert. Quite an inspirational lady, she's devoted her whole life to saving elephants. She's received a lot of press the past few years and was one voted one of Asia's Heroes in 2005 by Time magazine. Read more about here here if you are interested.

I encourage y'all to check out this short (20 min?) National Geographic Video (if you have decent internet connection) it features Lek and explains some of the problems associated with Domesticated Elephants in present day Thailand. We saw the full video, but you get the jist of the problems.

On a one day visit to the Elephant Nature Park, you get to feed the elephant, bath them, and learn a lot about them from your guide and some documentaries they show during your visit. You can also spend multiple nights there (there are nice accommodations), as well as volunteer or intern for longer. There were many volunteers at the park, from kids just out of college to families. There's always work to be done, as elephants can eat to 150-170 kg a day.... and that's a LOT of bananas + foraging.

Check out their tooth!

Every elephant in the park has a story... from saving orphaned elephants or famished elephants who have been left by their mahout. There are two babies in the park currently, and another one on its way. The pregnant mother had a part of it's back leg blown off after stepping on a land mine.

This girl is blind after having her eyes stabbed by a mahout who got frustrated after she refused to work... 2 days after her newborn baby died. An older female elephant decided to take her under and now they're inseparable.

On top of her 34 rescued elephants, Lek has come to adopt many cows, over 50 dogs, 10+ cats so the place is a heaven for animal lovers.

Visiting the Elephant Nature Park was a highlight for us on the trip. I think it's a must visit for anyone headed to Chiang Mai.


Back to Louang Prabang...

After only 2 nights at Muang Ngoi, we had to hustle back to Luang Prabang so Funk could get back to his job... sheesh...

But we did spend another night going out in Lao... somehow the bowling alley here stays open past the national curfew of 11 pm... so it's where folks go to drink... and bowl.

More Huge spiders.

After dropping Funk of at 6 am, Kimbo and I took the scooters south to another waterfall. This might just be my favorite waterfall in SE Asia... if not world wide. If you find yourself in Luang Prabang, this is a must visit. Not only does it have bears...

The blond one looks ferocious egh?

But waterfalls to jump off...

A small rope swing...

And a big waterfall up the river where all the tour groups hang out... (see something for everyone)

Kimbo liked it...

Back in Luang Prabang, the food was amazing... Lao food is pretty plain... mostly pho (rice noodle soup) in the countryside, and maybe some Khao Pad (Fried Rice)... but LP is different. This is Yum Mong or something (spicy peanut salad)

And at the night market, you can get BBQ Fish... and it's amazing.

... and something for the more adventurous

Drying out chillies in the parking lot...

Lots of monks here... in this culture (Thai, Cambodia, Lao) every man is expected to be a monk for at least a few years and Luang Prabang is full of temples and monks.

With a few hours to spare before hopping on a bus to Thailand, I decided to get my hair cut... I mean how can you pass this barber shop up. And for 75cent, he did a great job.

So... this apparently means no parking... had to pay a 10$ fine... or rather pay off the cop for 10$... I'm sure the fine is much less...

And we ran in to Neil roaming the streets just before we luckily sold the second motorbike to a backpacker.

BTW, I love all the fake clothing... some of it, you can't really tell if it's fake... but others are a bit easier...


Muang Ngoi

We went to Muang Ngoi as it was one of the places strongly recommended by Kevin... and we're quite glad we did. Reached only by boat, there is no cars, bikes, or buses. Just one dirt road where the kids, dogs, ducks, chickens, and pigs can roam freely...

First we motored north for 3 hours to get to Nong Khiaw where we get on the boat... this is at a cave near Nong Khiaw, where the locals hid during the war.

we met a nice couple from Arkansas that we "rented" out the bikes to for the weekend... we then ran to the dock... here's a guy carrying a live chicken from the boat.

... and we're loaded up!

This area was heavily bombed during the war... the US spent 2 mil $ a day bombing this beautiful country!!! I'd be much more impressed if they'd spent that much cleaning it up though.

We saw one of these guys along the trail... the Golden Silk Orb Weaver... we saw some in Northern Australia as well.... pretty big... and known to eat birds... seriously.

We went to another cave from Muang Ngoi... and this one is half under water...

... only to find this guy in there! yeah we saw a few... and no we didn't stay too long.

We passed this guy going huntin' for some birds...

The next day we decided to go fishin' after a visit to another village up river.

Some albino water buffs on the way up...

Weavers at the village.

And fishin...

... didn't catch much... but it did give us a chance to see some cool dragonflies.

... and with the fish that we bought... the guides prepared some lunch.

... and of course, with every Lao meal... the Lao Lao (home-made rice whiskey) comes out.

... back at our guesthouse.

with our deck over looking the river.

... a great town, rustic accommodation, run by the one and only "Mama Banana"

... and back to the land of cars and motorcycles

Check out the cushion I sat on the way down.

Went past this guy on our way to Luang Prabang... land of a million elephants.... I doubt he liked the traffic though... more on Elephants coming up!