Top 10 in Paradise

Ben keeps yelling at me for not keepin a minute-by-minute recap of our travels. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to mean we haven’t done anything blog-worthy…In fact, quite the opposite. Sometimes, the travel smiles pile up so high I don’t even know where to start. But for the sake of appeasing the diva, here we go…A special guest edition of the top ten things about our last ten days in paradise—written by Anne, smartass inserts by Ben:

First off, I would like to say that I have not been yelling at Anne for the above mentioned paragraph. I was promised a guest blog and was never given the opportunity until now. That is all.

1. Monkey business: As mentioned in postcard love, we found this authentic Greek shack out on the beach on Koh Lanta one morning. I ate slowly, savoring each bite of my gyro and was not-so-secretly stoked to package up the leftovers I intentionally saved for our afternoon at the beach.

Is it just me or does Anne describe everything with so much detail that it doesn’t seem real? I have never described food and/or eating like that. Food is simply nutrition that my body needs; therefore I eat it as quickly as possible without ever tasting it.

gyroWe motorbiked to the southern tip of the island, leftovers in hand, climbed some rocky cliffs to snap some of the coolest pictures to date and wandered back down to the secluded strip of white powder to set up shop for the afternoon. We walked the beach, took a break to swing, floated in the gentle waves, soaked rays…

…all of the usual beach things until I thought ‘ok. It’s finally time. It’s been an appropriate distance since breakfast. I’m goin in for the gyro.’ Apparently this jerk of a monkey was in perfect concerto with me and beat me to the punches. Homeboy sat there with a gnarly cleft-lip-intensified-growl and chowed down on my precious leftovers. You know what, I can’t even write about this anymore…#TooSoon

I was dozing off and heard what could only be described as machine-gun thunder (the monkey rapidly swinging his arms at the plastic to-go bag as if he wasn’t smart enough to use his opposable thumb and simply untie the bow-knot that Anne tied. Shortly after the ‘Garth Brooks Thunder Rolling’ I heard what I swore was a 10-year old girl crying… Little did I know, it was coming from Anne as if a tear was literally about to roll down her cheek.

2. The beach: Yes, we’re in the midst of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s honestly a honeymooner’s dream. But we also saw THE beach….You know, Leo’s beach [[insert Dad-bod jokes here]]. We ‘balled out’ for an afternoon in Koh Phi Phi and hired a private long boat. First stop after a dreamy tear through that sparkly deep blue: Maya Beach. Yes. It is as beautiful as it looks on the big screen. No, we did not get shot at by doping farmers. No, we didn’t even want to pay the 200 Baht to touch shore on the Hollywood-famed sand. But we did find a perfect [[and free of charge]] side spot to adore it all from. Leo wasn’t there in all his cushy glory, but I’d say that glorious day was fit for any celeb.

I honestly don’t know where Anne gets these descriptions from?! All I know is we, like everyone else, got on a loud long-tail boat (not ballin) and rode to this gorgeous bay filled with speedboats and other long-tails. Sure, if there wasn’t a million other tourist in the water and on THE beach is would have been the closest thing to heaven. However, it was the opposite. Hundreds of people who couldn’t swim and had to wear lifejackets as well as trash on the beach (so much for that 200 baht each person pays to keep the beaches clean). I realized when we rode elephants that Anne is either captivated by the simplest things or I am a pessimist.

3. Sunsets: Before I got my phone stolen in Cambo, I’d estimate about 65% of my photo library were sunsets. I just love em. You know the best kind? The kind over water. Our favorite sunset-gawking-perch was from atop the Banana Bar in Koh Phi Phi. I mean can you really think of anything better than an unobstructed view straight up to heaven, with those pinks and oranges streaked across God’s canvas, all the while waves rolling in between the huge limestone book ends, Bob Marley crooning and a spiked watermelon juice in hand? Yeah. I think not. That’s about as good as it gets.

Yea, both the Banana Bar and sunsets were pretty amazing. Did Anne and I just agree on something?!10985418_490803407752110_7239139954878360735_n

4. Cool dinners: Thanks to Lucia and Breezy, Thai food is my favorite. Thanks to me, Ben now thinks ‘it’s not bad’ [[omg, drop the cool-dude-exterior and rave about something, for once, dangit Ben! It’s awesome. Just admit it]]. So we’re in Thailand and that’s all I eat. Curry on curry on curry. But the places we pick to enjoy said dishes is one of my favorite bits about this trip. My absolute favorite? Time of Lime. A fixed six course menu is sometimes the way to go. Gets you outside your instinctual order. A cozy little lantern lit spot right on the beach. A view of the sunset that faded into the green glow of nighttime squid fishing boat lights. A cool glass of rose. A lemongrass margarita. Thai chicken soup. Cashew chicken. Massaman curry. Fish cakes. Barbequed prawns. Chocolate mousse. Yup. Pure decadence. And worth every single one of the $18-ish spent. The flavors, the view, the music, the light green glow…it was perhaps the definition of ‘cool.’

Don’t get me wrong, Thai food isn’t that bad! But I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy. And did I mention I eat my food so fast that I don’t even taste it? That’s right. Pad thai, Massaman curry, all of it just goes down the pipe into the belly to feed this machine we call our body. The green lights casted off of the squid fishing boats is captivating. But Anne’s obsession with going night squid fishing is borderline crazy. We drove around on a 100 degree day on a moped looking for boats at the pier to ask if they would take us… Anne was driving at the time too (insert female driving joke here)

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5. R&R from R&R: I know. I know. R&R? On vacation? I see the irony. But sometimes, when your travel buddy turns 27 in Thailand, you have to trade in the $10 digs and just go all out and find the sweetest 4-star-resort you can afford and go there and be on the beach and get massages and shower outside on the private patio and just ya know, ‘treat yoself.’ A treat it was. Former hotel snob for the birthday win. At least I thought so. Ben’s still all: ‘it’s not bad.’

There is something that I would like to discuss on this point – Anne’s inability to surprise me. First, she told me about a nice hotel she booked for my birthday; she wouldn’t tell me the price. Therefore, Inspector Gadget (me) dug around. Hmm, what would Anne use to book the hotel? How about hotels.com… Simply searched the hotels name, found the total price, divided by two, and had what each of our shares was. Anne forgets that I’m basically James Bond (with the jaw line of Channing Tatum). I knew something was up one day when she took a plate full of bread from the buffet back to the room to “feed the ducks”.. Yea. Ok. I found a spot on the beach and Anne came out 20 minutes later with a mountain of PB&Js. While I probably didn’t act as enthusiastic as she wished, it was a nice gesture. She needs to realize I’m a guy. No emotions shown and don’t get giddy over small things. Maybe her BFFFL Kara would have jumped up and hugged her, but not me. I have a masculine reputation to uphold.1512817_491039057728545_4280086661759996529_n

6. Parrot fish: Mom made me stow a receipt in my wallet about 5 years ago with a rundown on my medical history. It’s still there—“Do not scuba dive. Your lung capacity sucks, thanks to 6 months of poison” or something to that effect… But Ben put his PADI cert to use to do some pretty sweet underwater exploring. From the surface and a snorkel mask, I did get to soak up some of my fave parrot fish, though. There! Take that, chemotherapy.

Diving in Thailand is way better than the only other place I’ve gone – Beaver Lake, Arkansas. I have done 8 dives, 1 of which is a night dive! My favorite dive was a ship on the sea floor about 25 meters down. This ship had a lot of history, but was purposely put in the ocean to serve as an artificial reef for divers and researchers. It’s hard to explain the rush in skydiving and the serenity in scubadiving. Water covers more of our Earth than land. It’s an amazing experience to witness a whole nother society free of vehicles, cell phones, and over-paid athletes/celebrities. The simplicity of marine life and Thai life go hand-in-hand. It’s about food and shelter. Your life gets put into perspective when the guy you’re renting a moped from sleeps behind his store on a wooden platform with a blanket covering him and piece of wood to protect him from the rain. No A/C. No kitchen. No bathroom. Just a piece of damn wood… That just got deep.

7. Fisherman pants: While shopping is neither of our favorite pastimes, we have folded on a few occasions for local gems and / or local knock-offs. We’re now the proud owners of cheap iphone accessories, matching ‘Same same, but different’ tanks and the infamous fisherman pants. Ben bought said pants for a yoga sesh that didn’t happen, but they’ve been a source of much entertainment…from the YouTube videos that taught him to properly tie the 5 foot circumference waist band to the time they dyed all of his white shirts pink in the wash…I hope he struts those pants at home and laughs all over again.

Best. Purchase. Ever. These things weren’t the easiest to tie at first, but they’ve become one of the most comfortable things I’ve worn this entire trip. Anne wanted some after wearing them on the elephant. She’s actually jealous that she doesn’t have a pair!10411892_10204820497645287_39229084963662216_n

8. Google it: Did Nepal’s earthquakes send aftershocks that shook Phi Phi with a quake and tidal wave warning just days before we arrived? Is the ‘kup’ or ‘kah’ [[aka masculine or feminine]] pronoun clasped to the end of a word based on the speaker or recipient? Do we need a visa for Malaysia? How many islands ARE there off the coast of Thailand? Oh my gosh, we ask so many questions every day but the answer is always the same ‘it’s worth a Google.’ The problem is, half the time we don’t have internet, so our Google backlog is significant at present. We should really start writing down our q’s, Ben. Side note: please answer in the comments below if you have intel on any of the above.

The only answer I have for the above is that you do not need a visa for Malaysia, they pretty much give you 90 days upon arrival. Other than that, I think you shorted us. I have roughly 10 more questions that we never Googled. I love learning new things every day, but this trip I’ve been drinking from a fire hose. Too much information, too little a time.

9. Princess massages: Ben slips and calls me a ‘princess’ sometimes [[not in a nice way, either]] and it pisses me off. I’m a lot of things, but ‘princess’ I am not. Howeeevvverrrrr, I do love me a massage once in a while. Thai massage? Even better. It’s basically half massage, half someone conducting yoga with your body without you having to try. I love it. Ben’s a little baby trapped in a rigid man’s body and cannot deal. He still goes with me though and opts for the much more ‘princess’ a la carte.

A) Princess is an understatement when it comes to adjectives for Anne. She is a typical American girl. Hairdryer, hand sanitizer, and hates bugs. Plus, she’s almost too nice! When girls use the words ‘doll’ or ‘love’ after every sentence when talking to another female traveler, I don’t know if its fake or a secret code girls use. I cant stand being called a doll or love, but maybe girls take it differently? And FYI – Thai massages are like paying for a 60-minute torture session. I had a 90 pound Thai woman beat me up and I paid her for it! No thanks!

10. Fire: This. I just still can’t even.

The fire show was awesome the first time we saw it. I could see Anne’s eyes glazed over and I don’t think I saw her blink once. But once was cool enough for me. The second time we stumbled upon a fire show it was around several dozen inebriated college-aged kids. I hadn’t been drinking (we all know the sober guy feeling = the worst) so I was ready to bounce after 2 minutes. Anne, however, could have stayed all night watching kerosene lit objects twirl in the air. No one likes a Debby downer, but I am used to the single life where I do what I want and don’t worry about affecting anyone else. Signs that a serious relationship is definitely not in my near future!

So yes, we’ve been busy stackin up travel smiles off the west coast of Thailand. Happy, Ben?!

No

Then you prob never will be, love. Drops mic.

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Wish you were here, from Chiang Mai

If there was one person in the world I could have had with us in Chiang Mai this week, it’d be the girl with the elephant tattoo on the back of her neck…

I always think of my little Lucia when I see elephants. She loves the things. Like LOVES them, loves them. Almost as much as I love her. So if you account for sleeping time, Loosh was on my mind for approximately 70 hours this week. Everywhere I turned, an elephant shirt, an elephant necklace, an elephant satchel. Four days of colorful elephant everything.

Then yesterday, there was a real elephant. Three big elephants and one baby elephant, to be exact. And if anyone could have smiled harder than I did, it would have been Lucia.

I struggled at first, as I’m sure Lucia would have, to wrap my head around the ethics of the whole thing…is this animal cruelty? Are the elephants treated nicely? Is this just a glorified zoo? If I visit a park or sanctuary, do I want to ride one as well? If so, which one?

Hours upon hours of research turned up a particular gem—Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai—and from what I could tell, it was a total haven for these big beauties. Their mahouts revered them. There were no chains, no hooks, no pens, no riding rickshaws. Just elephants and their human friends living harmoniously in the dense bush about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. If Lucia could have seen the way the people and elephants alike smiled, I think she would have approved too.

This is how you do a day at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai. This is how you make an elephant lover like Loosh smile so dang hard…

First you hop in the back of a 4 wheel drive with the A-team [[hello fellow Americans!]], windows down, Paw, our guide, singing lead to every Bob Marley, Maroon 5 and Shakira song from the last decade. Drive for two hours through the northern Thai switchbacks, with a coffee bubble tea in hand, and swoon over Paw’s incessant giggle.

When you arrive at the humble park, the small family of elephants will greet you like an old friend. You’ll be overwhelmed and slightly timid at first, but as the gentle beings sway back and forth and bat their pretty brown eyes at you, it all just melts… And you start to realize that this day is going to leave an elephant sized stamp on your life’s memory book.

You’ll learn about the village’s tradition of raising elephants. And the sad truths about some of the more circus-like attractions closer to the city [[#CountryGirlForLife]].

You’ll get buddied up with an elephant like our 37-year-old Campot and you’ll become her new bestie with a little banana-lovin.

CampotThen, oh my gosh, Lucia, you get.to.bathe.the.elephants… Not like you grab a hose and spray them down in some superficial line-up…but you walk them down to the river and they lay down in the warm water for a good scrub. It is probably the coolest thing you’ll ever do…

Until the babe squirts water on you and you feel like you’re in some Nat-Geo-Jungle-Book medley of a dream…then THAT’S the coolest

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The trek through the winding, tree-draped river and alongside the rice paddies and up steep jungle banks is only made more amazing by the fact that a multi-ton beast is gliding along underneath your groin-straining-straddle.

Lunch is served in a hut. We aren’t convinced that it wasn’t KFC Original Recipe tied up in banana leaves. But when the baby comes to clear the dishes, you don’t give a flying crap about the authenticity of lunch.

Babe

In fact…

with a view like this…

view

and a new friend like this…

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and a weird friend like this…

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…nobody cares what the lunch recipe was, cause the whole thing was the perfect recipe for a perfect smile-inducing kind of day.

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One that I so desperately wish I could have shared with little Lucia baby.

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A Fijian Love Affair

I often dream about whales and dolphins. Maybe my subconscious reminiscing on the days when my family used to drive along the Hawaiian coastlines and I’d ride with my 7 year old face pressed up against the glass, eyes glued to the water just watching for the inevitable water spout to blow. I think maybe there begins my love affair with water, as Mr. Paisley would surmise.

I love water. I love being near the water watching the waves. I love being on the water in a kayak or paddle board or sail boat or speed boat. I love being in the water jumping waves or hand-standing into the tide. It just brings such peace and a simple love for God’s bluest creation. My heart smiles when I sit at my favorite Kirkland park watching the sun set over Lake Washington. It smiles when I drive over those Clearwater bridges, beach-day bound. And now I know for certain, it smiles when I sway in a hammock, with a book in tow basking in the sparkly Fijian sun looking out over the crystal clear blue water. It just does a heart good.

Fiji was what I hoped it would be. It was relaxing for my body, calming for my soul and refreshing for my water-lust-ways.

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We didn’t do a whole lot at the Beach House, but what we did we did well. A jaunt down to Sigatoka, lots of reading, lots of hammocking and kayaking and makeshift snorkeling.

IMG_4081We ate beautiful local fruits and toast and jam at breakfast time, homemade banana scones at tea time and the freshest fish burgers at dinner time, encored with a bowl full of kava for ‘dessert’—it’s as disgusting as my fellow backpackers warned—but an obligatory chug, nonetheless.

IMG_4104We made jewelry from coconuts that daring local hands pushed out of the palm trees from 50 feet up. We watched the tides roll in and out, made new friends from countries near and far and sipped bottled water out of—wait for it—Fiji Water bottles.

It rained most days, but I found those quiet moments of pitter patter on the woven palm roofs soothing in a way I’d never let rain sooth. It is water afterall; just the type of water that typically annoys me. But when you’re sprawled out on a hand carved bench under an open-air bungalo-type structure with nowhere to be, no concern for how you look or ruining your shoes, the water falling from the sky actually feels as wonderful as the bucketed-land-water I adore.

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Yep. Fiji water bottles, a good steady afternoon rain and some bobbing in the teal blue waves really helped wash away departure week. Here’s to hoping for more affairs with the wet stuff that does a mending heart good.

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#SoThisOneTime, for the first time.

I know, I know…this blog has been a total downer so far. But that’s about to change. Cause yall.. I’ve done some pretty dang cool things in my 26/27 years…things that have taught me the sweet side of life’s bittersweet. So, since I can’t commit to a #ThrowbackThursday or a #FlashbackFriday [hello 18 million time zones / avoiding that type of unnecessary deadline-inspired pressure], I’m inventing my own series…#SoThisOneTime. No, No, NO do not say ‘at bandcamp.’ Band Camp would never have let me in. I do too many cartwheels to hold a flute for a sustained period of time.

I digress.

Here it is. My first of many, #SoThisOneTime posts.

So this one time, I spent my birthday [yes, I specifically recall that it was my 18th] dancing in my chair at the Hard Rock Café in Sharm El Sheikh, with Egyptian waitors singing Happy Birthday to me and kissing my arms and hands. All in front of my family. I think it was probably my most stand-out birthday moment ever.

We’d spent the first half of our two-week-trip touring the Cairo Museum [in which our tour guide pointed out the world’s first invented condom among other ancient oddities] and riding camels across the desert with the oh-so-iconic Pyramids as our backdrop. We had a driver and translator and armed body guard with us at all times. To this day, I don’t know why we were considered VIP, but for whatever reason they felt the need to watch our six at all times. We saw decaying ox on the side of the road, kids drinking water that didn’t even seem suitable for a pet and perfume stores pungent enough to cover up the smell of those poor decaying ox. We saw all of the monumental tourist things you are supposed to see. We cruised down the Nile River and much to my horror, my family dressed up to match the evening belly dancer—it was a hot mess.

Then, we vacationed. Yes, this word-choice-transition from ‘trip’ to ‘vacation’ is very intentional. We drove across the desert for what felt like days. You know when you’re flying and you lose sense of movement and progress and situational awareness, cause all you can see are clouds? No environmental cues to suggest you’ve moved at all? This was like that. Just sand in all directions for as far as you could see. Though I assure you we felt the movement…turns out they don’t pave their deserts. Sand is bumpy. It was hot. It was not pleasant. What was even more unpleasant? When our free-for-all desert excursion came to a dead halt…we’re talking Beltway at 5pm on a Friday afternoon kind of halt. Turns out it was Egyptian rubbernecking as we crept past human bodies covered in blood-soaked white drapes. It felt like a movie. I don’t know how those people died, but I don’t think it was by choice. I’ve always hated rubbernecking.

Anyway, we made it to the Red Sea. And this is where I hold some of my fondest family memories. As you might imagine, we were pretty sick of each other by the time we did 3 years together in one tiny on–base house, spent eons of hours living in the Yukon back seat floating all around Europe, not to mention my raging ‘get me the eff out of this house and into a dorm room’ gem of an attitude.

All that aside, we snorkeled in water so crisp and blue that I’d suggest it tops the Great Barrier Reef [yup. I said it]. We parasailed for the aerial view and four-wheeled across the dessert just to have a cup of piping hot traditional Bedouin tea with a group of villagers. We climbed Moses Mountain in the middle of the night just so we could squeeze under some blankets to watch the sunrise over the land where The 10 commandments were delivered. We saw the Burning Bush. We stayed at a fancy hotel and even I, the horrible angry teenager, reveled in the towel animals and pretty flowers that adorned our beds every afternoon. We smoked Hookah along the boardwalk [and by ‘we,’ I mean everyone but me, cause I just was THAT much of a prude].

We did a lot in those two weeks. But I think the best thing we did was define the distinction between ‘trip’ and ‘vacation.’ Yeah I loved #ThatOneTime. We aced that trip / vaca hybrid. Lesson SO learned for this #GrowthNGrace journey.