Friday, October 30, 2009

Sonnet #1

The bungalow in question

Near latitude zero, on an island in the sea;
there, by the shoreline, our bungalow hangs.
Planning our days means letting things be,
and our hearts are seldom filled with pangs.
Here, the days pass slowly, but not idley
cause there's much swimming and reading to be done.
For a freshwater shower, we all wish mildly,
but with the passage of time, it'll eventually come.
And so we sit on our patio as the world unravels
patiently awaiting our next worldly travels.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New experiences

A taxi ride across Medan, my least favorite city in the whole wide world.

I got diarrhea. There were the first hints of it a few mornings ago, but then I was fine throughout the day. Then after we were done with dinner and talking around the table with some fellow travelers, it came knocking. Conversation was dying down to begin with, but I didn't feel that I had the time to leave politely, so I simply asked for the key to the room and hurried back. I spent the whole night with alarms like that. I kept drinking fluids, and they kept finding the path of least resistance through my body. I didn't feel sick, so it was only an inconvenience of having to sit on a toilet so much. I was worried, however, because the following day we had more than 20 hours of travel planned. In the morning, I drank only enough to slake my thirst, and ate only bananas and crackers to nourish me for the day's journey. And what a journey it was. We were heading from an inland lake to an island on the very northern tip of Sumatra. It took a ferry ride, followed by a taxi, local bus, taxi, motorcycle taxi, mini-bus, large night bus, taxi, ferry, and one last taxi. Somehow, I didn't have to use the bathroom until the following morning, but I used it well.
We've now been in our island paradise for a few days now. Life is simple here. We either read, snorkle, or eat--all three are amazing here. We have a rickety bugalow overhanging the shore, from where we can peer into the shallow sea and see schools of fish floating by. Our bathroom is a small shack in the rear, and our toilet is a hole in the floor connected to a pipe down to the rocks. Like I said, life is simple here. There is electricty, but only half the time, but you only notice its absence when you need things like the internet. Chad has to go back to Thailand in a couple days, but Miles and I don't know how long we'll stay.

Our patio

Friday, October 23, 2009

News from Sumatra

The other day we ferried from Malaysia to Sumatra. On the ferry ride, I struck up a conversation with an Irish guy who had been though Medan, the port city, several times. He gave me a rundown on many snags and scams to look out for as soon as we got off the bus. I nodded my head, thinking I was absorbing it all, but then I seemed to forget it as soon as we left customs. Outside the building we were accosted by taxi drivers like I never had been before. You may think that their over-zealous pestering would only dissuade tourists from accepting their services. Wrong. They actually do wear you down, and we ended up taking a ride from one of them. Before we knew it, we were being taken to a place we didn't want to go, and forced into a ride we didn't want. It was only in the midst of it that I realized that all of the Irish guy's warnings had come true. It was a stressful few hours, but we eventually were able to get what we wanted out of the swindlers and the swindlers were able to get what they wanted out of us.
We made it to a place called Lake Toba. It's a very large volcanic lake, and in the middle is a very large island. Some 20 years ago, this place was a thriving tourist attraction, but earthquakes, tsunamis, and civil unrest have reduced tourism to a trickle, which has rendered this place a thriving tourist attraction, without the tourist. It's like a backpackers' ghost town. There are vacant beach front hotels, stores open late into the night without customers, and restaurants that are dying to cook anybody a meal. The only tourists there are at this place band together like survivors of the Apocalypse. Last night we went to a nice bar overlooking the lake, and the 5 of us were the only patrons during the 2 hours we stayed there. Today, with the same group and one more, we rented motorbikes and cruised across the island. We took the beaten road over the middle of the island and got a glimpse of how the average Sumatran lives. It is experiences like today that give me fuel to travel for weeks.
Tomorrow is my birthday here. We're going to celebrate it in the ghost town with our new international friends by taking over the local disco.

I have some good photos and video from this place, but these computers can't handle them. I'll add them when I can, because you want to see them, trust me. One of the photos is of a small island on a small lake, which is on a bigger island on a bigger lake, which is on an even bigger island, in the ocean.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That fabled city was quite a shock,
so we hailed a taxi and left Bangkok.
We boarded a plane and soared over Asia;
two hours later, and we're in Malaysia

Because Chad is on break from his English teaching job, Miles and I are willingly going to places that he has heard about and wanted to visit. After just a couple days in Bangkok, we flew to an island in Malaysia named Penang, which is renowned for its food. It didn't disappoint; we think that we've had the best Indian food here--and Chad has been to India. Just as remarkable as the food (though in entirely different ways) is the guest house we're staying in. We're renting a room in a dilapidated building that has 20 foot ceilings and mice living in the walls. The innkeepers (there are two or three of them) laze their days away in the dark lobby watching Malaysian TV, with their shirts off and bellies out. At night they recline on the couch, counter or chair and sleep like logs 'till after dawn. One door down the hall from us is a Chinese woman who lives in the hotel with her 11-year-old son (whose birthday was today, allegedly). She subsists off of selling her artwork, and today she came by trying to make a sale to pay for bottled water. We bought two bookmarks for two ringets apiece, which comes to less than two dollars. The three of us like the vibe on this island. We were only in Bangkok for two days, but it was already time to have a break from the constant harassing from street vendors. Though there are stores and vendors everywhere here, we haven't been hassled once, and they are just as kind if you do choose to buy something.
Tomorrow we have ferry tickets to Sumatra. Chad has researched some places to go, and then he's going to leave Miles and me to do whatever. We might find a place to settle down for a little while and take things at a leisurely pace. We'll see.

As promised, here are some photos for visual learners.

We went to local mosque and ended up getting a tour and lesson in Islam by this guy.

We rented bikes on in Malaysia. It's definitely the way to get around. Miles and I are going to try to buy two when we get back to Thailand.

Some local flora

Chinese buffet for breakfast

The view from our guesthouse window

Our guest house room: one single bed, and a double on the floor.

Khao San Road in Bangkok. This place was crazy. We were buying fresh fruit juice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"I can't believe it's now already"

In the spirit of reading Lord of the Rings, here is a short poem (or song, if you wish) that I wrote:

Chased the sunset to the other side;
an ocean traversed in a flying stride.
To a foreign city where my travels begin
and I can live like a kid again.

So, we made it. We stepped out of the airport around 1:45 am, and had no idea what to do. We had Chad's cell phone number, but we couldn't figure out how to use the phones in the airport, so we just took a 300 baht taxi (about $10) into the city. We got dropped off at the downtown train station and still had no idea what to do. Eventually a helpful--and opportunistic--cab driver helped us use a pay phone to get a hold of Chad. Another 300 baht cab ride later, and we were meeting him in front of a Burger Kind near our guest house at 3:00 am. Miles and I weren't tired, and Chad was already inebriated, so we dropped off our bags and went out for beers. We ended up walking the streets until roosters were crowing and the sky was turning blue. In those early hours, we talked with strangers, got propositioned by Thai hookers, and I had my crotch grabbed by a he-woman. We got to bed by 6:30, and the three of us slept like the dead until after noon.
Here are some initial impressions:
-I like the smell here, and even the heat in a way.
-The people are the friendliest I've ever seen.
-The women are beautiful (even some of the ones that are actually men).
-Everything is cheap.
-The food is delicious and there's fruit everywhere.
-It's great seeing Chad, and we'd be lost without him.

When we were in L.A., Miles said, "I can't believe it's now already." That's exactly how it feels. I'll post some photos of this crazy place later.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Goss House goes to the beach

This is the first time we've had the gang at the beach. We knew what to do; we played paddle ball, went body surfing (during the day and at night), and even went regular surfing. Here are some photos from the weekend.

Chillin' in OB

Packing the car was a challenge. John didn't fit.

Assessing the waves

A few San Diego locals

Our hotel room at the Ocean Inn. Two of these rooms slept 11.

Remnants from the previous evenings "simpler times."

The coastline of Encinitas

Friday, October 9, 2009

An interesting encounter

Where it all went down

I had an interesting experience the other day in a park in Riverside. It went like this:
I was sitting on a bench overlooking a lake, and a skinny, timid-looking Hispanic man came up to me me and asked for the time. I told him, but he looked as though the time made no difference to him and he milled about for a moment.
"What are you doing in the park?" He asked, kind of swaying on his feet, but not drunkenly.
"Just relaxing--killing time." Pause. "And yourself?"
"Same, just relaxing." Pause. "Hey, I'm gonna go grab my beer, is it alright if I sit with you for a bit?"
"Yeah, sure."
He left and came back with his tall can of Budweiser wrapped in a paper bag. I introduced myself, and he introduced himself. His name was Mondo. We shot the breeze for a bit. I told him what I was doing in Riverside and about my upcoming travels. Pretty much all I got from him, was that his name was Mondo and that he was from a neighboring town called Corona. We sat for a bit, and a few ducks paddled up to us.
"You know," I said, "I'd like to believe that these ducks came over just to be friendly, but really all they want is to be fed."
"Yeah, they want benefits," Mondo said. "Even ducks want friends with benefits."
"Ha. And you know, the truth is that if I had some bready thing in my bag, I'd probably give it to them."
We didn't have any food, and the ducks eventually paddled away, quacking. Mondo and I shot the breeze a bit longer. I told him about Colorado weather, and a little about Miles' job, and then Mondo asks:
"Do you drink?"
"Yeah," I replied.
"Do you smoke weed?"
"Do you party?
"Um, what do you mean by 'party'?" I asked.
"Hey, it's alright if you do, man--I do."
"No, I haven't ever partied."
He digested that for a moment and then asked, "Are you single? Married?"
"I'm single. I'll be traveling for awhile, so it's probably best that I don't have someone back home." Pause. "And yourself?"
"I'm single--I'm single..." Mondo replied, "but I like to play. Do you like to play?"
"Um... Yeah?" I replied, not liking where this was going.
"That's actually why I came here today," he said. "Is that why you're here?"
"Nope," I said. "Just killing time."
We were silent for a while, and then Mondo, wanting to change the subject, eventually asked: "So, what are you going to be doing in Thailand, man?"
I told him again, but when I felt like enough polite conversation had passed, I excused myself.

I actually admired the guy's courage. He knew what he wanted, and he went out there to get it. I have trouble approaching girls, and my intentions are much more innocent and socially acceptable than Mondo's.

Don't believe their lies

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where Miles lives

Driving down the dirt road, you notice that all the houses are fenced in. It's chain-link, however, not 6-foot planks, so the view is open into people's yards. Looking at their properties you may see derelict cars, bikes with flat tires, chicken coops, or overgrown gardens. As you drive through the neighborhood, barking dogs salute you along the fences--two, three, four, or more dogs to every house. Miles' host house fits right in with the neighborhood trend. When he pulls his car up, dogs come up to the fence and wag their whole bodies as he unloads his things.
First Miles usually goes inside to fix dinner. The house has a very lived-in look about it--not in that it's messy, but rather that the passage of time has filled it to capacity with an eclectic mix of sofas, rugs, paintings, Buddha statues, tables, chairs, books, vases, and a zillion other things. Miles cooks dinner using one-of-a-kind dishware, while his host, Mike, busies himself taking things out, putting things away, and making conversation. The dogs, meanwhile, either wrestle amongst themselves in the living room, or stare at you with rapt attention. At the end of a hall, a light under a closed door is the only evidence I saw of another renter, who, I hear, is a crotchety old man. When dinner in cooked and eaten, Miles heads down to his portion of the yard.
Walking down to where he pitches his tent, you pass an old pickup pop-top that's been permanently moored in the backyard. Its resident, also named Mike, has even built a mini fenced-in compound around it, complete with stereo system and tiki torches. Miles makes his camp at the end of the yard under a peppercorn tree that hangs down like a willow. At night, two of the dogs, a golden retriever named Holly (who, by the way, I've fallen in love with) and a boxer named Sara, follow him down to his tent, keeping him company while he gets ready for bed and guarding him while he sleeps.
As night falls, another world comes alive. In the first hours of darkness the dogs of the neighborhood start up their choir. Over the drone of faraway traffic, the dogs sing to one another until their their throats grow hoarse or until they bore of it altogether. Miles says some nights he tries to count how many different barks he hears. After the dogs quit, it's silent for a few hours, but long before dawn approaches, the chickens and roosters begin cock-a-doodle-dooing. There have got to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, and they all crow too early in the morning, probably mistaking the L.A. glow for the rising sun. And the sound has dimension too. I know what hearing 100 roosters crowing in the next yard would probably sound like, but this orchestra is like a vast landscape of sound. The farther the cock, the more muffled and red-shifted the crow.
The chickens and roosters are still going at it when the geese chime in from next door. Miles says their keepers feed them when it starts getting light, and the geese honk and squeak happily as they eat their chow. I don't know the benefits of keeping geese, but I imagine they might lay some mean eggs. When the geese are done feeding and honking, the cycle comes full circle, and some of the neighborhood dogs come out to say hello to the morning. This is about the time Miles and I have been getting up. He doesn't keep a watch in his tent, but using light and livestock, he can usually infer the right time to get ready for work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Riverside: not so bad

It's amazing how a good coffee shop can change your (or maybe just MY) perception of a town. Miles directed me to a good one in Riverside, and I started to think that this place can't be all that bad. If a neighborhood has two or three good coffee shops, I find myself thinking I could probably live around there. If you look at what it takes to support a good coffee shop (let alone several) it says a lot about a neighborhood. To frequent a coffee shop requires disposable time and disposable income. Bars require the same thing, but because coffee is an upper, not a downer, lots of coffee shops indicate an active, wealthy, and social community. The same sort of communities usually support lots of bars as well.
Anyway, Riverside isn't that bad. I went to the top of a hill call Mt. Roubidoux--which, by the way, is no "Mt." Miles called it the Sanitas of Riverside. Here are some photos of it:

The paved "trail" to the top of "Mt." Roubidoux

The triumphant and holy summit

The view of Riverside from the top

Monday, October 5, 2009

One of the hardest things about traveling is not having a routine. This is ironic, because breaking out of routine is usually a top reason to travel in the first place. But there are certain things that I like to do, but it's hard to fit them in while traveling. Let's say, for example, I want to do a yoga class. In Boulder I know of several good places to do yoga, some even with free classes, and I can easily fit it into my day. But while traveling in foreign lands, I hardly know where to begin. I would first need to find a studio either online or in a phone book, and then I'd have to see if the schedule would work. But then some places make you bring your own pad, and some places make you fill out paperwork, and some places just aren't that good. Needless to say, I haven't done a yoga class since I left.
I have gotten used to the overall flow of traveling though. In the first week I had a few low moments when I asked myself what the hell I was doing. I think I can handle that question better now, because I've been in enough situations before where I had to answer it. The thought process goes like this: "What the hell am I doing?" ... "Oh, yeah, I'm traveling around because I feel like I've been in one place too long and I feel like seeing new things and breaking out of routine will somehow open my eyes to profounder states of being, but really all that it'll do is make me realize that life doesn't have to be as complicated as we make it out to be, and that I can live a simple life just about anywhere, just so long as I'm in a healthy environment and around good people."

So that's what's happening on the mental plane. On the physical plane, I got into L.A. yesterday. Between L.A. and Portland, I spent three days in Berkeley with Chris Russell. He is living the artists dream right now. He's sharing a warehouse-type thing that's been converted into half artist workspace, and half living space. He has paintings up in two galleries right now, and he works in a bike shop. What more could a struggling artist ask for?
Miles picked me up from downtown L.A. last night, and we had a nice time reminiscing through L.A. traffic on our way to Riverside. The description of his living situation warrants its own blog post, complete with photos and maybe even video. I'll prepare that for later. I have the day to myself in Riverside while Miles is working, and then we're going to a drive-in movie tonight. So, yeah.