Bali- Nusa Lembongan island Feb2 – Feb7 part 1

All the days have successfully blended together for us on Nusa Lembongan. We spent the entire week relaxing hard!
The view of our hotel from out in the water

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There was a bit of snorkeling. We went out into the water in front of our hotel. The surf break out about 400 meters from shore is named Shipwreck. Everything this side of the break is super calm and would be amazing for snorkeling if there was anything interesting to see down there.

On day two when we donned our masks and took a swim out, for the first two minutes I was completely captivated by all the underwater seaweed farms. And then I realized there are hundreds of them covering every bit of shallow water surrounding Lembongan and the two neighboring islands just east of here but still part of Bali (Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida).

Seaweed cultivation and exportation is Nusa Lembongans big industry. Many families grow, harvest, dry, and sell their seaweed to Japan. All along the coasts and in between buildings there are tarps laid out with drying seaweed. The entire place fucking reeks of seaweed. Heat from the sun plus seaweed equals yucky smells.

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The current price for seaweed is 10,000 rupiah per kilo. That’s 38 cents per pound! The locals are stoked, because just a few months ago they were only getting 2,000 rupiah per kilo.

It’s hard work being a seaweed farmer. They are always working. The crops have a three week cycle. Daily they go out in their boats, or on foot at low tide, bring a few baskets of seaweed in, remove the pieces from their securely tied strings, pick out the good ones, break them in half and string them back together with the “bad” ones and put them back underwater to grow bigger. Then they sort and dry and wait for the “big boat from Bali” to come at the end of the month and pick up the finished product. That one boat buys all the seaweed on the three islands.

Lembongan is the first place on this trip where I feel like I’m submerged in local “daily life”. Everywhere we go, people are working, mainly farming and construction, not just doing tourist stuff. They are up very, very early working, and I see dozens of seaweed farmers beginning work at low tide at sunset and working late into the night with flashlights.

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Lembongan folk are also extremely friendly. On our last night we pulled up to a market for water and Nick was greeted with a shot glass and a smile. A few locals were gathered around drinking, and listening to music bumpin loud on their motorbikes sound system.

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We had scooters the entire time and traveled all over the island, and even crossed a little bridge over to the smaller island Nusa Ceningan.

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On Ceningan there is a cliff jumping spot where you can pay 50,000 rupiah to jump from 13 meters and then climb a ladder back up. The swells were much too big to jump. We imagine the waves would smash a person into the rocks before they could swim to the ladder. The spot was so beautiful though, we had to stop and enjoy the big waves.

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We met a few new people who wanted to jump too. One was ready to go, safe or not! Crazy Canadian, ay.

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Never mind Nicks hat, he only had it for one day before someone stole it off his bike. He was relieved.

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The Balinese kids are awesome! We stopped in a tiny little village on the other side of the island and bought a bracelet from these kids.

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I mentioned that kids start driving young. On our ride around the long side of the island, we were greeted by these three little dudes who were so excited to have their picture taken.

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Some other random pics from our awesome time on Lembongan.

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We took a boat tour through the mangrove forest. Can’t lie: it was a little boring, but still beautiful. Felt nice to support a hard working man who is trying to support his family. He told us he wishes he could visit America and places he sees on TV but has to work everyday to support his family. Another local we met who has never been off this island.

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Bali – scooters and more crossfit in Canggu -22Jan14

Today we packed up and got the hell out of Kuta. But I didn’t escape without another confrontation. Kuta and it’s noise and filth and people have gotten under my skin. I had to see a doctor though, because my ear infection wasn’t getting any better after five days on the Amoxicillian I brought from home. I set out on foot from the hotel and ducked into a little clinic/pharmacy.

My first clue should’ve been the cigarette hanging out of the owners mouth, and the fact he had to call the Doc to come in.
Anyway, to make a long, lame story short, he quoted me a price for the consultation, and then wrote up the receipt for triple that. He also over-charged me for the medicine about ten times what I would pay somewhere else. $35US for ten pills of azithromycin and a small bottle of antibiotic ear drops. Not bad when compared to US prices, but super expensive for this area. I was pissed and yelled at him calling him a liar and telling him that nobody will ever trust him if he does that. He changed the price back to the originally quoted price and pointed to his ear saying “miscommunication”. Bullshit. He speaks great English, as we had a thirty minute full-on conversation while waiting for the Doc. I left very angry, and he held his head low saying sorry over and over again. He just couldn’t resist the urge to pull a fast one on a westerner.

You see, in Thailand, you have to barter because they will quote you extremely inflated prices, and then honor the final agreed upon price. Here, they just lie, or change prices suddenly, or tell you they don’t have change. None of this is particularly new or shocking to me, I think that after six weeks of traveling I’m just a little tired of watching my back (and my front!)

Nick and I left Kuta (and Brandon) and headed north toward the Crossfit gym. I booked a hotel down the street from there for the night. Brekele Barawa Beach House is a 30 second walk from the beach. A non-touristy beach!
It’s a nice, quiet, traditional Balinese place! Half the price of our place in Kuta, just as nice a room, on a cute little family compound. Has a fully equipped, outdoor communal kitchen with free water, coffee, and tea. We rented scooters from the owner for only 40,000 rupiah a day ($3.33US) and finally could enjoy Bali on our own. Here’s the view from the communal kitchen out toward the owners home and “office.”

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We took off for a random ride, with no map other than what I already know in my head from navigating the TAKSI driver here twice. We did what we love doing best here in Asia: we drove around, took in the sites, stopped as we wished, and tried not to get too terribly lost.
We took a random turn down a narrow cobblestone road that eventually opened up to a spectacular view of the rice paddies and Balinese countryside. The ridiculously narrow one-lane two-way cobblestone road was raised up out of the fields. Flying off the road would definitely suck, so I tried not to look that way so my body wouldn’t follow. I just couldn’t believe where we had found ourselves! From Kuta-hell this morning, to open fields and open roads just a few hours later. Suddenly, I fell in love with the Bali I had always imagined. I slowed down to stop at a corner to take it all in and narrowly missed being clipped and clobbered by a bike coming up close behind. Oops, I forgot I was driving because it was so beautiful. Too bad this picture doesn’t do it justice.

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We ended up at Echo beach for lunch. I love that we made it somewhere I wanted to go, purely by accident. This is surfer territory. Echo beach sand is black, the shore is fairly rocky, and the surf is rolling and thrashing. A few dudes with boards dotted the waves at high tide while we had lunch on picnic tables hanging over the water. I hear there’s tons of rock and corral under there. “You better know what you’re doing,” I’ve been warned. Dude, I don’t surf in Southern California, where I’ve lived for 33 years. Why would I try it here, now? Well, maybe that’s an unfair question because I have been known to make stupid decisions.

During lunch (I had the pork belly and veggies) a few traveling sales people came up to try their luck with us. They were friendly, curious, interesting, and respectful, so we spent some time with them. Nick even bought a tuna bone necklace. The lady was trying hard to sell me a tiny Buddha statue, hand-carved by her husband from copper Australian two-dollar coins.

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We made our way back to our place at Barawa beach just in time for me to change and go to the Crossfit class, where I again got to lift weights next to rice fields.

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We did the workout “Fran” consisting of pull-ups and barbell thrusters with a rep-scheme of 21-15-9. Eww. I’ve done it twice before, and it’s definitely not one of my faves. My best time used to be 6:36, today I was aiming for 9 minutes and ended up with 11:34. That’s pretty terrible, except I don’t feel bad at all because I surrendered to my need for rests after my hand tore badly on the third freaking pull-up! Ain’t nobody got time for ripped palms on vacation! Too bad I ripped in four more places by the time I was finished.
I got to workout with the owner Crissilia again, a super cool Kiwi chick with a big heart and super friendly vibe. There’s also a Canadian girl visiting for a few weeks who currently lives in China. I love the push, working hard next to elite athletes. I just wish I was in better shape to actually stand a chance at keeping up. She’s a top level competitor, finishing 3rd in last years Asian regionals! I was shocked to learn that only the first place finisher in this region goes to the games. Yea, it’s a small region, but it includes every country in Asia and the Middle East! Come on HQ, why not take the top 3?

Nick and I set out to use the rest of our gas in the scooters by heading toward town for dinner and some errands. We need plug converters here, unlike Thailand. So after four stops, and a whopping 10,000 rupiah (less than a buck), I can now plug anything in, anywhere in the world. Exciting stuff!
Also changed some US bucks over to Indonesian Rupiah and became an instant millionaire. 12mil baby!

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We stopped for dinner at a busy place claiming to have wicked ribs and naughty martinis in the neighboring town of Seminyak. It looks like Naughty Nuri’s is the place to be here. Private parking, reserved seating, a vibe of exclusivity. We even saw a Porsche in the parking lot. Where the hell did that thing come from?
I was surprised they only offered family-style seating at large tables with strangers. That always makes my gut sink with awkwardness when I see that, and tonight was no exception. We were lucky to share dinner with a sweet Aussie family of four: Dad, Mum, and teenage son and daughter. We shared travel stories and enjoyed each others company over a plate of wicked ribs and glass of Bintang.

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A fantastic lightning show streaked across the dark grey horizon, but we were back before the storm opened up. It poured hard all night long.

Bali-Kuta and Crossfit -21Jan14

Today was a test of mental toughness for us both. Not only did Nick wake up sick with a sore throat and chills, but his stumps were in such terrible shape that he had to spend the entire day in bed. He only got up on his legs once, to use the toilet, and just doing that ripped open his wounds even further.

Days like today make me so sad, watching him suffer. But Nick is such a warrior. He wasn’t in an overly jolly mood, to be expected, but he didn’t complain at all either. I respect his approach to life so much. He’s just trying to make it through the day knowing a better day is right around the corner.

My morning started off with an unusual, very un-Lindsaylike verbal confrontation when I walked to get some water at the small mom-and-pop market next to the hotel. I was buying several liters of water and a few packs of cough drops and vitamins for Nick.
Unlike the throngs of 7-11’s in Thailand, this place had no posted prices, so I asked the lady to give me the price of each individual item as I wandered around the store. When she rang me up she told me to give her 75,000 Rupiah ($6.41US). I leaned over the counter and saw that everything added up to only 62,000. A difference of 13,000 is only a little more than $1US, but a buck is a buck. And she was purposefully trying to cheat me. I told her she lied to me and that it made me never want to shop there again. She just gave me an angry “sorry” before giving me my correct change, and quickly disappeared to the back. I counted the change wrong and yelled for her to come back to give me the rest of my change. Oops. I was tired and thirsty and hungry. She flipped the fuck out on me, yelling that she gave me change and started trying to grab my wallet. I immediately realized I was wrong and apologized and told her I was wrong, but that I didn’t trust her because she originally lied to me. She kept yelling and throwing her hands up and sneering at me. I turned to leave, called her a liar and cheat one more time (not my finest moment) and said I’d be telling all my friends not to shop there (all 1 of my friends here in Bali!).
But when I opened the door I saw an old Aussie man walking by and told him, which makes two friends! He rightly assumed I just got to town because otherwise I’d know to just expect that shit. He said I have to be extremely careful when dealing with money here. Many of them here in tourist hell just can’t resist the temptation to swindle westerners. Geez, Kuta is making me miss Thailand left and right.

Brandon kept Fener company for a few hours in the afternoon while I lounged in the lobby, trying to shake off my morning and enjoy some quiet alone time. They also hung out a little bit while I went to Crossfit.

I’ve been visualizing getting to the Crossfit in Bali for a long time, so I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from going. The “Taksi” ride was 45 minutes to get there in crazy Asian traffic, and 40 minutes back. I had to pay close attention because I only had a few landmarks to direct the driver by, since he had no idea what Crossfit is.

S2S Crossfit is in a little area called Canggu, a few towns north of where we are staying in Kuta. Canggu and neighboring Keroboken have the Bali vibe I was expecting. The Bali vibe that Kuta has massively failed to deliver. Small, relatively uncrowded streets lined with huge green plants and trees and dotted with a mix of buildings and rice fields.

The gym is in a tiny building, with half the workout area being completely outside, including their pull-up rigs and climbing ropes.

I was greeted with smiles and handshakes immediately when I got there. Everyone introduced themselves and made me feel super welcome. Such a great feeling, especially at a gym that probably has hundreds of drop-ins a year.

I did my front squats with a sweet English chick who has lived here for two months. The trainer was from San Diego, and most of the others were either European or Aussie. I think.

I was thrilled to do “Annie” for the main workout. I really needed a familiar slice of home today. Double unders and sit-ups, with a rep scheme of 50-40-30-20-10. I’ve done “Annie” about 25 times now. It’s one of my favorite quick workouts. Even as fat and out of shape that I’ve become, using a crappy jump rope, I only missed my best time by 30 seconds today with a respectable 6:57. I finished third in the class, pacing myself just behind the owner Crissilia. What a great experience!

When I finally got back to the hotel, Nick was sleeping in bed, sweating and covered in blankets in the freezing air conditioned room. Poor guy. I went to the hotel restaurant to get ribs for him. We spent the evening laying in bed together watching Aussie programming on the Discovery channel.

Hoping he feels better soon and that I don’t get sick next.
Ox Soup

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S2S Crossfit

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Dinner for one please.

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Bali- first day in Kuta – 20Jan14

We pulled our first all-nighter flight of the trip and I’m just glad it’s over. 11-midnight flight to Bangkok. “Sleep” in the airport. 6am-11am flight to Bali. Next time I’ll plan that better. It was really hard on us because there was so much walking at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, and a lot of standing in lines for customs and immigration in Bali. Nick handled it all like a champ and usually just went to the front or found the lines for special people. I even gave him a ride on our luggage cart. That’s a good way to get people to look at you!

So, Indonesia now. This is our first time below the Earths waistline. It’s super humid. The air is thick with moisture near the airport, a little more breezy here by the beach. It’s rainy season so it’s been windy and rainy each night and sunny with scattered clouds during the day.

We smarted up since our late night arrival in Chiang Mai with no accommodations. We had a hotel booked in Kuta, Bali already, hand-selected by our long time buddy Brandon who we will be spending 11 days with here.

Dekuta hotel is probably nicer than hotels I would stay at in the US, for only $33US a night. This place is clean and airy, built 70’s Hollywood style, and obsessed with Hollywood pop culture and rock and roll.

The town Kuta, on the other hand, is a tourist cesspool. Nothing against all my drunk Aussie friends, but I’ve been told (and have read), and now see first hand, that Kuta is where the Aussies come to let it all hang out. Yup, this place is crowded, loud, and touristy. But somehow, when we were making our way through town in the “TAKSI” from the airport, I got a true beach town feel from the place as well.

Surf shops are everywhere. People are enjoying the beach and the shopping and eating. It reminds me a little of Huntington Beach in Southern California.

Nick and I had breakfast (at 3pm) at the hotel restaurant. And then caught up with Brandon and his Taiwanese friend Amber by the pool for a couple of hours before Nick needed to go lay down.

There is a mall next door. Yes, a mall. With western shops and restaurants. They have all sorts of familiar eats here: Coldstone, Johnny Rockets, Tony Roma’s, and all the fast food chains. We took Amber to try her first ever Dairy Queen blizzard, and I took advantage of the unique Asian menu. They were promoting peanut butter and Nutella, two options you won’t find on US DQ menus. So a peanut butter Oreo Blizzard was immensely enjoyed by me. And Amber loved hers as well.

We parted ways and I walked around the streets for an hour or so while Nick was napping. I know no Balinese, yet anyway, and found I didn’t need any. These people all speak decent English. I suppose you’d have to in this town. They remind me of the locals in Tijuana or Rosarito. I bartered hard with a few shop owners. One kept speaking to herself in Balinese, undoubtedly talking shit on me, and then tried to pull a fast one on me by saying she didn’t have change.

Brandon took us to a cute little Cuban restaurant for dinner. He’s a salsa dancer, so he was teaching Amber a few steps, and dancing with one of the waitresses. We hung out a couple of hours and they had mojitos.

We got back to the hotel at 11:30pm, waaaaay past my bed time. Seriously, that is the latest Nick and I have been out in over a month. We weren’t even out that late on NYE. All the little shops by our hotel were shut up and the street was dark and creepy. I walked a ways in both directions looking for somewhere to get water, but no luck. I didn’t really go too far because I didn’t feel very safe. I don’t like not having a scooter, and not really knowing where we are yet.
An hour later the storm broke and it rained hard all night.

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Thailand – Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai- 17Jan 2014

Well, I guess we can go home now because I can’t imagine anything topping our visit to Tiger Kingdom today.

We rode our scooters about 10 kilometers north of town to spend 840 baht and about 30 minutes petting and cuddling with tigers. They have four different sized tigers you can hang out with: smallest (2-3 months), small (6 months), medium (12 months), and big (18 months). The way they set up the packages, we opted to visit the small and big tigers. I’m secretly wishing we had paid to see the smallest ones too, but oh well.

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Tiger Kingdom breeds these cats, producing one to two litters a month, and then raises them by human hand.

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They advertise that the animals are not drugged, and after being there and interacting with about 10 different tigers, I believe them. Just standing outside the cages I could feel the respect each cat had for all the trainers.

Each cage had about five or six tigers wandering around or sleeping, and the same amount of trainers (or tour guides, really) walking small groups of tourists from tiger to tiger.

We entered the small tiger cage first, which was about 1000 square feet, and met our guide Peng. He was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, having a degree in animal science from Chiang Mai University. He brought us to the first tiger and instructed Nick to approach from behind, never the front. Approach slowly and make no sudden moves or sudden loud noises. Never to touch their faces, heads, or front paws. And never encourage or insight playfulness. He said we should pet the tigers firmly, that they don’t like gentle touch (we were told the same thing about the elephants).

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The trainers spent half the time entertaining us, taking our picture, and telling us about the tigers, and the other half of the time monitoring and correcting the tigers behavior (which I obviously appreciated). If they turned their belly and head toward us, the trainer nudged them to turn back. If they became too interested in us, they nudged the tigers head away or distracted them with a “tiger toy” made of a long bamboo stick with bunches of grass at the end. They would use the toy the same way we would use one with a house cat. I found it interesting and cute that tigers are so easily entertained and become fixated on a toy the exact same way. I’ve also heard that some people who are allergic to house cats have had the same allergic reaction when visiting these tigers. See, they’re just cats, only bigger. Nothing to be afraid of!

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We got to lay with the tigers, using their hips as pillows. We cuddled and pet them. Nick kept trying to get closer and closer to their ears, but the trainer was quick to correct and tell Nick to stay away from their heads. But Nick did get to feel one of the small tigers tongues. Who can say that?

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The tiger was licking his coat, and Nick put his hand in the licking path. He said the tongue was like a strong muscle, wrapped in sand paper. And wet.

Most of the small tigers were trying to nap while we were there, except a few who were wandering around trying to stir up trouble with the trainers by pouncing and playing with the ones who were sleeping. Nick had one come up behind him and try to wrestle with the tiger he was laying on. The trainer quickly stopped it and a different trainer came along to tend to the rogue tiger and calm him down. He was just being a playful, curious young animal, but they discourage that when the tourists are there. Duh. It’s a 130 pound curious cat with growing teeth and claws. Claws they sand down once a week. At six months old though, their claws aren’t yet fully developed and neither are their teeth. Still, I wouldn’t want to find out how it feels to be gnawed on by them.

After about fifteen minutes of hanging out with four or five small tigers, we left the cage and waited for 20 minutes to enter the big tiger cage. While we waited, we watched one of the big tigers sit on the ledge of the pool inside the cage and pee and poo in it. They are trained to go in the water like that (think: Jinxy cat pooping in the toilet in the movie Meet the Parents). He even made a poop face when squeezing it out. I had no idea that tigers make a poop face too!

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They called our number and we entered the cage with our new guide Louie. I could tell he loves his job. He loved taking pictures of us and playing with the big cats.

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At one point he instructed me to sit behind one and not move. Then he tickled its ear with the big cat toy. The tiger sprung up so fast, focused and ready to play. Of course this served for a great photo op!

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The big ones were my favorite. At 18 months old, they’re already 500 pounds and over 10 feet long from tail to nose. When one was lifting his front legs up onto the cage and standing tall trying to chase the toy, he was easily 8-9 feet tall.

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Their paws are enormous.

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Their teeth are enormous.

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In general, they are enormous creatures. I really had no idea they were so big because I had never been so close.

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When I got to spoon with the the biggest tiger, I realized just how blessed I am to be here with Nick. That we could share this experience together. Just two and a half years ago a doctor told me he would never walk again. And here we are, riding elephants and cuddling with tigers in Thailand. Totarrry unberrrrievabrre.

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Thailand – stuck in bed in Chiang Mai -Jan16 2014

Poor Nick. He always has to pay for it in pain when he has a good time. His stumps are really bothering him again. They’re swollen and cut up. We actually tried to reschedule our elephant trek yesterday because he could barely walk, but it was too late, and we weren’t about to miss it.

So today, Nick didn’t put his legs on at all. He stayed in bed. Didn’t even get up out of bed once. I’m not sure his legs would have fit, even if it wasn’t too painful for him to wear them.

I got up early and went to a morning Crossfit class, even though I was incredibly sore from the night before. We did heavy back squats, push ups, sit ups, and kettle bell swings. So in fourteen hours I’ve successfully used every muscle in my body. I hope I can walk tomorrow.

I just hung around the hotel with Nick all day, keeping him company, running to get food, and just hanging out.

In the evening, my soreness was coming on hard. You know the kind: when you have to hold onto the wall and brace yourself just to get seated on the toilet. So I went for a massage and then visited the popular night bazaar just outside of town. It requires a lot of walking, so I figured going by myself would be the best.

I drove to where I thought the night market was and found the “locals” market. Blocks of street stalls selling stuff the Thai people would want to buy. Lots of household goods, food, clothes, flowers for religious offerings, even puppies. I was the only foreigner there.

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I left and headed in the direction I thought was home and accidentally ran into the night bazaar I was originally looking for. This one was going off! I parked my scooter in front of the McDonalds and Burger King, across from the Subway, Haagan Daaz, and Starbucks, and began shuffling through the crowds of people browsing the rows of stalls. People were everywhere. I mean, farangs were everywhere. That’s what the Thais call westerners. It’s their version of gringo. I was officially in tourist hell.

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I didn’t buy anything, and quickly grew tired of fighting the crowds to look at the same stuff, so I left. And of course, as I was driving away, I saw another night bazaar I had to stop at. Instead of lining a busy street, it was in a huge open area. They had beautiful handicrafts and fabrics, live fish stalls, and live music. Pushing through the crowds, running into people, I quickly made my way across the market, following the sound of an American accent singing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to an amplified acoustic guitar.

I found a little cafe surrounded by art stalls, and a Thai dude sitting outside on a stool singing and playing into a mic in front of about twenty tables of people. He sounded really good, unlike the Thai band we heard on New Years Eve. Apparently a Pink Floyd fan (who isn’t?), next he played the first song off Dark Side of the Moon, Speak to Me/Breathe. By then I was on my way out, already an hour late to meet Nick back at the room with his dinner.

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Street pad thai and mango sticky rice for take-away please!

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Thailand – Getting lost: Day 1 in Chiang Mai – Jan14 2014

Oh my god I love this city. I can already tell we didn’t plan enough time here. Damn it, why do we have to fly to Bali so soon?

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Then our first order of business was to get motor bikes and see the city. It took us about 15 minutes to find gas, and then another 30 to find our way back from getting gas. That’s even with a map. Two maps.
The roads are crazy here, filled with crazy drivers. It’s a good thing I have progressed slowly to this, otherwise I’d be pooping my pants. Driving on the calm, slow-paced islands was training wheels for driving in Chiang Mai.
And I love it! Driving on the left side of the road feels surprisingly natural to me. Driving with no rules feels so good. You just…go. Where you want, when you want, how you want. I quickly learned that you’ve got to own the road, or the road will own you.
People driving everywhere, passing each other, going into oncoming traffic, merging when there’s no room to merge, turning without space to turn in to, driving the wrong way, not stopping at stop signs, stopping in the middle of the street, carrying an entire family on a motorbike, you name it! “Baa” is Thai for crazy. Thai driving is certifiably baa.
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We took the bikes and visited a few wats (temples). There are almost 300 temples in Chiang Mai. We saw three and then called it quits. Worshippers and visitors are expected to dress modestly and remove shoes. No short skirts or shorts and no bare shoulders. Nick even took off his shoes.

The temples are absolutely breathtaking works of art. The Thai Buddhists sure do love their gold. We walked into each wat and out of respect I kneeled down in the front to briefly clear my mind and then study their statues and “alters”. Nick stayed in the back or moseyed around the sides to avoid fumbling around even attempting to kneel. The temples were quiet, brightly lit, and had a calming energy to them. One had bright hand painted murals depicting stories of the Buddha. And there was even a crystal Buddha statue dating back to the 1300’s.

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The statue of the old monk was so incredibly lifelike, we had to stare at it for a few minutes to believe he wasn’t real. That completely creeped us both out and we left right away.
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We drove around some more, just basically exploring and stopping as we pleased. Just enjoying the day in the city together.
Food is so cheap in Chiang Mai. Street pad thai is about 45 baht as opposed to 80 down on the islands. We found a fruit stall that sells sizable portions of fresh mangoes and papayas and watermelon for only 10 baht. That’s like 33 cents. You can’t buy shit for 33 cents in the US. I am getting so spoiled, stretching a dollar so far over here.
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A dollar isn’t the only thing I’m stretching either. Thanks to copious amounts of sticky rice and Thai goodies, my waistline is stretching too. I’m glad there’s a Crossfit here in Chiang Mai, because being in vacation mode, and having a busted toe for so long makes it really easy to be lethargic. I’ve really, really missed my intense workouts and weightlifting, so we drove to the crossfit for a drop in class. The gym is located north of the Old City, off the “super highway.” Just getting there was like a workout. The evening traffic was NUTS!

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I got there early and eager, and even emailed them in the morning to tell them I was coming, but they wouldn’t let me workout. I was so bummed! They had misinformation on their website, didn’t reply to my email from early that morning, and wouldn’t bend the rules to allow a visitor to drop-in on their “special” barbell class.

If I wasn’t so desperate to get a few WOD’s in while I’m here, and if they weren’t the only Crossfit in town, I would’ve told the lady to suck it. But I didn’t. Nick and I left and decided to get some food. That is, once we figured out how to get back to the city.

All day long we had to stop every few blocks and check the map. Then usually turn around because we were going the wrong way, which usually involved going way out of the way and doing a U turn onto another one-way street. Seriously, getting around is half the fun here. Nick went with me to Crossfit just so he could drive around some more. And I’m grateful he did. We just stumbled upon this night market and had some interesting grub.

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We tried spicy tentacle skewers, from either an octopus or squid. Who knows. I can’t believe I even wanted to try it. When in Thailand…

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We also tried pig guts on a stick.

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I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Eww. But for the low low price of only 5 baht, I have a priceless lifetime memory of the unmistakable taste of pig shit. I took a bite and tried to chew two or three times and realized I couldn’t get past the texture. It was like a flexy, chewy, plastic-y, shit-filled morsel. But I was so focused on the way it felt in my mouth that I completely missed the taste. I spit it out, and then Nick tried a bite. He got one good chew and spit it out yelling, “That’s shit. There’s still shit inside.” Ewww. Ewww. Ewwwww!

Surin Islands SCUBA live-aboard trip- Thailand 9Jan14 – 12Jan14

I’m not sure where to begin describing the awesomeness of our diving experience onboard the Andaman for the last three days and three nights. Wow! Let me start by saying I wish we had planned to do a seven day live aboard trip instead!

This was the first time Nick and I have spent more than one night on a dive boat. The live-aboard situation is superior to day trips because it’s much more relaxed. The diving starts early, but the surface interval time between dives is about three hours. Long enough for food, a nap, socializing, reading, whatever. On a day trip you get out of the water, eat, and get back in fairly quickly; it’s very tiring. At the end of each day on the live aboard I didn’t feel nearly as beat up as I thought I would.

There was no rushing around on this trip. Nick completed all nine dives, even though he originally thought he would only have energy to do six or so. He even got to nap on one of the ships three hammocks between pretty much every dive.

We finished our PADI Advanced Diver SCUBA course by completing the last two dives: a deep dive to 30 meters and a fish identification dive. I’m happy it’s done. It was not hard or even challenging, but I’m proud to have done it and I’m proud that Nick could keep up too. As an advanced diver we can legally go to 30 meters and do wrecks. Being told we can’t dive because we are not “advanced” is one technicality we will never face again. Yay.

We finished the course with a lovely Swiss woman called Rebekka. She was not only our instructor, but our personal guide and helper for the entire three days. She was assigned specifically to me and Nick. She set up and switched all of our equipment after each dive, she briefed us on the dives, and guided us through each site. It was so nice to be guaranteed a small group with an attentive guide who was there to assist Nick if he needed help getting through currents or back on the boat. She was so friendly and helpful and funny and personable. We had a really great time with her.

The diving in general was amazing. We dove the Surin Islands. They are the northern most islands off the west coast of Thailand just before entering the seas of Burma. In the SCUBA world this area is typically famous for the Similan Islands, but our schedule wouldn’t get us there, only to the Surins. I’m so grateful. Everyone we’ve talked to likes the Surin area much more than the Similans. It’s more colorful, less crowded, has a few unique species that aren’t found at the Similans (shark fin guitar fish, for example, spotted by another group on the second day), and one of the dives Richilieu Rock is routinely voted one of the best dive sites in the world.

Our last two dives were at Richilieu Rock, and even though the visibility was uncharacteristically shit, it was still an absolutely incredible dive. The plant life alone is enough to keep your eyes completely happy on a fifty minute dive. The soft coral came in colors and shapes I’ve never seen before: greens and purples, clusters and table-top fans.

We did a night dive the first night. The visibility was great, and they provided high quality flashlights. I’ve only done one other night dive, at a site called Shark Alley in Belize where it was surgy and scary and unorganized and crowded. This was not the case diving with Sea Dragon. They run a class act operation. A tight ship. Literally. We got a thorough briefing before the dive and they took us to a great location. This dive turned both our negative feelings about night dives around. What a relaxed experience. We played with a lot of shrimp. Apparently there is a particularly tiny species here that is strong enough to break glass with it’s punch. We were told stories of these shrimp breaking diving masks. Their little arms aren’t actually cracking the glass, I guess it’s the force their punch creates in the water, and that’s what can break the glass. Kind of like how a high pitched sound can do the same. I don’t know how true it is, but I saw those little dudes and they packed a mean punch when I put my GoPro up to them. We also played with Cleaner Shrimp. They like to climb on things and clean them, like the mouths and eyes of moray eels, and human finger nails, etc.

Over the nine dives we saw barracuda, bright little shrimps, big schools of big tuna, puffer fish, tons of colorful butterfly fish and parrotfish, big and small eels, many colorful and strange sea cucumbers and slugs, squids, and even octopus.

The sea cucumbers alone were something to write home about…
“Dear Dad, today I dove in Thailand and stuck my finger in a sea cucumbers butt looking for the crab that lives there.” I couldn’t help myself. Their butt sphincters were opening and closing and I could see inside. Apparently one species of little crab likes to make shelter inside of the sea cucumbers ass. What a life.

And the squid (AKA cuttlefish)! They were big and translucent and had peering eyes. They were also having sex (cuttle-fucking perhaps…) while a third one was acting as a body guard. He swam over to me when I got a little too close with the camera, letting me know to back off.

On the second day, they took us to a beautiful white sand beach on Koh Surin where we could relax and explore for an hour. Nick stayed on the boat and napped in a hammock. I checked out the beach. Absolute paradise.

On the second to last dive, Nick made a painful mistake and accidentally set his hand on a lion fish. The irony is that he warned me on the first day not to touch them when he saw me reach out for one. They are poisonous, but insanely beautiful, graceful creatures. They are slow to move away when humans approach, unafraid because most people know not to touch, so I’m guessing they don’t feel threatened. Nick accidentally put his hand down on one, thinking it was just a rock and got a stinger in the thumb. He said it felt like a bee sting. He made it through the remainder of the dive and then soaked his thumb in hot water during breakfast. It’s swollen and purple, but I think he has managed to escape a third amputation.

My favorite moment of the dive trip was finding a very long, snake/worm/cucumber thing. I have officially named it the Human Touch Induced Self Retracting Sea Snake Cucumber Worm. It was stretched out about three feet long, maybe an inch in diameter. Undulating to move forward, little flower-shaped sucking tentacle-thingies guiding it’s way along the ocean floor. It’s long, soft body was white and grey and black at 75 feet, which could mean it’s beautiful shades of red for all I know; our eyes can’t filter or see all the colors at that depth.
I turned on the GoPro and touched the Sea Worm (I love touching everything, sorry if that offends any uptight divers out there). It went into defensive mode, immediately retracting it’s entire body back into itself, starting with the tentacles and working it’s way backward until it became a solid hard lump, like a sea cucumber. I’ve never seen anything like it. Our guide Rebekkah was completely enthralled. She had never seen that before either. Maybe she’s seen the “snake” but never touched it to see what would happen. I saw two more on that dive and then never again. The underwater world is such a weird place!

So, in total, we made twelve dives this week. That’s twice as many as Nick had previously done in the time since his accident. His confidence has gone through the roof and he’s got a good gearing-up, foot-switching, and cleaning-up system going now to make each dive run smoothly. We will DEFINITELY be doing another live-aboard dive trip again in the future. Only question is where…?

We couldn’t be happier returning to Khao Lak for one night to relax and get used to being back on land before flying out tomorrow night to Chiang Mai. Only one week left in Thailand. Wow!
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All aboard the Andaman!

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Dive briefings with hand drawn maps before every dive.

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Only an hour on a beautiful beach.

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Random shots from the boat.

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Nick and Rebekkah

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A beautiful sunrise looking out from our cabin window.

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Asleep on the taxi back to the dive shop. A trip worth taking again!

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