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The Temple of Aeolus

November 2015-  Though there was a chill in the air, the sun was shining brightly and with about a fifteen-hundred foot elevation gain; we could not have had a more beautiful day. There was at least a ten degree (Fahrenheit) temperature difference in the shadows of the canyon walls, which only encouraged me to pick up the pace. I underestimated our hike and was completely taken by surprise how adventurous the trail had become. Frost and snow greeted us as we ascended the giant boulder jutting from the earth. The last stretch of the trail was quite narrow as cliffs dwell on one side, the other, or both. A chain railing was provided for extra security, which I appreciated as I reached Angels Landing.

"The View"

“The View”

I had recognized the view from popular representations of Zion National Park in the media and as many times as I had seen the image, I had seen nothing. I was captivated by the rusted rocks and how its interior bled out, staining the aged face of the mountainside. Its skin wrinkled, porous, rough, I almost say ugly; yet, that would be wrong. It had character and within the cracks and crevasses was a story, detailed with every groove and bulge. Respecting the elders, I observed and absorbed what was gifted to me at that moment; serenity.

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A childhood friend and I had miraculously crossed paths in the middle of the Rocky Mountains a few days prior, he was traveling west as I drifted east. I had no plan, itinerary, or any idea what I was doing (nothing new), so I figured I might as well tag along with one of my best friend’s on a journey to Zion. We were lucky it was the low season because Eric spoke of how chaotic his last trip was a few summers past. He said it was a solid, single-file line walking on the spine of the rock formation, everyone grasping the safety chain for dear life, overpopulating the monument completely. Seeing that the angels are growing on Angels Landing (six people have fallen to their deaths since 2004), I am shocked the hike is open to the public to begin with or that there is not a permit required.

Angels Landing

Angels Landing

I feel that the amount of visitors to Angels Landing should be restricted for the sake of public safety, as well as preserving the trail. Some people tend to lack common sense nowadays, plus, the amount of foot traffic upon such a special and delicate national treasure should be assessed to see how much damage is truly being caused. Those that have participated know exactly what I am talking about and to everyone else who is clueless; we learn something new every day.

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A Sight to See

Over five years ago I did a work exchange in Ordway, Colorado and I here I am again today. The skills, confidence, and experiences I have gained are priceless and I will always cherish my memories here; however, I value the people that made those memories most. Ordway is the “dying American town” and anyone can come to see what bad politics, a recession, and Wal-Mart has done to a once thriving American community. So, when y’all fly to Denver to smoke weed or are driving cross country; stop in Crowley County.

Traveling the U.S.A in 2016?

Are you including Colorado?

Alt. Colorado T-shirt

Escape the crowds and cities; enjoy the serenity of the High Plains.

 

We offer 5 day package tours (Monday to Friday).

  • Accommodation and meals included.
  • Horseback riding, history and heritage tours (dinosaur tracks, theater, local rodeos, Koshare Indian Dance performance, local cycle tours etc).
  • Learn to sail (or improve your skills) on a lake at 4,200 feet / 1300m.
  • Enjoy the relaxed pace and western lifestyle just two hours southeast of Denver.

For more information:

Gillian at “Alternative Colorado”

AlternativeColoradoLLC@outlook.com

Local Theater Productionshttp://www.canyonsandplains.com/heritage-attractions/picketwire-theater/

The Dinosaur Trackshttp://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60731-d624839-r124816503-Picketwire_Canyonlands-La_Junta_Colorado.html

A Replica Trading Post from the 1800’shttp://www.nps.gov/beol/index.htm

Crowley Heritage Centerhttp://www.crowleyheritagecenter.com/index.php/crowley-county/history

Koshare Indian Productionshttp://www.kosharehistory.org/

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-This is an excerpt from an untitled story I am writing about an epic train ride I survived last December through Northern Myanmar. Enjoy.

 

December 2014           … I walked the station platform and immediately noticed another lone Westerner. I made sure he was in the right spot and soon discovered my companion for the long, hellish journey ahead. Franchesco, an Italian physicist, was on holiday for a few weeks in Myanmar, and had planned to take the train to the furthest stop north, Myitkyina. Our two hour discussion waiting for our delayed train assured me how fortunate I was to have met such a stellar gent. We amused ourselves with the possibility of our arrival being delayed over twelve hours as rumored, oblivious to our fates.

The train slowly approached still chugging as passengers raced over one another in a frenzy to toss their luggage through random, open windows. Franc and I were curious how people even knew their seats prior to boarding. Within minutes on the train we knew it would be a rough ride. We faced our fellow passenger as if we were dining at a restaurant, except without the table and the food. Our seats were as fancy as the most primitive park bench, sitting perpendicular. My boney ass ground against my seat majority of the ride, unless I was completely airborne. Ten legs crowded the center of our booth as we configured around a few large parcels. I realized it was no mere coincidence that the only foreigners on the train sat next to one another and were the only passengers with seat numbers as well, which may have been for additional comfort or spying as well. Franc’s guide book tipped us off that spies are sometimes hired to watch foreigner’s activities when entering restricted areas, causing us paranoia later on.

Only three scenarios could have made this ride any worse; rude passengers, diarrhea, or the train derailing. The restroom consisted of a hole in the floor with a toilet seat on it, relieving all waste to the tracks below. When cleared, we could see though the floor boards of the aisles and beneath our feet. The train crept along like a slug, which was acceptable seeing that the cars swayed as if they were boats on a stormy sea. Flashbacks of riding an old, wooden roller coaster flared my adrenaline as passengers endured every ache and pain the train had, frequently launching us from our hard, unpadded seats. I shared a laugh every so often with the woman across from me as we watched random unconscious heads bob up and down to the beat of the tracks. Other times I witnessed passengers momentarily traumatized after being ripped from a dream state, comprehending the transition which had just occurred. I imagine my own past dreams in which I am falling from the sky and the act of my physical body actually doing so from the couch or bed amplified my emotions. It felt so real.

A tour of our three car lower-class quarters had quickly boasted our celebrity status. Smiles, glares, handshakes, and photo-bombing were all acknowledged as we returned to our seats. The lack of Westerners in Myanmar was noticeable, but the northern states rarely saw any foreigners. I was told Hopin, my departure stop, saw about sixty foreigners throughout 2012. Franc and I spoke for many hours, with a conversation or two more personal than others, until he decided to get some sleep. It tends to be easier to open up to a stranger at times because there is nothing to lose. We hardly knew one another and will most likely never meet again. I grew envious of those surrounding, resting peacefully as they were casted throughout the aisles and benches of the decrepit train car. I would get a few hours rest tops, but nothing solid. Many passengers slept through seismic train activity, displaying impressive sleep skills.

I blankly starred as drowsiness began to cloud my consciousness, yet my body remained alert as it was repetitively jerked by the bumpy tracks. My daze was broken by a subtle tap on my shoulder. It was a hesitant man inviting me to join his friends for a drink. We stepped between the scattered body parts that now occupied the aisle toward his booth, confident to not interrupt the dreams that lie before us. My newfound friend and his comrades welcomed me with open arms, assuring me the evening had just begun…

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Myanmar, Not Burma

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

December 2014-

I love Myanmar. Some moments I had there were rougher than others, which just made them that much more memorable. I have never been so welcomed and accepted in my life. No joke, I was a celebrity. The Burmese are genuinely welcoming and curious of foreigners. It was nice to speak with people that were actually interested in my story than those just looking to push a sale or beg for money, which occurred often throughout parts of Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The country had been slammed by a technological sweep as infrastructure quickly improved to accommodate foreigner’s needs, such as mobile phones becoming more reliable and affordable, compared to previous years. Rumors were that a sim card cost hundreds of dollars and it rarely worked because of limited cell sites. Now that tourism has boomed, cell phone usage has skyrocketed with some employees handling at least two or three phones to address business and personal affairs. Wifi and ATM’s are becoming more widespread, yet many are still rarely functional.

 

Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

With borders only open to tourists within the last two years, Myanmar was different from anywhere I have ever travelled. It appeared the country was at an awkward phase in its growth. The Burmese Government has held a firm grip over its people for decades, persecuting those speaking against the government and restricting foreigner entry. Figures of freedom, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, are the inspiration that has influenced the Burmese people to stand up for their rights. Many natives do not believe in addressing the country as Burma any longer because it only represents past hardships. With a progression towards freedom, Burma is lost and now Myanmar resides. Though life has been improving in recent years, it is far from perfect.

 

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

The surge of tourism has now suddenly thrown Myanmar into the rat race of the 21st century with technology and corporate interest oozing out of every orifice possible. I witnessed a reoccurring theme while I bounced around Southeast Asia of foreign government and corporate interests scooping up every profitable resource and market for maximum capitalization. This was well established throughout many regions of Cambodia and Laos, with entire mountains (literally) bulldozed to accommodate palm oil and rubber tree plantations. The fascinating, though tragic, part about visiting Myanmar at such an early stage of expansion was watching how quickly investors are capitalizing on the new travel hotspot. I do not remember numbers or specifics, but I recollect a news broadcast while I was in Bagan detailing the amount of money tourism has brought the thriving nation in the past two years. It was an exceptionally large amount that only leads me to predict a wave of new development; good and bad. As I witnessed in Vietnam, lavish and absurd structures (hotels, and pointless skyscrapers included) were constructed in every other city to establish another “must-see” temple, monument, or pagoda in hopes of persuading tourists to pay a visit. With McDonalds and KFC infecting the land of Myanmar as of spring 2015, I am interested to see how the nation develops in coming years.

 

Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

Of all the hearsay, research, and photography that I encounter prior to visiting anywhere, whether it is a foreign land across the world or the grocery store down the street; its true essence can never be captured. I have to go there myself. I must be present, physically and mentality, which is not always the case. I am sure we have all had those times when we are physically where we are suppose to be, but mentally a universe away. I know I do often, which is why I allow myself enough time to daze off into nothingness and appreciate the moment for what it is worth. Myanmar, a place not yet engulfed by tourism and corporate interests, holds an innocent beauty that will unfortunately only dwindle away day by day as growth settles in like a child becoming a teenager.

 

Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar

Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar

To those who have supported my travels and writing all these years; thank you for your support. I appreciate the patient followers that wait for my next entertaining story. To every friend, enemy, relative, peer, lover, stranger, host, guest, and guide I have encountered throughout my journey on this earth; thanks for joining me. Everyone’s encouragement has inspired me to apply to Grad School next fall. Applying does not mean accepted, so I will see what happens. As far as joejoeonthego, next time I will entertain with the extremes of what is just another day in Myanmar.

 

 

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Mergui Depths

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December 2014

The price to embark on an epic five day / four night dive cruise was a significant amount of what I spent overall traveling throughout Southeast Asia (roughly five months), but worth every single baht. Thanks to the Smiling Seahorse, I had a rare view of the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar that few have witnessed. The dive shop was located on the Thailand / Myanmar border, which was a perfect crossing option from Thailand into Myanmar to continue backpacking after the cruise. With a twenty five to thirty meter descent at some sites, escaping the noise of reality and diving into the deep, compressed, silence of the ocean was a wonderful introduction to Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Our ship, The MV Thai Sea

Our ship, The MV Thai Sea

After living on a shoestring budget for months and spending twelve days at a Buddhist monastery prior; I felt like a king. I had a mattress and a hot shower. The meals on the cruise were astounding. Some of the best food I ate in Asia. Curry, crepes, ribs, fresh fruit, and so much more delicacies to occupy my hunger. Four dives a day meant a solid meal was necessary to keep up with our schedule. Thankfully, great food, company, and exploration kept the energy flowing all day, every day.

Uninhabited Islands, The Mergui Archipelago

Uninhabited Islands, The Mergui Archipelago

Rough waters tossed the boat our first evening as we traversed towards our furthest dive site. I rolled from left to right in my bed as if I were a bottle in the back of a pickup, grateful for popping the motion sickness pills advised earlier. I was nervous the first dive because it had been almost a year since my last and I have minimal experience; however, the support of staff and other divers offered confidence to carry on. In fact, this dive trip more than doubled my dive log. My dive master, Anna, was so friendly and made me feel safe each dive. She spotted everything in the vicinity to offer the liveliest dive and made sure her divers were always comfortable.

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Each dive was a unique and enjoyable experience. We were diving caves, uninhabited islands, swan with schools, and ventured the night waters. The caves were intense, but exciting. The mighty ocean forced us back and forth. Everyone had to continue pedaling forward, even while being pushed backwards to avoid kicking the following divers.

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Assembling in a school of jellyfish became mesmerizing until I asked myself if I was in any danger. I then drifted away to play it safe, remembering our remoteness. I was already cautious of scorpion fish, which camouflage to the rock and coral flawlessly. With a wicked sting that causes an extraordinary amount of pain and being hours away from shore, encountering a scorpion fish meant the cruise was over. Luckily, the attentiveness of everyone was superb, avoiding the bad and observing the good. Untouched coral, moral eels, schools of tuna, harlequin shrimp, yellowtail seahorses, lion fish, barracudas, lobsters, and a stingray to only brush the top of the list. One of the more exciting finds was an octopus. I was enthralled by its squishy, jelly-like form fluttering upon the ocean floor. It was possibly protecting eggs or young. I floated in a daze a few moments to take it all in. I was on the ocean floor, merely feet from an octopus. Simply incredible.

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Frank, owner and avid diver of the Smiling Seahorse, documented a few of our dives, which I greatly appreciated because then I was allowed to fully be present. Besides being distracted by a lenses, Frank’s pro skills and equipment were far superior to my own. I appreciated the kindness and hospitality of the entire Smiling Seahorse family. Between roughly one hundred questions, my bank card, five-star food, and a sea of unforgettable memories; thank you.

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Visa issues caused me to return to Thailand before continuing my travels across Myanmar, which was a bummer; however, fate prevailed as Steven (a fellow diver) invited me on a motorbike excursion of Koh Payam, an island located off the West coast of Thailand. We biked from one beach to another, lost on muddy trails for majority of our stay. Everything happens for a reason. Thanks for following Steven and I look forward to catching up in B.C. Cheers mate!

 

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Shouting Silence

December 2014

I had no desire to visit Thailand and ended up staying over a month. The country’s grand reputation for tourism was a turn off and I felt I had enough to explore in the surrounding areas, but then I slipped through the cracks. The months leading to my stay at a Buddhist monastery in Southern Thailand, I encountered multiple people expressing their thoughts about attending a Vipassana meditation retreat. The recent repetition of Vipassana entering my life was a sign to investigate further and it was well worth it.

Wat Suan Mokkh, Chaiya, Thailand

Wat Suan Mokkh, Chaiya, Thailand

Vipassana practices mindfulness with breathing and in order to accomplish this, the retreat requires ten days of no talking. Without speech true focus develops. The silence began the evening of orientation with ten whole days following and then on the eleventh morning speech resumed. Suan Mokkh’s website thoroughly explains all the details necessary. Here is a copy of the schedule to offer some clarification.

DAILY SCHEDULE

(With some modifications on Day 9 and Day 10)

04.00  *** Wake up                               *** = Monastery bell
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
05.15 Yoga / Exercise – Mindfulness in motion
07.00  *** Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 Breakfast & Chores
10.00  *** Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45  *** Sitting meditation
12.30 Lunch & chores
14.30  *** Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.30 Walking or standing meditation
16.15  *** Sitting meditation
17.00  *** Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
18.00 Tea & hot springs
19.30  *** Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30  *** Sitting meditation
21.00  *** Bedtime
(the gates will be closed at 21.15)
21.30  *** LIGHTS OUT

 

Shower time

Shower time

This retreat was difficult. The silence was not the challenge, but what accompanied it. No reading, no writing, no fun (literally) of any kind. Lying down was not allowed anywhere on the property to avoid napping, except one’s dorm. Computers, phones, books, any sort of entertainment, and writing materials were not allowed to avoid any distractions and strengthen the intention of being fully present.

Food was restricted to two vegetarian meals daily with an evening cocoa or tea. Portion control was appreciated to accommodate for the many mouths to feed as well. Plenty of warnings express that participants should be in full health and understand that basic living conditions apply. Moments of irritability and sickness may occur, as well as depression if not addressed.

My cement bed

My cement bed

The chanting was optional and seemed to offer an escape from the mind. I did not speak, but enjoyed basking in the group’s energy. The main attraction was listening to the monk leading. Easygoing and charismatic, the monk’s humor was odd and many of his stories made no sense; yet, an audience of smiles awaited his show every day. Usually misinterpretation from dry and confusing humor was what made it so entertaining, for me at least.

Hand washing laundry and chores became almost as appealing as a dip in the natural hot springs. I would slowly creep into the water, letting my body acclimate before going under. The temperature was scolding, but just tolerable, like a painfully pleasurable hot shower. I would float about staring at the branches directly above, flooding my ears to bring an absolute silence. I found it to be the most silent place on the property. A saving grace. Once the overwhelming heat snapped me back into consciousness, it was time to leave.

Meditation Hall 5

Meditation Hall 5

I will not lie. I was going crazy on the second day and it was because I tried to adhere to every rule and guideline suggested. Sometimes I was distracted with the false, embellished origins of my fellow colleagues, such as, Oliver “McFatts” Alabastar and Soufflé. Other times I would just daydream. Pizza cravings, dirty thoughts, and maybe a hundred dead mosquitoes and ants later; I concluded I am no Buddhist. To understand what I am not was the first step to recognizing what I am.

Observing the habits of veteran participants allowed me to loosen up as I witnessed different people do what was necessary to be comfortable. Outside of meditation and moments of true concentration, the inner voice was now a loudspeaker broadcasting news from every sense. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch; each incredibly enhanced. Heightened awareness, along with a solid yoga practice, brought peace and growth from day four on.

The Fortress of Solitude

The Fortress of Solitude

Not speaking to anyone or being distracted for ten whole days really allows one to sift through the files and files of stored memory revealing limitless past, present and future thoughts, perceptions, and ideas. Good and bad arose, buried and forgotten under layers of accumulated bullshit from previous years. I hit a rocky spot on day seven, struggling to chisel through attachment. I was given a better shovel and resumed digging, overcoming the obstacle. I learned to cope with a past trauma and recognize the present. The past is done. Nothing can change that. One may dwell or move on.

Ease came the final days as a flow developed, but challenges still remained. Day nine was a self guided practice with only one substantial meal to fast as the monks do. When I was not wandering every step of the six acre property that I could, I claimed the bell tower as my Fortress of Solitude.

A certain respect strengthened each day as everyone stay committed. Over twenty five percent of participants dropped out by day ten and I understand why. It was not easy and while on the topic, try moving a gigantic pile of stones without talking to the fifty other guys shuffling about to assist. It was an organized chaos that stirred dirt and brewed sweat, offering our labor to the land for its generosity. Overall; complete satisfaction.

Koh Chang Island, Thailand

Koh Chang Island, Thailand

The silence ceased. Words were allowed, but I did not want to speak. Slowly, speech set in as bits slipped out here and there. “Hello.” “Good morning.” “Excuse me.”And then a discussion came about the delicious coconut sticky rice just served. And then questions, “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from? A discussion and debate about what we all just experienced broke out that only temporarily intrigued me. And like that it was as if we had never shut up. It was time to move on, hitchhiking my way to the coast for a few relaxing days on Koh Chang Island. Ah what a wonderful idea Linda and Loic. Thank you.

Loic playing in the sand.

Loic playing in the sand.

In conclusion, I have discovered so much can be said without ever speaking a single word; all we need to do is just listen.

Being free.

Being free.

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Keep Muang Ngoi Unique

 

Muang Ngoi

Muang Ngoi

November 2014

The three and a half hour boat ride upstream on the Nam Ou River, propped in van seats strapped to a wobbly boat more securely than the passengers, amped my adrenaline before I even stepped foot on land. Muang Ngoi consists of one main, very muddy, road that sprouts off many trails to different bungalows and restaurants along the river. The other two roads led out of town to smaller villages and cave.

Muang Ngoi

Muang Ngoi

Walking about ten minutes down the main track led to a trail that brought hikers up a mountain to a viewpoint that overlooks the town. Ladders with bamboo railings allow visitors to access the next phase of the trail. A slow pace, a break at the cave, and strong will was necessary to survive this trail. It became more dangerous than I expected and being careless had grave costs, especially when approaching the jagged rocks at the top. I thought Brendan was going to kill me as we both wondered what the hell we had gotten ourselves into.

Muang Ngoi

Muang Ngoi

It was nice to reach the top. The trek was adventurous and our short stay on the jagged rocks was peaceful. Our descent from the mountain was slow, which was just fine. An unexpected bonus blocked the road on our way back as we encountered an elephant at work, moving a few huge pieces of lumber down the trail. I was astounded by the elephant’s might, moving a few hundred pounds with its trunk alone. Sadly, we could see the poor animal was abused by its owner. I found it ironic that this beast could snap the little man in two as easily as the twig he used to hold dominance. Blind in one eye and scars across its body, the giant followed the commands its owner shouted and causally moved aside for us to pass with hesitant ease.

Muang Ngoi

Muang Ngoi

Thirty minutes of wandering the streets and paths of Muang Ngoi offers an extensive tour of town. One road became a dirt path through a farmer’s small field that led to the school yard. From there, the option was to either loop back into town or go out to three smaller villages. About two hours on foot, past another cave, eventually led to the other villages. Just as expected, not much was going on, but that is what made it so great. People were socializing, children were playing, and friends dined together. A curious glance and shy smile often accompanied the welcoming villagers.

Muang Ngoi

Muang Ngoi

Muang Ngoi is a gem of solitude and one of my favorite spots in Southeast Asia. I questioned writing this post after seeing a blog titled, “Please don’t go to Muang Ngoi Neua.” The author does not want to see growing tourism taint the peaceful village and I agree. I can only hope growing development does not destroy the culture here, but I could help my desire to share such beauty. As a backpacker and/or tourist, we must all respect the town, the land, and the locals in order to avoid further damage. Littering, obnoxiously partying, and funding travel agencies will only progress radical change. Vang Vieng is an example of exploitation to satisfy tourist needs, engulfing a unique landscape within Laos. The preservation of Muang Ngoi’s raw scenery, and many other villages for that matter, must be saved in order to sustain a unique identity.