Why Travel?

I woke up from a vivid dream turned detailed daydream about me being back in Salt Lake City, Utah with my friends. I laid in my bed for probably half of an hour imagining scenes where I see my friends and family in familiar places again.

Eventually I walked out of my dark closet sized room that I’m renting for 6 dollars a night in small-town Myanmar. A room so small the door doesn’t even open halfway before hitting the corner of the bed; a bed that my toes dangle off of on account of me being too tall for it.

I poured myself some hot water on top of my 3-in-1 CoffeeMix, a coffee substitute that is insanely popular all throughout Myanmar, and I sat on the balcony overlooking the street.

I had just time-warped out of Salt Lake City via my closet room and suddenly reappeared in Hpa-an; a Burmese town where it is common place for monks dressed in deep red robes to ride motorbikes and women with root paste on their cheeks to carry woven trays of watermelon slices on their heads while smoking cigars.

The contrast was so startling that it compelled me to get out my keyboard and write about it here and now.

Where am I? What am I doing?

With thoughts of my friends and family back in the US so fresh in my mind, I can’t help but wonder what they would think of all of this, seeing me, or themselves in a town lost in time.

To read this blog and view my photos is one thing, but to be here is entirely another.

The panoramic view of tin rooftops, golden temples, trees, mountains and a distant lake; the sounds of the market chatter, motorbike horns and loudspeakers chanting in Burmese; the smells, familiar now but still unknown, a strange mix of sweet, foul, and fresh; and the bead of sweat currently dripping down my thigh from the humid heat. These can only be described in words, and words are unfortunately not the reality.

Pictures come closer to getting you there, but there will always be that disconnect.

I know that many people might take this as bragging, however, this doesn’t actually make me feel superior to anyone.

“Oh I am here, and they are not. Haha.”

No.

I spent half an hour daydreaming about my hometown for a reason. I miss it, I long for it, and I realize that family and having a place to belong is a very beautiful thing.

So what is this post about then? Importance of home? Inspiration for others to experience more of life? If that’s what you want to take away from this, please do.

My reason to write in this moment is the change I’ve noticed.

A deep yet subtle change within myself that travel has caused for me. I cannot place it, I cannot coherently put it into words, but it is there.

In this moment, the change is why I wish to explain the contrast of home and here.

A person cannot walk through such different worlds without it changing them a little. This is a funny little fact about travel.

Whatever it is that I am doing, I’m enjoying it. I am proud of the things I’ve seen, I am happy for that little change inside of me.

Whether that change means anything significant, or if any of this has any real purpose, I don’t know. But I do understand that change is the flow of life.

I am living, experiencing all sorts of contrasts and angles that life has to offer. I am currently happy because I cannot say that I am wasting my experience of consciousness.

I’ve found a great love for my views of trucks over piled with boxes, produce, and people; of men and women wearing colorful traditional clothing and hats, powerlines in knotted messes, rickshaws that look as if they’ve come from the 1920’s, babies riding on the front of motorbikes, clothes hang-drying on lines in the sun, old women cutting down bamboo stalks with machetes, and women monks in pink robes walking the streets with silver bowls collecting alms.

There is a simplicity here that I crave in life, and it brings me happiness knowing with my eyes that it exists in the world.

But I’ve also gained a greater respect and appreciation for a home. Friends to call up, family that knows you like no one else, real coffee, familiar roads, a familiar bed, comforts from childhood, a language you know and understand, and a place to belong and build a life around.

So, do I stay or do I go? Life is not about choosing one or the other, it’s not about which experience is best, it’s all life.

But I would like to advise everyone to try travel at least once. Let it broaden your perspective, teach you what you truly appreciate in life, and let yourself embrace that flowing blood of life for a moment and let it change you. Because it is all life, why not experience as much of it as possible?

Letting go is inevitable, experiencing something new is inevitable, change is inevitable, and travel helps you understand that. It teaches you to handle it, and if you embrace it, you can learn to really love that unstoppable movement.

Mut Mee

What is it about some places that bring people together? It’s almost as if there is an energy that attracts like-minded folks to a particular place.

I cant help but wonder, “Is it the place, is it the people, or is it a beautiful combination of both?”

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Nong Khai, Thailand took me by surprise. The reason could be described in two words, Mut Mee, A lovely garden guesthouse right by the Mekong River.

I had expected a quite time alone for a week to work on my blog and podcast. I got everything that I had hoped for except for the bit about being alone.

Fantastic.

The people of the internet would have thought me a nutter if I had attempted to do an interview-style podcast with myself.

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Sitting in the beautiful gardens across from the river, I found myself quickly swept away in interesting and stimulating conversations with the people around me.

I was also happy to find that my company was diverse and often wiser or smarter than myself in many subjects. I don’t mention this in order to stroke egos or to impress anyone, but as a reminder to myself to mix up my socializing often.

A great way to learn is by surrounding yourself with intelligent people and listening to them.

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Mut Mee did something else that was fantastic for me.

It reminded me of the importance of gathering.

Like Meccas for pilgrimages, meeting points are important for human connection and passing of ideas and information.

I am reminded of the old use of the word, “salon.”

Good ol’ Wikipedia defines a salon as,

“A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.”

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So what was it about Mut Mee?

It was the people, it was the location, and it was the host and owner, Julian.

He not only created a beautiful environment on a riverbank to have people spend the night, he hosted his guests. He got involved in and struck up interesting conversation and made people feel welcome.

I apologize for turning this post into a guesthouse review, but something was done well here.

I encourage others to run businesses this way.

In a world where salons are now known for stimulating hair follicles instead of minds, and most social gatherings are to celebrate intoxication amongst music too loud to talk over, we could use more Mut Mees in the world.

Sharing political opinions, social concepts, groundbreaking theories and ideas are important for society. How are we to make any kind of positive change in the world without talking about it first?

Check out the website for Mut Mee at MutMee.com

World Bowlers

I’m not a fan of bowling, despite it being a favorite pastime of some of my favorite people in the world. The combination of finger food, shared balls, shit beer, and personal let-downs just doesn’t appeal to me.

But the other night I managed to make an exception. It wasn’t because bowling suddenly became fun for me, it was the insanely odd situation I had found myself in that made this Thursday night exceptional.

A surprisingly little known fact: the most bombed country in the world is Laos. A less startling, yet still bizarre, little known fact; Luang Prabang has a bowling alley that fills with foreigners from night to night. And this bowling alley happens to be where I found myself spending my Thursday night in Laos.

Upon arriving, the judgmental hipster in me instantly wanted to hate the place as I entered it.

“Where are all of the locals?”

For me, this was a disgusting display of western drunken influence on an old and beautiful culture. I instantly wanted to distance myself from it.

Stuck there until my current travel companions decided to leave, I soon found myself as a fly on the wall.

There I was, alone in a room full of foreigners from all over the world getting drunk and making fools of themselves. It was disgusting, it was intriguing, it was… Beautiful?… The anthropologist in me was suddenly intrigued.

You see, back at home when entering a busy place full of people who you don’t know, its a bit odd to sit down at a random table and easily join in in a conversation with strangers.
But we were in travelers land!
No one really knew anyone, except the few traveling with friends from home.

Belgium, Argentina, China, England, Australia, Switzerland, Egypt, France… Everyone was from another country! Everyone was getting along, united by the oddity of a bowling alley in a small town in Laos.

This was a beautifully insane thing.

Photo by Victoria from Pommie Travels

pommietravels.com

We’re All Alone in This Together

As you may have noticed, I’ve created a website.

Why did I do this?

Well, I’m not going to lie to you beautiful people, it was for a selfish reason.

No, not for money and not for glory. To be honest, I’m currently amazed that you are reading this at all right now. I hold few expectations or delusions of grandeur stemming from brain-dumbing this pseudo-philosophical travel website.

Existential Travel Zazz, (Meant to be spoken while waving spirit fingers) is a title worth rolling your eyes at.

“Here is yet another young traveling blogger, out to inspire the world!” C’est la vie.

If you’ve been following my posts at all, you’ll find that I’m a bit of a fromagerie. I’m here trying to get to the heart of it all, and sometimes that heart is made of cheese. And cheese is delicious so you all should have little to complain about.

The heart of the matter here is, I do hope to inspire the world. But this real hope, stems from a selfish desire to not feel so lonely.

(A question for later: is the desire to not feel lonely a selfish desire?)

While on the road, I’ll meet people. We’ll connect on a deep yet rushed superficial level and then they’re off in a week or two. It’s how it is.

It’s kind of sad being around so many people but having none of them really know you.

Often when I attempt to connect with friends back at home, they think I’m bragging about my travels and wish not to engage me. I don’t really blame them for this, but the reality is that I’m just a lonely human, and humans need to share.

I feel I have much to share and I can’t keep it in for myself, it’s almost painful. I want to share and inspire people around me.

So there, I said it. Now get your eye-roll over with and join in on this with me. Because I know you actually want connection too.

So what makes my website different from most inspirational travel blogs? Or a more accurate question, what do I hope makes my website different from other travel blogs? Existential involvement of course.

So what does existential actually mean?

Existential adjective

– Of or relating to existence.

Travel with awareness. Awareness of existence, life, living, and the present.

And it’s not just travel in the conventional sense.

I know not everyone is stupid enough, or able, to sell all of their shit, quit their job, and buy a one-way ticket to Asia. As much as I wish to shout, “you can travel the world too!” I realize that not everyone out there can.

But I’m not creating this website to reach out only to the nomad.

You see, I have a confession. I’ve always loved traveling, but I’ve never loved following travel blogs or travel magazines before. The reason being that I often found myself unable to travel and those beautiful traveling blogs only rubbed that depressing fact in my face.

(Apparently their inspiration worked, however, because here I am.)

Ultimately, My hope is to make a community that everyone can enjoy and take something useful or helpful away.

After all, we’re all travelers.

There’s that cheese again, but it’s true-blue and stinky too. It’s a simple reality of life which is obvious because realities of life usually are.

We are all on a personal journey in life; we are all travelers of life.

And that’s why I made this website. To connect that simple reality with the world, the traveling community, and my lonely self. To inspire creativity, forward thinking and movement in our lives.

The nomads of the world often see it clearly, it is full in the face of their existence; we are on a very literal journey through life on the road, life itself is a journey too.

That’s what makes travel so invigorating. Travelers are living in the moment, everything is new and unpredictable and it makes us think about ourselves and our place in existence.

And we have to live in that moment or we run the risk of getting hit by that bus going down the left side of the road instead of the right.

So! I hope you follow me and my adventures. But most of all I hope you join in, leave comments, give feedback, and submit your own existential travel zazz stories and opinions.

I don’t want to end up just being on a lonely pulpit. I want to talk, connect, engage in discussion, and reach out to anyone else who feels lonely on this road of life.

Sincerely,

Zazz

Vipassana

Last month I spent 10 days in silence learning an ancient meditation tecnique called Vipassana.

It was one of those types of experiences that are so influential you don’t even know where to begin.

It wasn’t impressive just because of the silence, which suprisingly turned into an odd sort of comfort, but it taught me golden lessons which I can carry with me always.

Vipassana in a nut shell:

Nine full days in silence, only speaking to the managers for technique advice and other necessities. Four a.m. wakeup, 9 p.m. bedtime, ten hours of meditation a day, no electronics, no writing, no music, no distraction. I snuck all photos on the last day before packing.

First 3 days you focus on nothing but your breath, how it is, no altering it. This sharpens the mind to notice the small movements and changes occurring within.

The first three days are the hardest, some people drop out and don’t finish the course.

From there you continue to observe the rest of your body while keeping in mind the reality of change. Everything within us and around us is in constant movement, from our cells to the particles of solid objects.

The cause of all misery is craving and distain.

Distain for anything which is impermanent, which everything is impermanent. Craving for the unknown, the unattainable, the past or the impossible. One or both of these things is at the core of all misery, so in the practice of observing the body you are meant to remind yourself of this constant change.

I cheated on one of the rules, I took notes. This was for you lovely people as well as myself. Because this experience was so life changing and in depth, I’ve decided to simply post my notes. Below are my exact notes as I wrote them in the moment.

Enjoy.

Day one:

  • Never fully submit. I want to be a strong person, not a submissive one. It’s impossible to have one or 100 teachers to have everything right. Submitting yourself to complete submission of an idea allows little to no room for your inner and innate wisdom to come out.
  • How is a person to come up with new innovative ideas if they only follow tradition?
  • This is hard.

Day two:

  • Be like Batman.
  • Saved the girls by chasing off a black snake with a broom. Maybe they wouldn’t go near it because they knew how dangerous it was.
  • Remind self, look up snakes of Cambodia.
  • Smuggled a cookie into my room.

Day three:

  • And another girl bites the dust.
  • Can’t focus on meditation, daydreaming too much. I wonder if Batman daydreams.
  • Found forgotten playing cards in my bag. Solitaire anyone?
  • Part of what makes being completely in the present and not in a fantasy daydream so difficult, is because sometimes we don’t like where we currently are.
  • Reality of our location and the reality of our minds can be scary to face.

Day four:

  • I missed breakfast today, slept through both bells. So sad when it’s the most exciting thing about the morning.
  • I had bed bugs last night. The manager didn’t know what they were and didn’t believe they excisted in Cambodia. Awkward insisting to switch mattresses.
  • Sad today, I’m feeling a deep feeling of loneliness. I’m completely alone in Asia, no one here to hold me.
  • I’ve just realized that I miss music more than internet or books.
  • Just got “scolded” for wearing capri pants in the meditation hall. I thought this wasn’t supposed to be dogmatic?

Day Five:

  • Learned today that meditation can make me horny. I might file that away for a rainy day.
  • It’s getting easier to sit in one spot for an hour straight; perfect for future movie watching.
  • Getting a little more excited for the next five days.
  • Broke another rule, killed a bed bug, zero regrets. That sonofabitch will drink my blood no more!
  • Got bored playing solitaire, started playing a two person game against my two feet.
  • Aaand right foot lays down a king for the win ladies and gentleman! That’s the game, left foot loses.
  • … Maybe I should actually use this alone time to meditate…
  • It sounds like there is a little dinosaur outside my room.

Day six:

  • I woke up this morning from a series of bad dreams. The freshest one leaving me too scared to fall back to sleep. Meditation helps with misery, what do you do about fear?
  • Just realized the majority of these Khmer (Cambodian) women are over 50 years old. They lived through genocide. I don’t know fear…
  • With no one else to talk to for 6 days I’ve realized something, I make pretty decent company.
  • Back to solitair.
  • I heard children singing today while letting the sound of rain enter my ears. People walked past me that weren’t there.

Day seven:

  • This morning I watched a little beatle roll a little rat poo around in circles seven times on the pavement. I counted 8 rounds. I wonder if this is how we look to the gods when we go to the gym.
  • My deodorant stick has reached its end. Fuckmylife.
  • Our emotions and physical bodies are connected. When we feel sad we keep asking the mind why we feel sad. Almost never do we ask our bodies where this emotion, this physical and often painful sensation, comes from within us.
  • In a world where a person is encouraged not to talk or even make eye contact with the people around them, it’s fantastic and surprising how a stolen, spontaneous, and knowing flash of a glance can brighten the whole day.
  • My god, I miss Del Taco… Why do I miss Del Taco?

Day eight:

  • A day for some serious meditation.
  • The path of Dhamma, the path of Dhamma, I keep hearing about this great and wonderful path from the Vipassana guy. Yeah, I agree it is great. Yeah I agree that everyone could greatly benefit from knowledge and an experience like this. However, is it THE path? Can there be only one path for everyone? I think not.
  • We are all biochemically different, why wouldn’t our paths be?
  • During lunch they serve this “drink” of which I’ve dubbed, “cup-o-fish eyes.” An uncreative name because it looks like a cup of little fish eyes, which I assume are actually seeds surrounded by a mucussy membrane. These tasteless goodies glop down smoothly like a cup of gelatinous fish eyes. Being tasteless, they are served with spoonfuls of sugar. Ah, what a joy! Goopy fish eyes- an excuse to drink sugar.
  • My addiction to sugar is deep and unsettling.
  • I met a bug today that went around collecting particles to put on its sticky back. I watched it for about a half hour.
  • I believe myself and I are becoming pretty good friends while we work out this ego thing.

Day nine:

  • When did I get so many freckles?
  • I’ve reached enlightenment.
  • Just kidding.
  • One of the men in the meditation hall keeps making this sexual sounding groan in the middle of meditation. In times past I’ve tried ignoring it, but today I looked over to see a group of young guys silently laughing. We made eye contact and the laughter grew to dangerously disruptive levels.
  • No words are needed for sex jokes.
  • I think a woman just thanked me for the snake incident by using a worm as pantomimed representation. She stopped me as I was making my exercise laps around the garden, not unlike the poo bug.
  • Just realized that maybe she was mocking my recent obsession with critters…
  • I disagree with Vipassana’s teachings of ridding oneself of passion. Passion is human, passion is beautiful, raw, and yes, sometimes filled with mistakes and sadness. But passion is liveliness and liveliness is life.
  • If passion is a flaw, it’s one I’d like to have.
  • “Don’t create more sankaras, retain perfect equanimity.” I realized that this advice was making me more upset. I can’t be perfect, I’m upset sometimes, let me be upset!… ah, that’s the teaching. It is what it is.
  • Perfection is a silly illusion.

Day ten:

  • This morning as the sun rose I looked out at the rice fields and was filled with such joy and beauty that it made me sad. I wish I could box it up and ship it to my friends and family.
  • The key to a proper Cambodian toilet flush is to create a swirling vortex of water, only then will the poo go down.
  • Today I get to talk!
  • I had forgotten that these woman around me don’t speak English. A barrier I felt between myself and them has dissolved, we are all in this together.

It was a difficult but extremely rewarding experience.

In the ten days I spent there I learned about an important connection between mind and body. I rid myself of a few pet peeves, including my distain for smacking. I learned to sit still, observe, and how to better focus my mind and attention. I learned techniques on how to better handle sadness and anger, I worked through many emotional problems and learned the skills to continue to do so.

And something I didn’t expect in this course, I found a best friend in myself.

If anyone is curious to learn more about Vipassana, or would like to take a class, check out the official website for more information.

Dhamma.org

All classes are by donation only. Yay!

Guess who else took a Vipassana course?

Macklemore. Do take a listen.

Lets Connect

Human connection.

“Ugh gross, Zazz is going to be gooey and cheesy again in a post.”

Maybe, but my goal here is to be honest. If soft delightful fluff excrete from my brain mash, down and out through my fingertips to this keyboard, so be it.

Being in Asia, halfway across the world in a foreign land, I’ve found that my butt has been in a chair a lot lately. Reading, drawing, listening, eating, and berating myself for this.

Sure, I’ve finished a book and have gotten halfway through another one, (a person could describe that as productive) however, I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty about this.

“Why all of the facebook time Zazz? Shouldn’t I be exploring more? Maybe chatting up every person I meet who speaks English?”

After all, being surrounded by almost nothing but Cambodians for a week, I lack many opportunities to speak these days. Why would I not seek out that opportunity?

A good question, self.

But there is something beautiful about getting to know myself on this level. Mass quantities of self-reflection tend to bounce those shiny reflecting thoughts outward and all around. Like mirrors sporadically placed around me, I’m able to see multiple views from all different angles.

This is a good thing, a form of meditation, healthy for the mind, and a fantastic ingredient to begin talking to oneself.

Though a problem I’ve worried about is the distortion of the reflections causing views that are too oddly angled that I’m not seeing things clearly. After all, I am still the only viewer in this meat capsule.

Hence my rationalization for mass facebooking as well as a reminder of the importance of human interaction. We are, after all, the center of our own universe. There are only so many windows you can look out of yourself and into the world with. Human connection is not only emotionally satisfying, it’s also intellectually stimulating, world-broadening, and good for reality checks.

A personal balance of all things is important.

Time to stop berating myself for being antisocial for a while as well as stop being so frightened of lending out smiles to new people. After all, soon I will be personally subjecting myself to solitude at a ten day meditation course, I won’t even have Facebook there, (gasp) I need all of the human connection I can get.

New friend, little Likena- master of human connection

P.S. To all concerned and asking, my friend from the flood recovered fully. Warm hugs to Vanessa.

Laos Flood

They say that everything happens for a reason. I once believed this with complete certainty. The logic made sense to me at the time.

“A results in B which results in C, so therefore fate.”

But now I wonder if it is up to us to create a reason or a purpose for things that happen.

Which comes first, fate or the egg? Awareness or the chicken?

I may be less certain if there is a divine force guiding the world and deciding our fate, but I am more certain that it is up to us to choose how we perceive occurrences and how we decide to react towards them.

Maybe it was fate for me to choose to stay in Vientiane Laos a day longer to paint a wall. A spontaneous decision which ultimately caused me to be on the same bus as a girl unknowingly facing death, while on our way to a small town which would soon experience a flood. Or maybe it was the unexpected occurrence of finding myself in the middle of a flood, with a woman who needed care, which caused me to feel that it was fate for me to be there.

Philosophical reasoning aside, the last few days have been quite an adventure.

Nugget had already made her way north when I last met with her in Lauang Probang, Laos. She had told me to visit a fantastic cave in Ban Kong Lor, which I decided was a fantastic idea.

From the capital city, Vientiane, I hopped on a bus to arrive in the small and beautiful valley where the cave was located. There were only a handful of other travelers with me, one of them being a woman who told me she was feeling ill. We all checked into one of the only guesthouses in the area with plans to see the cave in the morning. Our plans became a fantasy when the torrential rains began to pour.

I woke up in the morning to find the roads slightly flooded and the power down. We were told that the caves were too flooded and we would need to wait a day for the rain to stop and the water to recede.

We stayed the day, but the rain never stopped.

It was that evening when myself and another traveler became aware of the sick woman’s severe condition. Still unknown to me, she had multiple severe infections on her leg which were giving her blood poisoning, a life threatening sickness. I had assumed at this point she had Dengue Fever, still life threatening but not as critical.

By the next morning it became clear that we weren’t going to see the caves, the weather was only going to get worse, and we needed to get the girl medical attention.

On day two we negotiated a simple plan with a couple of local guys who owned a tuk tuk and a boat. It would be simple, we would take the tuk tuk as far as we could, hop in the boat, and we would get out of the flooded valley in a few hours. We were all wrong on it being a simple process.

The first half of the plan worked out smoothly. The farther we drove out of Ban Kong Lor, the higher the flood waters got. It seemed a fun novelty at the time. The locals were taking advantage of the extra rivers and were fishing in the roads. Soon the time came where the tuk tuk could no longer drive through the water, so we brought out the boat.

There were ten of us trying to get out of the town that day, and the boat only carried 5. It was decided that the sick woman would go first, and I happened to get included in that group of four other travelers. As we started off, we were in awe of the amount of water that covered the rice fields and road.

Only two days before we had driven a bus into the town where we now required a boat to exit.

After about an hour on the boat we came to a small bit of high ground which formed an island of road and houses. The driver couldn’t find a way to go any further so he dropped us off with instructions to walk as far as we could and wait for the second group to join us. By this time our patient wasn’t doing so well, she was hardly able to step out of the boat let alone walk for very far. It was with her pant legs rolled up to avoid getting them wet where I first saw the sight of her infected legs.

A couple of weeks before I had googled information on staph infections, confusing Staphylococcus with ring worm at the time, and I had seen pictures of mild and severe cases. This woman’s legs were undoubtedly on the severe end of the spectrum, and I knew the severe end of the spectrum meant deadly.

Thanks to my nurse mom, I also knew that Staphylococcus and other wound infections required antibiotic treatment. By the look of her legs, coupled with the presence of a scary high fever, I knew that she needed antibiotics immediately. The damp wet environment we were in would only worsen her condition, which was already life threatening.

But we were stuck on a small bit of island with cows, rain, and chickens, but no medications.

Well, except for the antibiotics in my pack which my nurse mom sent me off with. Fate? I don’t know, but I do know that the antibiotics didn’t hurt the situation, nor did my awareness and decision to be concerned for a fellow person.

After waiting for 2 hours, we found another boat which would carry two people out of the flood and possibly to safety. It was quickly decided that the sick girl should take the opportunity to leave, accompanied by someone to help her. A new friend of mine who had also taken the girl under his wing opted to join her, while myself and two others stayed behind. We waited another two hours before officially deciding that the boat wasn’t coming to get us.

A small part of me almost wishes we chose to stay on that small island with a nice local family who offered their home to us for the night. It would have been a fun story to tell. But perhaps it was fate whispering, because we decided to walk forward despite the warnings from others that the water only got higher further on and we would be swimming by nightfall.

With our packs lifted high on our backs we trudged through the shin deep water, then the knee deep water, which quickly became waist deep water. Just as we were realizing that we were crazy for doing what we were doing, our boatman finally found us.

The hour long boat ride from our pickup point is one that I am unlikely to forget. The water quickly appeared to rise higher and higher the further through town we got. The rain never stopped and unfortunately my camera became too fogged to capture the images I witnessed.

Entire houses under water, families on roofs, cars submerged, boats filled with electronics, water buffalo drowning, people clinging to bamboo, and all of the smiling faces.

Yeah, you read that correctly, the people were grinning. I don’t know how, I can hardly comprehend why, but the people we passed in our boat were smiling. Their fields were ruined, their homes trashed, their animals dying, but they still had time to laugh.

Perspective, a beautiful lesson on mood.

We eventually arrived to high ground where after a 6 hour adventure we finally met up with the rest of the group, our sick patient included. From there a tuk tuk brought us to the nearest town.

I could write another whole blog post on the conditions of the hospital we eventually brought our ill friend to, but I’ll sum it up with telling you that it seemed safer to leave the hospital than be there. After consulting a doctor in Australia, it was confirmed that her condition was indeed life threatening. We were told to get her out of this country or to get her immediate antibiotic treatment through I.V.

One person alone wasn’t enough to convince the doctors at the Laos hospital to give our friend the treatment she needed to save her life. They kept insisting we wait one week for the test results, but the frightening reality was that she might not have had one week to wait.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from this, it’s to avoid the need to visit Laos hospitals.

Maybe I was meant to be in that flood to give our sick friend antibiotics and to then provide needed backup for further treatment. But I personally would give more of the credit to a girl named Ally, who helped me back in Thailand when I had food poisoning, an event I wrote about in a previous blog post. She reminded me of a simple human lesson; we should look out for each other.

Even with cause and effect, it’s up to us to shape our perception and reactions. Awareness and movement is more powerful than fate alone.

By the way, those are power lines.

Dedicated to Vanessa and Greg. Love you guys.

Secret War

Often when I come across a great travesty in this world my heart is filled with hot flame and a desire for redemption. I dream of going to great lengths to right wrongs, spread the word, and protect the realms from evil.

But after a few days go by I realize that the flame was only a spark, I don’t care enough to actually do anything, and I have been reading too much of the Game of Thrones series.

As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

What all of this blathering is referring to is my resent visit to Phonsavan, Laos.

Last week, upon first entering the country of Laos, was the first time I heard anything about The country in relations to the Vietnam war in the 60’s and 70’s. Even before hearing about any secret war, I was told that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world.

“Say what? The war was in Vietnam, not Laos. Why would the U.S. bomb the wrong country?”

At first I thought it must be an exaggeration. Despite my skepticism, the bombing stats turned out to be true.

Phonsavan is a city amongst mysterious jars, an area known as the Plain of Jars. And it was the jars that drew me to Xieng Khouang Province in the first place. But it was a less ancient history that captivated my attention and got the good-ol tear ducts going.

Right before my tour to see the jars is when I learned about the C.I.A. secret war on Laos. I was shocked about hearing the number of casualties and bombings in this beautiful and friendly country.

But seeing is believing and I became completely appalled to see the number of craters left by bombs during a war that “never happened.”

I was shown a very small cave, right next to a site of jars, where an entire village lived for 5 years hiding from U.S. artillery. The cave contains stacks of rocks that the locals compiled, each representing someone who died in the cave during the bombings. I counted over 70, and learned that there is a cave nearby where over 400 civilians, unassociated with the war, were killed.

Did I mention these were villagers? Farmers, mothers, children. These were not accidents either, the pilots were told to target the caves filled with people, because they were filled with people.

Many of the bombs were also dropped like trash. If a plane missed their target in Vietnam, they couldn’t land with missiles, so they had to drop them somewhere.

Laos was often that somewhere.

Worse yet, most of the bombs dropped were full of what the Laos call, “bombies” lethal mini bombs contained in what is known as a cluster bomb. 30% of these bombies didn’t explode on impact and continue to kill villagers today.

There are teenagers in this town with missing limbs. Children, who had helped with farming and struck a bomb or who had picked them up to play with. This is happening still, over 30 years after the war. The equivalent of one person a day was killed last year alone from these bombies.

Can you see now why my heart was hot for redemption and saving the realm?

On the tour we were informed to walk on designated areas marked by MAG (mines advisory group) that had been cleared of bombs. I felt at first they were being over-cautious until our van got stuck in the mud and a fellow traveler found one of these bombs off the side of the road.

This is real people, not just some documentary on Nat Geo. Which is sometimes difficult to comprehend when tucked away at home.

For 9 years bombs were dropped on Laos every 8 min. It’s still hard to wrap my head around that kind of bombardment. And sadly it’s easy to let the significance of this monstrosity fade away in my life as I nurse dengue fever and get lost in a wonderful book.

But I feel it’s important for us to realize these horrible realities. Even if distance and time come between our concern for the world for a moment, we can’t progress as a species (let alone as individual countries) if we don’t learn to pay attention to history.

History does repeat itself, and often in the most horrible of ways.

What worries me right now is that I hadn’t heard a word about this war in Laos throughout my entire life. An operation, carried out in secret, in direct violation of the Geneva Agreements which prohibited the presence of foreign military personnel in neutral Laos. But maybe you could blame me for being uneducated. (I personally feel better about blaming America’s poor educational system, but that’s just me.)

All of this leaves me to wonder what else our leaders aren’t broadcasting to us. The facts of what Edward Snowden revealed to us recently have left me wondering about this a lot lately.

An, “out of sight out of mind” mentality might end up being our downfall. While it might be a human weakness it’s still our choice to acknowledge what’s there.

Perhaps I don’t have the gusto and passion to save all of the Laos children from bombies like I wished. But acknowledging reality and sharing, is better than nothing I figure.

-Zazz

For more info on the secret war check out this documentary below.

Guilt of the Lazy Traveler

Leaving my hostel to the bus station I was told to pay no more than 30 baht (.96 cents) for a ride, any higher I would be getting ripped off. I was also given the advice to go to the main road and catch a blue truck, which Chiang Rai uses as public transport. Armed with this advice I headed out into the heat with my backpack; but my plan was quickly thwarted by the sudden appearance of a tuk tuk driver on the sidewalk, blocking my way.

Not wishing to walk any more in the heat with a heavy pack, I decided I would at least check the price. If I could match 30, no need for the blue truck. After a couple of rounds of a see-sib, sam-sib duet (40, 30) I was able to get him to agree on sam-sib baht, or 30 baht.

Win!

Except that this was before my slow realization that the tuk tuk was not a tuk tuk at all, but a good old-fashioned ricksha. And the driver happened to be a little old man who was smaller than myself. As he struggled to peddle my heavy bag and self to get started on our way, I realized I had made a horrible mistake.

With each valiant effort of my driver to peddle me to my destination, I began to feel more and more like an ass-hole tourist. There I was, a white middle class tourist paying a little old Thai man pennies to wheel me around.

Before we had even gone one meter I had agreed with myself to pay him his original 40 baht he suggested.

Whenever we came upon traffic or a slight incline upward, forcing our momentum to be lost, his bicycles wheels would lock, forcing him to struggle even more. With each moment this happened I silently told myself I would give him more.

“Ok, 45 baht…. No, 50. This deserves 50.”

I couldn’t back out, it was far too late. I had agreed to pay him money and he was determined to follow through no matter how shaky his legs got.

The apex of the situation was reached when we came to a stop light in front of traffic. As the light turned green motor bikes zoomed past us and cars waited patiently for us to get going.

We weren’t going.

I watched some pedestrians smile and chuckle as I silently put a leg out to help push the rickshaw forward. I was shamefully reminded of my youth, health and laziness in this moment. Why couldn’t I have walked one block further to the main road? This tiny old man was out-doing me by a long shot.

One hundred baht I decided then. This crazy old man was getting 100 baht.

Before handing him the 100 baht upon arriving, I asked for a photo which he proudly posed for. Before putting my camera away I handed him the 100 note, signaling to keep the whole thing. When I looked back up he had his hand stretched out for me to hold. I obliged and was surprised when he didn’t shake it, but held it firmly with both hands.

It was clear in his eyes as he looked into mine, that he was very grateful. I wish I could say it made me feel like a saint but 100 baht is only 3 USD and it was given partly out of guilt. I can’t say it was all out of guilt, however. That amazing old man peddling my 160 lb. bag and self through the streets of Chiang Rai undoubtedly earned my respect.

– Zazz