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finding generosity in Nepal

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finding generosity in Nepal

'I would like to invite you to have coffee at my home tonight', she said.

English class had just finished and she stayed after to speak with me. She had a nose ring, brown eyes so warm they could have been maroon, and an affectionate way of grabbing my hand. 

Since I started at Purnaa, she had been helping me with my terrible Nepali pronunciation and I had been teaching her English class. That day we learned how to say our favorite foods in class and when I joked that mine was coffee, she laughed and invited me to her home. Yes, yes, yes, of course I'll come to your home. 

It was raining when we left work, her holding an umbrella over both of us as she offered bits of English along the way.

When we got to her front door, she turned to me sheepishly, 'its only one room' and we walked in. The room was small and cozy, with lights strung along the pink walls, photos of family members everywhere, and two beds side by side that created a narrow path for me to walk down.

I sat across from her 17-year old-daughter as the coffee was brewing and I learned that she was going to university to be a doctor. This is huge anywhere, but it's especially incredible for a woman to get that level of schooling in Nepal. They served me coffee on a tray with sliced apples as they helped me learn more Nepali phrases. Se-yow, apple. Choree, daughter. Amah, mother. Ramro, good.

When her husband came home, they drove me home together. Halfway home, he turned to me and asked if I liked ‘buff’ (buffalo meat). I responded yes, so he pulled over and got out of the car. I kept talking with her, silently wondering what was happening until he got back in the car and handed me a coffee filter filled with grilled buffalo meat and rice from his friend’s food stand. Buff for you!

And so I fought my tears, as I accepted yet another gift from these people who knew more about sharing what they had than I ever will. 

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photos: slovakia trekking

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photos: slovakia trekking

Tucked in northern Slovakia are the High Tatras, the second highest mountains range in Europe. The hikes here are beautiful, well-maintained, and lined with wildflowers. My first morning in the Tatra's was spent hiking up a beautiful mountain near our hostel, The Ginger Monkey. The Ginger Monkey is one of those hostels that feel more like your friends cabin, where a rainy day just means hanging out on comfy old couches with endless amounts of tea and the full season of How I Met Your Mother.

Yeah, I'd say I lucked out in coming to Slovakia. 

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Kuang Si Waterfalls

Kuang Si Waterfalls: bigger, taller, and way more beautiful than I imagined.  

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Pro tips:

  • Definitely rent a motorbike instead of taking the tour, not just because its cheaper, but because you can spend as long as you want there. We petered around, exploring different paths that led to huge, beautiful infinity pools and caves. 
  • If you want to see the bears, go early. We thought we'd see them on the way back out and missed them, as they go to sleep around 4pm. 

 

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8 reasons to go to Koh Lanta

1. More than 30 kilometers of coastline looking like this.
There is a beach for everyone. starting on the north end of the island, the beaches are more rasta/hippie and crowded. The further south you go, the quieter and more relaxed they get. We stayed about halfway down, on Klong Nin Bay and loved it! 

2. The Lanta Animal Welfare Clinic
Wykstra and I both love animals and were psyched to support this clinic. They're run almost entirely by volunteers and they take in dogs and cats that have been abused or abandoned and give them the necessary medicine, treatment, and love to get better. We got to take little the little punk Bang-Bang for a walk on the beach. 

All of that lovin' is supported by donations from the nearby Lime Bar. So we went and you know, supported them supporting that. 

3. Motorbike rental for 250 BHT ($8 USD).
You can brap up and down the island, visiting the national forest, get a massage, or check out other beaches and what have you. 

4. The whole bottom part of the island is a national forest. 
With some casual hiking, monkeys erywhere, and views like this.

5. Crabs
They hated me, but will love you, plomise. 

6. SNORKELING
But just a warning: the 4 Islands Tour is a lot of tour and not a lot of snorkeling. maybe you can hire a boat on your own? just don't expect a ton of snorkeling, its a lot of shlepping around from island to island. I'm still including it in this list because its not the fishes fault. 

7. Animals, everywhere
Aside from our usual insects and critters living in our bungalow, we have chickens, cats, and dogs that roam around the island! I love them and they love me and its 100% mutual. 

8. That Thai kindness
I could probably say this about everywhere in rural Thailand, but the Thai people in Koh Lanta were so kind, thoughtful, and generous, with what little they had. Case in point the woman who took in this abandoned little monkey and cared for him (and let us play with him all the time). 

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Travel Fails: every ounce counts

This was bound to happen, I guess. At some point every traveler has to fess up and admit it, on the internet for everyone to see: I overpacked

A few weeks before I left on this trip I packed up both of my bags, hoisted them on my shoulders and walked from my apartment to downtown Minneapolis to meet a friend for lunch. When I saw him, I was more than a little cocky about how ‘easy’ and ‘light’ my bags were. Three miles and a little bit of sweat later I practically floated into my apartment, a-glow from how low-maintenance and non-materialistic I am.  

What. a. joke. 

It turns out walking in flat, air-conditioned skyways, fully hydrated isn’t a great way to test your pack weight when preparing to travel around SE Asia. Minor obstacles like, oh I don’t know, stairs and 95-degree heat are things I didn’t think about. Its funny how scrambling up sloping rock covered in leaves and gravel, the hot sun beating down on you and your two stupid backpacks made you get real honest about exactly how minimalistic you actually are. 53 lbs is about half my weight, so by the time Rolf tucked my overweight arse under a boulder to get us some water, I’m openly berating myself for bringing five tank tops, two dresses, two toothbrushes, HAIR PRODUCT, two bras, etc. That junk lasted until the next time we had to carry it, at which point I was giving clothes and toiletries away like Oprah. 

See ya never, junk.

You know what else was a huge mistake? Reading the RTW travel checklists of non-climbers, because most of them don’t factor in the 29lb buddha belly bag full of climbing gear. I learned the hard way that the trade off for getting to climb around the world is that I have to pare down on other luxuries. I mean, in the end, I’ll take my frizzy hair and smelly clothes any day, because I get to see views of the world only available to climbers, and climb on long, beautiful limestone. So I’ll keep tossing the extra weight in exchange for the beauty I get to see from up high. 

I thought I was different, a minimalist, an experienced backpacker. Nope, just another shlep learning how much she doesn’t need. 

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funny thing about time

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funny thing about time

Want to know how you can slow down time? Wish for something. Want to make your week last as long as possible? Wish for the weekend. I swear my hair stops growing the moment I wish it was longer and I could make time go twice as slow by wishing it were 5 pm, the next weekend with no plans, the Spring, the third season of House of Cards. 

Measuring time by things I’m looking forward to is the most ironic thing because I make the waiting last forever as the things I enjoy race past me. 

Here though, time is the strangest thing. We don’t have weekends to look forward to, because every day is a weekend. We don’t have a climbing trip to look forward to, because we’re always on one. We don’t have good weather to look forward to, or good food to look forward to, or even a full nights rest because we can have those things whenever we want them. So because we’re not wishing for anything, we don’t elongate or stunt time; we just watch the minutes and experiences pass by steadily, as if sliding by us on a conveyor belt. 

Somewhere I read a really cool description of how time passes when traveling; its as if we’re in a car looking out at the horizon and time seems to move so slowly, but then you look out the side window and its zooming past and you’re unable to slow down or to stop the car and stretch a minute out any longer than it’s supposed to. 

When I think about traveling for a year and a half, it seems like forever, but when I stop to realize its already been a month, its seems like its already going too fast. The breezy mornings, the tides, the long climbs, and the days of this trip pass by whether we want them to or not. The only way I’ve found to slow time here is to slow down myself, and take in the smallest details around me. It’s impossible to reach out and stop the sun that keeps falling into the horizon too fast, so we just try to watch as many sunsets as possible. We take the long way home to check in on how our neighbor spider's web has been faring in the wind, or to watch an ant to haul something four times its size across our bungalow porch. Anything to slow time and not miss a single moment of this trip. 

[Full disclosure: I’ve never been accused of being a time person. Even though my former job as a project manager demanded that I keep a schedule, I rarely followed one outside of work. Being aware of how long something realistically takes has never been my strong suit so I’m usually a bit, okay always late. So this could be a rambly bambly load of garbage from a person who has on more than one occassion snuck in the last pew after the bride walked down the aisle.]

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and we have a trip motto

"Oh hello, yes hi, sawatdee kahh...umm so, the wifi doesn’t seem to be working?"

I’m standing in an internet café, talking to the woman behind the counter. I'm kicked off the wifi for the gazillionth time as my parents and my sister sit 8,000 miles away at their laptops, waiting for me to come back on.

She smiles at me. 

I lift my laptop screen to show her the angry message on the screen, accusing them of not paying their bill. (remember, I'm in an internet cafe) I shrug my shoulders at her, as if to ask again.

Her smile stays genuine; she just blinks and announces, ‘ahhh, yes is a problem!’

I'm embarrassed to say we repeat this charade a few more times before I just agree with her. I mean, she's right, it IS a problem.

I return to my seat and laugh with Wykstra at just how very American I am. I'm so accustomed to getting things when I want, or at least as the customer, being used to being 'always right'. But this is Thailand, not the States, and things don't always work when I want them to. 

At least now I know what to say every time something goes wrong on this trip (i.e. throwing up, getting rashes, missing buses, no climbing ropes in carry ons now? really?) - ahhh yes, is a problem!

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Koh Yao Noi

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Koh Yao Noi

After a few weeks in Tonsai we started hearing about this beautiful island nearby with unpolished, steep limestone to climb and bungalows and food for even cheaper than Tonsai. The best part? We’d get to rent motorbikes to take us to the crag. We’d all been spoiled by the 45-second approaches of Tonsai and were psyched to have adventures on the way to the crag. Rolf, David, and I convinced our new friend Josh to come too and we all said goodbye to our wonderful Rasta friends (photo below) and headed west to Koh Yao Noi. 

Once we arrived, we quickly realized most of the rumors were true. Koh Yao Noi was remote and quiet, a beautiful Thai island untouched by tourism. When we discovered accommodation wasn’t quite as cheap as the rumors, we reminded ourselves its still crazy cheap by western standards and booked a few nights in THE NICEST BUNGALOW OF ALL TIME. Instead of facing west, we faced east and started to lose it over all the beautiful sunrises. The Thai’s here were warm and welcoming, going out of their way to introduce themselves and make sure we were comfortable. The owner of the bungalows, Mr. Leen, even stopped by to say goodnight. The land of smiles, indeed. 

Between the motorbiking and climbing, the next few days were an absolute blast. We brapped our way to the crag by squeezing driver-bag-passenger-bag on our manual trans motorbikes. David and I rode together and he was very kind, pretending not to notice every time I jerked us into the wrong gear. At least half of the approach (let me call it that, its more fun) was on holy-shit-we’re-going-to-die loose gravel, potholes, and steep hills. All made more fun by driving on the left side of the road. Everything went really well until the one night our jankfest of a headlight went out on a blind corner and we went slow-motion into the ditch. 

The climbs were cool too. Instead of the dramatic, red, drippy-looking rock of Tonsai, this limestone was white and more of the wall climbing we were used to. Once we parked our bikes, we hiked the last 15-20 hot minutes to the crag, making us (okay, just me) reconsider all the banana Nutella pancakes and cookies, but it was still so beautiful. Our last day of climbing we ended our side-by-side multipitches on the same pitch and got to see more sea, something I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of. 

David also does a great job of explaining our experience on Koh Yao Noi, check out his blog to read more. 

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last few from Tonsai

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last few from Tonsai

A day after touching down in Tonsai and David's on the sharp end. 

on one of my favorite multipitches in Tonsai, a route called Musang, 5 pitches of fun going at 6a, 7a, 6b, 7a, 6b. 

l love this photo, I can tell that I'm smiling and so psyched about this climb. 

we rapped off in time to catch our first sunset with no clouds, a perfect way to end the day.

After failing to get on 'The Best Route in Minnesota' (because of the understandably long line), we headed to the other side of Phra Nang Beach, finding this secluded place to climb and watch the sun light up the rock behind us.

this is a happy Rolf

David's first time deep water soloing was pretty badass. Moving from the wall to the stalactite, he scrambled over some pretty sketchy, chossy rock before jumping in. 

this is another happy Rolf  

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Travel Fails: where are all the Thai people?

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Travel Fails: where are all the Thai people?

Picture this: you’re 12 hours in to a 16 hour travel day. You’re sweaty, unshowered (obviously), and sweating in a hot van packed thigh-to-sweaty-thigh with other backpackers. The bus driver starts walking down the aisle asking for everyone’s final destination. Though the bus is headed to Krabi, your final destination is Tonsai Bay, the climbing mecca is SE Asia. The bus driver says she can take you to Tonsai, but it’ll cost you an additional $20. You reluctantly agree and as soon as the driver walks away, you overhear the people behind you decline saying, ‘we’ll figure it out, thanks’. You ask them what they’re planning to do? and they respond with the obvious: what the Thai’s do. They ask ‘where are all the Thai people? How do they get from Krabi to Tonsai?’ and this spurred the first of many lessons I’ll learn on this trip. If I’m surrounded by tourists, there is a good chance I’m overpaying. 

We found out later it costs closer to $4 to get from Krabi to Tonsai. Lesson learned.

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the why

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the why

zen_and_what_have_you

Its barely been a month and already I feel so healthy, so clear headed. Rolf, David and I are outside ALL THE TIME, climbing, swimming, reading, playing cards, and just puttering around. Our meals are a little over $2 each, our bungalow $6 a night, and we wake up naturally every morning, fully rested. I’m rarely aware of the time, much less the date, and our to-do lists are a joke (swim, yoga, work a climb, eat banana bread, juggle, fill out a post card).

What I’m trying to say is, this new life is peaceful. 

I knew before I went on this trip how big it was; I just couldn’t find the words to describe what it means to me. Its more than a vacation or a break from work. Its an uncluttered time to finally put words to the questions none of us really had a chance to ask ourselves: 

What do I need for myself? What am I good at? How much money do I need to make? Does making less mean more stress or less? How much work/life balance do I want to insist on - a 2 week vacation once a year or is it bigger than that? How important is living in a place where I can do the things I love all year round? How many things do I need to feel comfortable? 

Realizing that where I live, how much I work, the seasons I live in, how fast or slow my lifestyle is, and how much money and stress I have are choices has been both freeing and overwhelming. And I know this trip won’t answer all of my questions, but it will open my mind to new lifestyles and cultures, just by getting to see how people outside the U.S. have answered them. 

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oregon trailing it to Tonsai Bay

20 hours of train, train, bus, van, THE BED OF SOME DUDES TRUCK, and a long tail boat later, WE MADE IT! 

Tonsai_Bay_Thailand.png

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and just like that

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and just like that

I'm off. When I planned this trip, I thought it'd be fun to kick it off with a long weekend in Seattle visiting my friend Natalie. And I've never been to Seattle, never even been to the PNW at all and it is insanely beautiful. I can't even. The cool thing about leaving Minnesota in January to travel the world is you're just so damn grateful for any different weather. Oh its in the 40's and kinda rainy? Perfect, lets go for a walk. 

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in 23 days

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in 23 days

I'm freaking out. my brain can only handle so much, so it keeps oscillating back and forth between disbelief, excitement, and sheer panic. in 23 days my whole world is going to change. here are a few changes I can't stop daydreaming about: 

  • being outside. all the damn time.
  • exploring and pushing my comfort zone.
  • climbing some of the best rock in the world.
  • hanging out with some pretty amazing people.
  • not being inside. I really can't say this enough. 
  • sunshine. no one appreciates that like a Minnesotan in December.
  • paring my possessions to two backpacks.
  • living in bungalow. 
  • not looking at a spreadsheet. 
  • deep water soloing. 
  • the himalayas. I mean, holy crap, the himalayas.
  • slowing down and just being present.

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