Sunday, January 28, 2018

Peaceful Travel in Thailand

Nope, I don't think this monitor lizard is big enough to eat Tarn.  Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Our first request to camp at a Buddhist temple was a positive.  So nice to figure out an easy and peaceful place to lay your head in Thailand.  Later this night Markos joined a group of teens playing soccer on the temple complex  field.  Temples serve as community centres in Thailand.

Tarn has grown a shade headdress.  He hooked it onto the tandem and Rick and he sported the ornament the rest of the day. 

Is this a reality show?  No, it's real life.  Markos, Sampson and Tarn have fun on a raft at a Scout adventure camp, Chanthaburi, Thailand. King Rama 9 made Scouting part of the school curriculum and all Thai youth experience the Scout program. 
The beach at last.  We return to the island of Koh Chang.  The site of some serious R and R eighteen years ago when Rick and I visited this rain forest reserve during our 25 month bike journey around the world. It still holds it's charm.

The bike trip calls for treats along the way.  This beach side bungalow is a dream.  Rick has made pancakes this morning and we look out onto the aquamarine waters and white sand as we enjoy our breakfast.
I sit in front of a fan in shorts and a swim top having taken two cold showers already today.  No complaints, just a different world.  The front door is open, mosquitoes fly about and a motorbike whirs by off and on.  The wind tunnel I’ve created by opening the back door too is effective at the moment.  We have cycled 6 days straight without a break to land in Chanthaburi and are about to take a family holiday and some downtime on a protected, forested, yet tourist friendly island of Koh Chang.  My life is being available to my family, making sure they stay healthy body wise (sun effects from exposure all day, safe water and plenty of it to stay hydrated, healthy energy food) all the time in an environment that is completely Thai.  No English. No words written that we can comprehend. A new place to stay every night (we camp at National Parks, Buddhist temples, and find economic hotels that have fans.)  The still air at night can be stifling in a tent, but some nights camping is a dream with forest bird sound and clapping palms.  Every day is a new day and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have this “in” on my three teenage boys’ lives before they are off and away in a few years’ time, to say nothing of having my husband man the single burner stove and be ever present in the multitude of decisions that are part of all of our days.  Sampson will have just one year left at home when we return to Calgary in August, then off to University.  Markos and Tarn will follow in the next couple years.  This bicycle expedition has been many years in the planning and I appreciate fully the impacts it is making on our family – communication, learning, confidence.  We are 6 months in, we have 6 months still ahead of us.  

Treats of Thailand, they appear along the road we ride each day
  • spicy green papaya salad as well as green mango salad with tiny crispy fried fish
  • giving each boy 100 baht (approx $3)  for dinner and seeing what they choose at the night market (a mango shake, bbq pork on rice with clear soup, a banana pancake and fresh mango was last night's choice for me)
  • purchasing grilled chicken, spicy/sweet chili sauce and sticky rice on the road in the morning for later lunch biking break
  • finding a cold drink stand and relishing a ice coffee made with sweetened condensed and evaporated milk, brewed coffee and a bag full of ice
  • receiving smiles and thumbs up, and no more of the constant request for "selfie-selfie!" that occurred continuously as motorbikes slowed next to us in India
  • Buddhist wats (temples) that offer a peaceful, shady break, clean drinking water and a wash down option if we ask to camp there that night

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chennai to Bangkok

Sampson performs at an annual colony community celebration, Chennai, India.
Mr. Varadan, myself and Amelu.  These are my in-laws in Chennai, India, who planned numerous events for us in our final two weeks in India.  Mr. Varadan led us by motorbike the 14 km to the airport on our final bike day in India, allowing us to savour our last kilometers of Indian streets and safely navigate the potholes, cows, speed bumps and traffic without worrying about the route to the airport.

End of a long day lining up visas in downtown Bangkok.  Pop in a bag - the perfect extreme cool-down.  Take a bag, fill it with a big scoop of ice, pour in the bottle of pop and stick a straw in it.  The shirts Sampson, Markos and Tarn are wearing were tailor-made for them in Chennai, India, a gift from Mr. Varadan.  Perfect for our visits to the China and Vietnam embassies today.

This is an interesting one, don't know what it's called!
Helliconia - We are surrounded by amazing tropical plants and trees, as well as interesting birdsong here in Nachida Thani, a planned community that houses the international school where our friends work.  Colleen is supervising Sampson, Markos and Tarn's semester one final exams for their distance learning school courses.
Rick and Markos build up their bikes after the flight to Bangkok.  A trip to a bike shop landed us several needed bike parts.  We have bought new, stronger front racks for three of our bikes.

A farewell to India and a welcome to Southeast Asia.  Our transit went smoothly and we were passed from the care of our relatives in Chennai to our friends in Bangkok.  Pretty wonderful.  Colleen Coady is a friend from my last years working as a camp counselor in northern Minnesota.  For the last 20 years she has taught and worked in the administration at international schools.  It was our luck that Bangkok is her current home.  We've looked forward to this point in our trip and Colleen has pulled out all the stops.  Apple crisp, fresh brownies, and her daughter Kate (16 years) organizing the teen scene - tonight it's the swimming pool and going to a movie at the mall with 7 other teens.  Graeme, Colleen's husband, is a retired teacher and has been helping us with our various supply and business needs.  We are housed in an available teacher-housing townhouse, more than accommodating!  We'll head out Tuesday morning, back on the road and beginning our Jan-Feb-March tour of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.  The jury is still out if China can be included.  The requirements of an approved travel itinerary with agency-made accommodation each night make the visa a bit of a challenge.  Riding across the border as an independent bicycle tourist is not allowed.

What am I excited for?  Getting back into the rhythm of the road.  It's been a couple weeks of RnR and  all of us are ready to explore a new country.  The food - Thailand is known for it's tasty and ever-present street food.  We can't wait! Seeing the green-green of the countryside.  When I cycled in Thailand in 1999 I remember being sad to leave the lime-green hue of the rice-paddies and jungles behind, after that three month tour of full green immersion.  Stay tuned!  Adventure is ahead.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, to Tamil Nadu we reach the East Coast of India

Changing food, varying ecosystems, changing environments.  We now eat parotta, and idly, not chapati. Dosa is served on a banana leaf with coconut chutney and sambar.  I miss the sliced fresh tomato, cucumber, red onion and lime half side plate, and the more "chunky" vegetable side dishes of the states we've traveled prior.
After a day of biking, Rick, Sampson and Markos scale a towering mountain to reach the fort high above the town.
A village woman competing in a Kolam contest.  Chalk powder Kolam designs are a every day part of Hindu culture and are re-created each morning on the ground at the entrance to residences.
Kids performing a chant/response dance with their teacher at sunset.  Each shook and clacked a wooden instrument fitted with brass tambourine discs.
Another giant banyon tree.
This line of bullock-pulled wagons brought a continuous flow of sand into a city.  
Mosquitoes are best as art forms.
A beautiful lunch spread.  Lots of tasties!

Dal has been a constant.  Food in the villages we pass is very inexpensive.  Indoor lodging options are not always what we would choose so we camp at schools and churches.  We continue to feel welcome and secure most everywhere we are.  Traffic intensity and the density of movement through towns is beyond imaginable.  We seek out the tiny roads in the country and brace for our adventure through towns with courage.  We have reached the east coast of India and breath a sigh of relief.

Experiences on the way...
Sun  schedule: up at 5am, breakfast and pack up by dawn at 6:30 am.  Long sleeve cotton tops, bandanas covering our noses and lips, gloves over our hands. Sun-scorched skin is now almost completely healed.  Break from sun exposure 11am to 3 pm.  We rest in the shade: school-time, cook lunch and nap.

Memories on the road:
  • Protovillage - community, inclusion. and a festival featuring feasts, dance performance, a Kolam contest and an incredible music performance featuring composer Ricky Kej.
  • Sister Mary Jaya - a unanticipated host for Christmas Eve.   Christmas Mass at 10 pm, chicken biryani, Christmas cakes, carols and a chance to bucket wash and dry in the sun the entirety of our wardrobe.
  • Uttiramerur - the home village of my cousin Heidi's, husband's family.  We arrived at 11 am, sweaty from the road to a reception by family, the Lion's Club, and city government officials lasting to the late hours of the night.  Music, an official photographer, endless food and visits to numerous civic and historical sites.  Truly an educational and almost overwhelming experience. We look forward to staying with Heidi's parents-in-law at the end of the week in their current home in Chennai.
  • Mahabalipuram - the "beach town" destination.  We've missed the season for surfing on this sea - the point break wave lasts April-Nov.  Seas now are choppy and rough.  Fortunately the town has so much else to offer.  We take a week to decompress from the road, languish in the shade, organize our business for visas needed ahead in South East Asia, and celebrate New Years.  Great people and a tourist destination for Indians from Chennai.  It's fun to be where some action is happening, yet peaceful solace can be found.

And so we have reached our final week in India.  I feel our 60 day e-visa opened both broad and diverse experiences.  Though a visit can just brush the surface of country, this travel in India feels fulfilling to me.  We have had a solid and all-encompassing time. 

  • bakeries featuring lots of Jaguri in even the smallest villages
  • amplified mosques, temples and churches starting at 5 am
  • the head-bob, "ha" and "ok, ok"  all happening simultaneously and meaning, "yes, ok, alright"
  • cold bucket/scoop showers and nightly wash of salty sweat bike clothes
  • plastic piles, saris and dhoti-wearing people, walking and working along the road and in the fields
  • cool mornings, banyon trees, coconuts palms and little bananas