May 30, 2010

american imperialists

after the tours i take a night minivan to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. it’s a nine hour drive. something happens at the bus station that is way to involved to explain here but i had been traveling with a couple of really great Australians and they get don't get seats on the bus. i don't either but the ticket i bought was for a minivan which no one had explained to me.

so, it's 8:30PM and i am the only westerner sitting on a minivan with 14 passengers. i hang out the window, wish my Aussie friends luck and ask the guy with the clipboard what time we arrive in Vientiane. he does the math in his head and says 6AM.
two hours into this ride the woman next to me if vomiting and passes out and her two year old daughter ends up curled in my arms. i think they call this connecting with the locals.

we arrive about 5am i check into a hotel, take a nap and then go to the bakery. the French legacy in Laos are the bakeries. bread is conspicuously missing from the asian diet and so it is one thing i have really missed and based on the popularity of the bakeries i would say i am not the only one who appreciates the legacy.

i go to the National History Museum although i have heard it is really just propaganda for the government. i go because i really want to understand the people and the government and the culture. it is indeed room after room documenting the glorious victory of comrades of the revolution against the US imperialists and their puppets. it may even all be true and accurate but i leave with a question in my mind. ‘how’s that communism thing working for you?’

i book a flight to leave tomorrow for Phnom Penh, Cambodia. it was 1,200,000 Kip [$160US].  at the travel agent i count out the money.  i was short a bit because of the limit on ATMs of 700,000 kip per day so i used a few American dollars which they accept as well.

May 29, 2010


on this trip i have cried several times. not because of the poverty or substandard living conditions but by the ways humans can torture each other. the senseless deaths during the nonviolent civil disobedience in Bangkok, the elephants, reading First they Killed my Father and now visiting the bombed corridor of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. next week Cambodia.

i go to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars but find myself in the most bombed area of the most bombed country in the world. the amount of bombs dropped here and the ongoing impact defies imagination. i had heard of the mine fields before and the 'secret war' in Laos.  i did not know that the presence of the uxo has created a vicious cycle that will continue for generations. it goes like this: uxo limits the amount of farmable land because breaking new ground equals farmers getting blown up; which leads to a shortfall in feeding their families; which leads to the collection of scrap metal and uxo; which leads to death or dismemberment. as we drive in there is a moment of panic in my mind as i am filled with the dread of coming face to face with children missing limbs but i don't see any the whole time i am in Laos.

i book a tour of the jar sites and i have an hour to kill so i ask the organizers to pick me up in front of a market i had seen about a kilometer down the road. they agree and i ask which van to look for and who is the driver. they laugh and laugh and laugh then say there will not be a problem to find me because i will be the only westerner there.

the jar sites are phenomenal. huge 2500 year old stone jars that are scattered around this area. the few sites that have been cleared of mines are outlined with white markers. no one ventures outside the lines here. at one site we are crossing through rice paddies and BOOM a bomb is detonated somewhere in the valley. it is so loud everyone reacts. the NGO mag [mine advisory group] has a storefront in town and runs documentaries and provides information on the uxo [unexploded ordinance]. they do a good job but the blame is placed fully on the US and if the US government is providing any support to help clear mines it is not mentioned.

our guide stops between sites to show us a home where they make rice whisky. the family at this house is celebrating because one of their sons is going to live at a monastery the next day. the boy is about 12 and he gets a couple of shots as well they pass around the bottle of Lao Lao. 

they have killed a pig and the red stuff in the bowl is the blood they are eating with the pig intestine. they offer everyone to try and when it is my turn i say i am a vegetarian. our tour guide gets drunk [that's not water in the bottle] and tells dirty asian jokes all afternoon. there is also this weird thing he does when he sees a centipede at one of the sites. he tortures it and it’s so disturbing how he does it that several of the guys speak up and tell him to leave it alone.

after we get back into town a couple of us hire a tuk tuk out to a silk farm. the guy [not the centipede torturer] showing us down a path to the mulberry trees jumps back and says there is a snake. you can guess how i react. well the guy picks up a stick and pokes it then starts to beat it when it moves. the stick breaks and he gets another larger bamboo stick that is like 4 inches in diameter and beats the snake brutally. it's bizzare.  we never get an answer on whether it was poisonous but perhaps it was and he wanted to protect the kids running around barefoot. anyway, i’ve never been to a silk farm before and these trays are filled with silkworms that the girl is feeding the mulberry leaves.

i would like to say something poetic now about the resilience of the people here and how they are happy anyway but in fact that is not what i find. perhaps it is that this is one of the poorest countries in the world but i have another theory. communism doesn’t work at this level and the identification the Plain of Jars as a potential world heritage site has resulted in a huge influx of money into an area that is not accustomed to any disposable income. the people here have electricity and now satellite dishes and they can see what is out there and they want them some of it.

May 28, 2010

like a pro

in Luang Prabang i visit the Vietnamese Consulate like a well seasoned traveler.  that means i hire a bike from the guest house, ask directions and pedal away, ask someone else for directions and pedal in the direction they are point.  everyone is helpful and i don't get lost or 'off trail' as we say in Colorado.  i'm in luck because the consulate is open and in just a few minutes i'm back on my bike to keep exploring.  i pay $45US for a three day service on the visa.

the conflict in Thailand impacts Laos as well. one proprietor tells me that 80% of their tourists come from Thailand and when i suggest perhaps the Chinese will pick up the slack and his eyes light up and say he says yes, the Chinese come and spend money. in fact just five minutes later a group of six Chinese come to the restaurant and i can tell by the comments that although they like the money they don't like this obnoxious crowd. the night market in Luang Prabang is empty except a few westerners. the women come in every night with their hand crafted items and i wish i could buy something from each of them but i don't see anything i need or want. it's hard when they say, "just one dollar" as you walk by.

there is a performance one night at the palace museum ballet. the music is traditional and the costumes are bright and men wear masks that are amazing. unfortunately not all of the stories have a happy ending. there is a young girl who reminds me of katie because the whole time she is on stage she has the biggest smile on her face. she dances in sync with the older girls and you can tell she is having a wonderful time.
the next morning i get up early - that's 5AM here - to watch the monks collecting alms from the people of Luang Prabang. after morning prayer the monks walk in a procession around a small part of town with their bowls collecting food and money from the citizens. it is a symbiotic relationship and in return the monks include the intentions of the people in their prayers.

then i'm off to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars. i opt for the travel agent run minivan [5 hours] instead of the public bus [10 hours]. this was a good choice since we are only 30 minutes outside of town before we see the first public bus [VIP in big letters on the side] pulled over and locals and westerners standing outside. we travel for a while and i think the road is good for a secondary road then after looking at the map i find this is not a secondary road but Route 13, the superhighway of Laos. there is not a 100 meters of it that is straight as it is winding through the mountains. we see at least two more public buses broken down along the way which i understand is the norm.

May 27, 2010

a Laos history lesson

Laos is a country blessed with life sustaining rivers, rich jungle and mountains.  Laos is also a country to which the world has not been kind.  floating down the Mekong for two days gave me the opportunity to read up on the history.  various kings ruled for years but usually paid tribute to the more powerful rulers of Thailand.  then the French colonized Laos so they had to fight them.  after the French were gone the Americans came to save them from the threat of communism which wasn't successful and led to the collapse in the economy and severe inflation.  the communists killed the royal family and continue to hold power today although they have tried to align with Thailand which led to another round of severe inflation during the 1990s.  now it's China's turn.  they are pouring money into the country and in return they are allowed to rape the forests which is causing flooding during the rainy season which they will eventually use as an excuse to dam the Mekong just north of Laos.

for now at least the people can still fish the Mekong .  the Mekong flows and changes and seeing the life it sustains from a slowboat is like watching a movie.  first we stop to pick up some bags of rice.  then we ride some rapids.  there are stops to pick up villagers when they flag down the pilot.  there is some type of alligator we see the villagers bring down to the river at a couple of villages and eventually one about three feet long is stuffed into a old rice bag, brought on board and stored in the toilet.  children from the villages play in the water.  women was clothes.  one girl is holding two rodents dangling by their tails.  i think they are rats and glad they are not brought on board.  most of the villages along the river don't have electricity and navigating this part of the Mekong without light would be crazy so we stop for the night in Pak Beng.

May 26, 2010

crossing the mekong

the bus from Chiang Rai was filled with locals and a few monks.   the steering column had lots of tape around it but no one seemed very concerned.  when i first got to Asia i remember dodging traffic and being horrified by the drivers. now i don't even think twice about it.

although my crossing of the border from Thailand to Laos was easy i later heard stories from other travelers who had problems.  most were minor but one guy had only a single $100 bill [visas had to be paid in us dollars] for a $35 visa.  The problem was the guy at the border didn't like his $100 bill because there was a scratch on the eye.  fortunately someone else came along and traded him dollars.

when i was leaving the US i went around hitting up banks for crisp new bills in small denominations and it was amazing how uncooperative they were.  plus the bank tellers all acted like i was crazy but i've had plenty of people hand back my dollars if they aren't crisp.  which is only more hysterical because the Laos Kip is some of the dirtiest money in the world.  a bowl of noodle soup cost 14,000Kip which is US$1.75.  but it was very yummy.  not Thai food good but still pretty yummy.

the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang was pretty wild the first day with a bunch of young westerners.  some of which drank the whole 8 hours.  the overnight stop was pretty much what you would expect for a village isolated in the middle of Laos.  they had just gotten 24 hour electricity a few months before so we heard about that from everyone.  they were so proud and it was still a bit of a novelty for them.

the Mekong was beautiful in the morning but after it warmed up it was roasting on the boat.  there is a faster way to travel.  they have speedboats on the river which are so dangerous even lonely planet says don't take them.  they are like a surfboard with a motor strapped to the back and passengers wear motorcycle helmets.

May 23, 2010

goodbye thailand - hello laos

there was a moment when i was riding behind Chet up a mountain road to a temple when i realized i'm living in the moment. at some point i made the shift of rushing to finish whatever i was doing to relaxing and enjoying where i am. i like this.

wondering down the street i Chiang Mai i found another westerner staring at a street sign. she said she was going to the Women's Correctional Institution where they offer occupational classes for the women. They have a restaurant and school for teaching massage. That's what we were really interested in - massages on the cheap.
finally i tracked down a Chinese fortune teller. he spent over an hour charting and reading cards and telling me of my future. now i check that off my list but i may look for another one in Mongolia. if i ever get there. i kinda already have a bad taste in my mouth about China and i'm not even there yet. i went by the Chinese Consulate in Chiang Mai to get a visa for visiting China. they have a sign posted with pricing. it goes like this US $130 any other country $30. deep breath - ennn and ouuut.

i hardly know what day of the week it is or what the date is but i've been in Asia for over a month. i was crossing the border from Thailand to Laos and reflecting back on my expectations, concerns and ideas about Asia before i came. the people i have met have been friendly and respectful and i t makes me wonder about the experience of foreigners coming to my country. safety was a huge concern yet i have have not had a moment of concern since i arrived. even in Chiang Mai with the streets on fire. i was more concerned for my safety the night i spent in Memphis, Tennessee. there were some things that seemed scary and hard when i was at home reading my lonely plant guide. like the border crossing to Laos. i took a bus from Chiang Rai to an intersection 'bus station' in Chiang Klong where i took a tuk-tuk to the river and checked out at Thai immigration then took a long boat across the Mekong to the Laos side where i filled out the forms and paid for a visa [same cost for all countries thank god so i don't have to get pissed off again - deep breath een and ouut] and i'm ready for lunch. yes, it sounds like a lot and really complicated but it wasn't. i left Chiang Rai at 9:30AM and i'm lunching in Laos.

May 19, 2010

thai government

tonight my heart breaks for Thailand.  the goverment has continued to shut down any media sympathetic to the protests and escalated the violence against a peaceful demonstration.  i find it hard to believe the UN and human rights watch groups are ignoring what is going on here but they didn't 'see' Rwanda or Darfur either so i guess it's to be expected when it's not an oil producing country.

there is a unusually high number of casualties among the western journalists within the protest site.  they seem to be the only ones giving a voice to the protesters and as a result i think the jackets they wear marked press provide a clear target for the military.

tourism is down drastically here and even the night market on Saturday evening was empty.  tonight should be my last night in Chiang Mai as i'm waiting for a visa from the chinese consulate here which i can pick up tomorrow.  as i wrapped up the day and was returning to my hotel i snapped this shot of burning tires just outside the gates of the old city.  the old city is a tourist area and so the red shirts say they will not demonstrate here.  there is a curfew here so everything was closed up tight by 8PM.  the news coming from Bangkok is even worse.  i'll head to Chiang Rai and jump the Laos border tomorrow evening if possible.


i spent a few days at the sanctuary in the north of Thailand.  i took hundreds of photos as the elephants were so accessible.  the Elephant Nature Park is an exceptional facility that provides food and shelter and love for elephants who have been tortured and abused by thier handlers.  although there is no official breeding program a few elephants have been produced naturally.  this is the only park in Thailand that educates people about the 'traditional breaking' of elephants at the age of three which involves crushing them in a small enclosure and using sticks with nails on the ends to train them to respond to commands.  the documentary makes me cry.

it's a lot of work to feed and tend the elephants and during my days there we sort huge piles of bananas and cucumbers and pumpkins.  we feed them constantly during the day and bathe the elephants in the river.  riding is not allowed [except by the mahout].  the guys go to a local farm to cut the harvested corn stalks that are a part of the elephant diet.  it's a phenomenal experience as we walk the property that these elephants roam around on and get to know the families they have formed and thier handlers [mahouts]. 

this tiny lady, Lek, is the one who started and runs this wonderful organization. what a SHERO! people from around the world pay for the opportunity to come and volunteer to work with the animals.  the work is not easy but the people i meet here are as exceptional as the facility.  one guy i meet has been on a couple of Sea Shepard campaigns.  unfortunately because of the military/red shirt conflict cancellations are running at about 60% and the ecotourism they rely on is diminishing rapidly.
the Thai people and thier relationship with elephants is very complicated.  they are considered sacred but are also a huge source of income for families and this leads to the usage of elephants for treks and street begging from tourists that compounds the abuse.  if you visit Thailand or have a friend visiting Thailand please educate them on the elephant abuses which the tourists have the power to end.

this is baby girl [Fae Maa] who is just one year old.

May 16, 2010

beware my friends

maybe even be afraid.  i have taken a Thai cooking class.

tomorrow i go to become an elephant helper at the Elephant Nature Park where i will stay for a few days.

May 15, 2010

chiang mai

last night as i was downstairs getting a tea i noticed all the servers were clustered around the tv. of course the newscast is in Thai so i don't understand a thing. when i ask they tell me the red shirt general has been shot. when i flew up to Chiang Mai they were putting together an agreement for the Red Shirts to disband and now it appears the agreement has fallen apart. thousands of new protesters are still streaming into the city so they have fresh bodies coming in all the time.
i haven't seen any demonstrations around the old city of Chiang Mai where i am staying although there was a large contingent of police officers at one of the old city gates.

i met an Aussie who had been around for a few days and we talked about the city and stuff to do. he had been out to an elephant sanctuary but not the one i want to to go. he said there was a month wait to go there and i wondered if that's just what the travel agent told him. when i check online i can get to THE elephant sanctuary any day i want so i book an overnight for next week. i feel sorry for the guy who got managed into a trip probably because there was a kickback involved. the travel agents here are brutal. anyway i got the trip i wanted.

May 13, 2010

fat white western beach

ferry to a new island.  so i am now on Ko Samui and stay on Chewang beach would could be renamed fat drunk westerner beach.  i'm amazed i've been able to avoid this scene and have enjoyed the essence of the islands without the noise and drug fueled antics of the white man.  this is just a stopover as i fly to Chiang Mai tomorrow.

the longboats in this picture are what the locals use to go out fishing and at sunset they come back with the catch of the day that goes on to the grill on beach for dinner.  the idea of fish that fresh is tempting but in the end i feel so sorry for the fish that i just have roasted corn and potatos.  i eat pad thai that is exquisite.  i've been advised to induldge in the Thai food as much as possible in preparation for Indochine and i've taken that advice.  then anouther beautiful sunset.

May 12, 2010

language of dive

after a night at Coconut Beach i move farther up the coast to Had Yao which is deserted. i find accommodations on the beach and jump into the water for a swim.  the water is less than hip deep out past the reef which is about 300 yards out.  i put my foot down and like a knife a bit of coral cuts my foot.  deep.

next i hit the dive shop.  there is a universal language of diving that bonds you with other people in a way that supersedes any vocalized language.  i go out on a dive trip and immediately know half the people on my beach. 

at the first dive stop we swim into a cavern filled with fish and a spotlight of sun provides great visibility.  it is incredible the coral is phenomenal, 12 foot fans, coral heads that are 15 - 20 feet wide.  i am in awe.

at the second dive stop i find a school of anchovies and swim into the middle.  sitting quietly the fish close around me like a halo and i spend magical moments floating among the fish.

there is a beach on the north side of the island which has an incredible reef.  i am relieved to see the health of the reefs here and know that they have not been destroyed by visitors.

next i am off to Koh Samui for a few days.

back to the islands

the silent retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh is hard.  it felt physically and mentally as challenging as climbing Kilimanjaro.  like all things that are hard i am glad that i have done it and more happy that i am done with it.  the staff and participants are incredibly kind and i am honored to have this insight into the Buddhist and Thai cultures.

i get a ride out to the main road and find one other guy who has also left this morning. we get a sawngthaew to Surat Thani and he helps me navigate the travel agent to arrange a bus and ferry out to Koh Phangnan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand.

every time i use the travel agent in Thailand i end up with somthing different that what they tell me.  in this case they tell me the ferry is 11:30AM and it turns out the ferry is 2PM.   i ask information at the ferry terminal if they have wifi and they say no.  i ask a second time and they say no.  i turn on my computer and find free wifi so i spend two hours catching up on mail and news.

when i get to Koh Phangnan i run the guantlet of taxi drivers on the pier and check at the ticket office to find out times for ferries leaving the island then head over to Coconut Beach where i find good accomodations.  here's the view from my room.

air conditioning, internet, shower and a toilet.  i feel so spoilt.  i crash hard and enjoy sleeping on something other than a bamboo mat.  while i have been out of contact i find the arrangements i made for Willie Dawg while i am gone have not worked out and he's been taken to my mother's house.  my mom has not been supportive of this trip from the begining and i fear she will use this as a way to get me back to the US before i am ready to return.  just thinking about it brings up anxiety that i have to meditate away as i know if that happens i will be filled with resentment that will hard to get past.

May 11, 2010

day six

i wake up on the concrete bed at 4am and go for morning meditation and then yoga.  it is impossible to describe how incredible it is to start yoga in the dark and watch the sky lighten and then sun rise over the water.  it is a magical time that i have enjoyed every day.

today is the day i leave and my step is mindful but light as i head back to the dorm to finish packing.  it is already hot so i douse myself with water one last time.  leaving before the 10 days is over doesn't feel like i have failed or left something unfinished, instead it feels like i have gotten what i came here for it is the right time for me to go.  as i finish packing i look down and there is a dead mosquito on my arm.

the english monk

day 5. i still want to leave. i talk to the retreat director and he says check out is after yoga each day so i can leave tomorrow morning if i choose. i know developing a disciplined practice of meditation and yoga will anchor me in the future so i try to focus and remain present. i talk to Sarah briefly and she writes me a wonderful note encouraging me to stay. it feels like the prison door has been opened and now it's up to be to decide if i shall stay or i shall go.
there is another monk who comes by to talk at us once a day. he is British so he's called the English Monk. i like his talks because not only can i understand him but he has the British attitude about things that makes me laugh. because he is a westerner living in Thailand he provides an immense amount of insight between the two different cultures.


day 4 and i'm still here although i want to leave everyday.  the yoga is wonderful but like everything here it feels forced to me.  the nun is the one who leads yoga and i really come to like her.

the focus every day is ducha [suffering] which i can't even start to explain here.  you can find the description somewhere here

the food although vegetarian is good but because of the nauseousness i haven't been eating much.  i visit the cook and pantomime my systems of sickness.  she gives me the same herbs that everyone gets for everything Fah-Ta-Lai-Chon and a glass of what looks like dirty dishwater with some dirt in it.  surprisingly i feel a lot better and for the first day i really enjoy the day despite the ducha and heat.

May 9, 2010

the old monk

day 1 through day 3 are just a blur.  it feels like 95 degrees with 100% humidity.  my head is pounding.  i can't tolerate the sunlighti'm nauseous.  i can barely stand or sit up because i'm so dizzy.  at first i think it's because my body is detoxing from caffeine and sugar but it continues and i get into my vicodin. after a few days i learn to cool down my body as much as possible by stripping down to a sarong the minute i hit the dorm and pouring water from head to foot.  this pond is for washing and bathing. 

each day i think i will focus and do my best but it is impossible to concentrate with the pounding heat.  i learn to tell which days will be hottest because on those days the staff carry umbrellas.  the heat is however a tradeoff for the snakes and mosquitoes.  it's the dry season before the rains here and so that means few mosquitoes and a much lower chance that a cobra will be seeking the dry space that is your 'room'.  during the orientation the only time i am encouraged to contact the staff is in the event there is a snake in my room.  the added visual of a plastic cobra really isn't needed for my overly active imagination.

the abbot of Wat Suan Mohkk comes by a couple of times a day.  we call him the old monk and he's really old and treated like a rock star and beloved by everyone around him.  he comes by once to meditate and once for a dhamma talk where he explains the foundation of buddism.  the problem is that his english is so thickly accented we can't follow what he's saying.  usually this hour is spent sitting in the heat blankly staring at him so the fears my mother had about 'indoctrination' are unrealized and i learn very little about Buddism.

who am i kidding?  every hour is spent sitting in meditation posture staring blankly and trying to focus on breathing pretending it isn't 100 degrees out except when i am back in the dorm on a break pouring water all over my body.  anyway soon we start to cringe when we see the old monk coming.


i am sleeping on a bamboo mat on a concrete bed with a wooden pillow under a mosquito net at a Buddhist monastery.  i've been asked to give up everything for 10 days and just be.  some of what i agree to for the next ten days includes ...only two vegetarian meals, silence, 4am - 9pm schedule, harm no living creature [this includes the mosquitoes and ants], bathing with a sarong, no lascivious thoughts or actions.  everyone is both excited and nevous.  day one starts tomorrow. 

Wat Suan Mohhk Monastery

moving from Langkawi to Surat Thani for the monastery is an all day journey across  Thailand.  i add more stamps to my passport but don't add a new country because i have been to Thailand before.  although the long days of buses and ferries are my least favorite, i have a chance to sit and talk with people along the way.  on the ferry in the morning i meet a Canadian named Kristen who was one of 10 people dropped off on an undeveloped island in Thailand for a month with only what they could put into a 5 liter [1.1 gallon] dry sack.

next i meet Nicole whose destination of the day is also Surat Thani.  she's Swiss and has been in India for 5 months.  we navigate the bus system together and stay at the same hotel for the night.  tomorrow i go to Wat Suan Mohkk Monastery for a 10 day silent meditation retreat.

May 8, 2010

red shirt, yellow shirt

if you travel overland into Thailand they will only provide you with a valid 15 day entry. if you fly into Bangkok they give you a 30 day entry. since i'm going in overland i pay for a 60 day visa which they only issue from the consulate in Penang. go figure. wandering around Georgetown i hit the historic sites. this crossroad of colonialism, Chinese and Malay culture is the picture i had of Malaysia in my head. i turn the corner and amidst the chaos is a little french bakery! bless them because i really was missing bread. most of the fresh bread here is naan which is delicious but different.

as i was handing over my passport for the daily visa run an Australian guy runs up to the desk to cancel his bus ticket to Thailand. his intelligence sources in the Red Shirt movement are advising the thai army is mobilizing for a large scale military action to be taken against them that night. it's quite the topic as this is a big stopover for travelers going into Thailand. of course, nothing the Australian says turns out to be accurate.

determined to find some Assam Laski [fish based soup with noodles and vegetables] i ask Paul from the Old Penang and he gives me very specific instructions which i follow. i stood on the outside looking in for a few minutes. knowing this was my last night here - I have my visa and ticket to Langkawi already - i'm trying to get up the guts to go in. there isn't another white skin in the joint. i step inside and an old woman, probably 85 to 90, asks a bunch of stuff and i respond "assam laksi". she smiles and says how many bowls. jackpot! it was some good stuff.

feeling cocky because i've successfully navigated my way to find the assam laski i swagger back to the Old Penang Guesthouse. there are tons of shops along the way and since i'm headed back to the islands i decide to pick up a sarong. the woman asks for $6US and i know i'm getting ripped off when i pay $4US but i can't bring myself to bargain her down from there.

miss wago

i wake up and rush to find the bus to the bus terminal.  i give up and take a taxi.  the bus terminal which is a tent is filled with touts who just descend on anybody walking in but they leave me alone as soon as i purchase a ticket.  it's five hours from KL to Cameron Highlands and i get to see more of Malaysia.  it is truly a beautiful country and the last hour before we stop in Tanah Rata the bus climbs a steep winding road through the mountains and for the last bit there are tea plantations everywhere.

i check in and later one of the staff approaches me and asks how to pronounce my name "Vagabond Cowgirl". i just nod when he says wago. every morning, afternoon and evening i hear 'hello miss wago'.

it is cooler in the highlands so it is a good break from the rest of Malaysia. it's jungle trekking time again and i go exploring with a group of people we find a Raffelsia flower which is one of the largest flower species in the world.

we check out the tea plantation and tour the grounds ad factory. i'm no tea connoisseur so it all tastes the same to me but it's cool to see where it comes from. there are a bunch of strawberry farms around and so we eat fresh strawberries the whole stay. it's a saturday night so there's a market and i eat my way from one end to the other.

i meet an Iranian girl here and we spend hours talking about human rights, family, politics, religion and freedoms. we are bonded in a way because we both come from countries that the rest of the world loves to hate.

google did what?

on the 24h of april i wake up and check my mail and i have emails from several people saying my blog is down. it took two weeks and i never got an explanation why but they gave it back to me. usually something like this would really piss me off but i just spent a week at a monastery practicing meditation so i don't get angry anymore. patience my friends and i will get caught up on my postings.  how do you back up a blog in case this happens again?