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notes from the road

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Hoi An, Magic Vietnam

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Flew into Hoi An, not knowing what awaited.

The weather greets us, hot and humid, but we seem to have left the rains behinds us. Soaking Saigon. Our small villa is tucked behind a miniature road, a fragrant lush oasis sits inside the gate. Lily pad ponds, glistening gardens embracing a pool.

Lucky days.

We rent a motorbike and scoot towards town, knowing little else than the guidebooks’s description of a lovely old port filled with history and style.

Not to be missed.

We head down the road, crossing bridges and cruising alongside the riverbed. Hoi An suddenly appears, graceful and full of charm.

The streets turn into dazzling displays of art and magic. Rows of silk lanterns dangle in the skies, glowing like Christmas tree lights. Tailor houses hum away, seamstresses snipping fabrics and measuring clients of all shapes and sizes, waiting anxiously for their custom creations.

Again, another mural of beautiful people with wrinkly faces lifting heavy loads, tottering about in pajamas. Cute as buttons, strong as soldiers.

Markets and textiles. Old men perched by the riverside accompanied by small pooches or peering out curiously from their shops. River canoes captained by little old ladies with magic, toothless smiles.

Candles floating on the river, soft light cradled in blackened waters.

Serene. Hopeful. Powerful.

I send off 4 candles, vessels of my heart. One for this present moment. Such gratitude for my current happiness and fortune. Two for Pa’s health. Three for Mel’s health. And four for our marriage and future family. Bless it and keep it.

I watch the candles float off and feel strengthened by the simplicity of this gesture. The warm flames and the cool water, merging together. Harmony and beauty.

Hoi An has made me grateful again. Funny how places have their own spirit, similar to people. They can fill you and nourish you, even when you least expect it.

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Lombok Blues

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Welcome to Kuta.

Brace for crappy roads, crappier food. Loads of flies, child vendors pestering at every corner and restaurant table. No hiding.

Watch out for machetes, flying out at night from the side of the dark road.

Look out for pristine beaches, electric turquoise water and glossy skies.

Wind blowing from the cliff tops where you can see the start and end of the world.

Endless views from coastal towers.

Keep your eyes peeled for big bandaids and Ibuprofen – better yet, stock up before you come.

You wont find them here.

Keep cool when mini mosquitos bite and gigantic, prehistoric geckos piss and poop on white sheets.

Bullies from above, grinning down mischievously from the thatched ceiling, their home.

Listen up for eager birds, chirping relentlessly all morning on our pillow.

View disgruntled water buffalo herder boys, slapping Johnny on the butt when no charity is offered.

Cool breezes and soft sun.

Catch a blast of obnoxiously loud motorbikes flying by, kicking up dirt and egos.

“Fucking Hardcore” Lombok surfer boys frontin’, skinny-tough.

Brown chests blazing, menacing glares followed up by big, generous smiles.

A surprise non-attack.

“Brother, it’s all good. Brother, come to my house and see my baby. We are having his hair cutting ceremony tomorrow, brother. Brother, please come.”

Invitations extended, and a one week old baby suckles her mother’s breast as she lays supine on the floor, hot and complacent, unaffected by our presence.

Encounter over trafficked streets – destination nowhere.

Forgotten mongrels strolling the streets – swinging heavy teats down the main drag, searching for scraps with lonely eyes.

“Is this a spice or a bug in this dish?” The great unknown.

Better to avoid inspection of suspected legs and antennae, push the mystery object aside and continue eating.

It’s all just protein anyway.

Revel in strange findings, like surprisingly strong internet, and crunchy seeds in your bananas.

Experience live music, cover songs from Oklahoma filling the dusty air of this island village.

Eat an aptly named “cosadilla” – as in, “que cosa did I just eat?!”

An odd bunch of tourists.

Oldies and youngn’s doing who knows what in this ramshackle and dusty town.

Blaring mosques sing pitchy off-tune prayers, while the Hindu brothers dress up, sharp and dazzling as they scoot off to their flower filled temples far out of town.

Celebrate expert sarong haggling even if the locals fume and fumble angrily.

“Why did we pay more than a tourist?!”, they cry out, demanding justice as I stroll down the beach, triumphant, laying my new shiny sarong on the sand.

Magnum bars keep us happy – sweet victory with each creamy bite.

The constant search for the next edible meal, hopeless optimism.

Warung to warung, hunting for a pot of gold at the end of this Lombok rainbow.

Doesn’t exist.

Flies abundant, fly heaven.

Don’t laugh too big, or one might find a new home inside your mouth – just sayin’.

HBO in the hotel room. Big score!

But Keanu at his best is still the absolute worst.


 

My Lombok blues are skies and seas, frowns and cries, love and dust. My Lombok blues are actually purples and pinks, greens and browns, red and orange. Here are some pics of my Lombok blues:

Appearances can be deceiving.

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And, sometimes they are exactly as they seem.

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Not too shabby.

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Another boring sunset..

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a surprise around each corner

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Lombok blues at their best

secret beach close to tanjung an

A Day in Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest

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Tiger’s Nest Monastery 

Ever since we arrived, I have been blown away, completely captivated by the land and people of this tiny country tucked inside the Himalayan Mountains. Our guide, “Sonam,” means good luck and so far he lives up to his strong name. He is wonderful. Quiet and gentle, with a sense of humor and easy disposition. He is 25 years old but with the maturity and wise gaze of someone twice his age. An old soul.

Today we hiked to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Wow. What a remarkable moment in my life! I couldn’t help but weep, just broke into tears with a sense of awe, complete and utter humility at the massive accomplishment of beauty, spirit, and love that this special place embodies.

The monk greeted us, kindly welcoming us inside with his deep and thoughtful eyes. He spoke softly but clearly, and I hung on his every word.

“Welcome. Please come in and sit. You do not need to be Buddhist to pray here. We are all together, every faith and religion is welcome in this holy place.”

We enter and sit before the strong, imposing statue of Guru Rinpoche, their most revered deity. He rests, poised and monumental in front of me. My bare feet are cold against the solid wood floor. I sense the light mountain air quietly still inside the small room.

I feel tiny and whole all at once. My eyes brim with salty tears, not fully understanding why but completely lost in the moment. Gratitude overwhelms me.

I wish I could have let myself go completely, cry out in joy and appreciation of this moment. But there were others in the room, and I quickly gained composure. How I would have loved to spend the day, several of them in fact, meditating, praying, giving thanks for my incredible life and luck! Wishing the same for others.

It was a moment to remember forever.

No photos are allowed inside the temple walls. No bother, as my camera could never justly capture the rich colors of the mural walls, the remarkable faces of the protective deities, the soft glow of the burning butter candles, or the prayer wheels spinning.  What I hope to remember forever is the feeling of immense hope, of joy, of peace, that I felt inside those walls and that continues to grow and follow me.

Tomorrow is another day. We must wake at 4:30 am for a special blessing in the dzong, the village square. So off I go, to sleep in this chilly old farmhouse. Layered with heavy blankets, we sleep on the floor. Mountain dogs are barking outside, ferocious and wild. Our weary bones are warm again from the hot stone bath and local fare – butter tea, chili and cheese, dinner in the delightfully tattered kitchen with a couple of monks.

Just a another day in Bhutan.

Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress, subduing demons and meditating in this holy place that is now called Tiger’s Nest Monastery. My ascent on two feet was not as fantastic, but no less magical.

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Tiger's Nest at every angle

Tiger’s Nest at every angle

A vigilant young caretaker, curious as we pass

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More lucky charms along the way

Passing by

Passing by

Our farmhouse stay

the digs…

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Greeted to some grains and butter tea upon arrival. Loving the decor of this farmhouse, and the butter tea tastes, well…..like salty butter water. Then dinner in the kitchen with some faithful friends.

Our unforgettable Bhutanese hot stone bath

George Town, Jewel of Penang

I love George Town.

Crazy characters, colors bursting, loud and busy with laughter and yelling. People smile here. They look at you and stare, interested and amused.

My type of place.

We only just arrived, but have already had several encounters with the people of this city. They seem eager to chat, to share and ask questions of us too. How I’ve missed that, and am so happy to feel connected to these curious people.

The buildings are beautiful – decayed and run down in the most graceful way, full of stories and history. Tiny alleys filled with secrets. Shops inside spaces you never knew existed, packed with endless items and trinkets, foods, spices, electrical parts. Bold, unapologetic colors that widen eyes.  It’s chaotic yet serene.

I like the pace.

It’s stifling hot – hotter than anywhere else we’ve been so far. Yet the people are still running around, shuffling, hawking, selling their trade. Walking to school, to work, or just idling by. The eyes, teeth, smiles of so many faces, different shapes and colors, welcome me and brighten my spirit. Malaysians, Chinese, and Indians are all mixed up, blended to perfection. One joyful combination, a feast for my eyes.

We’ve been sweating endlessly for days, drenched shirts, beads dripping from our glossy faces, hair thick with humidity. I love this weather, but it’s been a feat of strength to survive these George Town streets – quirky, vibrant, dilapidated wonders.

I am so happy here.

It’s been a rejuvenating experience to see so many lively souls, filled with smiles – toothless, gapped, gleaming white teeth – they are all so beautiful.

The elderly are kings in this town. Johnny says it must be where they come to retire. I think it’s a generation of hard working traders, craftsmen, skilled artists perfecting their craft. Grown old in body, wise in face and spirit. Old young souls riding bicycles, scooting along on mopeds and motorcycles, reading the newspaper. I watch them in wonderment, enjoying their tea and dim sum with their comrades, fellow kind warriors of this island city. Playful geezers exchanging war tales.

But modernity is not too far away. The streets are brimming with youthful electricity, street-art dripping from the crumbling walls.

The food is exquisite. “Hawker” stalls abound in a surprisingly clean and organized fashion, serving up steaming dishes to the masses of hungry locals. We must eat all day long, keep up our strength and energy to combat this booming city heat.

We have been greeted so warmly here. The locals are eager to help, practice their English, give directions, offer suggestions.  A simple smile, a nod, a wave follows me down each corner, accompanying me along the way…

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