Monday, July 06, 2015

The Big Tent is Up

 With great pleasure I can now say the platform is complete & our homestead tent is up! The lumber was heavy & sometimes the tools didn't perform the best out in the woods so I went with sweaty hand tools BUT totally worth it.  I will sleep on the ground no more!:)

Most homesteading, wall canvas tents start at $1500. We went with a more affordable company out of Idaho- Elk Mountain Tents. Thought we were going with a Made in the USA company until we erected it & saw little Chinese numbers to match up the pattern pieces when sewing the tent together. Still, after putting it together in a hail storm, I will give them my thoughts on how to improve the design.

  • First: Be honest about the weight. It wasn't 50 lbs but 90 lbs. That makes a heck of a difference when carrying HoChi Min style up a mountain. Yeesh that was heavy! 
  • Second: It doesn't take an hour to assemble when you have to use a manual pipe cutter on 30 pipes of 3/4" EMT. That was made in the USA btw, as well as the pipe cutter that kept on unscrewing the cutting wheel while cutting the pipe.
  • Third: If your providing massive spikes for anchorage, could you include smaller spikes for the ground flap? 

I feel like we appreciate the tent even more now that it rained on-and-off the two days that we put up the tent, getting my feet soaked only to get ill by the end of day two, with the flies hatching & constantly attacking us, with the impressive thundering hailstorm leaving the site a muddy mess...but look at this view from the bed! Gorgeous!
A shaky beginning to a new adventure. With a lot of meds I'm coming back to life. Plus Nicolas can now be the only person that I've ever met that sprained his wrist using a chainsaw.

Back to the Honeymoon - Cambodia

So where were yes, leaving Thailand to Cambodia. The night before we had farewell dinner at a restaurant owner's house including cooking lesson. Before we headed back to the hotel we lit what the Alaskans call Dry Cleaning Bag Hot Air Balloons. A tradition in Alaska for the Winter Solstice; a tradition in Thailand in the beginning of November for their version of festival of lights - Loi Krathong. They are so accustomed to making them that the craftsmanship is amazing. No dry cleaning bags folk, tissue paper. Instead of Sterno, cut up toilet paper rolls soaked in paraffin. I'm definitely going to try that technique next winter.
Cambodia is no joke to enter, be prepared. If you didn't purchase your visas before hand a little extra might be requested depending on your customs officer if you know what I mean. The heat was oppressive to be expected but unlike Thailand, Cambodia is very open so more airy.

What seemed obvious but unexpected was the elderly French & Germans. Obviously Cambodia used to be a French colony & lots of them still come. Also the amount of elderly because Angkor Wat is on a lot of peoples' bucket list. Unexpected because Angkor is not for the weak, a few heavy traffic areas will have wood bridges but the majority is climbing over boulders in the jungle in the heat.

The first day we spent the morning in the Angkor Thom looking at the Bayon Temple with more than a 172 giant smiling stone faces. Then onto the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King. All of which were an incredible climb...then a wait for the Chinese tourists to stop taking selfies so I could photograph a the temples.  At least during the wait I had a great discussion with a Russian lady to talk about the iterations of Vishnu & Buddha. 

Nicolas laughed as I was excited about the monkeys, only to get mothered by an Indian woman named Mrs. Gupta. She scolded me that I should not be so enthusiast to see monkeys when they are pests back in India.  She said that I wouldn't find them so adorable making a racket on my roof while I was trying to sleep.

The evening we came back to visit the stunning Angkor Wat, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. World famous for its beautiful and splendorous bas-relief galleries surrounding the entire bottom floor of the temple.

Two of the galleries were battle scenes that I could tell from the Mahabharata. You can tell which gods are which from the totem animals that they ride into battle on. Before you think that I'm an expert in Hindu mythology- I'm fascinated in corbelled architecture & have watched a bit of the nine hour long Mahabharata tv series:)

The other two galleries are of the churning of the sea of milk from where the gods and demons received their immortally & the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu Mythology. 

We climbed up to the top and holiest quincunx to watch the sun set.  We were very luck to be allowed up there. It was closed for quite a while after a Japanese tourist fell down the towering stairs to his death.  Trust me on this one, those stairs are unforgettable.

The next day Nicolas & I went to explore some of the smaller temples on our own.  To do this we had our own tuk-tuk driver. For $15 a day, he will drive you where you want & wait for you.  A side note, I must say the Cambodians have the art of public napping down to a science. In the heat of the day, the drivers will have a hammock slinged up in their carts, old ladies will be napping under trees & shop owners will be sleeping on top of their counters.

I desperately wanted to go to Ta Prehm to see the only goddess shrine in the country- the Lady of Light. A very under visited temple most of the locals cannot tell you where the shrine is, but Nicolas left me to sketch while he went hunting. He found from the locals that they call her Lucky Lady and gave him general compass directions. 
Bas-relief of Garuda

Through dark, half-galleries with collapsed walls we traversed. Crouching down to make it through four foot doors we found her. Though Ta Prehm is a ruin that has not be renovated, there were still offerings left out to the Lucky Lady and a mat to unroll to prostrate with.

Nicolas & I sat in a cafe that night eating crocodile pizza while listing to the strangle bar music.  We had gone to see the Lucky Lady on St. Patrick's Day in Cambodia.  What a fantastic honeymoon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Farwell my love

I have delayed writing for a long time over the grief I've been feeling for the lost of my dearest friend and companion.  On Saturday, June 6th, Itchy passed away.  We fought it for long while, the first sign was her going deaf a couple of years ago. At first I thought she was just at an age that she was ignoring me like every teenager.  Then mind-blowing sounds would not make her even flinch. 

Then the tail was constantly tucked & then her head would stay stooped.  She had terrible arthritis. Her muscle deteriorated and walking became impossible. I wanted her to be with me forever, even if that meant carrying her everywhere. Then on the tuesday she went blind in one eye. She stopped opening her eyes and cried if you moved her. Atleast she didn't hear my cries while I watched her in so much pain.

I know that pets are no substitute for children but Itchy was the closest to that for sixteen years. Since all my love and concerns were so tied to her for so long I now feel like part of me is missing.

Her ashes came back on Monday.  Soon she will be keeping my father company in the family crypt. My only condolence is that was my father's wish. Family is family.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Honeymoon in Cambodia..& Thailand

Does anyone get the Dead Kennedy's reference? We stopped singing it halfway through the 20 hour travel from Denver to Bangkok.Our first day in Bangkok was recovering from jet lag. The next day we walked through the flower market watching the shop keepers fold flowers to make them look like lotus for temple offerings. Then we went to our first temple to walk the Wat Pho and the reclining buddha.The only buddha in a temple you are allowed to take a picture of. Around temples they have sun umbrellas that say Buddha is not tattoo. Buddha is not furniture. Buddha is respect.
That evening we went to the Asiatique Riverfront to go for a dinner dance show.
Dancers depicting a scene from the Ramayan

Its not desirable to wake early on your honeymoon but there's two things that you need to beat in Thailand: 1) the heat, 2) the Chinese. No kidding, the next day we went to the Grand Palace to see the Emerald Buddha & it was packed.  That night we walked the red light district near the hotel, ate street food, bought gifts then took a stroll. What was supposed to be just a stroll around the park was a five hour walk around a royal park that we couldn't enter. We did get to see street bands, one were a couple of elementary schoolers playing The Cranberries. The saddest part of Bangkok is the 200,000 stray dogs.
We then started north, first stopping at Summer Palace then towards Ayutthaya. One of the ancient cities, Chai Wattanaram Temple that was lost in a battle against the Burmese.
Further north the higher we get in the hills. A more complete set of ruins were in Sukhothai.You can notice the difference in stupas. The pointed stupas are Thai, bulbous stupa or chebi are copies of the Cambodians.

Our hotel in Sukhothai was beautiful. Cooking outside & were blessed by monks in the morning we gave them offers prepared in the kitchen.  The evening was hot hot hot so we jumped on a tuk-tuk with a friend & drove to new city for a drink at Bar 3300 right in the middle of an intersection. Its a buddhist conspiracy to make weak drinks. Spent the trip asking for one more shot. It took four waitresses & one bartender for me to explain that sour mix is not a cocktail, that you have to add alcohol to it.
On the road north we would stop in towns that everyone specialized in one trade.We bought some beautiful woven scarves in one town.  In another we walked down a side road where a granny had an indigo workshop. She showed us how indigo is made & then put us to work over a burner with wax. We took little metal stamps, dipped them in the wax then pressed them on the cloth. Then she soaked them three times in the dye. Below is a picture of the cloth after the first dip. She gave us little pieces of scraps that Nic & I practiced on.
Further down the road we made a side trip to yet another temple on a suggestion from another traveler. Most american boys go to summer camp, most Thai boys go to a buddhist temple. One of those boys grew up became a famous artist, went to his home town & created this marvel. My best description would be a temple designed in anime. You progressed down from hell with characters like the Predator & Hellboy in the details up to heaven where Neo from the Matrix was near Buddha. Amazing.
Near the Myanmar board, we decided to not to go over to ride around on rickshaws but decided to hike up 306 steps of the Naga staircase to over look the Golden Triangle.
Lunch was a restaurant in the hills at an artists house. To get up the mountain we took what we fondly called the farm taxi. Basic sustainablity- the engine comes out to go in the tractor, the irrigation pump, etc.

After lunch we took a river boat over to Laos for cocktails. The picture below are of tiger testicle spirits & cobra spirits. Not bad. Much smoother than the rice spirits.

After a couple of drinks we were told that the villagers had captured a bear walking through. So I had to see it. Such a little girl napping in the shade & eatting watermelon.
The next day we wanted to know who Long Neck Karen was. So we took another farm taxi to a hill tribe that we refugees from Myanmar. Nicolas started calling me Doctor Doolittle because dogs were getting off their ropes & following me around the village.
Only grannies & babies in town while the men worked in the rice fields (lana). Yes, this grannies teeth are black from years of eatting betel nut, a narcodic.
Walking back to the hotel I took tons of pictures of the homes. Its amazing how 70% of the countries overseas still incorporate weaving into their structures. This is a bridge we walked over woven with bamboo.
That evening we made it to Chang Mai where, besides the heavy smog, was much more fun than Bangkok. Our new friend took us on the back of a tuk-tuk to get moo-kata. A bbq joint the size of an aircraft hanger filled with raw seafood, meat & vegetables that you put in a tray than cook over a burner with coals & lard. Sorry the picture is shaky, lots of Chang beer that night.
Our tuk-tuk driver that night was named Mr. Insuane (Mr. Insane). He had me sit on his armrest & hang out to make horn sounds with my mouth. I never mastered the Thai police sirens. He dropped us off at one of the famous night markets. Our tired feet deserved a treatment but I didn't want a Thai massage by the ladies yelling MASSAGE in my ears. We went for a fish spa instead that had fish eat the dead flesh off your legs & feet. Nicolas made the mistake of sharing a tank with me.  He got a dozen fish while I was swarmed by THOUSANDS! Incredibly ticklish when the go between your toes. Twenty minutes later though my legs were as soft as a baby's bum.
I could barely sleep that night because the next day we went to ride ELEPHANTS! Here's a picture of Nicolas tranversing the jungle on his asian elephant. I wanted my own. Afterwards an elephant took the hat off my head then gave me a sloppy, banana smelling kiss. Ironically it then went down to the river to take a bath & spray water on us.
I could write pages about how nice the Thais were but they have a saying that sums it up- Land of Many Smiles. Our last night in a thai honeymoon suite with a bride & groom swan arrangement.
Next post: Siem Reap into Angkor Wat.