I understand that I only just posted, but I felt that it would not feel right to just include the wonderful, blissful and picturesque moments of our travels. We have had such a great start to this journey ... with everything going so smoothly with all our transfers, our bookings, our accomodations, our health. The boys have embraced it all and we have stepped into the world with an open heart and loads of trust. Maybe just a little too much trust...We just discovered while settling into our sleepers on the 12 hour ricketty train journey to Bangkok last night, that the kids were robbed sometime in the last few days. Their savings of over $200 combined has gone from their wallets. Funny though, because each wallet has $20 left in it - as much to say "I wanted to leave you some..." Mmmmm. I contemplate the karma of this but also understand that it is an old fashioned lesson in just not being careful enough.
The boys wallets have been left in our room most outings, buried in their napsacks, more or less forgotten by me. Careless of course, thinking about it now. Those that are close to me know that I am possibly too trusting - and maybe this is true. Ben was very upset and rightfully angry. It`s an awful feeling knowing someone has gone through your personal things. And I cannot pinpoint where and when this may have happened. But I have tried to make him realise that it`s not the end of world and that whoever took it must have needed it pretty bad - but had enough conscience to not take it all. I hate to see him become more cynical - as is in his nature already. I wanted him to not fear or mistrust people - but this is a real life lesson and the bottom line is that we need to be more vigilant. I just wish that it was my money - not theirs. But it could always have been much worse of course and it's certainly not a trip breaker - it was not passports, credit cards, or our entire belongings ... but I just wished that this news waited until we had got over our first bout of travelling sickness! Two days of severe stomach cramps, fever, body aches and leaking of fluids - from both ends. Both Ben and I became victim following our jungle adventure tour a couple of days ago ... just a few hours after my last post actually, describing the bliss of Thailand! Jordan remains unscathed so far (except for the sad look on his face everytime he looks into his wallet!).
So there is someone, somewhere walking around with more that a few weeks of Thai wages in Canadian dollars. Does this change the way I feel about Thai people - well, no. Not really. I just hope that the kids birthday money is being put to good use, for food or household supplies... And if taken by a tourist (which does not make sense logistically from thinking it over) ... then I hope they had a hell of a party and shared it with friends. Anyway, it is done. Taking from Buddhist teachings - I forgive. Though it may take Ben a little longer... Now just to get over this illness before we fly to India tomorrow... Send strength! xx
There is a Thai word that I have been using alot these past few days ... a word that describes bliss, happiness and a sense of elevated being. "Khwam Sukh". I love this word ... as I now love this country. I have heard so many wonderful things about Thailand over the years ... about her people rooted in spiritual strength, about her natural beauty, her culture and of course her food. Nothing has dissapointed and these past few days I have been in "Khwam Sukh" .... pure bliss. We are on Koh Phangan, an island on the Gulf Coast ... just north of Koh Samui. This is a large island with villages dotted all over and white sandy beaches that curve into the jungle from a turquoise sea. But this island is about so much more than an island holiday... thai culture is everywhere here. While I loved our time spent in the Dominican a few years back ... I feel that we left knowing nothing of the people or the culture of the place. All inclusives often don`t pretend to be more than a packaged escape from the stress of living a busy North American life. And this is ok. But to be here in Thailand is something so much richer. I am not surprised by all the Australians and the British people we have met that now call this country... and this island, their home. We have meet some wonderful people from all over the world here and have got to know a little of Thai culture. These people are amongst some of the most warm, kind, generous and welcoming people I have met. They are at peace ... happy... in Thai, "Yindi". Their smiles come just before their willingness to help and their open hearts embrace you honestly.
It took us almost two days to travel from Malayasia to here. With some mis-navigation on my behalf we ended up in Penang on the opposite coast, then took a long 12 hour, hot and cramped mini-bus through the bowels of southern Thailand, detouring into tiny rural villages to pick up and drop off. Once again the boys travelled beautifully, despite the conditions, despite the 40 degree humid heat that rarely dips in the evening hours. But the thought of another island paradise the following day fueled us for sure. So for the past 5 days we have once again immersed ourselves into island life, soaking up the energy, the heat, the food and the adventure. Yesterday we took a day long tour around the island that involved Thai Boxing, a visit to an incredible Buddhist temple on the highest peak here, where the boys learnt about the Noble Truths. We went snorkelling on the other side of the island, found ourselves on top of an elephant, tested our archery skills, went zip lining and faced our fear of heights in canopy bridges... (Ben excelled here - no fear whatsoever and zipped around the jungle like the monkeys he still fears so much. Jordan came up against his first real challenge and his fear of heights won the day - this time anyway). We topped the day off with a traditional Thai herbal sauna, actually a steam room, infused with over 20 herbs including lemongrass, mint and ecualyptus. Deliciously relazing and surprisingly doable even in the stiffling heat! Oh - did I mention the $9 one hour Thai massage that I both endured and enjoyed right on the beach the previous day?! Khaum Suak. Bliss
Our home for just one more night, is a traditional Thai beach bungalow - right on the beach. It is not fancy, but more than adequate and in fact I would have no problem settling in for several weeks. And at a cost of $30 per night - it is tempting! And this is not even the cheapest one. We eat Pad Thai and Green Curries for $3 (well the boys do their best to experience the local food - but ask me often if they can order a burger and fries. I endulge them once in a while but do try to insist they find something more traditonal. They have been happy to oblige for the most part - fries aside!! I will post a whole blog dedicated to food down the track as this has been an adventure in itself!)
Ben has stepped into his 12th year and we celebrated it in true Thai style. We lit traditional lanterns on the beach and Ben sent them into the heavens with his birthday wishes. Truly beautiful and forever memorable for us all. Khwam Sukh. Bliss. The following morning we watched as a professional tree climber scampered effortlessly up the tallest of coconut trees to harvest, well... coconuts! And to our delight we were giving one, cut and opened to enjoy! Coconut water from a can or bottle will never taste the same.
So the boys are finding their travel legs and for the most part our days are harmonious - except when they are not and we are all bickering at each other, usually out of tirdness, heat exhaustion or hunger. The boys have learnt so much these past few weeks but I have not yet started a formal school program. I must admit that the thought of this is exhausting for me. My days seem so full already with feeding hungry mouths and trying to avoid foods and water that will make us ill, with navigating our new surroundings and making sure we get the most out of our days, with also making sure we get rest, take vitamins and wear sunscreen. To plan for the next town, city or country. And to look for the best in everything ... However it must be done and we will begin their road-schooling program when the month turns.
So we will soon bid farwell to beautiful Thailand. We have not been here nearly long enough, but our time has been sweet. Next: A one hour taxi, three hour ferry, one hour bus and a twelve hour overnight sleeper train to get us to Bangkok, where we fly to India! Boys posts coming soon (when I can tie them down to pen and paper). And finally, a huge thanks to all of you for your warm, generous words of support. We love hearing from you!
As write is this, sitting under a magnificent palm tree and overlooking the clearest after of waters, I contemplate the last few days that have brought us to this island paradise 1 hour off the coast of Malaysia. The boys have been wonderful travellers so far, each approaching new experiences in their own unique way. Jordan tackling it all head on - with great enthusiasm and courage, Ben being more reserved, fear dominating much of his movements. Despite what people say I have found that airplane travel is much smoother than it used to be. With web check ins and modern facilities on aircrafts, travelling with the boys has been a great experience. How can children not enjoy a constant dose of movies, TV, video games, coupled with ongoing food and drink service! I think Ben could have kept on going ... right around the world and called it his trip! So aside from awaking at 2 am for the past 5 nights and wanting to pass out in the heat of the afternoon Asian sun... it has been pretty smooth sailing logistically so far. Of course there have been moments of sheer frustration, exhaustion and the occasional tear of homesickness along the way. When we landed in Japan after close to 20 hours of travelling and checked in to our tiny, smelly airport hotel room, with a toilet we had no idea how to work, the weight of what we (and more specifically I), had taken on came crashing down. Ben must have picked up on my vibration ... he dumped his backpack on the bed, held his face in his hands and wept. My heart sank ... we were really doing this ... it had begun .
From that moment I realised that I needed to remain strong no matter what. Even if something is not ok - I need to have control over it in the minds of the children. I am all they have out here - and if I fall apart then they will too - right now anyway, until we find our travel legs. So we made our way to Kuala Lumpur the next day on a few hours sleep and spent a wonderful 3 nights in the lap of luxury - 5 star style. Here we rested and oriented ourselves towards our new reality. And this reality includes being together - ALL the time. The boys are testing this daily and there are times where I question it all. They bicker out here, just like they did at home. Why did I think it would be different? But the saying "Wherever you go - there you are" comes to mind here. So, missing home and Dad, our new family dynamic is reshaping itself as we go. We move into this new life one day at a time, all of us a little fragile right now, like new chicks right out of their shells...
We explored Kualar Lumpur and the children had their first experience with the Malaysian Monkeys. Jordan was fearless, as is his nature, Ben fought his demons the whole 292 steps up to the Batu Caves. This sacred Hindu place is also a tourist mecca and the assertive, naughty monkeys will swipe anything you may be carrying in your hands. I was aware of this and we went empty handed, but Ben was convinced that life as he knew it was over. But on we went - and yes, we survived. It was an incredible experience. We are intiated - first challenge done! Today we snorkelled in waters I have rarely seen before, even on the reefs of Australia. Water that is so crystal, so turquoise, that the words "screen saver" constantly come to mind. This is true paradise - fish every colour of the rainbow, coral every shape, texture and shade. Palm trees that hang perfectly over white sandy beaches. Raw jungle behind us, no cars, no roads. The highlight of my time here so far is snorkelling hand in hand with Jordan today, both of us finally finding the huge turtle we were told was out there. Truly incredible - an unforgettable experience! Our room opens onto a silky white sand beach and 20 metres away is the best and freshest Malasyian food there is. Bliss.
So back under the palm tree, milkshake in hand I feel refreshed and ready to continue. We have 2 more nights in paradise before we navigate boats, trains and buses again in the stiffling heat on our way to Thailand. It's difficult to think of India while here. I know travelling there will be so different. No ocean to calm frayed nerves and bring the body temperature down. I am beginnning to like it here. I know when the generator changes, how to fix my toilet and the best wi fi spot on the beach (it really is under a palm tree!). I like the reflection of the ocean as I step up to the sliding door of our beach hut. The Malaysian people are quiet, unassuming, kind and reluctantly hospitable. No one pushing for for business. Take it or leave it. Ahhhh ... island life, I could do it forever... Next: how to navigate border crossings into Thailand ... I can taste the green curry from here!
Ben finally chooses a backpack
Firstly, I would like to thank so many of you for your incredible support of this great adventure! I have been overwhelmed by your generous comments, kind wishes and support ... I feel truly grateful. And I am also grateful for those: "... you are either very brave or very crazy!!"… types of comments. To tell you the truth, right now, with just under 2 weeks until we leave - I am perhaps leaning towards the latter!Ah .. the freedom of light travel!
It has been a flurry of activity these past months booking flights, hotels, ground transportation and deciding on our routing for our 2 months in Asia, India and Nepal. Applying for visas, getting all our shots, buying insurance, preparing a school work program for the kids and learning how to use my new 8 inch tablet and very mini keyboard (and blogging from Apps, I have just learnt will have its limitations). Sim cards, adaptors and sky drives. Sleep sheets and clear bottles for liquids. Bach flower and motion sickness remedies. Probiotics to prepare the gut. Searching for NGOs to visit and finding the perfect sights to see. Choosing between a car and driver, taking the train, bus or flying? Hotel, Guest House or Homestay? Seat allocations on flights (would it be delinquent of me to "accidentally" choose my seat several rows back from the kids? After all most planes only have a two/two seating plan.) Movies, music, games and books to download for long journeys. Vitamins and toilet seat covers… This list could fill a page, but you get the idea. LOTS to think about!
Amongst all the other planning, I have also spent the last few months researching and hunting down the perfect backpacks, shoes, and gear we may need. Not such aAll my clothes!!
challenging task except that because we have chosen to do this with “Carry On” only - this has proven to be more daunting than one would think. “Carry-On” is this: 23cm x 40cm x 55 cm - and with a weight of between 5 and 10 kg – depending on the airline. When travelling with checked baggage the max weight is up to 25kg ... in a pretty large suitcase or pack. Throw in what you want - an extra pair of pants, a sweater that you may need, shoes to go with this outfit and that. Lots of "just in case stuff". Not here. No room for any of that ...
All my clothes roll into a compression bag about the size of a folded up bath towel. And only 2 pairs of shoes. Same for the kids. I am going to share here that I am proud of this. I have always been a person who takes way too much stuff when I go away - only because I can. (And aren’t we all victims of this? – buying unnecessary stuff “just in case” . Our houses are full to the brim with these purchases. Ridiculous really, and a sad testament to the power of the western consumer machine.) I have to say here that packing all the belongings I will need for 5 months into a small bag, is a humble and liberating lesson in how to simplify and let go. (I see a major purge in our house when we return. Paul will be thrilled, if he has not done it already by then!)More choices - which shoes?!
So I have been asked by some of you: "Are you ready? … How are you feeling?" In answer to the latter, right now I am feeling a mixture of trepidation, anxiety and excitement. In answer to the first – I am not sure. I think so. I still have a long list in front of me, but I do believe that it is possible to "overplan" and I fear that I may be at risk of getting to this point. (How many more times will I awake in the dark of night, contemplating this journey?) No ... it is now time to begin. One cannot plan for every circumstance, every malady, every complaint and every deviation from the intended passage. (Especially not in 7 kgs of luggage!) And if one could, then it would hardly be a journey.
So are the children jumping out of bed each morning crossing days off the calendar until the 14th? Well – no. Did I expect them to be? Perhaps. Are they excited? It is hard to tell with kids. As much as we talk about what it may be like, they have no frame of reference to how spending almost 5 months on the road will feel. And what spending all this time without Dad will be like. This will be hard for them - and me.
I do know that right now, they are only mildly excited about Asia – and I think that the unknowns are making them both a little anxious. And understandably so. I feel the same. I do know that they ARE super excited to go down-under, to my homes of NZ and Australia, as they know that this is the “easy” part of our adventure and they get to be with family! But today, they remain firmly rooted in their lives here, as children are so good at – just being in the moment. Come the 14th – whoosh … they are gone! And on that day they will be in the moment too, and the next day and the day after that... I believe that this is the beauty of travelling with kids and I intend to live the same way, to learn from them. So, I leave it at this. I have done my best to set the skeleton of this experience. May each new day fill in it's flesh and may each challenge build it's muscle. May there be room for spontaneity and surprises. May our hearts be open, our intuition be sharp and our tummies be strong.
See you from the road! First stop (over) ... Tokyo for Sushi!