Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Don't write Greek in your blog posting. Turns out, it won't post.

Imagine a nice long post here about Prague, the Acropolis, Susan materializing from a big hole, Mousaka, GalactoBureka, Retsina, and being stranded on the remains of the largest explosion in recorded history which possibly wiped out the Minoan Empire in 1650 BC. (Santorini)

Ok, I will write a bit more. After my initial blunder out of Stockholm I have picked up pace and quickly fallen back into a travelling flow. I spent a great night in Prague, drinking mulled wine and walking the scenic streets with a group of Americans and a Canadian. Hopped my flight transfer and ended up in Athens in the middle of the night. The weather is cool, but its been sunny, and Greek life seems energetic. The sites are fantastic. Christmas was spend gorging on delicious food, and the funny thing about Greeks is, even if you try to stop eating they keep brinking you food for free. Well, at least on Christmas.

This time around I'm truly travelling light. I've switched to the small black backpack Ryan gave me on the day I left for Tokyo. Just a few things to carry and a terrific increase in freedom.

We've since taken the ferry to Santorini a scenic, but turbulent blip of land with an active Volcano in the center of an incredible caldera. Turns out you have to plan for the wind around here. The seas are too rough to leave today. So another day of improving my dawning understanding of the Greek Alphabet. Imagine my bliss today as I had a moment of epiphany as I read the sign above my hotel room door.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Today I embark on the second part of my journey. After several months in Sweden and travelling about Scandinavia I left this morning for the airport to start another period of long and liquid travelling.

To commemorate the day, I missed my flight to Athens. So, it felt a fitting time to reactivate this blog. New postings will follow, I am now rebooked, but tonight will unexpectedly be spend in Prague. I could think of worse things to befall me.

A new adventure awaits.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Recent Visits

Uppsala (Sweden)
Helsingborg (Sweden)
Copenhagen (Denmark)
Göteborg (Sweden)
Åland (Finland)

Umeå - Near the arctic circle at midsummer... why should it ever get dark?

It is 1 am. He stands alone on the shore of a glassy lake, a light blue sky overhead. The gentle dipping of the water the only sound as he surveys the far shore, a dark, coniferous green unbroken by human hands. A trancelike state takes hold and he flicks out another cast of his old fishing pole. He begins to reel, the rod dips, and he sets the hook. He lifts and reels, and stepping along the small sandy shore drags in a beautifull shiny being. He holds it up to his eyes, a strange sensation tickles his mind and he reaches out to caress the glossy body. Sharp spiky fins retract as the creature responds to the touch. Thoughts flow sublty below the concious plane, "Return with this catch... it would be good eating... they will be impressed... it's beautifull... so amazing... say nothing...". His eyes soften, he carefully removes the hook and gently, places her into the clean, cool, water. She wiggles and dashes off below the dark surface. He stands, smiles, and knows why he is here.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A short story in a far away land.

After Cuyo, Josh travels to Palawan. A thin strip of land, undeveloped, split in half by an ugly, dirty town, Peurto Princesca. He feels good, refreshed, renewed, his spirit quenched after his days of solitude on Cuyo´s quiet beach. On the morning of his arrival he meets two German women and spends his next three evenings in their company. A fine dinner, two nights of drunken singing with the locals. He ships more things home from his pack. Lightening his load, mentally preparing for a long road ahead. He shops for better shoes, but can not find them. One day he visits an underground river and rides a boat into its mouth with a loud girl from Manilla. A rich Filipino, not very attractive, young and overbearing.
After much thinking, Josh abandons an idea to travel by boat to Borneo and arranges a flight to Kota Kinabalu. As he arrives he is struck by the number of tourists, there seem to be so many. After the Philipines, it is like falling into a bucket of fresh water, clean streets, modernity. Excitement rises and he draws a crowd of travellers to him, socializes, listens, talks. He meets several travellers searching for their path and feels that he has helped them on their way. A pleasant feeling.
Josh leaves the city and climbs a nearby mountain. He feels tremendous excitement as he ascends the staired pathway. He feels his energy is limitless. I am made for this he thinks. Though many other people are climbing and left before him he passes them and arrives at the base camp before all others. In the early morning the climbers leave again to complete the summit. Josh decides to leave last, he knows he´s a fast climber he will still make the sunrise. He starts to climb, and becomes clogged on the narrow trail behind some french students. He begins to worry, I want to make it before sunrise. So he passes them and begins to climb quickly. No rest seems needed, just push on. One step, two steps, he passes more people. Soon there are fewer lights ahead, he pushes on and passes more. I don´t want to miss the sunrise, he thinks. A more devious thought enters his mind, what would it be like to reach the top first? This thought is not on the surface, his desire to be humble, his repressive mind, pushes it down, but it is there. A far more diligent motivation. A tick, a mark of success. I am sure there are more people ahead he thinks, and justifies his driven march. The night is dark, no moon, he steps upon the rocky landscape. Past the treeline he drives onward, rocky, spectacular terrain. He walks in near darkness, his cheap headlamp providing little light. He pauses for one moment, looks up and the unmasked stars are breathtaking. He feels his heart pound, and feels more alive than possible. Looking back, a snaking trail of light, his followers, one seems close so he returns to his task with renewed vigour. In the final steps he allows the glory of his victory, the beauty of the mountain, and the love of his creator to flow into him and stands rapturously atop the rocky, frozen peak. The milky way aglow above, a storm of lightning below. A small piece feels guilty pride. Most else feels love and excitement.
After the mountain Josh travels by boat to Brunei and a mysterious illness affects him on the island of Labuan. A day and a half are lost in a murky, feverish haze. He leaves with wild, unreal memories of a pale, ugly room, cockroaches walking about as he dances atop his bed to the trance beats in his head.
In Brunei, he rests and recovers, very little energy. A short swim each day, a lot of food. It suits the place.
From Brunei Josh travels by bus and small plane into the Malaysian jungles at Guning Mulu and Bako national parks. He spends the next three weeks trekking where he sees snakes, monkeys, lizards, snails, orangutans, butterflies, beetles and bats. He walks and walks but notices his energy is never as high as on the mountain. Still, he feels good. He thinks a lot about life, and enjoys the company of fellow travellers. In the jungle he sees many patterns reflected. The jungle draws you in, he thinks, you can not stand in the jungle and not become part of it. It will involve you, whether you want to be involved or not. You can not see far in the jungle, you can not see why the trail turns this way or that. It is only when you climb upon a rise and rest that you can see the trail behind, and why it turned the way it did. You can look to the trail ahead and see where it might go. He climbs another mountain, smaller, and goes in some caves. He floats on some rivers and sees some large fish. Eventually he comes to an empty beach. Where he spends the day in quiet company and writes a poem. He now knows change is on the horizon.
A deadline pushes Josh to Singapore and he goes to meet his friend Brian. It is Brian´s birthday and he thinks, I want to share this birthday with him. This means a lot to Brian, and it will mark a difference in our friendship. They spend a few days together and enjoy the time, travelling to Kuala Lumpur. However, a turn is approaching and Josh leaves to walk alone again for a few days. He stops in Malaka on his way to an island on the east coast, and spends time with a French woman travelling with her 8 year old daughter. The pair are interesting, and he believes he may learn something about his own family from them. He never makes it to the island. Finally he returns to Singapore and catches a flight to Sweden. An old friend has contacted him to come start a business in Stockholm. It sounds interesting, and two books suggest it is the way to go. So he begins to think about work again, and what the future holds. As he rides the flight he tries to root his new ideals firmly in his mind. Tries to keep his tenuous hold on the present. It is very difficult.
Josh arrives in Europe, and transferring in Amsterdamn he feels the excitement of being back in western life. White skin everywhere, clean, independent, edges, empty, it feels like home. Stockholm´s streets seem forlorn and lonely, "Where are the people?" he thinks.

He meets his friend, who seems younger than he´d envisioned. Still, he seems kind, perhaps he is more grown up. They go to the small apartment he will now call home for some time and Josh meets his friend´s girlfriend. He gives her the gift he had brought, a silk scarf, purple with gold trim, from little india in Singapore. He had not bargained hard with the attractive indian girl, "Why build karma against my business?", he had thought. He takes his first hot shower and stands a long time under the water. I am "home", he feels. That evening Josh and his hosts attend a birthday party for an Iraqi girl with her family. The food is fantastic and he says, "Who would have thought I would travel all the way to Sweden to eat Iraqi food?". He feels very witty, it´s a good joke, he thinks, and the people laugh and seem to like him more.

The evening goes well as they visit the cities nightlife, Josh feels bold, confident, alive. The next day he writes some emails, and calls home for the first time in months. There is a party going on and he tells the joke about the Iraqi food to a group of listeners. His father asks him to tell the story about the knife fight in the Philipines and so he does.

In the days that follow Josh reminds himself he wants to be kind, and generous, to make new friends. He feels he is going to settle here for some time. So he compliments the people around him and is energetic and positive, one day he compliments a woman on her jacket and she feels that he is hitting on her. She does not feel the comment appropriate with her boyfriend present. He thinks back to some other strange reactions he has experienced and then Josh realizes he is still in a strange land.

"After travelling in Asia this seems so much like home I have forgetten where I am.", he thinks. Then he smiles to himself and knows he will adapt. It is really pretty funny. At least my intentions were good. The next day he writes some emails to his friends and family with a witty joke about the other, other side of the world.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Peace and Ponder

After the mornings excitement I choose to spend the day in the hands of my missionary friends. We visit a local church where it is the first day of a two day convention. The hosts of my companions are guest speakers and delivering there sermons in the morning. I thoroughly enjoy the proceedings and join them and the minister for lunch inside the church. In the afternoon we visit a poor area of town and collect a large group of kids, put them in their best clothes and bring them to the church for the evening's activities and dinner. The day, the speakers and the children stir my heart, as the kids fight to hold my hands on our walk through the streets of Iloilo. I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa, "There is more need for love and appreciation in this world, than there is for food. "

I leave early the next morning on a boat bound for Cuyo island, a remote dot on the map, highly isolated and off the tourist trail. My idea, spend the weekend in quiet solitude, read the stack of books I'd bought in Iloilo and contemplate the stars. This is exactly what I do, finally finishing Moby Dick by Melville, along with The Princess and the Goblin (MacDonald), The Death of Ivan Ilynich (Tolstoy), The Bagavad Gita, The Da Vinci Code (Brown) and The Metamorphosis (Kafka). Amazingly, amidst all the artistic grandeur, I have time to visit the beautiful Cuyo islands with, a most "Fantastical" character, Mr. Karl Muerller. Traveling for almost 2 years this jolly German retiree can find the pleasure in any activity. Certainly a wonder to be around and a great teacher for the soul. His favorite saying, "It's Fantastical, Fantastical I tell you!".

Other than Karl and myself, the island hosts only two other westerners, a German and an Ozzie, both expats living with their Filipino wives and children. They prove interesting characters and short term friends during my stay at Nikki's Pension where the family seems to adopt me as one of their own.

My last evening on Cuyo the wind begins to howl and unable to sleep I venture out onto the silky beach. In the utter darkness, the recessing tide and on coming storm begin to tickle my mind and with chills floating up my spine I look to the sky for my familiar stars. Where was my good friend Orion? Taurus the Bull? Even the Big Dipper? Studying the strange horizon my heart jumps with joy. I see The Southern Cross, with a twinkle in his eye, peaking over the water, right where he belongs. Ninety degrees left of where I had watched the sun set hours earlier. I stare in happy revelry when suddenly, behind me, a huge dog barks, and leaping from my surreal state, I nearly piss my pants! Laughing, I return to the Pension to rest.

Back on the boat, for 15 more hours to Puerto Princesa, the storm builds, and packed in our open air bunks on the rickety Milagrosa-2, we are tossed and whirled on the ocean swells. With this thunderous backdrop I raise my volume to full and immerse myself in Yo-Yo Ma's "The Silk Road Journey" (thank you Cory) and marvel at my freedom to suddently live my life in a world filled with such creative beauty and character. As the seas calm, sleep finally comes to the gently rocking ship and its passengers, and we wake to the Island of Palawan, the Philippine's "Last Frontier".

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Wake Up Call

After Sagada, Brian and I along with the "Three Dutch Girls" (Chocolate, Margali and Susan) travel to Banaue where the girls are performing research into the local tourism industry to complete their studies in the Netherlands. Banaue is the home of what the Philippine tourism industry is touting as the 8th Wonder of the World. While few man made developments truly merit the term "wonder" the Rice Terraces of Banaue are certainly a candidate. In this wild, undeveloped country we take a three day trek into deep mountain villages where roads and electricity simply do not reach. The scenery in the region is fantastic and the rice terraces built over 2000 years ago are spectacular marvels of engineering, even rivaling the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

After this fine visit we return south to Manilla and reunit with our family of friends in Sampaloc for the birthday of nine year old niece Lizetta. The children are fantastic, the company grand and the food delicious. The evening proves an excellent goodbye to our great hosts in Manilla, JJ, John and Flor Javier.

From Manilla we jump a last minute plane to the sunny island of Borocay, the number one tourist destination in the Philippines during the number one time of year Holy Week (Easter) weekend. Despite all adamant assurances that we wouldn't be able to go because "Everything is booked" we prove once again the travelling fact that being physically present is far more important than booking in advance. Leaving after breakfast we catch a plane in an hour and are checked into our hotel before noon. We spend a week basking in western style hospitality, ruckous partying and fun in the sun.

On Monday, Brian and I sit to have a chat on what and where to go next. After some deliberation, we decide it is time to part ways for a while and pursue different paths and different goals. Tuesday morning we have breakfast, pack and after a hug I head for the boat and catch a bus to Liolio on the southern tip of the island of Panay. I check in late to the Family Pension and run into an old face from Sagada, now three weeks distant. Jeremy a Canadian from Victoria travelling the Philippines and a companion during our caving expeditions.

Morning comes and I wake early for breakfast and seeing Jeremy's companions, two young missionaries working in Iloilo decide to sit with them. I am sipping a quiet cup of coffee when perhaps the most startling experience of my trip befalls us. We hear a crash in the kitchen just footsteps behind us and suddenly a scream burst forth, turning we see a young Philippino (the man who'd checked me in) fly backwards out of the kitchen door with dishes crashing around him. He leaps up and runs headlong back into the kitchen where an obvious fight is underway. To the left of the door is a large window looking in and we can see the fight crashing back and forth, dishes flying, the screams of the women inside and a knife flashing. Suddently the grandma rushes out of the door screaming in terror as the security guard runs up pulling his gun. David and I leap from our seats and run to the kitchen and looking into the narrow interior see no course of action as a woman and the man who flew through the door are fighting in close company with a knife wielding maniac, both the maniac and the woman are covered in blood screaming histerically in Tagalog. Suddenly a host of police officers burst through the door and manage to subdue the crazed man, cuff him and taking the woman and flying man along depart the establishment leaving a bloody trail to the street. The entire process must have taken no more than two minutes. What an intense two minutes they were!

It turns out, the man, having been arrested earlier that morning had escaped the police as they stopped at a light outside our establishment. In a crazed state he had run into our hotel with the intent of doing himself in and grabbing a knife had taken a good wack at his own neck. The woman working in the narrow kitchen was trapped behind the counter and it was her son who had gone flying out the door when trying to grab the knife from the mans hand. At this point the man turned on the son's mother, thus he leapt back into the kitchen to save her life.

Let me assure you, there is nothing like a life or death struggle to wake you up in the morning, coffee holds nothing to it.

Friday, March 25, 2005


March 8th, we spend a cacophonous seven hour period jostled relentlessly by the poor suspension of a Lizardo bus bound for Sagada on the cruel, unpaved roads of the Philippine Mountain province. Flexing our stiffened legs we find ourselves in a serene one lane village as the dying sun sets behind a haze of blue-grey smoke, slipping smoothly behind a western peak ablaze with an unattended fire. Peace reigns in the air, broken only by the populous calls of the local livestock, pigs, roosters and dogs. Pursuing our nightly quest to find suitable lodging we move into the cabinesqe Masferres Inn and discover a village wide curfew of 9pm is in loose effect. A difficult six hour time change from our usual evening terminus. Entering the delightful eatery The Yogurt House I decide to break my two day fast, initiated after the base episode of the past weeks in Manila, on a simple dish of fried rice. We retire early and awake refreshed to a crescendo of well voiced cocks announcing the mornings light.

What truly frames Sagada a meritorious objective is the combination of tranquil solitude fabricated by the unmistakably clean and cool mountain air, and the presence of a tantalizing web of dark, spidery caverns.
It's in these caverns, my heart thrumming with spring, that we dispense the bulk of our marvelous five day stay.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Into the Current

The city of Manila is a jumble of activity, a thriving, bustling hub of energy which can neither be ignored nor easily left behind. Into this swirling tempest we fall and struggling to catch our breath find ourselves swept along in a modern, breakneck current.

After our first taste of Manila, we learn more about the web we've landed in. A twenty block region of Manila known as Malate littered with every trap, trip wire or explosive mine conceived to snag the unsuspecting tourist. In two days our taste for the town has expired and on Saturday Brian and I opt to spend the evening apart. I head down the street, select a good patio spot with a view and order up a beer. As always, all eyes are turned my way and not surprisingly a friendly voice is heard from the table next to me where two young Filipino men are sitting. I learn the speakers name, also Josh, and we strike up a conversation. To my surprise I'm treated to a delightful time as we sip our beers and the conversation slides from surface to submerged. The beer catches up and we decide to find some trouble. Our night ends at 7am and as fast friends we agree to meet again the next day.

Sunday, Josh arrives at the hotel and offers Brian and I the option of sleeping at his place. A dubious proposition under any circumstances, and certainly with two total strangers. Despite the obvious risks, the opportunity is great, and our guts say ok. We agree and catch a cab across town to Sampaloc. Thus we find ourselves with Josh and John, Filipino brothers, Josh working for a Global One call center, John studying Law at a nearby University and a new Manila is revealed to us. Josh suggests a "tour of class". In Filipino society like all society there are the haves and the have nots. In Manila those distinctions are very clear.

We begin with class C (back in Malate) and its trouble and damn fun as always.

Monday we move up to class B in Quezon City and have a great night, not surprisingly we end up back in Class C (where we really belong) by the end of the drunken night.

Tuesday night, at our request, Josh takes us to his office. We are hoping for a tour of the facility, but after two hours of sitting in the lobby and introductions further and further up the chain of command we are graciously turned down. It seems corporate policy clearly excludes our drop in visit. Sitting in the lobby and feeling the corporate environment our conversation turns to work, and in short order we find our speech, mannerisms and mood quickly reverting to our former selves. Quicker and more abrupt, less tolerant and impatient. We start wondering why we are wasting our valuable time, like we have somewhere better to be! The anxiety is nearly intolerable and we try to shake it off as we leave the building.

Still buzzing from our near real world experience we arrive in Makati for our class A evening. This central district in Manila might as well be LoDo in Denver. We stroll past several martini bars, a couple of bars and stepping into a small club (Absinth)we are home. As always, we had planned a "couple of drinks". Soon we're carousing the bar, making new friends and join up with a crew of people heading to the next establishment (Z-Bar). It's not until the next day we learn we've spent our evening with a local celebrity who has since been a great friend to us. Class A turns out to be right up our alley, and we're invited to play some Ultimate Frisbee with the gang the following night.

By Thursday, we find ourselves in a complicated predicament. Josh and John and their sister Flor have been fantastic hosts. They have introduced us to a side of Manila we could never see on our own, cooked us great food each day and despite our obvious burden on them, have opened their home and hearts to us. Although they insist we stay longer, weigh in our growing restlessness, we inform them that it is time for us to go. Friday evening we take them to crab dinner and end up back in Malate again for what turns out to be the last straw in this crappy part of town. The evening ends as I make the mistake of pulling a bill out of my pocket on the street and twenty kids mob us, even jumping into our cab, and onto the hood and roof of the car. Flor apologizes to me the whole way home. Clearly, she has nothing to do with it.

Saturday, after a wild experience at the cock fights (see Brian's post), we move into a great hotel in Makati for a couple of air conditioned nights and Sunday play in our first overseas Ultimate tournament. A brutal, humbling experience as a random team of misfits is thrown together on our behalf and we get massacred 37-0 over 4 games. At least the after party is great.

The city is hard to resist. In less than two weeks in Manila, we regressed from the thoughtful, no where to be, slow paced backpackers we had become to our former, what do you do, time driven, lightning fast Denver lives. Even so far as to acquire a cell phone! Thus swings the pendulum I suppose. This morning, in response, we lightened our packs, turned off the phone, shipped a bunch of things home and hopped a long bus to Baguio. For now, we'll step back out of the current.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Big Fish

On Thursday, February 24th Brian and I make our way down to the Kaohsiung international airport and take our second plane ride of this trip. Despite internet searching, several phone calls and even a chat or two with some salty sailors we are unable to secure a boat to the Philippines and so resign ourselves to modern, instant transportation. Arriving in Manila we know immediately, we have come to a country which is an entirely different sort of animal. We step outside into a blistering, humid environment and a dozen people trying to "help" us out. We arrange a cab and ride into town amongst ridiculous traffic weaving past horse carts, buggy guys and brightly colored Jeepneys. We arrive at a hostel, the Malate Pensionne, where we secure a great private room for $11 and set up camp. Not surprisingly, just outside the little courtyard of the attached bar is a Starbucks (grande latte 110 peso, $2) and as we walk into the street realize we have landed in the heart of the Manila bar scene.

Skipping the coffee we hit a cafe for lunch and discover a bucket of six local beers (Sam Miguel) also costs $2. What a deal! Not surprisingly this begins a long night of lubrication. As we walk the streets, all eyes are upon us. With each step we are confronted by Rolex watches, begging children and astonishing sites of poverty. Before long we find ourselves exhausted and overwhelmed by the flow of requests and unfamiliar activity. We decide to rest a short time and return to the gated sanctuary of the hotel bar and courtyard, where a lush wall of greenery and soothing waterfall provide a perfect backdrop for relaxation. After a good warmup we are directed to a bar called L.A. Cafe, a good spot for foreigners. I walk into the street to take a look as Brian drops some gear off in the room and note the new complexion of the city. As night falls the city seems to rise, streets fill with people, lights brighten and music pumps from every door and window. As usual the kids grab my arm and as I try to untangle myself I am approached by four attractive girls, too anxious to meet me. Brian comes out, impressed by my quick work and I explain that they are offering massages... and as they put it "other services". I have not even left the threshold of the hotel.

We walk toward the bar and a small dirty boy runs beside me carrying two long stem roses. I look down as I walk and he begins to poke my side with his right arm, just a stump, missing the hand. He pokes and pokes, "Give me money... I can eat." I ask, "What happened to your arm?", "Bomb", he says and continues his jab. I look up to Brian walking a few feet in front and am stunned, before my next thought, he leaves and I say the first thing that comes to mind, "Well, at least I didn't have to worry about him putting his hand in my pocket!". Brian winces at the harsh joke, and we shakily chuckle on our way.

The doorman at a nearby Hyatt points us to the blue neon sign over the door of L.A. Cafe and we enter the bar in high spirits. "Hello and welcome my friends!", a host immediately grabs us and escorts us through the bar. On our way we survey the crowd, all eyes upon us, beautiful girls all around, a few scattered white men. Our host shuffles a table full of girls out of their seats (despite my weak protest) and sits us down. Within seconds we have a dozen new friends, a girl on my lap and one on each shoulder all wanting to know who we are and where we are from. Wow! Talk about some aggressive girls, even while we'd talk to one others would be bumping and poking us for attention...and beautiful. Not surprisingly, I lose my nerve within minutes.

With an ardent desire for understanding I leave my seat and wade through the crowd heading for the nearest white guy. T.J., a young G.I. with a red ball cap, is standing, unmolested, glaring round himself to gain space while his crew is buried amongst the girls. I ask the deal, and as suspected many are working, but surprisingly many are not. I meet the waitress and back into a corner where we chat. I ask her what it's all about and she says, "These girls, they just try to find their chance, their Big Fish.", she turns and looks me in the eye, "Like you."

Thus we have found the Philippines, everywhere we go we are watched, every move we make is followed. The experience has been rich with fun, with wonder and with anxiety.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Travel Map

Travel thus far. We are currently in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Kending, Taiwan on a winter Monday is a quiet place. This little tourist town lives for the weekend traveler. Saturday night the town bustles with lively vendors, random fireworks displays and thousands of Chinese visitors walking the night market. On Monday they are gone. We decide that this is the perfect time and place for us to cut our teeth on renting some scooters to explore the area. While Brian grew up on a dirtbike, I have never ridden a motorized bicycle of any sort so this was certain to be a new experience. But hey, I thought, how hard can it be? We walk down to the bike shop and negotiate a price of 700NT (about $22) for the bikes and after a two second description of the workings of the machine I hop on, hit the gas and cruise away, with Brian close on my heels. We've been instructed we need to get some gas and fortunately right in front of us is a station so we pull in and fill up. It is easy! We pull out from the station and head down the highway looking for a less busy road to test out our wheels. I spot one in front of me, turn on my blinker (man I'm good) and bank into the turn. To my surprise, I begin to lose my balance, and slipping, grab tightly onto the handlebars to keep from falling off. This grip hits the gas and sends me accelerating straight into the ditch! Realizing my impending doom I leap from the bike, fly off and land dashingly onto my feet! Nervously laughing, I turn to watch the bike crash onto the street smashing the left side mirror. Whew. Not the best moment I've had on this trip.

I manage to repair the mirror (mostly) and after a 1/2 hour of practice around an old graveyard I've actually got the hang of having the accelerator on the handlebar. We head off to explore the area, luxuriating in our new found freedom. The day proves a smashing success and after many hours of riding, we sit down to watch a beautiful sunset off the southern coast of Taiwan.

Tuesday, after our usual breakfast at 7-11 (milk tea and milk bread), we catch the bus to Kaohsiung which is to be our last stop after 10 days in Taiwan.

In the past few days I have come to realize that my appetite for "single serving friends" is rapidly diminishing. In each place we visit there are opportunities to meet and spend short periods of time with many different people. This is one of the joys of traveling. However, after a month of touring 3 different countries and many different cities, taking the time to form more significant friendships is beginning to feel necessary. This means staying somewhere for more than just a few days. We knew before we left the necessity of traveling fairly quickly while in more expensive countries. I look forward to slowing down further as we enter some less expensive, and warmer, parts of this continent.

Month 1 - Equipment Update

  • 1 Towel - Left behind in Tokyo, replaced in Marugame.
  • 1 Deodorant - Left behind in Osaka, proved to be extremely difficult to replace. Purchased an arasol spray in Hakata which I've come to like.
  • Hiking Shoes - The ones I bought in Paris 4 years ago. Blowout in Taipei airport, jabbing into the back of my heel. Abandoned the shoes at Amigos in Taipei and replaced with a good pair of Nike running shoes.

Left Behind:

  • 1 Padlock - Not sure why I packed this. Hopefully someone has more use for it than I. Abandoned in a hotel room in Kaohsiung.
  • 1 Pair of Gloves - Its warm now, not sure when I'm going to need these again. Abandoned in a hotel room in Kaohsiung.
  • 1 Neckwarmer - see above gloves.


  • 1 Pair of Sandals - Acquired in Hualien, Taiwan
  • 1 Necklace - Given to me by a Japanese friend in Tokyo.
  • 3 Books - Why are they lining up? about the Korean phenomenon Mintos (given to me in Seoul by Eunju), Siddharta by Herman Hesse, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • 1 Lighter

Overall, my pack is slightly heavier than when I started, mostly due to the books, weighing in around 39 pounds.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Korea - Financial Analysis

Financial Statistics:

Average amount we paid for accomodation in Korea: $16.02/night

Cost breakdown by percentage:
Accomodation: 26.0%
Transporation: 11.9%
Food/Drink/Entertainment (includes site seeing): 62.1%

Average cost of a beer in a bar in Korea: 3000 Won or about $3 US.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Cold War has Ended

Our last weekend in Seoul we fore go sleep to pack in as much nightlife and site seeing as possible. Two pumping nights at club M2 in Sincheon result in us heading directly from the club at 6am to catch our tour of the Demilitarized Zone at 7am. The tour includes a trip to the 3rd infiltration tunnel where the North Koreans have dug a deep passage under the DMZ for invasion purposes. Four such tunnels have been discovered and many more are suspected. As we walk toward the middle of the now barracaded cave I begin to feel my heart pounding. The passage is crowded by the tour group and low, certainly not a place for the claustrophobic. I can't help but imagine 30,000 troops an hour storming through into the South, a country I have come to admire and enjoy. From the tunnel we travel to the Dora observatory for a look at the Northern half of this divided country. Here you can feel the tension, soldiers patrolling, the barb wire fence, and this 4km scar accross the land untouched by human feet in 50 years littered with more than 1 million land mines. Brian and I contemplate a run accross the field...

We have travelled from Hiroshima, to Gyeong-Ju's anti-nuclear rally, to the DMZ and thanks to Mr. Kim Jong Il's most recent announcement can not help but feel that conflict is imminent.

From the DMZ Brian decides to head back to sleep and I continue a walking tour of the city with our friend Enju. Having a Korean guide proves a tremendous asset and she shows me a great time at some local cafes where we can lounge, watch movies, surf the internet, drink tea, and eat noodles as long as we want for about $4. These people have succeeded in creating some great social alternatives to drinking.

In Korea there are three cold wars we struggle with. The political war between North and South, the freezing cold war against the weather, and the cold that Brian has contracted as a result. While we truly enjoy our time in Seoul Brian and I finally decide to throw in the towel. After much discussion we decide to abandon our original plan of boating to Beijing where we would have to face even more icy days. Instead we select a quick flight to Taipei, Taiwan.

As we step off the plane we are immediately rewarded with balmy weather, the sweet scent of warm ocean air and the reintroduction of the colour green. For us the cold war has ended and hot times are ahead.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Stick it to me

Using an old apartment building:

Take one small dark room, illuminate with spinning, flashing lights and heat with seven or eight cheap Korean beers per serving. Circle the room with bench seating, insert active monitors and a pair of microphones on one wall and let simmer. Your classic Korean karaoke noraebong should now be ready for use.

Stir in one Irishman, one Korean, two Canadians, an American, a German and a pair of Aussies belting out "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and you have a disaster in international harmonizing and one hell of a good time!

After the Superbowl Brian and I settle into a comfortable life in Seoul and the days begin to roll by. We spend the week sporadically together and apart as one activity seems to lead to another for each of us. Wednesday we mark the Lunar New Year by visiting GyeongPok palace where a traditional Korean drum performance is going on. The particpants include a number of small children which stand precariously atop the shoulders of the dancing men as they build human pyramids and dazzle us with spinning hat ribbons. For three days the city shuts down and we find ourselves enjoying some free site seeing and plenty of down time.

After the holiday I decide to tackle one remaining chore. I am in need of a Hepatitus B booster to protect me for the next six months so with some directions from Ms. Kim I head toward Youinido Hospital. As the elevator doors open to the primary reception area my senses are overloaded by a teeming mass of people, dinging bells, wheelchairs, nurses and a volume level only a room full of excited Koreans could create. There have been few times thus far where I truly felt my nerve faltering, but combine this seemingly chaotic, energetic mismatch of expectations with my natural anxiety about being injected with anything and I nearly give up on the spot.

Steeling myself, I enter the room seeking signs of familiarity to fit my preconcieved standards. Despite a lack of English anything I begin to find the pattern to the madness and integrate myself with the cogs of this complex but effectively running system. I fork over some cash and am sent from one place I can not find to another, talk to several pleasant Korean speaking people in white coats and am eventually led to the only place in the hospital with English posted over the door, the "Injection Room". I walk in prematurely and with a Korean nurse excitedly asking me to wait outside am confronted with a terrifying image of beds filled with moaning people and screaming kids, many with hanging IVs feeding their outstretched arms. Ultimately, I spend $50, am injected with something, stir up some emotional baggage and leave with shaky legs.

In retrospect, despite the entire process being somewhat non-supportive to foreigners, and taking me almost 3 hours, the hospital was a clean, well run facility and I do believe they gave me the right shot from a sharp, sterile needle.

I would also like to say thanks to Brian for giving me a much needed hug afterwards.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Superbowl Monday

Well, I can say, with certainty, there is good reason why the superbowl starts in the afternoon and not at 8 o'clock in the morning. The problem with an 8am start is that the drinking begins at 7am and never seems to end! It is a very funny thing to look at your watch a few drunken hours after the game and see 3:30 which normally would seem about right, except that in this case its 3:30pm and you have another 12 hours of drinking to go. Fortunately for me, most of the 20 year old army kids are surprising poor at arm wrestling, despite loving to do it, and most of my afternoon drinking was funded at the expense of my now very sore arm.

At 1am on Friday night we hop an overnight bus from Gyeong-Ju to YongPyong ski resort to see what the Korean mountains have to offer. We arrive at 7:30am just as the town is waking up and find a very modern, very western style ski resort. Although it is very beautifull, we observe the similarity to everything we are used to and the costs are prohibitive so we decide to catch another bus in the afternoon to Seoul. In the evening we soak up some Korean night life and fullfill our primary objective, find a place to watch the superbowl. With that lined up we opt to take a day off here in our very nice accomodations and hardly leave the hostel all day Sunday, and prepare for the day ahead.

There is still a lot of Seoul to be seen.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Richard the Wanderer

In truth, it is the people we meet on our journey that truly shape its experience. The places we visit provide a common backdrop and an enabling atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas, but it is the influence of others which form the banks of our river, and the rocks we have to navigate along our path.

While every encounter nudges us in some direction or another certain personas seem to have a profound effect on our road and may dominate our experience for several days at a time. Thus far we have had three such experiences, "Kristin the Adorable" in Tokyo, "Ian the American" in Marugame and most recently "Richard the Wanderer".

While lamenting our inablity to get food in Busan we sit at a table with our beers commenting on how we haven't seen a western person in 4 days. Sure, another Kristin would be fantastic but even to meet some random person would be great. Someone interesting, maybe European it doesn't matter. Just someone to change our mode a bit. We finally get some food and arrive back at the hostel. As we walk through the door we notice something new, a scruffy looking fellow in a green jacket sitting on the common room couch. We introduce ourselves at once and thus we meet Richard from Austria.

Richard is going our way so the three of us get up early (11am) and head out to Gyeong-Ju one of the more historic regions of Korea and about 1 1/2 hours by bus from Busan. We spend the next 2 days travelling and living with Richard as we visit the region and learn what a true and interesting spirit he has. He has been travelling and working and travelling for more than 10 years and we have a good laugh together at our first meal. I tell him I have come to Asia to slow down, and he says he has come Asia to speed up! We do come to find out, that no one moves at a more calm and peacefull pace than Richard.

Our first night in Gyeong-Ju we decide to visit a local pub and Brian's karmic luck strikes again. Please send a few prayers out for the guy he seems to need them. Sitting and trying to chat with a few Korean girls two middle aged Korean men step into the bar both of them very drunk. They say a few words and suddenly one takes offense to Brian and bellowing at us in Korean pushes his friend into Brian and it seems we are about to brawl. I leap out of my seat (Richard has yet to notice) and the second Korean man, regaining his feet realizes the situation. He pushes back his friend and bowing quickly backs out of the bar saying the only English words he seems to know, "Thank you, Thank you". The moment passes, we slowly regain our cool, and return to our new Korean friends.

On Thursday we pick up a fourth to our party, a Japanese man named Yoshiro (Yosh for short) and he spends the evening drinking us and the day sight-seeing with us. What an international bunch we seem.

Gyeong-Ju is a very scenic place, I'm sure it is fantastic in the summer. For now, things are a little cold in Korea. We have come to appreciate how great a luxury our heated homes have been.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Korea Kicks Ass (ours)

Busan (also spelled Pusan) Harbour is a bustling, unattractive place and the city seems to follow suit. After a couple of weeks in Japan we started to feel like savvy travellers. A first taste of Korea very quickly set us straight. The order, cleanliness and yummy food of Japan quickly melts away as you step off the boat. The people here seem to be polarized to either loving or hating us.

We walk off the boat at dusk, manage customs without too much hassle and begin to sort out accomodations. The first people we meet are fantastic, three drunk girls from the ferry land us on the correct train and we run into Mr. Cho a business man who speaks excellent English, suggests some sights in Korea, and giving us his card/number says he would be happy to show us around the city the following day. We step off the train and grab some very yummy fish shaped pancakes from a street vendor and end up at the Blue Backpacker hostel. How much easier could it be? Honestly, how much better could we get at this business?

Turns out the hostel is full, but Jin (the owner) offers to let me sleep on the floor so we go for it. Dropping off our bags, with the excitement of a new country in us we head back out to see the city nightlife. Walking down the street we are scooped up by two middle aged Korean men who are hell bent on buying us a beer. After our experience with Mr. Cho we warily agree to head into this bar with them and sure enough they buy the biggest pitcher I have ever seen and some interesting snacks come to the table. We soon begin to loosen up as we realize they have good intentions and are just two drunk brothers looking to chat up some foreigners. They suggest we take a cab with them down to another area of town where there are some other bars.

I know that if I were reading this, at this point, I would be thinking to myself, "These guys are idiots! What the heck are they thinking?". Well, rest assured, the thoughts were going through our minds as well, at each step we were carefully testing the scenario and trying to make safe but not limiting decisions on what to do next. After relating our story of Mr. Cho, Jin had told us that many older Korean men like to take out younger foreigners and show them a good time, and really enjoy it. Not wanting to miss out on a cultural experience we decide to take some measured risk.

We hop in a cab and speed away into Simyeon a center for nightlife in Busan and arrive 3000 Won later (about $3) and I hand 10000 Won to our friend in the front seat to pay the driver. He takes the cash and pays from his pocket and says he will get me some change as soon as we get inside (That was the last I ever saw of that $10) . Walking down the street with our two drunk friends they stumble into a bar with a fat russian chick out front. We recognize it immediately as a hostess bar but head in to test the waters. The fat russian jumps onto Brian's arm and I've got a cute russian born Korean on mine. To cut the story short, Brian and I ended up being the ones to show our two Korean friends a good time at quite an expense and we felt pretty ripped off when they bailed out of the cab at some random location on the way home.

We drink a few more to lament our scenario and head back to the hostel. The next day Mr. Cho turns out to be a flop (wrong number) so we try to head out for some food and realize how damn cold this country is! Freezing, we walk from one restaurant to the next and can get no food served to us except beer. That being fine, we wonder why we can not get any food. It turns out the restaurants all shut down there kitchens between lunch and dinner (exactly when we were trying to eat). We finally manage to get some grub in a scary Chinese place.

Deciding that things in Busan are just to cold, dirty and ugly we decide to head home to hide. Traffic in Busan seems to be a reckless test of wills between cars and pedestrians. I have first hand experience that the car usually wins. Walking down the sidewalk Brian and I are looking to
our left at a Seven Eleven with a Temple Gate over it when I suddenly sense something looming on my right, I stop, and yelling an warning explitive see Brian get splayed straight out onto the hood of an oncoming car! The poor bastard was hit!

Fortunately, other than a couple of bruised knees he was ok, rolled off of the car and continued walking (With my peeling laughter in the background).

I found this particularly funny, he had continually reminded me since the beginning of the trip how the number one cause of injury over seas is traffic accidents. He had even yelled at me a couple of times to stay on the cross walk!

At least the fish pancakes were good.

Japan - Financial Analysis

Well some interesting financial statistics here for you numbers people out there:

Average amount we paid for accomodation in Japan (excludes free nights at friends): $29.13/night

Cost breakdown by percentage:
  • Accomodation: 17.0%
  • Transporation: 34.4%
  • Food/Drink/Entertatinment: 48.6%

Average cost of a beer in a bar in Japan: 600 Yen or about $6 US. (even at a low end bar we couldn't get one for less than 500 Yen)

Food and drink in Japan is very expensive, but it was also our first destination and we had a couple of blow out nights in Tokyo and Osaka so that has skewed the numbers a bit.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Japan's History

From Osaka we hop back on the Shinkansen and travel to Hiroshima for a day of historical review. From the outside Hiroshima seems to be a city shaped entirely by its explosive past. We walk around the hypocenter of the explosion (now an international peace park) and visit the museum. Both Brian and I opt to rent the english headphones after our rather dull visit to the Kabuki theatre. Entering the museum you can immediately see the astounding impact of the bomb with two huge models of the city before and after. I wander from shocking exhibit to shocking exhibit with the sound of a womans voice pounding testimonial after testimonial of horrifying death and dismemberment into my ear and any pleasure I may have been having in the day is quickly swept away. They hold nothing back in their attempt to turn you into a antinuclear protestor.

In a place like Hiroshima your imagination will run wild. Sitting in the park looking up at the broken remains of the A-bomb dome we imagine the day of the event.

In the evening Brian and I opt to spend the evening apart and I go for a walk in downtown Hiroshima. Taking in the sights and sounds with a clear mind I find myself beginning to think of Japan as a lot like disneyland. It is a very happy place, with bright blinking lights and even the street music sounds like a disneypark. The post war influence of North America is something I feel tugging at my mind. Like a dream better left unread.

In the morning we take a ferry to Mayajima an island off the coast of Hiroshima. The island is supposed to be one of the most scenic areas in Japan. As we step off the boat into the town of Mayajima we realize we have been snared into a tight tourist trap. There is a mountain on the island and we decide to walk off the beaten path, our goal being to feel a little nature. We climb directly up the side of the mountain, off of the set trail. It proves to be steep hard going but eventually we are rewarded by running into a small trail leading up the mountain.A fantastic path completely unattended by others. Our three hour climb to the top of Mt. Misen is like a trip down the rabbit hole. We begin to imagine goblins and fairies hiding in the dense foliage and rocky path and suddenly I see Brian with his camera out stalking some creature. "I just saw a monkey!", he says. I envision a small little critter and looking about the temperate forest I say, "No it couldn't be.", and something lands on my head. I look up and see a 3 foot monkey staring back down at me from a tree running overhead. We jump about and starting to grab our cameras and realize they are everywhere! I run around a rock and I hear a crash behind me and poor Brian has tumbled down some stairs trying to get the perfect shot.

The poor guy has had a run of tough luck, and even his ceremonious sacrifice in Marugame of the token Ryan gave him does not seem to have helped. Fortunately the only damage was to his fingers, his ego, and a big scratch on his brand new replacement camera.

Miyajima was a hit, especially off the beaten path. My guess is during the summer it is swarming with people. Our day was an adventure fit for a child.

After hiking the mountain we head to our third Japanese island Kyushu in the city of Hakata/Fukuoka. We spend the night in a Japanese guest house and have a fabulous meal at a nice restaurant, our last in Japan. In the morning we take a taxi to the International Harbour to catch a ferry to Korea. We step out of the cab and hop excitedly up to the building and through the double doors of the hall and are greeted by 8 beautifull bowing Japanese women. I start laughing, apparently I pointed to the building next to the port on the map and we walked directly into an activeconference center. Seriously, we feel welcome despite being a couple of rough looking backpackers!

We sort things out and take the Camilla line, a decent ocean liner, accross the sea of Japan to begin our adventure in Korea.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Sometimes you just need a day off...

On the way to Osaka we stop in at Himeji and walk from the train station up to the largest castle in Japan Himeji-jo. Looking up at this ancient place is a spectacular sight, and I believe this may be the finest castle I have ever seen. Just outside Himeji is also the site for the filming of The Last Samurai, although it does not look like we will have time to make it up there.

Arriving at Osaka late we head for the nearest hostel only to find that it feels like a dentist office with rooms, oh and by the way you better be in before 11pm or you get to sleep on the street. We decide to take a chance with a Japanese capsule hotel. This proves to be one of the best decisions we could have made. As we approach the hotel we realize we are in one of the seedier areas of Osaka with love hotels (rent by the hour) all around us and the people to share them with winking from the corner. Despite this, there is a lively spirit in the air and we nervously push through the door. It is obvious at once that this is not the normal place for a couple of wandering backpackers but very fortunately we are greeted by an older man who speaks great english and realizing we are just a couple of stupid kids seems to take it to heart to make sure nothing bad happens to us. This seems to be common place in Japan, most of the people give us a very warm feeling. We ask to see our "rooms" and he takes us up the dark elevator. Sure enough, two rooms with 8 capsules, a little hole in the wall for each of us. We decide to go for it and he declares that the bath house is on the 8th floor.

Please bare with me while I take a moment to comment on the reality of normal life. While living out our daily lives we take for granted the fact that we know exactly how to act in this situation or that, we know the proper protocol, the proper etiquette. In the rare circumstance that we do not, we know when and how to ask the person next to us. None of this was true or possible as we walked into our first Japanese bathhouse, here on the 8th floor of the Capsule Inn in the middle of the seediest part of Osaka.

Needless to say, we not only survive the experience, but so enjoy it that instead of choosing to see more temples and shrines in Kyoto we decide to rest from our travel. We spend the day in the most luxurious of fashion - sleeping, eating, pampering ourselves and satisfyingly take the day off from our difficult jobs as travelers.

88 Temples

With Mt. Fuji behind us we travel to the small town of Marugame on the island of Shokoku where we stay with Brian's friend Ian who is teaching English in the town. It turns out he's a great host and we began to get some insight into the lives of people teaching over seas. As I talk to the people I think it is a bit of a lonely life, they certainly come to know an area well but do not have the constant interaction we have been lucky enough to have thus far. There is a group of teachers in the area, mostly American an English girl and an Aussie. I spend a few hours chatting to Mariko a Japanese girl who also teaches english in the area. She has travelled quite a bit and speaks English well. She is able to provide a lot of information about the various things we had been seeing. Our first night turns into a ruckus party after the "few drinks" we had decided to have turn into a few more. Late in the evening Alex the English girl tells us "We are the most exciting thing thats happened in Marugame in months."

On his weekend Ian takes us to a beautifull Shinto Shrine on the mountain side in Kotohira, a nice temple in Tzenjuki and teaches us a little history in the area, check out the story of Kobe Daishi if you are interested. We decide to move on to Osaka to be our gateway to the area of Kyoto for more shrines and temples.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Haiku`s and Snafu`s

After a quintessential Tokyo weekend, we began our exploration of the Japanese country side. Heading south west toward Mt. Fuji, we discovered the efficiency of the Japanese rail system the Shinkansen. By noon we had arrived in Gotembo at the base of Fuji-san. Even more majestic in person, the mountain is a stunning source of inspiration. Unfortunately, we were a little off the beaten path and after taking a local bus toward the mountain we found ourselves abandoned on the side of the road at what appeared to be some sort of Japanese military camp. We wandered in, in search of a nice place to sit and have a cup of tea and immediately realized our mistake. Small arms, and mortar fire was going off all around us! So we proceeded toward a little picnic area marked "Refuge Area".

Despite our obviously not belonging there, no one seemed perturbed and we had a great view of Mt. Fuji, so we decided to sit and write ourselves a few Haiku`s. Have some peanut butter sandwhiches and thanks to some superior Japanese Vending Machine technology were even able to get a hot cup of tea!

We took some great pictures, and miraculously the bus showed up exactly as we decided to leave.

From there we travelled south to Marugame on the island of Shokoku to meet our crazy friend Ian. More adventures to follow.

Oh, unfortunately Brian`s lost his camera... so the Fuji pics are now a little sparse.

Life, is still good.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bright lights, blazing nights and sumo fights....

Well, two nights in Tokyo and life's been wild. Big city fun in a place crazier than any. The people here are great. We arrived late on Thursday night after a long flight and managed to figure out the train system (with a little help) and made it to our hostel. In we walk and its like a funky party, with a bunch of kids around all drinkin and smokin. What a crazy place to stay - we're in love with this place. (Guess T House)

There is a Sumo Basho on here in Tokyo which finishes this Sunday. What a lucky break since there is only a few here a year! So we spent the day Friday with our new friend Kristin (pic to come), at the basho watching 400 pound monsters shove each other around the dohyo with scrupulous ceremony! What a time!

After this we were famished, and decided some sushi here in Japan was a must... I think we got more sake than sushi but Rapongi (party district) was great! As some of you know, we finally made it in after a wild night around 6 am. Funny I thought the metro was always open, turns out it was just morning. We're heading back out tonight, off to Shinjuku - Times Square of Tokyo.

Life is good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ready To Ride

Well, here we are. Almost midnight, sleepin at Ryan's, and finally ready to hit the road. Packs are packed, stuffs in storage and minds are open. First stop - Tokyo.

If you haven't met my company, he's known as Mr. Brian David Vankeuren. Friend of 6 years... and conduit to many travels thus far, with many more to come.

He's posting at