I’ve been pretty stationary the past month. It’s been nice to spend less money and chill out a bit because I have a lot of plane, train, and bus rides coming up the next month. I start small next week when I’ll head just south to Galway but I’ve got a busy itinerary for the rest of May and June, and I’m still hammering out details for parts of it. To be honest, it’s stressing me out a little.
This is me back in Bali nearly a year ago. What I’m wearing: baggy pants and a fringed tank top with an owl on it. What I’m not wearing: makeup. My braids are messy. Footwear consisted of foam flip flops on a daily basis. I went out in public looking like that and I didn’t think twice about it.
When I was in Bali, I met a Dutch girl named Janet who was fun and fearless. I rode on the back of her scooter on the way to a temple on a lake two hours north of Ubud because I was too scared to drive one myself. One night, a group of us from the hostel were talking about travel plans–where we’ve been and where we want to go. When it was Janet’s turn to share, she paused, thought for a moment, and said: “Maybe I’ll go to East Timor.” She said it so casually, like it would be as simple as going to the market, or the bathroom. Traveling to East Timor strikes me as neither easy nor breezy but to her, it would have been. I was impressed.
While traveling hasn’t turned out to be nearly as scary or difficult as I may have originally imagined, I’m still a planner at heart. I may have had spurts of impulsiveness along the way, like booking my last minute flight from Chiang Mai to Bali or deciding to go from Siem Reap to Bangkok the night before crossing the Cambodia-Thailand border. Mexico definitely wasn’t part of my original itinerary. But I still do plenty of research in advance and generally know what I’m getting myself into, like if I need vaccinations or a visa, and whether planes, trains, or automobiles (or the occasional boat) can get me from place to place. Which brings me to Phase 3 of The Big Trip: South America.
I haven’t had the best time since I left Cambodia and my dear friends behind. My first night in Bangkok was fun thanks to good company. Wat Pho was beautiful. Other than that, the Khao San Road area irked me deeply and I didn’t have the desire or energy to explore outer realms of the city. I prefer the smaller towns, anyway. I left a day earlier than planned and hopped on a night bus to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
It’s a lovely city which runs at a slower pace than Bangkok. I get the idea that it’s probably a better place to live than visit but I was determined to make the most of my time here. A guesthouse I kept hearing about was fully booked so I stayed at a little family-owned place called Same Same (of course) for my first night and would check into the other one the next day. Same Same was so inexpensive that I decided to treat myself to a single room for the first time on this trip. Nothing fancy but I have my own little bathroom and the ability to have a good old-fashioned underwear dance party. The WiFi here is incredible.
I went to the other guesthouse the next day. It seemed nice, but not drastically better than Same Same. After checking in, I asked the travel desk if there was a place I could go see elephants without riding them (they are often abused at those camps). Turns out there was a group leaving in 20 minutes. I would have preferred to research it first but since I was told there was no group going the next day, I decided to take a chance.
My heart hurts too much to really get into it but just because I chose not to ride an elephant didn’t mean it wasn’t an option for everyone else. It’s possible that there are places out there where the elephants are happy and riding them is well-regulated. This was not that place. The elephants were sad and so was I. Lump that in with receiving bad news from home and the fact that I was recovering from some very uncomfortable bug bites, and yesterday was pretty miserable. I went back to the hostel in the evening to do some research on my laptop but the WiFi was practically non-existent. I drank two large Chang beers on a mostly empty stomach, tried to dance my troubles away, and woke up with my first hangover of the trip.
It’s rough being sad and tired away from home. But five things helped to begin to turn my mood around.
I spent a full week in Siem Reap. When Ann and Lucy broke up their visit by going to Battambang for a few days, I stayed behind to have some quiet time. I cooled down in the guesthouse pool, walked around some markets, and finally finished up the August issue of Wine Spectator I brought from home. Even though I missed my friends while they were away, it was nice not talking to anyone for a little while. But on Day 2 of self-imposed isolation, my brain got bored and wouldn’t shut up.