Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

You Make Your Own Home

Us in front of Bang Rak District Office, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Piam. 

On Wednesday, we fly back to the UK after almost one full year of travel. The whole trip has gone by so quickly that the closest thing I can compare it to is how I felt about Christmas when I was a kid. After Halloween the trees and lights go up and there's so much build up that when the holiday comes it feels like it's going to last forever. But it doesn't. It's gone in a blink. It's gone so quickly that if you don't take regular time out to remind yourself that this is the thing you've been dreaming about and planning for, you might just miss it altogether.

In the last eleven+ months we've been to: Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Puerto Vallarta, Tepic, San Blas, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Ucluelet, Whistler, Calgary, Regina, Sydney, Melbourne, multiple stops along the Great Ocean Road, Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Palo Alto, Cha-am, Hua Hin, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. There are also probably dozens of other small stops we made - small old temple towns in Japan, mountain villages on the drive between Vancouver and Regina ... All these places, all of that distance and space and so much of it feels very much like gold dust slipping through my fingers.

The questions I get asked the most are: which places did you like the most and which places did you dislike the most. The politics of "oh, every place had its charm" aside, I definitely have answers to these questions - firm, emotional answers. Travel books like to make us think that we should fall in love with the adventure of every place, and I'm sure some people are able to do that, but I am opinionated. I know what I like and what I don't like and while I can definitely say I learned something from every where we visited, there are places that resonated with me so deeply they felt like home and other places that I felt like we were just trying to endure.

My favorite places were Laos and Japan. Laos because it was such a surprise. We landed in Vientiane expecting very little and ended up falling in love with our long, listless days of wandering the dusty streets, sharing the sidwalk with roosters (who loved to wake us up at 3 AM) and orange robed monks (who also liked to wake us up early with their chanting). It was beautiful and simple and so golden in my mind that I'm almost afraid that going back would ruin the memory.

I loved Japan for not letting me down. I had very high expectation of Japan, had been dreaming about it for years, and although it wasn't exactly as I'd imagined, it was better: the people were nicer, the cities more gleaming and surreal and the landscape more perfect.

My least favorite places were Vietnam and Mexico. Unlike with Laos, where I had no expectations, I landed in Hanoi with a whole set of ideas about what it would be like, mostly founded on my love of the Vietnamese food served up in a few restaurants in my hometown and an infatuation with a novel set there. Instead I found myself overwhelmed by cold temperatures, a heavy concrete grey and motorcycles - so many motorcycles that I felt like my head was perpetually buzzing. Culturally it was also a shock and the endless throngs of vendors selling all manner of tat were quite aggressive, often following us down the street, imploring us to "Buy something!". I'm quite certain that there's a lot more to Vietnam than I experienced, but I was quite pleased to fly out to sunny Palo Alto, with its clean air and pedestrian crossings.

I actually quite like Mexico but for the six weeks we were there, I stupidly booked us into a bungalow without air conditioning (in June and July!) or proper bug proofing. As a result, the time we spent there was without a doubt the most physically uncomfortable I have ever been in my life. Bug bites and jelly fish stings coupled with the most intense heat that I've ever experienced. More than anything, I feel like we survived our time in Mexico. It feels like an accomplishment in the way it is for people to go off into the woods for a weekend with nothing other than a rope and a knife. I will never be featured on Survivorman .

As we head back West to this place we both considered home at one time, it's a strange feeling. It doesn't feel so much like a homecoming but rather an opportunity to see people and get our affairs in order for the next big adventure. This year has taught me that I don't need a whole lot of material comforts to make me happy, I don't need a huge apartment or a big screen television and I don't need to own a stable of clothes. I think Dan and I are both ready to settle in somewhere for awhile, soak our feet and get comfortable watching the sun set from the same porch for more than a few weeks. The most surprising thing about that for me is that I don't mind too much where that porch is located.

I used to think that I had to move somewhere else to be happy. I guess this trip has made me realize that happiness is not a place, it's something that we are all responsible for bringing with us. And home is not a single location, but something that you create on the journey.

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La Mer

I've had a strange few weeks. I've jumped time zones as though the act of leaping across continents was as simple as a game of hop scotch. I've seen wonderful things and met people who are kind and inspiring. And in recent days I've also found my way back to the sea.

We are currently in Cha-am, Thailand, a little holiday place filled with mostly young Thai families who have come here to get out of the city and old Scandinavian people, many of whom probably spend months of their year here (at least it would appear so given the orange brown tint and leathery texture of their skin). It's not as pristine as the island resorts further south with their aqua marine water but it is relaxed and the sun shines and the people are mostly friendly. I've been interspersing sleeping and reading with trips down to play in the sea shore (which is right across the street from our guest house, we have a sea view). The water here isn't quite as warm as it was in Mexico, but it's pretty close. Over the past few days it's been a bit windy and we've spent our time jumping over waves, gasping and sputtering as we climb out with salty lips and tangled hair.

We're not sure how long we're going to stay down here. Tomorrow morning we're looking at a little condo that's available - slightly over our budget but we're desperate to settle down in a place with a kitchen and some privacy. Neither of us have felt like we've really been anywhere long enough to unpack since Laos. I would love to not have to eat out for the next week and there's a Tesco Lotus in a nearby town where we can stock up on everything we want. Dan even found Branston Pickle today, albeit for more than we would pay for it in the UK.

The alternative to staying here for another week is heading North to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, which both sound like lovely, easy places but with no sea. I imagine them to be a more modern version of Laos.

I arrived in Bangkok only a few days ago after my 48 hour jaunt to California. My interview was such a good experience and everyone was so genuinely kind and clever. If the Visa gods smile down on me, I would be a fool to not seize the opportunity to do such interesting work at such a great company. Time will tell.

The above picture of me was taken by Dan when we were in Versailles, France in February 2009. I stumbled upon it in an old folder today and couldn't help but look at that girl and wonder a bit who she was. When I was in Vancouver this past summer, I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and as I reflect back on this year of flux, reinvention, growth and change, I can't help but feel like I've been afforded this wonderful slot of time in which I've been able to re-imagine my life, my professional practice, my passions, my art. And although I didn't have to suffer the kind of horrible loss that sparked Didion's year of magical thinking, the experience of travel is also one of always leaving something behind: a shoe, a book, an elastic band ... and along with these things, the sadness inherent in the realization that nothing will ever be exactly the same again. Laos will never feel like it did those few beautiful weeks in December, just like Versailles will never be the same crisp, colorful place it was during that beautiful and delicate weekend in February 2009 - and I'll never be the same either.

I used to cry about this on birthdays when I was a kid. I would have a wonderful day and then get into bed and sob for the year that was gone and that would never be again. And my god, when they play that horrible Auld Lang Sine song at New Years it slays me; and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland. All songs about time and loss woven into our precious celebratory moments to remind us that the time is slipping by far more quickly than we can possible realize.

But the sea feels constant and restorative and the daily act of allowing it to toss us around makes waiting for the next change much, much easier. It's like an hour glass, slowly washing everything clean.

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Travel Plans Sometimes Change

For those of you who were worried about me after I posted that quote yesterday - don't be. I just thought it was beautiful but yes, a little intense.

Things here are good but a bit stressed. We are working on wrapping up about four projects and are just really looking forward to taking some time in December to relax. Having too much work is really a good thing for people in our situation (freelancers without a stable paycheck), but we're both feeling a little bit burned out. Also, we're half way through our last week in Tokyo and try as I might to stay calm, I always get a little tense as I begin to emotionally prepare to move on to a new apartment, a new city. We've gotten really comfortable here - we have our little corner store, our favorite local pub (Standing Bar Clover in Shinjuku - we love you!), our nightly ritual of ice cream - and as much as I love this vagabonding life style, you do give up that warm comfort of the familiar every time you move on. Occasionally it all feels very sweet and I begin to feel a little less like Kerouac in On the Road and a little more like the protagonist in Last Night in Montreal (a good book - go read it).

On Sunday we'll be taking the train south to Osaka and Kyoto where we'll intersperse working with taking in the stunning turning of the leaves and enough shrines to last a life time. I'm looking forward to it - but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things we're working to get done in the meantime.

In other news, today there was an escalation in the conflict between North and South Korea. North Korea bombed a small South Korean island and South Korea responded in kind. All is quiet at the moment but of course the international heavyweights (America, the UK and China) have all weighed in and it remains to be seen whether this is just a blip or something to be worried about. We are due to take the ferry to South Korea on December 10th where we were planning to stay, mostly in Seoul, until January 3rd. Now we're kind of second guessing ourselves and wondering if we shouldn't just spend the holidays somewhere cheap and cheerful like Laos. I'm going to sleep on it.

For those of you who are interested, we've been involved in a few interesting projects lately:

  • Last week the Groubal Customer Satisfaction Index website launched. It takes social media data from places like Facebook and Twitter and analyzes sentiment to determine how satisfied the customers of over 200 brands are. The data updates hourly. It's pretty cool. 
  • To complement the game, we also worked on a stock market like Facebook game that allows players to try to anticipate how companies will rank, earning or losing game currency depending on whether they make the right bets. 
  • Yesterday I published an article on Contentini called Micro Copy: Content Strategy and Writing the User Interface, which is getting quite a bit of web love. For the most part, I find the content strategy community really encouraging and connected. It feels like we're forging new territory and instead of fighting for a piece of a pie, we're working together to try and build the best knowledge base possible to do truly outstanding work. 
  • I try to update A Tramp Abroad once a week. My last three posts have gotten 18, 36 and 20 comments and it's great to be able to connect with such a great group of travelers over there. 
Good night Internet. 

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New Project - A Tramp Abroad

I've been toying with the idea of launching a travel website for awhile now; there are so many things that I learn every day, so many moments that remind me how far from home I am in both good and bad ways. There are a lot of travel websites out there, but most of them are either quite commercial or very personal. I am really excited for the new site,  A Tramp Abroad, to focus on helpful, quirky tips but also feature really outstanding longer form travel writing. Oh, and our tag line is 'Inspiring wanderlust." Perfect, no?

I'll still be writing here - this will always be the place I feel like I can unload about all the more personal experiences and feelings that are niggling at me and on occasion I'll post links to any longer form pieces I write on the other website.

We've got some shorter news pieces up already along with a few bits of original content that I hope you'll check out -

It's still very much a work in progress but feedback is very much welcome. Also, we're looking for guest bloggers so if you have any ideas, please let me know.

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San Blas: Acclimatising

Yesterday we had our first taste of stormy weather in San Blas. Since we came here via Phoenix, where it apparently never rains, we haven't seen a storm since our last night in London when we were nearly drowned out on our way home from the cinema. Though the rain can get annoying in the UK, I do like the romance of it - steamy, damp windows, the sound of water tapping against the side of the house, umbrellas ... If you had asked me two months ago whether I would miss London rain I would have said no, but it turns out I would have been wrong.

It's not as hot in Mexico temperature-wise as in Phoenix - instead of 40 degrees, it's only 32 degrees - but the humidity is a killer. Last night as we were eating dinner at a sidewalk cafe, I realised that I was wet with sweat - you could actually see a layer of damp across my arms, chest and brow. We are slowly acclimatising, but after the intense dryness of the desert, the humidity is a lot to get used to.

The storm yesterday helped to cut some of the humidity and there has been a slightly cooler breeze in the air. So on the scale of one being freezing to death and ten being burning to death, we are now sitting somewhere around an seven instead of an eight. Small mercies.

I miss air conditioning dreadfully at times, mostly at bed time when I want to snuggle under the blankets but find that anything on top of my skin makes it too hot to sleep. We found that the small ATM on the Plaza is enclosed in a tiny air conditioned room and I've been avoiding the urge to go and hang out there; maybe get my tacos to go and eat in there ... I am fairly proud of us though. The first few days we were here we were completely lost and fighting the urge to take the bus right back to Puerto Vallarta and the convenience of air conditioning and chain stores. Between the heat, my bug bites and the gigantic spiders in our apartment I honestly wasn't sure if we could manage here. But now, nearly a week later, we are finding our way and although it's not the most comfortable place, I am finding little things that I love about San Blas:
  • The beach and the ocean are the most perfect place I've ever found for swimming. Apparently the sand flies are bad and can bite, but not if there's a little wind and not during the high heat of the day. The sand is smooth and goes on forever and the water in the bay is lukewarm like a bathtub and very shallow until quite far out, which makes me feel safe as the idea of being in the ocean over my head scares me. We go out every day for about a half an hour and jump into the giant waves that crash to shore, splashing and squealing with the locals. It is bliss. 
  • The church bells in the town centre ring at various times throughout the day and I love hearing their echo. They are far enough away to not be grating and so early in the morning and late at night we hear them mixed in with the sound of crickets and the wind. 
  • Everything here is in technicolour. It's so different from the North American communities where you are only allowed to paint your house one out of six approved shades of grey. It reminds me of a collage, how everything is glued together, even when it doesn't really fit. 
  • The children are very friendly, saying "Hola!" and even occasionally "Hello!" when we pass them on the street. They often go by on vintage bicycles, usually four or more clinging to every possible surface of the bike: seat, handle bars, back wheel. Beautiful, nut brown babies with shining black hair and soulful eyes. They mostly seem really happy and, along with their parents, the bugs don't seem to bother them. 
 And now, some pictures:

There are always horses on the beach and our first day there was this lovely little colt who didn't take too kindly to his harness. Happily, the horses mostly seem very well cared for - not too skinny and they don't have any sores or anything that I've seen.

This was our first meal in San Blas. It tasted good, but looking at the fish grossed me out a little bit. I think they serve it this was as a way of showing off how fresh it is. Still, it's hard to believe that Dan ate this.

Not where we're staying.

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Tour of Our Bungalow in Mexico

Sorry about the very bad quality. The Internet connection here is slow and anything that isn't super compressed would take hours to upload. Oh, and after watching it I just realised that I have three mosquito bites on my cheek - thanks Flip camera !

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San Blas or Bust

After a fairly long few days, we arrived in San Blas in the Nayarit region of Mexico yesterday afternoon. We left Phoenix just before noon and as our plane forced its way up into the sky over the desert, I was ready to go but also a little sad that six weeks has gone by so quickly.

Due to a budget flight, we didn't go to Puerta Vallarta direct but went via Dallas and the entire flight I had the theme song from the show of the same name running through my head: "Ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-baaaa!"

I remember watching that show every Friday night as a kid with my grandparents - Sue Ellen, Bobby, JR. Those were the days! We spent about an hour in the Dallas Airport and I am a bit disappointed to announce that the hair was neither terribly big nor the accents terribly Texan. They did have a lot of BBQ restaurants in the airport though.

After arriving in Puerto Vallarta, were immediately and stupidly ushered into a situation I was completely unprepared for. I am a stereotypical Canadian in that when people try to speak to me, I have trouble not stopping to listen. When they talk and talk and talk, I feel rude just walking away - even if they are trying to sell me something I don't want or need.

Walking out of customs at the PV airport takes you down a narrow hallway flanked on either side by people yelling out to you, holding signs and generally acting like they know you and understand exactly what you need.

"Hola! Lady, where you staying?"

"The Flamenco Vallarta." (Admittedly, responding was my first mistake.)

"You go here - talk to that woman. She represents your hotel."

"Okay." (Second mistake.)

From that point on and for about ten minutes we were amiga and amigo'd by a woman who clearly didn't represent our hotel and who was trying to sell us any number of things from a cab ride, to breakfast, to a friggin' deep sea fishing expedition. Finally, Dan got tired of my polite nodding and ushered us the hell out of there only to have me run into the arms of a dodgy cab driver who charged us the equivalent of about $20 (USD) for a five minute cab ride to our hotel. Yeah, I'm a sucker and Dan was not impressed. I'm going to have to get this under control before we go to India, if we go to India.

Our night in Puerto Vallarta was nice once we got over the irritation of being taken for a ride. Here are some pictures:

After one night at the Flamingo, we got up early with the task of trying to work out how to get to San Blas. We knew it would be by bus, but we had conflicting information about where to catch it, how much it would cost and how long it would take. Due to our rip off cab ride the day before, Dan was pretty intent that whatever we were going to do, it wasn't going to involve a cab or any opportunity for me to be suckered in. Just short of putting tape over my mouth and making me promise not to talk to strangers, we set out with enormous packs on our backs. We were originally going to catch the bus to Walmart, where we were told we could take the Silver Line bus to San Blas but after being admonished by our hotel clerk, we headed in the opposite direction to catch a bus to the central station. Did I mention that my backpack weighs about 100 pounds and although it isn't as hot here as in Phoenix, the humidity is insane and probably feels even worse because we're accustomed to the dryness of the desert. So by the time we'd completed the ten minute walk to the bus stop, I was pretty much soaking wet.

There's this thing about city buses in Mexico that the guide books don't tell you - they don't stop unless you flag them down and often, you don't know which bus to flag down because the destination is painted on the front window by hand and isn't always easy to read. After flagging down the wrong bus once and watching half a dozen pass us by we lucked into a meeting a very friendly man who, was originally from San Blas. For a small tip, he accompanied us on the right bus (which he kindly flagged down) and took us to the station where we would catch the Pacifico bus direct to San Blas. He was a really nice man; it was his birthday and he told us how difficult things had been since the recession because tourists weren't coming down as much. He works at the Westin Hotel and seemed hopeful that things would get better soon. We had a two hour wait at the Pacifico station with only one disaster; a bottle of suntan lotion spilled in my bag and got all over the outside of my laptop, peeling off some of the finish. It still works fine but now it has a bit of character in the form of a shiny-looking chemical peel in one corner. It's scary to me that something I rub all over my skin has the ability to peel plastic off a Mac. Some photos from our wait at the Pacifico station:

The bus actually arrived on time and to our relief it was air-conditioned and nearly empty. The journey took about three hours but would have been less except for quite a lot of construction along the road. It stopped every now and again in small towns where little boys would jump on and try to sell us homemade tacos, pop and Doritos. About an hour outside of San Blas, the scenery changed from dense green jungle to one of small, colourful seaside communities. The ocean smells and looks like heaven and these places are filled with colour and food, children running around and people riding vintage bicycles.

It hasn't all been perfect (more on that later): I am already covered in angry red mosquito bites and there's been one slightly ugly bout of stomach upset but I love looking at this place and I love the slow, sleepy pace of siesta and late dinners. More on San Blas tomorrow ...

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Meet Wabi-Sabi

Awhile back, when we were still in London, Dan and I took a break from work and wandered around Soho. We ended up in an artist supply shop where I fought off my instinct to buy yet another blank notebook (seriously, how many do I need?) and instead picked up this little guy.

He's from the same family as the wooden hand and physique models used in drawing classes in lieu of actual naked people. We kept him at the office for awhile and I came up with the name Wabi-Sabi , likely inspired by some design book Dan was reading about Japanese design. As he didn't really mesh with the minimal office decor, Wabi-Sabi eventually made his way home to our London flat, where he lived very comfortably on a shelf in the living room.

When I was packing for this trip, I threw out, sold or gave away a lot of things I really like so I have no idea why this ridiculous wooden cat made the cut. I enjoy the idea of photographing him at all the different places we'll be visiting and I kind of like his scowly face. I miss having pets and although Wabi-Sabi is a poor substitution, I kind of like having him around our mascot.

Although when I named him I had no idea we would be doing this year of travel, his name seems appropriate - a good omen to follow us around the world. From Wikipedia:
Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is 'imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.' It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence, specifically impermanence ... Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the suggestion of natural processes. 
Although our first lay-over in Arizona has been nothing if not comfortable, the lack of stuff and ownership over my environment is a struggle that I only imagine will become more pronounced as our surroundings become less familiar and less luxurious. My natural inclination is to try to control my environment, so this is occasionally a tricky endeavour for me. Hopefully Wabi-Sabi (the cat) will serve as a reminder for me to really look at these new places and people and appreciate their imperfect, impermanent beauty, take a deep grateful breath, and then move on.

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Lots of Cacti - A Digital Short Film

Lots of Cacti from Amy Thibodeau on Vimeo.

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The Dangers of the Desert, the Grand Canyon and Other Adventures

To see more photos from the Grand Canyon, visit my Flickr set. Sorry some of the text above is a bit fuzzy - not sure how that happened and don't have time to fix it.


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Hellloooo Phoenix!

We arrived last night after a fairly uneventful 14+ hours of travel. We're staying in an absolutely stunning house in a suburb called Scottsdale, which is right on the edge of the city - we're pretty much surrounded by desert.

Last full English breakfast in Giraffe in Heathrow Terminal 5.

Heathrow Teminal 5, waiting for our departure to LA.

From the flight between LA and Phoenix - first glimpse of the desert.

Baby owl, nesting in a cactus, Phoenix.

The only bad part so far - I am clumsy. And I tripped on a path and skinned my knee on the gravel. It looks worse than it is!

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I've scheduled this post to go live when our flight to the US is taking off from Heathrow.

Later gaters.


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Light Enough to Travel

We've spent the better part of the last week selling, cleaning and re-organising ourselves for our huge adventure. I can't believe we leave on Saturday ... only two more sleeps!

If I had to pick one song to sum up the last few days it would be Light Enough to Travel by the Be Good Tanyas, especially in view of today's terrible hangover. We had an informal going away party last night. It was good fun but dutch beer is strong - yay for 2 am food in China Town! Thanks to all the lovely people who came out - we'll miss you. Come and visit us somewhere on the road - seriously. 

In the meantime, we're still not light enough to travel, but we're getting there...

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Sing a Travelling Song

Some of you may have guessed that something like this was coming, especially since I posted an advertisement to fill my current job earlier today ... Big news indeed... Dan and I have decided to leave the UK to spend a year traveling around the world. We've been talking about it for awhile and during a lot of that talking, I was pretty convinced that it was just that, talking. But then we bought plane tickets, and have started selling off our belongings, and have given notice at our flat and ... well, it is really happening, and soon.

We fly out of London on May 1st and we've got a series of flights that takes us right around the globe and back into London mid-April 2011. Our intention is to spend a number of weeks - in some cases months - in our various locations and during our North American stint, we'll mostly be house-sitting/staying with lovely, generous friends.. We don't want fleeting, stressful experiences of wonderful places - we're going to spend some time, get to know the flavour of things. We're also going to be doing some freelance work while traveling, details TBA. So if you need anything brilliant done and want to talk, please get in touch.

In the meantime, here's a little map to show you (somewhat inaccurately) many of the places we'll be touching down - you should be able to click on the image to for more detail. If anyone has any suggestions of places you think we absolutely need to fit into our journey - particularly in South East Asia - please do let us know.

Good night beautiful people.

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