Fronterror – part 2

Iguazú Falls was incredible, mighty, beautiful! I don’t usually write about run-of the mill tourist landmarks, so I won’t, but I had a blast.

Quick Stats: the Grand Canyon of waterfalls, 23km (14mi) of 275 falls, some falling 70m (229ft), in lush tropical jungle. Species: 200 trees, 448 birds, 71 mammals, 36 reptiles, 20 amphibians, 250 butterflies.

The moment in which I peered into the largest fall from above was truly humbling, and so dramatic with pouring rain and mist…what a rush. A 20-minute walk out on an elevated path takes you to the middle of mighty Río Iguazú, where you can look down into the furious horseshoe named Garganta del Diablo (Devil Throat), which I suppose in fair weather is photogenic, but in this drenched moment I didn’t dare draw my camera from its waterproof bag. Que lástima. Without a doubt however, the memory will instead be etched into my little soul.

Other highlights of my couple weeks in Paraguay include a stay for a few days in the campo with some Peace Corp volunteers, tending to the mandioca (yuca) plants and biking around on muddy backroads, swimming with cows, and putting a sick dog out of its misery. I didn’t do the actual deed but I heard it, the bludgeoning sound like chopping wood, which was so sad.

surfing campo style w Kristin, turtle and Jacob
Patrick & I surfed couch w Angelic, "Goat" & puppies in C. Olviedo

Next morning after Iguazú I reluctantly broke down camp. With the thrill behind me, weak body (no dinner or breakfast), un-caffeinated brain – in no mood to charm authorities! – it was time to face the reality of immigration. Feeling quite ill*, I approached the frontera again.

(*For some reason, I can’t find veggie food lately, and consequently I’ve been eating very little. More accurately, I’m tired of the ovo-lacto diet, and my body is telling me via reduced appetite that it’s grossed-out with eating cheese, eggs and bread all the time; all non-meat options always have at least one of these things. So, having fallen into lazy habits, I’ve whittled my ready-to-eat options down to fruit and biscuits, and I’m feeling quite shit about it. Finally recognizing this as a transformation, I’m cooking again :)

feeling big-time sluggish

Drenched again in the morning showers, I arrived at the ferry, went straight to immigration to check-out of Argentina, but was directed to purchase my passage first. (No consistency!) Mid-interaction, I almost decided to skip the immigration part (as I should have last time), but the officer came out of his box to announce his post with importance: “Immigración!” He checked my ticket, and stamped me out.

I spent a nervous hour waiting for the next ferry, too crappy-feeling to make myself a luke-cold Nescafe, imagining my impending maneuver over and over in my head. When it arrived, they washed the boat thoroughly, making red muddy falls over its edges until we boarded. Seeing that I needed to fix myself, I bought some peaches from a lady onboard, and finally made some conversation with a kid in an arm-sling until we got to the other side.

As the cars filed out, and I rode on one side of them, so I could maybe use them to block me, but the queue stopped at immigration. I hid, until an officer waved to me from between cars, as if to say come out this way. I took this to mean PEDDLE, so I continued, on my side of the cars, until I popped-out in front of the stopped line of cars, and with purpose, as if this was exactly what I was supposed to do, I didn’t look back.

It was a massive hill leading down to the dock, and up it I peddled quickly in my granny-gear, making an absurd getaway at 3mph, for at least a kilometer and a half, dripping sweat in the intense humidity, not stopping until I was up safely on the main road. Adrenaline pumping, I took off my shirt, and continued on back into the Ciudad del Este, where anything goes.

Smiling again, I was back in Paraguay, and Paraguay smiled back. I felt a little exposed, as I don’t usually ride without my shirt, but in hot humid Paraguay shirtless is the fashion for men, and the breeze of emancipation on my wet skin felt great. Even more de la moda (fashionable) is, if you’ve got a big gut, to just roll the shirt up over the gut. Damn sexy. Maybe I was feeling a bit self-conscious though, because with each terere-sipping family or group of kids in school-uniform I passed, I received huge smiles, lots of thumbs-up, and much laughter. Just because I’m a dreadlocked shirtless gringo on a green bike with fluorescent yellow panniers? LOL.

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Getting Balanced in Bolivia

Thurs 1/20/11, 0:57am
Samaipata, Bolivia

Part 1: Back to Nature

For a week riddled with heinous digestive complications, I’m walking my bike away [up and down crazy beautiful hills] with a lot of amazing experience under my belt.

First, just being out in the campo (country) feeds my soul like nothing else. It’s been too long, and even though every town I’ve been in is surrounded by plenty of natural wonders to explore and trekking opportunities galore, a grand day out is not the same as living in it.

My campsite for the week: high on a hillside in a lush green valley, midway up a series of six gurgling waterfalls, with an ever-changing panoramic view – does pachamama (mother nature) never run out of stunning manifestations? The clouds alone can paint a million pictures, hide the dozens of nearby peaks, or shroud them in a saturnine mist, and fashion every sunset and sunrise (worth getting up for!) A clear view of the 16th century Incan fort El Fuerte, dwarfed in magnitude and encompassed by the sublime form of a woman with child, our mother pachamama, carved not into a mountain, but the mountain carved into her. Those industrious Incas!

sunrise 5:48am
Pachamama & child

Most days were lovingly punctuated by extraordinary weather: deafening thunder crashes out of nowhere – at this altitude you can be drenched in the sunlight of a clear blue sky but suddenly visited by a storm (or sound of it) just over a nearby hill. It’s most fun when it’s ambient but not actually storming down: the other night amid my intense dreaming I was sure someone was outside my tent wiggling a giant saw! By day or night, nearby lightning storms last for hours. Samaipata (and more accurately where I was, Alta Florida, in the hills nearby) is playground of the gods, pure magic.

You can’t help but feel, in this perfectly wild paradise, that you came second to the world of plants and animals. At first glimpse it’s endless green, but just look a bit closer and there is a mind-boggling variety of plants and trees, many of them ridiculously spikey. I learned last week on a guided trek, a bit higher in the cloud forests, that the oldest plant species didn’t have these defense mechanisms as there were no animals to threaten them, so relatively, I suppose, they might not predate animal, (but they most definitely predate man).

But more sensationally, I love the bugs. I swear the same grasshoppers would visit my tent each morning, waiting for me to unzip my portal so they could hop-in. Furry caterpillars, long centipedes, poisonous millipedes (3-times more venomous than a scorpion), arm-length snakes and big hairy tarantulas, 3-inch black wasps, tiny but arresting black widow spiders (yep I found one while sowing), neon-glow worms, shiny blue/yellow/red and black bees.. it’s an everyday Animal Planet. And they have a black and white pig named Billie, who snorts all day, squeals like crazy at sunset, and always lets me pet him.

Coca Comrades

Thurs 1/14/11, 2:18am
Alta Florida, outside Samaipata, Bolivia

As always, I begin this with the intention for it to be a quickie, but both you and I know there’s never a quickie, with so much ground to cover and so much time elapsed since the last installment.

I’m moving slowly in Bolivia, traveling a bit less than a typical traveler, and living a bit more than usual, meaning I’m finding home (temporarily) and staying a while between jumps. It’s nice not to feel in any rush, and to make and keep some friends for a week or two instead of a day or two. It’s also nice to start really knowing my way around a place, see familiar faces, have favorite spots, make conversation with anyone I’ve met, anytime we cross paths.

It’s beginning to feel the norm for a week to fly by in any given place, followed by the familiar debate “should I go, or stay another week?” Whenever that word should is weighing on my mind, my innate guidance system steers me to the truth: I should never do anything.

At the moment, I’m feeling pressed to make my way up towards lovely Lake Titicaca, with it’s gorgeously camp-able Isla del Sol, floating villages, and nearby Copacabana, not to mention loads of volunteer opportunities in eco-communities and national parks. But here I am, with only a month left on my visa, still in the south (where I came from), and I just began to feel found again, so why go?

My usual style and outlook towards covering the bases of a country, which I pride myself on, is that I like to go slowly, savoring the trip as well as my more thorough pace, getting to know an area well, developing a real connection and appreciation for the mundane, and leaving much mystery to return for. Is it because Bolivia is small that I feel compelled to take in it’s greatest hits on the first go?

By found I mean I’ve landed in a choice spot, Samaipata, a village of 3,000, with 1 bar, 1 discotec, 1 karaoke club, 1 yoga instructor, 1 (overpriced) cyber cafe, and a boatload of charm. I’ve spent a week camping out, doing yoga and meditation daily, camping out in a lush garden community with awesome people, hiking in Yungas (cloud forest), and not even thinking about using the internet until yesterday (as I might as well before heading out into the country today).

And by night…

And today I made my way 6km out of town, up up and up an undulating dirt road (as they all are in Bolivia) to the farm of some acquaintances I met in town, an adorable English hippie couple named Danny and Rachel, who bought a plot of 13acres and are farming and building it out it with aim of self-sufficiency. What they’ve accomplished in a year is impressive. The whole property is beautiful, the view from any point on the hillside to the mountains beyond stunning, my own gurgling waterfall tranquil, and the organic strawberries and tomatoes burst with flavor in my mouth more than any I’ve known. And the piggy lets me pet him.

They chew coca out here like it’s going out of style. When I met Danny in town, and he was chewing away, with green all in his teeth a black ring around his mouth, I thought he was crazy. When Rachel told me that there’s one rule out here, that anything you say before the third cup of coffee doesn’t count, I though she was crazy. Now that I’m here, I understand it all so clearly: they are crazy, and I adore it.

It’s their own little paradise, with its own quirky culture. I loved it and them before I even got our here, but now that I am here (on my first real farm in South America) I’m reminded of perhaps my favorite farm in New Zealand (oh I know it’s so unfair to choose!), that of Mike and Jocelyn in Paparoa, who live passionately and beautifully, practicing permaculture and self-sustainability in their loving teepee home on their own lovely plot. Likewise, this place is nuts. Ruth, another volunteer, is in on the quirk, masticating the coca like sport and drinking (magic) coffee well until bedtime (with a bit o alcohol), and I reckon this is normal up here. I did the same tonight, and look at me, up and perky, writing in my tent at 3am. Yeah we’ll get to digging drop toilets at 8am, but we’ll also be chewing coca and drink coffee by the gallon. Midday is usually reserved for, well I don’t know yet, but not working in the hot sun, and I gather it’s not uncommon to work well into the night with head-torches. Like I said, I like these people.

A note about the coca, my dear concerned readers: while in North America the coca leaf is often confused with cocaine, it is not the same. As our President Evo Morales championed, “Coca sí, cocaína no”, it’s quite a different animal, the backbone of the working-class, buzz-less but quietly keeping the bees at work for long hours, reducing appetite, dulling fatigue and pain, and keeping you higher the harder you work. Hmmm, it doesn’t sound quite as innocuous as it is when I describe it here, but believe me, it’s cool.

Random factoid: Rachel lost 40 kilos – that’s 90 pounds – in 6 months of moving here and working on the farm. They work a lot, and with the long hours, coca for lunch, and lots of fresh air and organic produce, she looks and emanates amazing. Thought you might find that interesting. And yes, they eat well, with chips twice a day (she loves chips) and the most amazing salads in South America. Tangent: The markets here are filled with the most amazing produce, yet as far as I know most typical Bolivian dishes consist of meat and rice. Where’s the salad, man?

For the moment I’m happy to still be in Samaipata, enjoying and making paradise in the loveliest of circumstances. Whether I’ll make it out in time to see it all before I run for the border remains unimportant.

Getting High at Gentle World

Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010. 10:39 PM
Kaitaia, Northland, New Zealand

Amazing how each new place brings a new adventure. Just when I thought maybe things might soon get boring, I stumble onto a new way to ‘get high’. I’m not talking about smokin’ grass! This time I’ve landed in an intentional community that’s serious about creating a better, Vegan world.

Here, ‘getting high’ is a part of everyday life. I laughed too, the first few times it came up as a catch-phrase in conversation, but it’s a guiding force, and in my opinion, a fantastic attitude with which to approach everything. It’s doing with the intent to get off on it, to spark something beautiful and pure with every action, feeling good knowing that you’re making the world a better place. (Thank you Sky, for this revelation!) The boost can come in a million little ways, life-hacks which result in creating magic through artful living and pursuing higher consciousness. Might sound a bit new-agey, but this is a new age, and some people are living in it.

These vegan hippies (no offense, I use this as a term of endearment) have been at it for over 40 years, when Gentle World was conceived. Some of their names are Sun, Light, Angel, Sky, Doe, Magic, Flowers, Golden, Soul, Kisses (the dog), and Beautiful. They’ve manifested what change they want to see in themselves, and created this sanctuary of sorts to manifest it all around them, and to get others high too!

The resulting mess in my mind is the result of seeing things ever so clearly. Here it goes:

Veganism isn’t just about which foods you eat or don’t eat. It’s a way of life that doesn’t support the machines of society that exploit and harm others, sentient and non-sentient beings. The underlying principle that binds it all together is easy enough: No Animal Products.

In addition to animal-derived food and liquids, this includes leather, wool, silk, and feathers too. Considering my own consumption has been an eye-opener of how non-vegan some of my choices are, aiding me to identify some double-standards. It’s also been an opportunity to scrutinize my own identity. Am I who I think I am?

I’m a supposed ‘vegetarian’, not for ‘health reasons’ but because of my compassion for animals. I first stopped eating meat when I realized that I could easily ‘save’ hundreds of animal lives each year, or at least reduce the demand and suffering for animals as a result of my choices. Immediately, I ‘got high’ on not killing. I enjoyed guilt-free eating, not to mention I felt much lighter, in body and spirit.

But I started easy, aligning with the accepted boundaries of vegetarianism: that dairy products and eggs are ok, even fish sometimes. Over time, guilt has been creeping-in when eating these ‘acceptable’ vegetarian exceptions. I say I’ve had more vegan habits lately, but there’s no such thing as more vegan. When it comes down to convenience or just plain cravings, (like when I want ice cream or pizza once a week), it’s bullshit. I’m not more anything lately but a faker.

Look at what I’m traveling with anyway: wool socks, gloves, and hat, a silk sleep sheet, down sleeping bag, a pair of alpaca socks. I also chose a leather saddle for my bicycle, for the same reason – it’s known as the ‘best’ of its kind, period, holding this claim to fame for decades. But for whom? I’ve barely ever questioned my choices to use these things, as they were readily-available and ‘known’ to be the best. Is these acceptable excuses? So I like animals, and enjoy using their bodies (without their consent) occasionally when I ‘need’ them. I go to Zoos. I buy soy milk when it’s convenient, but I travel with powdered milk when I’m cycling, as I can’t imagine breakfast or coffee without mother’s milk. Bullshit. I’ve come to realize lately that the dairy industry is one in the same with the meat industry. What am I doing with this information?

Just imagine how high I could get without all this lying to myself and justifying my weaknesses! I even said it to someone yesterday that even though I’m not 100%, I feel that 90% (or any percentage) is still a positive force at work in the universe. Lies. We have one lifetime to improve ourselves, become Super-Us, and Evolve humankind. Why drag our heels when we see injustice, man’s dominion and enslaving of all species? It’s good to see it here that this Oblivion is not a rule.

Veganism is not new to me, but my week here has been good for re-evaluating myself. I believe that this violence-free lifestyle results a gentler humankind, which would actually precipitate World Peace if adopted widely. There are vegan dogs here who actually outgrew their killer instincts, advancing the gentler side of their omnivorous nature. Remarkable!

I go through phases of being extroverted, talkative, eager to share who I am and what I believe. Other times, I’m a student, taking notes and more quietly observing, my priority being to soak it all in. Here I’m clearly the latter, intrigued because I aspire to live like this but don’t have the balls to commit. I’ve dreamed of creating a community in paradise, ecological and responsible, fun and free to live beyond the bonds of civilization. Most of these folks have 20 years on me… these prototypical characters are what I could become. I’m not ready to settle down now, not yet. For now I can can observe and ask questions.

How do I see myself? Is it true? Where do I want to stand? Who am I comfortable being? Am I ready? What can I do to follow my heart?

This was going to be a report on the unorthodox and enlightening people in this commune, whose stories and journeys are fascinating. My experiences here have kindled a new fire in me, so instead of story-telling I jumped right to the processing. I guess that’s what this blog is all about. What am I learning here? The questions keep coming…

Fighting the urge to fly

Thursday, Apr. 8, 2010. 00:08 AM
Carterton, New Zealand

Feeling of contentment. I’m at the home of my friend Rowan, Wwoofing with her mother Anne, who’s a doctor in the final two weeks of her 28 year practice at the medical center here in Carterton. Downsizing rather than retiring, she will still tend to her hospital duties, yet she will have more time to devote to other pursuits. Rowan’s dad is off diving in Fiordland, so unfortunately I won’t meet him this time ’round, which incidentally leaves me here on my own during the days. They don’t actually take many Wwoofers due to their busy schedules (he’s a doctor too), but they did recently have two English boys, their first time away from home, who wouldn’t leave for two and half months! They acquired the nicknames Sam and Froto.

Yesterday it was rainy and Anne was working till late, so I was instructed to make myself at home, with Amber the dog and Simi the cat to keep me company. It couldn’t have been a better day to play house and enjoy the simple pleasures of the beautiful country: eating chook eggs straight from the hen house, airing out my wet tent in the barn, taking a blissful shower to warm my bones, making-up my b&b room, brewing espresso, listening to records, doing my laundry, stoking the fire in the lounge, and giggling at family photos of one of my dearest New Zealand friends, called Rose by her mom…

a bit of family history... baby Rowan & bro

My only other request was to make tea (evening meal), which was a delightful opportunity! Such nice cast-iron skillets and gas stove to work with, sharp knives & voluptuous garden outside to plunder! Crimson tomatoes from the glasshouse, peas and beans, aubergine and capsicum, cucumber and whatever GIANT courgettes turn into, silverbeet and red lettuce, lemons for lemonade…

courgettes gone wild! (giant zuchini)

Anne came home and we chatted over a glass of wine, she expressed sincere thanks for a warm house and tea to come home to, we enjoyed our sup (everything curry, rice, papadum & salad), and talked till late. I was amazed that after a long day of work she’d have so much energy for me, but it turns out she’s quite prolific as well as a night-owl, so we got nicely acquainted.

Today I fed the chooks, let them out to roam, and weeded the garden and its paths. It was incredible to just slow-down and sink my fingers into soil, get dirt in my fingernails, as well as in my hair and ears. I cleared four wheel-barrows full of weeds, put them into compost, savored the peaceful quiet of the day. I chatted with the doddering old dog, mischievous puking cat, and the four comic chooks. Sun shined, clouds rolled, raindrops fell. I walked among the sheep in the paddocks (which they lease out for grazing), but otherwise was fixed on my light work, punctuated by coffee breaks with frank zappa, the bee-gees and peter frampton singing sgt. pepper’s, and lou reed on the phonograph.

Midway thru tidying (weeding) the garden. always forget to take a Before shot!

As if my day wasn’t meditative enough, Anne and I went to a proper meditation at a friend’s house in the evening, which was spectacular. Just three of us sat around the soothing hearth of a wood burner, accompanied by a ticking clock and a single fly. These could-be distractions actually put wind in my sails. I touched noses with Axl Rose, light and energy from all around the universe ripped through my third eye, I felt no numbness, deep breathing came easy, I was relaxed. At the end I asked how long we meditated for, and while it was supposedly 40 minutes, it felt like no more than 15.

Back home, we made mushroom risotto, garlic break and fresh-picked salad. We drank delicious white wine from up the road. We baked bread. We talked of culture, politics, family, friends, matrimony, music, books, art on the wall, travel, the excitement of life, free time. Free time.

A funny thing was that at bed time, after thanking her for the nice evening, she apologized for talking too much – so untrue as she never talked at me, and it was ever so interesting! After being told recently by somebody that I talk too much, and even that Americans talk too much (which I have noticed at times) and I’m embarrassed to corroborate, I think I’m back in learning mode again.

as if you didn't see this one coming... (damned cute sheepies in these parts)

Tomorrow I will finish up in the garden, borrow the ute (pickup truck), go on a tramp in the local hills, and hopefully introduce myself to another Wwoof farmer in town who sounds like a real character I’d like to know. I was going to hitch a ride to Napier on Friday morning (265km away), to catch-up with three French cyclists I crossed a ridiculously fun and challenging mountain pass with on the way here, but now I hope I’ll get caught-up here for a bit. Yet another interesting Wwoofer lives not far away too, in a straw-bale and earth home… As usual, I always find good reasons to slow down and see what gems I can stumble upon along the unhurried way. The cold weather is approaching, but I won’t let that rush me. That is what this is all about for me. I am right here.

Addendum: Here are a few snaps from my late morning tramp today, just down the road.  Things didn’t work out with the other Wwoofers (they’re all taking holiday this week, so I might as well too!  Off to hitch towards Tongariro National Park in the morning to tramp and camp under 3 volcanoes and Mt. Doom!

Cross My Thai and Hope to Die

Saturday, July. 25, 11:57 PM

Ban Tai, Ko Phangan, Thailand

So much I can say, plucking randomly from any of the last fourteen days. Thailand has been very good to me. If I threw it all into a wok and simmered it on low heat for as many hours as it would take me to type it out, we would have a reduction that tastes like: I Love Thailand.

I spent two weeks at Tacome Pai, enjoying a sort of lazy farm-life routine that left little time in the day for anything but a few hours of work, lots of lounging around with guitar strummers, swimming in the pond, river and hot springs, hiking in nearby streams, forests, waterfalls, and canyons. Also made a nice habit of hitchhiking by pickup truck to the hippy town of Pai every other day or so for some junk food and espresso drinks.

It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular spot, this particular eco-village hosting dozens of travelers during my short stay. There were the 3 day dabblers, on a tight schedule onward (many en route to Lao/Cambodia) all wishing that they alloted more time in Pai. There was the overnight group of 17 Thais with whom we feasted on BBQ and set adrift flaming rice paper lanterns into the sky. And there was a core group who spent a week or more, a half dozen which will likely become long lasting Facebook friends, and some I really hope to see again out there somewhere. Besides all the socializing, I further communed with the rice paddies as well as the adorable cats and dog on the premises… eating rice you actually husked with a giant wooden seesaw is a pleasure, and so was submitting to the persistent kitten who wanted to share my bed. I freakin miss them all: especially my French buddy Leo with whom I spent some time every day, cruising around on motorbike and sharing many adventures and long conversations. When I told Sandot, the father of Tacome Pai, that I will return, he said I Know you will!

Five of us departed together, and we spent the next couple days traversing from the very top to the bottom of the tall country, on overnight buses and trains, songtaew, a monorail, subway and long boat. In Bangkok I went to a snake farm with a friend Elle and her 6 yr. old kid Raphael, where we got so very close to striking vipers and king cobras, and even held a giant python. Also in Bangkok we went to coffee with a friendly man named Mr. Tee, ate sushi, saw Transformers 2 (which was sequel-sucky), took the water taxi up the river, and snacked our way through the endless market. I took the last half of the journey solo (but meeting much new company along the way), on an overnight train/bus/3 hr. ferry to the island paradise of Ko Phangan (where the movie “The Beach” was supposedly inspired.)

Haat Rim beach, as seen from the hills (where we attempted to hike through the jungle to the next beach... after 3 hours in the woods we came back!)
Haat Rim beach, as seen from the hills (where we attempted to hike through the jungle to the next beach... after 3 hours in the woods we came back!)

The last week has been too fun. Ko Phangan can party, and apparently so can I. Living on the beach in bungalows never gets old. Nor does sleeping out in hammocks, going to a new beach or two every day, and hopping in pickup trucks outside 7 Eleven to all nite parties with beach friends. The clock doesn’t matter here, as life happens in whatever time it pleases. I actually rented a scooter to get around the island, and it was so fun to ride, not having used my own in about a year! Yesterday, when I got it, I rode 95km, exploring and swimming around the island like crazy! The beach I swam in this morning, Hat Yao, topped them all, competing for the best ever with those of Hawaii. (I’d say the aesthetic of cliffs sharply rising everywhere make these even more spectacular, not to mention the swiss family robinson tree houses, natural bungalows and bridges connecting them.) I’m smitten.

I actually headed down south to work at an Organic Shrimp and Oyster Farm, would have been my fifth in Thailand, but it wasn’t meant to be. So I’ll take a 2.5 week vacation on the beach as a consolation prize. You might not hear from me again until I’m back home for Burning Man!! I still intend to fly back after to New Zealand for my next Big adventure, but as of yet flights are not booked. We’ll see where the planes, trains and autos take me!

Where The Bamboo Grows

Saturday, July. 11, 5:02 PM
Pai, Thailand

music: Black Moth Super Rainbow’s “satanstompingcaterpillars” album

It’s official… I’m in one of those places where time whizzes by. I’m surprised that it’s Saturday, thought it was still mid-week. As soon as I woke-up, I jumped in the pickup with 5 others and we headed off into the forest to collect bamboo for a new bridge. I had a tiny preview while at Second Home at how building with bamboo is quite involved, especially the part where you pick it!

What a task… first we drove down a long dirt road (painfully, as sitting in the back of the pickup is no luxury) which winded through soybean country for at least 20 minutes. We parked, set out through the soybeans and into the green forest with 4 machetes, and cut down… 50 big bamboos? A LOT. Then we chopped them into 4 foot pieces, then split each 12-16 times (depending on their width) to make 1 inch bamboo slats. How many did we make you ask? 500 was the goal, we made over 700. To be honest, the two Yon hilltribe laborers did a majority of the hard work… while the 4 of us phalang had to rest at regular intervals. It was seriously hard work, and after 4.5 hours I hit a wall… so the next couple hours were the hardest to keep going, especially the part where we carried the tied bundles out of the forest on our shoulders and backs. In addition to the bundles of slats we prepared, there were also had about 30 8-foot hunks (like 2x4s but way thicker) to use for bridge supports, of which I could barely carry 3 at once but the Yons each carried six at a time! I wish I had a picture… I carried my last bundle on my shoulders behind my neck, with my arms up and to the sides… Tom laughed that I looked crucified… haha, I felt like it!

a <em>phalong</em> looking on while the hilltribe people work tirelessly... as usual!
a phalong looking on while the hilltribe people work tirelessly... as usual!

Besides being hard work, the day brought many small pleasures as well. The bamboo forest was really pretty, with a million greens (including various butterflies, some bright lime green and white, others bearing a broader spectrum of bright greens, or completely yellow. A stream ran by our worksite, and Sandot (the ‘dad’ of TacomPai) suggested we made a dam there to feed the surrounding forest (which we’ve just stripped of 50 of it’s finest, really a drop in the bucket though so to speak!) Within an hour we made a fine dam that filled-up knee-deep, and I was so inspired to make one like it for my turtle baby back home!

forest pond, prototype for Axl's future chateau
forest pond, prototype for Axl's future chateau

Sandot brought a lunch for us to all to share… sticky rice, pumpkin curry, and pickled vegatables. He laid out a table of large leaves which he cleaned in the pond we made, and the laborers deftly carved out bamboo plates and chopsticks for us to use. Amazing! Also simply amazing were the water flutes he brought out, bamboo of course, cut to arms length and tied with bamboo string to make a sling, with little holes poked between the sections to keep the water-in and from splashing while being carrying around… it just astonishes me that Everything here (in TacomePai world, at least) is made of two things: Bamboo and/or Teak, both of which are Everything you need for beautiful and practical living.

Also fun was the ride back… imagine a pickup loaded with bamboo, but carrying 7 people (me sitting on the back, barely holding on throughout the 30-minute return drive, which felt just like a jungle safari. We drove very slow, up and down the hilly and badly eroded dirt road, as not to loosen the tied up lumber and precariously balancing phalang in the back. Dog tired, and still crawling with ants (me oh my, so many ants!), I felt peaceful and happily depleted, hanging on and taking in the scenery that money can’t buy in the West. I imagined this life, working hard in paradise every day, building things with only hands, machetes, bamboo and teak, a constant labor of love and purpose. (I also imagined, if this was my job, quitting after 3, no 2, maybe one day!) Haha. Lazy phalang I am, dwarfed in my capacity by these remarkable and capable, smiling workers.

My evening had a cool refreshing destiny named beer. A bunch of us (3 on a motorbike) rode into Pai for a drink and some live music. The beers, (two, in moderation), quenched my well-used body like liquid gold, and the 2 musicians who played at the TacomPai music festival, right here, last fall, were great. A place I heard about, Mama Falafel, kept tantalizing my mind and tummy, so eventually I set out with a friend to find it. When we found it it was 10:30pm and they looked like they were closing, but I implored “please don’t tell us No!” and the smiling Thai couple said Ok, falafel sandwich? Mmmmmm… for the next ten minutes I watched his culinary alchemy, making me the tastiest falafel sandwich I can recall ever, fresh. He fired-up the fryer, spooned-out fresh falafel balls and cut french fries (which went inside the sandwich too, Israeli style). He chopped up 3 fresh tomatoes and 2 cucumbers, spooned out tahini and very special home-made feta cheese… as I ate it my Mmmmms were uncontrollable, and my belly was full into the morning. Two notes about this meal: first, it was perhaps the tastiest falafel ever, due to it’s freshness and love. Secondly, though, I got uncomfortably full, my tummy hurt a couple hours later, I was burping and tasting it over and over, and I realized at once what I love and hate about western food: it’s so tasty and pleasurable going down, but you feel like crap afterwards, with an over-stuffed and bloated tummy, and bad breath to remind you what you’ve just done to yourself. In contrast to the fresh and healthy rice and noodle meals I’ve grown accustomed to eating every meal, this was borderline disgusting. I’m happy to have been reminded about the dark side of the home food I sometimes lust for… instilling a deeper contentment with how good I have it right now eating locally.

I stayed up chatting again with Leo in the moonlight treehouse, our routine for the last 5 nights. TacomePai is a special place, indeed, ever more beautiful and complete than the fancy polished junk in neighboring Pai… out in the forest life is so good, simple and best that I know.