Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rice Harvest Festival

I arrived in Pai at Tacomepai Organic Farm just in time for the rice harvest festival.
3 days of cultural music, dance and rice harvest activities.

Rice bashing was just one of the activities and it created a very surreal effect to be bashing the stalks against a wooden table under the moonlight. Rice grains flying everywhere and smiling faces flickered like candles reflecting the light of huge torches that burned through the night. Music of hill tribes was echoing across the harvested fields and dance kept our feet and spirits light.

The harvest festival would be the first of many rewarding cultural experiences I might have missed if it weren't for Sandot and his organic farm, Tacomepai.

See a slideshow above. Click on a picture to see the larger version...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Same Same, But Different!

The famous phrase "same same, but different" uttered at least 10 times a day in Laos can really sum up the similarities between Thailand and Laos.

Food, speech and culture are very closely related yet the mindset of the people seems to be different. The culture in Laos is much more relaxed. In Thailand pronouncing words with the wrong intonation leaves people blank faced like you are speaking some alien tongue, in Laos the people seem to understand and accept falang speech.

Laos is pronounced 'Lao' if you're wondering...

Vientiane the capital city boasts the Laos version of the Arc de Triumphe... It has 400,000 residents and doesn't really feel like a capital city. There is French influence there and lots of tasty international cuisine. I had a 4 course delicious French meal complete with red wine, crème brûlée, salad and baked fish with a tasty cream sauce... the only problem the cost (about $10 USD) was quite high for Laos...

A better deal and much tastier fare was the Indian/Pakastani food from the Zahid Family Restaurant. A family restaurant indeed as it is basically out in the yard of their house with picnic tables and plastic chairs. The best part, the smiles and delicious food. People write reviews and leave them on the wall... one reads "If this curry was a woman she would be fit as. This curry has changed my life" Signed Johhny from the UK.

Escaping Vientiane I reached Vang Vieng a raucous party town where I went rock climbing and cave exploring and of course sampling the local Lao Lao whiskey.

The best part of the adventure was working my way up the Mekong on a 2 day slowboat trip. The terrain changed from mountains and steep walled ravines to flatter farm land as we neared Huay Xai. The boat cruised along winding its way along the river like an eel, avoiding rock outcroppings and submerged logs hidden away below the muddy river. I befriended an Australian who was cruising the country by motorbike, and a couple of newlyweds from Portland.

Peaceful the time eased by. Tranquil compared to the trip the crash helmet wearing
passengers took on the jetboat that reached the destination in half the time of ours.

Finally I've arrived on the farm in Pai, Northern Thailand where we are preparing for a rice harvest festival.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thai Adventures

When I left Vienna it was snowing.
I wrapped myself in a scarf and walked across the tarmac onto the waiting plane.

Thailand awaited and luckily for me it wasn't snowing there...
Bangkok is a crazy polluted gridlocked city but has some appeal. There are several large parks nearby that offer a bit of calm in the chaos.

Whatever you desire you can find in Bangkok. Including fish massages!

My first impression was that Hawaii and Thailand share a lot of similarities. You can find the same fruits and veggies, the weather is the same and in Hawaii there are lots of Asian influences. The difference is in price. I ate shrimp Pad Thai for 35 Baht or about one American dollar.

The people are friendly and outgoing. Once I left the big city I started to get more wide eyed slackmouthed stares. Farang!

Yes I am a farang or foreigner, less harsh than haole but still a label.
But that is what was needed a farang to teach English. I jumped onboard with a company called doing English Camps for schools. We had dinner with JJ (one of the organizers) and her family. Super scrumptious and quite a feast!

I had a fantastic time playing games and running around with the kids. What really surprised me was how well behaved the kids were. They sat down in perfect rows and were all super respectful.

For me Maui still has the perfect weather but Thailand is not so bad, although it is in the cooler season... Thailand is the first place that I really feel like I could live besides Hawaii. Maybe I could even get a job as a stunt double for this Thai movie star everyone thinks I look like: Ananda.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vienna at the Opera complete with Pierogi and Knüdle

I don't believe I've ever been to an Opera, so it was quite a treat while I was in Vienna to hit the Staatsoper haus...

The Opera, Nubucco, wasn't a great one but the Staatsoper was grand. We bought standing tickets for 4 euros and then luckily found empty seats at the intermission.

Vienna is a great city though. It is along the Danube, has lots of interesting people living there and is very artistically and musically aligned.
You can walk down the street and you'll hear beautiful music wafting through the air. Not your normal grungy hippy with a guitar but tuxedo wearing music students trying to get their name out.

I felt Vienna was much more alive and interesting that say Budapest. People at least seem happier in Vienna.

We had dinner with some couchsurfers, Pierogi to be exact a Polish dish. I was very interested in their apartment. They had 12 rooms and in this apartment there is a mix of young and old. Or college students and elderly. A sort of community where you can mix the elder wisdom with some youthful spirit.

I loved this idea and think that more people should pay attention to their grandparents and people who have lived life much more than themselves. In our day and age people devalue that wisdom because maybe your grandpa doesn't know how to use a computer or they didn't grow up with cell phones. We'll see how the experiment goes. I'll hope for the best.

Andrea cooked a farewell meal of Knüdle. Mmmm mmm I am going to make it sometime because it is delicious. They are dumpling or packages of food with the wrapper made of potato. Of course it was served with kraut!

I was sad to say goodbye to the city, the friends I made and Andrea. Until the next adventure...

The morning of my departure during breakfast I had a feeling which caused me to look out the window. Drifting through the sky were white specks. Little snowflakes carried by the wind. I ran over and watched as their suicide course brought them in contact with the window where they melted in an instant.

It was a nice but I felt like I was leaving just in time, heading to warmer waters and sun...

Serbia will Rakia

I caught a ride down from Budapest to Serbia with a friend's Uncle from Chicago. I went to Budapest on a whim and to Serbia as well.
He offered to drive and I jumped in and off to a country I never thought I would visit.

Very glad I did. The food was tasty and the people friendly. I love how alive the city is. People are in the streets, laughing, yelling, swearing and drinking coffee along a main pedestrian street. Every day is like a Saturday and every night is like a Friday night in Belgrade, the capital. A beautiful, even if a little unkempt, city that is bordered by the confluence of two rivers. The Danube and the Sava are both large rivers and add an interesting aesthetic to the city.

I loved going to riverboat bars and walking around the old city and fort. For a country that we launched missiles at not too long ago I got past the border without a hitch.

While there I sampled the local plum brandy or Rakia. Very tasty and boy ohh boy is it strong. You'll see old men sitting with their coffee, newspaper and cigarette in the morning and downing shots of Rakia. It is more than just an alcohol it is a tradition. I can tell it comes in handy when in such a cold country because it instantly warms you up.

The food I mentioned earlier is very tasty albeit greasy. Pljeskavica, Burek, Ćevapčići, Kajmak... I will say that while eating the Ćevapčići I could tell my heart was struggling, it was soo rich.

Good times and good people. I was talking to my good friend Ben and he said it best.
People don't want war and conflict, they want BBQs and babies...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Croatian Sunsets and Pirate Ships

I am glad I stayed in Zadar, it is a beautiful city. A romantic place full of picturesque sunsets and cozy cafes along old streets. Aye but vast bodies of water tend to get my blood flowing so maybe it was being reunited with the sea that captivated me.

I boarded an old pirate boat. A tour around the islands, Kornati and the National Park there.

The sea lapped at the walls surrounding the old city as we set sail. It was early but were greeted with by a tall man with a striped shirt and a friendly face, our captain, a pirate. First things first, even though it was barely past 8am in the morning, we started with a shot of Rakia, the local moonshine. This particular variety was reminiscent of diesel fuel with a plum finish. I believe Rakia is about 80% alcohol and can easily knock an unsuspecting landlubber on their ass.

The helm was made of wood and looked as you would imagine an old steering wheel to look like. Varnished wood with knobs sticking out of a central circle. The feel of the helm felt right in my hands. I accepted the opportunity to navigate that pirate ship through the waters off the coast of Croatia. I accepted my place as captain.

I poured over the chart which had our course laid out and maneuvered us between small islands leaving a snake shaped ripples in our wake. We were sailing to Kornati and I had as my crew a random assortment of Europeans. Germans, Sweedish, Polish, Croats, Spanish, a guy from Hong Kong and me, the pirate from Hawaii at the helm.

The snug weight of a captains hat rested on my head. I wore it like a crown. King of the ocean. I would be a benevolent dictator. Protecting the natural resources and winning the hearts of my subjects with charm and kind leadership. Ahh but those are daydreams for another time. There is the sea to explore and a job to be done.

Salty sea air rushed past and the taste of wine lingered on my lips as my grasp tightened around the helm. Yes once again I find myself at home.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rocking in the former Yugoslavia

I'm in Slovenija, the city of Celje (the j is pronounced like a y) and really enjoying the people and culture. There is still a connection to Serbia in the music. The people and the music are linked through rock.

I spent the last few nights with an awesome group of art, theatre and music fiends. We drank Laško (the local beer) and sang old Serbian rock songs late into the night. You can meet the most genuine people as you travel. People who have heart and stand for their ideals.

My host, Patricija, and her family are superb and super friendly. It was fun to see a photoshopped picture of her parents getting married on a beach in Hawaii.

Most people here speak English very well (the Slovene language is difficult to learn) although, along with the language, people seem to have embraced the US and British consumer culture. Large shopping centers spring up everywhere in a country where the average yearly earnings are around 12,000 euros a year. At least university is free and people receive a nice pension when the retire.

Before the Balkan karaoke we had a poetry slam. I told some Hawaiian myths and then listened to the rhyming rhythms of Slovene poetry. Some of it was kindly translated into English although most of the time I just enjoyed the laughter and expressions of those participating. It is really inspiring to be in a small city without much going on for the youth and to have people creating community and bringing art and culture out and engaging their friends. Patricija and her friends are the catalyst that ignites the creativity of the city.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Italia Farm Stay

I'm in Italy in a small town near Sora (2 hours S.E of Roma) I'm staying on an agro-tourism farm and working a bit. Its a nice relaxing way to pass the time outside of the hustle and bustle of the cities. I was getting too burnt out on running back and forth. Catching metros and spending money for everything.

It is warm enough at night so I'm sleeping on the roof of this old 300 year old farm house. Apparently Austrian soldiers stayed in it during the war.

The farm I'm staying at is a little experiment and side project off the main farmstay. We are building a herb spiral based on some permaculture principles like stacking functions and plant guilds. Finding plants that work well together and are beneficial to the communities success.

Permaculture is well worth checking into if you like the idea of growing food for yourself in an long term beneficial way. One book in particular is nice for the backyard gardener and I recommend it highly. Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

From Moroc with Love

Wow I didn't expect to find myself on the African continent.
Strange but good.

I spent the last couple of days hanging out in the small village of Ait Hamza about 3hours from Fes. I'm couchsurfing with a couple PeaceCorps volunteers, Naima and Naddia. I definitely love it.

The benefits of escaping the big cities and tourist traps are many. There are disadvantages but they number only a few.
Yesterday we hiked and explored the mountains around the town after enjoying a fantastic cous cous prepared by friends of Naddia.

Today marks the first day of Ramadan. I'm fasting along with everyone else. You may not drink or eat anything during the day for 1 month. I'll only participate for a day as tomorrow I fly out to Spain. The morning started by drumming at 3am outside of everyones doors to do the only thing that drums at 3am are good for.. Waking ever living soul up. This kind gesture was to remind us to eat before the sun rose so that we'd have a bit of strength to carry ourselves through the day.

Tonight we will join a family that Naddia works with at the weavers collective to break fast. (The 3am meal is dinner by the way)

While I've been thrown completely out of my element in Morocco I am oddly drawn to it. Possibly I could get to understand and appreciate bucket baths and pit toilets.
I already appreciate the people and find many similarities in regards to family (ohana) and hospitality between Hawaii and Morocco. People here are generous to a fault. I sat eating the cous cous with an elderly woman with 3 teeth and others of her family. She kept telling me to eat eat! or tcha tcha (in Tamazight a Berber language) I ate and ate to the amuzement of my Peace Corps friends. They told me that food would be forced upon me until I popped or just plain stopped eating.

I did learn how to make a cous cous ball (the proper way to eat it by the way) from the woman. She was very happy to see me finally accomplish the task of making one. She also joked that I had hair like a woman but I took that and the toothless smiles as compliments.

Till next time!

Rock jumping and camels on the beach. Devils Rock.

Fess and Barka two couchsurfers I stayed with in Agadir.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Morocco: Fez to Marrakech

WOW! Morocco is a world upon itself that I did not expect. Crowded markets and tourist traps.

Fez was too crowded and insane for me. The Medina there is made up of 3000 unamed streets that wind in and out and can be quite daunting to find the way back to the main street.

Right now in Morocco I hear the call to prayer. The 5 times daily call reminds those to pray and worship no other god but GOD. To rise up for prayer and salvation.

I flew to Fez and caught an 8hour train to Marrakech. They oversell the tickets so there were people standing in the aisle and imbetween the seats. I sat next to a really nice Moroccan family that didn't speak a lick of english. They offered me food and I offered them mine. People in Morocco are very friendly and warm hearted.

In Fes a young boy showed me around the Medina and took me to expensive shops and restaurants where he earned a commission if I bought anything. It can be much more expensive in Morocco than one would imagine. It is best to avoid the touristy areas. But even areas away from the medina there are those who want you to buy carpets and hash from them. The trick is to be polite but firm.

Today I will venture off into the Medina with some other travellers and a friend who lives in Marrakech to see the sights. To experience the complex tourist trap that is the Moroccan Medina.