Rambling Robert's Travels

This blog chronicals the travels of myself, Rambling Robert, on my next adventure to South America.

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I am a world traveller. I do not work as such. I have been homeless and unemployed since 1October 2003. I worked as a chef for 30 years in America.

Monday, January 28, 2008

greetings from Bangkok

Hello Everyone,
I am in Bangkok thailand again. Sincer my last update in Luang Pra Bang Laos, I have crossed the border back into this country and now here I am again! I came via Nong Kai, a border town on the Thai side of the Mekong river. Unlike most fronteir towns I have been to, this is rally a nice place! Often how much one likes a place is directly correlated to the people one meets.
So I arrived after dark and after an argument with my tuk tuk driver I had him take me to the hotel of my choice. Often the drivers dont want to take you where you want to go. Usually they want to take the unsuspecting traveler to a more expensive place where the people give the driver a commission, which of course you pay in the form of a higher room tarrif. Of course this is always more likely to happen in a border town or at the airport because the driver thinks you have just arrived and dont know what is up.
So anyway, I get to my place and they have only one room left. I am glad the argument didnt last very long as while I was checking in two more travellers showed up and were told the place was full. I was meant to meet up with a buddhist yoga teacher whom I had met at Wat Suan Mok, but he never returned my e-mails and so i didnt have a free place to stay as I had originally planned.
As I was entering the hotel there were 3 french guys there drinking some Johnny Walker Red. After putting my stuff in my room I came down stairs and joined them. Well as many of you know, i dont hardly drink much at all anymore. And as some of you know this is because I have a tendency to be "a lot easier to start than to stop". This proved to be the case.
After polishing off the first bottle we switched to 100 Pipers and then after that was gone, and the liqor store was closed, we staggered to the nearest bar to indulge in some Sam Song(Thai Rum). I dont know how much I had. I am still wondering how I found my way back to the hotel.It was a good night and the next day I was told that I was a good sport and that I have a good singing voice...
Phillipe was the sober frenchmen of the group and the next day we took off on rented bicycles and explored the whole town. I mean the whole town. I extracted quite a bit of 80proof sweat let me tell you!!
Phillipe has been living there for a month or so and he knew all the good spots. first I went to the train station and got a train ticket to Bangkok. then we took off to the morning market and looked at all cool stuff. Then to a vegetarian restaurant. Then off into the country side on dirt roads through rice paddies and beautiful nature. Thailand is so lovely. Finally he stops and says there is a village about 5 km up the road where we can get something cold to drink. he picks up a stick about 2 meters long breaks it in half and gives me half.
As we get near civilization, all these dogs start chasing us with their teeth bared and barking and growling. happens all the time. You wave the stick at them like your gonna whack them a good one on the head and they leave you alone!! See what I mean? Sometimes your whole experience is shaped by the people you make friends with on the way! good 'ol Phillipe. Saved my ass from a very negative experience!
After a cold coca cola and a little rest and chat with the local thai people, we biked back into Nong Kai and found sala kaew koo...One of the coolest and most interesting places I have been to in all of Asia!! No kidding!!The grounds are filled with strange Gigantic statutes depicting scenes and characters from the Buddhist and Hindu lore. this sculptor guy lived with a hermit for like 10 years. The hermit died and he emerged and stated making these enormous statues of buddhist images and divas and hindu godds and the like, in a little garden near Vien Tien Laos. during the '70s he moved to Nong Kai because of the war, and continued his extraordinarry work. Absolutely mind boggling. Truly an amazing place. I just cant put it into words. Imagine going to Angkor Wat 1000 years ago when it was new! if you are ever anywhere near this place... Go!!
Next day I spent resting my legs from biking 100km or whatever tit was, and hanging around on the very pleasant walk way along the Mekong, shopping in the market, and then boarding the overnight train to Bangkok.
Philipe gave me his e-mail and invited me to visit him in Morrocco next time i get to North Africa He bought a house there and now he will live there half the year. In Cheftouan. Cheftouan i asked???!!! Yes he said with a big old grin!Okay, okay. I will visit.
Cheftouan for those of you unfamiliar with it, is the place where about 75% of all the hashish and kif in Europe comes from and I had myself a dandy time the last time I was there. Good 'ol Phillipe. Sometimes the whole experience depends on the people you meet, know what I mean?
so I get on the train and I see a real pretty girl right near me and say hi. Do I know you? it turns out she was on line in front of me at the ticket window for the train 2 days ago. She is from the Channel islands and is named Jennifer. I told her I had never met anyone from a Bailiwick before! She was very impressed that I even had heard of the channel islands let alone that I knew it was a bailiwick.
She has the lower birth and I the upper berth of our sleeper compartment and we became buddies. She is going to BK to get a new passport as hers is now lost. In the morning we say goodbye and I step into Bangkok and find the 53 bus stop to get to Koh San Road.
At the stop there is an american guy with a saxophone case. We start talking about Jazz and sit on the bus together and I am gonna take him to the guest house where i will stay and as we are walking down Ko San Road, There is Lee the guy I was gonna visit in Nong Khai, walking our way! he sees me and smiles and says "Whooaahh! Robert! is that you?!?!" Milo, (the sax player) turns to me and says "do you know Lee?" Bloody hell! Well like I say, sometimes the whole experience just depends on who you meet along the way, huh?
Now after this I meet up with good old Peta who I had planned to meet anyway. She got my message and is in the guesthouse where me and Milo have gone to. I have traveled with Peta in Turkey in 2004 and Egypt and Jordan in 2006 and now Thailand in 2008. We go around Bangkok for a couple of days and then she heads off to Laos. I am walking down the street when I bump into Jennifer from the train who is walking with Lieven my travelling buddy form 5 towns in Laos and now we are going around exploring Bangkok together! Small world you think? wait it gets better...
I am in a little sleazy joint called Mamas place owned by a 70 year old lady boy, when a guy comes up to meand in a thick french accent and says "Do i know you?" I say maybe...I have been here in South East Asia for about 8 months now and..."No. No" he says. "Were you in Colombia in 2005?" Aye Zukes!! I dont even know what to say. so I say yes...He says "are you a chef?"...
We met at the Palm hostel in Medellin where he and a group of other frenchies were staying. there was a kitchen there and they were watching me cook one night and just couldnt believe that i wasnt french!! i cant believe he remembered me and recognized me after all this time and distance. Sometimes the whole experience just depends on the people you meet along the way, huh?
Everyone who is on this mailing list is someone I have met along the way. The road goes on forever and the highway never stops. I hope i see each of you again somewhere someday. Usually i end these udpates with a quote or two. this time I will share with you all a poem I wrote around christmas time in 2005 in San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua
Peace Love and Happiness to all of you,
Throw your TV out the window
Find yourself un playa linda
get your head out of the fog
call your boss and quit your job

Dont believe the lies that youve been told
Your way too young to act so old
Buy a cybertick today
Click the box that says "one way"
strap a rucksack on your back
Board your flight and dont look back

string a hammock on the seashore
Why not live a life of leisure?
Find a quiet place to be
Sit down underneath a Buddha tree
And let the silence set you free

Theres a simpler life to lead
All the things you long to be
Dont mean shit until your free
Theres a path to paradise
Do whats right is my advice
Try to think outside the box
Thats the key to freedoms locks

Sunday, January 13, 2008

travel update from Louang prabang Laos

Hello everyone,
I am in Luang Prabang, a small city of about 30thousand people on the mekong river in North Central laos. Tonite is my third night here and I expect to be here for 3 more nights and then I will go back to Thailand.
since my last update I have been travelling North from Don Det first to Pakse. From Pakse i went to the bolevan plateau, which is a praticularly beautiful part of this particularly beautiful country! this is where most of the coffee and tea that is produced in Laos comes from. They grow 4 kinds of delicious coffee here. I was with a little group of peoplle in a tour arranged by Saibadee 2 guest house which is where I stayed, both times in Pakse, firts time on my way South to Don Det and then on my way North to Phonsavan. the green teas and the coffees we tasted were first quality. I dare to say the tea is even better than the malaysian tea from the Cameron Highlands that I had been so impressed with.
the bolevan plateau is also home to many "minority" tribal peoples. we visited a couple of villages where the minority folks live. it was very intersting. These people are mostle "Animists" so they worship the spirits of their dead ancestors. this is a religious system not uncommon in ancient asia. it pre-dates inuism and buddhims. The main religion here is buddhims now. but a lot of the more isolated tribes are still animist. They keep these coffins under their houses with the dead bodies of their expired family members for about 10 years. When they die they have a big feat and get wasted on a potent form of rice whiskey called Lao Lao. Then they put the remains of the departed loved one in the coffin and seal it up and after 10 years they unseal it and bury the bones. go figure!
They also smoke home grown tobacco out of a bamboo water pipe called a bong. I of course sat down with an old woman with only 2 rather rotten looking brownish reddish teeth and had a smoke. the local villagers found this quite amusing. I, being not at all acusttomed to tobacco get quite dizzy and a little off balance. I tried to keep up but called it quits after 5 or 6 good hits. I just dont see the appeal of this particular drug although I smoked camel filters as a youth...
The people in these villages have lived here for many generations. Aye Zukes for centuries, and they feel that their ancestral spirits are part of the earth.. they have "modern" schools where the youngsters all learn to read and write lao and also maths and sciences. i think the majority lao people are quite tolerant of the tribals but it is hard to say. the government here tolerates zero dissent and no criticism. the villagers all seem happy and healthy although dental hygiene is aparently unheard of.
The real joy of the bolevan plateau as with so much of Laos is the undescribably beautiful waterfalls. Since they are undescribable i wont try. We went and looked at two and the most spectacualr was at Tad Lo. another minority village, but this one has guesthouses and paved roads. As we were walking along among the white water on the marked trail, along came two villagers riding on elephants.
They were females and had no tusks. the guide explained that they are used as beasts of burden and work with the farmers. In ancient times An old king took a census and determined that Laos had one million elephants! now fewer than 2000 remain. Our guide wasnt sure but he thought there were no wild elephants left in Laos. Human encroachment and UXOs have killed them off. Pity.
From Pakse I continued north back to Savanaket for 2 days. I became travelling mates with a fellow named Marcelle from Holland in Pakse and we were on the same tour in Bolevan Platuau and shared a tuk tuk to Savanaket with another cool traveler named Leiven from Belgium. We determined to stay at the same guest house which was a good choice (i have forgotten the name) and were all going to rent bicycles and go to a buddhist stupa the next day.
Leiven was sick with some kind of travellers lower G.I. problem. and needed to be not moree than 5 metersfromthe nearest toilet, and so marcel and I rented bikes and off we wetn. It was abuot 30 km (24miles) there and back. Going there it was slightly up hill. Aye chingaso i aint so young anymore!! i huffed and Puffed and the weather was cool and breezy and it was a good exercise, for an old guy!! The bikes were not what you would call high tech, they had only one speed and it was a strain but the route was beautiful and i am glad i did it.
The stupa was okay. A stupa is like a tomb where the buddhists put relics of old saints and holy men and enlightened monks. A solemn place with lots of incense and candles and gold gilt statues. I gave a donation and an old nun said some prayers and tied a little braided string on my wrist. it is white and made of 32 strings which represent the 32 spirtis they believe inhabit a human being. this is supposed to be good luck. so far I am feeling pretty lucky!!
Next day I went north again this time to VangVien. I had been here in 2004 in the first year of my journey. The town has changed dramatically. I guess you would say for the etter. There is a lot of modernization happening here. I think the government is trying hard to benefit the people.
This town is a little pricier than it was last time but still very cheap. All the roads are paved which was NOT the case last time. It is still a lovely town and I recommentd it for anyone in this part of the world. A lazy hang around kind of place that is famous for people taking inner tube rides down the beautiful river. It used to be a big druggie hang out but there are signs up everywhere that smoking spliffes is not tolerated and the locals warn against it. 5 year priseon terms could result.The word is that If the local gendarmes see you they will demand a 500 USD "fine" on the spot. they dont take plastic and they dont give reciepts and if you dont got the dough you go to the can!! Here I met up with Leiven again and a cool Austrian green party political scientist named Kurt. We travelled together to Phonsavan.
Phonsavan is the main reason i came back to Laos. Ever since i was a teenager i have wanted to see the plain of Jars. I hearde about it during the Vietnam American war here called the second indochine war. the French wre incensed because they said America was bombing the Jars. Nixon denied it.I looked it up in an encyclopedia.(We didnt have interent when I was a teenager!) the jars are betwen 2500 and 3000 years old. no one really knows who built them or why. the largest is about 2 meters tall (6.5feet) and weighs 3 metric tonnes (6500 pounds). they are indeed a very curious site. I dont know really why I wanted to see them but I always have wanted to and so I did. It wasnt as impressive as I had built it up to be in my mind. but still well worth the journey and effort.
The truth is that indeed we did bomb the plain of jars. it was a secret at the time. but now a well know fact. The area is littered with thousands of UXOs(unexploded ordnance). this is the most bombed part of the world. More bombs were dropped secretly on Laos than all the tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan in World war two. This bombing was against international and American law.The past is done.
The problem is that most of the bombs (not all) were CBUs. Cluster Bomb Units. they disperse little hand grenade size bomblets called bombies by the locals and only about 70%detonated. The UXOs are then land mines. If you step on one it is curtains for you!
There are said to be over a million UXOs still here. You must walk only on the paths marked by the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). it is weird to be walking through a minefield, even a marked one. In each of the three Jars sites I visited, the MAG has a big poster telling how many square meters they have cleard and how many bombies were found and detonated. The lowest number was 22. The only areas cleared are the pathway to the sites and the sites themselves which are fenced in with bamboo poles and barbed wire.
Except for the Jars and all the war junk left (we also visited a destroyed russian tank)behind, Phonsavan is not very intersting and so after two nights i went to Luang Probang which is where I am writing this update from.
I was here in 2004 also, and this place has really grown! it is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is a beautiful old Provincial capital and just filled with extraordinary colonial architecture and beautiful buddhist temples and I love this town, although I sadly admit it is an overpriced (by Lao standards) tourist trap now. I will still be here for 5 days and 6 nights because...well because I just love this town! I am staying in Moukdavan guest house, which is the same place i stayed in last time. I even got the same "mini suite" as last time. It is a beautiful old French colonial home. that is all for now. Next update from thailand.
As always I will leave you with a couple of quotes.
Peace and Love to all who read these words
"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."-Martin Luther King
On the authority of Anas bin Malik, the servant of the messenger of Allah, that the prophet said :
"None of you [truely] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

first update of 008 from DPR Laos

Happy New year everyone.
I am writing to you all from the Democratic Peoples Republic of Laos. A country where they let the people read my blog on the internet!! The censorship problem is only in Viet Nam. I have been here for about 10 or 12 days. I am now in Pakse. I have just gotten here from Don Det, a tiny island in the delta of the Mekong river, in South Laos, near the Cambodian Border.
I was on Don Det from 23/12/007 until today. this little island is part of the "4000 islands". It is an undeveloped tourist area. The people live a life of subsistence most of them are fisher folk or rice farmers, and are ruled (locally ) by a tribal cheif who is a cool guy. I drank "beau coupe" Beer Laos with him on New Year Eve. The kind of guy you can have a meaningful conversation with even though he doesnt speak any english and I no Lao. We kept clicking our plastic cups and drinking beer shots. This is how one drinks beer in Laos: A table of 6 or 8 people buy a case of beer and its brought to the table with 2 plastic cups. someone purs enough beer in your cup for a big one-hitter and you belt it down, being careful to leave a little bit which you throw out on the floor and pass the cup back for the next guy. so at the end of the night you have no idea how much beer you have had.
I think the chief was into my bald head because he kept rubbing it and giggling and called over some friends of his to rub it too...he is not only the chief of the tribe, the village and the island, but also the chief of police, so I felt it best to just drink up and laugh along with the boyz though I have no idea what we were laughting about or what they were saying, but I think it was all good. Reminded me of the time I met the mayor of Istambul, well...same same but different...
So Don Det has no paved roads, they have no eletricity, no cars, no noise and no hassels. I had a lovely and relaxing 10 days and met some very cool people on the island on my last 3 days or so. until then, I felt a little alienated, most of the people that were on Don Det seemed to be sight seers. Not so many long term travellers. One of the things I like about Asia is, especially among the long time truckers, you meet a lot of "spiritual seekers" here. But I was just meeting booze up, smoke up, sight seers and it was starting to make me feel a little blue.
I was at Mr Phao's guest house and rented a little bungalow for $2.10 USD per night. . the two big attractions there are two fantastic waterfalls, and the rare and enchanting irriwadi dolphins.
These fresh water dolphins attract nature loveing shutter-bugs and amatuer nature photographers from all corners of the known world. You pay 8 USD and go out in a boat and they point them out to you and you see them doing their dolphin thing. The ones I saw were a little smaller than ocean dolphins and otherwise seemed just the same as their sea going relatives. a little dissapointing actually...The waterfalls were great. too intense to swim in. like swimming in Niagra falls eh? but spectacular. I actually liked the smaller (even though it was huge) one better.
Other than that I have been hanging out in the hammock and reading books and playing table tennis and taking walks and bicycle rides. It is dry season so the terrain isnt as green, but there are very few mosquitos. It has been real warm like 34 in the day and 20 at night. So thats 90 and 60 to the folks in USA. shorts and tanktop weather, and I got to swim in the mekong, which was fun too.
I met a few chefs here. A young Finnish guy who really really likes to drink. Strange. before he got into cheffing he was a yoga teacher. I saw him meditating in front of his bungalow one morning and asked him if he had explored buddhism here in South East Asia. A topic that is near and dear to my heart. He was like " Oh, I dont really give a shit about that. Anyone who thinks drinking is bad, well what can I say" he says with a big grin on his face...I like to meditate though.." So we talked about food instead.
Then I met a totally cool English guy (called Minnie) who looks like Keith Richard did when Keith looked good, and he had been a chef in England for like 10 years and then gone to Sweden and cooked there for 10 more and played rock and roll when he wasnt cooking and now he was in Laos, married to a Lao woman and has a guest house and a restaurant ( called King Khong) with a ping pong table and a couple of guitars lying about and he makes good english tea with ginger and honey and taught me how to make the Lao specialty called Laap and everyone in his guesthouse eats together and they are all into ayurvedic medicines and herbal natural healing and buddhism and the like and I just felt at home all over again. I had found my Sangha. These were the folks I had New Years with.
Food had been nice there to. I was eating a lot of rice noodles stir fried or in soups and curry veggies with sticky rice. Tried some pumpkin burgers too. a really tasty treat they was, indeed. There is an Aussie guy there who had a bakery and he made very fine cinnamon rolls and well you get the picture, eh?
They drink a spirit here that is reminiscent of lighter fluid mixed with turpentine, called lao lao. I definitely recommend you cross the street and run away if anyone offers you any. The beer is the best in Asia so lots of drunken revelry on New years eve. I stopped short of getting drunk but did enjoy watching the others making complete eejits of themselves. Ahh "what the gecko" its new years right?
here are some quotes before I go. fi am going waterfalling and checking out some old buddhist wats tomorrow and visitng some coffee plantations on a (uuughhh) tour group!! so I am outta here. Next update from the Plain of Jars.Oh yes, special big big thanks to Jan in Amsterdam and Al in Turkey for writing and telling me about Don Det. If any one knows good places to go that are near to where I am I appreciate hearing from you
Peace and love to all who read these words.
"He that gives should not remember, he that receives should never forget." Talmud
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."Henry David Thoreau published in 1854,