Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bamboo Train

For our day in Battambang we hired a driver/guide to show us around. Nick ended up being a great guide, and is the only person I will ever trust to drive me around the washed-out roads of Cambodia on the back of a motor scooter carrying three people.

When I was 16 or so I took a motorcycle safety course back in Ohio. The lessons of that class ring in my ears as I do things like ride a bike in flip flops and shorts down sandy roads, dodging chickens, cattle and helicopter-sized bugs, without a helmet or eye protection and while exceeding the maximum numbers if suggested passengers.


The road itself really was part of the experience. A block out of town the pavement ended and the dust/dirt began. Apparently in Cambodia a road is defined as any path, not clearly obstructed by trees or rocks, but otherwise not constrained by any societal norms. Traffic rules are non-existent. Ox carts, motorbikes, bicycles, traditional mini-tractors and pedestrians may venture forth on either side of the path, or if they like, straight down the middle. The middle seems to be the preferred method, leading to an endless stream of low-speed games of chicken.
After about an hour of riding three deep we arrived at our first real Cambodian temple, Phnom Banan. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was a great primer for the wonders of Angkor Wat that we would experience a few days later. After the temple we stopped by a Buddhist Wat to see some really big bats. I mean REALLY BIG bats.


There was this monk there that I noticed at first because he was smoking - a decidedly un-monk-like habit, but as he came closer I saw that he had the greatest face and he let me take a ridiculous number of photos of him.


From there it was on to the main attraction. Somewhere along the way Jason read about the Bamboo Train. There is an old and seemingly unmaintained railroad outside of Battambang, which supposedly still supports a train from time to time. The enterprising people who live near the tracks have made use of the all-but-abandoned tracks and use make-shift train cars to haul supplies from stop to stop. Somehow this has become a sort of tourist attraction among the more hardy traveling sect.
The cars are made of a two axles supporting a bamboo platform that is about 5’ wide by 10’ long. It is propelled by what looks to me to be a lawnmower engine. The whole contraption can be thrown together or taken apart in about two minutes. This part is key because there is only one track, so cars heading in opposing directions often meet up. The protocol here is that the car carrying less weight must dismantle and allow the heavier to pass.

This system seems to work really well except for around the time we made it to the train. Apparently, many illegal woodcutters use the tracks to haul their contraband. They seem to do this largely at dusk and into the night to avoid running into any police officers. On the evening we boarded the train the police were reported to be at the next station so the wood haulers were all parked halfway between stations, waiting for word that the officers had left. Each of their cars far outweighed ours and they were not about to move on so we could pass. This began a long and intricate game of leapfrog, where we and the four cars behind us would dismantle, push the wood cars behind us, reassemble our cars and move on to the next roadblock.
We did this three or four times before Nick was like, “let’s just ride the bike now”.
The train was a blast – even with the constant hurry up and wait, stop/start pattern it was well worth doing. Those little lawn mower engines can haul and we soon figured out which tracks joints would be smooth to roll over and which ones required us to brace for impact. We traveled through farmland and over a few creeks, got to see lots of local people. It was one of those must do things for us and it lived up to our expectations for sure.
video

Should you find yourself in Battambang I would recommend using Nick – he was a good guide and showed us a great time. sambath_chhim_nick@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Poi Pit/Smoking Pot

I admit it, I am one of those travelers who has her head securely buried in a Lonely Planet every time she hits a new country. During the five-hour bus ride from Bangkok to the Cambodian border I read everything I could about the upcoming border crossing.

Back at Yoga Thailand we met a couple from Sydney, Greg and Emily, who kindly filled us in on the transfer to Angkor Wat and gifted us with their Lonely Planet – Cambodia. From what I had read and heard it sounded easy enough. Head to the boarder, cross over at Poipet, keep your head down, find the bus station and hire a cab to Battambang. Easy Breezy.
Poipet makes Tijuana look like the Four Seasons or border crossings. First you have to deal with corrupt visa officers who will force you to pay $10 more than the clearly posted $20 visa fee. We learned later that you can apparently fight this by causing a scene which will force them to take you into a back room away form the other more placid tourists - in the back room you will be held for a while and once they realize you can’t be swayed they will let you go at the official rate of $20. We didn’t know this and even if we had, I’m not sure I had the fight in me, so we paid $30 each and left knowing we’d been scammed.

Directly at the border there is a very strange array of brand new Casino hotels, shiny white stark contrasts to the dusty, dirt roads 100 meters beyond. No sooner had we crossed through the gates then we were stalked by taxis and tour bus drivers. For the next half hour I became increasingly agitated and abrupt as one particular driver kept leap-frogging us, driving up a block then running back, each time lowering his price and further convincing me that he was part of the Taxi Mafia of Poipet.

Finally, out of desperation to escape the stalking Toyota Camery driver we hopped a Tuk Tuk – big mistake. The driver drove us all around telling everyone where we were going forcing us to fight off increasingly more and more taxi drivers.

When we got to the bus station we sat down and took a much-needed moment to ourselves. I told Jason I felt unsure about taking a taxi, that the stalkers had rattled me, made me think they were all untrustworthy and that maybe we should spend the night in one of the casinos in order to catch the bus in the morning. At least then we could be assured that we were indeed going to Battambang.

Jason managed to talk me off the ledge and convince me that he trusted the eyes of one of the drivers and that as long as we went with him, everything would be okay. We got into to Mr. Nice Eye’s taxi and started heading off in the entirely wrong direction. A few moments later, Nice Eyes dumped us off into the car of Mr. Never Spoke a Word. Drained, defeated and generally pissed off, I acquiesced and accepted my fate. Mercifully, three hours later we arrived in Battambang and checked into a $15/night hovel for which I was eternally grateful.

That evening we had dinner at the Smoking Pot, signed up for a cooking class and hired a tour guide for the following day, all referrals of Greg and Emily’s. I slept like a baby knowing that the entire next day was planned, that I would have to make no decisions, I would not have to fight off any taxi Mafioso, deal with any corrupt border agents and that I would be able pull my head out of the Lonely Planet for a while.
Note: Because my intro to Cambodia was less than stellar, I feel compelled to skip ahead a bit and tell you that this was the ONLY negative experience I have had while in this amazing country. The next day officially began my love affair with Cambodia. In addition today's paper had an article about how the tourism ministry is beginning efforts to clean up Poipet and to regulate the tour and taxi drivers.

Our cooking class began with a shopping trip to the local market. Oh the wonders and horrors of the Battambang street market.

Our instructor masterfully navigated the market, knowing exactly which stalls would have the freshest morning glory, the least smelly fish paste and the still-flopping catfish.

Purchases in hand we traipsed back to the restaurant where cutting boards and mortar and pestles were set out for us. I own a mortar and pestle and until this class I really thought it was just for grinding up peppercorns, but now I know it can make some of the the greatest sauces in the world.
Over the next three hours we produced such delicacies as Chicken Lok Lak, Spicy Basil Beef and my new favorite food, Khmer Vegetable Curry, the recipe for which, I am happy to share with you.
Khmer Vegetable Curry
Curry paste:
2/3c - 1c lemongrass, sliced
(peel outer layer and cut off tops, slice multi-colored portion of stalk into very thin rings)

2T (4 thin slices) fresh turmeric
(If fresh turmeric is not available, substitute with half the amount of powdered turmeric)

3T (6 thin slices) galangal (ginger)

2 kaffir lime leaves (stems removed)

6 cloves of garlic, crushed

6-8 dried red chilies – tops and seeds removed

1c coconut milk
1c water
1-2T sugar (optional)
Fish sauce (or paste) to taste

1 sweet potato, cubed
1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 potato, chopped

Optional additions - 2-4 long beans, 1/2 cubed eggplant, handful of straw mushrooms

1. Pound lemongrass, chili, turmeric, ginger, garlic and lime leaf together with mortar and pestle until a thick and chunky paste is formed.

2. Combine water and coconut milk mixing thoroughly, add to hot wok, heat until water separates from milk on the edges of the pan. Thicker coconut milk will move to the center and edges will boil and appear watery when this is ready – do not stir while heating.
3. Once water has separated add the curry paste and fish sauce, stir until blended.

4. Add vegetables and sugar to sauce. Cook until vegetables are tender, do not over stir. (Coconut oil will begin to separate from the milk, when oil is obvious sauce is ready.)

5. Serve hot with rice.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace.

Peace.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia - Christmas Day 2008

Happy holidays to you all.
Be well, be wise and be joyful.

Rachel

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Who You Calling Mother?

The yoga retreat officially ended Wednesday at noon. Our flight to Bangkok wasn’t until 10pm so we had a whole day to lounge on the beaches of Koh Samui and begin the business of re-toxing as Jason coined it.

He and I strolled down the beach about 300 meters from Yoga Thailand to the Solar Bar, an establishment consisting of basically a lemonade stand with a refrigerator run off a lone solar panel. The proprietor swiftly served us two Singha beers in koozies and announced that he was leaving, but that we could help ourselves, keep a tab and settle up later. So this is how we found ourselves alone on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, with an unending supply of solar-chilled beers. It was a great day.
Another woman from the yoga retreat was headed the same way as us so we became a party of three as we left for the Koh Samui airport. Somewhere we read that Koh Samui’s airport is “the most beautiful airport in Asia” so we had high expectations. While it is lovely in its own way, perhaps a better tag line would be the most surreal airport in Asia. After checking in, you walk down a long street to get to the departure gates. This street looks straight out of any suburban US strip mall, complete with chain stores, cheesy glitter snowflakes, reindeer and Santas. Christmas Carols blared over loudspeakers and we were again the only people around.
Our flight was late and we landed in Bangkok around midnight. Between the three of us we had slightly less than a metric ton of luggage and squeezing everything into one cab was no small feat. Piled in clown-car style our driver headed off for the city. We asked him to turn on the meter a request he actually laughed at. All three of us started yelling… meter, meter, METER!!! He laughed. Finally we made him take us back to the airport and we repeated the clown-car exercise. In fact we went through three taxis before we found an honest one willing to turn on the meter.

We all stayed at what has become my Bangkok home The Heritage Silom. Our first night in Bangkok the three of us met up with Meaghan and enjoyed a rooftop sunset and a wonderful dinner out. The next day Jason and I planned and purchased tickets for our trip the next week.

Since the visa regulations have changed I had to leave the country by December 22. After a solid week of hemming and hawing over where to cross a boarder, where to spend Christmas, beach or mountains, Loas, Myanmar, Malaysia we settled on a trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Our last night in Bangkok Jason and I hit the night market which also serves as the go-go bar district. We had a hilarious night - this area, which was frightening when I was traveling solo, is actually quite entertaining when you are not alone. The evening culminated in Jason getting and offer from a lady boy to “screw tonight, pay tomorrow”. An interesting business plan for sure and one that left poor Jason scarred for life I fear.

I did not escaped unscarred myself, firstly I got what might really be the worst haircut of my life. Secondly and more damaging... on multiple occasions while in Bangkok I was mistaken for Jason’s mother (once by the same woman who propositioned him). After a few failed attempts to explain the math – that while I did in fact grow up very close to Kentucky, it is still not really mathematically possible for me to have mothered him – I gave up and decided it must be a compliment in Thailand.

The next morning we headed off early for the bus ride to Cambodia. We had failed to provision anything for the trip and were at the station before we had a chance to find a suitable breakfast. The only option in the terminal was Dunkin’ Donuts. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a doughnut but I was in no position to be picky. Jason and I got onto the bus, sipped our DD lattes, popped doughnut holes by the fistful and started watching a movie on my laptop. The man in the seat next to us took one look and said “you’re American huh?” To which Jason, my Australian traveling companion, unflinchingly answered “yes”.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yoga Thailand

Having never been to the ‘old’ Yoga Thailand I cannot compare, but I can tell you that the ‘new’ Yoga Thailand is sublime! It is the stuff Microsoft default screen savers are made of. The center is comprised of boutique-hotel like guest rooms, a juice bar, wellness center/spa, a gourmet restaurant, expansive private white-sand beach and a beautiful yoga shala.

What makes the place so wonderful, even more so than the idyllic setting, is the staff. From the man who makes my cucumber-lime juice, to the grounds keeper who befriended Jason and took him spear fishing to the truly amazing teachers, this place is world-class.
Each day of the retreat begins with an hour-long pranayama session. Pranayama being yogic breath control exercises. After that it’s time for Ashtanga Mysore. There are many different schools of yoga, reading a schedule of classes at your local studio may make about as much sense as in-Japanese sushi menus to English speakers. I’ll take two Hathas, one Vinyasa and a Yin please. Oh and for dessert a Kundalini meditation.

Ashtanga is a series of postures, each one building on the last to open your body and prepare you for ever-more challenging postures to come. There are series within Ashtanga, Primary, Secondary, even-more-scary and so on. As you become more and more proficient the need for a teacher to lead you diminishes and you begin to practice on your own.

Mysore is a form of practice where you guide yourself through the postures by memory in a room full of others who are doing the same. A teacher is there to help you get into any contortionist positions that you might not otherwise be able to convince your body to succumb to on its own. Mysore is sort of supervised peer pressure.
Yoga and I have a love/hate relationship. Some days I can’t possibly express in words how yoga makes me feel, how eternally grateful I am for the gift of practice. After a particularly good session I get yoga stoned – others may call this state bliss, I call it stoned. Should you ever run into me directly after such a session you really might think I had just imbibed in some Alaskan Kind or Canadian fungal tea, but in reality I just had some breakthrough, released some old habit or trauma from my system and my mind has yet to catch up with the new status quo.

Other days, yoga is my sworn enemy. I show up to practice ready and willing and yoga beats me down. Of course it isn’t yoga beating me to a bloody pulp, it is my own mind, but I like to label it yoga on those days, because it releases me from total responsibility. On the dark days I am judgmental, fragile and frankly unkind to myself. I feel like a hack, I mean what self-respecting yogi can’t get her feet behind her head? What yoga teacher can’t get her diagram to do whoopty woos on command?

On these days I reach lows that are crushing and frighteningly dark. They are almost as low as the highs I reach on other days. Thankfully they are not as extreme as the highs and so the lingering euphoria of the good days overpowers the lows and thus I persevere. Yoga is bipolar and as long as I recognize this I can maintain my chosen path.

And so it was that days two and three of this retreat were crushingly low days for me. Days where I was like “who am I kidding… I can’t teach this stuff, I am a phony.” I felt absolutely graceless, like the scarred longhorn bull in the proverbial china shop. At dinner I avoided conversation lest anyone figure out that I am supposedly a yoga teacher traveling the world through practice. I was scared to pass along the greetings to Neil and Paul that I had promised to, because I didn’t want to lessen my beloved teachers by association.

Each morning I struggled to get out of bed and yet I did and by day four I left my ego soundly defeated in a smoldering pile on the edge of my yoga mat. So what if I have to bend my knees in paschimotanasana, who cares if my utkatasana looks more like a lightening bolt than a chair, and if my feet don’t go behind my head, good… I don’t want to join a circus anyway!

Surrender is an amazing thing. When did we as a culture decide that winning, surpassing and clinging were the admirable traits? Someday I will bend forward, stomach and ribs on my thighs with straight legs and that will be a great day. One day my shoulders will release and some past trauma I have been hording in that ball and socket will rise, overwhelm and pass - and if I am lucky, eventually my right hip will open and my ass will sit evenly on the floor, on this day, birds will sing, the sun will shine and if I am really fortunate I won’t even notice because I will have long since surrendered.
My time here at Yoga Thailand has been a real gift. It serves as a reminder that to go within you don’t always have to suffer. You can grow while swathed in nice sheets, you can learn while eating identifiable foods and you can surrender on a white sand beach.

Testimonial. Throughout my journey I have benefited immeasurably from the recommendations and past experiences of others and it is from this space of gratitude that I highly recommend Yoga Thailand to anyone who has any interest in yoga. A week here could serve as both the best vacation ever and one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself. Whether an advanced practitioner or a rogue novice this place could benefit you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Did Anyone Get the Number of the Bus That Hit Me?

Way back in Ubud two of my teachers told me I needed to visit Yoga Thailand and take classes at from Paul Dallaghan and Neil Barker. As luck would have it they have just relocated to a new facility and I was fortunate enough to sneak in with the inaugural class. Yoga Thailand offers everything from the chance to drop in for a day or two to month-long teacher trainings and it seems to me that more than a few people have just decided never to leave and now work for the center.

Paul and Neil are well known for their knowledge of pranayama and yoga anatomy, the retreat center was reported to me to be the most amazingly calm, healing and wonderful place. After the King’s Cup I felt more than ready for a solid week of yogic education and healthy living.

The retreat facility is located on the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand and just like Bali there is a quiet side and a raucous side. After the all-day somewhat adventurous bus/ferry ride to get here from Phuket I ended up exploring the raucous side for a night. So much for healthy living.
About two hours out of Phuket the bus to Koh Samu filled with smoke, after the attendant surveyed the issue, fire-extinguisher in hand, we were all assured there was nothing to worry about. Another hour down the road we pulled into a middle-of-nowhere-garage which miraculously had bus-sized tires and was able to replace what was once a tire, but had since transformed into molten lava and which was the culprit of the previous hour’s smoking episode.
While the bus tire was being repaired I stepped out for a few minutes to view the giant golden Buddha behind the tire place, in these fleeting few moments Jason managed to befriend the couple sitting behind us, a seemingly nice set of Western Canadians, Ashley and Dallas. I tried to warn Jason that Albertans are trouble, that I speak from experience here, but alas we fell pray to their charms and shared interest in making the trip more fun by drinking beer and conjuring up our own dialogue for the really bad Thai movie that was playing on the TV.
Hours later the bus and we boarded a ferry for the hour-long sail to Koh Samui. By this time the Canadians were our new best friends and we were all well on our way to inebriation. The Canucks opted to stay at the same hotel as Jason and me and this is how I came to spend the night before my yoga retreat at a trans-gender cabaret in Chaweng.
Better judgment and lack of clear memory prohibit me from recounting all of the night’s details, but sufficed to say I left a lot of money, a smidgen of my soul and fair bit of my liver on the dressing room floor of that cabaret. On the upside, when I left I had a feather boa and one heck of a makeup job to show for my efforts.

The lesson here I think is to avoid Western Canadian and young Australian traveling companions at all costs… no matter your nationality, Irish, Russian, German, you cannot hold your liquor next to the likes of a Northern Albertan and an Australian, learn from me and keep your internal filtering systems safe.
The next morning I managed to wake up in my own hotel room, still in possession of pretty much everything I had the day before, and having gained at least half a brain, or so it felt - no other way to explain the unbearable pressure inside my head. Mercifully my first yoga class wasn’t until 5pm, plenty of time to flush my system and recover my moral compass before having to bend over, touch my toes and suppress my gag reflex.

Some days I feel less yogi than others…

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Border Run

Lest you all think my life is just one big bowl of never-ending cherries… I present the Thai visa extension policy. When you get a visa on arrival upon landing in Thailand it is good for 30 days. Today was day 31 and thus I had overstayed my visa. I wasn’t worried though because according to my trusty Lonely Planet they allow you to stay one extra day for free and as long as you cross a border you can re-enter and get another 30-day visa no problem.

This morning I boarded the Visa Run van for the all day round-trip to Myanmar. It was a brutal day. A Visa Run from Phuket costs 1800 baht ($50) and requires you catch a van at around 6am for the drive to Ranong. Once you arrive in Ranong you wait in the slow-moving queue for Thai immigration to give you a departure stamp. This is when my van load learned that the one-day overstay policy had been changed. About half of us were one day over and each of us had to pay 500 baht.

This would have been irritating enough under normal circumstances, but since most of us actually could not get out of the country earlier because of the residual affects of the airport closures it was an added insult.
Once you have paid your fines and gotten your departure stamp you are herded into a shoddy long tail boat for the ride across the bay to Burma/Myanmar. From the boat you walk a short distance to the immigration office through a tunnel of hawkers peddling fried unidentifiable food items, cigarettes and Viagra. From what I could tell the local economy seems to thrive almost solely on Viagra sales.

Then it is back on the boat for the loud and somewhat frightening return trip to Thailand. From here you stand in the arrival queue for another good long time. This line is where we all learned that as of December 1 the rules for visa extensions were changed - apparently a frequent occurrence, if not a well-publicized one. I got my passport back with my new visa good through Dec. 22, only 15 days and a full two weeks shy of my planned departure date. The new regulations say that if you cross at a land boarder you only get 15-day extensions, if you arrive by airplane, you get 30.

The entire visa stamping, boat trip process takes about three hours. Three very hot hours and the result is a horribly smelly return bus trip. Right about here I coined the phrase Kristen Annoyed, and this is the state I remained in for the rest of the day.

One of my dearest friends, Kristen, is famous for telling it exactly as she sees it. While this can be hard for some, I find it immeasurably entertaining. When Kristen is perturbed she let's you know. No matter if the offending culprit is a rogue sprig of cilantro in her otherwise lovely dinner or a someone who genuinely wrongs her, Kristen's disdain is evenly doled out.

One of my favorite Kristen-ism resulted after I innocently asked if she might like to spend a day with me at Water World, a Denver water park. The look of utter shock and horror on her face, which then dissolved into pity for a sad soul like me, was startling. Once she had overcome her initial horror she looked at me straight faced and said "Rachel, I do not want to bathe with those people." Those people being anyone outside of immediate family and one or two men she could think of. I had never really thought about a day at a water park as bathing with 'them' but once she said it... well come on, it is resonating with you right now too, admit it.

And so there I was trapped in a travel van with eight men who smelled more like farm animals than people, most of whom had purchased little blue pills in Myanmar and all of whom bitched loudly the entire way home about the new visa regulations and I was Kristen annoyed for the next six hours.

My annoyance peaked when the bus driver dropped me off not at my hotel where he had picked me up, but on the highway a full kilometer up a mountain, across six lances of speeding traffic, and through a torrential downpour away from my accommodations. A mad dash and a trash bag saved my computer from certain destruction but my mood could not be salvaged that easily.

The good news here, if there is any, is that I was vacillating over heading north to check out Chang Mai and crossing into Cambodia and Laos or just renting a beach house down south for the month. Since I now will have to cross a boarder at least one more time, looks like I’ll be heading north. It is always easier when fate makes decisions for you.

All in all the process is a real nuisance. Given the beating the Thai tourist industry has taken over the last few years what with political unrest and natural disasters you would think the government would work to promote travel, not make it this much harder, more expensive and stressful. Alas, no.... and so sometime before the 22nd I will get to do this all over again, and since I now think I am staying in Thailand through Jan 13, I may even get to do it twice! Viagra anyone?

Monday, December 8, 2008

King's Cup

After a long, yet surprisingly comfortable bus ride to Phuket, complete with on board hostess and chilled beer, I managed to track down Sailing Yacht Nomadess and her crew.

This was no small feat since in the chaos of my departure from Bangkok, I also managed to leave my phone in a taxi and so I had no way to contact the boat and no way to collect the text message that told me where to go.
Once aboard this beautiful boat I spent a day with her permanent crew, Captain Ed, Navigator/Purser Mary, First Mate Jason and owners John and Arlene. Over the next two days the race crew arrived, a motley bunch of five Australians bringing the nationality count to four Americans and seven Australians, so while we flew under the American flag, us Yanks were outnumbered and outdrunk every day.

To allow for travel delays due to the airport closures and subsequent overthrow of the Thai government, the race was delayed one full day meaning that we would all have to sail each day regardless of weather conditions, wind or no wind. Sunday we sailed the boat around to the western side of the island, giving everyone a chance to get their bearings on the boat once jobs were officially assigned. My job for the next week would be grinder.

On less luxurious boats this station is a hard one. The grinder gets a handle and their task is to crank on it pulling the sails taut as need be. On this boat however the grinder pushes a button and hydraulics do the rest. Not to shortchange my difficult job... I do have some residual finger cramping and some new bruises from hopping from one side of the boat to the other.
My world during races consisted of kneeling over two buttons, one high speed the other low. When told, I hit the corresponding button. All conversation was limited to “little grind”, which meant hit the low speed button, “GRIND!” which meant hit high speed and don’t you dare let go until told, and “hold”, which meant resume kneeling and try to stay out of the way. I am happy to say I was able to complete this job with some proficiency and it allowed me to feel like I actually contributed to the crew.
The first race day I realized just how little I knew about yacht racing. This is a pro’s sport and as such they know full well the boundaries of their vessels, their crew and their competition. Mid-day of race one we were hauling along at around ten knots, nothing to sneeze at, all of my crewmates were very busy pulling, hoisting, tidying and whatnot. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed another large yacht coming right for us. By my calculations they would T-bone us in approximately 15 seconds.
I said to the captain, “Ed do you see that boat?”. No response. A bit louder this time…“Um Ed, do you see that boat?” No response. Screaming now with a decided inflection of panic “Does anyone see that boat?” this was met with hysterical laughter from my crew mates and a moment later the approaching boat turned on a dime and headed off in a new direction.
It seems everyone but me knew that boat and its able-bodied crew and none of them so much as batted an eye at two 40-ton vessels on a high-speed collision course. I was advised later… “if it scares you, just look the other way.” And that is exactly what I did for the rest of the week.
Yacht racing is tense and stressful stuff. There is a lot of money involved, the slightest margin of error could cause two boats to collide, at any moment a dozen lines are under enough pressure to make diamonds and A-type personalities abound. Having never experienced such a setting before I didn’t know what to think that first day. There was cursing, yelling and verbal abuse by the bushel full and I wasn’t certain that mutiny wasn’t on the horizon.
After the race was over everyone seemed to forget the harsh words, tones and glares of the day and partied together like life-long friends. I just sat shell-shocked for about an hour and tried to come to terms with it all. From silence to political unrest to this… maybe it is time I start allowing for more gradual transition periods.
Over the next four days as everyone began to fully settle into their jobs, the tension subsided to a large degree and while the races were still stressful at times, they started feeling more like sailing and less like diffusing a nuclear weapon in ten… nine… eight… After each race we all relaxed on the boat, swimming drinking and telling lies. The afternoons were my favorite part of the day.
This particular race is a celebration of the King of Thailand's birthday and His Royal Highness hands out the final awards. On Friday each boat sails past a navy vessel that the king is reported to be on. As each boat passes, the crews salute one another and flags are dipped in respect. The king is absolutely adored here, so to be in his presence is a big deal.

As luck would have it the King stayed in the same hotel as we did Saturday night and we kept passing him in the halls.
Seriously, there he was just walking down the hall with his attendees and nurses following behind, he was no more than five feet from me at times and there was nothing aside from decorum that would have prevented me from reaching out and touching him. I am pleased to report that I had the opportunity to curtsey in the presence of royalty for the first time in my life.

Yet again I cannot believe the life I get to lead. What an amazing experience. I have made new friends, (Laura, Erin, Dan, Carl and Byron the Australian crew - all of whom I hope to get to sail with or grab a pint with when I head down under this May), I got to spent more time with my beloved Ed, Mary and Jason and got to know John and Arlene whose love for sailing is what has made this all possible. My sincere thanks to all of you for giving me this experience.

And now my luck continues. Jason is heading off to Uni (Australian for college) next month and this was his last stint on Nomadess. He finds himself with a month off in Thailand, so now I have a traveling companion through the holidays for which I am very grateful.