boracay open 2014 (and the importance of ultimate)

We weren’t supposed to make it to Boracay; we’d already been to the Philippines in November and didn’t want to loop back when there’s so much else to see, and the cost of getting to and playing in the tournament on a touristy island was way out of our budget. But we did it anyway, and it was one of the greatest times of my entire life. #sorryimnotsorry

puka beach, boracay, philippines

ultimate friends jumping on puka beach, boracay, philippines

Sadly, not all events are fit for public consumption and online perpetuity, so this is a PG-13 version of our week in Boracay.

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yo ho ho!

I caught a tin boat with Shea and Sylvia (friends I’d met who work on Koh Rong) from Koh Rong Samloem to Koh Rong so that I could catch the ferry to Sihanoukville at 9am and then a bus that would get me to Phnom Penh in time for the PP hat tournament party that evening. This being Cambodia, time estimates are always wildly off and never rooted in fact, and our ride that was supposed to pick us up at 8am radioed us at 8:20 to say they were on their way.

Shea grimaced and asked, “How set are you on making that 9am boat…?”

Twenty minutes later, the little tub arrives, and we throw our things in.  Catching my ferry is gonna be close.

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Well, it finally happened, I got taken by a scam in Southeast Asia. And not just the everyday “charging a tourist more than it should actually cost” situation that I get taken for literally every day. Before coming on the trip, I had steeled myself against the probability that I was going to have to be ultra-alert and resistant to scams and over-paying at every turn. I had encountered situations like that before in the Middle East and assumed it would be similar here based on reading about fast taxi meters in Vietnam or any number of other scams that travelers have to be wary of. I also had the memory of my friend Adil’s story — his bus in Thailand had been potentially gassed and robbed (at any rate, passengers woke up and had all of their valuables missing).

I spent the first six weeks in Philippines and Vietnam reading up on what to expect to pay at places, constantly negotiating and staying on my toes. Sure, I avoided some of the typical over-pricing, like the time we managed to pay the local rate on the bus from Da Nang to Hoi An, and also secured that rate for some fellow travelers. But in the end, none of the more serious scams had hit us. We never experienced any taxis with funky or broken meters and most people seemed very trustworthy, while at the same time being ruthless negotiators.

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fourteen dollars

I needed a ride to the Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery for my meditation retreat. Just the day before, the woman who ran the guest house I was staying at, Boot*, had given me a motorbike tour of Mae Hong Son province. While I enjoyed the day, I knew I had been ripped off, but I had been too tired and unwilling to attempt to negotiate a better price when I arranged the trip.

So when she offered me a ride to the monastery, I was determined not to let her get the best of me again. I bargained harder than I ever have before, and I finally got her down to 450 baht ($14) from 900 baht ($28). I absolutely hate haggling, but I was still proud of my “achievement” (I was still probably paying too much).

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laos elephant festival

I had heard about the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos from Cara, a friend we had traveled with for a few weeks. Volunteering at this center had been one of the highlights of her trip and she strongly recommended it. While reading up on it I came across the annual Laos Elephant Festival that was going to be held in Sayaboury on February 17-19. Since the conservation center was a little pricey, and this festival had been started by them, I thought it sounded like a great alternative and something we were fortunate enough to be in Laos at the right time to see! They forecast over 80,000 people and 60+ elephants — and for a town of only 16,000 people this should be quite the show!

Elephants decorated for opening ceremonies and headed for a quick meal before the show.

Elephants decorated for opening ceremonies and headed for a snack before the show.

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Lao PDR: where time doesn’t exist

We spent a whopping twelve days in Laos. Even with six months to spend in Southeast Asia, we found ourselves running out of time. There simply isn’t enough time to see everything we want to, and this regrettably meant that Laos and Cambodia got short-changed. We met a German couple who had already spent 4 weeks in Laos last year, were in the middle of a 6 week trip this year, and still had only seen a tiny portion of Laos! I will have to make it back one day, though 10 weeks seems extreme.

We walked into Laos from Thailand across one of the Thai-Laos Friendship bridges. We found out later that this is illegal — you are supposed to cross via bus or vehicle — but no one seemed to notice or care that we had used our feet. At customs, I met a friendly Laotian man, Q*, who lived in Las Vegas for most of the year. On the basis of my Vietnamese heritage, he gave us a quick lift into Vientiane, the capital city.

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konglor cave

I am not a cave person. I find them grotesque and eerie. They’re dark and dank, and I can never remember which is a stalagmite and which is the other stala-thing. Public education, baby!

Also, nothing good ever happens in caves. That’s where Gollum lived and went bald, and Frodo got burdened with wins the ring after an annoying game of riddles. Harry has to force Dumbledore to drink poison in a cave for a POS horcrux that ends up being a fake. And the Buddha found enlightenment in a cave… ok, maybe some good things happen in caves. But mostly bad.

The highlight of our 4-day motorbike tour of central Laos was a visit to Konglor Cave, a massive hole in a mountain that you can float through on a river. I wasn’t super stoked to see it, but it turned out to be pretty sweet.

the entrance to Konglor Cave

the entrance to Konglor Cave

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anecdotes, episode 3

There are so many little things that happen each day that I don’t want to forget. Anecdotes are a collection of these mini-stories or adventures. Also known as “filler material” for when I don’t have anything else to blog about.

sometimes, language is unnecessary
Matt and I were in yet another minivan, this time from Vientiane to Luang Prabang in Laos. I ended up sitting next to a pair of Korean guys, one older in maybe his 50s or 60s, and the other younger, in his late 30s or 40s. The older guy was against one window, the younger guy sitting in the middle, and me against the other window / panel door.

Depending on my mood, I will either engage my seatmates too much (wait, you’re telling me there are people who don’t want to talk to me for 9 hours straight…?) or not at all. If I perceive there to be a language barrier, I usually won’t try to talk to people. These two seemed a bit severe, or maybe my preconceived notions told me that they were, so I assumed the van-riding position: I put in my head phones and unfocused my eyes.

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hollywood is coming home!

After much thought, I have decided to pause my trip and return to the States at the end of May so that I can play the club ultimate season with my team, Molly Brown. But never fear, dear readers! It will not be the end of my travel journey. I intend to play the season from June to November and then re-join Matt somewhere in South America. Matt is planning to travel alone to Europe for a few months while I’m chasing plastic back home.

I got a layout Callahan! For our readers who don’t play ultimate, a Callahan is one of the most exciting plays that can happen. It is a defensive score akin to a pick-six in football. And a layout is ultimate-speak for diving after a disc. Callahans are rare and usually the result of some fluke rather than intent. But this one was fully intentional and the highlight of my ultimate career thus far.

At the 14th annual Bangkok Hat Tournament, I was on the Red Ninjas. Here’s a cool picture of us being badasses:

Red Ninjas at the 2014 Bangkok hat tournament, photo courtesy of Zrs Gamboa photography

Red Ninjas at the 2014 Bangkok hat tournament, photo courtesy of Zrs Gamboa photography
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