A Travellerspoint blog

Semana Santa

Holy Week in the Cradle of Catholicism

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The first stop on our tour of Costa Rica was the quaint capitol of San Jose nestled in a mountain basin occupying the central part of the country. Most people opt to skip San Jose because the capitol does not have a huge range of activities for tourists. We planned our trip so that we would arrive in the country on Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year for Catholic followers. Since just over 70% of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic, we thought this would be the perfect place to view holy processions that were planned throughout the country.

We dropped off our things at the hotel, washed off the "plane feeling" that seems to accompany all red eye flights and got breakfast. Most of the restaurants in Costa Rica are mom and pop owned places called "sodas." Our driver gave us a wonderful recommendation for a soda within walking distance of our hotel where I had my first experience with Gallo Pinto. This dish is just a mix of black rice and beans, but it is the staple of the Costa Rican diet, and I figured it was worth a shot.

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Recovering from the Red Eye

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Gallo Pinto, a quintessential plate of black beans and rice

After breakfast, we walked about 2 miles to the center of the city to begin watching the religious procession. I thought it would start in the national cathedral, so I tried to sneak in unsuccessfully. A kind gentleman knew I was lost and pointed Danielle and I in the correct direction. We walked towards a mass of people waiting for the procession to begin, and we followed the journey as Jesus of Nazareth was escorted to the cross for sacrifice. The procession would walk a bit and then act out a scene from the day of his execution. The first such scene was Pontius Pilate sentencing Jesus to die, with Roman soldiers giving him his cross to bear to the execution.

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The National Cathedral

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The procession of clergy

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Christ bearing the cross

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Pontius Pilate

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The Roman soldiers taking Jesus of Nazareth to the cross

The procession proceeded throughout the city with other stops including his mother Mary mourning her son, later followed by Mary Magdalene, a female apostle and possibly wife, professing her love for him. The grand procession ended when it met up with another procession bearing the trinity of God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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A silhouette of Christ in the procession

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The Father, the Son

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And the Holy Spirit

Once we finished watching the procession, we decided to try and see if there were any other points of interest open in the city. We went to the National Theater and pre-Columbian Gold Museum, but both were closed for the national holiday. This wasn't a huge surprise, but we got a few good pictures of the outside of these edifices.

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The National Theater with the Costa Rican flag in the foreground

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The National Museum of Gold Artifacts closed due to the National Holiday

We decided to make our way back to the hotel, but we ran into some other interesting and/or random sites on the way back. There was a beautiful tree in bloom next to a statue of their first president, a chicken shop closely resembling "Pollos Hermanos" in TV's Breaking Bad, and an individual selling fresh coconut drinks from a shopping cart.

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A statue of the first president of Costa Rica set next to a beautiful tree in bloom

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Gus Fring LIVES!

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A coconut vendor selling fresh coconut juice: he would chop off the top with a machete, throw a straw in it and then collect his payment

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I just thought this was random

We also came across an awesome public health poster that I had to share. I am always fascinated to see these public service announcements in other countries - from Dengue fever vaccination in Argentina to condom use in Thailand. This particular advertisement loosely translated to "neglect is also child violence." It was accompanied by a picture of a pill, firework and marble standing in a animated line-up. I love to share these since I know many of my virtual travel companions are public health enthusiasts.

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My Costa Rican public health colleagues spreading the good word, translation: "Neglect is also child violence."

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Reminding you to not leave fireworks and/or marbles unattended

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The massive drainage ditches of the capitol city

Costa Rica also receives a heavy amount of rainfall with over 77 inches per year. There were massive drainage gutters throughout the capitol which could have had signs that said the Spanish equivalent of "Mind the Gap." The next day we skipped the culture and went looking for the rain that these gutters carried eastward to make the famous rivers of Costa Rica. It was time for white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare.

Our tour for Day 2 picked us up from our hotel at 6 AM to make the long journey out of the central valley and into the Eastern side of the country where we would raft the Rio Pacuare. The river is a hot spot for rafters because it is rated by National Geographic as one of the top five commercial rafting rivers in the world. It is also famous for the backdrop of the 1995 movie, Congo. Congo was a terrible movie, but it's a random fact for you, nonetheless!

Our guide for the day, Ray, joked that Costa Rica has two seasons: rainy season and rainier season. We were rafting the river when it was relatively low, but during peak times, the river can produce Class V rapids that often flip rafts. Despite the lower waterline, we were told that the journey would be a lot more technical since we had to dodge a lot more rocks which aren't typically seen when the water levels are high.

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On the bus at 6 AM to the Eastern side of the country

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Our guide for the day, Ray

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A river we passed en route, Rio Sucio literally translated to "Dirty River." The red coloring comes from the mineral rich volcanic ash that is common to the Central valley

We left our non-essential gear in the van and donned life jackets, helmets and our GoPros and climbed in the boat with Ray and three others to make our aquatic trek downstream.

Danielle getting ready at the Rafting Put-In

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Meandering down the river

Laughing maniacally as we hit the rapids

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A beautiful waterfall in the distance

Hitting the rapids again

Our team made it to lunch without having anyone fall out of the boat or get hit in the face with an oar. For those of you who raft often, you know that those two criteria usual spell a successful outing. We gorged ourselves on pineapple and watermelon and then ate as many sandwiches as our stomachs could tolerate before we disembarked yet again down the river.

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Replacing the burned calories at our lunch stop for the day

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Another view from our rest area

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Danielle taking a well-deserved dip

Heading back into the rapids with a collision and an unexpected drop

After we cleared the most technical rapids, Ray and the guides from other boats started to play a game of frisbee between boats in the calm water with numerous guides opting for diving catches into the water. We got involved and laughed as many people made dives just short of the frisbee. Other individuals decided to do other things that would probably not be advisable had the guide been in the boat. The video below is a perfect example of shenanigans that people film and put on YouTube. Watch closely at the man in the background standing on the boat...

A testimonial of what NOT to do when standing on the front of a boat

As we reached the end of the river, we noticed a good number of locals had come out for a meet and greet. As our boat passed under a railroad bridge, preteens and teens jumped off the bridge that we were passing under and did cannonballs next to our boat. Given that the bridge was at least 30 feet high, one couldn't help but be scared once the first couple jumped off. When we realized they weren't actually aiming FOR the boat, we all had a good laugh and made sure that each of them surfaced after their jumps given the height!

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If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge...

We docked the boats shortly after our brush with the locals and checked it off as another item successfully completed from the bucket list. We're off to the volcanic region of the North for zip-lining and cave exploring. More to come soon!

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Danielle smiling for the camera

Posted by mbeymer 08:55 Archived in Costa Rica

From Thailand to Tolna

Exploring the Great Plains

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Our first out-of-state trip together took us to the tiny town of Tolna in the Great Plains of North Dakota. Although Danielle and her family are from Ventura County, her brother received a football scholarship from Colorado State University. While at a bar near Ft. Collins, a nice North Dakotan woman jokingly asked if a fellow patron actually hunted as suggested by his camouflage hunting cap. Not expecting an affirmative answer, she was a bit taken aback when the stranger answered that he not only hunted but ALSO fished. She made sure he didn’t leave the bar without her number, and they were married just nine months later with the couple eventually relocating to her hometown in North Dakota.

Although I had explored the Midwest before on previous sojourns to Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived. I thought we would mainly sit inside, the cowardly Californians protecting themselves from the harsh elements, watch football and gorge ourselves on cheese curds and other football fare. The trip ended up being a lot more eventful, and I was lucky enough to experience a lot of local culture.

When we arrived at the Grand Forks airport, we were greeted by a good amount of snow, brown landscapes and rather warm temperatures for late November (by warm, I mean about 20 degrees F). We made a quick stop-off at the Culver’s burger chain (think the Midwest’s answer to In N’ Out) and then made the hour and a half trip West to the town of Tolna. We arrived pretty late in the evening and visited with their oldest son Cast and met the new addition, three week-old, Eli, before heading off to bed.

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That's 5:45.....AM

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Off to Grand Forks!

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The Best Burger in the Midwest

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Grandma Meets Little Eli

The next morning, we woke up and were given the grand tour of the property by Danielle’s brother, Chris. We then met up with his wife, Marlee, and took off to Marlee’s parents' house for Thanksgiving with a side of football. Although my beloved Packers did not do well, getting trounced by the Lions 40-10, we had a great time with Marlee’s family and had some amazing food. Among the delectable dishes, were Oreo balls which were nothing short of amazing. We also had a chance to explore the town and take a few pictures of the surrounding area.

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Older brother, Cast, with his little brother, Eli

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The homestead

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Cody, the corgi, on patrol

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Water Tower

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The Tolna Post Office

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I just thought this was ironic

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Gives a new meaning to stillwater

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At Thanksgiving dinner

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The table is set

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He likes football too

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Chris and Marlee

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Ready for dessert

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Oreo bites

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Relaxing after a nice dinner

The following day was filled with outdoor activities and ice fishing was first on the docket. When I think of ice fishing, I typically think of a few men in a small shack, huddled for warmth, surrounding a small hole in the ice with lures patiently drawn and waiting for the big catch. When we were there, the ice was only three feet thick - safe to walk on, but not safe enough to put a shed on the ice. Since Chris was planning a fish dinner, he decided to cut a hole in the ice anyway and show us how it was done, sans the shed. Danielle and I cautiously ventured out with him, slowly finding our ice legs, and watched as he caught a beautiful Northern Pike for dinner. As he reeled the fish in, their lab, Bella, tried to claim the fish for her own, but Chris would have none of it.

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Don't slip!

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Inspecting the lines with Bella

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We've got dinner!

Once the fish was secured and in the ice box, Chris took Danielle and I out for a little education on trapping. Coyotes are considered an invasive species in the Dakotas, and the local government sanctions a trapping season in order to reduce the population. Individuals can either sell the dead carcass to a dealer that pays them about $100 per hide or they can skin the coyote themselves and earn up to $1,500 at the North American Fur auction (also known as NAFA). The skinning takes a bit more time and skill, but the profits can definitely add up. Provided one catches 15-20 coyotes in a season, trapping can end up becoming a very lucrative venture.

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Checking the snares

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Catch of the day

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Trapping assistant

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Sun over the plains

After we checked all of the traps, and hauled in two good sized coyotes, we headed back to the ranch for a little bit of target practice. Most individuals in the Dakotas have wide expanses of property which gives them the freedom to do things that may be frowned upon in more population-dense environments. Tannerite is a binary explosive of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder which makes a nice effect when shot as a distance with an AR15, or the civilian version of the military M16. I may have been a little rusty with my shooting abilities, but I was able to rebound pretty quickly.

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Preparing the targets

My version of pumpkin pie

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Grandpa and grandson taking in some football

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Fresh caught Northern pike and homemade bread

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Venison stew

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An early sunset

As we packed up and ventured out on the long drive back to Grand Forks, I reflected a lot on my visit to the Great Plains. Californians (myself included) are often very egocentric when it comes to our state. We think that we live in the best state in the U.S. and that everywhere else is not as interesting, and in many cases, uninhabitable to our delicate temperature sensibilities. Other states are dismissed with a dismissive scoff, and we continue acting in a way that is deserving of mockery from the other 49 states in the union.

Although the town I visited only had 202 people, I really came to understand why small town life is so beautiful and cherished by so many. The great outdoors serve as ample entertainment as you walk out your doors, neighbors genuinely have your best interests at heart and you are able to bond with nature on a daily basis. While these places may not have grandeur of Broadway or the chanting masses in arenas, they have the unmistakable beauty of hundreds of lakes and the unrivaled tranquility of the wild.

We thanked Chris, Marlee and the kids for their hospitality and traversed the snow and ice to the Grand Forks airport to return to the massive expanse of Los Angeles County. Similar to many trips before, these experiences enlightened and humbled me, leaving an ever-increasing respect for nature. It was a beautiful journey, and I hope there are many adventures to come on the Great Plains.

Posted by mbeymer 21:52 Archived in USA

The Road Ahead

An Epilogue

In the past three years (37 months to be precise), I have been been fortunate enough to extensively travel through seven different countries on three different continents. The original purpose of my first trip was to relive the journey and spiritual awakening that Christopher McCandless experienced during his pilgrimage throughout North America (documented expertly by Jon Krakauer in his book, "Into the Wild"). Like McCandless, I went on this trip and subsequent trips by myself with the hopes of learning what the universe had to offer.

This first sojourn revealed many beautiful sites from the glaciers of Southern Argentina to the massive waterfalls of Iguazu to the breathtaking beauty of Torres del Paine. I returned to the United States much like McCandless had - enthralled with the beauty of nature but disgusted with the seemingly backwards priorities of my fellow countrymen. When I traveled to Africa for my second expedition, significant life events and the accompanying maturation endowed me with the gift of empathy. I had returned from Africa after three life-altering months and finally understood that my countrymen did not have the same priorities that I had gained because they had not seen all that I had seen. I had essentially received an education that they had not. I was forcing the lessons that I had learned on individuals who were not yet at a place to receive these teachings. Instead, I decided that I would reflect without bias on my experiences in the hopes that these adventures abroad may catalyze others to think about how they influence, and are influenced by, the world around them.

Like McCandless, there were numerous times where I was in trouble, lonely or witnessed breathtaking spectacles in solitude. Overcoming my fears, solving difficult problems and even having my life threatened were just some of the things I went through. The most important experience, however, was also McCandless' most important discovery. He had set out with an abhorrence for material things and the system that promoted them, but he learned that these things were independent from what was most significant in life - the love and companionship of those most important.

Much like Thomas Bayes, I have used these journeys and the lessons learned to refine my way of seeing the world. Therefore, I have decided to announce that this trip will be my third and last solo journey. I hope to forge new and wonderful memories with the person most important to me, whether it be trekking in the Outback of the Northern Territory, diving among the reefs of Costa Rica or relaxing on a gondola in Venice. I am excited for this new chapter and sincerely hope that you join me and my partner on our next expedition so that we can act as a conduit for showing you all of the wonderful things that the world and its peoples have to offer.


To the road traveled...

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...and the road ahead

Posted by mbeymer 22:09 Archived in Thailand

Going Out with a Bang

Koh Samui, Thailand and one last hurrah in Bangkok

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As you have probably noticed throughout the course of this blog, my vacations are typically very fast-paced. The excursions can be fun, but they can be even more exhausting than my schedule back home. After 15 days of early morning, day-long excursions, I was ready to relax for a few days. The last stop on my trek was the island of Koh Samui off of the Eastern coast of Thailand. My plan was to sleep late, lay on the beach, wade in the clear and tropical water and reflect on my journey. I booked a nice resort which afforded me with my own space, and as I found out, even my own pool!

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My beach abode

The weather was extremely windy the first full day I was there, and there weren't many people in beach attire. I walked around the resort and the beaches, taking pictures of odd things here and there and watching the kite surfers whimsically sail by. Although I wasn't especially enthused about hanging out on the beach with the overcast and windy weather, my beach cottage provided a nice sanctuary for reading my books. I immersed myself in Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise," pondering my application of Bayesian statistics and savoring the wonderful commentary on observation bias. In between reads, I watched English Premier League and Al Jazeera, ate a ton of Thai food and talked with Danielle.

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Not exactly beach weather

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The gathering storm

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A beautiful seashell

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A kite surfer in the distance

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Relaxing with my book

The second day was more of the same, this time with heavy periodic thunderstorms. I fell asleep about three hours before the New Year's countdown and woke up to the sound of several explosions being set off fairly close to my once-peaceful bungalow as the locals brought in the new year.

The resort was nice, but it was not for me. I missed the camaraderie of hostels and their proximity to numerous things within town. The food was nice, but it couldn't be the numerous street stalls selling pork on a stick that were practically ubiquitous in other locales. I figured out that I really did prefer hostels to resorts, adrenaline adventures to poolside relaxation and street food to five star restaurants. The two days of relaxation was definitely nice and gave me an opportunity to recharge, but I was ready to do something exciting again.

Due to numerous travel issues that I will not cover in this blog (my loved ones have already heard an earful), I ended up leaving Koh Samui at 8 AM on January 1st to arrive in Bangkok at 9:15 AM. The only problem was that my flight back to the United States didn't take off until 2:20....AM. That left me with about a 17 hour layover, and I decided I would venture into Bangkok one more time to explore the sights that I had not gotten to see during my first tour.

Bangkok is actually a shortened version of the city's name. The full name is 167 characters, achieving the distinction of being the longest name in the world for any country's capital city. The full name loosely translates to "The City of Angels." As many of you know, Los Angeles shares this same meaning; probably another reason why I felt such a great affinity for the city. After one rail link from the airport, and two sky train lines within the city, I arrived at the home of the legendary Jim Thompson.

Jim Thompson was born in Delaware in 1906 and following his completion of secondary school, enrolled at Princeton University to become an architect. He worked as an architect for many years and volunteered for the Army when World War II broke out. Towards the end of the war, he was sent to Thailand and fell in love with the culture and people. In addition to his architectural prowess, Mr. Thompson had a shrewd business sense. He saw a few of the locals spinning silk and inquired about the process and the strange material they were weaving.

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The entrance

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A fountain on the grounds

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A beautiful visitor

He brought samples of the fabric back to New York to show respected members of the fashion industry, and subsequently took these samples to Milan and Paris where they were taken up almost immediately by various designers. His products appeared in the movie "The King and I" shortly thereafter, and this virtually catapulted the international market for the commodity which still flourishes today. After renting a house for a few years in Bangkok, he decided to build a home in what is now the Sukhimvit district of Bangkok. He built the structure out of numerous old building panels that he had imported from the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. He had nine separate buildings in all to house his personal belongings as well as his vast collection of Burmese, Khmer, Chinese and Thai artifacts and tapestries that he had amassed during his time in the region.

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An ancient porcelain stool used in China; In the winter time, hot coals would be placed inside and the heat would radiate through the vents to warm the posterior

Although his house was very much in classical Ayutthaya style, Mr. Thompson still preferred numerous Western amenities. For instance, many Asian cultures typically eat meal sitting on the ground, but he wanted his Western guests to feel comfortable. Therefore, if one looks closely, his dining table is actually two mahjong tables that have been pushed together since the European tables were few and far between. Mr. Thompson also used his creativity to make lamps that would suit him. He took ancient Burmese drums, turned them over, and then used the flat parts of the drums as bases for various lamps throughout the house. And of course no 20th century mansion would be complete without at least one chandelier. Pictures were prohibited insides the house itself, but I managed to take a shot of his living room which was open to the outside. You can faintly see one of the chandeliers to the left as well as one of the specialty lamps on the right hand side of the second picture below.

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A view from the outside

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The open living room

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The former garage

The house was exquisite, but it left my feet tired and my belly ravenous. On the recommendation of a friend, I headed over to the "Cabages and Condoms" restaurant. The founder of the restaurant is an effervescent man by the name of Mechai Viravaidya. In the 1960s, he realized that few Thais actually went to the doctor for contraception, but all of them went to vegetable stands to buy groceries. He knew that there was a considerable amount of stigma attached to contraception in Thai culture, so he literally decided to open a stand that sold vegetables and condoms side by side. Subsequent and innovative efforts on implemented on a massive scale have allowed him and his organization to be extremely effective at lowering the population growth rate from 3.2% in the early 1970s to 1.4% in the early 1990s. As of the writing of a 1994 article, 95% of Thais agree with birth control and 73% practice it.

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The entrance...

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...And the establishment's catchy slogan

His tiny vegetables stand has grown into a 300 seat restaurant in downtown Bangkok where instead of a post-meal mint, a condom is delivered with the bill. His awards and articles detailing his philanthropy fill the restaurant, along with a few quirky statues and historical "reproductions." I enjoyed a fabulous duck dish with tamarind sauce over steamed rice and felt inspired reading all of his articles after my meal (I literally read every single one). All of the proceeds from the restaurant go to the non-profit Population and Community Development Association which he helped found. The only sad part was that I could not share the experience with my wonderful advisers, Drs. Don Morisky, Paula Tavrow, Catherine Sugar and Marjan Javanbakht or any of my other sexual health allies of which there are thankfully so many to name. I walked away inspired and reinvigorated to return to the field and the work that I absolutely cherish.

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A wonderful duck in tamarind sauce

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The man himself

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History with a twist

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Yep, that's Mona Lisa with a condom on her hand

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Only the coolest superhero ever

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Seasonally dressed for the occasion

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A question for Tiger

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My after lunch gift...

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...And an explanation of said gift

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The organization that the proceeds support located next to the restaurant

My last stop was the Paragon shopping complex in the middle of Bangkok. As the name implies, this shopping mall was top shelf. I don't love to shop, but I was awe struck by the sheer size and modern qualities of the mall. The Mall of America was impressive, but this place was even more stunning. I went up a seemingly endless number of escalators gawking at the sheer selection offered. Just to provide an example, there was a whole FLOOR that was just cosmetics. It also had just about every type of restaurant and food imaginable. When I ascended to a floor that was so high it seemingly required an oxygen tank, I decided to head over to the movie complex to see if the reviews stacked up to the hype.

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The Siam Paragon Mall

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Hello darkness, my old friend

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Cosmetics as far as the eye can see

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Shoe heaven?

I honestly never go to movies in foreign countries. I think the last movie I saw in a foreign country was a subtitled version of "The Sandlot" in Cuernavaca, Mexico circa 1994. When I go to a foreign country, I like to see what's unique to their culture and clime. After all, I LIVE in the city that produces the most movies in the world and is quite famous for its awe-inspiring cinneplexes. However, many travelers that I had encountered gave rave reviews to this theater stating that it provided immense luxury at such a bargain cost. My feet were tired from walking throughout the city and this seemed like a relaxing end to the day. The movie lobby demonstrated much of the opulence of the rest of the mall, and it was readily comparable to the amazing cinemas like the Century City Screens (near Beverly Hills, California), City Walk (adjacent to Universal Studios) or Rave (a movie theater that contains the most impressive IMAX screen in Southern California). These L.A. movie going experiences are the epitome of luxury, and you often pay a cool $15 for the privilege. In contrast, the Thai version of said experience cost me a mere $7.

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Almost looks like it's from the future

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Yep, that says "Privilege Chair"

The theater itself was not that stunning on the inside, but the chair was like something Captain Piccard would bark orders from on the Starship Enterprise. I felt simultaneously comfortable and master of my domain. As the movie engaged (sorry, couldn't resist), there were some striking differences. There were literally 25 minutes of previews and advertisements interspersed with one another. I was practically asleep by the time the movie started. Then a thunderous noise bellowed over the loud speaker and everyone stood in unison. I quickly figured out they were playing the Thai national anthem and with quite a bit of video propaganda. The whole song was in Thai with no English subtitles, aside from the very end. The last set of frames contained a caption that said, "The King is great. Long live the King." I'll let you digest that one.

When the movie was over, the clock had stuck 8 PM and I decided it was time for me to get back to the airport to wait out the rest of my layover and end the day on a high note. I solemnly boarded the Sky Train and then transferred to the airport rail link with a bitter sweet taste in my mouth. In just 19 days, I had experienced a significant amount of Thai and Cambodia history, culture and the natural wonders they had to offer. Although Bangkok is often times overcrowded and maddening to many travelers, I came from a big city where I knew that you needed to look deeper than the surface to find the real beauty in the locale. The city had given me Muay Thai fights, ladyboy extravaganzas, delicious streetfood and unforgettable temples. It was my favorite stop on my trip, and fitting that it would be at the introduction and conclusion of my trip. Asia's City of Angels, and her surrounding kingdom, had captured my heart, but it was time to finally return to my own.

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Five continents down, just two more to go

Posted by mbeymer 23:57 Archived in Thailand

Better Luck Tomorrow

Phuket, Thailand

Anyone who travels internationally knows that there are certain occupational hazards that come with any trip. Getting sick from new types of food, having luggage lost en route from one location to another, being ripped off by locals because you don't speak the language and cons from taxi cab drivers are just a few of the all too common mishaps in the developing world. It's usually not a question of if one of these things will happen, it's just a matter of when. I have been pretty lucky so far this trip. My flights have left and arrived on time and my baggage has come safely; I literally let out a sigh of relief every time I see my pack pop out on the conveyor belt. I have not gotten sick despite numerous occasions trying the local street fare. Every Thai that I've interacted with has even been extremely honest and has given me exact change - I'm looking at you, MEXICO! There have been a few misunderstandings here and there, but there really has been nothing that has altered my plans or caused me any huge inconveniences. Once I arrived in Phuket, I realized that my luck was about to change.

Phuket is infamous for its Spring break-like atmosphere that exists seemingly year-round. The majority of the island in reality is quite sleepy, and this drunkenness and debauchery is confined to a small district known at Patong. I made sure to stay away from this area, and enjoyed a nice peaceful sunset and quiet dinner when I arrived on Christmas day.

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Phuket Sunset on Christmas Day

The next morning I woke up at 6 AM to be shuttled off to Phang Nga bay for snorkeling, spelunking and sightseeing. I packed my camera and GoPro and arrived at the dock with a considerable amount of excitement. Over the course of this trip, I have been using one SD card for my camera and GoPro since my new netbook does not read the second SD card. This means that I have had to change the SD card between the camera and GoPro every time I want to switch from pictures to video or vice versa. This has been a minor annoyance, but it's not caused any major stress.

I used the GoPro during my morning snorkel to take some great video footage feeding the local fish with a few bananas the tour guide had brought. Later that morning, we went to another island and took a nice walk through the jungle taking in numerous sites. Later that afternoon, we went to the island famous for its appearance in the James Bond movie, "The Man with the Golden Gun" and took some great shots there. The coolest hike of the day was through a cave on a neighboring island where we emerged from the other side to see numerous monkeys playing in the treetops which made for some more great video footage. At this point you might be asking, "that sounds really cool, but where are all the pictures?"

During the last stop of the day, we decided to put on our bathing suites one more time and dive in to the warm water for a final swim. I took the GoPro and got a great video shot of my first dive into the drink using the head mounted strap. I decided to go up for a second dive, and when I dived in this time, the video camera popped off my head and now rests somewhere at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. I was really panicked because the camera was $300, and more importantly, I had ALL of my vacation photos on the SD card that resided inside it. Luckily, I have backed up my photos on my laptop every single day since I got here because I was paranoid the camera would be stolen (never mind my potential for error). That being said, I really only lost the photos and video from that day and a $300 camera. Let's just consider it a sunk cost. I only got one with my other SD card, but despite not having photos, it was definitely a great day.

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The sole picture from the islands

I decided to take it easy the next day and set off for a day at the beach. Accompanied by a few newfound hostel friends, Norman and Jong, we embarked on the local bus to Kata beach on the West Coast of the island. The bus ride was pleasant, but it definitely struggled to get up a few of the hills. There were a few times where we glanced at one another wondering if we might need to eventually get out and push. The beach itself was quite pleasant and I even got a shade darker in the afternoon sun.

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Our not-so-glorious chariot

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Kata Beach

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Stationary pose

That night we trotted off to a famous eatery called "The Cook" in Phuket town. Tired of big resort cooking, the chef decided that he wanted to make delicious food that was affordable to all. I had an amazing garlic pork dish and shared another wonderful entree called Tom Yum pizza. The pizza was essentially shrimp, squid and mushrooms with a spicy sauce underneath. It was absolutely sinus-clearing, and was a fantastic end to the night.

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Garlic Pork

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Tom Yum Pizza (emphasis on the "yum!")

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The cute store front

The last day in Phuket was spent on the Phi Phi Islands just off the East coast. The Phi Phi islands (pronounced "pee pee," go ahead and chuckle) was the last spot on my To Do list, and Jong decided he was also up for the journey. The first stop was a beautiful island between Phulet and Phi Phi where there were over two dozen types of fish that inhabited the shallow reefs. I snorkeled for about an hour and then it was time to be transferred back to the mother ship. The dock to the island was made out of numerous plastic jugs that were strung together and looked like an oscillating bridge that would be found in a Super Nintendo era video game. I kept a low center of gravity and luckily made it to the transfer boat, thanking all deities in the process.

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Sites on the way

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A nice little beach shack

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Becoming one with the fish

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Taking it in

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The precarious foot bridge

The second snorkel spot was Maya Bay which was South of the main island. The fish were nearly as plentiful, and there were a lot of spots to explore. We even managed to snorkel through a cave which was really neat. After a short shopping stop on the main island and one delicious pineapple shake later, I arrived back in Phuket town, had an amazing dinner of street food and then promptly passed out. It's off to Koh Samui and more island adventures, more to come soon.

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My friend, Jong, on the boat

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Maya Bay

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Zoomed out

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It's amazing how good blended ice and pineapple can taste

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The peninsula at Phi Phi Don

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Another amazing sunset

Posted by mbeymer 16:50 Archived in Thailand

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