Claire & Derek

The adventures of Clairek: Traveling through Europe and Asia

A Reflection and Lessons Learned

 

This is us at the beginning of our trip...aren't we precious? 😛

It's coming on three months since we have been back.

Ask me what I've done during this time and, other than my sister's awesome wedding celebration and a few select events, I'd tell you not much. Returning from a ten month trip abroad, I've come to find, is a bit like waking up from a dream. A dream that was good in lots of places but also left you scared and sad at times. And when it's all said and done, it's a reminder of why it is so darn sweet to be awake and alive.

We learned a lot of things on this trips, some things were reminders and others we found with fresh eyes and ears. Sometimes the process was painful, both physically and emotionally painful – I'm thinking building raised beds in Scotland (you can't imagine the types of demons that show their faces in such a harmless sounding situation), walking certain stretches of the Camino de Santiago (that's pretty self explanatory – things are gonna come out if you have twenty pounds on your back and you've walked fifteen plus miles every day for the past week – there's just no way around it), and coming to certain truths while on a lazy Malaysian island (even island hippies have troubles, sometimes).

Here are some (well, several) of the most important lessons we learned, and ones we'd like to ask that all of you take a moment to think on (cause what's a good travel inspired blog if it doesn't change or cement some perspectives, right ?) whether they are lessons that have already molded themselves into your life motto, whether they are new and a bit non-intuitive, or they are ideas you know but often evade your reach:

Never take family, friends, and home for granted

Do what you love (not what other people tell you to love)

Be willing to compromise (kind of fitting considering the current political climate)

Talk it out, calmly and courteously, yelling or avoiding doesn't solve problems

Nature makes everything better

Keep things in perspective, and recognize that others bring different experiences and lifestyles to the table that can create perspectives unfamiliar to you

Along the same lines, don't prejudge

Stay positive, positive attracts positive

Be assertive – don't be afraid to ask, to make the first move, to right a wrong, to stand up for yourself or someone/something else

Carpe diem, seize the day (Guess my high school morning announcements were onto something after all…)

The best way to experience a place is to walk it or bike it

Most people are good and have the same basic morals as you do – regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sex, anything

Allow yourself downtime, it is necessary to function happily and effectively

Take care of your body – the food you consume, the exercise you partake in affects you on every level, not just physically, and can make your life so much better (or worse) depending on how you treat it

Keep a budget and spending journal – your money will go farther

Allow yourself to see and live the extremes – hunger, poverty, over-fullness, extravagance – and you will better understand the world, appreciate what you have, and know your boundaries

Be present

Don't have set-in-stone expectations, allow for change and you won't be hurt when things don't turn out as “planned”

Good service trumps good food, any day

Things happen for a reason – learn from experience and harbor no regret

Nature provides us with everything, we just need to do a better job of listening to it and caring for it

Say sorry, say thank you, forgive, and move forward

Understand that people work differently and do your best to accommodate it. For instance: for those that take things a bit too personal sometimes – constructive criticism is not an attack, it is meant to help, try to see it that way. For those that dish it – try to be kind about it and recognize that not everyone handles it as you do.

Counteract the infinite hunger by eating a large meal immediately following exhausting physical activity, otherwise it will last a week

We are all connected

Love yourself, flaws and all, 'nough said.

Yup, that's what we looked like at the end of the trip

 

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East Side!

Note to reader: After returning home and spending a couple of months adjusting to the ways of the U.S. (and a reunion trip with Carla and Jesse to Anza Borrego) we finally decided it was time to post about the final and glorious last segment of our trip.

Now, as a native Californian, I would usually be reppin'' for the West Side. But while in Taiwan I found myself cozying up to the east side. Now don't get me wrong, when I'm in the States, west side all the way…but in Taiwan, I really gotta say it, east side takes the cake. It is awesome.

After mulling over dozens of ideas and considering all of our options, we finally agreed on a plan for our last few days in Taiwan (also the last few days on our ten month adventure). We decided to hit up a rock climbers' haven in north eastern Taiwan, Longdong, for a day and night, and then head down to famous Taroko Gorge for the next two nights.

We arrived in Longdong mid afternoon and made our careful way across the rocks in search of a place to drop our bags before doing some exploring. We came across a few climbers and the sociable Jesse struck up a conversation with them while the rest of us took off our packs and found some comfortable rocks to rest on. The scene was pretty awe-inspiring: huge cliff faces and interesting rock formations contrasting with the rushing waves and clear blue waters of the ocean. We took a brief swim in the cold waters and then climbed around on the rocks, Derek and Jesse attempting a free climb along a cliff face over water.

As the sun began to set we made our way across more rocks, shuffling along some somewhat nerve wracking edges, and then climbing a steep hill to a covered picnic area at the top of the cliff, overlooking the water. We spent the next four hours eating PB&J sandwiches and playing Spades, an incredibly fun and addicting team game. The night was warm enough (and we discovered that one of the tents was broken) and so we all slept outside. Derek strung his hammock up between two posts, but joined us on the benches halfway through the night after becoming uncomfortable and afraid of falling if he tried to turn in the hammock.

We woke up briefly for sunrise, fell asleep again, and then woke up to bugs flitting around, including a few centipedes that Claire spotted.

After breakfast and a brief hike, we caught a hitch from a truck driver to the train station a few towns away. We made our way to Taroko Gorge where we rented a couple of scooters and jetted off to the park. Claire was feeling a bit under the weather and so we called it a day, playing – wait for it – Spades, while we waited for the road construction to stop and the road to open (there is construction on a landslide throughout the day and it stops a few times during the day to let people through to either side of the park) so that we could get to the camp site.

We found the place, a pretty sweet deal. A nice grassy area with running water, lights, and a bathroom, for free! We had picked up some supplies in town to do a makeshift repair on the tent. We enjoyed our dinner of spaghetti and tomato sauce and were playing more cards when another couple showed up, at about nine PM, after a six hour scooter ride to the park. Crazy.

The next two days were filled with gorgeous hiking, beautiful sunny days, makeshift meals, motor biking, natural hotspring-ing, napping in the sun, and card playing (including the night that about eight little Taiwanese children and their parents surrounded us and talked to Jesse and then played a couple games of Spoons with us. Priceless).

Safe to say, there was no better way to end the trip than on this high note with Carla and Jesse. Thanks!

 

 

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil - the PB&J edition

 

 

 

Taiwan and the Journey There

We finally arrived in Taiwan at about 10PM on Saturday, July 13th. We flew from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and then to Kota Kinabalu. We got in at about midnight to discover that our 6AM flight to Taiwan had been delayed eleven hours. So instead of taking a quick catnap before jumping on our flight, we spent several hours in the airport idling. Derek began having waves of nausea and felt feverish, so he slept most of the time, bundled up in a sleeping bag and blanket while the rest of us sweat because of the heat. We finally got into the plane, where Derek had a last bout of fever. Luckily, it broke during the flight and we weren't stopped by the heat sensors and medical officials waiting to grab sick individuals for quarantine upon arrival. Phew!

We jumped on a couple of buses and Carla (a study abroad friend of Claire's) met us at the train station.

The next week is a bit of a blur of laziness. We read and watched some shows. We did some cooking and tried some local dishes (eg. Stinky tofu). We checked out the morning market and night market. We spent hours talking with Carla and Jesse (her boyfriend) and her roommates. Derek wasn't feeling 100%.

Also, we went to the hospital to get some chemicals to officially wipe out the lice. Yes, those nasty little buggers proved to be much more resilient than we anticipated. With the help of Carla and Jesse (thank God for his Chinese language skills!), we managed to get the right stuff.

The day before Carla and Jesse were meant to be officially done with their English teaching, we discovered that a big storm was heading towards the area on the east coast that we were planning to visit, so we pushed our itinerary back a day. And so we spent another day being lazy. We also made drawings on the roof and juggled.

 

Taiwan and the Journey There

We finally arrived in Taiwan at about 10PM on Saturday, July 13th. We flew from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and then to Kota Kinabalu. We got in at about midnight to discover that our 6AM flight to Taiwan had been delayed eleven hours. So instead of taking a quick catnap before jumping on our flight, we spent several hours in the airport idling. Derek began having waves of nausea and felt feverish, so he slept most of the time, bundled up in a sleeping bag and blanket while the rest of us sweat because of the heat. We finally got into the plane, where Derek had a last bout of fever. Luckily, it broke during the flight and we weren't stopped by the heat sensors and medical officials waiting to grab sick individuals for quarantine upon arrival. Phew!

We jumped on a couple of buses and Carla (a study abroad friend of Claire's) met us at the train station.

The next week is a bit of a blur of laziness. We read and watched some shows. We did some cooking and tried some local dishes (eg. Stinky tofu). We checked out the morning market and night market. We spent hours talking with Carla and Jesse (her boyfriend) and her roommates. Derek wasn't feeling 100%.

Also, we went to the hospital to get some chemicals to officially wipe out the lice. Yes, those nasty little buggers proved to be much more resilient than we anticipated. With the help of Carla and Jesse (thank God for his Chinese language skills!), we managed to get the right stuff.

The day before Carla and Jesse were meant to be officially done with their English teaching, we discovered that a big storm was heading towards the area on the east coast that we were planning to visit, so we pushed our itinerary back a day. And so we spent another day being lazy. We also made drawings on the roof and juggled.

 

The Update: Home in a Week

Hello family and friends and followers,

It's been a while. We apologize for delayed posts and delayed updates. All hinges on access to camera photographs so that we can give you lovely and complete depictions of our adventures. We unfortunately do not (and have not for the past two months) have access to the photos on our camera, as we are unable to transfer them to the iPad.

Anyways, due to this, we are behind the times.

To tide you over, here is a quick and tantalizing update of where we have been (the posts you can look forward to reading in the hopefully near future) and to let you know where we are.

Destinations:

Taman Negara, Malaysia

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Ton Sai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Kaw Tah, Thailand

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Zhongli, Taiwan

In other news, we return to the good ol' U.S. of A in a week. We arrive in Los Angeles on the 23rd. Claire returns to San Diego on the 24th. Don't worry though, just because our current adventure is coming to a close, doesn't mean there aren't many more in the future!

We look forward to seeing all the lovely faces of those of you back home. We have truly missed you (refer back to our “Community” post for more information) and we think the time is right for some reconnecting and story telling…and we're talking your stories! Enough about us, already!

And yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that the first thing I'm eating is a nice big bowl of guacamole. Follow that with some popcorn, and I'm set.

Quite the Phnompenh-a

Phnom Penh looks like just about every other major city in Southeast Asia. There are lots of cars. There is a shopping street. There is a central market. There are nice neighborhoods and there are slightly sketchy ones.

The night we arrived we walked to one of the nicer neighborhoods and grabbed ourselves a six dollar room on the top floor. We ate out only to be reminded that the food in the city is also usually more expensive than the food out in more rural parts. Working on a twelve dollar a day budget, the six dollar room didn't quite cut it, so the next day we found ourselves a three dollars and fifty cent room in one of the sketchier neighborhoods.

We had two full days in the city. The first one we spent in search of the Russian Market and the Tuol Sleng Museum. We found both, and left the former feeling triumphant and the latter feeling depressed.

A little discussed genocide occurred in Cambodia a little less than 40 years ago, in which an estimated 1.7 million people died. The Pol Pot Regime forcefully took control of the Cambodian government in 1975 and undertook a series of actions to silence perceived dissenters and to create a “uniform society.” While hundreds of thousands died from hunger, others were more directly murdered. The Tuol Sleng Museum resides in the buildings that were once a school and later a Khmer Rouge prison. Inside, the stories of prisoners, pictures of their deaths, and the cells they were confined to give an unsettling view of what happened during this time.

I won't go on about that, as it makes me feel a bit nauseous.

Anyways, we went for a bite to eat at a vegetarian restaurant afterwards, feeling lucky to be alive.

The next day was a lazy day. Uninterested in spending too much time in the smog, we went out just to get food, print some flight tickets, and grab a last Angkor draft.

The next day we spent the rest of our cash on thrift store sandals for Derek and food to tide us over until the following morning when we would arrive in Taipei. This meant we had no money for transportation to the airport, so we began our 10 kilometer walk, sporting matching face masks, thanks to William (remember William from Penang?).

About two kilometers in, a tuk tuk driver stopped us asking if we needed a ride. To our surprise, even after we explained our money-less situation, he said with a grin, “wow, you are even poorer than I am!” and told us to get in – he would give us a ride as far as he could before he needed to turn off to pick someone else up. That meant he drove us about six k's, leaving us with a fraction of the walk. He refused the bananas we offered him in appreciation of his kindness and wished us well on our way. After this experience, we decided maybe we were being a bit too harsh on tuk tuk drivers.

Moral of the story: don't judge a tuk tuk driver by his tuk tuk

 

Angkor Wat-ing it Up

Siem Reap is tourist central. Every other person you see in town has blond hair and wears a tank top. Nevertheless, we managed to find a space seemingly void of this crowd, and we flocked to it every chance we got – the Old Market, inside, the food section. It was here that we spent each morning at our favorite noodle place (ok you're right, we only tried one place…but they didn't rip is off!) and then wandered around looking for what treats to have for lunch and sometimes dinner. We tried tapioca banana desserts, black sticky rice, and a tasty sticky rice/coconut/bean wrap. For lunch and dinner we bought peanuts, already cooked noodles and vegetables we could peel. It was in this market that we most appreciated Siem Reap. It is also here that we realized how low our standards had dropped – specifically the moment when we saw the cockroach in our bag of cooked noodles and instead of throwing it all out, we eased it out of the bag, shrugged, and continued preparing our meal.

If the locals can do it, so can we.

Our first day in Siem Reap was meant to be spent at Angkor Wat, but once the afternoon came around we realized just how exhausted we were from our trip over from Thailand and so we gave ourselves a day of rest. The following morning we rented $1 bicycles and biked to the entrance where we bought three day passes to visit the temples.

Our first day, we were immediately overwhelmed by the crowds at Angkor Wat, the little girls selling post cards, and the intense heat. We visited many of the big hitters – Angkor Wat itself, Bayon, and Phnom Bakheng. We allowed ourselves several moments to rest from the heat, soaking in the immensity and grandeur of these long abandoned temples.

As night approached, we joined the rest of the tourists at the top of Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. We looked around at the jostling and growing crowd, we looked up at the stormy sky as thunder rumbled in the distance, we looked at each other and agreed that we did not need to do this. We have never been ones for “must-see” over-touristed attractions. And so we hopped on our bikes, stopping for a meal at a roadside restaurant full of locals, and returned to our guesthouse for a quiet night.

The following day we planned to leave early afternoon. At the moment of our pending departure, rain began sprinkling on the rooftop. We looked at one another and did not have to argue about staying in. Typically, the rain only lasted for about five minutes and did not start up again, but it was too late, we had been sufficiently scared. We made an executive decision to skip out on Battambang, a town that was originally a part of our Cambodia plans…we'll be back.

Our next day was a bad day. No way around it. It's like the Angkor gods were frowning upon us, like our luck had run dry, our karma had gone bad.

Upon leaving the guesthouse, one of our sullen hosts offered us $2 bikes to rent. We haggled down to $1 and went on our merry way. About 10 kilometers in, Derek got a flat tire. Luckily, there was a man fixing tires nearby so we were able to walk the bike back to have him take a look at it. Turns out it wasn't just a flat, the tire was completely ripped through and it was clear that it had been patched up before. We spent several minutes debating whether to spend the $5 to get it fixed in anticipation that our guesthouse would reimburse us some or to bike back on the broken tire to have them deal with it. Uninterested in losing a day, we got the tire fixed and went on our way.

We visited the Tomb Raider temple (yes, I have now walked where Angelina has walked, touched that which Angelina has touched…some sort of glamour must have rubbed off on me, right?). It is pretty awesome. The trees have taken back what was once theirs, engulfing entire structures, spearing roots through walls. We managed to find a quiet space or two, away from the bustle of the crowd before returning to our bikes and heading to the next temple of the day. There were only two this day, as our moral had been severely hit by our bike experience, as well as some previously unmentioned weird experiences in the marketplace in which, set on not getting ripped off, we had been semi-rude to a shop keeper that turns out charged less than anyone else. Not to mention our usual breakfast place was not open when we arrived – luckily it did before we left.

Anyways, after the second temple, we headed back to our guesthouse. No one was around to mention the bike to, so we waited until the evening.

We courteously explained to the guy we had rented from that the tire had broken on the trip, that we had fixed it, and that we wanted to get reimbursed for some of the cost, as it had clearly been broken before. He laughed, said that he had rented it from another place, and that he didn't know what to do about it. This was news to us, as he had originally told us that they were the guest house's bikes. Several minutes later, we managed to get him to go to the bike rental place to figure something out for us. He came back with nothing new, asserting that if we had brought the bike back after the tear, they would have fixed it no charge, but since we hadn't, it was on us to cover the cost. He told us it was not in his hands, that the cost should lie with us and the bike rental place. He completely shirked all responsibility over having rented us the bikes and therefore being responsible for handling any issues that might occur with them. We took it upon ourselves to go to the bike rental place where we explained our situation, aware that it was not the fault of this man. He agreed to give us $1.50, which is how much a tire costs, but told us to get it from our guesthouse (and to have them call if they had any questions). When it was all said and done, they refused to give us any money, to take responsibility, or to apologize.

It wasn't about the money for us. It was about the principle the matter. It was clear that our host had rented the bikes specifically to make money off of us as we had refused tuk tuk rides (the drivers sat in the guesthouse lobby every morning to harass us as we left for the day) the previous days. He was just a kid. He had not thought out the consequences. He was surly and unwelcoming.

We packed our bags and left.

The next day was much better. We woke up to friendly faces and no tuk tuk drivers. We had our usual breakfast (and some extra in anticipation of our 80 kilometer ride). We hired bikes and started the ride to Banteay Srei, one of the farther temples, with a facade more well preserved than many of the other temples – often referred to as the “Citadel of Women” because of how intricate the carvings are.

Our ride there was beautiful. A faint rain began, but it was warm enough that we barely got wet. We passed through several small towns, sporting street side food stands and water buffalo. We waved at the local children as they biked and walked to school in the opposite direction. We experienced the countryside in a way we would not have been able to had we taken another form of transportation.

The temple was beautiful. One of our favorite. Flanked by two lily covered ponds, the pinkish-colored stone temple feels remote and godly with its crouching guardians and delicate designs. We were some of very few visitors and we enjoyed the relative silence.

One of the little local boys waiting around for money tried to plead some out of us. We gave him peanuts instead. He went away laughing, his hands overflowing.

On our way back, we stopped at one of the many watermelons booths along the road and ate an entire, freshly cut watermelon, as two local men looked at us curiously. Back in the city, we grabbed two 50 cent beers to celebrate our long ride. We were too exhausted to talk much and returned to our room soon after for dinner and some Arrested Development episodes. We felt complete with the temples of Angkor, the tuk tuk drivers of Siem Reap, our noodles dishes from the Old Market.

 

Don’t You Try and (Siem) Reap Me Off!!

Another long journey awaited us. Fifteen hours on a train in third class. Our cross-the-aisle neighbors gave us the thumbs-up for our rice/banana/peanut breakfast.

One hour on a bus to the bus station. We met a German guy that had been away for two years, working in Australia and then traveling in Asia. He told us how the elephant hair he had received from an elephant trainer had indeed brought him luck since receiving it.

Five hours on a bus to the Aranya Prathet Thai border crossing. We had an hour before the border closed and our visa expired. A tuk tuk took us the last six kilometers to a visa rip-off office that we luckily avoided, after asking a tourist inside if it was legit and getting a solemn shake of the head.

It was raining, as seemed to be standard for our days of transition. This would be no exception.

A man steered us to the border posing as a nice Cambodia and later revealing himself as part of a taxi driving organization set on getting us in one of their cars.

The border control agent tried to get more money from us than the $20 expected for the visa. We declined.

After finally crossing the border, we got in an arguing match with the taxi drivers after being promised a lower price from one of the guys and then getting asked for almost twice the price by another guy. A poor French woman had already paid way too much before even getting into the taxi. We finally agreed on a price, realizing it was our only way out of Poipet (the shady Cambodian border town), since buses weren't running at that hour.

Arriving in Siem Reap we were dropped of and sketchily ushered into a tuk tuk that took us to a guesthouse. Turns out it wasn't the one we were looking for, but with Derek's honed haggling skills we managed to convince them to give us a room for six bucks instead of the twelve they originally asked for. After another 24 hour plus traveling shenanigans, we fell asleep exhausted.

 

Kaw Tah: The ESW Thailand Project

Project Title: ESW Thailand Water and Energy

Project Members: Erik – drip irrigation system leader and teaching/games point man, Perapong – hydroelectric system leader and Thai/English translator, Alex – UV filtration system leader and theoretical knowledge man, Derek – idea man and previous organizational leader (all these members came as representatives for the organization and teams that have worked on this project for the past three years – nice work!!), Claire – grunt worker and laborer, all of the villagers ITDP staff that came out to help – creative thinkers, seasoned vets, and log-carrying trench-digging mountain men

Project Goal: to successfully install a drip irrigation system, hydroelectric system, and UV filtration system

 

What Really Happened:

On the morning of Sunday, June 23rd, we met up with the ESW team and some members of the ITDP (Inter-Tribal Development Program) team, including the CEO and principle contact, Mike. The next several hours we spent driving, stopping once for lunch and to pick up some extra supplies. By the time we neared the end of the paved road, it was too late to safety cross a couple of rivers, so we turned back to a nearby town to post up in a hotel for the night. We juggled (with our feet) with a small woven ball common among Thai people, ate some local dishes, strolled over to the closing night market, snacked on several treats that Perapong bought in his excitement over being home, and enjoyed a beer together.

Bright and early the next morning, we drove the last stretch to the village, spending many hours bouncing through mud and rock and making nerve-wracking river crossings in the two four-wheel drives. After one of the trucks got stuck in the mud on a near vertical hill, the team got out and, using a wire, pulled the truck to safety. We arrived in the town a few minutes later, greeted by shy children and an old man (who we later found out is from a nearby village and is shunned because he was once a holy man but he did something to curse several people) who couldn't get over the color and volume of Claire's hair.

We were ushered towards the home we were to stay in for the next several days, a large stilted wooden cabin. The family had kindly cleared a space for us in the main room and opened up a bedroom for a couple of us to share. That night, we went to see the project site (which appeared to be much different than originally anticipated), enjoyed a lovely meal cooked by our host and began to discuss the plans for the project.

The general outline of following days looked something like this:

Rise at 5:30 or 6AM

Eat at 7AM

Walk to the project site to begin work at 8 or 9AM

Lunch anytime between 12:30 and 2:30

Either work more if lunch was eaten at the site, or remain in the village for some brain work, some relaxation, or some kid time (playing or teaching)

Dinner at 7:00PM or later

Sleep anytime between 10PM and 12:30AM

The details of the following days looked something like this:

The project site and specifics were nothing like what had been prepared for, so an entire overhaul of the project plan took place and ended up looking like this: water from the waterfall upstream would be funneled towards the Pelton wheel hydroelectric system located on top of a large storage tank. Three output pipes would leave the tank, one leading to the drip irrigation system for a plot of future food crop land, one leading to the UV filtration system, and the other releasing excess water. The UV filtration system would have an on/off switch and faucet for people at the future school (to be located nearby) or villagers that don't mind the walk from the village downhill. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

It wasn't.

All except for maybe the drip irrigation system went with some sort of hitch. Upstream pipes kept breaking or getting clogged so it took a while for us to test the water (which needed a 24 hour turn around to get results). We didn't have all the correct parts, so we had to buy some off some of the villages and use some that was sitting around from previous projects. It rained almost everyday. There were mosquitoes (by the end of it, all but Claire and Erik looked like victims of some sort of epidemic). The wiring from the Pelton wheel all the way to the UV system did not work (in other words, something was wrong that prevented the water coming down from the waterfall from creating enough power using the Pelton wheel to send a strong enough current down the power lines to power the UV filtration system to create clean water…well, something like that). Anyways, we were fortunate to have an electrician on staff who was able to solve the problem. Often experience trumps education, in fact, we were to be reminded of this several times over the course of the project.

On the final day of the project, we felt assured that our last tinkering a would go smoothly, that our testing would have perfect results.

Again, we were proven wrong. Oh, how we were humbled on this trip!

Upon testing, water began leaking profusely out of the top of the tank once it was full. The output pipe that was meant to release unused water proved not enough for the immense amount of water coming from upstream. We spent a few hours theorizing, drawing pictures, attempting changes. Things got real, real quick. The team was tested.

And the team came out victorious! With some quick thinking and quick digging, a new output pipe was added that would release pressure from the tank and prevent overfill, don't ask me to try to explain more than that, I'm the grunt girl, remember!

Anyways, we finally succeeded in installing the system, with wonderful help from the villagers. Some came every day to help, others came once or twice (even though there was copious amounts of work to do in the rice fields). We became friends with the villagers, and we bonded over our trials and successes. In the evenings and afternoons we would sometimes teach English to the children. We ate wonderful and fresh tasting food.

On our last day, we were invited to the Sunday mass where we enjoyed beautiful singing, were asked to sing ourselves (hmm, unfortunately Doe Ray Me was the only song we all appeared to know), and were offered beautiful handmade Corinne (the Thai name for the tribe) bags. One of the village men, Po Tu, invited us to visit his home. He and his wife are 22 and they have two children. They offered us jack fruit and then proceeded to lavish gifts of traditional clothing upon us – a shirt for Claire (another woman appeared to offer a sarong) a shirt for Derek, a shirt for Erik. Later, both Perapong and Alex were offered shirts by other villagers. At night each family brought a traditional dish to us so that our dinner was a collage of the food of the Kaw Tah people. Many of them contained frogs.

The next day we walked nine kilometers to meet the trucks because it was too difficult for them to cross the river. And so we drove back to Chiang Mai, got our clothes and bodies washed of a week of rain, sweat, and mud, we had a traditional Thai massage to soothe our sore muscles, we had a delicious mango passion fruit smoothie, we went to bed exhausted but content.

 

Chiang Mai, What Lovely Smoothies You Have

Chiang Mai is a collage of hippy fashioned tourists, pad thai and fruit smoothie selling vendors, tuk tuk drivers, and enormous wats (temples).

We scored a bamboo hut for 150 baht (about 5 USD) with free wifi and free water. A pretty sweet deal. Soon after settling down and washing after our 48 hours plus of traveling, we made our way over to a local food market for some grub. Yum! Of course we chose “the best food in Chiang Mai” restaurant to go to. While we can't say if it is the best, it was certainly a highlight.

The next few days while we waited for the Engineers for a Sustainable World (an organization Derek was involved with in college) crew to arrive in Thailand, we took our time to explore the city and get up to date with our communications. Meaning: we Skyped with our lovely families, we checked out a few of the markets including the enormously overwhelming Night Bazaar, and we ate as many smoothies as we could justify considering it cost only a dollar for a two fruit shake (hello mango passion fruit). We also discovered Derek's sensitivity to large amounts of acidic fruits…maybe five mangoes a day was pushing it….

Anyways, we enjoyed ourselves in this bohemian city. In fact, we even got our clothes washed. At a laundromat. In a washing machine. Safe to say, our clothes hadn't smelled or looked that good in months!

We greeted the ESW-ers, Erik, Perapong, and Alex, on our last night in Chiang Mai for some food and bazaar browsing. They were the first home friends we had seen since our Christmas and New Years celebrations with Natalie. We were pretty stoked, and reenergized by the excitement of our friends. The change of scene and the new faces reminded us to seize the moment and make the most of our upcoming experiences.