It’s 31 degrees, there is snow on the ground, and I sit in my house in my hooded sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers, listening to my old dog snoring, reading my first published piece on the front page of The Inertia.
A few weeks ago, after submitting a sample, I got a notice that I was accepted as a contributor to this great website. By pure fate of all of our names starting with “K”, I happen to be on the same page and RIGHT ABOVE Keala Kennelly and Kelly Slater, among many other incredibly talented contributors. That’s right. While I will never surf monster Teahupoo like Keala or win 11 World Titles like Kelly, I like to think we are all amigos, if only in cyberspace.
By consequence of being so excited, I can barely write, so it’s best to check out it out by following the link:
Or read below:
One of my very dear friends told me that for much of her life, the image that would come up when she thought of her future was eight neatly stacked, square, white, modern dinner plates. These plates somehow represented her success in life after completing college, sucking it up as an intern, then working her butt off in corporate America. They were the pinnacles of achievement, those plates, but she couldn’t care less about those plates now.
My snapshot of the future, for as long as I can remember, is an outdoor shower, and I have no idea where this came from. I grew up in a pretty average family in inland Southern California. I was an only child, with two professional working parents, good grades, off to college at age 17. My outdoor shower is a pretty functional looking shower, in a tropical setting, with a tile floor, and a bamboo screen surrounded by thick foliage. If I look closely, I see a surfboard leaning up against the wall. It turns out the shower is a side note; my dream was to be a surfer.
So, five years ago at age 34, I embarked on what I now know is the hardest learning curve in the world – surfing. I’m athletic and stubborn, two good things to have in the water, but while I was full of gumption and spunk, I thought I failed a lot. I didn’t catch enough waves, I couldn’t get my feet in the right place, I went over the falls (still do), and mostly, I deferred. I thought that because many times I was “the worst surfer in the water”, that I didn’t deserve waves, so I pulled back. I let others take waves because I thought they were better than me. Until one day, an acquaintance of mine paddled up to me, got in my face and yelled at me for being stupid, saying “You deserve waves as much as anyone else out here!”
I cried that day.
So, what did I do? After much saving and planning that involved quitting our comfortably secure jobs, I went, with my very supportive surfing husband, on a year-long world surf adventure that included Mexico, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This here is what I learned.
I stopped trying so hard. One of the most interesting compliments someone gave me was that I am so passionate in everything I do. And more often than not, I am called the “100 Pounds of Fury” among other interesting (and perhaps not so nice) descriptive phrases. Surfing has taught me that maybe, instead of jumping into things head first with no helmet on and my hair on fire, I should take a more peaceful, flowing path. Take waves, and other things in life, as they come, but stop trying so hard, stop swimming upstream.
I also now know that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Being a female surfer at breaks that were dominated by dudes from all over the world was, so far, the hardest thing that I’ve done in my life. There were days where I felt like a small, defeated “chick” in the water. But I still paddled out and caught waves. I tried my best to hold my head high and be a surfer.
And most importantly, I can call myself a surfer.
Because, when are you really, truly allowed to call yourself a “surfer”? I’ve asked myself this question a few times. Is it when you stand up on your very first whitewater wave? Or when you can pull off floaters and aerials? Is it when you surf a certain number of days per week/month/year? It was a cold Christmas morning in Baja when I was almost surprised to discover that I had become surfer, when I paddled out into overhead waves, full of gratitude and grace in that cold morning. The path to becoming a surfer resides in your heart, it is endless, and filled with potential.
I may not have an outdoor shower, but I will always be a surfer. And you should be too.
Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.
What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089
This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.
This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.
We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!
Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!
We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:
Top Five Medical Emergencies:
Best Wildlife Encounters
Best “Locals Only” Activities:
A few years ago, when we were planning this “year of surf travel”, the inevitable came up: Are we too old for this? We are going to be truthful here. We are not too old but….we are getting tired.
While traveling through SE Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia) allowed us to see amazing sights, it took its toll. Another 10 hour overnight bus ride? Check! A quick four days in Cambodia, hiking the Temples of Angkor in 90 degrees with 110% humidity? Got it! Or, a day that goes like this: Early morning TukTuk ride to a bus station. Three hour bus ride to the Cambodia/Thailand border. Standing in a maddening four and half hour queue to get through Thai immigration. Another four hour minibus ride to Bangkok, with a terrible driver hitting the brakes then gassing it every 30 seconds. We're not done yet. Another classic ten hour overnight bus to Chiang Mai, complete with a drunk Thai woman singing karaoke and trying to be my best friend. That's 25 hours of travel, straight up. And just to clarify, at 39 and 40, we ARE the oldest people, surrounded by chain smoking European youngsters who are heading home in time to get back to “Uni”. Yeah, like, I finished “Uni”, uh, 18 years ago people!
Things really came to a head when I (Katy), after eight days of gastrointestinal woes, checked myself into a Bangkok hospital for treatment. After two days of wandering Chatuchak weekend market, which is touted as being the largest market in Southeast Asia, I hit bottom with a 100.5 fever. We suppose my street food habit indeed got the best of me, as I was diagnosed with an intestinal bacterial infection, and was pumped with intravenous antibiotics then sent home with a weeks worth of Cipro. Let the record show, however, that I persevered through fever, stomach cramps, nausea and the unthinkable all in the name of shopping to bring home cute clothes from Asia. Chris is quietly preparing his “Husband Of The Year” speech for his unwavering committment and support while I tried on shoes and jeans in my feverish state.
We know we aren't getting any tears from anyone, and we aren't asking for sympathy, mind you. And, yes, we know, we tend to overdo it a bit. But we are also trying to be honest about ourselves and the reality of travel burnout. No matter what the other travel bloggers say, it happens. The energy expended in daily life in a foreign country is huge: the game of trying to figure out how to get anywhere you want to go, the ever present language barriers, having to figure out where and what to eat for every meal, the constant bargaining for goods and services, the feeling that you are generally at the mercy of others, the general lack of solitude/privacy, and just plain ole homesickness for the familiar.
We combat these feelings several ways. First, we must get back to surfing. Having a “purpose” is good for us, and getting exercise and being in the water just makes us feel so much better. We now know we are surfers who travel, not travelers who surf. Second, we've tried to slow down. We moved quickly through Asia, never stopping somwhere for more than four days at a time, constantly sightseeing and keeping busy. Slowing down helps, even if that means staying holed up in an air conditioned room for a few days watching the Olympics on cable television and eating take out in bed. We did this by booking such a room (gotta love www.agoda.com) in Bangkok for a few nights before leaving Thailand. Third, while we try to slow down, we know that change is good too. A change in scenery, food, culture, activities helps keep us invigorated and excited.
So, while we have just very slightly hit the wall, we are on the rebound. Being back in Sri Lanka is awesome, and we already have a train ride, many crowded bus rides, some temple visits, and a few days in Kandy under our belts. We just adore the bustling mini-city of Kandy with its tea stalls, saree shops and curry restaurants. We also had a great day touring some of the Ancient Cities area. Even though we are pretty maxed out on temples, and we've seen literally hundreds of Buddhas, we managed to get to the Dambulla cave temples. We also acted on gut instinct and skipped going to the expensive ancient temple on Sigiriya, but instead let our TukTuk driver take us to the next rock outcropping over. We hiked to the top by ourselves, and got an excellent 360 degree view including Sigiriya and the hordes of people. Oftentimes, foregoing the obvious attraction leads you to better stuff.
We are now headed back to Arugam Bay, where we will stay put for at least three weeks, and pretty much do nothing but surf, eat, sleep, read and look for elephants. We'll be blogging as much as we can, so expect to hear from us again soon!
In several earlier posts, we have mentioned that really the only way we are able to travel for so long is to be on a pretty slim budget, so we have to pick and choose how we want to spend our money. Every day presents so many oppoortunities, that we just can't do it all. However, we splurged to spend time with the elephants.
Elephants, both wild and domesticated, are a very important and interesting part of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. Elephant imagery is found in the oldest of artifacts, proving that elephants have been a part of their culture for a very long time. However, the elephant-human interface lies in a precarious place, and the future of wild elephants is at stake in much of these parts. One hundred years ago, there were up to 300,000 elephants in Thailand. Now there are only 5,000, and only about half of those live in the wild. The other half are domesticated “working” elephants, with a variety of jobs. The Thais have a brutal historical method of “breaking” a wild elephant to train them for working. Learning the details of that will forever be imprinted upon both of us whenever we see a “trained” elephant. Many of the domesticated elephants have historically been used for logging, but with the ban of logging in Thailand in 1989, these elephants found themselves out of work, so they were put to work in tourist jobs such as elephant trekking, shows and street begging. Not a good situation for these jungle animals. Elephants are very intelligent, social and emotional animals and the physical and emotional stress of living in Bangkok or carrying people around on their backs is a tough life.
We decided we'd like to learn more and visit a place that has a positive impact on elephant tourism, so we did our research and found ourselves booking a two night stay at the Elephant Nature Park, an hour north of Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park rescues orphaned, abused and unemployed elephants and gives them a happy life at the park. They also work to stop illegal logging and habitat destruction, and help educate both tourists and locals about the plight of Asian elephants. This was definitely not fitting in our budget, but we could certainly justify giving our money to an organization such as this.
Upon arriving at Elephant Nature Park we see there are elephants just cruising around the property. After we get settled with our small group of other visitors, we meet our guide we learn a few basic things like “do not stand between two elephants” (no kidding), or “try to not stand behind the elephant”. As you can imagine, there are several reasons for this second rule. We get our logistics for the day and learn the days schedule, like when we have lunch, which is after we feed the elephants their lunch.
Every elephant has a mahout that helps care for and watch over that elephant. Mahouts are a very ancient tradition and every domesticated elephant has one. When an elephant is rescued and brought to Elephant Nature Park, the mahout either comes as well, or a new mahout is found for the elephant. The park then pays the mahout a decent wage and provides housing for him so he, like the elephant, doesn't lose his job as well. Since some of the elephants arrived at the park with injuries or poor health, the park has an elephant medical clinic where the elephants come in for treatments for various ailments. It looks like a gas station. The park also employs over 70 locals from nearby villages and most of the food comes from the local area. At any given time, they have 250 workers and volunteers at the park, all for the care of 34 elephants. Each elephant consumes 10% or more of their body weight, each day. They eat the grasses and plants within the park but need supplemental food, so locally grown elephant feed arrives by the truckload. It is quite an impressive organization.
The park is set up so that you get to spend time with elephants in both a human setting, like feeding them pineapples, watermelon, bananas and pumpkins from a feeding platform, and out in the field, where you get to watch them behave naturally. The morning started with meeting and feeding a few of the older “ladies”, incredibly gentle, friendly beings. Standing next to a 10,000 pound animal is strange, and odd things come into your head…like footwear. What am thinking, wearing open toed shoes? Does it matter? This thing could kill me with a quick swing of the trunk. Later on, we joined in on one of elephants favorite things, besides eating, of course. Bathing! The park is situated on a river, and several times a day, the elephants bathe. And when you are standing next to one of these giant beasts with a built in water hose, you get wet. They love it and we loved it even more.
The following day, we went with our guide out in the field. Our guide gives us the basic rules again. However, this morning, he gives us another rule. “When I say 'run', I mean it, and we have to run all in the same direction.” We look down at our flip flop clad feet again. Hmmm. Ring, ring. Pick up the clue phone. Just not getting it. So we walk out onto the property, spend about two hours learning more about each elephant, petting and feeding a few, and watching other elephants from a distance. With one elephant, our guide says “Give her a kiss. She loves kisses.”
Soon we started to recognize each elephant's unique personality. Some are friendly and enjoy attention and some are troublemakers. Believe us when we say an elephant, if it wants to, can make a lot of trouble. At one point in the morning, while watching a family of seven (they are very family oriented, and will group themselves into adopted families), it happens. We have to run. A four year old boy elephant, the very mischievous troublemaker of the group, strays from the herd and looks at us, walks a bit, then starts into a jog right towards us. When elephants “jog”, it's like a solid run for us. Our guide tells us to run and we trip our way through matted grass and piles of elephant poo. It is a little scary, yet oddly exciting in a warped kind of way. From our new, distanced vantage point, we turn to watch the young elephant again. He has stopped, but actually looks slightly amused at the whole scenario, as does his mahout.
Being able to learn about these fascinating animals in this setting was such a great experience, and we are so glad that we dipped a bit too far into our budget to do this. If you want to learn more about the Elephant Nature Park visit the website at www.elephantnaturepark.org. You can buy lunch for an elephant!
The unexpected exceeds many expectations while traveling. There have been moments when we notice things or something happens and we blink and think “Wow, we never thought we'd see something like that.”
Exhibit A: After loading onto a very nice, air conditioned bus for an overnight trip across Malaysia, a Muslim cleric gets on the bus, says a very lengthy prayer (in Arabic, we presume), then walks down the aisle collecting money. Virtually everyone on the bus gives him money, except for us. He stops at our seats, looks at us for a while, says some more stuff, then continues on. Did he put a hex on us? Does he hate us because he knows we are American? Was he for real? We'll never know.
Exhibit B: We spent a few days at the Perhentian Islands, in the very northeast corner of Malaysia. One fine day, while swimming and sitting on the beach reading, a very large (and I mean LARGE, well over two meters long) monitor lizard cruises down to the beach, walks around, then goes for a refreshing dip, swimming through the water. The thought of a large, swimming, carnivorous reptile is a little worrisome while snorkeling.
Exhibit C: Who knew we'd be surrounded by large, sunburnt Russians on the Andaman coast in Thailand? In places, everything is translated into Russian. The televisions in bars are tuned to Russian programming. They must have good airfare deals this time of year.
Our traveling style these days is at a much quicker pace, staying in one place for typically no more than three nights or so, so we have spent many hours on busses, trains, and boats. From KL, we went to Perhentian Kecil, a lovely, if not “backpacker” style island with insanely clear water and fabulous snorkeling complete with beachside bars, thumping beats, and abundant booze (rare for Malaysia). From there, we scooted back across the country, on another overnight bus, then ferry, to the northwest corner to Georgetown on Pulau Penang, known for its Chinatown, Little India, and abundance of street food.
The goal was to be out of Malaysia before the start of Ramadan, the very important month of reflection and fasting for Muslims. During this time, Muslims only eat or drink one hour before sunrise, then again after sunset. Many eateries are closed during the day, which is quite dicey when you are (read: Chris is) hungry! However, although the majority of Malaysia is Muslim there is also a large Chinese population that turns out some exceptional food. Thank god for the Chinese! We left Malaysia on the second day of Ramadan, with full bellies.
Our basic routine has changed from “eat, sleep, surf” to “eat, eat, eat” for we are in Thailand and the food is incredible, cheap and abundant. Piles of Pad Thai, satay, noodle soup, crispy pork, and of course panang curry. We literally eat two to three lunches a day, moving from one food cart to the next, spending two dollars at each place. Chris' vocabulary has been reduced to “I think I'm ready for another noodle bowl.” Although it is generally the low tourist season for most of Thailand, we find it to be quite developed and touristy, something we are trying to get used to. There are some advantages to this, particularly that transportation is very organized and it is easy to figure out how to get from point A to point B. The downside is that things are more expensive and the locals hassle you to take a taxi, eat at their restaurant, braid your hair into tiny painful cornrows (never in my life will I do this), or whatever it is that they are selling.
The seas on the Andaman coast are rough, but what that means for us… WAVES. We did our homework and made it to a “surf spot” in Thailand and lo and behold, got two much needed wonderful little surf sessions today. We rented boards (we left ours in Sri Lanka for a month) from a goofy British dude named Lee and spent the morning surfing with him in what we would now call marginal surf. Sometimes it doesn't take world class waves to make your day. After not surfing for three weeks, we realize how much surfing has become a part of who we are. Withdrawal therapy may be necessary when we return to landlocked Central Oregon.