What's New

Posted by & filed under General Training. Be the first to comment!

My semester of travel is coming to an end! All that stands between me and normalcy is a 2-week trip to my field site in the middle of the New Mexico desert. And a move halfway across the country. And starting a new job. But after this semester, all this is totally doable.

Just to recap my fitness and travel history, I spent my fall training for what was to hopefully be my BQ marathon. All my 22 mile runs indicated I would break 3:30, and I felt mentally and physically strong. About 3 weeks before the race, I started getting weird pain in what I thought was my psoas. My race fell apart and I ended in agony and completely missed my BQ time. I went to get an MRI and my fears were confirmed–stress fracture in my femoral neck. I then spent 6 weeks on crutches and a frustrating walk/run recovery. That took me to February, when I traveled for 3 weeks to Brazil. Then I was home for a week or so before trip after trip for work, buying a home, family obligations, etc. That took me to April, when I traveled for a month in Uganda followed by a week-long conference in the states.

See what’s missing from all that travel? Training. I feel completely weak and out of shape. Next weekend I’ll be doing the Challenge Quassy Olympic, which will be horribly painful and humbling yet hopefully fun. After that I jump to my field work and then pack up and move to my new home of South Bend, Indiana!  I am so excited to settle into my new home (I also bought my first house!), get back into a regular routine, and get back on the training wagon. I miss feeling strong. I miss structuring my day around training. I miss weird tan lines, chafing, muscle soreness, salt crusting, and endless loads of laundry. Right now I feel completely disconnected from the triathlon community, and I want to gain my entry back into the clubhouse.

 

Posted by & filed under Travel. 1 comment.

March 1, Day 38

After a leisurely morning we decided to hit the beach. We loaded up the moped and stopped for durian, jackfruit, oranges and pineapple along the way and headed to Jess’s favorite beach. We also stopped by a travel agency to book a tour for the Simian Islands the following day.

The water at the beach was turquoise, calm and warm–as perfect as can be! We completely lazed about, spending several hours soaking up the sun and sand and water and discussing life, love and the pursuit of travel.

Around mid-afternoon we then headed a few more kms to check out another beach, stopping for mangoes along the way. After we got our fill of the beach we hit up a nearby market where I stuffed myself silly: sausage, fried tofu, papaya salad, pad thai, squash in sweet coconut milk, and fried bananas. Once we were about to burst we got back on the moped for our long trip home–the traffic in Phuket was horrendous, even with our motorbike. We hit the hay early as we were set to wake up very early the next morning for our Simian Islands adventure!

 

March 2, Day 39

We scrambled in the darkness to get ready as our pickup time was listed as 6am. We arrived at the 7-11 (our designated pickup place) just in time and waited and waited. 50 minutes later our minivan arrive (with other tourists in tow) and we then endured a hair-raising 90 minute drive with the craziest driver I experienced my whole trip.

Eventually we arrived at Andaman Sea Discovery and opened the minivan doors to see a sea of tourists, all being herded like cattle. After doing the “non-tourist” thing for most of my trip, this was a shock to my system. Jess and I each turned to each other with a look that screamed “holy hell, what have we gotten ourselves into?” Before we could speak, our look was broken by “Helllllooooo ladies! Welcome! What is your hotel name?” We turned to see a European man with a clipboard. We start to mutter “oh, um, no hotel, we were picked up at the 7-11…” and we were quickly interrupted by “oh yes! 7-11 girls! Jessica! Two lovely ladies! Welcome! You are on my boat today!” We laughed and knew we were in for an interesting day.

After a few minutes of hanging out with a huge group, we were split off according to boat and briefed about our destination. We were heading to the Simian Islands, a group of islands off the Western coast of Thailand which are now part of the National Park. There islands have amazing snorkeling and beaches, and we would spend the day island-hopping.

After our briefing we boarded the boat (we snagged a great seat on the bow) and we were off! The whole way out to the islands our European guide was talking with us and we were having a ball–we were laughing and making fun of each other and just really enjoying the day. Making friends with the guide paid off because when our boat stopped at our first snorkeling destination he snuck us off on a private tour! The reef was absolutely incredible: the reef was vibrant and healthy (it’s closed to tourists 6 months out of the year to allow the reef to recover and grow) and there was an incredible diversity of fish species. The time in the water flew by as I observed all the fish behavior and I reluctantly went back to the boat when we were called back.

From there we sailed a few minutes to the largest island where we had a disappointing (bland tourist food) buffet lunch and beach time. The beach and water were absolutely stunning: I don’t know hoe much more picture perfect you can get!

IMG_2639 IMG_2642 IMG_2643 IMG_2649

After lunch we headed to another snorkeling site (again amazing) followed by another island and beach, where I finally saw flying foxes!

IMG_2648

At 2:45 it was time to leave and we enjoyed a nice cruise back to port. We then got back on the same minivan with the same driver and the same harrowing ride home. After a quick dinner we had just enough time to shower before our bodies collapsed in exhaustion from a fun-filled day.

March 3, Day 40

Ah, my last day in Thailand! Jess had to go to work, so I set off to Phuket town to kill some time before my flight to Bangkok. Having my bike was handy as it let me get around town, but I was also eager to get rid of it. My first stop was at the main market, where I bought Thai ingredients (tamarind paste, green curry paste, toasted rice powder for making laab, black sticky rice, and chili flakes)–thus filling any last possible space I had in my pack.

After the market and a late breakfast of mango sticky rice I set off to tackle two things: exchange my Laos money and get rid of the bike. I had about $230 US in Lao Kip, but could not find any places in Cambodia that would exchange it. Apparently if I had read the Laos Lonely Planet I would have learned this. I heard of one exchange in Phuket that would exchange it, so I ventured off to find them. The problem was they couldn’t convert Kip directly to dollars–they had to convert it to Baht first–so in the end my $230 US was only worth about $70. I thought for a moment about just keeping the Kip and trying to find a place to exchange it in the US, but then I thought about the stress of dealing with that and the chance of ending up with nothing so I took the loss and told myself “what’s done is done and I’m not allowed to think about this anymore.”

After that I spent about 2 hours trying to find someone to buy my bicycle, but no one seemed interested. So I decided to follow through with my back-up plan: donate it to monks at a temple. I pulled up to a temple and was greeted by an older monk who spoke English. At first he was confused, but he eventually understood I was donating the bicycle. He was so happy with the donation and insisted on buying me an ice cream as a thank-you. I was happy to see it go to a good destination, and I was rewarded with thumbs-up from a group of monks as I left by foot. I walked away smiling. My nearly 6 weeks taking this bicycle from Laos to Cambodia to Thailand ended on such a great feeling.

IMG_2657

With 2 hours left until my bus departed for the airport, I had one last item on my agenda: the Raintree Spa. I got something called the sport treatment: an intense hour long oil massage followed by a 30 minute Thai massage. It was peaceful and glorious and a great way to end my trip. From there I caught the local bus to the airport (100 Baht, 90 minutes) and boarded my Thai airlines flight to whisk me to Bangkok to begin my long journey home. I settled into my seat with a smile on my face. And as we taxied across the tarmac, my smile grew. For what was the last song played over the speaker system before we took off? Katy Perry’s Roar.

 

Read previous: Day 35-37: The floating houses on Cheow Lan Lake

Posted by & filed under Travel. Be the first to comment!

February 26, Day 35: Khao Sok

Again I was up early–today I was headed to my most anticipated destination yet–the Cheow Lan lake! Many tour companies offer packages where you sleep in a floating house, but I previously found (somewhat sketchy) directions on how to do it yourself and pre-booked my house online through the National Park website (note to those of you choosing this option: I booked 3 days before I arrived and chose the option to pay at the National Park headquarters within 48 hours in Khao Sok). I never paid since the people at Khao Sok had no idea how I should pay, but I asked them to call to verify that I did indeed have a reservation, and which specific lakehouse I was to stay at.

To get to the floating houses, you need to take a private longtail boat from the pier near Rajjaphapa Dam. The pier is about 65 km from the main entrance to Khao Sok, so you either need to own your own transport or hitchike. Since I had my bike it was a no-brainer. I left early and cycled through the early morning fog. The roads were flat and in good condition, so I going about 20-25 kph even at a conservative pace. 20 km away from Khao Sok I grabbed an amazing breakfast of stirfried chicken and rice from a roadside stand (which I ordered simply by walking up, saying “Swaidee-ka” (hello), followed by “Kin Kao?” and then getting whatever they serve you. It’s always cheap and delicious and blows the pants off anything you’ll get from a restaurant in tourist areas.

IMG_2502

After breakfast I continued on my way, enjoying the roads and views. When I was about 30 km from my journey, however, something odd happened. A car pulled alongside me and matched my pace. I tried to ignore him but he honked his horn. I looked and he gave me the thumbs up sign. I smiled, thought he was being your typical friendly Thai, gave him the thumbs up, and focused back on the road. The man then persisted. Eventually cars came behind him so he drove ahead, but then pulled over and waited for me to catch up. Then he tried to flag me down but I ignored him and cycled past him. This pulling alongside/trying to flag me down continued several times. As long as I was on the main road I knew I’d be safe, but I knew a few kms ahead I would pull off onto another road and I wasn’t sure how populated the area would be. Since I was cycling alone and my gut told me something wasn’t right, I decided I would stop in a store. Well, wouldn’t you know–at the next intersection was a police station!

I pulled into the police station and tried to explain what happened and ask if I could just wait there for a few minutes, but they had no idea what I was saying and they all started taking pictures of me with their phone (I suppose they don’t get too many bike-short wearing, solo-traveling, western women in their office!). After a few minutes a woman came up who spoke English and helped explain my situation. They told me not to worry and everything would be fine. I was just happy to have a few minutes rest and hit the road after about 10 minutes feeling better.

My worries were unnecessary, however, because the road to the dam was quite busy–lots of traffic and shops along the way. I was just a few more kms down the road when a police car came up and waved me down. He asked if I was going to the damn and I said yes and then he said “okay, safety” and indicated for me to continue. I was confused but started pedaling. Then I realized what was happening–he was escorting me the whole way to the dam! I felt a bit silly with the police car slowly cruising behind me as I pedaled along, but it made me smile and it was such a testament to how nice and caring the officers are to tourists.

At the entrance to the dam my escort departed and I continued on. As soon as I crossed the park checkpoint I took my first right and continued 1-2 km following the signs all the way to the municipal pier (you’ll bypass two small boat launches, but the main pier has several large buildings and is pretty obvious). I had read that I could get a ticket to the floating house for about 800 Baht, but apparently that was only if a boat was already heading there. I had booked a stay at Krai Sorn, the farthest of the park’s rafthouses. I was told I could get a private boat for 3000 Baht, or try my luck at waiting to share with someone else. Since it was already early afternoon and this rafthouse was my main item for this trip, I decided to go ahead and get a private boat. When they found out I was staying 2 nights, however, they upped the price to 4500 (apparently for overnights you also pay for the driver to sleep at the rafthouse with you). I explained I didn’t have the money and asked what other options I had. They said they could take me for 2500 Baht, not stay the night, and I could try to get a ride back on another boat that would drop people off the day I was leaving. I knew it was a risky move since nothing was guaranteed, but so far things on my trip had worked out for me, so I decided to take the risk.

The ride over was take-your-breath-away gorgeous. The turquoise waters of the lake were punctuated with sheer limestone formations. It felt like something prehistoric and sacred. There was zero development along the lake (since it was in a National Park) and it was so beautifully raw and untouched by humans. The boat trip alone was well worth the cost: where else in the world and when else in my life would I again see such beauty? As we made our way across the lake I reflected on how fortunate I was to be on this trip and how appreciative I was of everyone who helped make this possible.

IMG_2517 IMG_2530 IMG_2535 IMG_2533 IMG_2545

After about 90 minutes, we finally pulled up to the rafthouse. It contained 16 small thatched bungalows (each barely big enough for 2 twin mattresses), arranged in 2 rows of 8 that were attached at right angles to each other, essentially forming a giant L. In the middle was the kitchen/dining area, where meals were served. All houses, walkways, etc were floating: primitive sticks and wooden slabs were lashed onto floating logs. The only thing on land? The toilet. The bungalows and porches all looked out to sweeping views of the lake. There were kayaks available for people to take wherever and whenever, and there was even a diving platform constructed of sticks. I’m pretty sure this place belongs in the dictionary next to the definition of paradise. It was everything I could have imagined, and more.

IMG_2546 IMG_2547 IMG_2549 IMG_2553 IMG_2554 IMG_2560 IMG_2566 IMG_2569 IMG_2571 IMG_2575

 

As soon as the boat dropped me off I threw on my Rev3 shimmer suit and got in a quality swim. The lake was warm, calm and clear. I made giant rectangles around the area of the houses, enjoying the feeling of an open water swim. After about 45 minutes, I decided it was time to explore in the kayak. For about 2 hours I slowly meandered around the lake’s edge, savoring the fact that I was completely alone and surrounded only by the sounds of the jungle. I found evidence of areas where it appeared animals (elephants, likely) were coming to the lake’s edge, and made a mental note to check them at sunrise or sunset the following day.

After my peaceful paddle I headed back to the rafthouse where the caretaker offered me green mango with chili while I spent some time catching up in my journal and savoring the view. As the sun set it was time for dinner–I was ravenous and not sure how much food I would get so I ate a Powerbar–boy was that a mistake! They gave me enough food for 4 people: an entire fish, massaman curry, sort sort of chicken and root vegetable dish, a plate of tempura, a cauldron of rice, and a dinnerplate full of watermelon and pineapple. I ate the entire fish plus massman curry, half of the tempura, 1/4 of the rice, all of the fruit, and as you can expect I was full to the gills. After the feast I headed back to my porch to finish Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, which I started reading in Koh Phayam, and was appropriately themed for my trip.

IMG_2578

February 27, Day 36: Cheow Lan Lake

I woke to see the hint of dawn faintly illuminating the shore, and lingered on my mattress, watching the sky light up through my open window. I headed to the dining area and enjoyed a light breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and instant coffee. After enjoying a quiet and leisurely breakfast,  threw on my shimmer suit and gathered all my belongings for a kayak. In a plastic bag I threw in my running shoes, sunblock, a shirt and shorts, my water bottle and my cell phone. I then tied the bag to the life vest, ensuring that if I capsized my bag would float (after my Khao Sok iphone nightmare I wasn’t taking any chances). One of the caretakers of the guesthouse indicated there was a waterfall and pointed in a general direction. I knew my chances of finding it were slim, but I was eager to explore the coast and look for more wildlife. I set off at 7:30 and was rewarded with an incredible calm over the lake–everything was glass and I could see and hear wildlife at great distances.

IMG_2568

 

For the next 3 1/2 hours I slowly paddled the convoluted coast, tucking into various inlets i found along the way. I never found the waterfall but I saw countless birds, dragonflies, and fish. But the highlight? I finally found Gibbons! I was slowly and quietly tracing the shore when I came around a bend and heard what sounded like rain. Seeing bits of tree seeds and flowers falling into the lake I looked up and spied about a dozen gibbons foraging in the tree. I lingered directly below them for about 15 minutes–they either were unaware of my presence or didn’t care–but it was simply amazing to sit and watch them without another person in sight for miles.

Just after 11 I returned back to the rafthouse and relaxed and read before lunch, which again was gigantic and delicious. After lunch I lazed in my bed with my new book, Gone Girl (every time I found wifi I would download 8 new books with my library app), and let the heat of the day pass. At 3 I headed out on a short trail that began right behind the restaurant and saw two different groups of Gibbons! It was just simply stunning to have so much nature close by.

When I retuned the other guests (a group of about 8 French parents and their children) had returned from their day and together we spent the quiet afternoon swimming and lounging. I had just finished a swim when I heard the motor of a boat and watched as two boats dumped another 16 people at our rafthouse. My heart sank as I realized they were all 20 somethings, very loud, and incredibly drunk. They arrived, making quite a scene, doing backflips into the water and yelling and disrupting a peaceful afternoon. The French family immediately took off in kayaks and then one of the loud group yelled out “hey everyone look! We’re scaring everyone away!” to which everyone laughed. I was disgusted at their behavior and their insensitivity to the other guests, and mourned the loss of my peaceful rafthouse experience.

Fortunately, it was soon dinner, which raised my spirits. The French family invited me to eat with them and their guide and the rest of the evening was a jovial mix of good food, beer, and a French/English hybrid conversation (I studied French for 7 years and have elementary conversational experience). When they asked me how I was leaving the lake and I told them I had no idea, they offered to let me ride back with them and their guide the following day (see– I told you things kept working out for me!). Of course I expressed gratitude and relaxed once I knew I had a way back the following day. I spent awhile talking to their guide, Pu, who works for a company called Andaman Discovery and had over 12 years experience as a tour guide. I vowed I would one day return to this lake and hire him as my guide. He even joked he would create a custom jungle triathlon for me!

Around 9pm the drunk group got tired and went to bed (thank goodness!) so I headed back to my bungalow eager to catch up on my reading. What an amazing day on an even more amazing lake–I certainly can’t wait to return here again.

February 28, Day 37: Cheow Lan Lake

Well it turned out the 20-somethings got rowdy again, and were up until 2am. My only comfort was seeing them all puking the following morning as I watched the sunrise. After another great breakfast I had a few hours to kill until I had to head out with the French family, so I headed off in the kayak, watched more gibbons, then grabbed one last open-water swim. Soon it was time to board the long-tail boat to head back. We left around 10:30 and got another tour of the lake and stopped at another rafthouse, Nang Prai, for lunch. Compared to my rafthouse (Krai Sorn), Nang Prai was really developed. It had a real bathroom (with mirrors!) and signs everywhere. Although it overlooked the breathtaking limestone cliffs, I was happy with where I stayed at would certainly stay at Krai Sorn the next time I return.

IMG_2592 IMG_2597 IMG_2603 IMG_2608 IMG_2612 IMG_2616 IMG_2621

After lunch it was time to say Adieu to my French travelers and I grabbed my bike from where I had locked it at the pier and cycled the 12 km to Ban Klaa to catch the local bus to Phuket. The ride was fun as I got locks of honks and Sawaidee-Kas along the way. When I got to Bon Klaa I had trouble figuring out where to go since I couldn’t find a bus station. Several vendors (the street was lined with delicious street food) explained to me that there was no bus stop; I simply had to flag down the bus when it came by. They even had me practice waving it down, and we all got a good laugh. While I was waiting for the bus I tried to sell my bike, but people got confused and thought I was trying to ask for money. Eventually the bus came and I decided my bus would come with me to Phuket.

Several hours later I arrived in Phuket and was greeted by my friend Jess (whom I met through the wonders of the blogosphere!). She had come to pick me up but we had a problem: she had a moped, I had a bike, it was dark, and we had a lot of distance to cover. I started to follow her on my bike but since my chain kept dropping we were moving very slowly and knew it would take forever. So we decided to do things the SE Asia way: I sat on the back of the moped, holding the bike upside-down on my lap. With the bike perpendicular to the moped we weaved in and out of traffic and got lots of funny looks along the way. 20 minutes later we arrived at Jess’s house and wearily nodded off.

IMG_2627

 

Read previous: Day 33-34: Khao Sok and the iPhone near-disaster

Read next: Day 38-40: Phuket and the end of my adventure

Posted by & filed under Travel. Be the first to comment!

February 24, Day 33: Koh Phayam

Sadly it was time for me to leave Koh Phayam–I woke, showered, ate a papaya, and headed to the pier. I bought my ticket for the slowboat and boarded with my bicycle. Two hours later I arrived in Ranong and cycled the 5k or so to the bus station, just in time to catch the bus to Takua Pa. The bus was supposed to be 3h but after 90 mins we stopped and were told to get off–our bus had broken down.

IMG_2448

We had no idea how long it would be until the next bus came, so I went 100m up the road to try my hand at hitchiking. Although plenty of people stopped (Thais are so nice!), no one was headed in my direction. An hour after we broke down another bus came to pick us up. Initially the bus driver tried to tell me there was no room for my bike, but I used my lack of Thai as a tool and squeezed my bike into the cargo area. The bus was full so I had to sit on the floor, but I was happy to be making forward movement.

IMG_2453

Eventually we pulled into Takua Pa with minutes to spare before my local bus to Khao Sok departed. I threw my bike in the cargo, grabbed a seat, and settled in for the short ride to the park. The bus dropped us off 2 km from the main park entrance, and there were a group of guesthouse touts trying to secure our business. I headed off on my bicycle determined to find a good deal, but quickly realized I faced a similar situation as in Koh Phayam: everything was full.

IMG_2455

Trying to keep my spirits up, I ventured off the main road to explore my prospects. I eventually found a bungalow for 500 Baht–more than what I was hoping to pay, but the cheap tent I had the previous nights made up for it. I headed to the park to grab a map to plan my next day of trekking, then grabbed some wifi to FaceTime MamaFL before I headed to dinner. I had a rather disappointing meal (the problem with touristy areas is that the food is overpriced and not that good) and headed to bed early, eager to see the forest the following day.

IMG_2452

 

February 25, Day 34: Khao Sok

My alarm went off just before sunrise and I scrambled to get ready. I knew sunrise is one of the most active times for wildife and I wanted to get into the park early. Since the park opened at 6, it was possible to get in early.

IMG_2454 IMG_2457

I paid my 200 Baht entry fee and signed in the guest book (you have to sign in and out of the park which is reassuring–made me feel like if I got lost they’d send a search party). I decided to begin with the section they claim is an “all day hike”–from the visitor venter to Ton Kloi waterfall (14 km round trip) but I also would stop at all the mini-hikes along the way that branched out, including the Than Sawan Waterfall. Altogether it would be about 18 km round trip.

IMG_2466 IMG_2465

The first 4 km or so were on easy trails: wide, well-groomed, and with little elevation/technical sections. Within the first 1 km I saw some macaques foraging in the trees and getting into some fights. I continued on, stopping at the not-so-impressive Wing Hin waterfall and Bang Hua Rat waterfall, which were pretty but not what I would classify as a “waterfall.” I then made my way towards the Than Sawan waterfall.

IMG_2468 IMG_2471

The park map cautions people about this hike, saying the trail is “difficult and requires wading along the stream bed for the last kilometer.” The trail begins with a stream crossing; I was able to make my way across via rockhopping so I avoided wet feet. Immediately after crossing there is a sketchy 20 ft along a steep rock ledge, but a rope was there to help guide. From there you trace a tributary 1km upstream. Since I went in the dry season it was mainly rockhopping followed by some create-your-own trail in sections where rockhopping wasn’t possible. I imagine this hike would be extremely difficult (and wet) in the rainy season. This was one part of the entire park’s trail system that wasn’t marked since all you were doing was following the stream. About 1km after the initial stream crossing you get to the waterfall. Even in the dry season it was a true waterfall, perhaps 10-15 m tall, and absolutely gorgeous. It was definitely worth the visit!

IMG_2483

From there I made my way back to the main trail. I still had yet to see anyone else in the park– it certainly paid to get there early! The trails were so ridiculously well marked that it made navigating the park effortless: it kind of blows my mind that people would hire tour guides up here. Yes, I know tour guides know where all the wildlife are and you typically see more wildlife with a guide, but I would rather see nothing and experience nature in quiet and at my own pace than be herded in a loud, slow group and looking at wildlife through a binocular lens.

IMG_2475 IMG_2464 IMG_2462 IMG_2471 IMG_2473 IMG_2493 IMG_2494

About 4 1/2 hours after starting my hike (I was moving slowly and stopping a lot to enjoy nature) I ended at the Ton Kloi waterfall. The last 2 km of the hike were the most difficult and technical of all the trails, but worth it. The waterfall itself was not particularly impressive, but it had a great pool at the base which was perfect for swimming. After cooling off with a dip, I sat on a rock at the base of the falls. By now a young German couple had arrived. I had just taken a picture on my phone and set it down next to me to grab a snack. Suddenly I hear a scraping sound and turn just in time to see my iphone slide off the rock and plummet into the water below, wedged between two rocks. I yellow out “nonono!” and go into my typical panic mode: when things like this happen, I get very logical. First step: look for bright pink phone case from above the water. No luck. Second step: put head underwater and look for bright pink case. Forget eyes don’t work when you don’t have swim goggles. No luck. I knew the third step was to dive down and blindly feel around with my hands, but I also knew that would require diving beneath these two large boulders (angled on top of one another) and I knew better than to do that without a spotter. I went over to the German couple, explained to them what happened, and asked if they would spot me, which of course they agreed to.

IMG_2496

Last photo taken before my phone went swimming

I dove down and tried to feel. My hand touched rock, then more rock, then my fingers slipped into the opening of a cave of sorts where the two rocks met. My heart sank. Of course my phone HAD to fall into the 12-inch diameter cave opening. I resurfaced and despairingly said, “I think it fell into a hole! But it’s too narrow for me to stick my head and shoulders in!” The German man said “Does your leg fit? See if you can feel it with your toes.” I took a huge breath, lowered myself underwater, and slipped my right leg up to my hip joint into the hole. My toes just touched the bottom. I probed: sand, sand, big rock, sand…ohmigosh! My phone! I resurfaced. “I feel it! I feel it! It’s in the hole!” “Try to grab it with your toes,” the German said. I took a breath, tried to lower my heart rate, and sank. The phone was lying flat on the bottom and I tried to flip it on its side and wrap my toes around it. No luck. I surfaced, waited a few minutes, and tried again. I repeated this about 10 times with no success.

Finally the German said “let me try. My friends call me monkey feet.” He lowered into the water, confirmed he could feel it, and tried for about 10 minutes with no luck. Meanwhile I was starting to realize the reality of this situation. Besides losing a very expensive iphone, I was now in Asia, traveling alone, with no primary means of communication. But most importantly, every single picture I’d taken from my trip was on that phone and not backed up since I didn’t have wifi + charging at the same time. This was about to completely ruin my trip, and put me in a very bad situation.

The German surfaced again. He said “I can sort of wrap my toes around it but if I go for it there’s a chance it might slip out and then fall deeper into the cave where you really can’t get it. Do you want me to try even though we risk it falling further?” I took a big gulp and said “yes, go for it.” The next 30 seconds were stressful. He took a breath and lowered into the water. Meanwhile I prayed like I’ve never prayed before. His head started to break the surface with no pink in sight. My heart sank. Suddenly he reached down towards his foot and raised his hand to the sky: my iphone! I yelled, threw my arms around him, and was overjoyed. Since I had a lifeproof case my phone was still working and only suffered a few scratches on the case. I could not express enough gratitude to the Germans. I told them I wanted to buy them dinner as a thank you, and we made arrangements to meet later, but they never showed up so I was unable to repay them. Needless to say, Mr. Monkeyfeet saved my whole trip.

IMG_2500

By the time we sorted out my iphone it was already noon and scorching. I wanted to try to see the other half of the park so I hurried back to the visitors center, taking only 2 hours to return. I decided to forgo visiting the sip-et-chan waterfall, since it sounded strenuous and I was running short on time and energy. Instead I headed out to the San Yang Roi lookout. Unfortunately, this was a bust. Almost the entire trail consisted of concrete stairs in a horrible state of disrepair, and I never could find the lookout with the “panoramic view of the mountain ridge.” I decided to head back since by now it was 3 and I was hot and in need of rest. I got back to my bungalow, showered, then treated myself to an hour long oil massage. I then waited for the Germans, but once it became clear they weren’t coming I headed out for a ho-hum meal of papaya salad and pad siou before crawling into bed early with a book.

 

Read previous: Day 29-32: Koh Phayam

Read next: Day 35-37: The floating houses on Cheow Lan Lake

Posted by & filed under Travel. Be the first to comment!

February 20, Day 29: Bangkok

Despite being exhausted, the combination of my hacking cough and stomach pain and nausea from the antibiotics prevented me from getting restorative sleep. We arrived in Bangkok to confusion: we were told our ticket would get us to Bangkok University in the center of town, but the bus driver insisted we get off at Moh Chit, way north of the city. At this point my bike was a burden: I had a bike and Robert had none. Bikes were forbidden on the skytrain, and it would cost more money than we had to get a tuk-tuk to town. Since it was 4am and I had no map, me cycling and Robert taking public transport was out of the question. We decided to investigate city buses. The first bus emphatically said no to me taking my bike on board. But when a new, empty bus pulled up and the driver got off, we decided to make a run for it. Robert grabbed my bike and quickly boarded the bus, tucking into the rear seat and putting the bike out of the way of fellow passengers. We held our breath and crossed our fingers the driver would allow us to continue. Sure enough it worked, and the driver sort of “looked the other way” when he saw us with our bike.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at Khao San road and had fun exploring the street at 6am- a mix of vendors getting a head start on their day and very drunk people ending their night. After exploring for a bit it was time for Robert and I to part ways, as he was off to meet another friend for his great adventure.

Meanwhile, I had a day to kill in Bangkok before my night bus and decided to make the most of it. I bicycled all around town (scary, but exhilarating!) and had fun exploring the markets. I decided to kill more time by watching an English movie at the theater, and by the time it was over, it was time for me to find my bus station. The station I needed to get to was 15 km out of the city and the route took me along major roads with speeding cars. To be honest, the thought of that route terrified me, but when I realized the tuk-tuk would cost me the same as 2 nights’ lodging, my opinion on riding changed. So I put on my big girl pants and cleared my head and hit the road. Since I was solo and it was getting dark my stress level was high and I had countless close calls, but eventually I pulled into the bus station. I booked my ticket to Ranong and then grabbed some food before  boarding my night bus.

 

February 21, Day 30: Ranong

I arrived in Ranong around 7:30am and asked a few people for directions to the pier, which was about 5km away. On the way I stopped in town for dim sum and coffee to fuel my travels. I found the pier and bought my 300 Baht slow boat ticket: 200 for the ticket and an extra 100 for my bicycle. Because the tide was low we left from an alternate pier, but a motorbike guided me through the city to the proper location. After watching all the food get loaded on the boat, the passengers boarded. I grabbed my seat, and once the boat was full I decided to double-check that my bike had been loaded. I’m glad I checked because it was still on the pier! After clarifying the bike was indeed mine, and was supposed to be loaded, I sat back and relaxed knowing my precious cargo was coming with me.

I was headed to Koh Phayam, an island that was a 2hr boat ride away. As soon as the island came into view, I knew I would love it.

IMG_2380
IMG_2385

Main port of Koh Phayam

The island is just a few kilometers long and has no cars–only rudimentary concrete paths for motorbikes and bicycles. I set off to find budget housing, being told I would have no issue finding a place without a reservation. It turned out that advice was horribly wrong: after 2 hours of exploring in the hot sun everything cheap was booked and the only thing available was for 800 Baht a night–way outside my budget. Thankfully, the last place I checked at the far north side of Buffalo Bay proved lucky: a tent had just opened up 10 minutes earlier for 150 Baht per night! I happily took the tent and then spent the afternoon snorkeling the waters of the bay.

IMG_2401

My tent

IMG_2400 IMG_2397 IMG_2396 IMG_2386 IMG_2387

 

IMG_2392
IMG_2390

The restaurant attached to the main house

 

In the evening I dined at the restaurant and met other solo travelers. We drank beer and talked as the sky got dark. I was so exhausted from all my travels that I snuck off to bed quite early, and enjoyed a solid night of sleep with the island breeze blowing through my tent.

 

February 22, Day 31: Koh Phayam

I woke around 7 and headed to breakfast. While eating, I learned it was the annual cashew festival on the island and there were activities all weekend long. I also heard there was a mini-marathon scheduled for the evening, so naturally I had to check it out. I headed into town on my bike to get information. Despite all the signs indicating the race would be at 5pm I was told the race had already occurred at 6am (I was then told it’s quite common for people here to mix up pm and am). Since I was in town, I took advantage of the internet to research travel plans for the next leg of my trip, then headed back to the guesthouse to relay news of the race to other travelers.

By now the mid-morning sun was blazing so I decided to throw on my shimmer suit and go for an open-water swim. The water was warm and clear, but there were invisible tiny jellyfish that were stinging me every 30 seconds or so. Eventually I got to a pocket of them where I was getting stung nonstop, so I turned around. By the time I emerged I was covered in welts but happy I got a wetsuit-free swim in!

After my swim I met up with other travelers for lunch of green curry, then spent the hot afternoon lazing around and reading. Around 5pm it cooled enough to bike into town for the festival. It was an amazing vibe in town-in the middle of the festival was an ongoing soccer match between local teams, and off to one side was ongoing boxing competitions: men climbed onto a log and tried to punch each other into the water pit below. The entire venue was surrounded by vendors selling all types of food and drinks and in the far back were carnival style games as fundraisers for the schools. I spent the evening eating and laughing with some Germans, an American, and an Englishman.

IMG_2403 IMG_2404 IMG_2405 IMG_2412 IMG_2415

Eventually the Germans and American got bored and headed back to their bungalow, but the Englishman stayed with me to watch the “Miss Cashew Beauty Content”: a hilarious event of beauty, “talent,” and popularity. By now it was approaching 11pm so we decided to walk home: my headlamp had died so it wasn’t safe for me to bike. When we got back to the bungalows I headed to my tent, but he talked me into heading to the water to kick around in the phosphorescence and search for shooting stars in the milky way. By now it was beyond late and I was starting to see double from my tiredness, but when else do you have the chance to swim in warm water at night with glittering creatures in your wake while staring at the milky way? It was a truly magical experience, and I savored every moment.

 

February 23, Day 32: Koh Phayam

Despite going to bed at an ungodly hour, I woke at 6 eager to start my day. I had heard of a nearby beach where monkeys gather in the morning so I headed off on a sunrise hike. When I got there I found no monkeys, but instead was rewarded with a private beach and a tree full of hornbills.

IMG_2429

 

IMG_2431

 

 

IMG_2433 IMG_2435

On my walk back home I came across a group of monkeys who were making their morning trek across the island. After a quick breakfast, I decided to explore the entire island by bike. I headed down the concrete path towards the biggest beach on the island, first stopping at a small beam set off 1/2 km from the main path. After descending some very steep stairs I was rewarded with a gorgeous beach with no one in sight–again further demonstrating just how quiet this place can be.

IMG_2437 IMG_2442

From there I continued to Aow Yai, the biggest beach on the island. Despite its size, it was eerily quiet. In fact the whole island was quiet. We were told almost all the bungalows were full to capacity, but it was hard to see evidence of people.

IMG_2446

Instead of cluttering the beach, people tended to lounge near their bungalows, which made the island feel empty. I rode my bike the length of the beach, then headed back along the concrete path cutting through the middle of the island.

I grabbed a quick lunch of Pad Siou then spent my afternoon in a glorious mix of swimming, reading and napping in a hammock. Once it got dark I grabbed a fantastic dinner of Burmese Green Tea Salad from the Starlight restaurant and hung out with even more travelers as we laughed and dined.

Read previous: Day 26-28: The final stretch of Cambodia

Read next: Day 33-34: Khao Sok and the iPhone near-disaster

Posted by & filed under Travel. Be the first to comment!

February 17, Day 26: Somewhere along the Cardamom Mountains

“Wow, it only took us 17 days to figure out how to get along!”

We woke again with the sun and left our homestay before breakfast in order to get a head start on the heat of the day. A few kms in we stopped for a quick roadside breakfast of rice porridge, 3-in-1 coffee, and fried bananas. A large group of villagers started trickling in for their morning coffee, and they were talking about us (since we heard the word “Falong” over and over again, which is their slang word for any white person) but they seemed nice about it so we all smiled at each other. We hit the road with our bellies full and immediately ran into another cyclist–a British man who was cycling only for about a week or so. The kilometers flew by as we chatted with him and we paralleled the gorgeous Cardamom Mountains and associated national park.

IMG_2319

The flat roads of Cambodia were quickly turning into respectable hills, and although it was hot we welcomed the short climbs and descents. We passed by several river villages and, as usual, all the people were incredibly friendly, running to the roads to say hello. Pretty soon our stomachs were rumbling and it was time for lunch. We stopped at a roadside stall that had a series of entrees in pots to choose from, and ate quite possibly the tastiest dish we’d eaten our whole trip–delicious meats and seafood stewed in incredibly seasoned sauces with gobs of pork fat, all over a bed of rice. On our way out of town we found a banana stand and ate–you guessed it–fried bananas and banana filled sticky rice. With full stomachs we marveled at how well we were getting along that day.

IMG_2317

Of course Robert and I are dear friends, but every day on the trip we’d had at least 2 arguments over things that were relatively trivial. We are both very stubborn and very vocal about our opinions, which meant we butted heads, but our disagreements were always short-lived. We discussed how all of our arguments were over the same thing: fair division of resources. Our conflicts revolved around two things: food and sunscreen. It’s kind of funny how when you’re living such a simple life, you get very territorial over the precious resources you have. All of our arguments involved one person feeling like they were getting shorted of their fair share, and the other person feeling otherwise. But we marveled at how all of our arguments lasted no longer than 5 minutes: we would butt heads, call each other a nasty word, then agree to disagree and say “we’re in freaking Laos/Cambodia so let’s get over it!” Plus, we finally figured out a solution: for shared resources, such as food, one person divides it into two pieces, and the other person chooses their half (as opposed to our prior strategy of both eating from the same dish, and making it a race for bites). So, our nugget of wisdom is to divide your resources equally and discuss any issues before they turn into conflict!

Speaking of arguments, we had a very interesting afternoon. After a brutally long climb in the hot sun, we were out of fluids and desperate for a stop. We came to a group of roadside stalls and one woman seemed particularly friendly. We asked how much for a drink (2500, which was 500 more than we’d paid all throughout Cambodia), and Robert asked about a watermelon. She told us it would be 5000. Robert told her no, that he could only pay 2000. He pointed to the melon, said and wrote 2000, and she said okay. We drank and ate and were happy about our break. When we got up to leave we paid her 5000, which means she owed us 500. She then started shaking her head and indicated we owed her more. We then pointed to each item and repeated what she told us she would charge us. She started shaking her head and slamming the soda can on the table and indicated more money. We again told her that she told us the melon was 2000. By now she called over another woman and both were angry and slamming cans down on the table. A small crowd began to gather watching the women get angry and Robert and I standing there in confusion. Eventually one woman yanked my Nalgene bottle out of my hands and indicated we wouldn’t get it back until we gave them more money. One man came forward with limited English. He explained the woman wanted more money, as we explained what happened. Robert asked the man if he would have to pay 5000 for the melon and he laughed and said he wouldn’t have to pay more than 2000 for the melon and they were trying to scam us for more because we were foreigners. Robert had the man remind the woman that she still owed us 500 back, and suddenly the mood of the woman changed. She threw my Nalgene bottle at me, which I caught mid-air, and indicated for us to leave. We decided not to push for our change and get the heck out of that situation. As we mounted our bikes, the lady threw empty soda cans at us, which added to the hilarity of the situation. We were so confused by what had happened and embarrassed we caused a scene,  but comforted that the man assured us we we’re getting scammed and not cheating the woman out of money. This was the only bad experience we had in Cambodia, and tried to not it let ruin our otherwise fantastic day.

We then enjoyed a screaming descent for the next 10k until we pulled into Ta Tai, our destination for the night. We checked into a guesthouse for around $5, did some laundry, and enjoyed a much deserved beer and fresh young coconut juice as a reward for a particularly taxing day.

IMG_2323 IMG_2322 IMG_2320
IMG_2326

Mother and son working the restaurant where we ate our dinner

 

February 18, Day 27:  Ko Kang

We woke excited about the relatively chill day ahead of us. After breakfast of papaya and sweet and sour pork, we headed to a nearby waterfall. The cascading water was pretty, but we were pretty underwhelmed since we had both been spoiled by the waterfalls of Hawaii.

IMG_2328 IMG_2329 IMG_2331 IMG_2333 IMG_2335

 

We hit the road with Ko Kong, a larger town near the Thai border, as our goal. We pulled into Ko Kong around lunchtime and had a beer at a cafe with wifi as I needed to figure out my Thailand travel plans and Robert needed to work out some last minute details with his trip. Once we got our tech fix, we headed to the market for lunch and then some errands: stocking up on sunscreen, cough medicine (for me), and hitting the bank. We learned there wasn’t really that much for us in Ko Kong and decided to cross into Thailand that day.

IMG_2340

This was the cough medicine the pharmacist gave me. I have no idea what the heck I was taking.

IMG_2338

We got a tip about a “Buddha Hell” area outside of town and decided to investigate. We followed an unassuming street, passed a Wat (temple), and sure enough right next to the mangroves were statues representing Buddha Hell. It was quite a find and scary and fascinating all at the same time.

IMG_2341 IMG_2342 IMG_2343 IMG_2344 IMG_2345 IMG_2346 IMG_2347

We got back on the road, seamlessly navigated the Cambodia/Thai border, and tried to knock back a few more kms before dark. When we first crossed into Thailand we got a good chuckle because everyone seemed to be confused about where to drive. Cambodians drive on the right side of the street and Thais on the left, so the first km or so seemed to be no man’s land in terms of driving rules. We tried to manage it as best we could with the goal of not getting hit by a car.

IMG_2348

Cambodia/Thailand Border

IMG_2349

Passport control

The road surface was unbelievably smooth and had undulating hills that traced the beach: what an immediate change from Cambodia! We pulled into a rather large town about 12km from the border. A large portion of the town was built over canals with very narrow streets and we had fun exploring by bike. We found a guesthouse in the city, got a room for 200 Baht, and headed down to the market to fill on noodle soup and sweet sticky rice. We ran into two other Americans who were doing a motorbike trip and we swapped stories over cans of Chang beer.

Although my mood was good, my health was not. I was on roughly day 12 of some sort of cold/flu that kept changing symptoms. First it was a sore throat, then a runny nose with fever, then I’d feel good for about 12 hours, then I had the worst sinus infection of my life, then back to the runny nose, then uncontrollable coughing, then runny nose again, then back to coughing. Starting from about day 3 Robert tried to encourage me to take the antibiotics I carried with me. I am so hesitant to take antibiotics unless truly ill, and I assured him my hearty immune system would kick in. But today I finally caved. My cough had turned into a deep, rattling cough that made me worried about bronchitis or pneumonia. So I finally gave in, popping my first dose of the antibiotics. And spent the rest of the night awake and coughing.

 

February 19, Day 28: En route to Trat

“I know I’m a girl and all, but I imagine a burnt pecker wouldn’t feel so nice”

I woke up to yet another upset stomach. But I couldn’t stay holed up inside: we had 73 kms to cover before our ultimate destination of Trat. We heard there was a gorgeous beach about 20 km up the road with the potential for privacy, so we took a slight detour to go check it out. We didn’t know exactly where we were going and turned down a street that led us to a collection of fishing houses.

IMG_2370

We popped right out on a beautiful, expansive, completely secluded stretch of beach.

IMG_2352 IMG_2353 IMG_2357

We rode along in the sand for a bit then stopped in a cove area. Robert said “well, since no one is here I’m going to swim in my underwear.” I replied, “you know what else we could do….” and within seconds we were buck naked running into the Bay of Thailand. We laughed and whooped just like little kids and soaked up a luxurious swim. We tried to do all of this while avoiding seeing each other’s naughty bits, as our friendship is very brother/sistery, so there was a lot of “you look over this way, and I’ll look over that way.” When we came out we decided to continue our desert island fantasy and lounged on the beach nude until I reminded Robert that our virgin skin might burn easily. We then covered up and came together to compile a list we’d talked about writing. A list of all the gear we found absolutely essential for this trip. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Steripen
  • Nalgene bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
  • Handkerchief (dust mask)
  • Tech shirt (2)
  • DeSoto 400 mile bike shorts (2)
  • Multitool
  • Mini Bike Pump
  • Paracord
  •  Knife
  • Lighter
  • Duct Tape
  • iPhone (camera and wifi)
  • Delorme InReach (satellite transponder that pings out our location each night to let our family know we’re okay)
  • Cycling gloves
  • Hydration tabs
  • Deet
  • Chamois Cream

After making our list we decided our beach time was up and it was time to once again be responsible cyclists. We hit the road, stopping for a quick bite of pad thai from a roadside stand.

IMG_2368

 

I was struggling yet again as I continued to fight off waves of nausea and stomach cramping. After what seemed like an eternity we finally pulled into the town of Trat. We secured our night bus ticket to Bangkok and then headed into town so Robert could try to sell his bicycle (I was going to take mine with me as I continued my travels in Southern Thailand). We checked out a few bike shops but no one seemed interesting in buying a secondhand bike. Robert then thought to go hand out at the 7-11 and ask locals if anyone was interested. En route he stopped a tourist just to see if we wanted a bike, and he said he was! He offered us more money than we were expecting, we shook hands, and the deal was done and everyone was happy. But before we parted, we took one last picture of us and our bikes to commemorate our journey.

IMG_2372

The end of our journey

IMG_2374

The man (center) who bought Robert’s bike

Afterwards we headed to the market for dinner. I still felt sick so I picked at some pad thai but Robert celebrated with a feast. After dinner we had one more issue to address: hygiene. We stank and both faces a lot of upcoming travel. I was to take the overnight bus to Bangkok, spend the day in the city, then take another overnight bus followed by an all-day ferry to my next destination. A shower was imperative. Someone told us the public bathrooms by the 7-11 had a shower, so we headed to check it out. Unfortunately my doubts were right and there was no shower, but Robert found a hose tucked by the urinals on the men’s side (there was also a garden attached to the open-air bathroom). We decided to say “to hell with convention!” and I threw on a sarong and Robert stripped to his tighty whities and together we took a shower with the hose in the men’s restroom. Our mission: get clean before we get kicked out. We got a few looks but successfully finished our showers.

We still had a few hours to kill before our bus and decided to try to find a bar, but the city was shut down. Robert headed to an internet cafe and I sat outside trying to simultaneously settle my stomach and write in my journal. We then settled in on the late night bus, eager to catch up on sleep.

Read previous: Day 23-25: Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

Read next: Day 29-32: Koh Phayam

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized. 2 comments

I am so incredibly lucky.

I have a career I adore, a man who loves and supports me, friends and family who would scale walls for me, and a dog who isn’t a complete asshole. I travel, I laugh, I love, and I swim/bike/run.

I am also so incredibly exhausted. This is my schedule this semester:

Feb 28-March 21: Brazil to teach a course and help students with research. No days off

March 22-March 25: Home sick with fever and throat infection I picked up in Brazil

March 26-27: 2 frantic days in the lab

March 28: Tri-Mania in Boston

March 29-March 31: New York for Conference

April 1: Boston for a conference

April 2-April 5: House shopping in South Bend, IN

April 6-9: Four frantic days in the office

April 10-12: Memorial service at home :(

April 13-April 21: 9 blessed days of work, friends, relationship time

April 22-May 16: Uganda

May 16-May 22: Conference in Pittsburgh (with a whopping 3 hour layover between my Africa trip: my man will do a suitcase swap with me at the airport).

I never thought I would get to the point of complaining about travel, but I’m seriously pushing the limits of what is humanely possible. I’m managing to not get behind on work by doing a lot of writing and analysis on airplanes, but I can’t compensate for other areas of life in which I’m slacking. Trying to cram in as much as possible on the days I am home leaves me tired and frazzled and desperately searching for clean underwear.

Thankfully all this nonsense is only temporary, as I plan to severely cut back on travel once I move into my new home (I’m a homeowner now!). Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be eligible for dog mom/friend/girlfriend of the year if I continue these shenanigans.

Needless to say, my training has been laughable. I’ve been able to keep up with running when I travel, but since I’m still rehabbing I’m limited in the frequency and duration of my run sessions. I’ve signed up for the Challenge Quassy Olympic, and pretty sure that is going to result in my slowest time ever for that distance, especially since I essentially won’t swim at all for a month leading up to the race (nasty parasites in the Uganda lakes, and all…).

But enough “woe is me” writing…time for some pictures! A few weeks ago I got to feel like a triathlete for a day when I hit up TriMania in Boston representing the Challenge Triathlon Team. Here’s some images from that day:

 

photo1 (3)

We clearly can’t self-organize well

photo2 (1)
photo3 (1)

This hurt

photo4

This hurt a lot

photo5

We had Julie Dibens on our team. I let her win.

photo6

Stay tuned for the swimsuit calendar, folks.

And the best part? Our team didn’t come in DFL! We came in exactly in the middle of the 24 teams, which, for our sorry lot of people rehabbing from various injuries, if pretty friggin amazing in my book. And I managed to run a 6:50 pace for the run, which completely blew my mind. Perhaps these legs do have some potential hidden inside?

Happy Training Everyone! Go out there and hit the pool or your bike for me!

Posted by & filed under Travel. 1 comment.

“Never underestimate the speed at which a tourist can move in order to get a picture of a monk”

February 14, Day 23: Kratie

We woke just in time to catch the minibus to Phnom Penh–or so we thought. We waited around our guesthouse for nearly an hour before it finally arrived. By now my sinus pain was at its peak, hurting deep within my cheek, jaw and ears. I was getting concerned so I told myself I would find a decongestant, take it during the day, and then if I still had bad pain at night I’d consider starting the antibiotic I had on hand. As a biologist I absolutely despise taking antibiotics unless it is absolutely necessary, so I wanted to hold off as long as possible.

Before I boarded the minivan I had a tuk-tuk give me a lift to the pharmacy. Miming what was wrong with me was entertaining, and I didn’t recognize any of the drug names the pharmacist was trying to offer me nor understand the dosage, but I was desperate and gladly popped a pill. Since I was told to take the pill with food, I grabbed one of the area’s specialities: sticky rice steamed in a bamboo tube. We then waited for our minibus to leave. And waited, and waited. We waited over 2 1/2 hours from our “scheduled” departure before we finally hit the road. We tried to sit up towards the front since I get carsick, but the driver kept angrily grabbing our things and pointing towards the back, despite my attempts to mime puking. It was all chaotic, confusing, and stressful. They packed us 5 to a bench that would be tight with 3 people and my legroom was taken up by a chicken so my knees were pulled to my chest. Needless to say it was a very uncomfortable ride. Of top of that, we found out we had been charged the tourist price that was three times what everyone else paid, which left a sour taste in our mouths.

IMG_2274 IMG_2273

Five hours after our true departure, we arrived in Phnom Penh. It was fantastically crazy: mopeds and cars all beeping and following no true traffic laws or directions, markets on every corner with vendors hawking goods, and the hot sun baking the city in all its humid wonder. When we got off the minibus we were immediately encircled by men asking “tuk-tuk?” When they saw we had bikes they quickly disbanded.

Navigating the streets of Phnom Penh by bike was absolute fear and tactics all wrapped up in a sweaty mess of exhilaration. After finding the electronics district, the pharmacy district, and the lighting district, we finally found the guesthouse district. We saw a few rooms before choosing a place with two beds, a fan, and a common bathroom for $5 a night. Once we dropped off our stuff we headed into the city. We headed to the central market and bought some food and meandered the stalls. We then headed to the river to watch the sunset.

IMG_2204 IMG_2205 IMG_2208 IMG_2213 IMG_2214 IMG_2216

The riverfront was packed with people and we had a blast watching the craziness of the city. At one point a huge procession of monks came by, and throngs of tourists raced to snap their picture. We sat back and enjoyed the scene. We then crossed the street to the front of the Grand Palace to watch the bats leaving for their nightly meal. By now I was feeling exhausted and achy, so I headed back to the guesthouse for some much needed rest while Robert explored the craziness of the city on his own.

 

February 15, Day 24: Phnom Penh

“When you were sleeping a young monk turned around and kept staring at your legs in bike shorts. He had a look of intense concentration and confusion.”

Ugh. Food poisoning again last night. Spent most of the night in the bathroom withering away. Thankfully by morning I was starting to feel better as we had a big day ahead! We decided to leave town early and head out to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center–but first we had to navigate rush hour traffic by bike. Holy hell–the most terrifying 45 minutes of my life. I kept jockeying with mopeds, running into them and having them run into me. At one point I dropped my chain and yelled for Robert, but he got caught up ahead in the mess. As I tried to frantically put it back on without getting run over, some local tapped Robert on his shoulder and pointed back at me screaming in hysterics. We eventually made it safely through the throngs of people and were on our way.

We were happy to see that we were the first visitors of the day to Choeung Ek, well ahead of all the tour buses. It was incredibly sobering and moving to visit the killing fields. For those of you who are unfamiliar, between 1976 and 1979 Cambodia was under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Regime. Although himself a highly educated man and teacher, he decided that Cambodia needed to return to its rural state. Preying on the uneducated rural youth, he began a movement to eradicate all educated people of Cambodia. This meant destroying the major cities and sending all educated people to prisons and eventually off to be executed. Choeung Ek was one of dozens of killing fields where people were sent to die. There, Pol Pot’s army brutally killed people, including women and children, and dumped them into mass graves. An estimated 20,000 were willing at Choeung Ek and 3 million throughout Cambodia. The museum was a beautiful tribute to those who died here, and we were very thankful to see it and learn more about the history of that era in Cambodia.

IMG_2230 IMG_2232 IMG_2233 IMG_2238 IMG_2242 IMG_2243 IMG_2245 IMG_2247 IMG_2244

After we finished we changed back into our bike shorts and hit the road. We knew this stretch of cycling would be crummy, so we made it to the next town and tried to hitch a ride. We leared that people don’t really hitchhike in Cambodia like they do in Laos, so he had to find a minibus and fork over some money. This time we made sure to find out the local rate.

A few hours later we arrived in the beach town of Kampot, but it was catered towards Western tourists and we continued on. About another 10km ahead we stopped for a drink. We then learned there was a guesthouse a few more kms up the road so we headed to it, bargained for a palatial room for $7 a night, and then hit up the attached restaurant for beer and dinner.

 

February 16, Day 25: Somewhere in Cambodia

After getting a full nights’ sleep I was feeling better, and Robert noticed I was back to my full cycling power. We hit the road early and were blessed with cloudy skies and a strong tailwind. On the way out of town we stopped for some noodle soup and then hit the road, enjoying how fast we were traveling.

Around 20k later we pulled into a small fishing village with a hopping market. A small crowd gathered around us as we conversed with one of the locals who spoke English and then we sampled some bean filled doughnuts, banana and rice filled banana leaves, and fried bananas.

IMG_2272 IMG_2267 IMG_2254 IMG_2251 IMG_2277

 

Satisfied with breakfast we forged ahead, ticking off major miles. At one point Robert’s rear wheel started making a god-awful noise, so we pulled over so I could investigate.

I took off his rear wheel and realized his cassette was loose, which probably meant his hub was on its way to an implosion, and there was nothing I could do. I put his wheel back on and cinched it as tightly as I could to the frame. When I finished I looked up and realized a dozen men, women and children had gathered and were eyeing me curiously. I figured they probably aren’t used to seeing women act like mechanics while wearing bike shorts so I waved my greasy hands at them while grinning and saying “Soo’as Day!”

From there Robert and I ticked off a few more kms before we stopped at an intersection where the highway turned off the Koh Kong. We had a lunch of some sort of stewed pork plus another dish of bamboo shoots in a coconut lemongrass broth, all served with rice. We then each had a young coconut, sucking down the juice and scooping out the flesh.

We turned off the road to Koh Kong and forged ahead in the heat. We passed by a farm where a man and children were in the process of creating some sort of mud barrier and then scooping out the water (perhaps making a new rice paddy?). They were friendly so we stopped to watch and then Robert joined in to help.

IMG_2286 IMG_2296

We continued on, fighting the knee pain Robert was experiencing. Around 4pm, we decided to try to find a homestay. The first two houses said no but the third was a charm! It was a farm housing three generations that had fruit trees and rice paddies. They seemed tickled that we wanted to stay and made us feel so welcome. The grandfather and one of the daughters were sawing a tree and Robert and I pitched in to help. They laughed at us since we weren’t as good as they were, but seemed happy that we tried. Around 5pm the teenage boys came running home from the river clutching a wiggling net–it was time to prepare dinner! We were all served rice, fish, crabs, and a tamarind sauce. Just when we thought our feast was done, they brought dessert: sticky rice with coconut and sugar!

IMG_2298 IMG_2299 IMG_2300 IMG_2302 IMG_2304 IMG_2305 IMG_2306 IMG_2310

After dinner we kind of all stared at each other, laughed, and tried to use body language to communicate since we didn’t share any spoken language. They, like other people we met, were especially enchanted by our Steri-pens and started in amazement as the UV probe lit up the night. They also seemed particularly intrigued by me writing in my journal, and kept looking over my shoulder and laughing as I wrote. It was wonderful to see how fascinated we each were with each other and how much you can use body language to communicate. As it got dark, the grandfather brought us a mosquito net and it was the end of yet another great day in Cambodia.

Read previous: Day 21-22: The Mekong River Islands

Read next: Day 26-28: The final stretch of Cambodia

Posted by & filed under Travel. 1 comment.

IMG_5364It’s been a while since I last posted, and boy have things been crazy. I just returned from a 3 week work trip to Brazil. A trip that was full of amazing research and teaching experiences and allowed me to share my work and collaborate with a fantastic group of scientists. I was there primarily to teach a course to graduate students, and also to help with some data collection with a team of scientists. It involved field work on the beach, on a boat, and underwater via SCUBA, as well as presentations at Universities. Three weeks seemed like a long time before I left, but by the time I boarded the plane home it felt like not nearly enough. I completely fell in love with the people and ecosystem of Brazil, and set in place opportunities for a long-term collaboration. If things go well I will be returning there at least once a year.

DSC_9933

Dolphin capturing a fish

IMG_5343

Deploying some of our recording equipment

IMG_5324

One of our research vessels

DCIM100GOPRO

Making some acoustic recordings near a port

While I was there I was unable to swim or bike, but maintained my every-other-day running rehab. The hip is feeling great, and I’m now up to 45 minutes of nonstop running. That in itself is a victory considering just a few months ago I was on crutches.

 

Unfortunately my crazy schedule resulted in me catching strep throat while I was tucked away in a biological research station. To get the antibiotics I needed, I went to a public hospital, which was a very interesting experience. I got the antibiotics I needed and suffered through my last week of presentations and field expeditions with a fever that I just couldn’t shake and a throat that was getting more and more sore. My last 48h in Brazil were absolutely excruciating: I had to give an hour presentation at a University while I had a fever of 101 and worried I would pass out during my talk, and then spent 5h that night exploring a cave to find bats.

My throat was so sore and my tonsil so swollen I could barely swallow water, so I survived on juice, acai, and guarana for a week.

 

Finally I made it back to the US and went straight to urgent care where I got an even stronger antibiotic and learned I developed a secondary infection in my tonsil. The meds have been working, and I’m back to solid food, but what I didn’t expect was the absolute exhaustion I have. I suppose after being stupid sick for a week my body is going to need a few days to recover. My body is sore and tired and my brain is so slow it makes work incredibly difficult. Work I need to get done because over the next 60 days I have 4 trips lined up and less than 17 days at home. Oh, and one of those trips is to go look at houses to hopefully buy a home in my new city!

 

With all this travel, you can imagine anything triathlon has taken a backburner. Things are so hectic for me leading up to my move in July, and although I still plan to race Quassy (likely the Olympic now), and smaller local tris, expecting anything close to my typical triathlon performance would be silly. I’m trying to be smart about my training, which means A) not training when I’m sick, and B) smartly planning my bikes and runs while I’m home and runs when I travel. I know that once I move in July to my new home all this crazy travel will stop and I will get a more regular schedule, which means better training. But until then, I’ll suffer the consequences of mediocre race performance if it means traveling the world to have new experiences!

 

IMG_5419

Chrotopterus auritus, one of the largest carnivorous bats!

Posted by & filed under Swimming. 2 comments

Although I consider myself a pretty darn good swimmer, I will never be the fastest swimmer in a race. For me, the secret to a fast swim time is feet: finding feet and staying on feet. Drafting in the swim will save you tons of energy and really help your swim time. Many athletes I talk with, however, are not confident with feet. They tell me “well I try to stay on the feet but then they veer left or right or speed up and I lose them,” or “I just can’t get on feet at the beginning of the swim.”

The key to being confident with feet is train for it. You need to be able to do what I call “micro-surges” in races to adapt to whatever the feet in front of you are doing. This means feeling confident that you can do a micro-surge to go catch those feet and then go right back to your usual pace.

So, how do you train for this? It’s quite simple: you introduce micro-surges into your training. Here’s my go-to swim set to work on this:

Do your usual warmup, drills, etc.

Then, your main set is 4×250 with 30 seconds rest. In the 250s your first 50 is an all out sprint. Then, without stopping, do the last 200m at your half or olympic race pace.

These are challenging because at the end of each 50 sprint your body is going to be screaming for you to stop or go super slow. Push through it. The first 50y or so of your race effort 200 will feel uncomfortable, but your heart rate will drop and your breathing will calm down. And right when you feel comfortable? A short rest and then you repeat.

There’s lots of variations on this you can do. If you’re doing longer sets, sprinkle 50 sprints every 200-300 yards. If you’re doing open water swims with a buddy, have them randomly sprint and you try to catch them.

Doing micro-surges in your training will help you understand exactly how you can surge and return to race pace, as well as help you develop the confidence necessary to stick on feet throughout an entire swim. This will help when your target feet suddenly surge ahead or veer off and you need to catch them. This is also helpful if, towards the end of the swim, someone passes you moving faster and you decide to surge to go chase their feet.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your micro-surge on!