Where it all starts again

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Bowling, Bumper Cars and Dengue Fever

The band that made the birthday
May 11th, a date edged into people's minds around the world, packed with memories of limousine vans, joint parties in the Bok, getting the cops called because there are too many people on the roof...
Spoken like the egomaniac I have no shame in being, I find myself in SE Asia and uncertain if I will manage to match the incredible birthday parties I've thrown in Ireland, San Francisco, and Brussels. I don't know nearly as many people, I've been here for just a few weeks and I'm not even sure where to go or what to do. In a daring move, I leave it to Rocket to figure it out, and get back in the pool.
Home, shower and change. Nina's got something up her sleeve, and as per usual I am completely clueless. I hate surprises because I'm incapable of figuring out what they are. This could be associated with why I love cinema and am driven mad when people say the film was 'predictable', but that's off the topic.
Hop in the tuk tuk and Nina holds back from blindfolding me, probably due to the fact that we've been here for such a short time, we rarely know where we are, let alone where we're going.
Parkway Mall. It has a bowling alley and bumper cars.
We stop at the Parkway Mall. I take a look around. Look for signs. Nothing. I have absolutely no idea where I am. Nina grins like a cartoon character and we head into the place. Of course, Nina has no idea where we are either, so after getting atrociously lost, we finally stumble across Millary (Luke, see last post) who's outside a BOWLING ALLEY! I haven't been bowling in years – ever since the infamous O'Reilly's Christmas party of 2004. After a very drunken session of bowling in Brussels I managed to dislocate my kneecap (who does that!?) and then went dancing. It didn't really work out for me in the long run.

Ma peeps.
We bowl, we drink, we dance, and we affectionately hug the AC because it's about 60C inside. I win and beat everyone buy 100 million points and this is a raging lie. I suck.

On we go down the same hallway in the same... I guess it's a shopping centre, as far as I can fathom. 
No, no, they're really bowling.
The signs become apparent: This really cool band I have never heard of called Dengue Fever is playing. I'm not too sure about it all at the beginning; they are a mix of jazz and rock and... traditional Khmer sounds. Just Youtube 'khmer pop music' and you'll see why I'm cagey about the whole affair.
On the walk down towards the venue we find a bumper cars arena. Note that we are still in the shopping center. We decide to give each other whiplash before the show. For 15 minutes we laugh like complete idiots, crash into each other, pee in our pants a little, and have a brilliant time.
Who can you find?
It's time for Dengue Fever, and the mood is set. The room fills with (mostly) expats from around the country, and the temperature goes from 60 to 100C. It's wild how gin & tonic passes for water in this heat, and after pounding back five of them I realise I better pace myself or this will end up being another Hunter S. Thompson & Swampy night.
Chhom Nimol, lead singer.

I wish I knew this guy's name...
There's no real way of describing Dengue Fever. You simply have to see them. A four-man, one powerful woman band hits you like a delicately embroidered sledgehammer in the shape of an Asian temple, a sweet balance of American electric rock and a high-pitched Khmer fluctuating voice that's as romantic as the land it emulates. If you ever get the chance to hear them, don't skip it. They really are something else and I'd recommend them to anybody. There was also a special visit from an blind Khmer guitarist who was, for lack of a better word, indubitably amazing.

The Rocket!
The Rocket has done it again. After all my worries, Phnom Penh ends up hosting one hell of a fantastic birthday. There may not have been hundreds of people there for me only, and the band playing might not have been my mates, but on the 11th of May 2010, with my little group of Phnom Penhers and my Rocket and my wacky concert, I was in bliss.

Happy as with Lady Marion.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Moving to the country, Gonna eat me a lot of Loc Lac

View from the Corner 33 Cafe

The holiday is over, and it's time to get our heads down and start looking for a place to live and work.
Our balcony

As it turns out, there's a golden rule about moving to Cambodia without a pre-ordered job; It will take you three months to get one. Of course, no-one told us this before we came, and with the logical deduction that 'living in a third world country = cheap living', we're happy to go about networking and living our lives comfortably and as relaxed as possible.

Having spent our time in Prek Leap with Aimee and Fred, we realise that if we plan on getting anything done, we need to move to the city. After visiting only a few apartments, we find our incredible place in Sangkat Veal Vong, on the east side of the Olympic Stadium. We meet our landlords Max (Australian) and Sophea (Cambodian), an awesome pair that have since become good friends of ours. In a wild coincidence, we find out that Sophea actually designed the house Fred and Aimee live in. It's fate from thereon in, and we move in days later.
Our rooftop terrace being put to good use

One of the great things about job hunting in Phnom Penh – and working freelance, I guess – is choosing where to work. From air-conditioned cafes with a view of the Tonle Sap/Mekong rivers to secluded gardens with swimming pools, the city offers some great spots to get your work done... or be easily distracted. Poolside soon loses its charm when we realise a couple of weeks has gone by and all we have is a tan and a wet towel and still no job.

If you do find yourself needing to work and are looking to do so in cafe, I've got a few recommendations. First, Java Cafe is pretty cool, has great staff and comfortable couches. There's also Corner 33, which is really quiet and has a cheap menu. Despite being tourist traps, check out FCC and Fresco – but the one in BKK, not at Riverside.
'Working' at The Pavillion

And now you really want to know about the pools, don't you.

Well, my personal favorite is the Blue Lime, a secluded little oasis not too far from riverside. There's also The Pavilion which is very similar, Villa Langka and The 252. As for nighttime drinking and swimming with your clothes on, you can always rely on Elsewhere, but watch out! It's a very touristy street so keep an eye on your stuff when heading home.

Eleswhere is one of the first places we hang out with our new friends in Phnom Penh. We were very lucky to know Aimee before arriving, which came with the added bonus of meeting her mates, a fantastic bunch of people we've become quite fond of.
Foot soak at Elsewhere
First we have Erin and Marion. Erin is one of the sweetest, loveliest and tallest women around, and lives with Marion, who is mad. Marion's also awesomeness in the form of a little New Zealand farmer. I'm only saying this because I think it's going to make her come back and kill me – she recently left us for Buda and Pest, and will soon be joined by Dr Mad Kavenagh.
Then you've got Sam and Mari, our New York pair (although Mari is from Norway, and coincidentally also mad) that work in film and development, respectfully. Sam is actually famous, and possibly mad, but I'm not sure.
I honestly don't know
Next up are Luke and Clare. Luke is actually a primitive huntsmen from 1,000 B.C., but he's slightly barmy so passes for a modern man quite well, and Clare is mad. As mad as Dom and Marnie. No, sorry, actually Dom and Marnie and completely bonkers, to an immeasurable extent. My bad.
Aaron gets to join us every once in a while, but only because he lives out in butt-fuck nowhere, and Caitlin joined us for a short stint but has returned to... I actually don't know.
Last but not least there Bek. She's is also, as you may have rightly assumed, mad.

In case you think I'm pulling your leg as to how mad we all are, here's a little glimpse into the future...
Sober. I swear
After only knowing these great loons for nought but a few days, we head out for a really cool night: Bowling and a concert with the brilliant San Francisco/Phnom Penh band Dengue Fever....

Breakfast at Aimee's (Video)

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Marc n Nini Go To Beach

Good morning, and welcome to Phnom Penh. It's a balmy 36C degrees in our fair city today, gently accompanied by 87% humidity. It will remain this hot forever, and ever. And ever.

With two weeks of relaxing, diving and swimming in Thailand, I find myself slumping into the back of the tuk tuk as I approach the airport. The Rocket is not so lucky; she's been dealing with paperwork and grandmothers and pitiless Belgian weather whilst I tan my guns. She'll be coming off the plane tired, wired and ready to do absolutely nothing once the caffeine that is Western life wears off. Sometimes, that can take a while.

I get to the airport and as I bob and weave through the crowds, I look intently towards the arrivals gate. Is that
her? Where is she? Did I miss her? It's been the longest time I've spent without my Nina, and it's time for her to find her rightful place in my arms... and she does. Out of the throng of people she appears and she's right back where she belongs. After much inappropriate hugging and kissing in public (which will undoubtedly NOT surprise most of you), we get back to Sarun and his tuk tuk and head to Prek Leap.
The plan is simple: Get back to Fred and Aimee's, and do nothing. Then go to Sihanoukville, and do nothing. Maybe we might go somewhere else and do nothing but for now that's pretty planned out - which involved doing something - and that's not part of the program, thank you very much.

We spend a few days out in Prek Leap - 10 mins north of Phnom Penh - where Fred and Aimee and Ella The Dog live, and do childish things like watch five movies in a row and invent diving games in the pool with a pomelo fruit. We experience our first Cambodian rainstorm and our first mosquito attack, but most importantly the sun's regenerative powers are working their magic. We decide to head down to
the coast of Cambodia via a 5 hour bus drive, which includes loud-ass karaoke - whether you like it or not, baby puke that vanishes all by itself (Oh no, wait, the puke stayed right where it was for the whole trip. Lovely) and the overtaking of other buses at 90 miles an hour on one lane roads. Of course, we've had a few days of swimming, watching movies, and eating nothing but fresh fruit, so we barely notice. Except for the baby puke. Not much we could do to ignore that sensory assault.

We'd done some research on the hotels available by the coast, making sure we'd get nice rooms with good views upon our arrival. The first problem becomes apparent while we are on our way to our hotel; It's miles out and not exactly easy to access. Then we get there. Suffice it to say the only thing accurate about the website is that this place is on the coast. Queen's Hill Resort is a dump. We enter our bungalow – slanting dangerously down a cliff – and are met by a stench of Clorox toilet tablets, and a very strange scratching sound coming from the ceiling. This turns out to be the full cast of Ratatouille, most likely munching away at the previous guests. We dealt with this by getting very drunk to try and sleep through it. It didn't work, so we ran away at breakneck speeds in the wee hours of the morning.

After a little adventure searching out hotels on
our trusty rent-a-moto, we settle on the Beach Road Hotel, a generic yet clean and friendly hotel on the main tourist strip of Sihanoukville. Complete with working AC and a huge pool right outside our door, we're now ready to tackle our holiday of lying in and chilling out. Day two is fantastic. We head out on the moto on a little adventure, heading out of town and discovering hidden beachs, abandoned colonial houses and what turns out to be the Independence Hotel, this majestic James Bond-esque tower hidden in the jungle, guarded by an army of monkeys. No joke.

Next up: Heading back to Phnom Penh and putting the heads down!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Penh.

Walk to the gate. I buy something – an attestation of my western upbringing. Wait for boarding. I check to see who I will sit beside. I always do, and always hope its someone interesting. It rarely is. I sleep.

Open my eyes. There’s still light just before we land, and I gaze out the window, onto the country I have chosen to live in. It looks… Asian, from this altitude. It looks scarcely populated. It looks like Ireland with palm trees and paddy fields and tiny golden temples.

The plane lands. Get bags. Get visa. Get ready. I walk out to a blast of humid air and eager locals calling out the single most heard words by white people in Cambodia. I am instantly privvy to something one must placidly accept and constantly shut down while living in Asia; the tuk tuk drivers. After getting asked an approximate 100,000 times if I want a tuk tuk, I meet my man Sarun, a lovely, slightly heavyset man made of smiles. Sarun speaks good English, loves to ask questions, and to this day is seemingly delighted to see me every time we meet. He is my first Khmer friend.

Phnom Penh airport is about 40 minutes out of Phnom Penh, and my friend Aimee’s place is the same distance out on the other side of town, so my introductory drive is long. Night has fallen, and my first impression of the city is based on the little I can see and the plenty I can smell. The first thing I pick up on is the rubbish. There’s a lot of it on the side of the road, strewn here and there by the shops they front, and by people walking by. The novelty of fairylight-covered shacks lining the streets, selling exotic fruits, ornate wooden furniture and delicately prepared flower arrangements, disguises the inherent poverty of the country more visible by day. The strong stenches occasionaly molesting my nose do not. To be blunt, there is shit and rot by the road, and they remind you where you are.

I find myself in Sarun’s funky, rickety tuk tuk, contemplating what I sense as we reach the half-way mark of our trip, and am struck by a second, equally frightening realisation. All around me are bicycles, mopeds, tuk tuks, rundown trucks and vans… and the biggest Toyotas and Lexus and Audis and Volkswagons money can buy. It doesn’t hit me immedietely; Having lived in the US and Europe all my life, my eyes are accustomed to huge, gas-gusseling SUVs, getting bigger by the year. Seeing them in such striking abundance in a developing country, however, hits me like a right smack across the cheek. What are they doing here? How can they be afforded? Is that a PORSCHE CAYENNE?? Yes. Yes it is. I later find out that as there are ostensibly no rules of the road in Cambodia, save one; the larger your vehicle, the more right of way you have. This makes driving a “moto” or moped hilariously tough here. People also drive on EITHER side of the road, but that’s all for another post. So is the reason for these vehicles being here in the first place.

We arrive at Aimee and Fred’s sequestered little home, and I thank Sarun for the long drive. In Cambodia, tuk tuks are a little different to Bangkok’s three-seater go-karts. Here, Khmers simply construct a rickshaw-like contraption and attach it to a moto. I can only imagine how rough an hour and a half-long drive can be for Sarun.

Aimee’s place is stunning. A wide open space, made entirely of dark wood, it has an spacious feel, complete with big bay doors, wide steps down to a garden and a beautiful swimming pool, and a big lovable puppy called Ella. It’s great to see them again, and we quickly catch up, get talking about the Nina and Marc Cambodian plan, and wash the night down with homemade Sidecars. It’s an early night, for in the morning my brilliant Nina arrives. It’s been 12 days since I’ve seen her, the longest time we’ve been apart in the two years we’ve been together. Needless to say I can’t wait to have her goofy ways with me again.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

How to breathe underwater

The next three days are pure diving, complete with the best and toughest experiences.
Every day we wake up at 7am, have healthy breakfasts right by the beach, outdoors and in the shade. Then we head to meet our divemaster Paco, talk shop, go diving all day, head for showers and dinner straight upon returning to the island, and watch our course videos in the evening. At the end of the three days we feel accomplished, healthy, well rested and proud of ourselves and each other to have passed our Open Water course, with flying colours.
Day one is in spent with Paco teaching us underwater hand signals for communication, and in shallow water; essentially, you walk out onto the beach, and just head into the water right there and then. The water is warm (26 degrees celsius!) and crystal clear, and inviting. In what turns out to be one of the funniest moments of the trip, Paco proceeds to teach us how to communicate underwater to each other, but with his strong Italian accent and massive blubber-like lips, it comes out as pure comedy.
"Ok boys, today we are going to learn how to communicate underwater, ok? And we are going to take out our first stage, ok? (that's the piece that you breathe out of/goes into your mouth) and put it back in, all the while making the sound blblblbblblblblblblblblblblbl... OK?". Watching Paco do the blblblblbl bit is priceless. If you ever watched Men in Black 2, you might remember the beatbox scene in the post office. It kind of looked like that when he did it, like his face was about the explode.
"Then, if you have to go to the surface very fast in an emergency, you have to breathe out all the way up, OK? and say Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh....". I swear I thought he'd never stop the first time he did that. "Put your hand in the air and say Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh...". Priceless.
After picking ourselves up from the floor from laughter, we head out to sea. The first day is a breeze in the shallow water. Having gone diving in Brussels at Nemo 33 with my friend Rodrigo many many times, I feel confident in my gear, but still get the obvious shock from transferring my experience from a swimming pool to the incomparable ocean. Steve and Brandon, with zero experience, are natural divers; They take to the equipment in a heartbeat and after the initial "wtf, I'm breathing underwater" feeling, they are perfectly comfortable with their surroundings. We do our exercises proficiently, each of us having our own discrepancies (mine being the inability to remove my mask in sea water, which begrudges me for the rest of the course), but it's obvious we're all comfortable and content underwater.
Day two and we're out to sea. Starting at 8am after a good breakfast, we head to the beach hut to pick up our equipment and make sure everything is dandy. Everything gets lugged onto the boat, and we head south towards Phi Phi Lay, to our first dive spot, named Bida Nok.
The experience is incredible as we start by dropping down to 8 metres, do a few exercises and then head off on a little excursion along the coral. We track several different types of fish, including 2 lion fish, a scorpion fish, a seahorse - which was very cool - some moray eels and a trevally.

Everything seems to be going well, but I'm going through air quicker than Steve or Brandon, while Steve keeps going up and down and Brandon gets to far from his "buddy" a few times. We're 30 minutes in and all of a sudden it gets a little tough for me to breathe. We've been asking each other regularly how much air we all have, and having been asked not one minute before, I am happy in the knowledge that I have 50bar left (about 10 minutes or so). Then, all of a sudden, at 10 feet under sea level, I run out of air. I suck and suck and get nothing, and I'm at least 5 feet behind everyone, having stopped to check out some underwater plant-life. I'm shocked. I react automatically, checking my equipment. Getting low on air is worrying, but easily fixed while still breathing. Running out of air entirely is pretty shocking, and the fear of drowning immediately pops into your mind. I swim fast to Paco after realising there are no valve issues, and let him know I need his second stage (the secondary, emergency breathing piece which comes with your equipment). I breathe heavy to get some air back in my lungs, and we start to head for the surface. In the end I'm happy this happens to me so early on in my diving career; Now I know what it is like, and I also know that I didn't panic, I consider myself pre-disastered : )

The second dive of the day reverberates the asphyxiating experience of the first one, and I find it hard to enjoy. On top of it, my nervous temperament is amplified, a direct result of stressful living in Brussels, and my mind wanders and ponders in an accentuated tense way. I vow to allow myself to relax, and take on the next day with ease and calm on my mind.
Day three opens exactly how I want it to. We're all very happy and relaxed, having refrained from going out during our diving days, all the while getting up early and eating healthily. My mind is more at ease, having loosened up from yesterdays fright and having meditated the previous evening.
The day comes with more challenges, but our best dives yet. With intermittent problems of Brandon's seal braking, my high-pressure valve bursting, and the fact that we have nowhere to dive in because there are so many jellyfish (at one point we couldn't actually see the water. All you could see were jellyfish, hundreds, thousands of them), we have the greatest experiences of our trip. All of us our very relaxed, I'm breathing regularly, and we stick together, showing each other the wonders we're surrounded by. At one point we come to a feeding turtle, and spend some time with him as he swims around us. We come to an octopus, clinging to the coral. We see seasnakes, Clownfish, Yellow Snapper, porcelain crabs, barracudas, and nearing the end of our dive we see 5 blacktip sharks all but 10 feet away from us! It was the best finale to a great diving experience.

We wrap up affairs on Phi Phi Don, spending our last evening with Paco, with our Open Water certificates gladly handed to us with high commendations. We head out to Krabi the next day, and hop onto a taxi boat out to a secluded beach off of Ao Nang called Railay Beach, and spend our final hours relaxing at one of the most beautiful places on earth. At one point we even let our guard down and leave our stuff on the beach to swim out to a nearby island, and spend most of our time in the water, our new natural habitat.
The Thailand adventure is coming to an end, and we know it. Reluctantly, we once again travel, this time to back to Bangkok, where we will part ways. It's been the trip of a lifetime, but now other realities have to set in. Brandon has to get ready for his upcoming wedding, Steve needs to get back to it in the little town of Chico, and I have to start my new life in Phnom Penh Cambodia...

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Island of Phi Phi Don

The first thing I notice is the water, and how it changes color. It goes from the “sea blue” we all know to this incredible, pasty azure as we approach the Thai island of Phi Phi. It seems to lose its property as water and turns into a bay full of a calming shade of green.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the cliffs of Phi Phi Don island appear.

Steve is passed out a few rows up, and Brandon and I are chilling, listening to music, and taking a break from catching up. From the lower deck, I look out the window to my left and Boom! Out of nowhere this cliff appears. It’s incredible, and the bright sunlight in the air gives this dreamy impression on everything I see.

Coming from Phuket, we arrive from the west, and cruise along the coast southwards until we turn into the inlet that holds Phi Phi’s main pier. When you arrive, you’re smack bang in the middle of the tourist zone, and find yourself on these narrow alleys lined with restaurants, gift shops and dive centers. We are immediately accosted by twenty taxi boat guys, their rides lining the coast for a mile on either side of the pier. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, Steve directs us to Long Beach, having been told by a friend that it’s the best part of the island to stay on. It’s a 3 minute taxi boat ride to the southern section of the island, where our beach awaits us.

Upon arrival, Brandon and I have only one thing to say to Steve. Score! Long Beach is incredible, quieter and much more pristine than the main strip of beach back at the pier. It’s Steve’s job to find us the best deal for the best room, so he heads off while Brandon and I sit on a swinging bench on the beach and look outwards, dumbfounded by the view of the island of Phi Phi Lay in the distance. Warm, clear seawater crashes onto the crisp white sand beach, a select few people about occasionally jump into the ocean to cool down, and here we are, swinging away, breathing slowly and deeply, unblinking, absorbed by a landscape that resembles a dream you wish you had.

Steve comes back with two options. We visit the first one, and not knowing what to expect, take it on board, albeit apprehensively. Then we visit the second option, with a few dollars in price difference, and it’s unbelievable. Big and spacious with stunning decor, and with a balcony looking out to the beach 5 feet away, we walk in and simply say “we’ll take it”.

As soon as we’ve unpacked and settled in, we head straight to Long Beach Dive Shop to get information about becoming certified divers. We meet Trevor, the manager, and find out from him that diving is pretty much syndicated throughout Phi Phi. That being said, Trevor is a good salesman, and is quick to point out his advantages. First, they time the dives to NOT coincide with the other shops, so when we dive there aren’t many other divers around. Also, once you’ve sorted your gear and spare tanks, all you have to do is carry it a few feet to the boat; The other centers make you walk, sometimes for up to a mile, before you get to your boat. We get to have our lunch in Maya Bay, where the shot the movie The Beach And last but not least, training starts on the coast of Long Beach, in clean, quiet undisturbed waters, as opposed to under boats and ferries and taxis by the busy pier with the other shops. We later find out that other trainee divers did their first shallow dive near the sewage pipes, so after very little debate we sign up with Trevor to become Open Water divers, and meet our instructor Pascal - or Paco - a legend that since has become a very good friend of ours.

Becoming an Open Water diver takes three days, and involves watching 5 educational videos. Wanting to get the time-consuming videos out of the way, we decide to crack into the first two videos that night, and head to bed early, so as to be fresh and lively for our first dive in the morning.

The next day brings surprises, dangerous sea creatures, and the start to our awesome underwater adventure : )

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Remember the time Steve...

Many sentences regarding the indestructible force that is Steve Swim, or "Truck" as I now call him, start with these words.
As Brandon passes out from sheer exhaustion, Steve and I power on, fueled by significant amounts of warm beer. Quick shower, change, and a 2-second conversation about how we should really be going to bed go by, and we're off.
In true SE Asian tradition, we start with a massage. Finding one is simple, but expressing our desire for simplicity and no cheek-clicking is not. To explain, the girls in Phuket will give you a little flick on the cheek, their way of asking you if you would like anything on the side. You can spend your entire afternoon outside the massage place saying "I only want a massage" and they'll still harass you. Don't be fooled, though, you will get a good massage. Steve and I walk out totally relaxed, very happy to be hanging out with each other once again, in this new and strange land. The bar-hopping starts.
In the space of around 4 hours, Steve and I manage to walk most of the main Patong town, drink a beer in every bar, and meet a weird German-American who guides us to the good spots. Regardless to say, Steve and I are absolutely baloobas by this point and manage to take moto-taxis at random, for no reason, even if we don't need to go anywhere. After a brief stint to a completely empty - but actually really cool looking - karaoke bar someway out of town, we lose each other. I get a few more beers into me, realise I've drunk my weight in liquor, and head back to the hotel.
One hour passes and there's a knock on the door; I open to the door to Steve and one of the security guys from the hotel. Steve proceeds to mumble something about a roof, saying he was trying to get to the room, and he'll see us in 6 months. "I love you guys, I dunno, the roof man, I'll see you in 6 months, I'll see you. BAAAh! Yeah, I see you. Boom." I convince the guy to leave Steve with us until the morning. We head to bed.
Next morning we find out what happened; Steve, the eternally lovable guy that he is, really didn't want to wake us, so out of pure respect for his friends, he decided to climb into the hotel room through the balcony. The problem here was that Steve was actually already in the hotel, and had proceeded to climb over some fiberglass roofing at the other end of the hotel and try to reach THE WRONG ROOM. Not only the wrong room, but the wrong hotel. Then, as Steve crushed the paper-thin roofing about half-way through, he fell two and a half stories, bouncing off walls and air-conditioning units.
No broken bones, no permanent damage, no facial disfiguration. Steve fell the height of my house and got a scrape on his back and a little, albeit painful, hole in his shin. Like I said, the man is indestructible. I would go to war with the man. With him in front of me, to be specific.
So, after starting the trip on the right note, we rest up for a day on the beach (which results in all three of us being impressively sunburnt, even Steve... who spent the entire time under his umbrella) and get up nice and early on Day 3 of our trip, heading to the ferry out of seedy Phuket and onto the majestic island of Phi Phi Don.
From a travel guide point of view, Phuket is simply a tourist trap. I had a hard time picking up my jaw when we walked out onto Patong beach, but this is Thailand. You'll find phenomenal views, incredible landscapes and pristine, heavenly beaches to be plentiful in this country. The tourism-oriented business and over-pricing of the Patong area really takes away the beauty of where you are, so if you haven't been to Thailand before I suggest giving it a miss and looking more at Phi Phi, Koh Tao, or Chang Mai.
A quick drive to the pier and we're on our boat, eagerly awaiting departure for the reputed paradise of beaches, cheap restaurants, world-class dive spots and hammocks galore. Despite the pictures I've seen, and the research I've done on the place before coming, nothing prepares me for the truly magnificent sight that appears before you as you near this unbelievable island.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Welcome to South East Asia.

One of my biggest dreams comes true on April 2nd, 2010 as I land in Bangkok. I've dreamt of coming to SE Asia for so long, and my adventure finally starts with a trip through Thailand with two of my closest friends, Steve and Brandon. I arrive a few hours early from Abu Dhabi, a city that holds very little of interest, as it turns out.Having to wait a few hours before Steve and Brandon arrive from Taipei, I decide to wonder around, speak to the tourist office, and walk outside the airport. I am instantly met with an unabashedly powerful blast of hot air which almost floors me. I love the heat, and thrive in such conditions, but nothing can prepare you for this humidity, especially when your last home is Brussels. I come back in, sit down, and put together one of the best playlists I have ever made, powered by the pure bliss of the impending story of a lifetime.
When the boys arrive, it's just incredible to see them both again. We've done this a few times now, with their visit to me in 2005, our intertwined travels in 2007 through Denmark, Belgium, Spain, France... But this is the first time we start together and finish together, a bone fide adventure we'll reminisce over for years to come. We head onto our next flight to Phuket, ready to face theunknown, and the many beers, and the fiberglass rooftops. I'll explain that in a second.
As it turns out, there's a massive lightning storm above Phuket as we arrive, so we can't land. Brandon and I decide this is a great time to fall asleep, so as we twirls above the city, Steve is left to contemplate the possibility of death by lightning at 20,000 feet by himself. The shock of the landing gear hitting the tarmac awakens Brandon and I, and we turn around to see Steve clutching a crumpled can of Singha, whiter the ever, in awe at our slumber. We give him another beer and he's soon right as rain. Pun intended.
We are cordially met by our driver, who is actually waiting for "Mr. Marcy Rousseau". This spelling error makes us laugh to tears, and I’m named Marcy for the majority of the trip.
We arrive at Patong Beach, infamous for it’s debauchery and late night bars. Brandon chooses the wiser path of recharging after a 48 hour traveling stint, but Steve and I decide to head out and hit the town, intent on getting hammered and partying with the local barangs.
The epic disaster that ensues deserves its own chapter, so stay tuned for Steve and the roof, our awed arrival to Phi Phi Don, and diving adventure galore : )

Monday, 8 March 2010

Days away from adventure... and shitting myself.

Ok, so maybe cursing in a blog post title isn't appropriate, but my rather adequate vocabulary couldn't come up with a better word for how I'm starting to feel.
We're leaving in three and a half weeks, and frankly we're nowhere near prepared. This isn't a surprise or a complaint, it's just a fact because we're still consumed by our jobs. Don't get me wrong, affairs are coming together - from work prospects to letting go of our affairs and the apartment - and we have ample time to sort things out, but let's put this into context; Rocket and I are moving to South East Asia in less than a month, with the plan of moving on and not returning to Brussels. This means we're shutting it down over here, and that's where the fear starts coming on. Here we are, the loving couple leaving behind our European-based careers and our really great, close friends for, in no understated way, The Great Unknown.
This move, this decision, is beautiful. For me, packing it all up and leaving on an adventure is how life should be lived, and it's also not the first time I've done it. This time it's different though. This time I'm older, wiser, relatively accomplished and more thoughtful of my actions.
What if something doesn't work out? What if we don't like it?? What if we can't stay, or force majeur thwarts us on the path to our dream of the good life and a fulfilled spirit???
Woah, woah. Hold your horses, Marc. Get off the ceiling, sit back down, let your nails grow back...
THAT is not what this is about. This decision is for a better life, and by that a more relaxed, fulfilled, complete life. When I sleep I dream of rain, of cycling in the heat, of shorts and flip flops. When I'm awake, I'm worrying!
And hence the reason for the move. I think the European way of life has led me to be too cautious, too materialistic. Because of my past I've always feared being homeless [again]. Living the Western way has attached me to my comforts, my Xbox, my big ass TV and my access to anything I want. I want to be the guy with a hammock and a shirt on his back and content in the knowledge that that is all he needs, and anything else to persevere towards is luxury.
So there you have it. That's where my mind is. I am shitting myself over the one thing I simply cannot wait to happen. Nonsensical? Oxymoronic? Maybe; Except I suspect you know what I mean : )