Majorly Backtracking: Thailand – Vietnam

It’s been soooo long that I’m backtracking a few months to pick up where I left off. At least for my own sake of remembering everything, I don’t want to skip it 🙂

Our next three weeks in Thailand flew by! Next after Krabi was Chiang Mai and Pai in the north. Chiang Mai was one of the few cities we spent time in that I thought I would enjoy living in for a season. It was also a city of “firsts” for me. It is quite developed and has a bit of a western vibe to it because of all the clean streets, cute coffee houses, and western restaurant options. It was fun just to walk the city and stop at whatever looked interesting. On our first day that included two coffee shops and both Levi and my first authentic Thai Massage. We were standing outside of a more official looking spa checking out the service list, and an older white couple walked by and told us it was, “FABULOUS!” I have had quite a few massages before and a few of them were in the Philippines, so I was used to the difference in professionalism and personal space boundaries lol. Levi had never had any sort of massage before though so he was adamant about only getting a back massage. Thai massage is a combination of assisted stretching and massage, so the therapist will put you in a stretched position and then massage the muscle while it is being stretched. Afterward I felt awesome, but there was definitely some not so pleasant moments during it…

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We also got to do a “Monk Chat” while in Chaing Mai. At some of the Buddhist temples you can sit and talk with one of the monks to help them practice their English. We had an interesting chat and learned quite a bit about Buddhism and the 200 something rules that monks must follow compared to the five that lay-Buddhists follow. At the table next to us was a giant, bald, 40-year old white guy, with tattoos all up his arms. Our monk said that he was English and had become a monk at this temple seven years ago after visiting on a vacation and loving it so much.

Renting motor scooters for a day in each city had become a bit routine, so Levi and I each rented our own bike and spent the day driving around, going to a mountain top temple, the “Grand Canyon Chaing Mai”, and seeing a bit of the country side. One of my main highlights in the city was going to a legit Muay Thai fight. I’m not quite sure why I enjoyed it so much, but I loved every minute. There were nine fights, with some that went the full five rounds and some that actually ended with a knock out.

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Grand Canyon, Chiang Mai

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Muay Thaiiiiiiiiii! France vs. Thailand

After three days, we got on a bus for the few hour trip to Pai. One of the first things that comes up if you Google “Chiang Mai to Pai” is the fact that there are 217 turns on the way up to Pai. This was definitely not lost on the poor Korean girl who had to get out of the van to puke twice. We had booked our stay at a hostel a bit out of town that sounded like a hippie commune 😉 They advertised for free morning yoga, homemade Kombucha, an herbal sauna, and peace and quiet to meditate in. We got off the bus and walked up the dirt road for 20 minutes with our packs only to get there and find out that the older, American guy that owned the hostel had recently started using Booking.com and didn’t know how to manage it yet, so he didn’t actually have any room for us… We got lucky though, because he let us sit in the back up his pickup and drove us back into town. Being the weekend, the only place we found within our budget was a room made out of plywood, with a concrete bathroom, and a bed on the floor that was the hardest I’ve ever felt in my life. Levi was on his side of the bed when I took a flying leap onto mine, and he felt nothing.

The beauty of Pai for me was the food 😛 Kombucha, wheat grass shots, vegetarian burgers and cheesecake, delicious coffee, and vegetables everywhere! Eating was one of the most exciting parts of my day. They also had a fun night market with a good variety of stuff. We took motorbikes out for a day and got away from the tourists into some of the local villages, went to some natural hot springs, and got to feed an elephant sugar cane. Neither Levi or I thought it was worth the money to do the half day with the elephants, and there is so much floating around now about which places are cruel to the elephants and which treat them well, so we just stayed away from it.

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Countryside of Pai

While in Pai I decided to go to a training session at a local Muay Thai gym. The few things I learned are that 1) I am super out of shape now, 2) Jump roping is over rated, and 3) I think I could really get into martial arts as a form of fitness. One of the neatest things is that three of the fighters from the fight in Chiang Mai trained at this gym. The one that had the best fight of the night was out because of an injured leg, and he also had a split lip and massive black eye. There was several backpackers that were staying in Pai for one month or several to do twice a day trainings at the gym and really learn some Muay Thai skills.

We had almost a week between leaving Pai and needing to be down in Bangkok, and honestly, the places we spent time in that week were a bit boring. We saw some really scenic temple ruins, but there were really only two funny things to remember…. One of the worst “taxi” rides ever when we got off the bus in Ayutthaya and had to get from the bamboo hut of a bus stop to our hostel 10kms away in town. The only option was the back of a motorcycle with no helmet and my 20kg backpack on my back. It took all of my core and inner thigh muscles to stay upright on the bike, especially every time we came to a stop and accelerated again… I thought I was going to fall off the back! The second was when we went to the night market for dinner a day or two later and with a stroke of luck ended up running across a Thai body building contest. I’ve seen a few body building contests before and knew that the spray tans and body oil were a bit exaggerated, but it is even more funny on a person that is already tan and gets sprayed orange but doesn’t put on any face makeup, so there is a solid, defined orange line around the middle of their neck. Some of the guys were actually impressively buff, but the others didn’t really have the physic that lends itself to success in bodybuilding……

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Ayutthaya Ruins

I was just ready to get to Bangkok because we would be meeting up with two of my friends from New Zealand, Clem and Marion. Levi and I had two days in the city before they would get there, so we did the typical tourist sightseeing. I think I would need to spend more time in Bangkok with someone that knows the city before I could appreciate it. One our first night there we stumbled into the Red Light district while wandering around for dinner. Kinky massages places, guys trying to get us to buy tickets for the “Ping Pong show” (don’t look it up), and bars like I’ve seen on Walking Street was enough to ruin my night and give me a bad first impression of the capital of Thailand. In general, it was too hectic and busy for me to really enjoy it…. Luckily we met up with Clem and Marion and went straight to the island of Koh Si Chang which isn’t too touristy to begin with, but combined with it being low season and the middle of the week we were the only whities on the island 🙂

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Love these ladies ❤

We stayed at probably the nicest place we stayed on our whole trip. It was an aircon bungalow with two big beds, a completed bathroom and a flush toilet, towels provided, and a delicious pancake and egg breakfast included every morning. Our hosts were fabulous and joined our evening routine of attempting to play poker and drinking beer.

Since our Thai visas only had a few days left, we had decided to spend Christmas in Cambodia instead of renewing them. I had done so much research on a good place to be for Christmas that they all ran together and nothing really sounded good anymore, so my expectations for our choice on Otres Beach was pretty low. We found a new hostel a five minute walk off the beach, so it was a bit cheaper and was far enough away from all the beach parties to be quiet at night. The other thing I had researched a lot was the border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia. It was an all day trip from Bangkok that required transferring busses three times, a nerve wracking hour when our passports were taken from us at “immigration” until they were given back by an old lady who had no uniform at all, and the unknown of what transport options we had once we actually crossed the border.

Several blogs call the crossing we took “Scambodia” because most likely you will get ripped off at least once while crossing, and since the police are corrupt and usually the offenders, there is not much to do about it. I had read that the $30 visa price would most likely get jacked up if we waited to get our visas until the border, so we had gotten them sorted out in Bangkok to avoid that. As soon as we got out of the van we got approached my men asking where we were going to try to sell us bus packages or convince us that a taxi was worth the extra cost. For a tip, another guy took our passports and visas and shoved us through to the front of the approval line. We ended up taking the taxi for a few more dollars at his suggestion (secret suggestion though because he didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad side), but I still wonder if his advice wasn’t so much for our benefit as the “taxi” driver was his buddy and he wanted him to get the money. Our taxi ended up being just a regular car driven by a regular looking, Cambodian dude, and Levi sat shotgun while I shared the back seat with an older Russian guy and a young Cambodian girl who was definitely being trafficked. She seemed as though she knew him though and had spent enough time with him to be comfortable. He said he lived in Cambodia and the two of them had just gone on vacation together…. When we stopped for gas and the driver was out of the car, the Russian guy asked how much we had paid, and we had definitely paid more than them. He said because he had her with him they give him a lower price, and that our driver was most likely part of the mafia. Hmmmmm………

But we made it the two hour drive to where we were staying, and were immediately happy with the choice 🙂 Our dorm room at BOHO was much bigger than any other dorm we’ve stayed in and since it was new, and owned by Europeans, the bathroom was beautiful lol. Of course, we spent one day on the scooter driving all over the place, but most of the time was spent chilling at our hostel or on the beach. The beach in Otres was beautiful and the trees that covered a good chunk of it were unique. Our hostel served really good food and there was an authentic Thai restaurant just down the road.

For Christmas Eve we went to the Saturday Otres Market which was not at all what I was expecting. Instead of the normal night markets throughout Thailand which locals selling food from street carts and people selling random stuff, this one offered food from all over the world, made by people from those countries who had been living there. I ate a burrito made by Spanish speaking Latinos, drank homemade Kombucha served by a 50 year old, American hippie, and had delicious cheesecake baked by some other white girl. There was live music, lights everywhere, and a lot of alcohol. Levi wasn’t feeling the hottest, so we didn’t stay too late, and made it back to our hostel in time for the rooftop showing of Home Alone.

Christmas Day was sunny and we planned to spend it on the beach 😀 On the way to the beach was a woman with a smoothie cart who I got something from almost every day that week. I got my smoothie and went to lay out. There was Cambodian families everywhere on the beach having picnics which was fun. I was sitting with my Adult Coloring Book (sounds like such an oxymoron lol) when this whole group of kids came over to see what I was doing. They were out on the beach collecting plastic bottles to sell for a bit of change. They got really excited about the book and my markers, and sat and colored for quite a while. So cute!

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So, it was a great Christmas in Cambodia. We had one more week before our visas for Vietnam opened, so we kept going east and stopped in Kampot for our second week in Cambodia. Our hostel, Karma Traders, was also perfect and we ended up sharing our quad dorm with a super cool American couple (hey, Teague and Sofia :). We actually had a good, little group at the hostel to spend the week and New Years with. Of course, we rented bikes for the whole week and went out to the several caves in the area, and at one of the caves hired these three super young little girls – I think they were 7, 5, and 3 – to lead us into the cave through the tunnels which was really cute. They kept pointing out different rock formations that looked like animals, and I’m guessing those few animal names was the only English they spoke 🙂

For New Year’s Eve we decided on a plan that was a bit more low key than the main party in town, since we could all guess how that would end… So, we went to the Rusty Keyhole which boasts the best BBQ in Kampot, Cambodia. What a statement 😉 After a half rack of ribs and some beer, we wandered home on foot and stopped at  Khmer New Years “festival” in town and played a few fun, fair-type games and watched a few Cambodian entertainers wearing hot pants sing pop songs. Sofia had a hankering for Bailey’s which I totally hopped on board with, so after winning a bottle of Super Whiskey (the most watery whiskey I’ve ever tasted) by knocking over some stacked aluminum cans with a ball, we went back to the roof top loungey area at our hostel and enjoyed one of the most delicious drinks on the planet. I had just watched the movie “New Year’s Eve” the day before which has the ball drop in NYC as a main part of the story. At the moment, it sounded like the best idea ever to me to recreate our own ball drop by throwing a coconut of the roof. 3… 2… 1… SPLAT! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! And 2017 was here!

A few days later we headed out for Vietnam since our visas were officially open! The boarder crossing leaving Cambodia was much more low key than coming in and we made it to our homestay in the Mekong Delta without hassle. I’d been really excited to go to the Mekong Delta, a vast maze of rivers, swamps, and islands which has developed it’s own method of commerce through floating markets. Early in the morning, everyone goes out on their boats (a lot of the sellers live on their boat as well), to buy and sell for the day. It’s quite the experience! The first boat that pulled up beside us and threw over a rope was an older lady selling Vietnamese coffee. Next we pulled up by a giant house boat loaded down with pineapple and watermelon and got one of each for 40,000 Vietnamese Dong or $2.

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Cai Rang Floating Market

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Do I look Vietnamese? That hat do!

We spent three days in the Delta and then made our way to the largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. Surprise, surprise for Levi (apparently, he had seen some of our messages when he was using my phone so he wasn’t actually that surprised) Andie, his fiancé, came out to travel with us over her Spring break, which was fabulous! After spending our two days in Ho Chi Min touring the tunnels the Vietnamese lived and fought out of during the war and visiting the Memorial Museum which really doesn’t make you proud to be American, we headed to Dalat, the mountains of Vietnam, and spent a few days in the cool at a guesthouse that served family style breakfast and dinner for all of us guests. I personally found Vietnamese food pretty boring and not terribly delicious, so this was the best I found to represent the country.

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On the hunt for good coffee 🙂

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The rest of Vietnam was pretty empty for me because I came down with Dengue Fever and Typhoid at the same time which completely wiped me out and put me in bed sleeping alllllllll day for about 10 days. I first started to notice my exhaustion on our bus trip North out of Dalat. Our 6 hour trip on a sleeper bus (totally reclined the whole time) turned into 10 when the only route was blocked by a land slide…. When we finally reached our hotel at 1am I thought I was just stressed and tired from the unlucky trip, but the next day I napped for six hours and did the same every day for pretty much a week. In Hanoi I went to the clinic and got diagnosed and put on three days of IV antibiotics. While I recovered, Andie headed back home and Levi and I prepared for our last week in Vietnam and our last week of travel together. We were both tired of moving around every few days, so we decided to spend our whole last week in Halong Bay, another place beautiful enough for people to dub it the 8th Wonder of the World.

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A week of relaxing by the ocean, drinking coffee and eating lots of Vietnamese pancakes, doing quite a bit of job searching for back home, and playing pool and cards was a great way to end our trip. We both agreed it had been fabulous, but it was a good time to wind down because we were getting tired of that style of travel. I was really looking forward to being in the same bed and using the same bathroom for over a week. We also hadn’t cooked a single meal for ourselves on the entire three month trip, since none of the accommodation offered cooking facilities…. We were lucky for a hot water dispenser to make instant noodles!

On January 30th, I headed back to Angeles City, Philippines and Levi went home to get set up to marry his future wifey 🙂 It was such a whirlwind of a trip and I’m so glad to have done it with my brother. Love you, Levi!

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I went back to the Philippines for six more weeks and want to do a separate, probably more emotionally charged post on what that looked like…. Currently, I am back in New Zealand working at the same winery as last year for Harvest 2017. BUT I will be home in May, TWO months away, and I am also so looking forward to that 🙂 See ya all soon!

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Malaysia to Thailand -:-:- The Happenings So Far

Hello from Thailand!

We’ve been busy and moving around every three or four days since we started. Our first location in Malaysia, the capital Kuala Lumpur, was a bit of a disappointment for both Levi and I. It was pretty much just a big city, with nothing terribly special or spectacular. So, we decided to leave a day early and go to the Cameron Highlands, which I loved. One of the absolute best parts about it was it wasn’t hot or humid, and I didn’t spend all day sweating. I got to wear sweat pants and long-sleeved shirts and even curl up in a real blanket at night without the AC blasting. What a beautiful thing! We went on a full-day tour that highlighted the Mossy Forest and the Cameron Tea Plantation (the largest tea plantation in SE Asia), but also visited a strawberry farm, local market, and a museum about Cameron Highland history which I’m pretty sure was just a massive collection of stuff obtained from an estate sale with some posters of historical facts stuck around.

In the middle of the Tea @ BOH Tea Plantation

In the middle of the Tea @ BOH Tea Plantation

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We also went to a “Butterfly Garden” on this tour that ended up having WAYYYYY more than just butterflies. They had snakes, big, weird bugs, scorpions, lizards, and all sorts of other stuff. Normally, it would’ve taken me about five minutes to complete my walk through and be ready to leave. While we were looking at some of the snakes though, this cute little Malay boy came up to us and said, “he’s not dangerous. He won’t bite”. And then he opens the cage and takes the snake out! He hands it to Levi without asking if he wants to hold it, and when Levi was done he put it back in the cage. Then he opens another cage and pulls a different, bigger snake out also telling us it wouldn’t kill us. I asked him if he worked there, and he said his Grandpa did. So, I’m guessing his Grandpa is in charge of the garden and has taught him all about the different animals and trained him how to handle them, because he walked us around the whole garden telling us which snakes would kill us with one bit, showing Levi how to properly hold giant bugs so they wouldn’t pinch him, and explaining to us the different names of the butterflies. The French couple that was with us and Levi both gave him a tip at the end and he was so excited 🙂

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Before we got on the bus to get into the Highlands, two girls from the US had sat down next to us and Levi said, “WASSUP?!” with such excitement, that one of them looked at us with a confused face and asked, “Sorry, do I know you?”. They ended up staying in the same hostel as us though, and invited us to try Steamboat for dinner with them while we were there. Steamboat is basically the Malay version of the Melting Pot, so the ingredients are a bit more exotic.

Steamboat! Notice the long sleeve shirts :)

Steamboat

We got a huge double boiler that contained chicken broth on one side and tom yum soup (kind of like a spicy tomato soup) on the other. Then we got huge plates with raw veggies, chicken, beef, noodles, and a few other things we were kind of curious about like vegetarian pork balls, fish balls, and tofu. Overall, it was a fun experience, but probably not something I would need to repeat based on the deliciousness of the food.

Food has actually been one of my favorite things so far on this trip. In Malaysia we ate Indian food at almost every meal. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten rice more in the last two months than I had in the last two years of my life! Levi has fallen in love with roti bread and has on several occasions ordered three different kinds for his meal. Plain roti, roti with kaya (green mango jam), roti bomb (butter, cinnamon, and sugar), roti, roti, roti. YUM. Levi has me take pictures regularly of the food he orders when he sees the portion size 😛

Chalupa!!

Home Made Strawberry Ice Cream

Coffee Shake

Coffee Shake

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15293372_1340762012633535_1375040897_o<— OR the size of the menu

OR the first time we got Starbucks because a nice Korean man had a BOGO Free coupon but was leaving and couldn’t use it and gave it to us. —>

Our last day in the Highlands was mostly relaxing and doing research on where we wanted to go next. I got a Thai Massage which I both loved and hated it. Part of it was fabulous and part of it was stressful, like we she cracked my back and neck several different ways within 10 minutes. Shouldn’t you have some medical level training to do that??? We decided our last stop in Malaysia was going to be Langkawi Island, which doesn’t have the most glowing reviews online because most of the people leaving their thoughts on Trip Advisor are avid divers who weren’t impressed by what they found underwater there. BUT, everyone we talked to in person who had been there loved it, and it was a great place to hop into Thailand from, so we booked a hostel over an outdated FB page and hopped on the ferry to get to our first island.

Langkawi at Sunset

Langkawi at Sunset

Langkawi is most definitely a tourist spot, but it was still pretty fabulous. We stayed in the cheapest accommodation we could find that was still close to the beach, and has a reputation for being a great place to meet other travelers. We were a five minute walk from the beach, and right around the corner from the main road with all the restaurants offering roti, of course, and the shops selling hippie pants and Langkawi key chains. There is a lot of stray cats roaming around SE Asia, but the amount of cats at this particular hostel was freaky. We walked up to the desk to check in and there was a least one cat sitting on each of the six picnic tables, and several sprawled out on the concrete or just walking around. They had a habit of coming and rubbing up against your legs when you weren’t expecting it and making you jump. We spent a good amount of
time lounging on the beach, and also rented scooters one day from 15109492_1320930374625616_6220949616234467459_na mobster looking Malay guy who calls himself Chief Volvo (apparently, he drives a Volvo) and zipped around the island visiting waterfalls, different beaches, and eating home-made donuts from a road side stand.

After four days we worked our way to the South of Thailand to our next beach/island location, Tonsai. We got our own bungalow and had our first private bathroom of the trip! Whoot whoot! It was a concrete room with a bucket flush toilet and a shower. A week earlier Levi learned about bucket flush toilets when he came out of the bathroom at a bus stop and said, “the toilet won’t flush”. Third-world life lessons 😉 Our hostel had a great communal area with a bar, a slack line (which I failed at), and a nightly fire show. It was crazy! I think next time I would sit a bit farther away though, because one of the times he threw it up in the air he didn’t catch it and I watched it land in front of me in sloooooowwwwww motionnnnnnn.

Tonsai and Railay are different beaches on the same island, and are known as being a world-class rock climbing destination.

Railay West Beach

Railay West Beach

Tonsai Beach

Tonsai Beach

This made laying on the beach especially fun, because as you are lounging you can watch people scale the huge limestone walls. Expert and novice climbers come from all over the world. Levi had read about Deep Water Soloing and really wanted to try it. Deep Water Soloing is basically climbing without equipment over water, so that if you fall, you land in the water. Because of this you have to choose very vertical routes so that you don’t bash yourself on the rocks when you fall or jump off. I was terrified of the idea, but didn’t really want to be left out, and felt like I had to do some form of climbing while here.

How many people can you find?

How many people can you find?

When we got there we realized that a lot of the climbing places don’t offer it anymore because they don’t want to pay the expensive permits that are required because of the danger level. Someone told us that the government shut it down after someone died…. I’m still not quite sure if it is even legal, but we signed up to do it with the one company that still offered it. They take you out on a long boat with a small group to two different rocks and provide lunch halfway through. Levi and another German guy that came with us were little monkeys on the rocks. The only problem with being good at climbing up is that you either need to climb down or be comfortable jumping from pretty high up. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure I actually enjoyed the climbing part lol.

The Climbing Crew

The Climbing Crew

One of the best things about the trip was that one of the other girls, who is from New Jersey, had also been on a working holiday in New Zealand and in the same town I was in while working at the winery. She worked weekends at the bar we always went to, so I’m pretty sure we had talked and she had served us beer while there. Small world!

Long Boat

Long Boat

We both woke up the next day super sunburned. Neither of us had brought sunscreen with us, so we bought a generic sunscreen in Malaysia, because we didn’t want to pay the extra $6 for Banana Boat. The bottle we bought doesn’t tell us the SPF or the ingredients. It just says, “SUN PROTECTION”. I’m not quite sure if it actually works….. So we woke up really red, and with what we first though was food poisoning because Levi was up-chucking in the morning and I was blowing chunks later in the evening. After Levi hurled we hopped on a boat to another Thai island, Koh Lanta, and we arrived and found ourselves a nice bungalow with AIR CONDITIONING by the beach for $20. Gotta love the prices here… We didn’t do a whole lot on Koh Lanta because we were only there for a day and a half and neither of us were feeling too hot. We ate at a local restaurant called “Danny Restaurant” (No, not Danny’S Restaurant) and was served by Mr. Danny himself, a 60+ something Thai man who’s work uniform was a pair of shorts that usually were creeping a bit low, and no shirt to hide it. He was telling us that a lot of people come to the island and think they get food poisoning from what they eat there, but it is really heat exhaustion and dehydration that are responsible. Levi and I both decided that this was much more likely the cause of our sickness.

As a side note: One of the other restaurants we went to before Danny Restaurant had this as the inside cover of their menu. It made me so happy 🙂

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Yesterday, we hopped in a van to leave the island and come to Krabi Town. We booked a 12 passenger van along with the other 11 people and their massive backpacks. We did the two hour trip with backpacks stuffed in every available floor space and our feet up on them. Being a shorty, I was pretty comfortable, but the tall guys and the Irish guy in the back who was really hung over were less thrilled about it. Last night was our only night in Krabi Town, and tonight we are flying to the very North, Chiang Mai, which is supposed to be FABULOUS!

I am really excited to be able to spend quite a bit of time in Thailand! So far it’s been a good trip, ma friends.

XXXX

Katie 🙂

Malaysia to Thailand -:-:- The Happenings So Far

Hello from Thailand!

We’ve been busy and moving around every three or four days since we started. Our first location in Malaysia, the capital Kuala Lumpur, was a bit of a disappointment for both Levi and I. It was pretty much just a big city, with nothing terribly special or spectacular. So, we decided to leave a day early and go to the Cameron Highlands, which I loved. One of the absolute best parts about it was it wasn’t hot or humid, and I didn’t spend all day sweating. I got to wear sweat pants and long-sleeved shirts and even curl up in a real blanket at night without the AC blasting. What a beautiful thing! We went on a full-day tour that highlighted the Mossy Forest and the Cameron Tea Plantation (the largest tea plantation in SE Asia), but also visited a strawberry farm, local market, and a museum about Cameron Highland history which I’m pretty sure was just a massive collection of stuff obtained from an estate with some posters of historical facts posted around.

In the middle of the Tea @ BOH Tea Plantation

In the middle of the Tea @ BOH Tea Plantation

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We also went to a “Butterfly Garden” on this tour that ended up having WAYYYYY more than just butterflies. They had snakes, big, weird bugs, scorpions, lizards, and all sorts of other stuff. Normally, it would’ve taken me about five minutes to complete my walk through and be ready to leave. While we were looking at some of the snakes though, this cute little Malay boy came up to us and said, “he’s not dangerous. He won’t bite”. And then he opens the cage and takes the snake out! He hands it to Levi without asking if he wants to hold it, and when Levi was done he put it back in the cage. Then he opens another cage and pulls a different, bigger snake out also telling us it wouldn’t kill us. I asked him if he worked there, and he said his Grandpa did. So, I’m guessing his Grandpa is in charge of the garden and has taught him all about the different animals and trained him how to handle them, because he walked us around the whole garden telling us which snakes would kill us with one bit, showing Levi how to properly hold giant bugs so they wouldn’t pinch him, and explaining to us the different names of the butterflies. The French couple that was with us and Levi both gave him a tip at the end and he was so excited 🙂

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Before we got on the bus to get into the Highlands, two girls from the US had sat down next to us and Levi said, “WASSUP?!” with such excitement, that one of them looked at us with a confused face and asked, “Sorry, do I know you?”. They ended up staying in the same hostel as us though, and invited us to try Steamboat for dinner with them while we were there. Steamboat is basically the Malay version of the Melting Pot, so the ingredients are a bit more exotic.

Steamboat! Notice the long sleeve shirts :)

Steamboat

We got a huge double boiler that contained chicken broth on one side and tom yum soup (kind of like a spicy tomato soup) on the other. Then we got huge plates with raw veggies, chicken, beef, noodles, and a few other things we were kind of curious about like vegetarian pork balls, fish balls, and tofu. Overall, it was a fun experience, but probably not something I would need to repeat based on the deliciousness of the food.

Food has actually been one of my favorite things so far on this trip. In Malaysia we ate Indian food at almost every meal. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten rice more in the last two months than I had in the last two years of my life! Levi has fallen in love with roti bread and has on several occasions ordered three different kinds for his meal. Plain roti, roti with kaya (green mango jam), roti bomb (butter, cinnamon, and sugar), roti, roti, roti. YUM. Levi has me take pictures regularly of the food he orders when he sees the portion size 😛

Chalupa!!

Home Made Strawberry Ice Cream

Coffee Shake

Coffee Shake

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15293372_1340762012633535_1375040897_o<— OR the size of the menu

OR the first time we got Starbucks because a nice Korean man had a BOGO Free coupon but was leaving and couldn’t use it and gave it to us. —>

Our last day in the Highlands was mostly relaxing and doing research on where we wanted to go next. I got a Thai Massage which I both loved and hated it. Part of it was fabulous and part of it was stressful, like we she cracked my back and neck several different ways within 10 minutes. Shouldn’t you have some medical level training to do that??? We decided our last stop in Malaysia was going to be Langkawi Island, which doesn’t have the most glowing reviews online because most of the people leaving their thoughts on Trip Advisor are avid divers who weren’t impressed by what they found underwater there. BUT, everyone we talked to in person who had been there loved it, and it was a great place to hop into Thailand from, so we booked a hostel over an outdated FB page and hopped on the ferry to get to our first island.

Langkawi at Sunset

Langkawi at Sunset

Langkawi is most definitely a tourist spot, but it was still pretty fabulous. We stayed in the cheapest accommodation we could find that was still close to the beach, and has a reputation for being a great place to meet other travelers. We were a five minute walk from the beach, and right around the corner from the main road with all the restaurants offering roti, of course, and the shops selling hippie pants and Langkawi key chains. There is a lot of stray cats roaming around SE Asia, but the amount of cats at this particular hostel was freaky. We walked up to the desk to check in and there was a least one cat sitting on each of the six picnic tables, and several sprawled out on the concrete or just walking around. They had a habit of coming and rubbing up against your legs when you weren’t expecting it and making you jump. We spent a good amount of
time lounging on the beach, and also rented scooters one day from 15109492_1320930374625616_6220949616234467459_na mobster looking Malay guy who calls himself Chief Volvo (apparently, he drives a Volvo) and zipped around the island visiting waterfalls, different beaches, and eating home-made donuts from a road side stand.

After four days we worked our way to the South of Thailand to our next beach/island location, Tonsai. We got our own bungalow and had our first private bathroom of the trip! Whoot whoot! It was a concrete room with a bucket flush toilet and a shower. A week earlier Levi learned about bucket flush toilets when he came out of the bathroom at a bus stop and said, “the toilet won’t flush”. Third-world life lessons 😉 Our hostel had a great communal area with a bar, a slack line (which I failed at), and a nightly fire show. It was crazy! I think next time I would sit a bit farther away though, because one of the times he threw it up in the air he didn’t catch it and I watched it land in front of me in sloooooowwwwww motionnnnnnn.

Tonsai and Railay are different beaches on the same island, and are known as being a world-class rock climbing destination.

Railay West Beach

Railay West Beach

Tonsai Beach

Tonsai Beach

This made laying on the beach especially fun, because as you are lounging you can watch people scale the huge limestone walls. Expert and novice climbers come from all over the world. Levi had read about Deep Water Soloing and really wanted to try it. Deep Water Soloing is basically climbing without equipment over water, so that if you fall, you land in the water. Because of this you have to choose very vertical routes so that you don’t bash yourself on the rocks when you fall or jump off. I was terrified of the idea, but didn’t really want to be left out, and felt like I had to do some form of climbing while here.

How many people can you find?

How many people can you find?

When we got there we realized that a lot of the climbing places don’t offer it anymore because they don’t want to pay the expensive permits that are required because of the danger level. Someone told us that the government shut it down after someone died…. I’m still not quite sure if it is even legal, but we signed up to do it with the one company that still offered it. They take you out on a long boat with a small group to two different rocks and provide lunch halfway through. Levi and another German guy that came with us were little monkeys on the rocks. The only problem with being good at climbing up is that you either need to climb down or be comfortable jumping from pretty high up. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure I actually enjoyed the climbing part lol.

The Climbing Crew

The Climbing Crew

One of the best things about the trip was that one of the other girls, who is from New Jersey, had also been on a working holiday in New Zealand and in the same town I was in while working at the winery. She worked weekends at the bar we always went to, so I’m pretty sure we had talked and she had served us beer while there. Small world!

Long Boat

Long Boat

We both woke up the next day super sunburned. Neither of us had brought sunscreen with us, so we bought a generic sunscreen in Malaysia, because we didn’t want to pay the extra $6 for Banana Boat. The bottle we bought doesn’t tell us the SPF or the ingredients. It just says, “SUN PROTECTION”. I’m not quite sure if it actually works….. So we woke up really red, and with what we first though was food poisoning because Levi was up-chucking in the morning and I was blowing chunks later in the evening. After Levi hurled we hopped on a boat to another Thai island, Koh Lanta, and we arrived and found ourselves a nice bungalow with AIR CONDITIONING by the beach for $20. Gotta love the prices here… We didn’t do a whole lot on Koh Lanta because we were only there for a day and a half and neither of us were feeling too hot. We ate at a local restaurant called “Danny Restaurant” (No, not Danny’S Restaurant) and was served by Mr. Danny himself, a 60+ something Thai man who’s work uniform was a pair of shorts that usually were creeping a bit low, and no shirt to hide it. He was telling us that a lot of people come to the island and think they get food poisoning from what they eat there, but it is really heat exhaustion and dehydration that are responsible. Levi and I both decided that this was much more likely the cause of our sickness.

As a side note: One of the other restaurants we went to before Danny Restaurant had this as the inside cover of their menu. It made me so happy 🙂

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Yesterday, we hopped in a van to leave the island and come to Krabi Town. We booked a 12 passenger van along with the other 11 people and their massive backpacks. We did the two hour trip with backpacks stuffed in every available floor space and our feet up on them. Being a shorty, I was pretty comfortable, but the tall guys and the Irish guy in the back who was really hung over were less thrilled about it. Last night was our only night in Krabi Town, and tonight we are flying to the very North, Chiang Mai, which is supposed to be FABULOUS!

I am really excited to be able to spend quite a bit of time in Thailand! So far it’s been a good trip, ma friends.

XXXX

Katie 🙂

Short and Sweet

Heyoo! What a great last few months it’s been! Lots happened and changed, including what country I am currently in 🙂

Sooooooo…….

The Philippines has been a total blessing! The people here are some of the kindest, most helpful I’ve ever met, and for that reason I think the Philippines will forever have a place in my heart 🙂 My fav Filipinas are the four ladies that will be training to work in Bella Goose, Angeles City when it opens. For the last six weeks they have been going to school in Manila and coming to live with us on the weekends. It’s been such a joy to get to know them, learn about the Philippines from them, and just have fellowship and fun with them. They have such beautiful hearts and love for Jesus ❤

Love these ladies + M <3

Love these ladies + M ❤

One of the neatest things we got to do as a group was go tour some coffee farms up in the hills of Baguio. Part of Bella Goose’s desire is to use locally sourced beans in the shop, so we got to go do some research and learn

Filipino Coffee Farmers

Filipino Coffee Farmers

about the entire growing and processing phases of coffee beans. There is so much more that goes into it than I ever would have guessed. The Philippines is fairly new to the coffee growing scene, so currently, only 10% of what is grown is specialty coffee. The farmers could really use more education about farming methods and better equipment to give them the ability to process larger quantities. We’ve met several motivated coffee experts who are passionate about raising the standard of Philippine coffee – growing, processing, roasting, and brewing standards. So far I’ve scored free coffee at coffee houses in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur through these coffee connections ;)14572785_1305212516188485_4389759275571075588_n

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Hills of Baguio

It’s been funny to see the “drink seasons” in my life during the last year lol. NZ was learning about wine, the Philippines was coffee…. We’ll see what’s next! Tea, kombucha, beer……

On our way back from Baguio we stopped at a hip coffee shop in a bamboo hut by the beach that is the “surfing capital of the North”. After some Iced Horchatas and grilled cheese with bacon jam sandwiches, I got a personal surfing lesson from a local instructor and actually left feeling fairly successful. I’m hoping to practice a bit over the next several months 🙂

I left the Philippines last week and met up with Levi in Singapore 🙂 We spent three full days there, mostly just walking around the city. All of the activities are pretty expensive, but it was fun to just explore and eat all kinds of food since there is cuisine from all over the world represented.

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We got to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia two days ago and are planning on spending about three weeks in this country. Today we went to see the infamous Batu Caves, which is a Hindu temple built into the caves. Sadly, most of it was under construction, so our tourist selfie game was pretty weak :/

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Tomorrow we leave for the Cameron Highlands for a few days of nature, hiking, tea, and relaxation.

Over the next three months we are planning to cover ground in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, before hopefully heading back to the Philippines in February. We will spend Christmas and both of our birthdays somewhere over here 🙂

Sharks, Motorcycles, Waterfalls, and Some Other Really Important Things

Boarded for Cebu!

Boarded for Cebu!

Cebu Cebu Cebu!! Ceeeeeeebuuuuuuuuuu!!! Sooo we went to Cebu for Laura’s birthday 🙂 and it was AMAZING! #YOLOCebu

We started our morning off first thing by getting picked up and brought to our traditional Filipino breakfast with a beachy view 🙂 Sweet sticky rice, the best mango I have ever had in my life, and coffee. We were informed that our itinerary for the day included our whale shark “interaction”, a trip to the beautiful, but unfortunately mostly dried up Tumalog Falls, and would finish with a traditional Filipino lunch.

Whale shark interactions in Oslob, Cebu began about three years ago by accident. Local fishermen were using plankton to bait this silver fish that they were trying to catch. The plankton also attracted baby whale sharks in to feed (whale sharks only feed on plankton), and they turned it into a business opportunity. Our guide told us that locals, as well as tourist, like to come swim with the sharks.

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Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, and even the babies – the only ones that come into the area we were – are 4 to 6 meters long! A full grown adult can be up to 25 meters! We got to spend 30 minutes in the water with them, and there were times that four or five were swimming around us. There was a moment where I was above water talking with one of our guides and Laura was underwater looking around. One of the sharks was swimming toward her and she freaked and literally jumped over Denise to get away from it. I didn’t see it at all until it swam right under me and I accidentally kicked it. Needless to say, it was incredible.

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We got back to our room around 10am so there was a lot of day left! The night before we had gone the short distance into town for dinner, and on our way home there was no more Trikes available because it was so late, so we ended up hiring three guys on their motorcycles to take us back. One of them offered to get two of his buddies with motorcycles and take us on a tour around the island the next day to see some waterfalls, do canyoning, and ride through the mountains. We had told him we would FB message him if we had time to take him up on his offer, so we sent him a message when we got back. He actually never responded…. BUT we enlisted some other drivers and away we went!

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The first place they brought us to was the Aguinid Waterfalls which has nine tiers and requires a guide to lead you up it. Our guides were a perfect complement to each other – one spoke English very well and shared some nature facts with us and was in charge of using my phone to take pictures the whole time. I was most amazed that he could do all the climbing with only one hand (the other was holding my phone) and that he never got it wet. That’s some skill. Our other guide was nicknamed General, and he was in charge of keeping us safe, telling us where not to step, and hauling us up the places that were a bit tricky. He did the whole thing in cheap flip flops.

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13925991_1241716025871468_6963579423626268331_oBecause we had not planned on doing this when we packed our back packs, the only pair of shoes I had with me were my worn flip flops which have absolutely no grip on the bottom. I sometime slip just walking on pavement after it rains… He noticed my shoes and told me they were not safe to do the hike in. A minute later he came back with a pair of boys, Velcro sandals that were a bit small :) We all got a good laugh about my toes hanging over the edge, but they had excellent grip and probably kept me from falling down a waterfall. At the end I learned that these kid-sized shoes belonged to a 43 year old woman. She must be tiny.

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We got up the first six waterfalls which is part of the “standard” adventure. If you want a little bit more you can venture up to the 7th, 8th, and 9th (top) tiers of the waterfall. Getting up there was pretty crazy. I was giggling to myself throughout, because if we were in the US, this whole operation would be illegal because of the obsession there with safety lol. The “safety harness” consisted of a rope wrapped around my waist twice and secured to itself by a carabiner and General at the top holding the other end. We all made it to the top with no probs 🙂

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We got back to our bikes and drove the rest of our 32 Kilometer trip through the mountains and villages of Oslob. It was beautiful! It was just very peaceful and such a neat way to see the island…. Until my butt became numb anyway 😉

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For dinner that night, we went back into town for dinner and Laura had the traditional Filipino dessert of Halo Halo for her “birthday cake”. It’s a bowl of shaved ice with a super random variety of toppings. Green Jello, beans, banana, tapioca balls, coconut, ube (a purple root) ice cream, and probably other strange stuff I can’t remember at the moment.

After some seriously delayed flights, some seriously good coffee, and some seriously needed sleep we made it back to our house.

What a trip 🙂 YOLOCebu




So what else is going on…..

It’s actually been a pretty busy week!

First Kombucha Flavor = Lemon & Ginger

First Kombucha Flavor = Lemon & Ginger

One of THE MOST EXCITING things of the week is that I have successfully grown my own Scooby for Kombucha 🙂 YAY! There he is! ——–>

We spent quite a bit of time at the mall shopping for furniture and getting stuff to outfit the house. Once of my absolutely fav things that happened is when we stopped at Cold Stone cuz Laura was craving Butter Pecan ice cream and we had skipped lunch. These employees love, love, love their jobs! even if I hated their ice cream (which is impossible) I would go back for their energy. This guy that made our Love Its has perfected the art of “ice cream juggling”. He even put the cup on his head, threw the perfect ball of ice cream up in the air, and caught it without moving the cup!

Laura asked him if he liked his job, and he got this big grin on his face and said, “Yes, I love it!” THEN this song came on over the speaker system and they all ran out to the front, faced us (we were the only ones sitting in there), and pulled out this choreographed, Zumba-style dance!

In general, the Filipino people are just very friendly and service oriented. They genuinely want to serve you and make you happy. It’s so nice 🙂 They are very sweet people. On Wednesday, we went back to the same bar we’ve visited the last two times. By now we know several of the girls and managers and they recognize us and greet us when we come in. Each girl wears an ID badge so that when a customer buys her a drink or purchases her they can keep track of what she should be paid through her ID number. Some wear them on a lanyard around their neck, some clip them to their outfit, and some just stick them in their bra or underwear. Laura was talking to a girl who I hadn’t seen before, and I noticed that she had this little, pink dog made from beads attached to her ID. It looked like something you would put on a key chain. I told her it was cute and that I liked it, and she immediately took it off her ID and offered it to me. Even though she has pretty much nothing and is taken advantage of day after day, she still wanted to give.




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Last weekend we had all the staff from Wipe Every Tear over to our house to go through Soul Care. Soul Care is something that all Bella Goose staff go through and something they have seen such positive results from as the Lord works in their hearts. So far we have focused on what lies we believe about ourselves, where those come from and how they shape us, and what family sin patterns we have in our history that hurt us, influence us, and that may be part of our own actions. I learned things about myself that kind of surprised me and learned things about the character of God that encouraged and humbled me. I realized that I’ve been operating under the premise that my life and actions don’t affect or influence others and that God either can’t or chooses not to use me because of my extreme ordinariness and lack of “spirituality”. I’ve never had low self-esteem or self-pity or anything like that, but I have put God and his desire and ability to use me into a box that fits into my brain – and it happened to be a very small box….. There’s definitely a lot more joy and freedom when that box gets blown up.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is Psalm 18. I read this a few weeks ago right before we were about to go out on the Walking Street, and I have made sure to read it before we have gone out each time since. The first time I read it I was thinking, “Wow! This perfectly matches my emotions about going out tonight!”

PSALM 18:4-19

The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

This is how I feel about the Walking Street. It is so evil and dark, and so many beautiful girls are broken and suffering because of it.  It is a place of destruction. It breaks my heart. It makes me angry.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.

Every time I go out there I have this inner conflict. Sadness for what these girls go through and how many of them are stuck in this life, anger at the situation and yup, usually anger at God for allowing it to happen to them. But then I read this… And then I think that if I – someone who has never before met these girls and is only capable of a fraction of the love that God has for these girls – am saddened and angry about it, then how heart-broken and furious must God be? He who created each one of them, knows their names and the number of hairs on their head, knows their stories and their hurts, and loves them more than I can imagine. He hears their cries, and our cries on their behalf, and his anger shakes the mountains.

He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.

 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and BOLTS OF LIGHTENING.
THE LORD THUNDERED FROM HEAVEN;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
  HE RESCUED ME BECAUSE HE DELIGHTED IN ME.

 This is what I pray for. I have absolutely no idea what that would look like and couldn’t even begin to guess, but this is my prayer every time I go out on the Walking Street. This is what I’m waiting for.

Oslob, Cebu

Oslob, Cebu

The Walking Street

CoffeeNA

Once again here I am in a café with unlimited WiFi, but this time I’m in the Philippines at CoffeeNa where there is a massive statue of the Hulk holding an oversized coffee cup outside! It’s been three weeks since I touched down in Manilla, and so far the biggest consistency here is the heat and humidity. I have my dad to thank for the genes that guarantee that lovely, constant drip down my back while just sitting in the house. Thank goodness for fans, AC, and flowy clothes.

We are living in a gated neighborhood which is typical for middle class Filipinos, and the house it beautiful. Big kitchen, three bathrooms, four bedrooms, and a huge screened in area – perfect house to fill with girlies. Over the last few weeks, people have been coming and going and the main project has been building and varnishing many of the furnishings for the house. Bunk beds for the girls to sleep on, a kitchen and coffee table, a huge coffee bar for training, and shelf and a table for the coffee roaster and beans. We also bought a couch for the living room and a lot of canvases for DIY art to make it cute and homey. It’s coming together nicely. The plan is for the Wipe Every Tear girls to move in by the end of August.

Entrance to The Walking Street

Entrance to The Walking Street

When I was thinking of the list of things that I could be doing while here, for some reason it never crossed my mind that we would be going out to the bars and talking with the girls who are working here, but we’ve done it twice now and plan on going weekly for the next three months that I am here. I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea at first, worried that I would cry while there, and seriously wondered what the purpose of us going was. Both times though I’ve been struck by how sweet and intelligent these women are, and my heart breaks for how they are trapped in such a life. In the Philippines, unless your family owns a business you have no hope of getting a job (even bagging groceries at the supermarket) without a college education. Most don’t even graduate high school because they are so poor that they can’t afford pencil and paper and the school turns them away, or they need to find a source of income to support their family at a young age. Over a quarter of the Filipino population lives in poverty. Once the girls enter the bars they are stuck in the cycle of making money to support themselves, their families, and most likely the children that will inevitable come from their line of work. Most of the girls that I’ve talked to have at least one child even though they are younger than me. I can’t even imagine. What blows my mind most is how they love their children, work so hard to provide for them, and have hopes and dreams for them outside of the bar life.

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These beautiful girls dream of a life for themselves outside of the bars too. Clair wants to go to school to be a teacher, Julie wants to be a chef, and Daisy wants to be a business woman. It’s amazing how normal a conversation can be even while yelling because the music is so incredibly loud, you both have to repeat yourself several times because of language barriers, and you’re sitting next to a girls wearing pretty much nothing drinking cheap beer. It’s such a sad thought that this is probably also the only normal conversation that girl will have with someone that walks into that bar, and that you are the only one there that cares about more than her body and how much she costs. The last girl I talked to, Daisy, told me that she wanted to talk to me not so that I would buy her a drink (when you call a girl down from the bar it’s kind of an unspoken requirement that you will buy her a drink because that is part of how they are paid), but because I had a nice face and she could tell I had a good, good heart. I pray that soon I will see her in a Wipe Every Tear house.

One of the sweetest girls I’ve met so far is Sonja, who picked me up from the airport and got me safely through the seven hour trip to Angeles city. She shared her story with another missionary who worked with Wipe Every Tear and you can read about it in her blog HERE. My eyes def watered up reading the first part, but how far God has brought her gives hope. She is a leader in one of the Wipe Every Tear houses and wants nothing more than to be a missionary and share the Gospel. Almost every day she messages me with prayers and Bible verses 🙂 So far, there are around 80 women in Wipe Every Tear’s care, and they have recently opened a house for lady boys. God is good.

Once entering the care of Wipe Every Tear, these girls will be provided with food and housing, receive a free college education, and are given a living and travel allowance. Wipe Every Tear also will pay for dental care and for the girls to get their teeth fixed so that they can be confident in their smile 🙂

I think the next three months is going to be emotionally challenging, but also very emotionally rewarding. It’s so exciting to be able to start seeing everything coming together and to be able to be a part of it.

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In other happenings…. I’m really enjoying the cheap spa services here! So far I’ve gotten a massage, Brazilian, and a facial for a grand total of $35 dolla! Can’t beat that 😉 I was also finally able to replace my phone! Part of the screen didn’t respond to touch because of a crack so I couldn’t use a few apps or complete several functions, and the internal memory was so low that I couldn’t even download updates even after deleting everything possible to create more room! At a massive knockoff market I found a second hand phone, case, and screen protector all for $90. Probs the nicest phone I’ve ever had too lol.

Super exciting news – In our neighborhood there is a Zumba class that meets 3X a week. Whoot whoot!! On the off days there is a Tai Chi class too, so we’ll give that a try too… This was our Saturday morning instructor 🙂

ANDDDDDDD tomorrow, I leave with the girlies for the beautiful beachy island of Cebu to celebrate Laura’s birthday for the weekend. We will be staying in a beachside bungalow, swimming with whale sharks (no, there won’t be a cage, and I did not appreciate seeing a trailer for The Shallows yesterday at the cinema), and enjoying the beach bum life for a few days before coming back to Angeles City to really start moving on getting the girls in the house. It’s going to be great 😉

Sierra on the back of the Tryke and me on the on the one behind ;)

Sierra on the back of the Tryke and me on the on the one behind 😉

The transportation is also pretty exciting. So far I’ve only ridden in the first two on this list – Unique Modes of Transportation in the Philippines. The back of the Trykes is def a great way to see the city 😉 Hopefully more soon!

Just throwing it out there again, but if you’d like to help support me while I’m here you can do that HERE. Thank you so much to everyone that has already chosen to support me!! And please keep praying for me friendsies 🙂 Love y’all!!

The Gang :)

The Gang 🙂

Asia! Here I come :)

Susan

Hi friendsies!

As usual, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in New Zealand writing this. BUT this time I’m not just drinking long blacks and eating muffins while catching up on FB messages. I am preparing to spend the next eight months in South East Asia! Over the last year in New Zealand I have been traveling and working a random variety of jobs and loving it! It’s a super popular thing for backpackers to transition to Asia after New Zealand or Australia because it so close and cheap! I’m following suit, but not just with the purpose of eating cheap street food, taking a few selfies in front of a temple, and riding an elephant. The next eight months are about learning about the culture and people of these countries and sharing love, education, and the Gospel with them.

First stop, the Philippines! In less than a month I will land in the Philippines and be volunteering with Bella Goose Coffee. My brother, Levi, got me connected with Bella Goose after spending a lot of time in their coffee shop while working last summer in the Wisconsin Dells. They are a coffee shop run by several people from a local church who felt called to make a difference in the Philippines, which is their first project! They are partnering with Wipe Every Tear who’s Mission is to “To bring freedom, hope and a future to the precious girls trafficked in the sex trade.” Wipe Every Tear provides safe houses, education, and vocational training for girls rescued from the awful sex trade. Through this partnership, Bella Goose’s vision is to use coffee to teach these women business skills and to give them the confidence and resources to be employable, self sufficient, and quite possibly small business owners! I would be helping to set up the house so it is ready for the volunteers and women to move in to, and building relationships with and helping to mentor the beautiful women who live there 🙂

After that I will be hitting up Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Not all of my volunteering there is planned yet, but a lot of it will include teaching English and life skills to the locals. I’m also super excited that that my lovely French friend, Clementine from the North Island, will be joining me! More info to come as it all gets worked out. If you’d like to help my cover the cost of my travel while I’m volunteer you can help me out at YouCaring.

Only three more weeks of working at the winery and I will be flying out of NZ. It’s crazy that it’s been almost a full year already! Pretty sure tomorrow I will be booking a plane ticket 🙂 The next few weeks will be busy though since I have to sell my car, figure out visas, transfer my saved money to the US, buy an exit ticket from the Philippines (requirement to enter the country), and get rid of over half my stuff so that all my belongings fit in my backpack. Thankfully I will no longer need any winter clothes!

Super excited for this next chapter! Miss you all 🙂 ❤

adventure

Asia! Here I come :)

Susan

Hi friendsies!

As usual, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in New Zealand writing this. BUT this time I’m not just drinking long blacks and eating muffins while catching up on FB messages. I am preparing to spend the next eight months in South East Asia! Over the last year in New Zealand I have been traveling and working a random variety of jobs and loving it! It’s a super popular thing for backpackers to transition to Asia after New Zealand or Australia because it so close and cheap! I’m following suit, but not just with the purpose of eating cheap street food, taking a few selfies in front of a temple, and riding an elephant. The next eight months are about learning about the culture and people of these countries and sharing love, education, and the Gospel with them.

First stop, the Philippines! In less than a month I will land in the Philippines and be volunteering with Bella Goose Coffee. My brother, Levi, got me connected with Bella Goose after spending a lot of time in their coffee shop while working last summer in the Wisconsin Dells. They are a coffee shop run by several people from a local church who felt called to make a difference in the Philippines, which is their first project! They are partnering with Wipe Every Tear who’s Mission is to “To bring freedom, hope and a future to the precious girls trafficked in the sex trade.” Wipe Every Tear provides safe houses, education, and vocational training for girls rescued from the awful sex trade. Through this partnership, Bella Goose’s vision is to use coffee to teach these women business skills and to give them the confidence and resources to be employable, self sufficient, and quite possibly small business owners! I would be helping to set up the house so it is ready for the volunteers and women to move in to, and building relationships with and helping to mentor the beautiful women who live there 🙂

After that I will be hitting up Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Not all of my volunteering there is planned yet, but a lot of it will include teaching English and life skills to the locals. I’m also super excited that that my lovely French friend, Clementine from the North Island, will be joining me! More info to come as it all gets worked out. If you’d like to help my cover the cost of my travel while I’m volunteer you can help me out at YouCaring.

Only three more weeks of working at the winery and I will be flying out of NZ. It’s crazy that it’s been almost a full year already! Pretty sure tomorrow I will be booking a plane ticket 🙂 The next few weeks will be busy though since I have to sell my car, figure out visas, transfer my saved money to the US, buy an exit ticket from the Philippines (requirement to enter the country), and get rid of over half my stuff so that all my belongings fit in my backpack. Thankfully I will no longer need any winter clothes!

Super excited for this next chapter! Miss you all 🙂 ❤

adventure

Behind the Scenes

Love these girlies! <3

Love these girlies! ❤

We have hit the road again! Allison, our French friend, Laurene, me and my over-packed backpack, and a bountiful stash of chocolate. Ten days of girl time, sleeping in (and actually sleeping at night! Whoot whoot!), and relaxation has begun. We are heading down South to Dunedin where Allison will hop on her flight back to Minnesota.

A month ago was my last post and the vintage season was just beginning. Now it has finished and most people are heading out to either travel NZ for a bit or go home. I’ve learned so much in the last four weeks about wine, how it is made, and most definitely have a new appreciation for drinking it. What a fantastic group of people to work with too!

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8AM post-work Bfast and Beer

8AM post-work Bfast and Beer

At first I was really disappointed about being in Dry Goods because I was a one-man team and there wasn’t enough work to fill 12 hours, but in the end it turned out to be pretty great actually! After I had finished my few tasks for the night, I got to walk around to the other areas of the winery and help out with whatever was needed and hang out with everyone on the different teams. I’m pretty sure my hands have never been so dirt/wine stained and cut up before 🙂 It was also really interesting to have so many people who have studied oenology and to pick their brains about the entire wine making process. So…… some of my regular activities included:

CLEANING TANKSIMG_20160422_053143. Maybe I just didn’t clean enough of them, but I never
actually got tired of doing this lol. It was probably because after you set up the tank to start cleaning there was about 15 minutes of, as I called it, hang out time before having to go back and check on the tank. Basically, you fill the tank with hot water, dump some cleaner through the door, and set up the pump to circulate through a high powered sprayer until it’s clean. I can’t believe I actually took a selfie, but I guess there is a first time for everything! Here I am cleaning tank MMF 10:10 lol. #selfieatwork

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PLUNGING, PLUNGING, PLUNGING…. Two or three times every day there was a list of tanks containing red wine that needed to get plunged. One of the difference between red and white wine is that for most white wine all the juice is pressed out of the grapes BEFORE it goes in the tank to start fermenting. For red wine, to get as much color as possible from the skins, the whole grape is put in the tank and regularly needs to be pushed down into the liquid. Some tanks were easy peasy to plunge and some of them made me sweat (the CO2 coming from the top of the tank because of the fermentation process can be pretty warm too). Every once in a while I got a tank that was so thick that I could completely hang on the plunger, feet off the ground, and it wouldn’t budge. Pretty great ab workout actually!

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MIXING BENTONITE. Before this I’d only used bentonite for health and beauty purposes. I’ve made face masks out of it, and know that you can ingest it for detoxing purposes. Apparently, in large quantities it’s also good for clarifying wine. So Frankie and I mixed almost 1,000L of bentonite at a time, several times a week. Allison named my electric forklift Frankie, short for Franklin, and I think it fits him 😉 I had to drain the last remaining bits of bento into a separate tub and then slowly refill the tub with a mixture of hot water and 100kgs (200ish lbs) of granulated bentonite.

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MIXING LIQUID PMS/ASCORBIC ACID. Officially my least favorite task. Each 3L bottle was to contain 500 grams of PMS and 200 grams of Ascorbic Acid. Not quite sure what this stuff does, but it’s a pain in the butt to make.

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It was a popular thing to weigh yourself at the beginning of the vintage and then again at the end. This is my weigh in on the first overnight shift. The unhappy face is not concern with my weight here, but more worried that it happens to be the same as the devil’s number – 666. Does that mean something? I hope not lol. On the night of the last shift all the girls were coming in before eating dinner to see the results. Some were happy, some not so much. We also all figured out that our steel-toed, rubber boots weigh 2kg, so of course that must be deducted from the total 😉

So far on our road trip we have stopped in Kaikora and had the best pancakes and hiked a bit and saw the seals. Then we headed to Christchurch and stayed with the same fabulous CouchSurfing family who hosted Clem and I back in Feb and I wrote about in my Blessed Beyond Measure post. One of the best open mic nights I’ve ever seen just happened to be on the Wednesday night we were in town. This 18 year old kid was my fav, so I had to SnapChat it to my bro, Levi, because he should learn to do this 🙂

We hit Mount Cook for a great tramp with some glacial views and the bluest lake ever!

Right now, I’m sitting in the kitchen of one of Allison’s random connections. The family of some guy that she WOOFed with in Queenstown lives in Dunedin, so she sent an email to his mom a few weeks back, and here we are. His parents are actually in Canada at the moment so the only one we will actually meet is one of the brothers. Kiwis definitely have another kind of hospitality!! It’s fantastic 🙂 Last night was our first of four here. This morning we dropped Laurene off at the bus station 😦 Then we went to the Farmer’s Market, a vegetarian cafe for lunch, and browsed our way through the city center.

Central Otago Farmer's Market - My happy place

Central Otago Farmer’s Market – My happy place

Dunedin is a college town, but it also has quite a bit of history, so the unique combination of architecture with character and a artsy/hipster vibe is fabulous. There are only a few cities in NZ that I like enough to live in and I think this is one of them.

In a few days I’ll head back to Blenheim to continue working at the winery for another five weeks. It will now be only 8 hour shifts with weekends off, and I will be working with the red wine. It will be pretty exciting to learn more about the process and gain a bit more confidence with the tasks.

Until next time! Cheers 🙂

Blenheim or Bust

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Say whaaattt?!

Oofta! According to Microsoft’s Spell Check that is not a word, but according to my Minnesota upbringing and Scandinavian roots, it is the perfect word for the moment 🙂 A few more nights in the car and a few friends of friends of friends taking us in later, Allison and I are in Blenheim where we will be for the next month. The rest of our trip up here was fairly uneventful, but there are two pretty cool happenings that I would really like to remember. It was very tempting to just add to my last post about blessings because these happened the next day and put a silly grin on my face and a song in my heart.

Since we didn’t really have a plan as to which cities we wanted to stop in on our north-bound road trip, we would just kind of drive until we either really had to go to the bathroom or saw somewhere worth hanging out in for a bit. We had decided to stop in some town that I don’t even remember the name of, but when we got there realized there was absolutely nothing there other than a bar and an old motel, so we decided to keep on driving. There was a sign that stated that the next town was 30km away. Perfect! We’ll just keep on driving and since my tank is running low get some gas and snacks there since the next town after that is 100km more. I’m not quite sure how this “town” even got put on the sign because there is even less there than our first stop. That includes the exclusion of a gas station which was really unfortunate considering my gas light had come on. OOPS! Oh well, there has to be one soon. RIGHT? So we kept on driving, singing very loudly and badly to the Beach Boys classic, “Barbara Annnnnnnn”. After about 20 minutes I started to get kind of worried. It is important to note that New Zealand’s roads are notoriously narrow, curving around the mountains (the constant uphill is a fuel sucker too!), with nowhere good to pull off, and in this instance at least 100km to the next assured gas stop. Allison and I kinda looked at each other and shrugged, prayed, and figured either we would get there or we would end up having one of those moments that we could “laugh about later”. To end this story, we ended up driving for the next hour and made it to the town of Fox Glacier and rolled into a gas station to fill up. As we exited the gas station we noticed a sign on the edge of town heading toward the direction that we had just came that said “LAST PETROL STOP FOR 120KM”.  We had just driven 120km (75 miles for my US friendsies) on an empty gas tank. Out of curiosity and rationalism I Googled how far you can drive on an empty gas tank. Apparently, the newest and most fuel efficient vehicles can get 50mi/80km once the gas light comes on. I drive a 2001 Mitsubishi Dingo that severely struggles with any sort of incline and was in bad need of an oil change. Either this car is a freak of engineering nature or God is good 🙂

BUT WAIT! There’s more 😉 That day kept getting better. We were tired, it had been raining all day, and we hadn’t found a place to sleep yet which meant it was coffee and WiFi time. Whoot whoot! We found a restaurant that was nice enough to let us sit and just order coffee during their dinner service. Allison had said several times that day that she really wanted a real bed that night instead of sleeping in the car, but we were having a really hard time finding anything that wasn’t booked out unless we wanted to pay $300+ dollars. No thanks! As we’re sitting there running out of options Allison sighs and says, “I just want a real bed, some popcorn, and a movie tonight L Be back, gotta go to the bathroom.” So I kept looking not really expecting to find anything other than a campsite to park Dingo in. What do ya know though, I found Chateau Franz 20 minutes away advertising that they offer “FREE unlimited WiFi” and “FREE popcorn to eat while watching a DVD.” Haha!! Book now, please!  So we got exactly what we wanted that night. Blessings, I tell ya!

Moving on though! In about an hour I will leave for my second overnight shift at the winery. We are working from 7pm – 7:30am, 6 days a week, for the next month. My body is very confused at the moment, but I’m really hoping it doesn’t take long for it to figure out that I want to sleep while the sun is still shining! The last two weeks were pretty slow since it wasn’t the right time to harvest all the grapes yet, so we had quite a few days off to explore around the area. One of our first days off we headed up to the Queen Charlotte Track for a day hike with some co-workers. Even though it’s Fall here now, it’s unusually warm so we’ve also been to the beach twice and played some sand vball, had a BBQ, and have had some quality chill time. I’m really glad we had this time since we will be going hard for quite a while now.

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The Gang :)

The Gang 🙂

Volleyball at White's Bay

Volleyball at White’s Bay

People keep asking me, “What do you do overnight at a winery?” and the short answer is that it’s the same as during the day. Now that all the grapes are harvested they are running the operation 24 hours a day so the work never stops. The general process is that the trucks bring in the grapes and dump them into the presses to squeeze all the juice out (That’s the team Allison is on). Once the juice is squeezed it’s transferred through hoses to the massive tanks that they will ferment in. The wine gets tested in the lab regularly and depending on how the fermentation is going a lot of additives get put in (sugar, sulfur, yeast, ect.)

NZ Wineries

NZ Wineries

I am in the Dry Goods Room which is where all the additives are stored. So when someone has to do an addition, they bring it to me and I measure out the amounts of everything they need. I also got forklift training and a forklift license so I will be driving my way around the winery. Pretty sweet! When I did the training it was me and a dozen boys, and I was nervous because, of course, I have never touched a fork lift before. The very first thing we had to do was take a crate down from the top of a stack, bring it down, do a figure-8 forward and backward, and then re-stack it. When I got on the fork lift for my turn, the instructor, a 50ish manly, man who has prob been driving forklifts for decades, whispers to me, “You’re going to be a better operator than all these nuts back here” and points to all the boys. Haha!! So far there have been no casualties 🙂

One of the best parts of working at a winery now is that the experience I get here can be taken all over the world. I would not be surprised if I work vintage season in several countries over the next few  years.

We will be see lots of sunsets here :)

We will be seeing lots of sunsets here 🙂

SO WHAT’S NEXT??

Plans are slowly starting to come together. Vintage will probably run until the end of April/beginning of May. Allison flys back to Minnesota on May 10th, but we are hoping that we will have a bit of time to road trip down the East Coast and hit Kiakora, Christchurch, and Dunedin before. I have a job 99% sure lined up starting July 1st at the Sand Shack on Waiheke Island, which is an island right off of Auckland. I’m really hoping to learn barista skills 😉 In the meantime I will have 6 weeks to fill, which will probably include some WOOFing to keep cost low and visiting my flat in Tauranga. Holla!

My visa expires in September, so I am also planning what to do after that. So far I am putting things together to spend six months in SE Asia – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Loas, and Vietnam. Most likely I will backpack and WOOF for three months and then spend three months in Cambodia teaching English in exchange for room and board. I found The CPOC Foundation on World Packers and am planning on applying for that this week. There are also several other places on World Packers throughout my travels that I will probably WOOF at as I go for a week here and a week there. At this point, three of the things that excited me are cheap massages, buying a new pair of puffy, bright pants in each country, and getting bronzed by the sun. A lot of research has to happen before this is a reality though! Planning on being home in MN in March or April 🙂

Last thoughts…. My travel buddy Allison just wrote a blog post about The Bubble Wrapped Life (<—- Read it HERE!), which is a concept that her and I have bantered about for quite a while. Be encouraged by it! I don’t think traveling is for everyone, and I’m not recommending that you drop everything to travel, because this idea will play out different for everyone. BUT what I am recommending is that life is meant to be lived and that “failure” definitely exists, but it is what points us to new opportunities that we may not have originally thought of and WILL be successful in and enjoy immensely. So whether for you that is being brave and buying a plane ticket somewhere, going back to school, changing careers, or just volunteering somewhere that gets you out of your comfort zone, as Nike says, JUST DO IT! You will either be extremely rewarded by stepping out or learn something from it that will make you wiser and tougher in the long run. Here are just a few organizations I’ve book marked as future options for me. Maybe one of them will spark your interest too –

  • World Packers – Think of doing vacations like this!! Save SO much money on accommodation for just a few hours of work a day, and then being able to explore the area all afternoon! It would be so much fun to use SkyScanner, search “Everywhere”, and see what opportunities are available in the location of the cheapest flight.
  • Experience Mission
  • SLV International

Until next time! Cheers!