We just finished spending some time on an island with my niece’s Thai grandparents, and her Thai aunt and uncle. This was the first time we had met any of them, so it was kind of emotional. By the time we had to say goodbye we were all so happy to have met, and talked of when we will see each other again. Jon and Jojo are back on their tandem bike cycling around the country and Andy and I are now in Luang Prabang in Laos. But we will fondly remember Koh Kut and the excellent times we had with family!
As expected I have absolutely loved the north, though my experience was rather limited. I spent nearly all my time here at the metalsmithing workshop at Wat SriSuphan. The first day I took a short class on the basic metal chasing technique that has been practiced here for over 700 years. The next day I began a more in depth project under the tutelage of a master named Kru Tu. She grew up in a metalsmithing family right next door to the temple, and completed much of the work you see adorning the Wat today. They made me my own set of tools and I worked on a smallish picture frame. 3 days later I had progressed, and I feel I finally started to hit a bit of a stride with the technique, but now we must leave to go meet family in the south. I would willingly stay a month or more here, studying and practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be back. Andy was such a trooper here! It was raining much of the time, and he managed to keep himself amused. On our last day the weather finally cleared and he was able to get out and about the city, and even rent a motorbike and visit some outlaying areas. He actually saw more of Chiang Mai than I did. But I’ve had an outstanding experience and feel so privileged to have been a student of Kru Tu’s!
This year we are spending New Years on Railay beach in Krabi province. Andy was here rock climbing 20 years ago, and like much of the world, it has changed a ton! I was expecting to be surrounded by climbers and their jargon, and they are here by the bushel, but so is everyone else! At mid afternoon the day we arrived every square inch of the small-ish east Railay beach was covered with sun bathing bodies from all over the world. I really wasn’t expecting that. I guess when the guide books list something as the top 3 activity to do on holiday in Thailand people do it. There are thankfully serious climbers here. Andy’s first day out he met two right off the bat. But most of the folks here have never climbed before. They maybe spend 3 days here hiring one of the local guides to take them out for one day. I’m glad I booked our accommodation back in October, and I understand now why our options were so scant! It’s funny, we’re about 10 days into the trip and I don’t really feel like I’ve experienced Thailand yet. Other than the food, there isn’t that much distinctively Thai on the island, or here in Krabi. It’s the same recognizably tourist-geared shops and activities that you find all over the world. With the functional yet uninspiring concrete and steel architecture that has become ubiquitous on planet earth. While I’m practicing and learning a little more Thai every day, and sticking to Thai food exclusively, I find myself hankering for the North of the country, where I hope we’ll feel a little more immersed in their culture. And I’m very excited to meet the Thai family next week! Location to be determined.
After another plane, a bus, a minivan, and a speed boat (that broke down twice en-route) we finally make it to Koh Lipe island hot, sweaty, and exhausted. It will be nice to stay put for 5 days. Our little cabana has amazing views, and thank god it has AC. I know I came to escape winter, but 90 degrees with matching humidity is a bit much. We spent Christmas Eve on a beach clean up mission with 60+ other folks. We took 6 long tail boats to a beach on an uninhabited island, spent a few hours collecting trash, and swimming, and got a free lunch afterwards. It was awesome, THIS is the kind of ecotourism that needs to take off globally as soon as possible! But it does make you a little sad too, this is not the solution. What are we as humans doing! Everything we make needs to be engineered from the beginning to have a long useful life, that in the end is easily recyclable, or biodegradable. Single use plastics must be banned, and this has to be implemented in society in a way that makes it easy and natural to comply. We spent the evening at a concert of the famous Job 2 Do, Reggae singer (he’s like the Bob Marley of SE Asia) and his band. It was super fun!
After 4 plane rides (32 hours) we got to recover from jet-lag here! It was an emaculately clean apartment on the 22nd floor of this 41 story skyscraper. We walked around a bit and saw absolutely no tourists which was so refreshing. We used the gym, and then went swimming in the “sky pool”. For dinner we walked up the street until we saw some charcoal braziers outside a rather unassuming little restaurant that was jam packed with Thai couples and families. They had one menu with English, but the waitress was still asking us questions we didn’t understand, when an incredibly nice Thai gentleman named Paul came over and offered to help. He told us he and his wife drove for over an hour from another part of Bangkok to eat here! They ordered about 10 dishes for the two of them! It was incredibly delicious. Before this trip I had confided in some that I was nervous about the food. I don’t like spicy food, and I can’t really digest rice too well... I’m not nervous about the food anymore!
We fly on December 20th, and arrive December 21st. My first time crossing the international date line! I've always traveled to India across the Atlantic. I've been reading Kukrit Pramoj's "Four Reigns". Loving it so far. We are planning to meet some family there, so I've been preparing gifts, and practicing a few words in Thai. Mostly I'm looking forward to being warm!
If you like the vintage glass jewelry that I make, check out this video...
It's filmed in the Gablonz region of Czechoslovakia and demonstrates the process and techniques used to make the Czech glass cabochons, buttons, drops, and chandalier components that I use in my jewelry. The pieces I use were made before the 1960's, mostly from the 1920's, but this family glassworks in the film is the only glassworks left that is still using the original facility and techniques!
I never thought I would enjoy a beach vacation quite so much. We both loved it actually! The Caribbean was admittedly not on my radar until a friend invited us to share a house with them. I'm so glad we did it! I understand the allure of the Caribbean now. It is quite possible the most comfortable environment I've ever experienced. Not too hot, never cold, perfect amount of humidity, and absolutely beautiful beaches, forests, and water! I think we'll be back.
As for artistic inspiration, I think flowers and seashells are the take home. We've been back for a while and I'm having trouble easing myself back into work. All I want to do work! I want all the designs I've come up with to be done, in my hand, manifested immediately! Unfortunately when you take 6 weeks off you go a little soft, and my calluses are all gone. But it's exciting working with the Larimar I picked up in Santo Domingo! And the amber scavenged from the beach in Cabarete! Here's a glimpse into what's coming for the new show season...
The highlight of the ride home was an impromptu stop for chicharone! They heat a cauldron full of lard over charcoal and throw things in. Delicious!!! You select from a buffet style table in the photo on the left. On offer (from the top of the photo down) you have:
Chicharone, a strip of pork that includes meat, fat, and skin fried whole and then chopped up with a machete and doused in lime.
Patatas, chunks of a white sweet potato-like tuber, fried.
Banana, fried whole and also diced with a machete.
Pollo, pieces of fried chicken.
Fish Croquettes, diced fish made into a ball, breaded and fried, also served with lime.
Longanitza, last but certainly not least, a homemade dry sausage, fried in strips and diced with a machete.
The jug on the table contains a sauce made with bitter orange and pickled vegetables. An aphrodisiac they say, but I feel like they say that about everything in the Caribbean... The photo on the right is homemade local cheese. Dairy hanging in a plastic bag in the tropical heat! What could possibly go wrong? Nothing actually, it was good. Salty, probably made with citrus like a paneer. They eat it with the little wafers of bread hanging in a bag behind the cheese.
The best $20 I’ve spent in a long time! My sister came to visit us here for a week and we decided to go on this waterfall excursion about an hour and a half away from Cabarete. We hiked for about 45 minutes through the tropical forest of mango, mahogany, and cacao trees and then jumped, slid, and swam our way back down through 27 waterfalls. I don’t consider myself to be an “extreme” person, but I didn’t even hesitate at the highest jump (21ft). The water was so warm, but it was softly silty like glacier water. Our skin felt amazing afterwards, and my abs hurt from belly-roll laughing all the way down!
Alison B. Sweeney
Why We Travel?