Planet Vagabond

A Bundle of Tips from Around-the-World Backpackers


En Route: Backtracking.

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Mid Flight and Mid Trip:  From San Francisco to South Korea.

I accidentally hit the Musical Score Radio selection and Edelweiss from the Sound of Music came streaming through my ear phones surprising me and also making me laugh just a bit as I immediately thought it was coming through the aircraft speakers and not through my personal head phones.  I fumbled with my remote control and shockingly browsed through the interactive screen of choices.  There were audio books, every single worldly music station you could and couldn’t think of.  There were movies listed in genre, by age group, by country, by A list, B list and independent to documentary.  There were TV shows from all over the world. I was over stimulated and quite honestly overly confused by my options.

Currently somewhere between San Francisco and South Korea, in -between two empty seats in the middle section of a rather large plane, in-between two ages:  31-years-old and 32-years-old, and I couldn’t figure out what time it was and what day I was flying through.  I was smack in the middle of heart ache, which I was slowly flying away from and love, which I didn’t know just yet was arriving.  I had two blankets wrapped around my already down jacket bundled self, caught in a haze of being totally exhausted and completely awake.

But before the sweet sound of Adel vice came the intensity and chaotic music from a Bollywood Film on the station titled: Hindi Hits. On hour 6 of about a 38 hour journey I was restless in my seat.  I was situated in aisle 46 K until I faked that I had claustrophobia in hopes to be moved to an aisle seat rather than my currently small window seat, and got moved to the seats ““yes all three vacant seats- in front of my three TV’s. I had three open seats on my plane ride from Denver to San Francisco.  I had three vacant seats from San Francisco to South Korea and then to my surprise, I had three open seats from South Korea to Singapore.  The only trip I didn’t have three seats was my 2 hour flight from Singapore to Bali, which I managed just fine.

Hindi Hits immediately transported me back to a time and place which I haven’t visited in a while. It was in a hotel room with Christina, one of my best friends.  We were in Kathmandu, Nepal on the eve of the biggest adventure of my life to Upper Dolpo, Nepal, about a three day journey to the West, high into the Himalayan Mountains.  Christina sprawled herself out on one of our posh twin beds and flipped open her computer to watch one of her beloved  Bollywood Films and I, well I was eager to spend time with a friend of mine who had just gotten down from Everest.  A pretty cute and sexy mountaineer friend -still intact, for the most part, he had lost a large section of his big toe due to frostbite and was recovering from HAPE- High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.  I had gone down to the courtyard to drink wine with him and some friends while Christina patiently waited for me in our beautiful complimentary hotel room. I remember leaving her to the sound of colorful dancers, clanking bells and high pithed voices singing in Hindi, streaming from her small computer speakers, blissed out.

The Courtyard Hotel is still run by two unique individuals, Michelle and her partner, Pujan. Michelle is from Seattle and Pujan is Nepli.  They graciously hosted Christina and I a week before our departure as we planned, organized and gathered last minute things like down jackets, silk sheets – a mummy like liner for our sleeping bags- and food for our journey. We traversed through narrow stone streets with teetering brick and stone  buildings, with carved doors and windows, electrical lines hanging too close for comfort.  We collected more and more goods as the day went on.  We needed extra batteries, matching hats -knitted in wool and lined with fleece- mittens, a sharp knife and other nick nacks. The previous day, I wondered around the Kathmandu local market looking for a good shoe supplier to buy about 250 pairs of local shoes from.  My friend Sweta, a friend whom I had met back in Boulder, kindly put me in touch with her friend K.P, to help me with the mission.

We wondered around the markets, a place I could have spent a good day just photographing, until we met a really lovely man who was selling a simple local army shoe: shoes with a rubber sole and a green and white canvas. I gave him roughly three hundred dollars, feeding the local economy and then loading the shoes into rice sack bags.  Together, the shoe owner, myself and K.P-  we counted every single shoe, making sure they all had shoelaces and can remember feeling absolute amazement and gratitude for sitting next to these shoes, on the floor while many helped make sure we would deliver the right amount of needed shoes to the Tibetan people of Dolpo.  After 8 months of planning, fundraising, gathering sponsors, writing proposals, and eating spinach and peanut butter sandwiches – saving every penny- I was finally about to do what I had been dreaming of.  I hired a bicycle rickshaw driver and we loaded the massive bags of shoes on the back, walking behind it ““ to ensure we wouldn’t have any stragglers on the way back to the hotel- dodging bikes, rickshaws and people along the way.

The next morning before sun rise, two Taxi’s pulled up to the Courtyard Hotel, the drivers wide eyed and with smiles on their faces. I was surviving on 3 hours of sleep and a lot of enthusiasm.  One Taxi would transport Christina and I -and our two guides- and one Taxi would take our backpacks, 250 pairs of Smarthwool socks, 50 or so pairs of Chaco’s and 250 pairs of army shoes.  The duffle bags of gear were poking out of the windows and piled high on the roof just barley holding on by some synched rope.  Christina and I honestly didn’t think the Taxi would make it out of the hotel entrance without popping a tire. We headed in the direction of a large parking lot to continue our local transported journey.

I was totally lost in thought when I was interrupted by Marvin, the incredibly sweet man who was sort of running the economy class section of the plane.  He knelt beside me while I was lost on my Kathmandu cab ride and asked me if the seat I’m sitting in is actually mine. “No.” I said. I could feel my face turning red.  Just a couple of hours before I watched one of the stewardesses yell – yes yell- to a stubborn Indian man because he was lounging in a seat that was not his. They got in a heated confrontation before the man hobbled in defeat, back towards his seat up front in business class. “No, this isn’t my seat, but I was told I could sit here by the stewardess when we boarded.” At least I was legit.”No, no this is ok.  I wanted to make sure when we landed in Suell we could get you a vegetarian meal.  No promises but we are trying.”  I had completely forgotten that I had asked if they had anything other than beef and eel as their chicken dishes were depleted- no surprises there with- and I had asked if it was possible to eat maybe the Indian dish of curd and spinache.

After we had cleared up the seat and vegetarian dish mishap, I asked Marvin where he was from. “Singapore.”  He smiled as he sat on the arm of the seat in front of me and leaned over to engage in conversation.  He wore a crisp black suit and seemed more of a manager type than someone who would bring me green tea. “Do you like living there?” I was eager to learn about his life in Singapore.

“Ah, well. Where are you from?” He didn’t answer but returned the question.

“Connecticut, but I’ve been living in Colorado. In the United States.  In America. “

“Ok, well how do I say this?  Singapore is so small that on most days, when we fly into land, you can see through the clouds to the end of the Island.”  He closed his eyes and nodded.

“Ah. We call that Island fever.” I laughed.

“Yes. Yes.  But it is small.  It’s a beautiful place, but the middle class suffers because a lot of foreigners come in with a lot of money and it really impacts the middle class.  The price of real state rises. Most properties selling at five and six million dollars.”  He said,”Very expensive to raise children.”

“And with the rise of real state, the costs in food and the costs of daily life rise too.  Kind of like what’s happening in the United States presently.  The middle class is the one being the affected the most, in so many ways.” I responded.

“Yes. This is true. The very same thing.  Right now coffee prices have increased 80% over the last two years.  You once could once by a cup of coffee for 50 cents and now it’s quite more.  This price is the same for locals.  Starbucks is 4 dollars for a cup of coffee.”

“Four dollars?” My eyes widened in shock.  I thought of how I had just returned a 6 ounce cup of coffee the other day – so I could get my one dollar and fifty cents back- outraged that the small boutique cafí© could A. charge that much for about 5 sips of coffee and B. that the organic prestigious coffee was outright the most bitter and unpleasant coffee I think I’d ever had.

“Four dollars.”  He confirmed.  Marvin stayed for a while and we chatted about Asia, spoke of our mutual love of India and our mutual sadness of the extreme poverty that dwelled there.  He asked me about my upcoming work in Bali and then he told me to be careful in Asia.”It is not a good time for Americans right now.” He said concerned.

“No it’s not. But when is it really a good time for American’s these days?  I usually just tell everyone I’m Canadian anyways.  They are pretty neural.” I winked.  Shortly after he was called to his duties.

I clicked the button on my personal TV controller ““again- and realized that with Asian/ Worldly music, Japanese and Chinese Pop- both their own stations- Hot Shots, Adrenalin, Rock City, Solid Soul, New Age- that sounds nothing like the New Age that I’ve ever listened too- and Young Ones.  They had Arabic, French, German, Italian, Latin, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Korean and Tamil.  There were Audio books on Steve Jobs, Yes:  10 ways to persuasion and How to Make a Million before Lunch.  I decided to listen to the last.

I was a bit out of my realm with the Movie, Audio and TV stations that I felt like I had been transported back to my local Video store pre-high-school.  My mom would drop me off and then tell me to call her when I was ready. I had to dissect each cover, each description and then after picking out a few finalists I’d place them on the floor, close my eyes and spin around in a circle, extending my arm out, pointing my finger and after counting to 10 I’d stop – like spin the bottle- but instead of a kiss I’d take home a movie.  The point is, I usually took an hour to choose just one movie and here I was with endless options.

I leaned back in my seat, pulled my knees up to my chest, realized it was about 3 in the morning back in Colorado and while listening to how I might make a million before lunch the next day, I fell asleep in a matter of moments somewhere in-between my flight to Indonesia and somewhere in-between my taxi ride in Kathmandu.


Vagabond: Victor B

When I was six, my mother started sending me on errands around the corner to get a fresh baguette. I'd pile up on some candies with the change. Now the corner is a little further and the candies sweeter. My dentist is also a rich man.

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