Crabby Cabbies

This post starts off with a disclaimer: the following may not be as nice as the usual tone of my average posts.  But I am sitting in the backseat of a taxi right now, hoping I’m on my way to the airport, still trying to quell my tense unease.
It started about 10 minutes ago when I walked out of my very fancy hotel room, in a major American city and right downtown, into the misty rainy night.   I saw three taxi cabs at the curb right in front of me, and I hesitated for a moment in case there was a queue. I tried to make eye contact with the drivers of each to see if there was an order, and when none seemed to move I took another step forward. The driver of the cab directly in front of me smiled, so I started towards that car. He opened the trunk and just as he was lifting my bag there was a furious blare of a horn behind us. For a split second I instinctively thought a car crash was happening in the intersection, but as my eyes registered the angry arms and clenched fists I saw it was clearly no accident. Into our stunned immobility started walking a sight that added another layer to my disbelief of the current events. Long white hair, stringy, uneven and matted, topped a faded black denim coat layered open over a green plaid flannel jacket and dirty t-shirt. The most nightmarish Santa-in-opposite you could imagine.  This was the other driver, coming out of a branded and licensed city taxi cab, livid over an accidental slight. The first driver set down my bag and started backing away with apologies in an attempt to appease.  I stopped him and said I didn’t want to ride in a car with such a furious driver.  By this time the doorman of the hotel appeared and tried to diffuse the situation.    The angry driver was placated and I was informed he had been in line and was the next due for a passenger. I shrank back, and said again I wasn’t comfortable getting into that car now on my own and I would like take another ride. To which the doorman asked “hey, you spooked her. Are you ok to drive?” as he Placed.My.Bag.In.The.Trunk!  I still didn’t move and was protesting again when I realized that I seemed to be the only one fazed by this outburst.   I suddenly noticed a uniformed security guard standing about a metre away, eyes down, and many other people at the hotel entrance and on the sidewalk. The doorman’s voice pulled back at my attention and I heard him say softly “it’s ok now, he’ll be alright. Get in, you’ll be fine.”

So I did. 

And my stomach clenched with unease the entire time. 

In the time it took me to write the above paragraphs I arrived at my destination but the story isn’t finished yet.  At least now you know I’m safe.  The ride was anything but fine, though, with my internal monologue churning; asking myself if this guy was drunk (probably not) or homeless (so what if he is? It’s good he’s working, right!?) to wondering if I should worry about being kidnapped (doubtful) or not arriving at the airport on time (much more likely).  The first five or so minutes of the drive passed with the car giving the little chime warning of a seatbelt undone.  I watched as he spent a few minutes reaching behind him and fussing with the seatbelt he had fastened behind him, then suddenly he tells me “I’m not going anywhere” as he stops the car in the middle of a residential street. My fight-or-flight response revved high again as he opens his door and got out; and I’m not sure it was actually relief when I saw he was only getting up to stretch the still-buckled shoulder harness across him.  As we drove off again he explained to me that “this seatbelt was the trickiest one he’d ever seen.”  We lurched on in the darkness, the car constantly changing speed as he see-sawed his foot on the gas pedal with sporadic regularity.  Any time I would look up at him or our surroundings I would imagine myself peeping through my fingers, though of course I was much too polite to actually let him know I was terrified, other than a quiet frightened gasp that escaped my lips once.  He cursed to himself after veering for an exit and missing it, which prompted me to stop writing and look again at my google maps. “Did we make a wrong turn?” I asked him sweetly when I saw we were not where we should be and he grumbled he missed the North Access road in a manner suggesting someone else was at fault. I watched him as he hunched forward over the steering wheel to peer out past the windshield wipers and rain and I spent the rest of the drive simultaneously in silent prayer, writing the beginning of this post, AND watching my map to help guide him. 
An eternity later, I finally stepped out of the car and collected my suitcase, nearly 45 minutes after I walked out of the hotel. It seemed exponentially longer than the 30-35 minutes I had expected! I asked the driver his name, and made a mental note of the car number and company with the full intention of writing a complaint to the company and also the hotel…. maybe I still will, but by now I’m not so sure. As I sit safely in my cozy airplane seat, writing out the rest of this, my main emotion is sadness for this driver.  I feel bad for him, because as I spoke to him briefly he seemed to brighten, giving me a glimpse that he’s probably had a very hard life and I worry how my complaint may affect him. Then I think that even though he may need the job, should he really be driving the public?? I don’t know yet what I’ll do…. 

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The ironic part of me writing out this story (Entirely True Story!) is that I had been mulling a bit about crabby cabbies already before this happened. Last week I was on the other side of the USA in a small city with a decidedly back-woods vibe. (I’m choosing to withhold names, obviously)  Again, as it was tonight, that morning I was alone leaving a hotel and on my way to an airplane.  When the taxi finally pulled up, my first thought was to giggle and look around if I was being pranked.  The car was an ancient rust bucket painted lime green.  I could smell old cigarettes before I even got in, and as the driver opened his door to stow my suitcase he drawled “I hope you haven’t been waiting too long… I had to stop and make sure my Momma ate her lunch.”  This was going to be my most crazy cab story – until tonight!  During our short drive he proceeded to tell me all about his family squabbles; a nephew that stole his mother’s car, a good-for-nothin’ brother, and his sweet momma with her dementia.  All this and much more I learned over the blast of his old classic rock radio, while I did my best to nod and not look too shocked.  When I handed him my visa to pay he launched into a tirade against big banks, and how he gets charged for each credit purchase… At least he was sweet in his complaining.  He spoke to me as if I were a trusted co-conspirator with him, us against my the world, and the grin he gave me when I was able to find enough cash to pay with instead of my card made me glad I was able to.

I feel like I should wrap up with saying that this is not my normal transportation experience.  I haven’t run the stats, but for effect I’d say 95% of the taxi and Uber drivers I’ve had have been great, 4.9% have just been fine, and only 0.1% make me worry.     But a good driver isn’t likely to make a good blog story! 

The More Things Change…

Remember that old cliche saying – The more things change the more they stay the same ?   I’ve been thinking that quite a bit over the past week, and it’s never rung so true for me as it has recently.   I used to consider it a silly expression, but I think life taught me not to be so quick to judge the old folk wisdom.   Here’s a recap:   Seemingly everything in my life has changed over this past year, and much of that within the last few months.  One of those changes was my work, and I wrote about this major career change I was beginning about a month ago; yet here I am again tonight in a hotel room in a city far from home, doing a new version of the same job I have for the last decade.  It’s amazing!  I had a quick conversation with a friend about this bizarre twist in my career and was reminded “you’re good at it – roll with it!” so that’s exactly what I’m doing…. and soaking up every moment because as far as I know this is still a temporary blip rather than a mainstay of my new job. 

I was able to take a day during one layover to explore Hollywood, California for an afternoon.   I’ve been to Los Angeles before, but this was my first time walking down the Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame.  My friend Jenilee also had the time off, so we set out together to see what we could see.  The day was a little chilly,  but as long as we did our best to stay in the sunshine and avoid the wind it was still pleasant enough to be walking outside – a nice treat for late December according to a Canadian! 

Right when we first arrived, we were greeted by an Art Deco style monument.  I had never before heard of this – I’m not sure it’s one of the famous landmarks – but with its replicas in silver of four of Hollywood’s early screen stars it was a nice start to the Walk of Fame. 

“The Four Ladies of Hollywood” monument

Next step brought us to the stars… and some comical moments as I realized that along this crowded stretch of street NO ONE was watching where they were going!  We all had our heads down, reading the names of the Stars as we walked along.   I think for every celebrity name I heard called out by tourists wanting to be excited there were almost as many “excuse me” and collisions narrowly missed.  

Watch your feet
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Is it narcissism or normal to search for my name on the stars?
 

One guy picked this crowded location as his spot to demonstrate, so for about 45 minutes we heard his chant amplified through speakers and a smattering of participants.   I don’t think he likes the upcoming government very much…. 

Continue walking further away from the largest concentration of people, and found we almost had the streets to ourselves.  All the better to study the stars and surrounding architecture!

Jenilee
There’s something about this building I love
Faded glamour
Art Deco awesomeness

City skyline
Christmas Day on Hollywood Blvd
 

The rest of the week brought more change – time in 3 different cities – but again the changes are familiar in some way.   I’ll write more about that again another time!  

Angkor Wat Again

It’s -26 degrees celsius where I live right now, and as if that isn’t horrific enough we have the distinct displeasure of a windchill bringing the feel of the temperature to -33.   Yes that’s actually true and not a typo.  I have a cup of tea, a big cozy blanket, and blinds over the window so I don’t have to see the wintery misery outside; I’m directing my focus solely to happier memories of warmer climates!  And my first trip down memory lane brought me back to Cambodia, which I remember being more along the lines of 30 degrees celsius above zero instead of below.   Ahhhhh, feeling warmer already….

But I don’t think I’m going to write much tonight since I’m feeling much more visual than verbal.  Instead how about a few more of my pictures from Angkor Wat out of the 250 or so I took that day?

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These women came to Angkor Wat to celebrate a Buddhist Holy day.
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Temples hidden in the Jungle
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Ta Prohm temple ruins
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Gentle Guardians
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Ancient Hindu carvings on a temple wall
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216 faces of Buddha carved at Bayon, Angkor Thom
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This sweet Buddhist monk
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Serenity
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Just past a “Beware of Monkey Attack” sign, this cutie appeared
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A tourist (me) with a shot of another tourist taking photos of other tourists
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Angkor Wat

Seeding Good Luck

I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about.  They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour.  I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city.  So why haven’t I written that?

As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating.  When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done.  Dull.  So I avoid it, and my blog.  Self-perpetuating non-motion.   To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.

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This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered.  My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…).  At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once.   I spent years defining myself by my job:  I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant.  When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around.  I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month….  Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago.  It fits here for me now.

Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck.  – Og Mandino

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I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future.  And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel.  It really is the best medicine for me!   The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there.  My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.

We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide!  It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.

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speaking of feet
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Ali and Corrie

Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre.  This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike.  I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything!  I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home!  Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on.  Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home!  And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating.  Which I love!

 

Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok!  I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway.  Thanks for reading along with me.

Stunning Koh Samui

If I ever run away from home (ok, if I ever run away from home again) and you need to find me for some reason keep this spot in mind as the first place to look for me.  And pack a swimsuit because chances are when you find me, you’ll forget about why you were so keen on dragging me back.  I’ll save a spot on the sand for you.

Koh Samui, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of those places that’s probably on millions of screen savers as the perfect beach paradise bored workers daydream about.  And it’s even better in real life.

Here’s a quick disclaimer about this post, though:  I spent a lot of time in a bikini and I’ll be including pictures.  If that’s going to be a problem you should probably skip this post, and return to my blog next week when I’ve returned to my modesty….

I already mentioned in my last post that I spent a lot of time on the beach here; you may remember that I ruined my iPhone this way.  Tricia and I had 6 glorious days where the cumulative extent of our experience could be summed as such: brunch overlooking the water, beach, pool, beach, dinner overlooking the water, fall asleep to the sound of the air conditioner. (I wanted to say waves but I promised I’d be fully truthful in this blog!)   Oh.  If anyone is trying to plan a honeymoon, apparently this is what you should do.  Someone should get to experience this as romantic!!

White powder sand beaches.  Crystal clear turquoise water.  Lush forest and dramatic bolders.  Teeny bikinis.   Yes.

View of the beach
Looking great!
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Feeling Great!
Us in the sun
Is it more artsy (acceptable) to post without colour?

I shouldn’t say it, but sometimes I wonder why Tricia or I ever bother to wear clothes… (sorry, I did warn you that my modesty was on hiatus…)

There was one day we experienced more than just the beaches.  Good thing, because I’m sure there’s so much more to the island that one could see, if one were to drag themselves away from the perfect coastline.   For example, the Big Buddha. Living up to its apt moniker, this beautiful gold statue is a sight to see.  It’s not my religion, but I love visiting these temples and monuments.  I’m continually fascinated by other cultures; and learning about the way that religion, history, and geography has shaped the lives of the people around me never fails to amaze.

Big Buddha
Big Buddha
Smaller Buddhas surrounded the base of Big Buddha
Bells surrounded the temple complex
Ringing the bells
Temple top

After spending the afternoon with Big Buddha we were ready to get back to the water, and fortunately found a great restaurant right on the water.  The views bathed in late golden sunlight were equally as delicious as the meals – my kind of place for sure!

Tamarina Bistro & Bar

What if it falls apart?

Rushing. Panicking about being late and wishing I could rewind to NOT waste those 5 minutes on Instagram earlier because I really need that time back now. I hate this feeling.

The day started off with an early morning knock on the door, 40 minutes prior to the time we were expecting to be picked up, and the hotel clerk politely informing us our driver was outside.  The scramble and sudden adrenaline had us scooting around the room stuffing everything into any bag we could find, and when we got downstairs 3 minutes later quite pleased with our ability to dress and pack so quickly we were told that the van had left without us.  All my nervous energy evaporated along with our ride, and I could feel worry seeping in as I considered our next steps.  It’s moments like these when I realize I build my travel plans like a Jenga tower – it all looks creative and great until one piece is bumped and the whole thing topples.  Missing our shuttle from the hotel means missing our bus that takes us to the ferry, and if we can’t get on the ferry then we can’t get to the island where our next hotel is already booked and paid for.  The hotel clerk was quite unsympathetic when he assumed we stupidly slept in, but after I showed him our tickets with “7:30am pickup” written clearly on the front his demeanour changed.  I may have also subtly played up the damsel in distress side a little too…   Whatever the reason, he was our knight in shining armour as he made several phone calls before triumphantly announcing the driver was returning for us.  He then dropped his voice to let us in on a secret: the operator we booked the tickets through wasn’t as good – if he had arranged our transfer we never would have been given the wrong time.

With this in my mind, memories of other warnings I had read about tourist scams blazed behind my eyes.  I recall reading that people have been ripped off when booking a combination bus and ferry ticket to the Thai island of Koh Samui…. exactly where we’re headed to.  So even though the van returned to pick us up, all through the drive I was alert for the moment when we would be informed we needed to pay more to continue our journey.  And there were several moments appearing to be exactly that – when the van driver rushed us to get on the waiting bus but wouldn’t take the time to return our ticket which was our only proof of payment for the whole trip.  Or at the next transfer point where we were told a new bus would take us to the port, still had no ticket in my hand but was assured it wouldn’t matter.  Amazingly enough, all the way to on the ferry and including the van transfer on the next island to our hotel, everything ran just tickety-boo and we were never once asked for more money or proof that we actually paid our fare the previous day.        ————————————-

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Nervous on the road today

So.  I made it to my island paradise, but for me there was a little downside to being surrounded by tempting beaches.  I of course brought my phone with me to the beach – all the better for taking photos and jotting down my thoughts while simultaneously sunbathing – but my phone had an unfortunate encounter with salt water.  If you were wondering why there was suddenly radio silence on my end, it’s because I allowed my phone to drown.  My lifeline!  I didn’t know how reliant on (addicted to) my phone I had become until I needed to finish my travels without my phone.   Thankfully I had already written the above portion of this post, and it was saved in my drafts online, but I didn’t have access to it at all.

 

I will say, though, that it truly was a serene paradise.  If you find yourself headed to Koh Samui, I can highly recommend the resort we stayed in.  It was difficult to leave, despite hoping I could save my phone once we made it back to Bangkok.  Check out the Crystal Bay Beach Resort and see for yourself why it may be topping my mental list of favourite locals lately.

 

You know what I realized as I was finishing up this post?   As I worried about the worst happening (getting scammed, ruining my electronics) I have somehow come through it all without any real problems arising from my worries.   I feel so incredibly lucky to have gone this far, travelled so much, and really not had any major mishaps ruin my days.  …yet…   So from me to you:  safe travels, friends.   May your luck hold even better than mine!

 

Phuket Island

Finally arriving at Phuket airport, back in Thailand to explore the South part of the country and bask on beautiful beaches, I breathe in a lungful of ocean air.  This is going to be good!  Standing outside, late at night, waiting for the shared shuttle that will take us to our hotel I just keep breathing in and smiling.   It’s also partly an effort at self-distraction to keep myself from being irritated that my backpack arrived on the luggage conveyer with zippers open.  Again…  Five flights on this journey, and every single time my bag has been rifled through or little things taken from pockets that I was unable to lock.  Thankfully I never travel with anything of value in my checked luggage, but still, it’s maddening.  Tricia suggested my bag has been targeted because it looks so girly, and girls usually have good stuff with them; I think she might be right.  

But no matter.  I’m in a place famous for some of the most beautiful beaches the world has to offer so nothing can ruin my joy!   Patong Beach, where our hotel is located, is more of a party town than I’m currently in the mood for but at least I can still appreciate how fun it would be…. hopefully that means I’m not entirely old yet!  While walking around the street stalls and markets next to the beach it’s impossible to avoid the sales pitches from vendors selling day trips, and by the end of our second day here we stopped and chatted with a woman about our options.  After a bit of negotiating, lots of smiles and some friendly banter, she “remembered” that the trip we were most interested in had a promotion – tomorrow the last day! – and we could book it for 50% of the cost printed on the brochure.  She was really sweet, despite my scepticism of her prices, and we were happy to book our excursion from her.  

So bright and very early the next morning Tricia and I set off to explore some of the limestone islands around Phuket, along with a few hundred other likeminded adventurers.  (The surprising thing, really, is that I can still be surprised by what a massive machine tourism has become.  I’ve not only witnessed this over and over, I’m also a part of it – so why do I always hope I’ll be the only one out??)

Our full boat; and about 6 more just like it

Crowded, sure.  I guess the takeaway for us travellers and tourists creating this demand is to do our best to choose companies that are careful in sustainable and ethical operations.   Now with that soapbox spiel out of the way, without further ado, the best parts of a very great day!

We were offered coffee, tea and fruit on the boat during the hour it took to reach the first island we stopped at, and I think we were all happy to be out on the water.  When we stopped it was to hop into small canoes with experienced guides who would take us into caves (bat caves!) and through lagoons deeper around the islands. 

Inside the first cave
Islands of limestone cliffs
Perfect lighting for selfies – can’t pass that up!
Phang Nga Islands
We had some admirers taking photos – I’m trying to consider it sweet instead of creepy. This is one he shared

We were taken to a tiny remote beach and given free time to swim before returning to the big boat.  A delicious lunch was served while we made our way towards the “James Bond Island”  famous from a movie scene and countless photos on  Pinterest.

The guides waiting while we swim

While very toursty, the stop to view this jagged rocket of an island was a lot of fun.   I can’t tell you have many photos I have of myself in various fake-sultry Bond girl poses…  Seriously I can’t, it’s too embarrassing.   So instead I’ll post some of the shots I got of Tricia, she pulls it off much better than I.  In fact, if the right person sees this, she’ll probably be cast in the next remake! 

We had one final surprise on the way back to the harbour before finishing the tour, and it was pretty impressive.  Our guide had told us all day he could finally call the eagles to the boat, and it had taken him 24 years to learn how to do it.  As our boat passed the right spot, he had us all begin to clap and shout “up up up”.  I don’t generally consider myself a cynical person, but I was 100% sure there wouldn’t be an actual bird swooping down to join us.  My guess was a rock formation in avian shape, or maybe a plane high in the sky above us.   But I saw something entirely new to me; childlike awe and wonder erasing every trace of dubiosity.  He wasn’t joking.

Photo by Tricia