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  #46  
Old 1 Jul 2009
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Impressions
March 14
Bodhga, Bihar
No matter the first impressions of a country, the last ones affect our memories most. Excessive red-tape or bad attitudes at border crossings can set the wrong tone entering, but subsequent experiences, especially interactions with natives, imprint the deepest recollections. Yet there are so many highs and lows in India that even when re-reading my diary, emotions are scrambled. One day the Indian manner of speaking with faces uncomfortably close has me grating to leave, and the next, I’m overcome with emotion when strangers have selflessly offered me aid.





This was my second journey to India. The first was in 1989, when I rented a jeep and drove the cease-fire line with Pakistan along the Indus River into the northern province of Ladakh. There was an ugly situation brewing in Kashmir as the fighting broke out with Muslim Separatists and Indian troops. Bus stations blown up and random acts of terrorism against civilians eventually became routine. Experiencing the senselessness of religious violence was disturbing enough to make me move from Asia back to California. At that time, I had no intention of ever returning and if India didn’t stand between Pakistan and Nepal, I wouldn’t be here now.



But like other detours so far, everything’s turned out for the best. Because of delays in the Middle East, at the time of arrival here, there was only a half-month left on a non-extendable visa. But an unusual granting of another four-week-stay increased that to six--hardly enough for a few cities and far too much riding through maddening chaos. But India is so intense, a day is a week and it’s impossible to be idle for a minute, even when sitting still.




It takes years to understand the shock of what travelers witness in India and time is always in the way. Difficult choices of what to see are made based on studying guidebooks and interviews with fellow wanderers. “Glen, you really need to hit the beaches of Goa and Kerala.”

“What would I do there?”

“Nothing. You just relax and drink .”

At this stage of my journey, the notion of idling in paradise was enticing, but given time constraints and twelve days to come and go there, that would be misused opportunity. Yet the price for choosing backcountry roads and less-visited villages became a damaged suspension and more nerve-wracking close-calls than I care to consider.



Although Bodhga lacked the circus-like hustle of other Indian holy towns, that was mainly because this Mecca for Buddhists is so far out of the way and the tourist season is over. The daily temperature is rising quick and devastating Monsoon storms are only a few weeks away. Even the ever-so-persistent touts were too lazy to annoy the few remaining temple-hopping backpackers. Two weeks ago, every hotel was fully booked. Now, Bodhga, is like the Middle East, empty of travelers.

As the site where Buddha reached enlightenment, Buddhist countries have built temples and monuments here to honor the sanctified land. Even the sacred Bodhi Tree outside the Mahabodhi temple has grown from four generations of saplings cut from the original. Streams of peaceful pilgrims pay silent homage with meaningful, slow garden walks and offerings of fragrant garlands. With obnoxious vendors walled out, sunrise meditations under the Bodhi’s canopy were moving experiences that touch one’s soul.

Although each famous locale held unique significance, the people of India leave the deepest impressions. When asked by natives why so many foreigners visit their country, I explain, “It’s because your peculiar beliefs and ways twist our minds. To free our own thinking, we seek that which is furthest from our own.” Ideas that confound us also deepen our thoughts. In that regard, India is as far from the West as you can get without leaving the planet.

Maintaining a sense of humor is the only way to enjoy Indians. Disparities in customs carry scents of fresh bouquets of exotic flowers or are fingernails-across-a-chalkboard clashes of culture. With a rapidly rising middleclass, overnight, there has been a proliferation of new vehicles on already gridlocked roads. Four million motor-scooters alone appeared this year, with few of the drivers licensed or skilled. Anyone, of any age, who can afford a scooter, is allowed to drive one, and carry however many passengers will fit. This accounts for the constant light colliding and numerous near-death experiences.

But Indian men are always around when you need them, and often when you don’t. In the most densely populated land on earth, concepts of space or privacy are unknown. When stopped by the side of the road, it never takes long for inquisitive men to approach me offering assistance. Still, far too often, when stopping to rest or merely to pee, an audience accumulates and halfway through my chores they still stand five feet away, staring. Yet the women are more reserved.

Like Arab females, for whatever their reasons, Indian women are quiet in public. Although seen much more often, they hardly acknowledge a foreigner’s greeting. Typical of developing nations, India is undoubtedly a man’s world. As women toil in fields, a frequent sight is jabbering men standing by smoking cigarettes. Occasionally, younger boys will assist in piling heavy loads on top of the heads of grimacing female workers severing as human wheelbarrows. Yet not even their balanced staggering under the burden of brutal labor detracts from their femininity and exquisite stately poise.







Whether laboring in agriculture fields or stepping from luxury cars in uptown Delhi, Indian women exude uncommon style. Draped in brilliantly colored saris, the dignity of their compelling composure suggests histories of royalty no matter the reality. In cities and villages, emerging through choking clouds of blackened exhaust fumes, they casually step over cow dung, fluid as fabled princesses. Peeking through transparent veils of silks and chiffons, whatever their caste, they convey mythical elegance through glistening chestnut eyes. From festivals to palaces, even considering the Taj, my most moving impressions of the country were of the remarkable grace of the enduring Indian women.



















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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:18.
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  #47  
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  #48  
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Nepal!

After a friendly adios to India, it was off to Nepal.



Giddy with the Gods
March 16
Chittawan Royale Park, Nepal

Although news of escalating violence in Nepal was distressing, it was not deterring. Since trekking the Himalayas in 1981 before it became trendy, I have had subtle yearnings to return and rekindle fading memories of authentically spiritual people. Witnessing firsthand the sincere humility of the natives in such a sacred landscape provoked a profound internal awakening, stimulating a re-examination of my Western sense of materialism. Over the centuries, many a wandering foreigner has been stunned by the generous nature of Nepali mountain tribes. In those days, money had little meaning as long as everyone had food and their particular religion.

From ancient prayer wheels to manicured thousand-mile trails lined with hand-chiseled boulders, the experience was far too intense to absorb in one visit. Since learning the wonders of Buddhist culture in the guiding hands of intensely loyal mountain Sherpa, California has never been the same and for the last nine months, it’s been hard to resist counting the days until returning. As in every country, my itinerary was vague until reaching the border--I didn’t have a Nepal guidebook until swapping for one with an outbound traveler this morning. Yet as long as monsoon storms are trailing, anywhere in Asia is home.

Crossing between India and Nepal was the usual Developing Nation congested mess of old, groaning buses and broken down trucks vying for drastically limited road space.



But because foreign motorcyclists are in a class of their own, we’re usually bumped to the front of Customs lines while officials scramble to determine what to do with us. Three hours later, after the last of the reviewing and stamping, I was permitted to enter into an immediate deceleration of hustle with a glide into bliss--better roads and an end to aggressive, suicidal Indian drivers. From the first second across the border, a relieving warmth from the heart and soul of the Nepalese people transmits on contact.





Trapped between giants--as Mongolia languishes in poverty between Russia and China, Nepal trembles under pressure from Beijing and Delhi. An ethnic blend of lndo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burmese, Hindus occupy the lowlands and in the mountains, descendants of Tibetan Buddhists subsist as they have for a thousand years. Lack of natural resources or industrial base makes those living in the land where Buddha was born, some of the poorest on earth. Twenty percent of their income is from war-ravaged tourism that is now at an agonizing standstill.

Halfway to Katmandu lies a cutoff for the Royal Chitwan National Park and a convenient choice to split a nine-hour ride to the capital. After reveling in a day-ride of relative calm, upon a saggy old smelly hostel mattress, I tumble into sleep with dreams of rhino hunting elephant-back and awake to the tantalizing lure of the mighty Himalayas. Formed by colliding tectonic plates sixty million years ago, the windswept, icy peaks are still on the rise, six inches a year. That notion alone had me giddy with anticipation, soaring through mountain curves until sundown. The asphalt is wavy but smooth and alas long empty straight-aways provide welcome expanses for the Blue Beast to stretch its legs. Once overtaking convoys of tanker trucks, a steady spiral upwards from the Indian Plains leads into the forested foothills of Everest. With some of the best scenery in Asia, Nepal is home to ten of the fourteen highest mountains on earth.

Since it’s the end of dry season, lowland jungle terrain is parched and golden. Seasonally lush, green rice fields are now multi-acre, patchwork squares flattened into cracked cakes of mud. A mountain fire burns somewhere unchecked, resulting in distant hillsides enshrouded in a brown smoggy haze. Busy battling rebels, the government lacks adequate resources to fight fires, and so they rage. Cement-barrel, Checkpoint-Charlies are manned by young friendly soldiers waving me to pass. The only agreement between warring factions is that foreigners are not intentionally targeted. With murderous revenge, they ambush one another, but leaders on both sides understand, without the flow of tourist dollars, their deteriorating economy collapses further until everyone starves—which is happening anyway.



Even when shaking down trekkers for funding, gun-toting Maoist rebels politely issue receipts so reluctant donors will not be war-taxed twice by another patrol. While Nepali warriors butcher each other, they still smile at tourists and so far, none have been shot. The suffering inflicted by their own has broken the heart of many a visitor. Never a kinder people existed and if anyone’s ever behaved in the image of God, it’s the simple folk who dwell within these mountains.

With tourism accelerating downward, competing businessmen forlornly accept whatever you’ll pay. Just outside Chitwan, three bucks a night rents thatched huts on the riverbank, including breakfast in the morning. The water level is down but so are the mosquitoes and my ears have almost stopped ringing from the bloodcurdling screams of trumpeting Indian truck horns. In the serenity of the southern Nepali jungle, gone are the cold-sweat awakenings at midnight with images of converging headlights.

For recharging fading batteries, there are electrical outlets back by the road right next to an impossibly slow Internet terminal. Chunks of just-caught river fish fried in garlic sauce enhance an already glorious sunset while another fifteen bucks schedules a pre-dawn elephant ride and half-day trek to spot crocodiles. Guidebooks warn against walking, as park rhinos are known to charge—they can trot 30mph and sprint even faster. For now, it remains to be seen if Vikings can take photos climbing backwards up trees.










And onto Katmandu







For some Hindu poster paint festivals...



Where everyone who is out on the street gets nailed.











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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:19.
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Even though everyone knew Chinese border guards were denying entry of private vehicles, I had to try, if nothing else just for a heartier dose of Himalayan scenery. The super-highway to Tibet.










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Ride report from strikingviking

Really interesting ride report. Great photos and one of the better written ride reports that I have come across.


I was down in Palm Springs this spring attending a conference. I remember seeing a BMW GS Adv motorcycle downtown with the name strikingviking over the gas tank. Wondering if that was your's or not.


Cheers

Brian
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Really interesting ride report. Great photos and one of the better written ride reports that I have come across.


I was down in Palm Springs this spring attending a conference. I remember seeing a BMW GS Adv motorcycle downtown with the name strikingviking over the gas tank. Wondering if that was your's or not.


Cheers

Brian
AKA Ride4Adventure
Yeah, that was me. Next time give a shout and we'll have a !
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  #52  
Old 21 Jul 2009
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Riding North
April 9
Bangkok, Thailand

Like stepping into a sauna of steamy tropical flavors, the first thing to sense when the aircraft door unseals is an overpowering gulp of fragrant, waterlogged air. Throughout the city, millions of massive air conditioners pump around the clock, sucking out tons of moisture while altering the atmospheres of contemporary office buildings and multilevel shopping malls. Walking outside trying to inhale is like attempting to breathe underwater.



Welcome to Bangkok, capital of Thailand--The City of Angels in the Land of a Thousand Smiles. Silently communicating with practiced facial gestures, depending on preceding events, a smile can mean, hello, goodbye, go to hell or let’s make love. In ancient traditions of saving face, Thais would rather yield than risk conflict and humiliation. In the West, traffic mishaps result in road rage, at the least, venting with jabbing middle fingers. Here passivity redirects negative energy and confrontation is avoided—also fundamentals of Asian Martial Arts.



Thousands of makeshift alleyway food-stalls conveniently appear wherever humans coagulate. From outside government offices to busy street corners, sweet smelling fresh fruit stands and sizzling mini-barbeques tease the senses for closer inspections. No need to pack a lunch when going to work—beyond factory entrances, lines of vendors peddling what’s listed on menus of expensive Thai restaurants, dish out delightful bargain meals from improvised kitchens with rickety curbside tables.

Piercing scents of fresh cut vegetables and sinus clearing spices permeate thick humid air while skilled street chefs deftly combine secret ingredients to produce flaming flavors soon to explode inside your mouth. Sizzling woks with boiling meats and stir-fried noodles emit clouds of scorching vapors strong enough to burn your eyes. None are idle, and there is always a wait for drooling patrons. Only the best survive; inferior goods or services fade quickly down the smoldering backstreets of a pitiless city.

Bangkok, capital of Siam is also world capital for the dark side of foreign intrigue and international espionage. From black market weapons brokers to hedonistic pleasure palaces, you can purchase either a shoulder-fired rocket or sexual favors from well-trained, perfectly formed women or men of any age. Hidden down smog-choked alleyways, discreet signs appear advertising to satisfy every need and massage whatever body parts ache for relief.



Yet spirituality dominates the culture with ancient beliefs and sacred rites. Reclining Buddha statues and elaborate temples corral the faithful in the most spectacular display of religion on earth.

Still, it’s a brutally overcrowded city and a biker’s frightmare of clogged traffic arteries and stifling heat. Yesterday afternoon, the Blue Beast was serviced and refurbished with fresh tires so by the time Brad arrived we were chomping at the grips to ride north into cooler, less populated regions of tribal highlands. After four hours of confusing departure attempts, the elongated dual lane highway empties as we twist our throttles for a blast into the haze of a fiery sunset.



Bangkok bustle evolves into meandering country roads and smiling rice paddy workers strolling home from laboring to live. Herds of hulking water buffalo lounge roadside as ominous reminders to remain alert. Speeding motorcyclists would have better luck colliding with brick walls.
Spiritual Thais celebrate that which represents life. The weeklong holiday of Song Khran marks beginnings of the Thai New Year with festivals of water wars and painted faces. To wash away sins, mini-trucks packed with giggling teens scoop buckets of water from fifty-gallon drums to fling at one another and those in between. With cameras zipped inside our jackets, we white-line between cars, ducking sprays from refreshing waves and gleeful shouts of pearly-toothed, laughing children.









Once again, time is the most significant concern. In nine days, Brad reluctantly returns to the rush of corporate America so we milk the most from every moment. A brief foray into the Kingdom of Siam begins with a soul-gripping blend of colorful celebration on the outskirts of a wanderer’s paradise into the majesty of tribal life.











Everyday, new tribal villagers welcome us in unfamiliar languages as the men from Mars in space-age plastic clothing, while inquisitive youngsters constantly surround us. Graceful, Longneck women eyed us with suspicion, and no matter our effort, couldn’t be coaxed into a ride. Each year Kayan tribal women add additional solid brass collar-rings below their jawbones in an effort to create a longer neck. But in reality, the metal tubes only push their shoulders down creating that visual effect. Having shouted the praises of Asia for years, my dream is being fulfilled sharing these scenes with Brad. Northern Thailand provides the ultimate contrast in a provocative cultural buffet with spicy aftertastes that lasts a lifetime. Crossing worlds plants the deepest seeds.



A thick overcast sky protects us from a blazing tropical sun as we spiral upwards, spinning our tires over dizzying mountain dirt tracks while kicking up layers of powdery orange clay. Hugging the Burmese border as close as we dare, we’re careful not to drift too far. Refugee tribesmen have directed us over trails not shown on maps but the black triangle on my GPS indicates we’re nearing the forbidden line. Amidst the chaos of ethnic feuding in the heart of opium country, it’s unlikely intercepting army patrols or drug warlord mercenaries would accept any explanations.


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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:20.
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  #53  
Old 21 Jul 2009
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Hi Glen,

I came in here looking for some inspiration and boy have I found some? I loved your photos of the people you've met as each face tells a story.

Cheers
Fab Rodriguez
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I don't have words to explain what I'm felling looking at this ride reports.
Excellent...
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  #55  
Old 30 Jul 2009
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Cambodia



Onward to Cambodia



There are few certainties regarding adventure travel. In developing nations that definitely applies when predicting political stability, riding weather or road conditions. With no pavement leading away from Thailand or Laos, those attempting the Cambodian interior are subject to the careless whims of nature. Even if recently graded, a few days of Monsoon can erode otherwise tolerable dirt track and undermine surfaces, collapsing critical bridges.















"And three little piggies went to market..."


Winding through the jungle over deteriorated improvised bridges and rice paddy levies, led through impoverished Khmer villages and unsowed fields of caked mud. Warnings to never stray from the road to till their fields became understood at my first meal stop. Three of the five young men at the next table bore artificial legs, presumably from stepping on one of hundreds of thousands of remaining landmines planted during thirty years of harried civil war. But everyone shares in sorrow.



Even when challenged by their own misfortune, as a hobbling old beggar woman approached, the legless men dug deep to share a few coins. As Cambodia slowly emerges from the aftermath of genocide followed by famine, the bodies of the people are wounded but not their hopes. A simple gaze into the tormented eyes of docile peasants reveals a forgiving sincerity and a bashful smile from the heart. Like Latin American campesinos it’s always the kindest who suffer the most.



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Genocide

S-21 Torture Museum
May 30
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

On a world tour primarily through developing nations, travelers encounter enough gut-wrenching catastrophes to haunt their dreams for years. Can we ever get used to it? Or will we eventually yield to the psychological strain from the exasperation of inability to affect what leaves us sleepless? This being a traveler’s diary, should it exclude the immeasurable suffering we witness by abusive governments, disease and natural disaster?



Yet it’s impossible to separate Cambodia from an appalling past. To meekly sidestep mention of recent genocide is to punish the victims once more. In television news, we hear words like genocide so often the meaning gets lost—even Mr. Webster uses sterile terminology: “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” He should have added: the wholesale butchering of innocent men, women and children that generally includes torture for fun. Maoist Khmer Rouge had a special place for inflicting such misery.



S-21 Prison was originally a Phnom Penh schoolhouse until 1975 when bloodthirsty conquering Khmer Rouge rebels converted it into a detention facility for interrogation—a torture center. Whoever survived the wicked horrors of questioning here was later transferred to an extermination camp. Like Nazis and other tyrannical regimes, the Khmer Rouge maintained detailed records and photographs of their victims. To preserve the memory of this twisted nightmare, S¬21 Prison has been converted into a museum of shocking revulsion where the sacrificed can still be heard.



In group-meditation, there is a belief in the existence and effect of collective consciousness. Focusing mental energies in monasteries and holy sites is said to intensify the power of prayer. But who is out there listening? Most people believe we dwell within a spirit world of higher beings--Gods and ghosts? There must be something more to this—is a person without a soul a hollow vessel? Where do we go when our bodies expire?



To pass into the afterlife correctly, Cambodians believe that their dead must be cremated before burial; otherwise, for all of eternity they languish in limbo as ghosts. This is a dreadful notion for relatives of those dumped in mass graves during the Khmer Rouge rein of frenzied genocide. Cambodia is a country few can pick out on a map--their holocaust is a mere footnote in history, but the lost souls of two million murdered still communally demand justice.



When entering within the first few steps of S-21 Prison Museum, the distinctive power of anguish smothers your spirit. Before entering the first torture chamber, tears will have been flowing down your face while some find it difficult to breathe. No one speaks during the tour--you merely wander through rooms reeling in a daze of nausea. The ghosts of S-21 Prison not only cry out, but you can see their faces. Recovered mug-shots of torture victims are on display so visitors can slowly walk by each one and look them in the eye.





The innocent young, the helpless old and the average Cambodian—you study them as they study you. The softness in their eyes reveals a naïve nature. Suddenly your mind spins in a sickening cauldron of ghastly images—while photographed were they aware of the grisly future ahead?






On their way to dank holding-cells, did they march past gruesome gallows witnessing humans dangling upside down? Could they hear the bloodcurdling screams of those begging to die? What did they feel at that moment? What about when finally steel-bar-shackled together lying side by side on concrete floors awaiting their turn? How long is eternity for them?



Mr. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge was an efficient operation; to save bullets, berserk executioners often bludgeoned victims to death. Enormous pits were dug by dazed prisoners who had to know this was their next stop. Mass-graves is another term losing meaning—until you see one.

What’s made this extra tragic is meeting surviving Cambodians first. From the tormented families to the unlucky legless who stepped on one of thousands of landmines buried in their farm fields, gentle Buddhist Cambodians silently bear their sorrow. But, the human spirit triumphs, and still, they are always first to smile.

















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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:25.
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Hi Glen,

I came in here looking for some inspiration and boy have I found some? I loved your photos of the people you've met as each face tells a story.

Cheers
Fab Rodriguez
That's what it's all about amigo--sharing our passion for moto-adventure travel.
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I don't have words to explain what I'm felling looking at this ride reports.
Excellent...
Abrigado! Everyone has their own reasons for writing journals and books. Mine is to raise awareness in the West and basically prompt readers to stop and think about the world and perhaps view it through a prism other than the mainstream media.
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Thailand

Loong
July 6
Sadao, Thailand

From the red clay tracks of Laos and Cambodia to a four-lane highway spanning the length of Malaysia, it’s been a fascinating variation of road to travel. Originally allotting three months for the region, time has passed too quickly for a comfortable farewell. As the predominately-Muslim southern provinces of Thailand plunge deeper into turmoil, government travel warnings increase. After a brutal suppression of a peaceful uprising, blood revenge intensifies with daily assaults and finally, beheadings.

It’s been a hundred years since Britain and Thailand divvied up the south, but the inhabitants have not forgotten their identity. What was once northern Muslim Malaysia has become a troubled land of sectarian violence. Gentle Buddhist and peaceful Muslims exist in the crossfire of radicals as a struggle for independence continues.

Nearing the border, personalities shift as eager smiles and overt friendliness evolve into awkward suspicion. Half the locals don’t speak Thai and those who do, utter a jagged dialect that even those from Bangkok don’t understand. My roadside restaurant attempts at contact are met with wary nods and silent stares. A wanderer’s policy of not leaving until we shake hands stretches the day, but after lengthy broken dialogue, persistence pays. Eventually, chunky-cheeked Southerners crowd around for photos and insist on buying my meals—a gesture unheard of further north but typical Islamic hospitality. Belief and sincerity are more important than who owns what.

My last four days on an expired one-month visa evaporate on the travel-poster-paradise island of Phuket, complete with moonlight romance boiling into breathless tropical lust. Bumming about the city bars, I’ve met the girl of my most recent dreams. Motorcycle rides along clear blue waters lined with sugary sands, stirs an intoxicating brew of instant attraction and mutual enthusiasm. Women of thirty without children are rare in Thailand, yet to ask questions would only encourage lies. Sticking to small-talk, the bumbling humor of a stuttering foreigner cuts direct to the chase and before long, Loong’s naked body is next to mine. Adventurous sexual encounters for travelers can result in unrealistic optimism that somehow fate will intervene and goodbyes can be postponed. Yet wishing and hoping is only a romantic mirage for a pragmatic wanderer, no matter how lonely. And as the softness of her smile belies the hardship of her life, I never want to let her go.

Tall and thin, with long black hair dangling to the top of well-fit jeans caught my eye but not as much as watching her give coins to street-beggars. An Asian ranch-girl in a cultural menagerie of desires and taboos captures a Viking heart. Intermixing races and cultures is the ultimate combination of what our parents warned us about. Cautiously aware how foreigners are taken by the childlike playfulness of Thai women, for the last three months, I’ve avoided what could take me down. Yet such warnings are hard to remember while lost in her innocent laughter and caught in a web of craving. For what seems like forever in a soft lingering embrace, her long silky legs hold me inside as she coos for me stay. When pearly-toothed natives flick on the sensuous charm, we’re as defenseless as they are the moment we saddle up and leave. If willing to spend the time, the economic might of a single Western workingman could easily sweep aside the tragedies of an entire village—cognizance of this makes riding off into the sunset that much harder.

But destiny rules Asia. Whether human imposed or natural disasters, the fate of those we learn to care about is always beyond their control. Commercial impact of the recent Tsunami is mending far faster than the spirits of human survivors, while faith and hope wobble as reliable as the region’s tectonic plates next shift. Thais celebrate water but their lifelong friend the sea has betrayed them and now worship has turned to terror. Will giant waves of death come for them again?

A moonlit stroll on an empty paradisiacal beach turned shivering paranoia as Loong trembles at the waters edge. Her warm melodic laughter becomes a speechless frozen body with blank-stare chants to Buddha. Clumsy attempts to console what I don’t understand adds to the frustration of ineptitude. I might as well have been watching this on TV. Whispering waves to Loong have become the whimpering hisses of lurking spirits sucked out to sea. “Grua bpee Gaan” I fear the ghosts Glen.”
Later, while packing my gear, she watches me count the last of my Thai currency while calculating hotel bill and immigration fines for an expired visa. Not realizing it’s only an attempt to avoid another ATM withdrawal, she worries I don’t have enough money and holds out a handful of wrinkled bills. On top of cooking my meals and washing my clothes, she’s fired both barrels at once. But another night in the seductive embrace of Loong would surely compel another year and once again, a now or never moment comes and goes.

Life is extra-unfair for women in developing nations, and it’s likely been awhile since she was treated as a lady--but an armful of purple orchids from the traveling foreigner gave her big-face in the minds of a watching village. And as I stood there grappling with emotion, her almond eyes shimmering like crystal coffee beans clouded reasons to move on. Struggling for composure, she read from a scribbled note the only English she’s yet spoken, “Plees no foget me Gaan.” And this time, somehow no matter how hard I twist the throttle, it will be awhile before leaving the past behind.
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Looping Borneo
August 4
Tawau, East Malaysia



As an endangered species, orangutans managing to elude poachers in the wild are difficult to find. The Sipilok Rehabilitation Center on the far eastern tip of Borneo sits the largest of four sanctuaries in the world where orphans are cared for and taught to survive on their own. Just outside the busy seaport of Sandakan, a small, dedicated staff of mostly volunteers, studies and rehabilitates former captive adults and babies missed by hunters. Monkeys are common everywhere in Asia but human-like features of orangutans put them in a class of their own and they are the most worthwhile sites in East Malaysia.



Once past the visitor center, a quarter-kilometer wooden catwalk elevated above the rainforest floor guides travel-packaged adventurers to a double-tiered platform for the silent morning show. Here, puffing vacationers perspiring in spiffy new safari clothes can wait for feeding time and distant glimpses of orangutans in training. In thick humid air, almost to the designated minute, a fat nylon cable stretching a thousand yards back into the jungle begins to jump and sway. One by one, rusty-haired young and old orangutans, reach hand over hand, gripping their way forward in coordinated rhythm to receive morning treats of bananas and sugarcane. Fascinating but touristy, this is still the only way to see them in their natural environment.





Later that night, smiling to sleep in a polished hardwood lodge, visions of exploring the upcoming wilderness haunted my dreams. Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo is reported to be similar to the interior of Sabah yet lacks a consistent coastal route. There are no paved roads to link remote towns and villages, only sloppy tracks and watery paths of shallow jungle rivers. Just to exit East Malaysia requires island-hopping by ferryboat to reach the shores of Kalimantan. That’s been the task here at the last stop in Tawau, locating a sea-going captain willing to haul me to Nunukan Island to possibly find another boat to Tarakan Island. Because geographic information is scarce, from there, the future remains undecided unless the government has something to offer.



Officials in the Indonesian Consulate were cooperative but skeptical, as not even the government liaison officer understood my mission of being the first man to circle the island of Borneo by motorcycle. When explaining my desire to traverse Kalimantan to end up back at my initial starting point in Kuching, he politely advised that it was more practical to ride the asphalt road back from where I just came. Wanting to circle the island by land made no sense, especially alone. Upon further consideration, he added that he was uncertain if Indonesian Customs in Nunukan had ever processed a motor vehicle. Anyway, the only means he was sure of to reach there was by passenger ferries with no accommodations for motorcycles. He was talking himself into doubt.

When government employees anywhere, lack clear-cut rules, to avoid future conflicts, they usually say, “No, it can’t be done.” Yet in the past when needing approvals, before relating my positions, it always helped to first shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye—that made it harder to turn me away, and today was no different. By the end of my two-hour plea, a hesitant Mr. Ali was finally convinced to help, and offers encouragement by scribbling an introduction note on the back of his business card. This will come in handy if getting far enough to use it with reluctant Customs officials in Kalimantan. And there were still peculiar hurdles lurking.

It’s wise to be careful where camping and not just because of poisonous snakes or wild animals. Even though Borneo is a giant rainforest, it’s nearing the driest time of year and scientists warn of a fate more common than disease and snakebites. Deadfall. Thousands of decaying hardwood tree branches, waterlogged and weighted by moisture from squalls, silently plummeting earthbound are the most common killers in the jungle. But unless I’m completely stuck, I am not planning to drift from the trail.



As loggers are busy stripping the forest, there should be dirt roads leading to asphalt and cities. There is no established primary route or maps indicating individual connections, but truckers must move pillaged timber somehow. To alleviate self-doubt I mumble, “there is always a first time for everything.” An Internet search yielded only rumors that years ago, two bikers looped the island but started from halfway into Kalimantan—not from the actual border. Regardless, the journey is proceeding one step at a time, beginning at the wharf coordinating with a sympathetic ferryboat captain. Evaluating the tides indicates that12:30PM renders the ship’s main deck, dock-level for easier cargo transfer.



Loading and offloading on boats or airplanes without damaging the bike is a recurring difficulty where I’m always holding my breath until my precious cargo is finally strapped down. When slinging five hundred pounds of awkward motorcycle over raised transoms of passenger ferries, weight is a significant factor. But due to critical gas shortages throughout Indonesia, it’s necessary to fill my ten-gallon tank before loading. There are likely additional obstacles no one has imagined. After studying maps revealing dozens of small rivers interrupting established mud roads, I’m certain more boating is likely. If the jungle does prove impassable, failure means a thousand mile retreat back to Malaysia. Once beginning, there’ll be no turning back.

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