Monday, November 26, 2012

I Take a Deep Breath and I Get Real Pai

Although the beginning of my birthday trip to Pai started a bit shaky, I ended up having a fabulous (albeit CRAY CRAY) week.
On the night of my birthday, my dear friend Marie joined me at the Osho Meditation center. Although I found the two older men running the place and all the Thai workers building the swimming pool to be strange lovely people, I was relieved to have a friend with me. And Marie is not just any friend. She is the type of girl that can make any situation full of light and laughter, so having her as my travel partner through the tripped out wonderland of Pai made for a most enjoyable journey.
(Marie in front of our hut at the meditation center)
The meditation center had free wi-fi, so in between bouts of laughter, Marie and I intensely worked on opening our 8th Chakra...the Facebook Chakra.
We couldn't ignore the fact that we were in a beautiful place, which helped us separate from our electronic gurus. As temperatures soared to the mid 90s, we took advantage of the surroundings by cooling off in a mountain river nearby the meditation center. After swimming, we decided to check out the town. Pai is not close to the meditation center and neither of us had rented a motorbike at that time, but as two Pilates teachers, we figured the hour walk in the heat of the day would be no big deal. As we began our walk, one of the many street dogs we encountered started following us, or rather leading us to Pai. After 2km with our new canine companion, Marie and I were ready to adopt him. But just as we gave him his new name (Thai Pai) his owner drove up on a motorcycle and took him home.
We were sad to see him go, but there were about 10,000 other street dogs ready to take his place.
The energy in Pai is crazy. It seems to be a mecca for new age hippies that believe they are either God or high priests from the 5th dimension. As we walked the streets and continuously ran into the same characters over and over again, it started to feel like we fell down Alice's rabbit hole and ended up in the Matrix.
We discovered that Pai is not only a great place for people watching, it is also great for eating your weight in fried foods and buying jewelry you don't need.
Pai only has 4 traffic lights, but we somehow managed to get lost there for 6 hours. It was late and we needed to head back to the center, so we hired a motorbike taxi to drive us home. In true Thai style, we stuffed 3 people on the back of that bike. The overcrowded drive home was enough to inspire us to rent our own motorbike the next day. It also didn't hurt that we needed to leave the meditation center to move to our new bungalow closer to town, and there was no way my oversized backpack was going to fit on the back of another crowded taxi. (By the way, I'm starting to reconsider the name of this blog. It seems inappropriate to call it "mylilbackpack" when my backpack is too big to comfortably fit inside a bungalow...).
I was in charge of navigating the way to our new digs as Marie drove the bike. Things were going smoothly for us until I directed Marie to a bridge we were supposed to cross over the river.
Marie thought we could do it, but let's have a closer look.
It was at that moment I realized I was reading the walking directions to the bungalow, and there was no way to drive two girls, one big backpack and a motorbike over a bamboo bridge. We parked our bike and forded the river on foot to our new accommodations.
The huts were simple and peaceful. We even had our own hammock.
(No matter how good you're feeling about yourself, there's always hammock-ass to give you a nice slap of humility)
After getting situated in our hut, we decided to walk around our new neighborhood. Pai may be a small town, but it has everything you need and more.
Marie and I met a nice French circus performer, and we joined him for a little bit of tight rope walking and hot spring swimming at night. (I sadly didn't get any photos from this part of our adventure, but trust that it was wonderful).
Pai is a strange and beautiful place. I would have loved to stay longer, but I needed to get back to Chiang Mai to study with my teacher so I sadly said goodbye to my dear Marie (who stayed an extra 5 days) and Pai.
Oh, yeah...I almost forgot to mention that Marie and I were so inspired by our time there, we wrote a song about it. It's full of inside jokes, but I think you'll get the gist. Enjoy!
walkin' down the streets of Pai
don't need no weed to get real high
cuz we'll still see that bearded guy
with all the stories his beard hides
our canine pal escorts us there
makes sure we're safe, because he cares
don't matter he goes back alone
10,000 dogs call Pai their home
only four streets on the grid
but we get lost like little kids
cruisin' circles through the shops
pickin' jewelry like they're crops
that boy's tattooed from head to toe
he stalks us everywhere we go
in case we weren't sure where he's from
"All American" is branded on his tum
walkin' down the streets of Pai
don't need no weed to get real high
laughin' hard until we cry
from all the weird shit walkin' by
used to get munchies when you smoke
but here you get it shoppin' folks
fried and starchy's what we toke
eatin' waffles till we're broke
can't dare to try that cricket fry
we make the vendor demo why
it's yummy for this asian guy
who munches larvae till we try
six hours later, time to go
no taxi meters to take us home
one taxi-bike for us on loan
three on the back, no broken bones
walkin' down the streets of Pai
don't need no weed to get us high
fell down the rabbit hole in stride
this place is really worth the ride
besides, the french invented Pai


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Womb with a View

It's my birthday today!
When I was thinking about ways to spend this day, my initial thought was to travel to another exotic country. I toyed with the idea of drinking cobra whiskey in Laos or visiting the recently opened borders of Burma, but nothing felt quite right. I just finished my massage training which meant I had practical and written exams consuming all my time which would have otherwise been spent researching locations last week. Plus, I recently began working one on one with a Thai Massage teacher in Chiang Mai.
Getting this teacher to agree to work with me was a bit of a challenge, but with enough persistence and a little bit of bribery over a salad dinner, he agreed to meet with me on the weekends leading up to his departure to teach in Taiwan in December. With my weekends occupied, my potential birthday excursion was going to be cut in half with only 3 or 4 days to explore another country. Although the idea was spontaneous and fun, the truth remained that my backpack weighs as much as I do, and lugging it around sounded annoying.
My teacher strongly encourages me to have a meditation practice in conjunction with the body work I'm learning, so he suggested that I visit the Osho Center in Pai, called The Womb. The center specializes in Kundalini meditation, which unlike the silent sitting of Vipassana, incorporates movement and dance. My teacher has led me through a couple of these meditations in our work together, and although I sometimes float outside of my body during the interpretive dance section and think "what is this hippy shit," I've overall enjoyed the experience. I also thought that maybe by spending my birthday in quiet meditation could perhaps change the energy of my year (again with the hippy shit...). Plus, I could tell everyone that I spent my birthday in The Womb.
I caught a minibus yesterday afternoon out of Chiang Mai,
made sure I was equipped with all the essentials,
and arrived at The Womb in the evening where I was greeted by two of the men that work here. I was showed around the place and thought it seemed quiet even for a meditation center. I came to find out that the entire staff was out of town, there were no classes or led meditations and I was the only person staying at the center.
Ok...I've come to expect the unexpected in life, but this took me by surprise. My visions of performing interpretive dance with a bunch of hippies on my birthday slowly waltzed out and was replaced with acceptance of having a very solitary and quiet day. One of the monks that I've been listening to a lot over the last year talks a lot about taking time for a retreat from everything. Maybe this birthday would serve as my moment to take retreat from the world and reflect on the last 31 years of my life. Oh, did I say 31? (cough) I meant to say 21...
I woke up at 7am and did an hour of meditation, drank some tea and then joined one of the men that works here in town for some coffee and young coconut (birthday) cheesecake.
Over coffee and cheesecake I found out that my new mate had made himself grow one foot taller for 15 minutes, turned himself into a bear, and entered the 5th dimension to visit Limeria. Okay... these were not the conversations I expected to be having today, but at least they were interesting.
After our snack, he drove me to a lookout over the Pai valley which was quite beautiful.
We drove around Pai a bit more, but I really just wanted to be quiet and sit by the river in a hammock at the meditation center, so I asked him to drive me back.
Returning to the meditation center was a welcome break.
I spent the rest of the day on Skype with my friends and parents. Oh yeah, and blogging...
So, no, I didn't spend the day dancing with hippies or as a total spiritual recluse like I'd imagined, but overall, I can't really complain about my experiences today. And as for a silent meditation retreat...I guess I'll just have to wait for my 10 day Vipassana retreat in Java this February.
Here's to being 31-derful!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

AcroYoga in the Afternoon

A few weeks ago, my French friend, Phillipe, and I unsuccessfully drove up and down the streets of Chiang Mai looking for an Italian restaurant where our Belgian friend was having her goodbye party. After almost two hours of driving the same circle, we decided to call it quits and go in search of food elsewhere. We pulled up to the market at Chiang Mai Gate and almost as soon our feet left his scooter, Phillipe ran into one of his friends from his town in the French Alps (I swear, sometimes it's shocking just how many French people are in this city). As they began chatting in French, I prepared to enter the zoned out state I find myself in frequently amidst these conversations, when I noticed the boy Phillipe's friend was with looked to be zoning out in a way that showed me that he a.) also didn't know French and b.) was potentially an English speaker.
I found out his name was Aaron and that he was not only a Yankee like me, but studying Thai Massage with a famous teacher here. I also found out that aside from being a massage therapist in the states, he taught acroyoga and had acro-jams in Chiang Mai on the weekends. I don't have a Thai phone which can be limiting when wanting to exchange information with the cool people I meet while traveling, so I did the next best thing and asked Aaron for his facebook information.
Over the next few weeks, I was virtually invited to a couple acro-jams on the weekends, but I wasn't able to attend any of them until yesterday. Here are some photos of the session...
 It didn't take much to become obsessed with AcroYoga after that. It's the perfect mix of asana, therapeutic massage and being a total circus badass. Sadly, Aaron flew back to the states today, but I plan on attending acro-jams around the city and throughout my travels this year whenever possible. #loving #chiangmai #newdiscoveries

Friday, November 9, 2012

Weekend Adventures part 2/A Slice of Pai

Forgive me for backdating yet another post this week. It was my 4th week of massage school and we built upon our skills by learning how to release blockages with tui-na technique (deep thumb pressure) and performing Thai step-on massage (using our feet to walk on muscles while balancing with a large stick of bamboo). We also visited a temple in Lamphun where we learned traditional Thai medical massage from the local doctor, Nan. All of Nan's training has been passed down through generations of oral tradition, so it was extrememly special to learn and receive treatments from him. One of the techniques we learned was tok-sen, using a small stick and mallet to hammer on our patients. The sound is a bit jarring, but the vibrations it sends through your body feel amazing.
Then he showed us "foot on fire" technique where he dipped his foot in oil then stepped on a sheet of burning metal before massaging his patients. The results were pretty unbelievable. I watched one of my friends who couldn't touch his toes move easily into a full forward bend after the treatment. Doctor Nan also worked on his "wind" problem, so here's hoping for one less week of his flatulence in the guest house.
But before all of that training, was a weekend adventure to Pai...or almost to Pai.
A few of us from school decided to rent and ride motorbikes to Pai, a small city about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. It lies at the foot of the mountains and is ripe with trails for trekking, waterfalls and hot springs. We figured driving our own bikes would allot us the freedom to leisurely stop along the way and visit any number of beautiful sites.
(Here is sweet Marie on her pink Scoopy)
We left early in the morning to make sure we'd have plenty of time to explore Pai during the day, but we didn't account for the amount of time we'd spend driving circles around Chiang Mai trying to figure out our way to exit the city.
(Here we are finally looking at a map in the city center after an hour of driving)
After circling Chiang Mai a couple times (I looked at it as our civic duty to make sure everything was running smoothly before leaving town), we got on the right track and made our way outside of the city limits. But after about 30 minutes of driving we pulled over to rest and refresh on some coconut water.
(only 96 more kilometers to Pai!)
After our brief reprieve we started driving again. The scenery changed to some beautiful winding mountain roads. As our bikes ascended into the mountains, our gas tanks conversely lowered towards empty, so we made another stop to find fuel. Unfortunately, not all of us made it to our meeting point and after a few minutes of waiting, we realized Marie, our bubbly French girl riding solo on her pink Scoopy scooter, was no longer trailing behind us. My bike partner Yves, a nurse in Geneva, rode off to find Marie and make sure she was okay. After about 30 minutes, Marie slowly drove back to our meeting point. She was more or less in one piece.
(This is what can happen when making a sharp turn on a sandy mountain road)
Everyone was a bit shaken by the accident, so we took another break for lunch at a beautiful restaurant we found on the side of the road.
(Although the setting was nice, the noodles tasted like the Thai equivalent of Chef Boyardee)
By the time we finished lunch, there were only a few more hours of daylight. The road to Pai was about to get much more challenging, so the majority of the group decided it was best to head back to Chiang Mai and stop at a waterfall along the way, while Yves and I decided to drive the extra 60km to Pai before sunset. (I would show you pictures from this part of the journey, but the road was so scary I didn't dare remove my death grip from Yves' body to snap a photo).
After a few repetitions of the shema, we made it to a bridge on the Pai River. Pai was beautiful (or at least the outskirts of it were).
The sun was about to set, so we decided to head back up the mountain and make our way home. But just like before, the more we ascended, the lower our fuel tank descended...and then we blew a flat tire.
With the sun on the horizon, we found ourselves in between villages, with a near empty fuel tank and puttering through the mountain at about 5km/hour. Things weren't looking good until a van pulled over to help us. Unfortunately, the language barrier between the driver and ourselves created a few issues until I remembered to use the greatest iPhone app on Earth, "Speak Thai," which conveniently communicated for us.
The driver of the van gave me a ride to the next village where there happened to be a repair shop. And by repair shop, I mean there was a 9 year old boy fixing tires in the back of a restaurant.
(I can't even change my sheets, and this boy was changing tires)
After an hour or so, our tire was finally repaired and we were on our way down the mountain again. Although the sun was fully set by this point and we were stuck behind an enormous work truck raining gravel on us for a few kilometers, I took a moment to look up from the back of the motorbike and see the entire Milky Way hanging over the mountain. It filled me with an enormous amount of gratitude that this was my life now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Weekend Adventures part 1/Jungle Jump Shots

Sorry for the delay in posts this week. It was an intense third week of massage school where we learned Therapeutic Thai Massage. We covered methods to solve certain ailments such as pains, strains, sprains, menstrual cramps, constipation and emotional stress. So if you're sore, constipated, crampy and feel like you're going to burst into tears, I got you, boo.
But before all that therapeutic education began, a bunch of us from school hired a van to drive us up to Doi Inthanon National Park last weekend.
(Call me crazy, but for some reason it reminded me of the bus ride to camp...)
The park is home to Thailand's highest mountain/a great place to host international meetings
 Three waterfalls
Jungle trails (which are apparently good for creeping)
And many beautiful temples.
There were so many beautiful places in the park, that I just wanted to jump for joy. The following is a little series of photos I like to call Jungle Jump Shots.
What better way to cool off from all that jump cardio than a quick dip in a waterfall? (With fresh papaya, of course)

After drying off, we went in search of a cave that was supposedly in the area. We made a few wrong turns and found ourselves in a dried up river bed. Sometimes the wrong turns in life can lead to beautiful and unexpected discoveries.
It's nice to take those moments to sit back and smell the jungle flowers.