So you want to travel the world?

Macchu 1

*** this piece is part of a larger series on my travel writing, called the ‘Travel Thai-aries®’  It is best to start here before going any further. ***

Wifey and I just got back from a wonderful trip to Peru.  It was just amazing, but no surprise.  People tend to have the same reaction > I wanna go to Peru, too!

No you don’t.  You don’t want to go to Peru.  You want to be in Peru.  See, going to Peru is quite a pain in the ass, and some high level tedium as well.  You wanna just GO to Peru, I’ll take you right now.  We’ll do a virtual reality adventure.

seans back

Is that Peru?  Did we make it to Lima?  Are we at Machu Picchu yet?  I have no idea, because this is all I saw for 2 weeks.

See that?  It’s a headrest and the back of someone’s head.  That is pretty much your view for the next 12 hours.  Oh, there are variations to be sure, but mostly this will be your trip.  Perhaps you think “oh, to be the guy up front.  At least he gets the cool view.”  Wrong.  First off, he is very tall, so this whole trip will be misery on his body.  Secondly?  You don’t really EVER want to see the view straight ahead when traveling outside the US.  Everywhere outside the US they drive like maniacs.  Somehow it works, but it is terrifying.

Do you really want the view up front in a greyhound when the greyhound decides to pass into oncoming traffic on a split highway round blind corners in the cloud forest of Costa Rica?  No, you do not.  Because you don’t want to see that bus coming at you at 60, and your driver’s solution is NOT to get back into his lane, but to honk at the idiot who is driving down the mountain in their own lane.  When it’s not that, there just may be a cow on the highway that you don’t see until its too late.  Or, fires right in the road.

Somehow, it always works out.  But, I have learned in traveling a decent chunk of the world to stick with the view out the windows.  Sideways is your friend, I promise.

Slow down, that was just the long ass drive to the airport at 5 am.  Scroll back up to that picture and sit down and stare at it for 45 minutes.   DO IT!  You want to travel, this is the deal.  Ok, airport time.  Ready for lines, asshole? You better be.  Now that you are traveling international, expect LOTS of scrutiny and lines everywhere.

lines of peru

That is the wifey ahead of me in line.  I actually had writing this piece in mind before we left. This is why I am prepared with seemingly dumb photos and perspectives.   Why we are deck out in jackets to head to the jungle?  Because we had to get up at 3 am and stand in that freezing ass Pike’s Peak parking lot to wait for the shuttle bus.  Also, after a week in the beautiful but hot ass jungle, our next stop was Machu Picchu at 12K feet.  Don’t worry, we were only there for a few hours.  You don’t get those photos.  You get to see what the real aspect of travel is > just lines and buses.

Ok, security is done.  Once again, paying that $75 for ‘pre’ was WAY worth it.  Even though I only fly a few times a year… it is worth it.  It gets you relaxed security protocols, and a secret much shorter line.  I am loathe to endorse any aspect of TSA, but this program is worth its weight in teeny tiny airline bottles of booze that are hidden all over my person.

seatback plane

This is nice.  The stressful part is over for a long time.  Now, we sit!  You want to go to Peru?  Ok.  Stare at this picture for 6 hours.  Surely, for a 6 hour flight across the continent and the equator will have TVs and movies and charging ports for USB, right?  Not this cheap ass plane.  This was our flight to Panama.  I get it, these are first world problems.  Who am I to bitch about world travel?  I am Correct, that’s who!  Scroll back up.  Remember, stare at that seat for 6 hours.  You are totally free to sleep, just don’t get up.  You can’t.  Once the 6 hours has elapsed, you may continue reading.

Because I am kind, and wisely looped on valium and booze, we can skip ahead.  We now need to get on our third plane today.  The first one went from Colorado to Panama.  The next was Panama to Lima, Peru.  This last one was Lima, Peru to Puerto Maldonado.  This was not exactly supersonic modern travel.  Here, I snuck a picture of this janky ass plane.

sketch plane puerto maldonado

Ok, we made it!  Well, not really, but the air travel part is over.  Let’s jump to this part.  Please stare at this for 45 more minutes.  Don’t get up.  And don’t be concerned that the idea this thing we travel over is barely a ‘road’ by any stretch.

the road

We were in an old Land Cruiser.  It looked SO cool, but as a ride was horrible.  The suspension was shot, no seatbelts, and a door that didn’t totally close.  Go ahead and put a camping chair on your washing machine.  Then put one of those really heavy rugs in the washing machine that makes it freak out off balance.  You know, when you can hear the machine from upstairs… and you go down to check on it and it has walked about 5 feet away from where it was?  Yeah, that is your drive from the airport.

Ok. Time for a well earned break.  95% of our travel is done.  We made it to the headwaters of the Amazon fucking river!  How cool is this.  This photo is taken nearing the confluence of the Madre De Rios river, and the Tambopata river.  Here is the photo most would post.  This is the Instagram influencer photo.

madre de dios 1
it was stunning.  We are finally here!  We are on the river of the headwaters of the amazon river in the jungle in Peru.  This picture isn’t the whole story, though.  It is some clever selection of what I want to show you.  Here is a more accurate portrayal, taken standing in the exact same spot.  You see, this below is what the world looks like. You won’t find it in any travel books or commercials, though.

madre de dios 2

This is not a criticism of Peru.  Their streets were cleaner than hours.   Just keep in mind for every single shot like the top one, this one right here is the one you aren’t seeing.  The one they are likely standing on to take that other shot.

Ok, more driving.  I pictured this.  This was the drive described in the brochure.

the road 1

Ha ha ha, you dummy.  No, your 2 hour drive will be this.

the road

Yes, you feel all in touch with your human roots now.  Most tours don’t let you see this stuff.  That is why we don’t do tours.  We craft our own adventure.  In the business, they call it ‘independent traveling’, and they don’t like it.  Anyhow, I didn’t even have this view above.  I had this view.

road view sean

Most of my amazing Peruvian memories involve Sean’s neck.  End result was this.  Just an amazing trip.  However, if you did this right without cheating… it took you 16 hours from when you started this piece.  If it didn’t, scroll back up to the airplane headrest shot.  Stare at that for another 4 hours, because you didn’t count the flight from Panama city to Lima, Peru.

 

Now you have traveled the world!  Oh, here is another example from Thailand that very much fits the theme.  I can’t find my pictures, so these are pictures I copped from the internet.  However, I genuinely have these exact same photos.  There is a very famous and iconic Angkor Wat photo.  It is the main palace and sunrise, and being reflected in the water for a perfect mirror image.

angor watt 1

To get this pictures sucks ass!  You get up at like 4 am, and trudge through the mud with thousands of other pilgrims looking for the shot.  The shot, like the one above it, is worth it.  It is spectacular, and even more beautiful in person.  However, what none of these photos show you is how we got the shot.  In a thousand pics of this, you will a very specific angle, which means there is basically one location to get this photo.  Turn his camera around, and this is what you actually see.  This, below, is my memory.  and getting pushed into that mud by understandably overeager tourists.

angor watt 2

see how I didn’t blame the Chinese on that one?

And see how at least people are staying out of the water?  Yeah, that wasn’t the case when we were there.  Folks were in the mud.  We were in the mud.  I sure as shit wasn’t to going to miss this shot for anything.  Even if I am only using my cell phone camera.  This gal, whose picture I stole, wrote about her experience dealing with the whole thing of getting this shot. It’s pretty great, so let me acknowledge here, and read her piece.

People didn’t travel to the other side of Earth to miss this shot.   Also, people are pushing you all the time… maybe on purpose, maybe not.  No one means harm.  It is just that we all have about a 6 minute window to get the perfect picture.  And somehow, ideally, the picture above without all these folks.  I think it would be fun to do a travel book just about this.  ‘This’ being the disparity of the beauty of the world’s great sites… and the task it is to get there.  And… what you actually see.  I get it, these are painfully first world problem.  Boo hoo to the rich white guy with problems traveling the world.  I get that, and I agree.  Maybe this is why Rick Steve’s doesn’t leave Europe.  Anyone wanna pay me to do this?

 

*** I didn’t even get to tell you about the train into Aguas Caliente.  Here is how that worked.  Get some motion sickness in ya.  I mean sea-sick throwing up into a bag.  Then, come back and spend 3 more hours reading this.  That was the train ride.  🙂

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Travel Thai-aries – Buddhism > you’re doing it wrong

First, as always dear reader, start here – please.

Thailand is a country of very many people. (ed Note: 66 million). Approximately 85% of these folks are Buddhist. These people fucking love the Buddha. They have approx a metric shit-ton of temples. (ed note: 47,000 to be specific). They have been Buddhists for thousands of years. Btw, you are saying it wrong. You pronounce it ‘boo-dah’. I did, too. No one in Thailand pronounces it like that, though. Even the wonderful folks who speak English in Thailand have no idea what you are saying when you pronounce it like that. You want the ‘u’ in Buddha to be like it is in pudding.

Here, listen to how Joseph Campbell says it. You need more Joseph Campbell. We all do, really… but you especially. Ever heard ‘follow your bliss’?

No? Man, you really need more Joseph Campbell.

So, you have approx. 60 million people who have been Buddhists as far back as their family tree goes. Now, how about if I tell you, and them, they are doing it wrong… and have been all along? Who am I to throw this wrench into world history? Well, a recovering Catholic who took a couple years of comparative religion and who owns the entire ‘Power of Myth’ series on VHS. So… yeah… I’m kinda a big deal.

Let’s look at the very basic tenets of Buddhism; All life is sorrow. Sorrow comes from attachment to things. The worst, and most avoidable, attachment is in the physical realm. Your favorite baseball cap, or parent. In time, you will lose ALL of these things… especially if you keep having to do life over and over again. All this is going to do is make you sad. You are a selfish greedy materialistic pig. So I am. Buddhism is about letting those things go.

In Buddhism, the primary purpose of life is to end suffering. The Buddha taught that humans suffer because we continually strive after things that do not give lasting happiness. We desperately try to hold on to things – friends, health, material things – that do not last, and this causes sorrow.

The Buddha did not deny that there are things in life that give joy, but pointed out that none of them last and our attachment to them only causes more suffering. His teachings were focused entirely on this problem and its solution.

This is done by recognizing the impermanence of all things and freeing oneself from attachment to these things.

There is a saying that Joseph Campbell loves to tell to quickly explain Buddhist philosophy. “if you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” This is what it means to me, and (I think) to him; if you see the Buddha in the road, it means you are looking externally for knowledge and enlightenment and understanding and bla bla bla. These things are all inside you at all times. If you are looking for them outside of yourself, you are kinda missing the whole point. God isn’t in heaven, or church. God is in you.  It is why I allow myself to stay home on Sundays and watch football instead of going to mass.

There is much I love and respect about what I know of the Buddha. He was a very real man, who never wanted to be a religion. He certainly never regarded himself as immortal. He never believed you should take his word over all. Buddhism is NOT a religion. It is a philosophy. There are no rules. To be a Buddhist monk, for sure, there are rules.  To be a Buddhist… well – don’t be a dick ****

Knowing these things, why are there these amazing monuments and elegies to ‘Lord Buddha’? That is what they call him in Thailand… lord Buddha. Well, were he here today he would have stopped that nonsense first and foremost. To build the greatest and grandest temple to Buddha is to miss the entire fucking point.

It seemed every Wat we were in (Wat is what they call the temples) there was a contest for the most Buddha statues and likenesses. In one beautiful temple, we counted 124 different Buddha statues. Our guide taught us about how each temple had its own ‘most valuable Buddha’. We saw one made entirely of gold. One made entirely of jade. We saw one the size, literally, of a football field. This statue was so big they built it first, and then put the building around it. (ed note:  this is Wat Pho) Ah yes, the longest Buddha, the most expensive Buddha, the shiniest Buddha. Buddhism is entirely about NOT being attached to material things… like golden idols.

Thankfully, we spent a few extra bahts to have a guide with us. He kinda unwittingly explained the whole thing to me. It won’t be too surprising. As we were in one Wat that had about 80 full life sized Buddha statues; I noticed the faces were all a bit different. I asked my guide why that was. He said “well, since it was so long ago… no one really knows what the Buddha looked like. So, each King kinda molded the Buddha statues during his reign to match his own likeness. This is how they are able to date the various statues.” BINGO.

Did you catch that? These statues, really, have NOTHING to do with Buddha. These are kings dressing themselves up as Buddhas so that history knows what a great and religious and pious and super rich each king was. In my eyes, none of this was built for Buddha. He not only didn’t want it, it misses the point entirely.

Next week, I’ll throw this little wrench in to history. You will read that Angkor Wat is the greatest and oldest and most significant Buddhist temple ever. It isn’t. Angkor Wat has almost nothing to do with Buddhism at all. It is 99% a Hindu temple. Again, we’ll hit that later.

**** we are talking Mayahaya Buddhism, here.  The more hardcore and disciplined wing of Buddhism is called ‘Theravada.  Pretty sure those guys would cane me if they read this.  Seriously.  I am of the Mahayana side, very much so.  That is the happy hippy dippy ‘we are all Buddhas inside.  I accept you all… let’s hug’.  Think of it like reformed Jews, or unitarian Christians.  Theravada is like first testament Christianity.  There is only god, and man is he ANGRY.

In closing, you know that awesome scene from Talledega Nights at the dinner table?  They are all gathered in prayer, and talking about how they specifically imagine what baby Jesus looks like?  Well, Buddhism is kinda like that.  There are about 54 specific recognized Budda poses and postures.  This is my favorite.

Note what the hands are doing, it is very important.  The left hand is resting, and opened up.  This is to accept knowledge and change.  In my eyes, with this hand he accepts and embraces life’s’ changes, and eagerly requests more knowledge.  His right hand, however, is also saying ‘BUT… you best back the fuck off.  Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.”

The upcoming travelogue: the Lono Thai-aries®

image

Hey all,

As you may know, the wife and I just got back from a two week trip across SouthEast Asia. It was AMAZING, and there is so much I want to share about it. I kept a notebook with me almost everywhere, jotting down cryptic to expound about later.

So, if that sounds interesting to you, stay tuned. Each piec will be a small two page sort of thought. For example, I wouldn’t do a single piece on the history of ancient   temples. That is too big a thing to chew off, so instead it will be bite size morals; like the creepy shit Asian people feed their kids and call ‘lucky’.

These pieces will be called ‘the Lono Thai-aries®’. If I get the considerable material out of this that I think I will, I will give it its own tab at a later date… to hold them all in a single spot.

Also, having been gone for over two weeks, that is why I didn’t have any new material recently. Sorry about that.

* that picture above… that is the wife and I yesterday (11.15.14) in South Korea at a temple.  I am not covering my face to protect my anonymity.  I am covering it because I am a pussy and it was cold there – below freezing.