Excerpts from various blog entries from around the world.
After spending a amazingly humbling and transformative month living with a family in the rural Massai lands of Kenya, we ended up in the capital city of Nairobi for three days. Despite having little to no agenda, the desire to write on-location was none. This is part of a post written just days later from Copenhagen, Denmark...
[excerpt with minor edits]
We are all about appreciating and understanding other cultures, and enjoying what they have to offer. Having a positive, understanding outlook when approaching new places is really the only way to get by, especially when traveling in developing countries. So far, each major city we have visited during our trip has had something charming and attractive, despite the chaos, clutter, and poverty. Medellin was beautiful and vibrant, but also a bit sketchy and very poor in some places, for example. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find something about Nairobi to really connect with. For us, it’s just a sad place. There’s just this sense of great potential with all of the people bustling around, most of them in a good mood. The saddest part is the sobering realization that this potential is so far from being realized.
The city is absolutely filthy. They don’t seem to have any sort of waste management, so there are just PILES and PILES of trash everywhere. What do they do when these piles get to big? They light them on fire. Nairobi is filled with the stench of exhaust and burning trash. That coupled with the hordes of street children openly huffing glue makes for one of the saddest, most depressed places I think I’ll ever see – and it’s not even close to Africa’s worst.
Nairobi is also home to one of the world’s largest slums, Kibera. Just search it on Google Maps, in satellite mode, and it honestly looks like a shit stain in the middle of Nairobi. It’s MASSIVE! Kibera does have a claim to fame – the ‘flying toilet.’ Apparently, they’re known in the slum world for using small plastic bags as the toilet, then throwing it. The aim is to get them all piled up in one area, but the lack of aim causes them to explode on buildings, in water supplies, on people, etc. We did not visit this place.
With all of that said, I think Nairobi will also have one of the most powerful long-term effects on me. Just seeing how some people have it, and how effected people become by total disorganization and corruption, is quite the wake-up call.
It’s the omnipresent sense of hopeless contentment that will stick with me forever.
We have very, very little to complain about in our day-to-day lives.
I’m writing this from Copenhagen. Hello from a different world.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF AMSTERDAM
My second trip to Amsterdam, and certainly not my last. This was our first stop on a 6-week long train ride through Europe.
3 days in Amsterdam is simply not enough. For us, it felt like home – the vibe at least. For me, it’s about as cool as any city can get. You get the fine-tuned, well-oiled machine of western European cities (Copenhagen), but with the added grittiness and chaos of…well…Amsterdam. A characteristic I find necessary for any place to feel complete, and for me to feel at home. It really does, in so many ways, feel like Portland. The weirdos, the endless number of Coffeeshops, the food, the art, the music, various types of fine-smelling herbs, good beer, bikes, bikes, bikes, and more bikes. Combine all of that with the canals, flowers, parks, fantastic architecture, top-notch public services that keep the place clean – and you get what is, in my opinion, the coolest and most beautiful city in the world.
Unfortunately, we didn’t take as many pictures as we could have. The reason being is that the Amsterdam experience is much more fun as a non-tourist tourist. You’re treated better, you feel safer, and just have the freedom of less responsibility while walking around. As with any place that attracts so many tourists, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We’re actually quite proud to have been mistaken for locals in almost every establishment we visited. Success! ...
...Stay cool Amsterdam. We’ll be back.
CAMBODIA. UNTIL NEXT TIME...
Nearly eight months into the trip and our first reunion with friends from home who visited for my birthday (forever thank you!). From Bangkok we made a quick tour through Cambodia and Vietnam before spending the big day in the Thai islands...
It’s a bit unfortunate how little we know about this country. Everyone knows of the Pol Pot Regime and his Khmer Rouge, the Killing Fields, etc. But do we only just know the names, unable to truly recognize the immensity that is the reality? I certainly did until visiting. It is certainly a country with a brutal, brutal past – a very recent past. Between its suffering during the Vietnam war and the Khmer Rouge, it’s incredible that some of the most gentle people we’ve met call it home.
During the ’70s, and before the massive genocide, there lived about 7-8 million Cambodians. Pol Pot wiped out about 3 million. It essentially set Cambodia back in time, something that is very apparent going from Thailand, to Cambodia, then to Vietnam. Can you imagine? A huge chunk of the population just disappears, including most of the intellectuals, teachers, doctors, etc. It’s mind-blowing.
Despite all of this, Cambodia is awesome! The country is beautiful – flat and full of water (at least at this time of year). Rice paddies as far as the eye can see, and less-than-perfectly built homes on stilts for those who tend to the paddies. The people are so smiley, its easy to forget the past for a moment.
We spent most of our time in Cambodia in Siem Reap, a small but touristy town thanks to the spectacular temples. The temples are quite amazing, so many intricate details and a building style that is like nothing we’ve seen in other old places.
BUT, the highlight for us was the moto-tour through the countryside. We rented motos, one for each of us, and followed our guide out of the tourist center and through the real Cambodia. Such an experience! Cambodia, is poor, really poor. The government is corrupt, very corrupt. It’s all aparent when you witness how the average Cambodian lives. Do they even realize that they deserve, and could have, more? That the differnce between how they have to live and how their government officials live is so intense that it’s hard to believe they’re even from the same country? Do they care? They seem so content and just happy to be alive, it’s hard to say. It seems to be a common phenomenon shared by the countries we’ve visited that suffer from or have recently suffered from unimaginable violence and corruption. Perhaps its a carefully crafted veil placed over their eyes, but I like to believe it’s just a testament to humans and their ability to find happiness in the face of so much tragedy.
After Siem Reap, we spent about a half-day in Phenom Penh, the countries capital. All we were able to accomplish was a visit to the Killing Fields. Or, more accurately, 1 of 200 Killing Fields across the country. These are where Pol Pot and his crew gathered people to annihilate them – very similar to the Holocaust yet with less sophistication. The regime lacked modern weapons, so they were forced to take peoples lives with unconventional weapons and methods. I won’t go into details, as it is horrendous. Between our visit to Auschwitz and the Killing Fields, I’ve realized that humans can be monsters.
We didn’t get enough time here. It’s a country I definitely want to return to, get to know the people, and explore even further. It’s a country I want to just pat on the back and encourage to keep pushing forward.