Archives for posts with tag: travel

Typing “Albuquerque” is turning into a real finger twister on the keyboard.  Albuquerque.  Albuquerque.  Albuquerque.  Gah.  Takes too long for my pinky to reach that “q” and then the rest of my fingers get all befuddled and start drifting off the home row.  But that’s not what you want to read about, is it?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have dedicated this month to some rambling around.  It has almost been a year since I’ve hung out with my knitting buddy, Holly.  The last time we hung out together was at Rhinebeck and I embarrassed myself thoroughly by spilling coffee and wine all over myself and my yarn.  Yet, she still saw something in me and continued to talk to me.  Why?  Maybe she thinks I’m one of those cool dorks, which… I totally am.

I decided that it had been far too long since we got our knit on together, so I headed down to Albukirky (so much easier to type!) to remedy that situation.

Ever a gracious host, she took me to the Sandias, where we went on a small trail walk up to the Kiwanis Rock Cabin, a product of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and got an amazing view of the city below.  The CCC was a work relief program put together under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It’s main objective was to provide unskilled labor work and jobs during the Great Depression.  Their work went a long way to conserving our natural resources across America.  It’s pretty cool to come across the CCC cabins and see their work still standing strong.

Although I prefer snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes, there’s a certain beauty to the desert landscape, and the Sandias delivered nothing short of that.  I could not stop staring at the clouds; they are incredible!

The next day, we took a quick trip over to Santa Fe to check out the farmer’s market at the railyard.  Even though we showed up a little before noon, the market was already getting ready to close up for the day.  Kind of unfortunate, but we did score a few free baked goods and got a quick afternoon wine tasting in.

After venturing through Santa Fe’s old town and touring a few yarn stores, it was time to do some serious stuff: Beer tasting and swatch knitting.

My beer tour in Albukirky took me to Marble Brewery, La Cumbre Brewing, and Il Vicino Brewery Canteen.

At one point, we both got super excited by the fact that our knitting matched our brews perfectly.

I tasted many a fine beer while I happily knitted away on my swatch.  My favorite beers were La Cumbre’s Hefeweizen and Il Vicino’s Brown.  If you want to know more about the beers though, Holly does a great Pints and Purls section on her blog.  Even if you’re not a knitter, check it out; she knows how to pick some tasty beers.

I’m pretty excited about my swatch too (surprise, surprise, it’s more Madelinetosh).  It felt so good to knit my little heart out and experiment with different stitch patterns.  I’ve got something pretty specific in mind for this project, so it’s going to take some work to achieve that.  But I’m ready for the challenge.  My trip out to Albukirky was just what my knitting soul needed: spending quality time with a fellow knitter, drinking beers and doing all things knitting related.

As much as I love rambling around, leaving the cabin a couple of weeks ago was a hard thing to do.  I have to admit that I was starting to finally feel somewhat settled into a place and had established a real routine of sorts.  It’s probably a good thing that backpacking still feels like second nature to me right now and it’s also reassuring to know that I’ll be back in the cabin come September.  This summer has been nothing but an amazing adventure.  I just can’t stand to think about it ending; it feels as though I’m moving at warp speed, with nary a thought as to how I got here.  How did I get here?

When I think back to how it all started, all I can think about is a cozy cabin in the woods.  I think about the smell of the alpine trees and the sound of the creek and my mouth starts watering for huckleberries.

Then there was a small stint in Leavenworth, which consisted mainly of this:

There were some fly-infested hikes thrown in there too and a gorgeous lake that was colder than I expected (also discovered that I sink like a rock…).  Though, aside from instagramming all the food I was eating, I kind of failed at the whole photo taking thing.  Leaving a routine does weird things to you.  That’s my excuse.  That’s also my excuse for not showering often.  Though we did treat ourselves a few times to 50 cent showers.  And trust me, it felt like pure luxury living.

August started off great with a trip to Oregon to attend Pickathon.  My friends and I (all super savers) volunteered to be parking gurus so we could get free tickets to the three day event.  It was so worth it; Pickathon was unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  Not that I attend music festivals much, but it had such a real and (I hate to throw this word around, but…) organic feel to it.

We camped out in the woods and listened to great music all weekend, ate great food, and hung out with great people.  It was the perfect way to start off the month.

I have a feeling that I’ll be attending Pickathon as a volunteer again next year, if only to eat more ice cream.  Certainly took me less than fifty licks to go through my cone, but who’s counting anyways?

I was a bad knitter during these travels.  Oh, I had a small yarn stash with me… packed… somewhere in my car, maybe you can’t see it, but it’s there….  I even packed a skein into my bag everyday.  I just never felt the urge to whip it out and start casting on for anything.  I’m not going to go so far as to say I have lost all of my creative mojo, but maybe that little part in my brain responsible for creativity is on vacation too and I have to slowly ease it back to “work” mode.  Would it help my knitting readers out there if I told you that I thought about knitting every single day?  It’s a small thing, I know, but it’s a start.

More tomorrow on my trip to Albuquerque (bonus: knitting swatch!) and beyond.

After wandering around Thailand and Laos without any real purpose other than to see cool things, I felt ready for a little more of a routine.

I really enjoyed my volunteer experience in Nepal, so I thought I would try it again in Cambodia with a different organization to see how it would compare.  I’ll spare you the details of my constant self-doubt and internal conflicts that resulted from my volunteer position, but basically I felt morally torn as to whether what I was doing was right or if I was effectively contributing to corruption in voluntourisim, especially within orphanages.

I spent the majority of my two weeks in Siem Reap at a volunteer house with other young volunteers.  That in itself really affected the way I felt while I was there; it wasn’t an authentic experience and it mostly felt like I was living in a dorm with a bunch of young college kids with ulterior motives.  But in the end, my experience isn’t something that I would change regardless of how I felt during the time and if anything, I feel like I can now make a more educated decision regarding volunteering abroad.

Siem Reap itself is a loud tourist trap of a city, and I found it hard to escape the constant calls of tuk-tuk drivers and peddlers.  I didn’t give myself too much time in Cambodia, since I wanted to meet my parents in South Korea, so I made Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples my priority when I had time off from volunteering.

I went with a few volunteers early in the morning to Angkor Wat for sunrise.  It was definitely worth battling the throngs of people to see it because 1) it was spectacular and 2) it wasn’t a million degrees out… yet.

The temple is, for lack of a better word, impressive.  I could have spent all day just strolling around the grounds there.  It was absolutely stunning and overwhelming.  It’s hard to believe that people could create such beautifully intricate works of art with nothing but a chisel.

I bought a 3-day pass for the park, so the next day I rented a bike for a dollar and rode out along the big circuit to see some of the other popular temples in the area.

From my volunteer house and back, the ride was about 26 miles.  It wasn’t difficult at all, since the roads are flat, traffic on the big circuit is light and you’re constantly stopping along the way at various places.  You can certainly hire a tuk-tuk to take you around as it would be faster and save you a lot of energy, but there was something so much more peaceful and rewarding doing it on my own.

I visited more temples along the big circuit than I can remember, among which were Prasat Kravan:

and Srah Srang, the royal bath:

At one point, I hired a motor-bike to take me further out to another famous temple, Benteay Srei, which translates to “city of women”.  Supposedly, it is believed that women were the main artists of the temple, based on the surpassing intricacy of the carvings compared to the surrounding temples.

It’s been very well restored and unlike most other temples, the majority of the grounds had been roped off to prevent damage from foot traffic.

Bayon was equally impressive as Angkor Wat and just as weird with looming faces peering at you from every corner.

I visited there late in the afternoon when the traffic had died down and people were making their way to Angkor Wat to witness the sunset, so it was much more peaceful to walk around.

Ta Prohm was a mad-house of tour groups.  The tree growth takes over the temple stones and if it weren’t for all the tourists, I could have closed my eyes and pretended I was Indiana Jones for the day.  I bet he never had to deal with swarms of tourists to enter the temple (Nazis, maybe…)

All in all, I had the best experience biking around the temple by myself, and saw just about everything that I sought out.  I’d like to think that it’s always best to leave a few things unseen for the next time.

Ok, one more monkey picture, because I just can’t resist.  This guy was cracking me up.

I have been completely taken by the textiles here. They’re vibrant and colorful, seemingly simple patterns meld to form complex ones. I can’t help walking through the night market and want every single piece of fabric I see. But I restrain myself, because I’m a little limited for space in my backpack. Not to mention funny money. Funny money: worse than credit cards.

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I was so excited when I found out that I could take a weaving class in Luang Prabang and learn from local master weavers. Forget the cricket loom; Freshy went full speed ahead with the floor loom. And it was AWESOME. I rarely put things in caps, people. This was AWESOME. Oh, look, I did it again. On this journey of self discovery and whatever, I have decided two things: One, I want a puppy. Two, I want a floor loom. Ok, the order is actually reversed. I need a floor loom. I need it now. I need it real bad. It has to be the second most addicting craft I’ve picked up next to knitting.

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Because it’s low season I was the only person in my class (not that I was complaining…). The first thing I learned about was where they get their silk from and how they dye it. They use the silk made from the Bombyx Mori Silkworm, which can produce over 300 meters of silk filament per cocoon.

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They dyes that they use are all natural and come from tree bark, tree leaves, insect resin, fruits, and seeds. They combine them with mordants (component that sets the dye) which can be lye, limestone, mud, ash water and iron.

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I got to dye three small skeins of silk. We picked the leaves and the seeds from their garden and got to work boiling them in water, mixing them with the mordant and soaking the yarn in them.

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I have only ever dyed yarn at the Knot Hysteria retreats, so this was a great contrast to that. It was amazing to see how the silk took the colors. The water from the seeds was bright red, but as you can see, it produced a very bright orange skein.

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Before we started with the weaving lesson, I got a tour of their workshop, where many local women are employed and weave a variety of fabrics. Some were weaving simple scarves and some were doing amazingly complex tapestries. Each movement they made was swift and with purpose. There was no wasted energy that I could tell and they were cookin’! Even as they were working, though, they were talking and laughing amongst themselves, and it made me really miss craft nights with my friends.

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When I sat at my loom, I was absolutely bewildered. What are all these strings?! How does this work?! Why do my edges suck?! It was definitely a crash course on weaving, but it was so much fun and so rewarding to see the pattern motif take shape on my scarf.

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I had a weaving master help me along the way and a translator there to explain what I was doing. I definitely fumbled through for most of it and it took two days to complete the scarf. I believe it would have only taken the master about half that time, if that. I took so many pictures of the loom, because I want to be able to go home and see if I can remember how it all works. The translator told me that just to set up the loom, it takes them about 2 days for a scarf and about a week if they are weaving a large tapestry!

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The textile patterns that they weave depict stories of Nagas (a mythological water serpent with magical powers), or of spirits traveling to the afterworld. Girls would weave items as a dowry to give to their groom’s family or to boys that they wanted to seek affection from (all I can say is that boy better deserve it!).

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This is it! The edges are gross, and the picture doesn’t really capture the color correctly, but I made it! And it has led me down another hobby hole, from which I don’t think I shall ever return from. Seriously, you guys don’t even get how much enjoyment I got out of weaving. So priority number one when I get home: procure floor loom.

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I’m postponing my weaving post today, because I have something more important to talk about right now, though it’s pretty solemn and serious stuff. Bear with me. While I left the states not really knowing much about the history of the places I wanted to visit, I have been doing my best to learn about the history, culture, and people as I travel along. And right now, I am learning things about Laos that I would like to share with you in the hopes that we can all feel more educated, aware, and possibly take some action.

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Laos was declared an independent and neutral nation at the 1954 Geneva Conference. However, during the Vietnam war the US feared that communism would spread through Laos. They defied UN sanctions regarding neutral countries, and began carpet bombing Northern Laos and Southern Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Their hope was to prevent the spread of communism and to prevent the trafficking of Vietnamese soldiers and supplies from Southern to Northern Vietnam. From 1964 to 1973, the US dropped over 2 million tons of bombs (that’s a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years). The result is that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita to date. More bombs have been dropped in Laos than all the bombs dropped in Germany and Japan combined during WWII. The CBU’s (Cluster Bomb Units) dropped in Laos contained numerous explosives in the shape of a small ball, studded with ball bearings. When dropped, the CBU would open, releasing the smaller units, or bombies which were designed to explode on impact. Civilian victims fled to live in caves and not until several more fled to refugee camps in the capital of Laos, did they begin to receive any attention from the world. When Lyndon B. Johnson declared a cease fire on airstrikes in Vietnam, many of the planes carrying a load would then drop them in Laos so they could avoid performing a safety check upon landing at the airbase in Thailand.

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Of the roughly 270 million CBU’s dropped, 80 million failed to detonate, which means that today, there are still live explosives littering the lands of Laos. Since the war, over 20,000 civilians have been killed or injured, 30% are children. Additionally, the effects of the UXO’s (Unexploded Ordinances) has hindered the agricultural development of the country. Because the bombies are hidden in the land, it has become impossible for the villagers to farm without risking their lives. Yet, often is the case that they do risk their life as there is no other option for them to earn an income (besides collecting scrap metal from the bombs; another dangerous undertaking).

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We could still see craters pockmarking the hills as we walked through the Plain of Jars today. The sites that we walked through have all been thoroughly checked and cleared of any UXO’s and the safe zones are clearly marked on the ground.

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The jars themselves were pretty interesting and there seems to be some conflicting views on what they were used for. While archaeologists think that they were used as funeral urns (due to the bones and glass beads they found), many Laotians believe that they were either used to make whiskey for a victorious king or to collect rain water during the rainy season. If they were used to make whiskey…well, that must have been some party.

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After visiting the sites, we visited the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) center in town and watched a great documentary called “Bombies”. It’s incredible to think that just 40 years ago, the US pulled out of Laos and yet, to this day, the people of Laos are still dealing with the aftermath of the bombing. To date, the US still manufactures, stockpiles and uses CBU’s. They provide charity money to Laos, though it’s a mere fraction of what they spent bombing them in the first place. Despite all this, I have yet to feel any animosity towards me or America from any of the people I meet here.

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Well, thanks for sticking through this rather depressing post. My hope is that it was more informative (without sounding too preachy) than anything else. It was great to learn so much about the history of Laos as well as the US. If you’re interested in learning more, check out MAG’s website. They do work all over the world to clear UXO’s from villages and provide training and education to local people.

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Now go forth, hug a tree, make peace not war, and wear your sunscreen.

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