Sunday, October 14, 2018

Paradise Has Bugs

We are living in a penthouse in Penang, Malaysia, overlooking the sea. The living room's sliding glass wall opens up to the sky. 

living room view
We can see birds floating by below us.

Oh, and it's possible to get attacked by an acid-spewing insect called a rove beetle that scorches human skin. 

"I got burned on my testicles," casually said Ralph, the homeowner, from the paradise of his balcony. We were spending a day together getting oriented before he and his wife Junnie left on vacation. 

"And my armpit," he continued. "The burn transferred to my inner arm. Lasted for weeks. So painful. If one lands on you, don't swat it. Blow on it so it will float away."
I hope this glimpse from Google is the only siting I'll have.
Okay, that wasn't in the Trusted Housesitters description. Junnie taught Dave how to spray the balcony plants to discourage the pests. And we were instructed to keep the windows closed at night, since these menaces are drawn to light.

A week later we have yet to see one. We hope to keep it that way. This morning, Oscie the dog woke us up by barfing next to the bed.
Who me?
Such is the glamour of housesitting. 

Then there's the fact that this condo is on the 28th floor. Thus the view. And the elevator. Not my favorite mode of transportation. Funny how I can travel the world virtually fear-free but I step into an elevator and it's hard to breathe.

I used to have paralyzing claustrophobia. And it seemed to be getting worse. Hypnotherapy helped a lot. So did a variety of other visualization practices. I learned that escaping uncomfortable situations makes it worse. So I've continually put myself in the backs of cars, crowded vans, middle airplane seats and the like, acclimating and calming myself with various techniques--to the point that I rarely feel claustrophobia's clench anymore. 

Except on elevators. Over the years, my avoidance method has been to take the stairs. However, 28 floors is a bit much. So being here for a month is giving me the opportunity to dust off any lingering particles of enclosure anxiety. 

This must be the wisdom of no escape these Buddhists keep talking about. 

Before Malaysia, we spent a month in Thailand, by way of a one-day stop-over in Singapore.

A bit of the Singapore we saw.
Returning to S.E. Asia hadn't been in our thoughts until we were invited to our friend Mark's 60th birthday party on Koh Phangan, an island in Thailand. We love Mark and we love that island, so we put a pin in it and other plans unfolded. 

Our first stop was Koh Samui, a Thai island a short ferry ride from Koh Phangan. We stayed on south Lamai Beach, far enough away from the throngs for privacy but close enough for easy access to cool stuff. Most days I walked down the beach then up hilly streets--past a golden temple where people prayed and a muay thai studio where people beat the shit out of each other--to an open-air yoga class. 

Lamai Beach
After yoga, I'd eat a delectable smoothie bowl, write in my journal, and read. Then I'd walk back, dipping in the ocean along the way.

Dave spent much of his time doing his advanced diving certification. He did well choosing Koh Samui. It's not a big diving destination, which meant his dives were uncrowded.

Renting a motorbike and getting around was easy. We fell in love with green coconut curry and Thai massage, especially the massage on the beach near our bungalow, overlooking Grandmother and Grandfather rocks.
Pooch near Grandmother/Grandfather rocks.
Something we saw on a bike ride.
We had guessed that after leaving Mexico, packing up in California, and flying internationally it would be a good move to rest up before Mark's party. How right we were. Mark's event had morphed into a week-long Burning Man, a 24/7 extravaganza of art, workshops, ecstatic dance, yoga, live music jam camp, thump-thump-thump electronica, and people from all over the world. 

It was the kind of you place you let your hair down and did things like posing nude with a panda head on. Four of Dave's fraternity buddies were there, so it was also a reunion of sorts.
Mark, Craig, Wade, Bill, Dave
I was lucky to be able to teach yoga in the mornings--amazed that people who danced and partied all night showed up.

It was epic. And exhausting. I ended up with an ear infection. Over-the-counter antibiotics (that cost $15) quickly fixed me up.

flying to Phuket
Next we hopped over to Phuket, on the other side of Thailand, with Dave's college buddy Craig. We'd been there before and spent a few days showing our favorite things to Craig: a sweet resort with an herbal steam room and killer breakfast, the Big Buddha, Nai Harn and Karon beaches, temples...and this view reached on motorbikes.

Kata Noi in the background
Another draw of the area was that a family we'd met in Mexico had recently moved to Phuket. So after Craig left, we headed north and spent a few days at Nadia and Rob's home. Rob, who does international peace-relations work, was on assignment in Kenya. But Nadia (who trains humanitarian workers) welcomed us with open arms, even though we'd met her only once before. 

We also got to spend time with their daugthers: a 14-year-old who just returned from teaching art therapy to children and HIV+ women in prison in Africa, and a 17-year old who recently developed and implemented a school project to build roads for a poor community in northern Thailand. I just had to put that out there because, yes, they are incredible people.  

Nadia took us shopping at the local market:

...took us to a gibbon rehab center and on a waterfall hike:
With Nadia and her friend Peggy
...and introduced us to amazing Thai food.

Dave and I also bicycled through the National Park along Nai Yang beach.

All of this was great--but the best part was talking with Nadia. We conversed intimately about our pasts, our travels, our inner explorations. We all inspired each other.

And now after that month in Thailand, we are in Malaysia, rooted 28 floors up. Our days are filled with everything from editing books (me), to photography (Dave). And we do yoga, swim, walk the dog, read--cook, clean, shop, you know, the usual stuff. This improvisational life is not quite vacation and not quite your conventional existence. We are creating it as we go, bugs and all.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Wide Sky

wide sky

It's about 1,000 miles from the border to the tip of Baja. In May, we again took the drive south from California. We followed a different route, crossing at Mexicali to explore other parts of this beautiful peninsula. 

Right before we left, I happened to mention to a client that we'd be driving through San Felipe.

"That's where my sister has a house," she said. Soon she emailed me to tell me her sister would love for us to spend a night for free. While I'm grateful, I'm not surprised anymore by such generosity and serendipity--something about a traveling life seems to invite magic.

Bahia Concepcion, one of our stops on the drive down.
It had been two years since we'd been to Casita Once, our little place near Todos Santos. The minute we hit Baja Sur, I rolled down the window and breathed in the unique mix of salt air, heat, dust, warm breeze. I was reminded how I love this place where desert-meets-ocean-meets-cerritos (hills). 

sunset at playa de Cerritos
More than ever before, we have felt embraced by the community here. We spend many days improvisationally. Someone will rap on our gate and say, "Wanna play backgammon at the pool?" At the pool, someone will say, "Come over for dinner. We have fresh fish." And then we will say, "We have cole slaw." And someone else will say, "We'll bring dessert."

In between, Dave has been doing a lot of home and garden projects. I have been editing books and teaching yoga twice a week.
evidence of Dave's green thumb at Casita Once's entrance
We've been re-connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Some are on vacation here. Some own places or are building them. There's lots of construction around and lots of new restaurants going in.

with new friends Mike and Marla at the site of their home-in-progress
We've also had visitors. Craig, one of Dave's college buddies, came for a week. At the same time another of his old friends, Paul, was here, checking on his new property in Todos Santos where he is building a home. We are happy to have another friend-as-neighbor.
Jimmy, Craig & Paul, and me on Manny (short for Mantequilla).
Our three nephews also visited. My sister Ann lives down here--and her sons, Beau and Brock, have been coming to this area since they were kids. It was the first time for my other sister's son, Evan, to visit. Can you tell he loved it?
with Evan (19), Brock (25) & Beau (27)

Dave got this great shot of Beau 
One Sunday I went with a few friends to the local church. It was sweet to hear the congregation sing in Spanish and to watch two children who, upon being baptized, were lifted up and applauded. Witnessing this community and family love, my heart broke again for the children separated from their parents at the border.

proud father and priest
We continue to be amazed at what a great place this is, rustic and embracing and, in the ways of the desert, beautiful and harsh. There are cacti and snakes and bugs. There are so many birds and palms and papayas and crashing waves and abundant fresh food.

locally grown

papaya in our orchard
Punta Lobos, where every afternoon you can buy just-caught fish.
gila woodpecker
caracaras (iconic birds of Mexico) at their nest
We had forays out of our area. Lee-Ann, who attended my writing retreat in Thailand, just happened to be in San Jose del Cabo! So we drove down there (a bit over an hour on a nice highway) to spend an evening of live music, food and conversation in the downtown.

San Jose del Cabo
For Dave's and my sixth wedding anniversary, we drove five hours to Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez. (Again, we were generously offered a free place for few nights, by friends we'd housesat for earlier in the year.) In Loreto, Dave reconnected with Juve and Sarah. He'd not seen them in more than ten years, when they'd done a kayak trip.
Salud! Juve and Sarah now own a dive shop in downtown Loreto.
Another day, we arranged to have a ponga pick us up for some time on the water. The captain showed us two geologically fascinating islands--Carmen and Danzante--and stopped for some beautiful snorkeling.
isla Danzante
My favorite moment was on the drive back when we spotted a huge pod of dolfinas. They surrounded the boat, squealing and jumping. I asked the captain how many there were. I thought he said, cincuenta (fifty).

"De verdad?" I said. "¿No mas?" (Really? No more?... It had looked like hundreds to me.)

That's when he explained he'd said sin cuenta...literally, "without counting." Too many to count. Yay, I learned a new idiom!

dofinas...sin cuenta
Another of our adventures was a day-long (dusty, exhilarating, exhausting) group quad ride into the Sierra de Laguna mountains. At one point, one of the vehicles got stuck in the mud and needed to be pulled out with our wench; Dave got a down-and-dirty lesson on how to use it.

stuck--but still posing for a shot!

lunch in the shade
Sierra de Laguna from the quad
In our short three months here there have been lots of gatherings. At one, we celebrated my sister Ann's birthday with a great group of people at the amazing and delicious Free Souls.

Another favorite moment was experiencing a Mexican family band: the parents and their five children. They played the most unique arrangements of rock classics, from La Bamba to Stairway to Heaven.

Monster Band
It seems that the theme of our time here has been community. We have been hiking together...
San Pedrito hike
...playing music together...
Todos Santos ukulele group meets every Monday.
 ... and just hanging out together.
with new amiga Susanna
Not many of our friends live here year-round. Even the permanentes tend to spend months away. There have been a lot of hellos and see-ya-laters. 

And we are following suit. In a few weeks, we fly away. For the first time, we are not driving back up Baja. We are storing our car with plans to return in March.

Dare I say it? This place is starting to feel like "home." I use quotes because I'm still not quite sure what that word means for my wandering soul. Dave says home is wherever his toothbrush is.

Maybe my home is Baja. Or maybe it's the world. Or maybe it's the wide sky inside.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

5 Year Anniversary of Our Nomadic Life

Housesit at dusk (taken by our friend Roger).
Five years ago this month we left home to alternative life.

We're kind of nomads (although we've spent long periods in many places).

We're kind of house-free (although after living for a year without a house, we bought a place in Mexico).

We're kind of travelers (although traveling suggests a trip outside of your normal life...and travel is our normal life).

We're kind of retired from academia and the corporate world (although I do online editing and writing coaching, and I taught in China and Thailand; and Dave is currently involved in a tech startup).

We're certainly housesitters (we have done 19 housesits in 5 years).

It's a free-form life that has blossomed in ways we hadn't anticipated when we left Santa Cruz in 2013.
Hiking on the housesit property with Marilen, Roger & Gracie.
One of the biggest surprises is that we spend so much quality time with friends and family. I'd thought by leaving California we were, in essence, saying goodbye. But as it turns out, we come through California a lot.

And when we do, no one takes it for granted that we will see each other in the hallway at work or will gather for Christmas dinner. So we make sure to connect. We luxuriate in spending time together in a way that the rushed let's-do-lunch-next-week lifestyle doesn't accommodate.

Beautiful brunch with friends in San Jose
We keep our car and some extra gear at our friend Mark's house in San Jose. "Our room" is his spare room. His neighbors Todd and Jackie have become good friends. Recently, we were hanging out in Mark's back yard when Jackie came by, panicked. Their dog sitter had fallen ill, and in two days they were scheduled to go on a cruise.

Because our plans were in flux, it was perfect timing. We offered to care for Sammy for 2 weeks. So housesit #19 happened spontaneously. As did another Golden Retriever; we had just taken care of one for 2 1/2 months on a housesit in Forest Ranch, California.

The sunset spot.
In Forest Ranch, we had five waves of visitors. With our friends, we walked the trails, played music, made food, played Cards Against Humanity, and conversed into the night serenaded by frogs in the backyard pond.

One of Dave's amazing shots.
Forest Ranch may be a small community, but it's filled with people who love live music. While there, we attended two private house concerts. They were cozy potlucks and incredible shows.
At a house party featuring a musician who used to play with Jerry Garcia.
We were also able to meet up with a woman who was a friend of my parents. I hadn't seen Barbara in many years. Turns out, she plays in a uke group. It doesn't get much better than people of all ages (some in their 80s and 90s) playing music and singing together. Like church without dogma.

This trip through California meant connecting with my parents in another way. When they died, upon their request, we mixed their ashes and buried 1/3 in the local cemetery and released 1/3 into the San Francisco Bay. The last portion has been in my sister Crystal's house for years. It was time to cast them into the vast, ancient beauty that is Yosemite National Park, the place they met.

With Evan and Crystal in Yosemite
The symbolism ran deep: Their grandson Evan (Crystal's son) carried the ashes on his back as we hiked on a crystalline-sky day. Into the rushing waters, we released the final flecks of our beloved parents' bodies.

In two days, Dave turns 60. The next day, we will be back in our car, carried along the length of California and beyond. Everything is movement, everything is change. I deeply experience this truth as a traveling soul.