Nepal Earthquake: Day 3

Day 3

Around 5 am, we woke with the birds and ringing of the temple bells. Everyone eagerly packed up and returned to their homes for some decent rest. Unknowingly, we had slept through several aftershocks and were about to sleep through a few more. Luckily they were small and barely noticeable, therefore posing little threat to our safety.

I woke up again around 1030, still tired. The majority of the day was, again, spent outside and near doors. But for the most part, things seemed to be returning to normal. We watched the news. The death toll was still increasing. Estimates were being made. Slowly more information was coming in from the rural areas that had not yet been reached. We were beginning to get a greater grasp on the extent of the situation.

International aid organizations flocked to the capital alongside search and rescue crews. Supplies poured in and began to be distributed, though aid was mostly limited to the Kathmandu valley. In many affected areas, people complained that they had received no aid or support at all and that the government was doing nothing to help them. There were a few protests on the news. Having spent so many hours traveling on the poor mountain roads and witnessing the terrible infrastructure in Nepal, I wondered how long it would take for aid to reach everyone outside of the capital, especially taking landslides into account. And, like the people, I wondered if the government would do its part to help its citizens.

It was around this time that I began planning my next move. Do I stay and finish my volunteer teaching? Do I try to leave the country, and if so, how? Or, as an aspiring development worker, do I stay and search for an opportunity in the aftermath? What skills do I have that are needed? How am I supposed to extend my visa in the wake of all this? Can I even get into Kathmandu? A few days before the earthquake, I had lined up an internship with a NGO benefiting the street children in Lalitpur, just next to Kathmandu. I wondered if this offer still stood. I had yet to hear from anyone there and prayed that the children, staff and their families were all okay.

As night fell, we had a few drinks and discussed the events of the past few days. With all the news laid out, the situation had become clear. I felt for the Nepali people so much. Many had lost everything, and those who hadn’t were forced to watch the rest of their country struggle and suffer. I could not entirely identify, despite how much I love Nepal. It is not my home, it is theirs. They love it here far more than I ever could. I felt so much empathy.

Just before bedtime I noticed everyone crowded together, looking up at the moon. When I asked what was going on, they said the moon had “switched positions” and deemed it some kind of superstitious omen. It looked the same to me. Some people laughed about this nonsense, I included. But it was still interesting to see the kind of fear-mongering that people come up with when they are scared and desperate.

When night fell, we returned to the temple compound. This time, I would be sharing a mosquito net tent with Madhu. There was more room and a bigger blanket for the both of us. I anticipated sleeping through the night.

Besides sharing the area with several other families, tonight we also shared it with three Sadhus. Alongside the oscillating snores of our neighbors, I listened to the comforting sounds of the Sadhus praying, which went on for quite a while. Their gentle voices put me at ease.  Madhu commented that they normally don’t pray for this long.  “That’s okay,” I said. “Nepal needs the extra prayers.”



Living through the Nepal earthquake: Day 1 and 2

*Note: These recollections were written shortly after the events took place in order to capture how I truly felt during the moments. I tried to write in retrospect as little as possible.

April 25, 2015 (Day 1):

It was just before noon on Saturday, April 25. I was hungover from a party the night before where my host family and I spent the night enjoying as much free drinks and food that our stomachs could handle. I was feeling lazy and planned for an unproductive, uneventful day. As I lay in bed browsing articles on my phone, the wall next to me began to shake. My first thought was, “Wow… a very large truck is driving by outside the window.” After no more than two seconds I realized that this was something else. The strength of the shaking was increasing enormously and everything on the wall was vibrating with force. I thought the walls themselves were about to crumble into pieces. I jumped to my feet, the ground shaking beneath me, feeling like the dice trapped inside the magic 8-ball. I may be from Texas, oblivious to certain forces of nature, but I knew exactly what was going on. There was no other explanation. This was an earthquake.

Fight or flight mode kicked in almost instantaneously, and I was full-on-flight. I flew out the door and down the shaking staircase so quickly that I didn’t even stop to breathe or put on my shoes. I darted into the street full-speed where I was met by a hectic scene. People were pouring out of their restaurants, homes and shops and into the crowded road. Every person’s face read pure panic and terror as the rumbling continued. Grown women were wailing for their mothers. People were crying, screaming, running around in search of open spaces and their loved ones.  We were all seeking a safe place, despite the fact we knew a force of this magnitude was inescapable. We were merely humans, though more like ants, caught in a battle between the elements. And we thought surely Mother Nature’s foot was about to smoosh us all in one swift motion.

The ground beneath our feet rattled on with vigor, while the towering buildings shook with the quake. And the noise I will never forget…  like a pot of boiling water about to bubble over, or a train with too many screws loose, about to derail. Forceful, constant, and unyielding. I found what I deemed the most open space on the street (it wasn’t), watched and waited for the buildings to crash down, or for the ground to split open the way it does in the movies. “Is this the end for me?” I wondered frantically, convinced that my life was over.  “I’m too young, I haven’t reached my goals. My family is too far. I can’t die.” I was desperate to tell my parents I loved them, but could not compose myself enough to press a single button. How helpless it felt to be on the losing end of this battle… there was nothing I or anyone else could do. Our powers as humans had reached their limits; the earth had put us back in our place.

So I did the only thing I knew to do in such a situation. I prayed for God’s protection.

The shaking and hysteria continued for what felt like an hour, but was only a few minutes. When the ground stopped moving, so did the buildings, and eventually the screams subsided as well. All the structures on the street remained intact. Everyone was okay. I was still alive. “Is that it?” I wondered. It felt like the earth had just played a giant joke on us.

I looked around and spotted Madhu, my hilarious host mother (or for all intents and purposes, my Nepali mother), standing a few yards away. I ran over and latched onto her arm, relieved that she was okay and that I had found a familiar face. In true Madhu fashion, she immediately scolded me for forgetting to turn off the television before bolting from the house in an effort to save my life. I laughed.  Over the next 10 minutes we searched for and gathered the rest of the family. Then we waited street side with the hoards of people, preparing for the aftershock.

Looking around, trying to collect myself and coming down from the adrenaline rush, I noticed that while some people looked distraught, others appeared strangely aloof. Was this actually not such a big deal? Confused, I asked a few people if this happens often. “We get many earthquakes, but not like this.” It was unanimous. “This one was longer and stronger than any earthquake we’ve had before.”

While my body still trembled from fear, I sent out a few messages to my sister and my boyfriend, letting them know what had happened and that I was okay. Then I opened safari and quickly googled “nepal earthquake”. Bystanders huddled around my phone as we looked at the results. There were already several hits, with the top one being a geological survey reporting a 7.5 magnitude earthquake near Lamjung (later raised to 7.9). The Richter Scale placed an earthquake of this magnitude in the “major” category. I thought surely this would be making international news, and wondered if I had just experienced one of the largest natural disasters of the century. I attempted to call my mother, but the cell service had cut out.

About 30 minutes after the quake ended, the first aftershock arrived. It was strong. The panic resurfaced. People screamed and latched onto each other as the ground shook beneath them. I felt the need to take off running again. There were too many buildings towering above us, we needed to get away. But after less than 30 seconds, the shaking ceased. Not knowing a thing about aftershocks, I felt relieved. The earthquake passed, the aftershock passed, and we were all okay. I didn’t realize that there was more to come. Madhu set me straight when I inquired if we could go back indoors. Over the course of the next few days there were going to be dozens of aftershocks of varying magnitudes.

A crowd waits in the street for the aftershock of Nepal earthquake. April 25, 2015

A small crowd waits in the street for the aftershock of the earthquake. Narayangadh, Nepal. April 25, 2015

Because of the prolonged risk, we remained outside or near ground floor doors for the remainder of the day. Hotel Balaji served as the new HQ for news intake for family, friends and guests. Everyone conjoined here. We spent a large portion of the afternoon huddled around the television, watching horrifying videos on loop depict the destruction and death that affected Kathmandu valley. Because of all the old buildings crammed together along narrow streets, they seemed to have suffered the worst of it. I recognized many of the historical buildings that were demolished, particularly in Basantapur Durbar Square, where Dennis and I had celebrated Holi just last month. The same streets I had walked down last week were barely recognizable. Many of the UNESCO World Heritage sites had been destroyed or badly damaged. I felt lucky to be where I was in Narayangadh, and so thankful that everyone I knew emerged alive and without injury. Even our homes were still standing strong. Surveying the damage inside, we found almost everything in place. The damage was contained mostly to the bathrooms, where the mounted shelves fell off the walls, scattering glass and other shards across the tile floor. In my bathroom, the porcelain of the toilet had been smashed as well. But everything that was lost could be replaced, and everything that was damaged could be fixed. It was so minimal. We were all happy because we knew that it could have been worse.

Sleeping in the streets the first night following the Nepal earthquake.

Sleeping in the streets the first night following the Nepal earthquake.

I was able to have a long phone conversation with Dennis, and a brief one with my mom before connection was lost again. I was so thankful for this and for Facebook, which allowed me to contact friends and family, putting both them and me at ease during this desperate time.

At night, we all gathered on the street sidewalk with mattresses and rugs, where we would be sleeping to avoid any danger. We felt a few more aftershocks around midnight, waking anyone who had managed to fall asleep in these conditions to begin with. Sleep was scarce, and everyone was exhausted. I was woken throughout the night by passing cars, bad smells and itches from countless mosquito bites. I thought about the street children, refugees and displaced persons who live in FAR worse conditions day in and day out, now with a new respect for their strength and endurance.


Day 2:

About 5 AM everyone was woken up abruptly by a larger aftershock. After it passed, it was in our sleepy desperation that we decided it was time to get some rest inside. So we went into our rooms and passed out instantaneously.

I woke up around 9 AM… still drowsy but knowing that I couldn’t spend too much time indoors. The risk was too high and aftershocks were occurring by the hour. Despite this, things were beginning to feel a bit more relaxed. Then rumors began to surface that another earthquake would strike around 12. This didn’t sound logical to me, how could they know? We all aimed to be outside by 1130 anyways. I took perhaps the quickest shower I’ve ever taken. When we got back to the hotel, we watched the news as the death toll climbed. I sat in shock, contemplating life and death and feeling so thankful that my Nepali family and I were spared. But it wasn’t over. Warnings blared out of every TV, radio and cell phone. Trucks drove by with loudspeakers urging everyone to shelter in a safe place. We were to stay alert for the next 2 days because the dangers of aftershocks were still very high. Because of this, everyone was on edge. I jumped at every abrupt movement and shout. Even when the ground was still, we all swore we could feel it shaking.

At 12:30 Madhu finished cooking lunch… Amit and I ran upstairs to the kitchen (which was on the 3rd floor) to eat as quickly as we could to lessen the risk of being caught in a dangerous situation. While we were stuffing our faces like savages, the shaking began. Madhu started yelling and we all took off downstairs with our mouths still full of food. I could hear screaming outside. The shaking was violent and increasing in strength. I raced down as quickly as I could, which wasn’t so fast considering the whole stairwell was convulsing. Once in the street I flew down to the empty lot where the rest of the family was calling me. And just like that, it ended. A 6.7 magnitude aftershock, which felt more like another earthquake altogether. After catching our breath, Amit and I laughed and swallowed the bites of food that were still in our mouths. Surprisingly, I gathered enough courage to go back upstairs and finish my lunch, even though I wasn’t hungry in the slightest. My stomach felt like a ball of knots. “Would there be an aftershock from the aftershock?” I wondered and worried as I scarfed down rice and dal.

I spent the next several hours fighting off panic attacks. More rumors surfaced that another earthquake was coming as strong as yesterday’s. I knew this was illogical, but I was extremely frightened by the speculation. They were right about the last one, could they be right again? Could nature defy the expert opinions and statistics and completely obliterate this country one more time? I felt helpless. I wanted to be with my loved ones. I plotted ways to get out of this country without having to take the dangerous mountain drive back to Kathmandu. I felt trapped, anxious and depressed. It was miserable. Luckily the news caught onto the rumors, and warned everyone in a radio announcement not to listen to the fear-mongering. Everything was going to be alright and the rumors were not true. Once I was convinced of this, I started to feel calm again.

Seeking shelter in the temple compound following the largest aftershock.

Seeking shelter in the temple compound following the largest aftershock.

For the remainder of the day, we sat in the courtyard of the temple a few doors down. While resting with a family friend, she confided in me. “Yesterday I believed, but today I am hopeless.” I tried to reassure her that Nepal will pull through, that international aid is coming, that the world is paying attention and we won’t turn our backs on them or leave them to suffer. As I said these words, I hoped that I was speaking the truth. I’ve put my faith in a global community which often (but not always) ignores or does too little for the countries which can do nothing for them in return. I hoped that the world would care enough this time around, and that it wouldn’t simply forget about Nepal after a few days.

That night, the family and I ate dinner at a restaurant across the street. We drank and celebrated being alive. I realized how lucky I was to have met my Nepali family. It occurred to me that if they had not offered me a place to stay, I would have been in Kathmandu during the earthquake. I don’t know what this would have meant for my safety or mental condition but I was so glad to be where I was. I felt beyond thankful, cloaked in God’s protection. I wondered how I could repay them for all that they’ve done for me.

The temple compound was where we would sleep. As the evening approached, several families carried mattresses, rugs, blankets, pillows and mosquito nets into the small confined area. The setup was very innovative and reminded me of camping trips with my dad as a kid… Almost. “Same same, but different” as the saying goes.

Sleeping set-up for second night following the Nepal earthquake.

Sleeping set-up for second night following the Nepal earthquake.

Sleep was scarce that night. With Sudip’s mother, I shared a twin-sized mattress and one medium-sized blanket. My joints suffered. Mosquitos managed to bite through the net since we were pushed up against it. I looked forward to the end of the 72-hour danger period so that we could sleep in our beds comfortably again. As it turned out, this wasn’t much like camping with dad, after all.


**Please consider donating to Nepal relief funds through organizations like the Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam, UNICEF and Direct Relief.**

**Also please give your loved ones extra hugs and kisses next time you see them.**


Nepal: Update and First Impressions

For the past 4 months I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with an amazing companion. I met my boyfriend, Dennis, in Bangkok back in November and since then, the two of us have seen and done some pretty incredible things together. There is not a single worldly possession that I would trade for the memories we have made. Unfortunately he flew home to The Netherlands a few days ago, so I’ve been having to readjust to being alone. If there’s one thing I know, amid all the general anxieties that plague my brain, it’s that I’ll be missing him very much.

So far I’ve spent 1.5 months in Thailand, 1 month in Cambodia, 1 month in Laos and 1.5 months in Nepal. I had mixed feelings about Cambodia… I did my first volunteer job there, finally got to see Angkor Wat and I learned about the genocide committed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. All these things were great learning experiences. But I also got sick 4 times in just one month, meaning I spent half my time in bed feeling miserable (my immune system was seriously compromised). Because of this, I’m not sure I would go back.

Laos was different… it was absolutely beautiful and extremely laid back. Getting around was a bit more difficult (and expensive) but still manageable. Dennis and I traveled all the way from the south of the country to the north. We learned about the UXO (unexploded ordinances) situation which left me feeling guilty as an American and wanting to do more. We spent a lot of time exploring the nature, which didn’t hold back one bit in its allure. When it came time to leave, I was sad. Maybe one day I’ll make it back there.

But then came Nepal… and I can say without a doubt that Nepal takes the cake so far. I love it so much here that I extended my visa an extra 2 months so that I can learn more about the country and its people.

Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

I have always found it more worthwhile to familiarize myself with places that are a bit off the wagon, making Nepal the perfect country for me to stop and smell the flowers. It’s a cocktail of some the best and worst things the world has to offer, which is what makes it so interesting. It’s famed for its natural Himalayan beauty and intoxicating culture, and there’s no doubt that it has exceedingly large amounts of both. It also has some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The downside is that there is a lot of poverty, corruption, political turmoil and poor infrastructure. Things are improving, but there’s a long way to go. These are some of the aspects which I want to come to know and understand better, the aspects which are too often overlooked by foreign visitors captivated by the country’s beauty (me included). This is why I am staying here longer than I’ve stayed anywhere else. I really want to know this place as best as I can in the short amount of time that I’ve got.

Sunrise over Mt. Machhapuchhre and Annapurna I

Sunrise over Mt. Machhapuchhre and Annapurna I

Ponies grazing against Mt. Dhaulagiri backdrop.

Ponies grazing against Mt. Dhaulagiri backdrop.

I’ve spent the first half of my stay doing the things that bring this country fame: trekking in the mountains, trekking in Chitwan (the jungle), visiting Lumbini (birthplace of the Buddha), exploring Pokhara and the Kathmandu valley, and making a trip to the Manakamana Temple. Dennis and I also got to celebrate the Holi festival of colors in March. All these experiences have been truly remarkable. I don’t think I will ever find another country as beautiful as this one. In addition, I’ve met some extremely kind and hospitable people, one of which has arranged for me to stay with his family while I volunteer at a local school in Narayangadh. It’s a wonderful city with beautiful sunsets. I feel very lucky to have met such a generous and welcoming family willing to host me, and I’m so excited to dip my feet into teaching – something I’ve wanted to do since the start of my trip. If it all works out, this is where I’ll spend the rest of my time here.


I’ll try to keep up with my blog better now that I have a little more time on my hands. But knowing me, I won’t make any promises.

Tid-bits and observations that some might find interesting:

  1. There is no such thing as 24/7 electricity here. The entire country is run by hydropower and there’s just not enough to go around (except perhaps during rainy season). For the duration of my stay I’ve gotten between 3-12 hours of electricity each day, maybe more if my hotel has a backup generator. The times that you get power change from day to day and place to place, so I find myself lucky to get it during prime waking hours. But at least there is a schedule that is followed closely enough for me to plan accordingly. By some strange Godly occurrence I’ve had almost 80 consecutive hours of electricity over the past 4 days, which I’m still completely puzzled by. It must have to do with the New Year celebrations nearby. I feel spoiled.
  2. Strikes… Nobody told me about them. Apparently the country is always on strike and it’s been this way for a while now. When Nepal is on strike it means all public and private transportation is forbidden and all restaurants and shops have to close down. I’ve only been caught up in one, and luckily I was far enough from the main roads to really be affected (some shops could get away with staying open, for example). Dennis and I had to delay our transport until the evening, when the vehicle ban got lifted until the next morning. It was no problem for us because we were only going one town over. But it can be really bad for others, particularly local businesses and tourists on a tight schedule. Sometimes strikes can last multiple days, sometimes only one. Sometimes there’s warning, sometimes there’s none. Sometimes they get violent, sometimes they don’t. There are different types: general, national, regional, fuel, student, etc. but from what I understand, the bulk of them have to do with the drafting of a constitution, which Nepal has been trying to do for more than 5 years now. But the 20 or so political parties can’t agree on anything, leaving the people rightfully frustrated and impatient.
  3. Speaking of politics… if you like Game of Thrones, read about the Nepalese royal massacre of 2001. Better yet, read about all the politics of Nepal since its inception. I promise you’ll be well entertained.
  4. Public transportation is extremely crammed, uncomfortable, confusing and bumpy. I never realized just how many people could be stuffed into a bus until coming here. Honestly, I’m not sure how the buses handle all the weight! People are falling all over each other and you think to yourself, “Surely they won’t load more people in at this stop.” And then they do. And I really don’t understand how. There are a few times when I’ve seen people hanging on the sides of the vans because there’s no more space inside. The upside to this is that it’s not always that crammed and I can get to wherever I need to go VERY CHEAPLY. So I don’t mind most of the time. In fact, it’s pretty awesome. There are more luxurious buses for tourists as well, but it’s less interesting and more expensive that way. I like saving money too much to bother with them (Mom, you would be proud). This is a huge welcome after having to deal with the more expensive transportation system in Cambodia and Laos.
  5. In general, Nepal is the cheapest place I’ve ever been. No joke. It’s really, really inexpensive to live here. In fact, it is ranked the second cheapest country in the world just after its grand ole neighbor, India. It took me a little while to learn the true prices of things, but now that I know, I can avoid being tricked as often.
  6. If it seems too good to be true that you can eat a chicken fried steak and french fries in a shanky shack restaurant on the side of a mountain, it probably is. Just because it’s on the menu doesn’t mean you can order it.
  7. Nepal uses a different calendar than the US making the year 2072 here (the new year begins mid-April).

I’ll try to add more to this list with each post. Obviously there are many positives and negatives of Nepal but it makes for an endlessly fascinating and challenging experience. Besides, I find that the positives far outweigh the negatives. I wish more people would travel here and I will probably end up trying to recruit new visitors after I leave! I’m really looking forward to learning more and sharing my experiences with whoever reads this.

Thailand Summary

I get the feeling that I will be starting each post the same way… by apologizing for how long it’s taken me to update. Here I am writing a post about Thailand… a month and a half after leaving the country. Sorry Mom.

The thing is, there are so many changes occurring within me in addition to new and exciting things going on all the time that I’m finding it very difficult to set aside enough time to reflect on it all through writing. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and it doesn’t help that I’ve never been too great with time management.

Thailand was a whirlwind. Unexpectedly, I spent the majority of my time in Bangkok. The city is strangely intoxicating and frustrating all at once. I only expected to stay a few days, but managed to stay several weeks. Don’t ask me how I did it. But I’m glad I did, because I met some amazing people and gained some very insightful knowledge which lent a strong hand to getting my anxiety under control.

Buddhists paying their respects at the Golden Mount. Bangkok, Thailand

After almost 2 weeks in Bangkok I moved south to Krabi and Koh Lanta, where I made some wonderful memories such as… seeing the limestone cliffs jutting out of crystal blue waters, swimming in a cove on a private beach, interacting with monkeys in the wild for the first time, spending my first Thanksgiving away from home, exploring Koh Lanta island by motorbike with a new friend, seeing the sea gypsies, snorkeling with tropical fish, swimming through a dark cave to find a dazzling beach hidden inside, two-stepping in a Thai bar, riding the ferry along the coast, shopping for bargains at night markets, and hiking in the jungle. (Each of these experiences warrants its own blog post but because I suck at this… you’re getting a brief summary instead. I’m sorry.) Somewhere in all of these new experiences I managed to get a firm hold on my anxiety and carry on in a much more confident manner. Things were looking up; it was like seeing the world with new eyes.  (I must give considerable credit to a monk I met in Bangkok who taught me some very valuable lessons… lessons which made a huge difference on my level of comfort, confidence and ability to move forward).

Storm crawling in over Aonang Beach. Krabi, Thailand

Storm crawling in over Aonang Beach. Krabi, Thailand


As a side note I might add that as wonderful as all these experiences were, it almost felt like Thailand was a country built for tourists. It is not quite the “getaway” destination that some might imagine it to be, and getting ripped off is the norm. To me, that’s okay, I wasn’t looking to get away but rather to observe. And I learned how to deal with the situations when people were just trying to pinch out a few more dollars from me. Tourism in Thailand, a topic of its own, has both positive and harmful effects (in my opinion and based on my limited amount of knowledge). But take what I say with a grain of salt. I enjoyed every second that I spent doing “touristy stuff” and as ransacked and at times unauthentic it might have seemed, there were still very neat, original experiences to be sought out and wonderful people to meet on every corner.

That being said…. Before my Thai visa was up, I made a quick trip to Hua Hin to meet up with Dennis, a friend I made at the very beginning of my trip just after arriving in Bangkok. This experience was so special and unique to me; therefore I’m going to give a more detailed account. I had told Dennis about a cave I wanted to visit, Phraya Nakhon, and together we made the effort to find it. If we wanted to see it at the best lit time, we had to get there before 11 am. This cave was not easy to reach. From Hua Hin it was about one hour south… we took a bus to the town nearest to the cave and from there hunted for a taxi to the national park. In total it took us about 2 hours to get to the park entrance, then we had one hour of steep climbing to reach the cave… very exhausting, but doable despite my lack of physical strength. I had seen pictures of this place, and as beautiful as they were, they were still nothing compared to seeing it in person (and at the right time of day). Sitting inside this enormous cave was a small pavilion built in 1890 for the visit of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Since his visit, many other kings have ventured to see the cave as well and left significant evidence of their visits. What makes this place so special, besides the pavilion, is that light enters the cave through a hole in the top, allowing the sun rays to shine directly on the temple and illuminate it in a magical way. The sun also allows vegetation to grow throughout the cave, so it resembles a miniature jungle. For a while we had the place all to ourselves lending to a beautiful, peaceful silence. It was breathtaking. Never before had I experienced something so enchanting.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

My silhouette against the Phraya Nakhon backdrop. Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand


I simply was not expecting to be in such awe, which made the difficult journey to reach this place much more rewarding. Without a doubt, I can say that it was my favorite part of Thailand… and to think I almost skipped it!

After making the hike back to the park entrance, we realized getting back to Hua Hin wasn’t going to be so easy of a task. The place was void of people. After asking around for taxi prices from the very few options there, it was clear that the drivers were asking far too much money due to the isolated location. So we decided to hitchhike. We walked over a bridge and past a small fishing village on the water before reaching the main road, where we were picked up by a family of 4 within a few minutes of walking. They were able to drive us for about 10 minutes (cramped with their 2 teenagers in the back seat) before dropping us off on the side of the road to find another ride. Once again, we were picked up almost immediately. It was a nice girl, maybe 27, who drove us the full 40 minutes back to Hua Hin. She could not speak English but before we got out of the car she managed to say, “Please enjoy my country of Thailand.” My first hitchhiking experience could not have gone better. I love bearing witness to the hospitality of others.

Fishing village on the outskirts of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand.

Fishing village on the outskirts of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand.


After Hua Hin, I made it back to Bangkok just in time to catch my outbound flight to Cambodia. Dennis and I decided to meet up again in Siem Reap and travel together for a while. I was itching with excitement to get a taste of something new, do some volunteer work, travel with a companion, and of course to see the temples of Angkor which I had been dreaming about exploring for years.

So more about that in my next post 😉


My Mental Meltdown of Epic Proportions

First of all, I apologize for how long it has taken me to post an update. I guess I’m still trying to figure out how to best manage my time while traveling and being on the computer takes the bottom rung against other stuff to do around Bangkok.

Second of all, I’d like to point out that this is a personal post and I’m going out on a limb by deciding to post it on the internet for anyone to read. Please be respectful of that.

Bangkok has been wonderful so far. The people are kind, the food is amazing, and everything is super cheap. I’ve explored the city, climbed the Golden Mount, gotten a massage (1 hr, full body, for 5 USD = AMAZING), gone shopping, and experienced some of the night life here (which is wild to say the least). I’ve met tons of interesting people each with their own stories to tell and ways of looking at the world. For the first time in a long time, I’ve gotten the feeling that I belong, like I’ve finally found a community of people I can connect with. I’ve added several new countries to my “places to visit” list purely because of other people’s stories about their travels there. Who would’ve thought that Kyrgyzstan would make the cut?

For the first few days I was having no problems at all coping with the new environment. Granted, it was different and at times overwhelming, but I took it all in with wonder and excitement. My stomach was agreeing with the food, I caught on to currency exchanges quickly, figured out how to use a bidet, made many new friends at the hostel, adjusted to the different time zone, learned how to get around (well… kind of), got more comfortable haggling with shop owners, got used to speaking in English that is understandable to non-Americans, etc. Basically, things were running smoothly and I was happy.

And then, out of nowhere, it happened. Complete system failure. A full-blown panic attack, the kind that sends me running for the hospital (and I did).

In the past year or so I had become fairly good at talking myself down when these anxiety attacks would set in; I got to the point where I was able to stomp on them before they got too bad. They were uncomfortable, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was wrong to assume they would remain at a manageable level while traveling. This was anything but manageable. I couldn’t calm down. It gripped me from every angle. Clammy skin, racing heart, difficulty breathing, hot flashes, cold flashes, numbness in my limbs, irrational thoughts, inability to speak or form coherent sentences, fear of literally everything around me, afraid to do so much as walk to the bathroom , convinced I was on the verge of death or going insane… all at once. I hadn’t experienced an anxiety attack like this in a long while. And it came and went for 2 DAYS STRAIGHT. Had I known that the panic would present itself to me as if I was experiencing it for the first time yet again, I think I would have done a few things differently before leaving home. But I didn’t, so here I am. While I have kept the anxiety at bay for the past day or so, it hasn’t really left. It’s just been lingering here in my chest, patiently waiting for me slip up so it can take hold with full force once more. It is mentally exhausting to have to talk myself down again every few minutes (which also makes traveling a lot less fun).

In the past, the only thing that ever calmed me down in these moments of desperation was having my sister or mother nearby; they are my greatest sources of comfort. Obviously that is not an option now. I tried talking about it with people at the hostel but, while kind and reassuring, I could tell they thought I was out of my head. I asked everyone, and no one I spoke with had experienced a panic attack themselves (and I hope they never do). But describing anxiety to someone who doesn’t know how it feels, without making yourself seem like a complete nut job, is really difficult. I know this because I used to be the observer. Before knowing what a panic attack actually was, I watched as someone I loved had them on a daily basis. I was totally clueless as to what was happening; I thought he was a little bit off and that maybe if I scratched his back long enough he would feel better and go back to normal. I know now that it’s not that simple, but I understand that other people think it might be.

So now I find myself in a tough position. With no support system nearby, I have to discover a way to tackle this before moving on or I’ll surely find myself back home before the month is over.  It has already taken a massive amount of strength for me not to book an immediate flight back to the US (I’ve resisted the urge at least 3 times), and phone calls back home can only do so much for my mental state. I need to find a way of dealing with this so that I can do what I set out to do. My dreams will turn to dust unless I get this under control.

While I’m not in a particularly wonderful location for honorable psychiatry, I am lucky to find myself in a place where meditation is taught and practiced around every corner. And with meditation being scientifically proven to combat stress and anxiety, I think that is where I’ll start.  I haven’t been too successful with it in the past, but I think I’m motivated enough to try harder this time. Please wish me luck.

I promise my future posts will be more informative of my day-to-day adventures and include more pictures. I know I speak a lot about fear, and that’s because right now, it is what I’ve been feeling and what my reality consists of. Fear is my enemy, and the world is my battlefield. Hopefully one day I can look back and know that it was well worth the fight.


******As a disclaimer, I’d just like to add that all of this panic is totally irrational; there is no reason to fear anything here in Thailand (unless you go looking for trouble or let down your guard, as the case would be anywhere).  This post was not meant to make anyone scared of traveling to this part of the world (as many people I know seem to think this is a dangerous place). I only wanted to give you a small window into dealing with anxiety and my personal journey to conquer it. ******

Step one: Just do it.

I’m currently writing this from the Hong Kong airport. I’ve been in transit for nearly 48 hours now, leaving me jet-lagged, tired and ready to lie down in a bed for some uninterrupted sleep on something other than a bench.

On a very positive note, many of my fears have already begun to subside and I haven’t even reached Bangkok yet.  Six months of simmering in all the anxiety of what-ifs, doubts, insecurity and every possible scenario really took a toll on my mental state. But now it almost feels like the panic has evaporated into thin air. I made that first step, and now there are no take-backs – leaving me ready to embrace each day as it comes. I look to the future with promise again, trusting this feeling to last and consume me as it once used to.

On one of my connecting flights, I sat next to an inspirational man. We spoke of fears, the ego, music and our personal journeys. Before the flight ended, he relayed 3 pieces of advice that he had once received –

  • Fear no one
  • Develop a good bullshit detector
  • Be tender

He threw in one more piece of his personal advice for me: read one book at a time (it is a bad habit of mine to read 4-5 books at once, causing me never to finish any of them). I suppose this tip would transfer profitably into other areas of my life, as well.  I really enjoyed learning from his journey and outlook on life. He is the first of many that I will encounter and gain insight from, the perfect introduction to this wistful journey. I continuously remind myself to approach others with an open mind and objective point of view; that is the only way any of us can ever learn from one another’s stories… and the only way I can walk away feeling like I’ve accomplished anything at all.

On a different note, my short-sighted view of Hong Kong is just as I’ve heard it to be: smoggy and polluted. Unless my assumptions are incorrect and these are just low hanging clouds, I’m going to go ahead and chalk it up to poor air quality. Truly, my depth of field is very short. As I type this, I make out the faded outline of a mountain in the distance. But I only know its shape. I have no idea what color it actually is. It could be purple, it could be on fire… I wouldn’t be able to tell. The smog is too thick. Shame.

In exchange for that crappy visual, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of what I saw while flying over the Arctic Circle.

No Man's Land

No Man’s Land


What a view. I was glued to the window for that entire duration of the flight. It was spectacular.

Now back to people watching. There’s no better place for observing humans than an international airport.

Racing the Train

Five weeks until my departure date, and the anxiety has really started to catch up with me. Not to say it wasn’t there all along… the few months after booking my flight were some of the worst. There were panic attacks left and right, and doubts flooded my every thought. I asked myself over and over if I was making the right decision. I’m leaving all I have ever known, and I’m doing it all by myself. Eventually I decided to push the impending reality to the back of my mind.  Avoid thinking about it, and avoid the worry. For a while it worked. But now it seems I can’t avoid the truth any longer. I leave in 5 weeks. That is 35 days. I thought I would feel more prepared by now. Instead, I’m a mess.

This shouldn’t be mistaken for cold feet. I do not feel discouraged. I am enthusiastic and fearful all at once. I have too many dreams and too strong a passion to let my frivolous anxiety hold me back. But I have to admit, the angst is almost overpowering. Being alone is not my strong suit, especially not for long durations of time, with nobody there to guide me through the diverse landscape and unfamiliar territory… with no definite plan or idea for how things might turn out. The panic is very real.

But a funny thing happened yesterday.

Along the drive to my parents’ house, I got to race the train along the stretch of highway between Taylor and Rockdale. Ahead of me was the moon. It was pale white against a bright blue sky, barely peeking through the atmosphere and waiting for dusk. Autumn was also in the midst of its opening act, as the trees lining the highway faded back and forth between bright green and muted orange. I hardly noticed the few cars that shared the road with me. In my mind it was just me and the train, side by side, heading east. For those few minutes I felt no anxiety or fear about my future, only hope and gratitude. Racing that train felt like freedom. I wondered where it came from, where it was headed, and what it was carrying. I admired the colorful graffiti drawn on the boxcars. Each piece spoke its own story about the person that drew it. I thought about how great it would feel to be sitting on top of the train, riding through the Texas hill country with a front row seat and the wind in my face. I continued to think these thoughts until I was ahead, and the train was far behind… nothing but a footnote in my rear-view mirror.

As I rehash what I felt in those moments, I can’t help but view the experience symbolically.

I may not know where I’m going, but I know I will get there. What is ahead may not seem bright right now, but it will become brighter with time. The world around me will change. But it will still be beautiful, even more beautiful than it was before. Sites will be seen, friends will be made, stories will be heard. I will allow my encounters to mold me. I’m just a vesicle waiting to be filled. And one day, just as the train, I will arrive at my destination, knowing full well that it was never really about the destination to begin with.

These are the thoughts that pick me back up each time my spirit wavers.

Fear of the unknown is the worst type of fear, and I guess this is my way of saying I’ve had enough of it. In the deepest part of my heart, I don’t feel scared. I have a passion that I believe in, and an inner compass that guides me. That’s all I really need. With that, I know this is going to be a grand adventure.

Photo credit: Tom Williamson

Photo credit: Tom Williamson