Tag Archives: drugs

Koh Tao Island

After leaving Bang Saphan I headed directly to Champon to catch a catamaran over to the very beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.  Only 21 sq. Km, Koh Tao (turtle island) has surprisingly a lot going for it!  It boasts 2 of the top diving schools in the world and is considered one of the top spots in the world to dive, has several volunteer opportunities from being a “Trash Hero” to helping at the Animal Clinic and even some Marine Conservation programs as well.  In addition, it has 2 Muay Thai Kickboxing training facilities: Island Muay Thai (where I’m currently training and will write more about in another post) and Monsoon Muay Thai Gym.

The island itself is lush and green with a large variety of foliage and critters all around.  The beaches are breathless with clear blues and greens and abundantly diverse marine life to boot.  Sadly, the island does have a dark past as it is the site of the very unfortunate murders of a young British couple just last year in September that made news world-wide.  There are even websites dedicated to the “dark side” of Koh Tao, but so far I haven’t witnessed or felt any dark side to the island.

Like the two neighboring islands to the South of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao also parties it up every full moon.  They call them “Full Moon” parties, which is really just another excuse to do what people do nightly here (party in bars) but apparently kicked up a notch.  Before coming I had heard the Government is trying to put a stop to them because of the drugs that also surface during the parties, but so far all the islands are still celebrating the moon phases.  The other two islands apparently also have half-moon parties and even new moon parties!  I haven’t experienced the Full Moon party here (the first one I will be present for is tomorrow night) but honestly have no interest to join the crowds at the bars for it.  See, while this place does have a huge party scene to it, my purpose here is to train in Muay Thai and get involved where I can in the available volunteer opportunities.  Guess I’m growing up a bit… Just a bit though;)

The expat community here is also huge!  Most are in their early 20’s and have come here originally just for vacation and ended up getting jobs and staying.  I would say honestly the population of people from the UK or Australia is possibly more than that of Thai’s and Burmese.  It is legal to get a job in Thailand as an expat if it’s in an area of expertise that a Thai local wouldn’t necessarily have, such as teaching English or in the case of Koh Tao, diving instructors.  One of the bummers in my opinion about having so many expats on the island however, is that the Thai culture seems lost a bit.  Many of the locals speak better English than most native speakers and while they may view it as a benefit for them, it’s hard to find locals who only speak Thai.  Hence why I wrote my other post on “Talking Thai” so I wouldn’t forget what I’ve learned so far!

As the island does boast some of the best diving in the world, there are dive shops absolutely everywhere!  You could probably throw a rock in any given direction while walking, and within only a few meters (depending on your location) could hit anywhere from 3-5 of them!  They really are everywhere you look, which makes it tough when trying to pick one to go with.  Everyone has their opinion on which is the best, and so far each person I’ve spoken to has named a different one as “the best”, lol!!  Though I do have my open water certification, I have yet to have done any diving as it’s been so long since my certification and I would have to do the refresher course AND for this month at least, I am tapped out financially on my extra-curricular spending.  It’s all about the budgeting!  Perhaps next month I’ll get into it, but for now, I frankly enjoy going to the beaches and simply snorkeling!  It’s free to snorkel on your own (though there are snorkel tours available too) and the variety of marine life seen snorkeling is impressive enough to me to stick with that for now.

Truth be told… while there are several beaches around the island I’ve so far only made it to two!  Sairee beach and Hin Wong beach.  Hin Wong beach is teeny and is privately owned so the owner (Mol of Mol’s beach bar) asks that each visitor either pays 50 baht (equivalent of just over $1.50) or buys a drink from the bar.  The snorkeling is unbelievable there and I keep returning for it’s absolute beauty and range of marine life!  Every time I go I see something new!  There are irradescent clams, blue-spotted sting rays, parrot fish, all sorts of damsel fish, christmas tree corals, anemones, puffer fish, and on and on!  Every time I go I also wish I had an underwater camera so I could share the beauty under the water!

Since I don’t have a motorbike however (the roads are absolute crap on the island and the other drivers are nuts to boot!!) I walk there, which is yet another way I get my exercise.  It’s a literal pain in my rear to scale the wee but very steep hill to get to the other side of the island, but it’s well worth it once there!!  While I do adore going to that beach, I also try to space out how often I go because inevitably I end up having some drinks at the bar then curse myself as I have to make the trek back over the hill, sweating my rear off (and hopefully some of the booze) to get back to my place.  Mol herself is quite the character too!  She is a native Thai but speaks English perfectly and even has a cockney accent when she drinks, lol!!

When I first arrived, I walked my way in the blistering heat from Mae Haad (where the boats all dock) toward Sairee and found very close to the Wat a place called Happy Bungalows.  For 400 baht a night I got my own bungalow with a bed, bathroom and little fridge.  When I first arrived I wasn’t sure honestly how long I’d actually stay.  My plan was to check out the two Muay Thai gyms and if I liked one, I would stay for a month to train.  If not, I would hang about for a few days to a week then head elsewhere.  Within 3 days I’d decided to stay and found a monthly rental with a kitchen through Bua Management.  Now almost 3 weeks in, I’m planning to stay for another month.  There are two reasons I came to that decision: first, I’m really enjoying the Muay Thai training and want to give it another month and second, one of my friends will be popping into Thailand to see me.  Since she is interested in diving, I figured I may as well stay put so at the very least she gets to do some diving in one of the best spots! 🙂

Eating Bat and The View

Back to Thailand

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“Ticklet”

This is the story of Piglet, who I lovingly also call “Ticklet”.  Since I’ve been here she has been one of the four (now five) porch dogs who live on the porch of the volunteer house, just across the street from the Thai Animal Sanctuary in Sangkhlaburi.  Piglet used to live in the sanctuary, as the rest of the porch dogs did, but once better chose to live outside of the gates of the sanctuary, on the street and porch, free to roam around as they choose.

What makes Piglet more interesting however is how fearful she is of humans.  She loves being around us, but won’t let anyone touch her.  There have been a few occasions however where she has allowed myself and other volunteers to scratch and pet her, but the events are VERY few and far between as she skitters away after a pat or two.  When we are away for a bit we are always greeted by her with a friendly face and tail wagging, and she always approaches us as if she wants a pat, but then retreats when we get too close.  She even accompanies us to the market or other destinations we walk to but again always just far enough away from us so we can’t touch her.

Piglet came to the sanctuary as a puppy, the sole survivor of her entire family.  The woman who opened the sanctuary here got word of a family of dogs (a mother and several puppies) who were going to be poisoned by their human owners because they didn’t want to care for them… She rushed to the site where they were to find the mother dog killed by a machete, and all the puppies except piglet dead by poison.  Piglet herself was attacked by a machete in an attempt to kill her but thankfully was rescued.  Knowing her past, it’s no wonder she doesn’t trust people.

When I first came here she was absolutely covered along her back, between her toes and on her chest with ticks (hence why I nicknamed her Ticklet).  The nasty and huge blood suckers were so prevalent that you could see them sticking off of her from a distance and every time she sat on the porch and scratched, at least one or two would fall off her.  Since no one could touch her, the continuous debate on what to do about her tick situation went on.  We tried several times to catch her with a net with no success.  I once was able to slightly distract her with treats in one hand, and as she ate I brought my other hand around with Spot-On and was able to get a drop on her before she figured out the scheme and went running away, spilling the rest of the Spot-On in the street.

It was obvious that we had to sedate her fully in order to really get in and pick all the ticks off.  We even joked about how, when she was finally under, we would each take turns cuddling her and taking pictures with her since we knew we would never get the chance again, lol!  Trouble was, I think she heard us…  You see, Ticklet is also tremendously smart.  So while we sat on the porch in the evenings discussing various things to do, I’m sure she heard when we came up with the plan to put Diazepam (sleeping pills) in some food to make her drowsy, then stab her with a syringe of Xylazine to put her completely out so we could pick off the ticks.

The day finally came when our plan was to come into action!  Several five milligram Diazepam pills were purchased to do the trick and she readily took the bait.  The pills (about 4 in the first try) were hidden in a bowl of wet dog food that was consumed at a very fast pace.  We sat and waited for her to sleep, but while she did doze a bit, she never fully lost her vigilance.  Another bowl was offered with three more pills, but still nothing happened.  Yet another bowl was offered as we thought to ourselves how ridiculous and amazing it was that she still wasn’t sleepy enough to approach!  After a total of about ten pills, she still didn’t show any signs of drowsiness!!  She did however decide to take a walk…

Figuring she was finally feeling drowsy, but being smart enough not to fall asleep in front of us, she was probably trying to move elsewhere so she could actually fall asleep without threat of us stabbing her with a full dose of sleeping aid.  So of course we had to follow.  She walked down the block and into a large area of pure jungle where she sniffed and walked leisurely to find the right spot.  She never did actually lay down however, just sniffed here and there as if she was interested in doing so.  Frankly I think she was really just having a laugh at us!

It started to look promising however as she looked a bit drowsy at one point, but the second we went to make a move toward her through the jungle she was off again running in and out of various jungle in the yards of the neighbors down the street.  We continued to follow at a distance, determined not to lose her!  The whole event ended with her walking (quite alert) right back onto the property of the volunteer house.  She never did fall asleep even once during the whole ordeal!  Funnily enough however, (and maybe it was just that the temperature at night began to drop) after that day Ticklet turned back into Piglet as the ticks began to fall off her body on their own…  Personally I think that the ten milligrams of Diazepam, which seemingly had no effect on Piglet, actually worked to put all the ticks on her body to sleep thereby making them drop off on their own, lol!!

It’s been several weeks since the event at this point, and Piglet is still tick-free (at least as far as we can see from the distance she allows).  Such a clever dog she is… I’m sure she heard us talking of taking pictures and cuddling with her while she was out that she simply funneled all the sleeping pills to the ticks instead just so she wouldn’t have to endure such torture of cuddling from us, lol!!

On to Thankful

Back to Thailand

Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam

Red Light District & the church: The women are viewed as entrepreneurs and not as common prostitutes.  They are self-employed, practice safe sex and are tested regularly just in case of mishaps.  They are even protected by the government.  Pimps are illegal and apparently part of the job of cops in Amsterdam is to question women of the district to try to snuff out any potentials for them being forced to be there.  The women are even paid for their time of questioning (50 Euro for 15 minutes- That’s the going rate).  Every woman is there on her own free will.  Sex is not something to be ashamed of or to be banished behind closed doors and never talked about.  Everything is out in the open.  I adore that kind of freedom and commend the government for being so accepting and ensuring the women are safe instead of turning a blind eye and creating dangerous situations.   The picture below is of a statue of sorts planted in the street in the Red Light District that pays homage to the women of the District.

Embracing Love
Embracing Love

 

The church just outside of the district just made me chuckle:)  Amsterdam was a port town and many of the men who worked abroad the ships had been away from land for a year or more.   So once they landed in Amsterdam and stumbled into the Red Light District, they of course had a lot of pent-up energy to get rid of.  So they would spend their weekend blowing all their money with the women, then stumble out of the district and directly into the church, very conveniently located, to repent all the naughty things they just engaged in… LOL!!!  Love it!

Church outside Red Light District
Church outside Red Light District

 

Coffeeshops & drugs: if you are looking for a cup of coffee while visiting Amsterdam, you won’t find any in any of the coffeshops around town.  For real coffee, go to the Kaffe shops:)  If you would like to partake in smoking a bit of an illegal substance, well then the coffeeshop is for you!  Here again is an example of how the people coexist peacefully.  It is actually ILLEGAL to smoke marijuana in Amsterdam.  Yes, it is.

However the government turns its eye from those smoking in coffee shops.  Because they are just sitting in coffee shops.  They aren’t bothering anyone or doing anything wrong.  They are just hanging out.  In fact, the guide even said that you could walk up to a cop, tell them that there are people smoking marijuana in that shop over there and they would simply say “what are you talking about? They are just having coffee” and walk away.  Again, I love the acceptance and tolerance.  Even though the law is technically being broken they recognize that the people in the shops aren’t bothering anyone.  They are simply enjoying something they enjoy!  Sure does make our view on marijuana in the States seem so petty, especially knowing that people are sitting in jail for smoking/growing/selling/possessing marijuana while murderers are out on parole!!

I wish more countries would take a lesson from the way that the government in Amsterdam views drugs and addicts.  At one point in their history, not that long ago, Amsterdam was plagued by heroin addicts.  They were violent, damaged themselves and others, and even cops were not really willing to deal with them because they were so dangerous.  So the government took on a different view on drugs.  They divided drugs into hard and soft drugs.

People who were addicted to hard drugs (heroin) were viewed as sick people who needed help.  Not as criminals.  They provided places where heroin addicts could go to get their fix and they would allow the addicts to use heroine in these places where they provided clean needles and were under the watchful eye of a medical professional to make sure they didn’t O.D.  The addicts were then allowed to come and go as they pleased.  The addicts always had a safe place where they could go to take their drugs.  If they got in trouble with the law however, after the third strike they would be sent (mandatory) to a rehab center to get them clean.  If they wanted to voluntarily go at any point, they were allowed at no cost to them.  Now that’s the kind of mentality that makes me believe that the government ACTUALLY CARES about their people… Does Amsterdam have a drug problem today with crimes and cartels running rampant?  No they don’t!

Soft drugs (marijuana) on the other hand are allowed a “free” pass.  Or in other words are simply overlooked as long as they are occurring in coffee shops:) Mind you that even though there are probably more drugs and varieties of drugs per square inch in Amsterdam than in any other place, I was never once stopped on the street or harassed in any way about buying drugs as I was when in Costa Rica and Berlin.  I wonder why…???

On to Drug Bust en route to Paris

Back to Europe

Amsterdam!!!!!

Ok, now I know I’ve said this before about places I’ve been to… But I ABSOLUTELY LOVED AMSTERDAM!!!!!  Honestly if I can find a place with such charm, spirit, acceptance and SANITY as exists in the people and politics of Amsterdam, yet somewhere warm all year round, well let’s just say I will have found home:)  Alas, it does get cold there in the winter so sadly I won’t be able to call it my new home… The search continues, grrr!!!

Moving on… Why do I LOVE Amsterdam so much, you may ask??  The reasons are so numerous I’m getting excited just thinking about the prospect of writing about them!  Their views on sex and drugs, their tolerance for people of different religious backgrounds, races, sexes and lifestyles.  Then tack on the natural and pure beauty of the city itself with the crazy architecture and lovely Venice-like canals running throughout.  So many extremes live peacefully together within a stone’s throw of each other.  Everyone is accepting of one another and though they may not always agree, they don’t bother or use any sort of violence toward another.  They just coexist and go along with their lives and leave what they don’t agree with in peace.  Ah, just wonderful!!  So many places and people could learn a lot from this kind of mentality.

The only warning I will give people about Amsterdam is BEWARE THE BICYCLISTS!!!!  Seriously, they will run your rear over and not even look back if you dare to get in their way!!  Not kidding either… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into the bike lane or even in the street and had a near heart attack because I was almost run over by a passing  cyclist.  As one of guides during a tour I took said (and I’m paraphrasing here): the people of Amsterdam are wonderful and friendly people.  However something happens to them when they get on a bicycle.  They suddenly morph into crazy homicidal maniacs who will take you out if you get in their way.  LOL!!!

I stayed at the StayOkay Stadsdoelen Hostel a short distance from the train station and just a few blocks from the Red Light District.  The hostel itself was nice and located directly on one of the canals, and even though I was sharing the room with 19 other people, being on the canal gave it a nice view and some charm.

When I first arrived via train into town I have to be honest that I wasn’t impressed at all.  The area around the train station isn’t anything to write home about as it’s kinda dumpy and industrial.  However just a few minutes of walking took me into one of the hearts of the city (the Red Light District) and the cute homes, canals and vibe started to thrill me.  Funnily enough, I had no idea that I had been walking through the Red Light district while trying to find my hostel and only learned later while looking at a map where I’d been.  That just goes to show you how classy the area is.  It’s not “in your face” or intrusive in any way, though it’s there.

Oh wait… I did say I had only one warning about Amsterdam for tourists.  Well… I just thought of one more… Do NOT take pictures of the women in the windows of the Red Light district!!!  This was a warning given to us during the “free” walking tour and the “Red Light District” tour I took later that night.  As it was told to us by our tour guides the women of the district are entrepreneurs.  They are not things to be gawked at or disrespected.  And if they catch you taking pictures and you don’t pay them anything for them, they may come out from their window, chase you down, take your camera from you, stomp it to a mechanical pulp with their 6-inch heels and walk away.  Yes, apparently this does happen quite often… In fact it happened during my tour of the District to an unfortunate gentlemen.  Personally I was so freaked by the prospect of my camera getting stomped to death that I didn’t even take my camera out while walking through the district, lol!

The walking tour I went on started in front of the National Monument just across from the Royal Palace.  It covered the Red Light District, Rembrandt’s house, the Nieuwmarkt, coffeeshops, a little known community of charitable women, the homomonument and we were left just about a block away from the house of Anne Frank.  At this point I had been on several of the “free” walking tours in various cities and what I really appreciate about them is that each is so unique.  Not just because they are obviously about different cities, but because each guide tells the stories that they find most interesting.  So each tour guide will give a different experience to each participant.  Love it!  I paid for a tour of the Red Light District which included stories on the history of the district, a peek on a live sex show, how Amsterdam has come to embrace the district and ended with drinks at a club.

Now I will admit that while I was perfectly fine during the walking tour, I was a teeny bit (fairly plastered) drunk during the Red Light District tour… I do regret that I was so intoxicated during the tour because I don’t recall as many of the stories as I would like to have.  But I guess you could say it’s just another reason to go back:)

In my “defense” the reason I was so intoxicated is because I was thinking about getting a tattoo or new piercing so I would always be reminded of the good times in Amsterdam.  I even went so far as to check out various options.  Turned out to be too expensive and I wasn’t terribly inspired on what to get so I ended up settling on a pair of flip-flops to remember my time by, lol!!!  But after deciding against a tattoo or piercing I had several hours of time to kill before my night tour, so I wandered into a bar…

Turned out it was a gay bar, which didn’t bother me because it had fabulous music, was low key and not terribly crowded at the time.  However as the hours went on, the crowds grew and I had befriended several of the other bar patrons hanging out and the next thing you knew shots were being bought for me, I was buying shots for others, and well, I’m just happy I made it out of there and to the tour at all!!  The shots were a typical (and yummy I may add) shot of Amsterdam called “Heuge Meug” made of cognac, Tia Maria’s and a splash of Bailey’s… YUMMMY!!!  But lethal too, lol!!

As for the walking tour, here are my favorite bits.  The next post on ‘Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam’ are also highlights from the tour, but I just had so much to say on them that I thought it best to put them in a new post:)

Stock exchange: The World’s first stock exchange started in Amsterdam with the establishment of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the most powerful and successful trading company to trade goods out of Asia.  How did they become so good at their trade (pun intended)??  Traders in the Netherlands devised a deal with one another.  Instead of sending separate ships to Asia, one for tea, one for spices, one for pepper, etc. they would send out 20 ships and load 5% of each product on every ship.  That way, if one ship sank during adverse weather only 5% of each supply was lost instead of losing 100% of a supply.  So everyone was able to get their particular product back for trading.  Clever, clever!!  The trading company reigned for more than 100 years but eventually did decline.

World's First Stock Exchange
World’s First Stock Exchange

Coffeeshops & the Red Light District: I write about these bits in great detail in the next post but for the picture below, this coffeeshop is actually where they filmed a scene from Ocean’s 12.  The scene didn’t make any sense and in the next post you will learn why:) Notice the unexpected critter in the shop too… LOL!

Community of Charitable Women:  This community started back in the 1600’s and is alive and well today.  The way it originally began was with a group of women who wanted to take on the charitable responsibilities of nuns without actually having to take all the vows or chastities of nuns.  Hence began the community of charitable women:)  Now this title I’ve assigned is my own title- it’s not what the group is actually called (since I can’t recall specifically) and I’m not even sure where the community is in Amsterdam since I neglected to take a picture of what street we were on when coming to it.  But I guess it’s meant to be that way since it was sort of a secret of the city.  Behind the door in the picture below lay the community of women who simply want to live life giving to others.  That is how the community began and today it is a peaceful and very sought out area of town to live.  This community only allows people who meet the following criteria to live there: 1) they must be female; 2) they must be over 30; and 3) they must be single.  To live in this community is so sought after that women are put on a waiting list.  One story told to us was of a woman whose name was finally called after 10 years of waiting.   When the call came she had been dating a steady boyfriend for several years but she promptly broke up with him so she could move into the community, LOL!!  The picture of the grave below is of one of the original members of the community who died in 1654.  She wanted to be buried in the street so she could feel the rain wash over her.  When she did die however she was buried in a regular cemetary, even though it was against her wishes (If memory serves it was her family who buried her in the cemetary).  One night the women of the community knowing her final wish for her resting place went to the cemetary, dug her up and took her back to the community where they burried her in the street.  Now those are true friends!

XXX: No, this doesn’t refer at all to the Red Light District or anything at all to do with anything X-rated, it is merely at the core of the 500 year old coat of arms of Amsterdam.  It can be seen just about everywhere throughout the city however from the flags to street signs and of course on the coat of arms itself.

XXX
XXX

The Nieuwmarkt: this building is was the old gate to medieval Amsterdam and was built in 1488.  It stood in the canal until 1614 and in 1617 it became a weighing station.  Interesting story told by our guide about this place is that it was also the location of several “human experiements” shall we say…  Doctors and surgeons way back when used this location to perform a variety of disections on human bodies to figure out how they work.  If memory serves it was also the site of many executions that then led to their bodies being taken apart piece by piece to see how they ticked… Today it is a restaurant:)  Steak anyone?? 😉

Homomonument:  This monumnet is made up of 3 triangles, that if viewed above form a larger single triangle where each of the three smaller forms a point of the larger one.  The Homomonument serves as a memorial to all gay men and lesbians who have had to face persecution at any point in their lives because of their sexuality.  To me it once again shows how wonderfully accepting and celebratory Amsterdam is of the people who make their lives there.

 

More Miscellaneous Pictures:

On to Sex and Drugs in Amsterdam

Back to Europe

Berlin

Ah, Berlin!!  So many things to say about Berlin!!  What an awesome energy!!  Hip, cool, a strange mix of modern and older history.  This city is just busting at the seams with a young vibe.  Of course, while it does have a history that extends hundreds of years, in a way (due to being completely destroyed during WWII) it is a new city.  Graffiti can be found on just about every surface throughout the city and there’s a wildness in the air that speaks to a freedom of “come as you are and you will be accepted”.  Such a paradox given the very recent history of the city basically being imprisoned- either during the War or the Wall.  Maybe it is only due to all the turbulence in its recent history, but Berlin also seems confused as to which direction it wants to go.  There has been so much upheaval there relatively recently and I’m curious how it will continue to grow.

I stayed in a super sketchy looking section of town in a hostel called Jetpak Alternative.  To their credit, they advertised that they are in a sketchy area complete with dog sh*t and lots and lots of graffiti.  Across the street is a park that anyone who isn’t looking for trouble or drugs should just stay out of.  The hostel itself was wonderful!  It was a little nerve-wracking walking around the neighborhood after dark at times since people would often come up to you asking if you wanted drugs.  But I felt safe enough and would stay in that hostel again.  The people were nice and informative and it once again had that fun and inviting vibe that I had recalled of hostels while traveling in Central America yet didn’t encounter at all at the hostel in England.  I really wanted to stay another night but wasn’t able to since they were fully booked.  So I took that as a sign to keep on moving!

In the time I did spend there I joined in for a “free” walking tour:)  The morning before the tour walked from the hostel to the meeting point (Parizer Platz) just taking in the sights and stopping along the way for pictures.  I took a quick tour of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (quick because I didn’t realize I was running out of time before the tour!) which was very impressive and quite moving!  The ways in which people came up with to escape Berlin while the Wall was up was amazing!

We started (as mentioned above) at Parizer Platz, then headed to the Holocaust museum, the Berlin Wall, the now parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker was located, the real Checkpoint Charlie location, to some churches, a theater and ended in the square where Hitler ordered all books be burned (across from the University).  As I’ve done before I will share my favorite stories of the tour but not all the information below:)

At the end of the tour I took the train back with a guy that was also staying in my hostel (he was also in the tour) since I had been walking about 7 hours at this point! This does remind me though of the train situation in Germany… It really is on the honor system as to whether or not you buy tickets!!  They don’t have any gates stopping you from getting onto the train without a ticket, so while technically one could gamble by hopping on a train for free to get to their destination, I wouldn’t recommend it simply because plain-clothed cops are apparently always present and randomly checking for people aboard without tickets.  And there is a hefty fine for those who do try to ride for free…  Just sayin’ 🙂

Highlights of the tour:

Hotel Adlon: this hotel is THE MOST expensive hotel to stay in Berlin.  It is famous for 2 reasons… the first and most recent event, it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony railing.  The second (and more historical) is that it is only one of two buildings that was not bombed and was still standing after the war!!  Everything else was destroyed!!  However, years later a group of Russians (as part of an army if memory serves) stayed in the hotel and proceeded to engage in a pastime that is quite popular among many: drink!!  They drank and drank and drank and at some point someone, somehow started a fire that caught and burned down part of the hotel!!  So there is a joke now where the hotel was able to survive a war, but NOT a Russian party, lol!!!! 😉

Hotel Adlon
Hotel Adlon

Holocaust Memorial: it was just so moving.  There is a museum that is part of the memorial that I unfortunately was not able to make it to but certainly plan to when I make it back there!  The artist who designed the memorial did a fabulous job with it for sure!  It was thought-provoking, moving, inspiring and emotional!!  A must see for anyone who visits!  And I may add that it was probably one of the few areas that did not have any graffiti on it at all:)

Hitler’s Underground Bunker: Interesting information here that I’d never heard before about Hitler.  First that he had Parkinson’s Disease and was taking numerous drugs (LSD, liquid cocaine eye drops, etc) to try to keep even keel, so to speak.  It really shouldn’t have surprised me that he was on drugs given how absolutely loony tunes he was, but it did.  The second thing was that he got married!  Eva, his bride married him and agreed to a suicide pact with him.  She ended up killing herself before he did himself in.  Good riddance!  Oh and the underground bunker isn’t marked in any way because the government doesn’t want the crazies out there setting up some sort of memorial in his honor on the site.  Good idea!!

Standing on Hitler's Underground Bunker
Standing on Hitler’s Underground Bunker

Berlin Wall:  this whole idea just fascinated me… Why would a government build a wall then FORCE people to stay on one side or the other in order to build a “stronger” government????  I just don’t get it!!  Anyway, my favorite bit about this part was the clever escape one family succeeded in fleeing East Berlin.  The father worked in a building nearby and managed to smuggle his family in the building before it closed.  They hid in the building until everyone left for the night then changed in all black clothing and went to the roof.  They flung a line from the roof over the wall to the other side where a friend of theirs was waiting and basically zip-lined from the roof to the other side of the wall!!  What’s even funnier is that a guard of the wall saw this activity taking place but didn’t sound any alarm because he thought for sure it was an undercover op going on, lol!!!

Prophecy from 1820:  the below plaque basically translates to “wherever they burn books they burn only people at the end”.  That isn’t an exact translation but I did find it interesting that it was a statement made in 1820 by Heinrich Heine, a German poet, and it was justly posted at the site where Hitler had ordered all books to be burned, just before he really started to come into his power.  And as we all know his reign sadly and very unfortunately did end with the burning of people.

Prolific Wise Words from 1820
Prolific Wise Words from 1820

 

More Pictures from Berlin

On to Potential Controversy

Back to Europe

Back in the States

I flew back into the States from Bogota, Colombia after almost a full year of traveling between Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  I had spent most of my time in Costa Rica in the sleepy small Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo on the Southern Caribbean coast.  Coming back to the States was a bit of a shell shocker from a few perspectives.  First the amount of technology blaring in your face in the form of TVs was one thing I definitely noticed that took some getting used to again.  The second thing was the blinders were put back on.  You know, those blinders we tend to put on walking down the street, not saying hi to a soul unless you know them.  Not being present to the outside world while moving through it yet just keeping to your own world.  Those blinders… When first going to Costa Rica it literally shocked me that people would say good morning to me and acknowledge me as I walked down the streets.  Then I got used to doing the same to others as I went from place to place.  Then back in the States at first I kept my newly adopted persona of acknowledging people but was met with strange looks and no responses or people literally making a wider gap around me as they walked past.  So eventually the blinders went back on… Oh well…

Coming back to the States was a choice I made primarily because the bank account was starting to get a little low and because where I had been traveling in Colombia was getting too cold for my taste and the travel enthusiasm was just dwindling.  I went back to Houston to help house-sit my sisters place (and her two adorable dogs) as she was away quite often.  I got a job there as a bartender and server (a trade I picked up for the first time ever in Costa Rica) and stayed about 6 months or so.  Once my sister was back from her work obligations and I was no longer needed as a dog/house sitter, I moved to Key West, Florida.

I lived and worked in Key West for 10 months, saving all my pennies as much as possible (though of course I did have a little bit of a life too!) and then packed it all up and headed out traveling again.  This time the destination was Europe.  My time in Key West I’ll never forget.  And who knows, one day I may still return.  Though it isn’t the kind of place I could see myself living at permanently (there are no beaches on the island itself and it’s a little too much of a party town for my taste… If you don’t like to drink to oblivion on an almost daily basis there’s not much of a life to be had there really) I had so many amazing opportunities and met many people I consider life-long friends. It took a while to find some of these people, but I’m blessed that I did.

Key West really is a drinking town with a fishing problem.  It’s no wonder people get way too carried away there.  Tourists come for the party and as a person in the service industry we were there to provide it.  Mind you, we only dealt in the LEGAL party!  Though many tourists did come to Key West literally thinking they could do anything (it’s amazing, I seriously think people thought Key West was no longer part of the States and they could do whatever they wanted!!) and we were sometimes asked for drugs at my work from tourists, but they were always turned away.  Yes, Key West also has lots of drugs.  Go figure.  Until having lived in Costa Rica I never really realized how prevalent drugs really are.  Then from there on they literally seemed to be everywhere.  Sometimes I miss my rose colored glasses, but just like everything else in life, you can choose to be involved or you can choose not to be involved.  Everyone has a choice.

You know, as I type this up I can’t help but think that even though I really couldn’t wait to get out of Key West at the time (since there were a number of things I didn’t really like about it) it somehow grew on me and now I can say I have a little strange spot in my heart for the place.  Perhaps its also because I really enjoyed my job.  I know that’s an odd thing to say, but I really enjoyed bartending and serving; creating a positive vacation experience for tourists and such.  Anyway… that’s enough nostalgia for now!

So after leaving Key West, surprising my mom in Houston for her birthday, taking a trip out West to see family and friends in Arizona and New Mexico, then a trip to Mexico (Puerto Penasco aka Rocky Point) with my mom and finally seeing my Tennessee family back in Houston, it was time to hit the road again.  July 30th, 2014 I landed in Heathrow airport in London…

 

On to London

Back to Homepage

Time to Leave

Though I had an absolute fantastic time in Puerto Viejo and met a bunch of people whom I consider life-long friends, after about 10 months of living there, it was time to pack up and see more of the world once again.  I still to this day miss a lot of Puerto Viejo and Costa Rica in general, namely the wildlife and captivating nature that surrounds you daily there…. But, if I had stayed there I wouldn’t have had the chance to continue traveling and exploring as I originally planned to do.

Truth be told as well, just as in many places you first go to then get to know better, the rose colored glasses came off.  While there was and is a lot of beauty and great things about Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo, there are also a lot of drugs there.  They are after all in the direct line of drug trafficking, so it’s really no big surprise, but still there gets a point where enough is enough.  Looking around knowing that the majority of people were on one drug or another, just started to wear on me.  And looking at people who had lived there forever and seeing how squirrely they had turned out, just made you wonder if that was the only future to look forward to.  So for that reason and wanting to explore and travel more in general, I packed it up and headed out.

Since I’d already done Bocas del Toro, I decided to simply head back to David, then on to Panama City, then head to Portobello on the Caribbean coast of Panama to catch a sailboat through the San Blas Islands into Colombia…

So the travels continue…

On to Panama City, Panama

Back to Puerto Viejo