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Jude’s birthday pachyderms

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Christmas in Phuket is interesting, because the Thai people do not celebrate Christmas. Thailand is 85% Buddhist and 14% Muslim, so Christmas Day is just another work day, but, with many foreigners visiting for the holidays, many hotels display decorated Christmas trees and several stores sell minimal decorations and treats. We were able to find a real, wonderful smelling Christmas tree for sale – all the way from Canada, and brought it home to decorate with tinsel garlands and colorful balls.

Four days after Christmas, our beautiful Jude turned 21, and knowing that she has an intense love for elephants, we scheduled an afternoon with the gentle Asian giants. The place we enjoy going to, is the Phuket Elephant Retirement Park, where worked and abused elephants are brought to safety, roam free unless being medically treated, and spend their days eating, playing, taking mud baths, chunky dunking in the water hole, and sleeping. None of them are chained, beaten or ridden, like so many others are in Thailand.

Jude fed a baby a bottle of soy milk. It guzzled it down in seconds.

It was clear to see that the young elephants were quite a handful, as they played and wrestled with each other, and only listened to the staff when they felt like it.

The two youngest, who were 18 months and two years old, took turns splashing around in a big tub. At times they both tried to fit in at the same time, at which point one would squeal and chase the other out.

We helped prepare food for the elephants, by washing cucumbers, while others husked corn and chopped sugar cane.

I love hairy little elephant tails!

The elephants only sleep for 4 hours a day, and the other 20 hours are spent eating, bathing, rolling in dirt, eating, throwing dirt all over, eating, playing and eating.

Our favorite part is playing in the mud with the elephants…and each other. I didn’t want to risk slipping and hurting my back, so this time I had a blast and a half standing on the sidelines and taking photos of the mud fight.
Aidan decided to tackle Jude, but they both went down together!

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh mud!

It didn’t take long before Danny and our friend, Jack, got in on it, and it all went down hill from there!

Our family was covered from head to toe…

So much fun!

The elephants LOVE the mud!

Just when I thought these goof balls were done… I realized they weren’t…

So much fun in the warm mud!

The elephants (and family) were then led to the waterhole, where they massaged the pachyderm backs with brushes.

One in particular enjoyed filling its trunk with water and spraying everyone.

Once they were nice and clean, some of them snuck off to roll in the dirt…

The creatures had a blast!

What an amazing day.

Happy Birthday Jude.

Catching up – Family

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Since more of our family was arriving in Yakima, we rented airbnb’s for the remainder of our time there, and enjoyed time together all under one roof. I had frequent appointments with Dr Meirelles, where my surgery sites were checked, meds adjusted and physical therapy began. Each time we visited the office we felt like we were meeting with family members, as they welcomed us with smiles and open arms, and I, for the first time in a very long time, could stand at my full height and without any pain. I am so grateful.

When my mom was a little girl, one of her fondest memories was eating ‘gum’ from trees out in the bush in Africa. She preferred it to any candy. Mycah, my mom and I came across a tree with gum on it, and made several trips to it, filling ziplock bags with the sticky golden treat. My mom enjoyed every bit of it, making sounds of delight as she chewed. It was so precious to watch.

The most wonderful part of being in Yakima, was having our beautiful Creatures around me. Six of the original 7 (Jonathan had to work), were there, and well as two precious additions, Nonna and Zailyn.

We spent hours playing,

going for walks and wheelchair rides,

watching movies, and laughing and cuddling.

Regardless of how much time all the Aunties and Uncles spent with her, her absolute favorite person, was Oupa!!!

Nonna is such an amazing mother to Zailyn, and a wonderful daughter to us. We adore her and love the energy and love she has brought into our life and Hunter’s life.

The competition continues with Hunter and Aidan, and so far hunter is still taller but Aidan is SO close behind…I’m not sure I got an accurate photo, because the two of them kept jumping and standing on their toes.

After our time in Yakima, we spent ten days in California with Mom and Dad. We loved every second with them and wish we could whisk them away and bring them here to Thailand with us.

Being back in Thailand has been wonderful. It’s good to be home back in the warmth, where continued adventures await…

Catching up…Our trip to Nebraska and Yakima

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The past four months have been quite the whirlwind! I’ve wanted to write several times, but due to the medications I’ve been on, was unable to think straight long enough to write anything that made sense.So, here’s how this whole adventure has transpired…

In August, Mycah and I traveled to Nebraska to visit our sweet family. Zailyn has grown so much and seeing her, Hunter and Nonna, was so wonderful. We were planning on being gone from Phuket for a couple weeks, but an entirely new unexpected adventure awaited us…

For so many years now, I have experienced intense lower back pain, and due to the combination of my stubbornness and high pain threshold, have put it out of my mind for far too long. After years of powerlifting, horse back riding, running track barefoot, cliff jumping, and living life to the fullest, the damage I have inflicted on my poor spine, had finally caught up with me. After the 26 hours of travel to the US, my back had finally had it and may sciatic pain was through the roof. Mycah managed all the luggage and pushed me in a wheelchair through the airports. Once settled in Nebraska, a friend of mine who is in anesthesia and living in Yakima, Washington, suggested I travel there to meet with a colleague who is a Neurosurgeon.
After spending just a short time with our angels in Nebraska, we hopped on an airplane to Yakima, figuring we’d be there for a week or two…

Our friend, Jeff Follis, picked us up at the airport and he and his sweet wife, Susan, invited us to stay with them in their home in Yakima. Jeff gave me an epidural that evening right there in their kitchen, to try tide me over till my appointment, and I received a few hours of relief, then continued to experience the intense pain that had me walking completely bent over and leaning to the right.

Dr Meirelles, who owns and practices at Northwest Neurosciences in Yakima Washington, has been an answer to prayer. He is the most knowledgeable, thorough, compassionate doctor. When in the exam room with him, I felt like I was the only patient on his schedule, and had his absolute undivided attention. After an MRI, X-Rays and examination, he helped me understand exactly what was going on in my back and gave me options for treatment and explained recovery of each. In the mean time he had started me on medications to help relieve the pain.

His diagnosis was that I have Spondylollithesis, Radiculopathy, Scoliosis, Bulgining lumbar discs and Ruptured lumbar discs.
The Spondylollithesis is when vertebra slip, which is a defect of one to both wing shaped parts of a vertebra, and can result in vertebra slipping backward or forward over a bone below.
Radiculopathy is when one or more nerves are effected and neuropathy occurs, which results in in tense pain, weakness, numbness and/or difficulty controlling certain muscles. I was experiencing foot drop because of it, and over the top excruciating pain.
Scoliosis is a condition where someone has a “S” or “C” shaped curve to their spine. Mine is “C” shaped.

The staff worked literally day and night to get me pre approved though our International Insurance which is based in Hong Kong with offices in London and who knows where else, and helped Mycah and I feel completely at home and taken care of.

After informing Dr Meirelles that I would really like him to go ahead and fix all of it at once, he explained the expected length of surgery, that it would actually take two surgeries, 4 or 5 days apart, and that recovery would take about a year. I had absolute complete faith that he was the doc for the job, and I wanted him to start ASAP.
From the time he prescribed the medications and I started taking them, to several weeks after the surgeries is a bit of a blur because I am not a pill taker, and was in ‘Lala land’ for all of it, but I do remember all sorts of fun and exciting events taking place while waiting for the insurance to approve the surgeries…

For Mycah’s 19th birthday, her and Jeff went skydiving. He took a special class allowing him to jump solo, and Mycah jumped tandem. Both of them loved the experience!

Jeff and Susan introduced us to amazing things, like MOD Pizza, and drove us through gorgeous countryside and to a wonderful little town where a huge market/street fair was taking place. They pushed me around in a wheelchair and while Mycah dyed her mouth and organs blue with cotton candy, I devoured kettle corn!

Mycah and I fell in love with Washington! We loved seeing hundreds of acres of orchids and vineyards, and the quaint barns and fruit stands selling boxes of delicious, crisp apples and pears.

As time passed we could see that due to insurance approval taking forever, we were going to be there much longer than we thought. I also had no idea that my back was as bad as it was, and knew that staying longer in Dr Meirelles’s care was going to be important. I spoke with Danny and the twins who were back in Phuket, moving our belongings into our new rental home, and we decided that we’d fly the twins out to where we were.

I had many pre op and post op appointments as Dr Meirelles tried to keep my pain at bay until he could operate. The staff were filled with compassion and kindness, and so were Jeff, Susan and Mycah. We communicated regularly with Hunter and Nonna in Nebraska and described how wonderful the area was that we were in, which got them talking more about moving out there.

Finally it came time for surgery. I was in such overwhelming pain as I climbed up on the table. Dr Meirelles looked at me with great compassion and reassured me that when I woke up, pain would be considerably less and I would be able to stand taller. For 11 hours,Dr Meirelles picked through contorted, delicate bundles of nerves and disk material, freeing up the nerves without damaging them. As part of the surgical team, another doctor placed sensors along my nerves and his job was to monitor them and inform Dr Meirelles if he was getting too close to the nerves. Our friend, Jeff Follis took care of anesthesia and did an extraordinary job, and so did the nurses and other members of the surgical team.

After laying in recovery, Dr Meirelles took my hands and helped me stand, and for the first time in many many months, I was able to stand at my full 5’8” height, and standing there, I was in no pain at all. The big test would be, once medications from surgery had worn off.

While I had been under anesthesia, Danny, Mycah and my beautiful Mom had been chatting on the phone, and had decided to fly my Mom out to Yakima to help with my recovery. There’s nothing like being in your mothers arms when you’re not feeling good. Mycah took care of my every need. She gave me medications night and day at their scheduled times, drained the bags of blood that hung from tubes entering my body, helped me to the bathroom, and got me to and from the doctor office. She is truly an Angel.

Four days later I was back in surgery for another 7 hours, at which point bone grafts from my own body as well as a cadaver, were placed, and also cages, rods and screws – all securing my S1, L4 and L5 in place. Between my pacemaker and the added hardware, I felt even more like a bionic woman! A fragile one for now and the next year, but bionic non the less!

Crystal Blue: Phase 1

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Once Crystal Blue was safely on land, we sighed a huge sigh of relief. It had been painful to watch her laying so low in the surf, and at this point all we wanted to do was give her a good fresh water bath and to see what condition the engine was in.

While the M9 Marina workers got busy building stands to hold Crystal Blue, Danny and I ran into town to find a wet vac, a diesel can and some tools.

The Thai workers immediately began cutting and welding, and we were curious to see what they were going to come up with.

Our patch job had held up reasonably well, but seeing her completely out and lifted up, it was obvious that there were far more gouges, cracks and holes than we’d anticipated.

One of the arms on the haul out trailer had pushed against the hull where it was cracked, and left a massive dent and crack.

Her keel was so sad to look at, and we still needed to return to the beach where she washed up, and retrieve the 4800lbs of ballast. Our bill for loading her up with barrels, pulling her off the beach with the tug boat, towing her to M9 Marina, hauling her out and placing her on stands, was about $5000.

Her interior was filled with sand and the barrels used for floatation had left their mark too. The great thing about having holes in the hull, is that you can scoop that sand right out through the holes and onto the ground below! A large sheet of wood had been placed up against the ceiling to prevent more damage, but it was clear that all wood would need to be removed, cleaned, sanded and stained. What a mess.

Danny was drawn to the engine like a magnet since he’d been thinking about it all night and found it covered in mud and sand. He cleaned it all out, and poked around checking things out.

The following day we had to leave as a family for Malaysia for 3 days, to get our 90 day visas. Danny wouldn’t have time to pickle the engine, and didn’t want it to sit till we returned, so for 5000 baht ($150) a mechanic at M9 marina did the job for us…running diesel through the engine and was able to get it started. Gold star for Yanmar!!! What a champ!

We chatted with a gentleman by the name of Steve Stebbins with Oceanus Marine Services, asking advice on the best plan of attack on our new project, and he was so organized and reassuring, we instantly wanted to work with him. We told him that as a family we wanted to do as much of the work as possible, but knew that working on the boat in a marina in Thailand is illegal without a work permit, so the work we do had to be done back at our house. We also told him that we wanted to repair Crystal Blue according to Island Packet standards, and immediately got in contact will Bill Bolin, who has worked at Island Packet Yachts for 29 years, and signed up for the Island Packet Pedigree for $99. This would provide us with blueprints and tons of other info needed for a solid restoration. Bill was wonderful and told us to call anytime. We instantly felt so welcomed into the Island Packet family.

When we returned from Malaysia, we found Crystal Blue propped up on massive metal jungle gym!

Our immediate impression was that she was definitely not going anywhere!

We did worry that there were too many supports, which would make it difficult to work on the hulls. Note how bent the rudder post is!

Steve came up with a plan, and told us that Phase 1 would be to get everything out of the boat, including all wood, power washing the boat down, removing the sails, mast and rigging, and tenting the boat.
We immediately got to work…pulling the pick up close and began tossing things overboard. Aidan rinsed things off and placed them in the truck. It’s interesting taking someone else things out of a boat, realizing that these items were important to them. My heart ached once again for her previous owner.

Emma worked hard inside, gathering garbage, mud, sand and broken bits of stuff.

With aching backs, we knew that every load we removed, was one step closer to our end goal, so we continued on with smiles and good humor. It felt so good to be back working on a boat again – even if it was on land.
It was good to see that top side, Crystal Blue still looked great.

After two days of cleaning, she was looking so good inside.

Having her clean inside allowed us to see more clearly what damage there was.

I love her wood floor and want to make sure we restore that properly.

She was starting to look more alive every minute.

As each hour of work past, we felt more and more bonded with her, and could just imagine how fun she’ll be to explore with.

Steve brought a huge crane in and Aidan and Emma helped demast her – leaving her looking a bit naked.

By the following day, most of the wood had been stripped out of her,

and loaded into the pick up for us to work on at home.

Before leaving to head home I stood in her cockpit at the helm, with a big smile on my face. Progress… it’s a beautiful thing!

Saving Crystal Blue

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Usually if I stand outside our bedroom and call to the creatures first thing in the early morning, they will slowly emerge from their rooms as they wipe their eyes and yawn, and finally find their focus and reply, ‘yes, Mom?’ This particular morning was different…I had just woken to a phone call from the elders in our church, saying that a member of our church was having a rough morning and needed our help. His 30ft Island Packet sailboat had broken free from her anchor in a storm in the night, and had washed up on rocks and he was trying to get her off. Since our family had already endured a shipwreck, they thought perhaps we could be of assistance. I told him we’d head out in the next 10 minutes, then woke Danny up and explained the situation to him. When I stepped out into the hallway and called to the creatures, telling them we needed to help our friends in a shipwreck situation, Mycah, Aidan and Emma were instantly up, alert and naming off items they would grab to take with and help.

The hour drive over was an interesting one for all of us, as we chatted about possible ideas and a suggestions for the plan of attack, though we wouldn’t know exactly what we were dealing with till we saw her. We all commented on what we had felt the morning after our shipwreck, as we were driven to the closest point where our sailboat was. We felt anxious, and just wanted to get busy to keep our emotions at bay. We had learned so much from our experience and more than anything, just wanted to be a comfort and a help.

As soon as we reached the site, we chatted with Bill, the owner, to find out what his plan was and told him to put us to work. Many rocks were off to her port side, and some of them had already penetrated her hull, so tying lines and pulling her away from that was our first priority.

Aidan and Mycah swam the anchor out through crashing waves and secured it among some rocks, while Danny, the elders and Bill worked on securing other lines. Before long we had quite the spiderweb stretching across the beach and into the trees, pulling Crystal Blue to starboard. As we all worked, options were discussed on how to patch the holes and cracks in her hull so she could be floated and towed to a marina for haul out.

After a brief lunch of gas station sandwiches and potato chips, we set out to collect supplies to begin temporary repairs. Our plan was to purchase sheets of plywood, screws and expanding foam, and attempt to make her water tight, then once low tied hit, we’d work hard and fast and get her patched. In the mean time, Bill called a group of guys called Sea Gypsies, who said they could tow her off the beach.

I took a minute to have a chat with Crystal Blue. I told her to hang in there, that we cared about her and were going to try save her. She looked so sad and out of place, like a beached whale, and it made me tear up. We may not have been able to save Tanda Malaika, but we were going to do all we could to help Bill save Crystal Blue!
Bill had only owned her for about 18 months at this point, purchasing her in the US where she had been on a fresh water lake her whole life. My heart ached for Bill, and I gave him a big Belinda hug and tried reassuring him that everything was going to be okay.

The creatures scraped off any barnacles that would keep the board from laying flat against the hull.

Pieces of board were cut, a German friend named Popeye lay on his back with a drill and drilled screws through the boards at the base and into the hull, and foam was squirted into cracks and holes and between boards and hull.

We worked hard until about 9pm, and with little cuts here and there and sand and salt covering our bodies, the kids and I made our way to Bills house with his girlfriend, Toy, where we would rest for a couple of hours. Danny and Bill stayed at the boat so that they’d be there once high tide hit around midnight, to see if any water was going to leak in anywhere.

As the tide rose, Bill and Danny found that the boat rapidly filled with water, as if all our hard work had been done for nothing. Obviously there were cracks and holes on her port side between boat and sand that we hadn’t been able to see. As water rushed in, so did sand, which is the only thing worse that excessive amounts of water in a boat. We drove back, picked Danny up as Bill rode his scooter home, and we agreed to meet up in the morning once again.

The following morning, Crystal Blue had shifted to her starboard side, which gave us a good view of the large crack we had missed. It was so disheartening, and we wondered if there was any chance at all that she could be floated off, or if she would just sink. The Sea Gypsies told Bill that they had a tug boat that could pull her off, but that they would fill her with floats and barrels first so she wouldn’t sink.

We hopped on board, retightened lines that were connected to trees and rearranged some. Aidan did his stealthy ninja rock climbing stunts, carrying lines up higher on the rocks and tying her tighter from better angles.

We helped Bill as much as we could, removing all cushions and personal belongings off the boat, but knew at this point we were at the mercy of the Sea Gypsies schedule. We once again left her there on the beach after another hard day of work and feeling so bad for Bill. We would reconvene once again the following day when all the barrels arrived. Inside sand and sea water were having a jolly time.

The following morning Danny received a phone call from Bill, where he explained that he did not have the means to have Crystal Blue towed off the beach, placed on the hard in a marina, and repaired, and offered her to us for $1. We called the kids into our room for a family discussion, during which, Jude called from Alaska, so we told her about it too. She was very eager for us to take Bill up on his offer. We discussed the amount of hard work it would be, knowing that the creatures also had school to work on. We’d definitely have the hull professionally repaired, but could recover cushions and sand, fix and restain all the wood work ourselves. We didn’t know if the engine would run after being under sand and salt water for this long, and would have to replace all the batteries and electrical. We looked up what Island Packets the same age as Crystal Blue sell for, and after some family discussion, decided that it would a fun adventure to embark on as a family. We’d learn a lot and have a boat to explore the surrounding islands and beyond, with.

The following morning the Sea Gypsies had already arrived and were running thick ropes along her hulls for towing. They had dug below her to run ropes under her as well. It was clear that the keel would need to be repaired and we found the ballast from her keel on the beach – weighing a few thousand pounds.

Large green barrels were placed on the beach – ready to fill her interior. Her deck, standing rigging and mast were holding up well through all the chaos, but the longer she sat there, the more her hull was getting beaten up.

The Sea Gypsies worked hard, Crystal Blue hung in there,

she was soon busting at the seams with 33 barrels, and as ready as she could be to be towed!

We once again worked side by side with Bill, but this time – he was there helping us rather than us helping him. Life is so interesting…so many twists and turns. So many opportunities. One day you don’t own a boat and the next day you do – even if it is a project boat!

My sciatic pain showed it’s ugly face again, and Mycah’s back started acting up too. Toy was so sweet to give Mycah a good back rub during some down time.

We drove around Phuket, trying to find a marina that had lifts or a trailer of some sort to haul Crystal Blue out, and after some homework, found that M9 Marina in the Chalong area of Phuket, was our best bet. We missed watching her being hauled off the beach, but watched from a distance as she lay low in the water – held up by 33 barrels, being towed for an hour over to M9. It was a relief to see that she hadn’t just disappeared below the waves, and every minute was a minute closer to her being on land where we could begin working on her.

As she neared shore, storm clouds gathered and the wind picked up speed. Surely Mother Nature could cut this poor boat some slack and just be calm! Once she was close to shore, a long boat took her ropes and the tug boat went on its way, and the Sea Gypsies grabbed hold of the main line and began pulling her in. The more they pulled the harder the wind blew, sending a branch flying into one of the gypsies.

Danny had quite the crowd of kids around him, watching the screen as her followed along with the drone. He bent down low so they could all see clearly, and they loved it.

As the rain picked up, Toy took cover with some munchkins under a nearby dinghy.

By the time the gypsies had battled the storm and positioned Crystal Blue where she needed to be, the tide had dropped low enough to make it impossible to haul her out, so the poor thing had to sit and wait for the next high tide.

Later Danny sat at a table with the haul out guys, discussing the best plan of attack, and they told us that they simply might not be able to haul her out. Everyone knows that I call Danny my McGuiver Guy, and once again he didn’t fail us – he drew a diagram showing the haul out crew how to set up rollers to roll her from the water and onto the trailer, and they stared at his diagram shaking their heads…but tried it anyway, and it worked! After removing all 33 barrels, and with the tractor deep into the water, they were able to roll her onto the trailer and pull her safely onto land!

It was such a huge relief to see her on the trailer.

Our sweet girl had made it and now she was ready for some serious TLC.

So it is…Crystal Blue’s adventure begins with our family. I think we are all in for quite a treat!

Chiang Mai, continued…

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We continued to explore Chiang Mai, Thailand, and came across more fascinating places…the world is so full of them, if we just step outside our doors and routines to see them.

The meditation tunnels at the Umong Buddhist Temple, are 700 years old, and are deep in the forests of Chiang Mai, near the Doi Suthep mountains.

Well worn bricks and concrete formed a patchwork arch over us, providing shade and a slightly cooler temperature from the humid forests outside. The tunnels were quiet and peaceful and the tile, cool under our bare feet. Several enclaves throughout, exhibited Buddha statues and other sacred treasures.

Further tunnels opened up to carpeted areas where individuals knelt in worship, incense, whispy smoke and candlelight filling the air.

Feeling the slightly cooler air and peaceful quiet in the tunnels, it was easy to see how monks could have (and continue to) use these corridors for meditation.

We exited into the forested gardens, where a simple cemetery held remains of monks and priests who had walked the hallways and grounds we had been sauntering through.

Many statues line the cemetery walls, some crumbling with age, and covered in moss and mold. It has been said that if you are quiet enough, you’ll be able to hear the trees talking to you, whispering truths and answers to your questions. Perhaps someday I will be able to still my mind long enough to hear them speaking to me too.

We strolled down paths and through courtyards on the temple grounds, passing monks in orange clothing, curious tourists and vendors selling Thai iced tea and lottery tickets. A pond with a pretty little bridge filled with pigeons lay spread out ahead, and I walked out to see the water.

As I stood watching the open mouthed fish below me in the water, a pigeon in the tree above pooped on my head and down onto my shoulder. Aidan witnessed it and laughed so hard while trying to help me wipe the nonsense out of my hair, but finally gave up because it was just too funny!

We all moved far from the bird filled trees and sat and enjoyed a drink together, before continuing on…

After leaving the temple grounds, we walked through streets filled with wooden carvings,

colorful bags, clothing and key chains,

and old men standing by their tuktuks, chatting as they waited for customers to take a seat.

Our evening was spent at a night market, enjoying the sights of curious crowds and animated craftsmen.

I watched a sweet old lady who sat among her goods, studying the crowd. I wished I was fluent in Thai so I could sit with her for a while and hear her story.

Night markets are also a place for delicious foods, like dumplings filled with red beans or different meats,

as well as not so delicious things like steamed squid…

Then there’s those strange things that only the crazy people eat…like BUGS!!! I couldn’t believe that the creatures would embrace the challenge like they did. Aidan even ended up with grasshopper legs stuck in his braces!

They enjoyed the black beetles, crickets and grasshoppers the most, saying they tasted like tea. Their least favorite were the silk worms because they were ‘too gushy.’ All I could do was watch with the look of awe mixed with disgust on my face, and change the subject every time they offered me one.

Chiang Mai is most definitely a place we will return to, and continue to enjoy the artsy cafe’s, quaint stores, beautiful temples and friendly people. We will also return to the water park we found, as well as the cliff jumping place.
One more adventure down, several thousand to go!

Day 1 – Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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In the mountains of Northern Thailand is the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. It is overflowing with artists, Buddhist Temples and quaint shops and restaurants. The Old City area still displays remains of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. Since the pace was considerably slower than Bangkok, we were able to relax, explore and take it all in.

We met an artist from Sweden, who has amazing talent in jewelry making. Watching him work and catching a glimpse of the passion he feels for creativity, was inspiring. He displayed a sign which caught my eye and has stuck with me since, “took me a long time to become young.” As I thought about it during the day I decided that perhaps this is best achieved by not taking ourselves too seriously, not being afraid to get lost and loving freely.

The first temple we visited was Wat Chedi Luang, a Buddhist Temple in the heart of the Old City.

On the grounds are several structures, each holding sacred treasures. Some of the structures date back to the 14th century, and continue to stand tall, carrying tears and prayers of faithful followers, each brick faithfully, firmly placed and reaching heavenward.

With sarongs tied around our waists and naked feet, we climbed the steps to Chedi Luang, greeted by proud intricate serpents on either side.

The interior was carpeted in red and a tall gold plated statue of Bodhisattva with right hand raised, met us in the entry. It symbolizes those seeking enlightenment and is to motivate all to be compassionate and to encourage others to do the same.

The impressive interior with tall red ceilings and large round columns, houses the standing Buddha, known as Phra Chao Attarot. This Buddha dates from the 14th century at the time of King Saen Muang Ma.

Many knelt or sat in prayer , never dishonoring Buddha by pointing their feet in his direction.

Between the exterior walls and the pillars, hung hundreds of golden prayer flags from the ceiling. These prayers of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom are believed to blow in the breeze to spread good will and compassion into all space.

We continued exploring the grounds, periodically passing by silent young monks, called Nen or Samanera, who reverently wander, seeking opportunity for meditation.

In yet another building on the premises is a 12 ft tall Jade statue of Naga Kanya, with 5 snake heads rising up behind. The cobras are sheltering the Buddha while meditating, protecting him from the elements like rain and storm. It is believed that four weeks after Buddha began meditating under the Bodhi tree, the sky darkened for seven days and it rained heavily. Mucilanda, the king of serpents, emerged from the earth and protected Buddha with his hood.

A large area closed in on three side, with pillars out front, housed a 25ft long reclining Buddha. It represented the historical Shakyamuni Buddha during his last illness, shortly before he entered the Parinivana. He is seen lying on his right side, facing west, with his head supported by his right hand.

Several other structures contained further statues of Buddha, as well as wax figures of Buddhist monks – each with incredibly detailed carving and painting.

The grounds were clean, quiet and well manicured, allowing all who entered, the opportunity to find the peace they seek in a beautiful environment. Though I am not Buddhist, I am impressed with their dedication and love to their beliefs.

We walked several miles on our first day in Chiang Mai, learning, admiring and enjoying the experience. Once evening came our feet were tired and we were anxious to lay down and think about all we had seen and learned. After some delicious street food in the form of fresh fruit and meat skewers (assuming it was pork), we lay to rest in the air conditioned hostel room, Mycah and Aidan in one queen sized bed and Emma and I in the other, and fell fast asleep after “I love you’s “ and “goodnights.”