Dogs will be Dogs

I love how Bender just instinctually knows how to be a dog. I don’t mean like he wags his tail when he’s happy and barks at strangers and wants to murder every moving thing that crosses his path (toys, spiders, squirrels, hummingbirds) although those things actually also fascinate me. It’s that he loves the things dogs are supposed to love. It’s one of those instances where all the stereotypes are true.


The first time he stuck his head out the car window you would have thought I’d presented him with a big slab of steak that he was allowed to eat off my plate while getting a tummy rub. His tail was wagging so hard that his butt was basically bending him in half. He almost fell off the car seat. His first few car trips were not so great, he barfed on the first couple, and hated three or four after that. Then he discovered the window. It was a real game changer.


In other dogs will be dogs news, we started taking him for walks to the park now that he’s got most of his shots. Across the street from our house is dog’s best inanimate friend. A fire hydrant. He loves it so much it almost makes me sad that it’s not fire engine red. At the beginning of a walk we leave the front door, he trots around the front yard for a second, chomps on a dead hydrangea flower for good measure, and then out of the corner of his eye he sees the hydrant and all distractions are forgotten. He loves going for walks but I think if I let him, he’d just hang out at the hydrant all day. The layers of dog pee that have built up over the years on that thing are just too tantalizing.


And then yesterday he discovered bones and his little life was complete. Bender has a best friend, a mini australian shepherd named Leo who lives next door. Lucky for Leo the fence between our yard and his is only about three and a half feet tall. It took Leo about a week to master the art of jumping it, if I’m ever quick enough to get a photo of it I’ll put it up. Anyway, so now Leo visits pretty much all day, he’s a little older than Bender and every day Bender gets a little bigger than Leo. This seems to have cultivated a sort of napoleonic complex in young Leo’s head.  Because, like a bully, he has started stealing Bender’s toys. He hops over the fence, grabs a toy and then bolts back over while we scold him and Bender wags his tail. He drops his prize on his side of the fence and then comes back over to play with Bender who, naturally, has no idea what has just happened to him. Every week I hop the fence and retrieve five or six toys for an ecstatic Bender. Leo watches and plots his revenge which usually consists of stealing them back, or lately, deciding to only poop in our yard. He literally hops the fence to use our yard as a toilet and then goes home.


But I digress. A few days ago Leo must have been feeling very gregarious, or Bender must have let slip that he’s never gotten a bone to chew on, because Leo went home, picked up a huge femur bone and brought it over for Bender to check out. It was a very friendly move by the bully/bestfriend. Bender was stoked. He never chews on anything for long, but he went at that bone for like an hour.


Until of course Leo decided he was done and took his bone and went home.

Pum’s Cooking Class – Matty

Believe it or not, Dad, Nate and I were the first to arrive to our cooking class! Upon our arrival a tiny Thai girl announces that she will be our teacher and she won’t serve us any beers until we finish our homework (picking recipes to cook out of the booklet in front of us). I sped through the book choosing shrimp red curry, a chicken paste appetizer & vegetable fried rice while Mom, Newp & Willett trickle into the class. Our teacher, who won’t tell us her name until we’ve earned it, pats me on the back for being the best student at the table and I’m rewarded with a cold Chang Beer!

This class was fantastic and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone (it’s in Patong Beach though and that place is a scary dump full of prostitutes so proceed with caution).

Aside from a few unfortunate hot pepper incidents that have scarred Nate and my Mom for life, we had a great time at Pum’s. After a lesson on different Thai flavors that make up the dishes (sweet, sour, salty, something crazy called galangal, etc) we were let loose in the kitchen. The ingredients for each dish were all cut and ready to be cooked so all we had to do was add them to the woks when our teacher, Nam (we earned her name!) told us to. As it turns out, thai food is not very complicated (don’t worry, if you aren’t headed to Thailand soon, you can buy her cookbook here).

Also she made us sing…so that was fun too

Motorbikes – Matty

 After securing our luxurious room at the Secret Cove Nate and I proceeded to sit down in a bungalow (with all our valuables strapped tightly into an extremely cool waist wallet) and have lunch. The Thai food was so-so but the Indian food was fantastic! We had lunch, watched the tide go out and the dogs try to fit floating coconuts into their mouths, read some more, instagrammed, drank a few large Changs and eventually ate dinner 4 or 5 hours later with the rest of the crew.

In the morning, after a restless night under a ratty old towel, we awoke – opted out of showering in the murder-y unlockable bathroom and hopped on some motorbikes for a tour around town. This was, in a word, terrifying. They drive on the LEFT side of the road here! THE LEFT SIDE! We all reminded each other at every turn “stay left! stay left!” (which didn’t stop Mom from speeding head first into oncoming traffic). After the initial trip to buy gas, which is sold by the liter, (aka malt liquor bottle) that’s been baking on a wire rack for hours, we headed down the coast to check out the view from the top of a lookout hill. It took awhile to get used to riding on the bikes but once I got comfortable it was like I’d been riding those hogs for years. Nate and I should probably should get some leather jackets and hit the highway permanently.

As awesome as it was to feel the need for speed on that thing, I can’t imagine how families of 4 manage to ride them, sidesaddle, with all their belongings, their dog & their hotdog selling stand along for the ride. The sheer amount of people on each motorbike was less surprising than the looks of calm boredom on their faces as they hurtled around slower traffic facing oncoming vehicles.

Up up up the hill we drove until we got to the lookout tower with a fantastic 360 view of the island. Off in the distance you could see a giant buddha sitting serenely atop a mountain, sort of reminiscent of the Cristo Redentor. Although Buddha, we learned, has only been perched up there for the last five years or so. So he’s not the most ancient of artifacts.

On the way back down we stopped to check out a rubber tapping farm. Much like maple tapping for syrup the bark of the rubber tree is scoured and a little pot hangs down to catch the latex sap which then gets collected and processed into rubber.

After a beer at the Secret Cove we hopped in a taxi with Dad to head to our Thai cooking Class.  

Digs #2 – Matty

We’ve moved from our rain shower and private pool villa to a misleadingly named “beach bungalow”. This new place is decidedly less baller than the Vijitt, though it feels more authentic or something.

Our driver dropped us off at a restaurant we thought was affiliated with our “beach bungalow”, gave us a slightly worried look and drove away. The language barrier really came into play here as we were shooed off some old lady’s porch and got a lot of shaking heads from the restaurant people. Finally one of the waitresses recognized the name of the sailing company owner (“Oh he’s my friend!!”) and called him up. She handed her cell phone to Nate and promptly walked off. That call lead us to start asking for someone named Ta or Da, turns out he was 15 feet away at the restaurant next door (edit: after further investigation it turns out the Indian dude we were calling Ta/Da was not, in fact, Ta/Da. Ta/Da was an older Thai lady). After a lot of hand gestures and short sentences we communicated the fact that we needed a room and that we were with Marcy Brown.

Dropping my mom’s name really changed our luck! The group of 3 or 4 people helping us all started shouting “Marcy Brown!! Marcy Brown!!” very excitedly and someone else pulled a Polaroid of his family and my mom out of his pocket. We were promptly shown to our room.

The room is sparse to say the least. Although we do have a bathroom! (Newp and Willet are not so lucky). There’s a shower too in the shape of a handheld sprayer sticking out of the bathroom wall. The toilet runs and leaks but at least it flushes and comes with what can only be described as a kitchen sink sprayer for your butt.

Surprisingly the room is air conditioned! Of course that was kind of downside when we realized that, while the mattress does have a fitted sheet on it, the top sheet/ blanket is just a large beach towel not quite big enough for two. It also doesn’t help that the mattress might as well be made of plywood.

Luckily the room is really the height of security. We even have a room key!! Unfortunately our back door doesn’t lock so the key doesn’t do much good.  We survived though, and head to the boat tonight.

A few days in paradise – Matty

After a two hour nap Friday night Nate and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am to make our 4:40 bus to the Denver airport. 5 movies, 1 sprint through a Korean airport, and 32 hours of travel later (5 or 6 of  those hrs spent sleeping uncomfortably on a slowly deflating pillow) we arrived at Phuket airport. Our bags, unfortunately, were not so lucky, but we were too tired to care about trifles like that. After being assured that our bags would arrive at our hotel 24 hours after us, we went outside to find a guy with our name on a sign waiting to take us to our fancy resort.

The Vijitt Pool

In the car we were handed much needed bottles of water and two cold scented hand towels. The ride got dicey from there as our driver hurtled (on the LEFT side of the road) down the highway past families of four on scooters and wobbling busses.

Finally we arrived at our hotel and breathed a sigh of relief. The concierge let us know that she had lots of information for us but would let us go to bed instead of keeping us. We hopped in a golf cart which took us all of 40ft to our private bungalow. Inside, exhaust forgotten, we scampered around grinning and shouting at what we saw. The bathroom (with his and hers sinks, a giant tub & outdoor rain shower) was the same size as our huge bedroom with sliding glass doors looking out at our very own private infinity pool, fully equipped with a waterfall and night lights. And the beers in the mini bar only cost $3!

My Dream Bathroom

We woke up the next morning to the sun shining on our pool and birds chirping outside. Down at the beach we ate our complimentary breakfast as we watched boats sailing back and forth on the glinting water. The jungled covered islands here are not gradual but protrude from the water like bent knees in a bathtub, which is weird because the beaches stretch for hundreds of feet at low tide.

Time to wake up!

We spent the rest of the day lounging poolside at our villa and seeing who could cannonball-splash more water out of the infinity pool. Sometime after lunch we decided it was greedy to keep this place to ourselves and invited the rest of our crew to visit for cocktails and a dip in the pool. (Their room came fully equipped with a drunk lady and her dog passed out in the bed at check in at 3am, so we were living on slightly different planets)

Our Private Pool

The really impressive thing about this place is the outstanding entertainment… I didn’t know classic rock, jack johnson , and build me up buttercup could sound that way…but the Thai band at dinner proved me wrong. There were also some pretty sweet shouting fire spinners and enthusiastic hula dancers (are we in Hawaii already?) But really this place is paradise.

Now my sunscreen should be dry so I’m going to drink a crappy Asian beer for $3 and cannonball into the pool.


View on our walk to breakfast
Nate and the “beach” at lowtide

Dung Drying

For two nights we were in the Autumn house. The family we were to visit had moved from their summer house, which was a ger on the side of a lake, to their autumn/spring house which was an adobe building separated into a kitchen and an eating/bedroom with two beds. They had two kids, an 8 year old girl and a 16 year old boy who stayed with them in the summer and then headed to town to stay with relatives and go to school in the summer. They also had a 2 year old granddaughter staying with them. The kids all helped with the chores (of which there are many). 

Each day the grandfather headed up the scree mountain to his winter home to prepare it for the winter, collect cut grass for the animals, and dung for the stove/heating. The autumn/spring house is lived in for 6 weeks each season and has great grass to fatten the animals and a stream to help in the spring birthing. The place is basically a canyon with a small valley running between mountains on either side. And, as mentioned before, a stream. We went hiking in the morning and then at night I helped out our hostess with her chores. First we untied the baby yaks and retied them to the milking rope area. Baby yaks, like baby camels and horses, need to suckle their moms to get the milk flowing so one can milk. 

We then headed up the mountain, I thought to get the big yaks and bring them back down. (Although generally the baby yaks put up such a fuss the moms come of their own accord). As we trudge up the mountain my hostess begins to pickup dried dung and put it into the bag she is carrying. She then shows me the sticks that will also burn so I proceed to pick up sticks. Slowly the bag fills as we get higher on the mountain where the dried wood has yet to be harvested. 

Suddenly we proceed back down and deal with the fresh piles of dung and I come across a steaming pile. She indicates by stomping her foot that I should squish it (read: flatten it)! Noticing the amount of crevasses in my boot I refuse, but tell her I will use a tool to do the flattening. I pick up a rock and, unfortunately, I flatten a little too zealously. Dung starts escaping all over the place! My Hostess then runs sideways and comes to a pile drying, rotates it, and stows the pieces that are burnable in her bag. I am not kidding that woman knew where every pile of dung was on the mountain and its dryness!!! 

Close to home we picked up all the fresh dung with a shovel put it in a common area and flattened it. Amazing as we have passed winter homes to see piles of dung stacked like cords of wood. Now I know all the work that goes into all those stacks!!! Tomorrow we leave for Russia.

Mongolian Eagle Hunters

We are finally out of the countryside and will be here for two days before we make our trek to Russia to fly home. Unfortunately I am unable to pick up any e-mails sent past the 14th so I have no idea what is going on. 

Our trip has definitely been interesting! The Altai Mountains are gorgeous and the area is very lush (THOUGH NO TREES) there are many gers nestled in together. In the Valley where the Eagle Hunter lived there were over 50 gers that were all in family groups of two to five gers together. As the area is so lush it is able to support many more animals in closer proximity than the Gobi.
The Gobi also was basically inhabited by Mongols and the Altai mountains are basically inhabited by Kazaks. Kazaks also have Yaks which is a cross between a cow and a horse. Lots of fur!!! The kazak ger is bigger than the Mongolian one and the inside is very colorful and hung with many embroideries. Very cool! 
We stayed with the Eagle Hunter's family for three days. The first day he showed us his eagles and then demonstrated their hunting abilities. Right now the eagles are fat! During the Winter (hunting season) they keep the eagles thin enticing them to hunt! After he showed us the eagles' abilities we all dressed up in hunting gear (read: wolf coat and fox fur hat) and held the eagle. Pretty cool but would be really cool to see the eagle hunt during hunting season while the hunter is riding his horse and holding the eagle. May have to come back some October when there is the eagle hunter festival. 
We then met up with our horses and camel. Instead of a pack horse we had a pack camel. It was unbelievable how much stuff we had and the camel carried all of it. We then rode for 6 days camping along the way. Covered about 20 Kilometers a day and stopped to stay in people's gers or their spring/autumn homes (which were generally empty adobe buildings). Again passing through absolutely gorgeous countryside. But very windy and two nights it snowed! Snow in August oh my!