The L.A. Experiment Part One: The Real Crazy Eyes

Santa Monica Palm and beach

When I returned to the States, I could fit everything I owned into a regular sized car, which is exactly what I did after I bought an old used Audi for $2000.

Not my actual car, but this one is a beauty. 

Not my actual car, but this one is a beauty. 

I went from Austin to L.A., not to “make it big,” (there are already a few million or so trying to do that out there), but to experience it and see how I felt about it. 

It was my L.A. experiment, and I have a few thoughts that I want to throw into the black hole of cyberspace about it.  

First, I have to tell you about my encounter with the real-life Crazy Eyes (no, I didn't meet Uzo Aduba, I'm just talking about someone who was remarkably like her character in Orange is the New Black). 

Before you get distracted by the TV, a Kim Kardashian pop-up, your phone, or any other number of possible distractions pervasive in the 21st century, I’ll tell the story already. 

Long Beach

I had just gone for a run along the Long Beach boardwalk before the sun decided once again to dip into the horizon, and was walking back to my car. It was twilight outside, beautiful, and only slightly brisk. In other words, perfect SoCal weather. I walked by the small building that housed restroom facilities when I noticed a woman who had stopped right in front of a sign. 

The sign had pictures of various food items. . 

She stopped at the sign and started caressing it, almost as if she was trying to conjure real pieces of fruit or ice cream from the pictures on it. I have found that I can't produce food by trying to grab it from a wall, but feel free to give it a go if you'd like. 

I walked by thinking nothing of it except that the world she was in at the moment must be pretty damn interesting. I smiled inwardly and thought that was the last time I would see that person. 

I was wrong. 

Suddenly I was aware of someone behind me, of light footsteps on the sand-sprinkled concrete walkway. Then I was being spoken to. 

“There you are,” she said lightly, then added, “Hey Eminem.”

I didn’t respond. After traveling for a while, I got used to not replying to strangers because many times they did not have your best interests in mind. And strangers who call you Eminem, well, it's probably best just to mosey along. 

“Hey Brian, ain’t you gonna turn around yet?” she asked, still in a very controlled almost soothing hypnotic tone. 

I didn’t turn around. 

“Oh I see,” as though a light epiphany tapped her on the shoulder, “you ain’t listen to bitches. No. You listen to yourself.” 

Suddenly she’s walking alongside me, and once again she implores me to converse with her, alternately calling me Brian and Eminem.

I decided to acknowledge her, partly out of curiosity, another part out of courtesy that was instilled in me from growing up in Nebraska, and another because there is a special place in my heart for the outcasts of the world. 

So with utter grace and mellifluous tone, I ventured with “what’s up?”

While the door (in my mind at least) was only partially cracked open for conversation, she barged in like an old friend and sat down on the couch and started eating the chips and salsa with full possession of the remote.  

The very first thing uttered from her when face to face was: “I’m not trying to have sex with you or nothing,” and proceeds to grab her crotch. She then tells me that she’s the eastside of…well, I don’t know, but it was the eastside of something and flipped what appeared to be some cryptic entanglement of fingers. 

She then continued to talk to me as though I was a person named Brian, and she had some messages to be delivered to someone (a Joe maybe?) of “Hungry Jack Productions” or something like that. I couldn’t piece together what she was telling me, though I must admit that she was stating things very clearly, if not eloquently.

It was as though I was witnessing the social metamorphosis of a human life that would normally take place over a few years. She asked if we could shake hands.  

Against my better judgment (the wise part of my brain that gets the proverbial shaft half the time), I accepted, then quickly began to regret my decision to do so. It’s not because I didn’t know where the hell her hand had been, though I did end up wondering just where the hell that hand had been. 

We began shaking hands, and she became ecstatic. She exclaimed with what appeared to be the pure unadulterated joy that it was “so nice to meet you, Brian!” I told her my name was Jeremy, and that seemed to lift the spirit of the handshaking to new heights. It was as though she was ready to burst. She was jumping up and down, exclaiming how wonderful it was to meet me. She just held fast to my hand, shaking it and shaking it, in a world that looked like pure divine ecstasy. I don't know if this went on for 30 seconds or 30,000 years.

Then…without warning her brow went from high to low.

Her smile vanished. 

While still shaking my hand, she said in very even tones, and not without a razor’s edge of menace: “You’re mine now bitch.”

That was the catalyst I needed to end the conversation there and forever. I withdrew my hand and believe I said something like “Nope, I don’t think so,” or something to that effect, and walked in a direction that did not lead to where I parked my car. 

She then took on a thug-like juxtaposition that included a bit of Hollywood starlet, called me Bryan again, and told me to tell Jimmy that he still owed her for…well, for what I have no clue.   

Why Am I Writing About This? Isn't this just standard interaction with a homeless person in the vicinity of L.A.?

I had worked with the homeless before, many of whom suffer from some form of mental illness. I believe this individual was no different, so I was not mad. She lived in a different world, with different rules, and from what I could tell harmless. It did leave me with an odd feeling that lingered for a bit. There was the imaginative part of me that thought “what if she is a witch and her statement carries power to modify the world, including the power to make me her bitch?!”

Of course, that is only the comic book part of my mind, and the effect of her words on my comic book mind soon wore off.

I am grateful for the comic book part of my brain, the part that does not see anything as impossible. It is critical that this part of the brain is activated, challenged, and sharpened with seemingly odd circumstances.

She was a blessing disguised as a very high and mentally aberrant individual who had a confused but overall good heart. Of course, I could be wrong. She may have been a sociopath, or an actress practicing for a part, or just really super high. 

In any case, at that time she was living on the outside of societal norms, and prompted this post. I say, bless the outcasts. May they always disrupt our “normal” lives that are often just as deluded as theirs. 

Happy Water, Coffee, and Bloody Knuckles. A list of Vietnam Do’s and Dont’s

Following is a quick little list of do’s and dont's while in Vietnam. 

First, let’s start off with things that you should avoid doing. 

1. Avoid trying to open shuttle van doors yourself when they come to pick you up to take you to Halong Bay. 

The very nice guy whose name I don’t recall came to our amazing hotel, HM Boutique in Hanoi, and let us know that our van was waiting for us. Lo and I walked over and stood at the door for a few seconds. As the door did not automatically open I decided to take the initiative to try and open it myself. I took the initiative because there have been times in the past when I’ve missed stops or stood at doors for long periods of time only to find that I could’ve pressed a button or just opened it. 

At first, it wouldn’t budge. I was grabbing onto one of the iron handles that spanned one of the folding doors. Then, it began to open easily…far too easily, and then far too quickly. 

Suddenly my hand was being crushed by the doors folding into one another automatically. It was a weird feeling, and I reacted with complete cool; that is I started fighting with that damn door. 

Man vs. Uncaring Automatic Machine

In any case, it closed either because the driver pressed the button to close it, or the machine took pity on me. Only the bus driver association of Vietnam really knows what went down. *I don’t know if such an organization exists, but I imagine it probably does, and that they have keg parties and initiate new members in weird cult-like ceremonies. 

When we finally entered a couple American girls were like: “are you okay?” Evidently they witnessed the whole thing. So I had some bloody knuckles and a tiny little scrape to the ego. After about a minute I told the ego to fuck off, and then I felt pretty awesome, I have to admit. Sometimes I like a little bit of pain. It wakes me up a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll see a shrink one of these days. 

Halong Bay

2. Avoid trying to run around the entire circumference of Westlake in Hanoi in an hour, unless you have a high tolerance for opening all of your pores to strong air pollution, traffic dodging, people dodging, high humidity, and can run very fast for a very long period of time. 

When I worked at Apple, my colleagues came up with a phrase where they use my surname as a verb. It’s called “Nickeling It.” “Don’t Nickel it” became a common phrase, at least while I was there. What does it mean? Well, I have a tendency to be extremely optimistic about things to the point of delusion. It started with a project we were working on, and I recall saying something like, “well that’s it, that’s all we need! It’s fantastic and nothing more needs to be done!” Then it would all fall apart, we’d find things wrong with it, people would cry, nations would fall, stars would quietly lay down to die, to depressed to explode like normal stars.

Well, maybe nothing so dramatic, but I did this enough times where the term “Nickeling It” came into existence. What did I do with Westlake? I Nickeled the fuck out of it. It was about 45 minutes or less until sunset, and I remember looking at this somewhat beautiful man-made lake and telling Lo: “I’m going to run around it.”

She was incredulous but knew that I liked to do crazy things so just accepted it. After about 2 hours later I realized a couple things:

- There was no way in hell I was going to run around that thing unless I took another hour or 2 or who knows. 
- If I continued on I would need to figure out how to not pass out from extreme dehydration
- I completely underestimated the number of roads I would have to navigate by the lake just to stay close to it. In other words, there isn’t a steady trail for runners all the way around it; just in certain parts. 
- I had no way of contacting Lo so I should try like hell to get back to our designated meeting point. 

So I decided to hail a taxi. 

It’s worth noting that at this point in time my clothes were not only saturated with sweat, it looked as though there was a constant invisible shower of water running over me. My clothes were more than drenched. There wasn't a nanometer that wasn't completed and utterly awash in my sweat. My clothing and my sweat were one. 

I could barely get my phone to function because the sweat was so profuse. I remember reaching into the first cab to try and get the map going of where I needed to go and seeing drops of sweat just pounding into the passenger seat. We couldn’t agree on where I needed to go, so I decided to try for another one. He drove off with a couple of shot glasses worth of sweat in the passenger seat. 

I hailed another one with one of the trusted taxi companies (Mailinh), and unfortunately for the back seat, sat down and let the sweat continue to reach out to everything around it. I am truly sorry to whoever got the taxi after me. Anyway, I finally got back to Lo, and she honestly thought I looked skinnier. 

So that night I ate a large and great meal, then ended up puking it up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why that happened, I just know that it kind of sucked. 

3. Lastly, avoid leaving your passports with the hotel after you checkout

This is pretty obvious. It happened to us in Muine, but thankfully I remembered when we were only about a mile out. The hotel sent a driver to meet up with the bus with our passports. We also had a really cool lad from the UK who had been working in Vietnam for 4 years and offered to call up the hotel and speak with them in Vietnamese to confirm. 

Now for things that you should check out. 

1. Watch a Game of Foot Shuttlecock

If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, be sure to check out a good game of Foot Shuttlecock. No, this is not a pornographic game, though there may be something out there with that kind of name in the adult video world. This is where people use a shuttlecock kind of like a hackey sack. It’s really just badminton without the rackets. They're really damn good. I'll have a video soon showcasing their talent. There should seriously be a Foot Shuttlecock championship. If there is one, someone please let me know. I'll go to it. 

I suck at Foot Shuttlecock

2. Check out the sand dunes in Muine

If you’re there, do it. It’s rad. The sleds are just ok. I recommend just going and chilling, or rolling down the hill without a sled because that's pretty much what happens anyway. I was covered in sand that day. 
 

Muine:

3. Experience In Hoi An and the Surrounding Area
Check out the lanterns at night, run through the fields outside of town, then the next day go to Marble Mountains and Monkey Mountain on a motorbike that can be rented for $6 USD.
The lanterns are ubiquitous here, and it’s really rad at night. If you’re into running, biking, or motorbiking, make sure to take a junket through the fields outside of town. There are paved paths through the fields, and it’s really peaceful. 

Hoi An pics:

Marble Mountain:

Monkey Mountain:

4. Drink Happy Water in Ta Phin with Pham
https://sapatourswithpham.wordpress.com/about-me-2/

The homestay is situated outside of the village of Ta Phin on the side of a mountain. It’s stunning, and you should definitely go. Her husband is a very rad super energetic and slightly crazy guy. The absolute best food I had in Vietnam was at Pham’s place. No joke, it was just phenomenal. Before the meal, her husband breaks out this enormous jug of clear liquid that looks like it has some sort of plant life in it. 

With no hesitation, he proclaims “This is happy water, it has opium in it!” Now if that’s not a party starter, I don’t know what the hell is. He pours the happy water into bowls, then passes around shot glasses about half the size of standard shot glasses that one would find in the States. He just dips the small shot glasses into the bowls and passes them around. To me, it was like a nice little mix of vodka and tequila, in a very good way. It was a bit mild and easy to drink, and it went really well with the food. I honestly had between 5-7 shots each night, just felt loose (not drunk) and felt great the next day. 

Hooray for happy water!

5. Lastly, drink the coffee in Vietnam

It’s the absolute best that I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Hands down. I know many Australians pride themselves on their coffee, but to me, Vietnam takes the proverbial cake. It’s just so good…so damn good. I’m going into a dream just thinking about it right now as I drink “meh” coffee here in Kuala Lumpur. 

A few more pics:

Sa Pa

 

 

Sydney Drug Dealers and Sky-High Pubes

I love Sydney, despite the fact that it felt like I was in the middle of a huge gambling session where I was the one losing a ton of money and the casino (Australia) was getting all of it. It's beautiful, has as many beaches as there are stray dogs in Costa Rica, and people say mate a lot. 

I'm not a backpacker, and after staying in Sydney I'm even more not a backpacker. That last sentence has to be grammatically incorrect, but whatever. As stated in previous posts, I usually do the Airbnb thing. If I'm in a place like Bali I'll just do a hotel/homestay. However, because it seems to require years of high-end prostitution work to be able to afford a place in the city for a few nights, I opted for a hostel. Yep, the place where I would share a room with about 6 other smelly but often very cool people. It was still about $40 a night there, which is a ripoff, especially since they charged for wireless internet. That was an insult because their wifi, just like the rest of Australia's wifi is only slightly better than wired internet from 1997. I'll probably rant more about that in another post.

In Sydney, the noteworthy thing that happened to me was on a Friday night. Though I hadn't been going out to the bars or even drinking much for a time, I agreed to join my flatmates for a drink. 

We couldn't get into the first place because they found a beer bottle in the purse of a girl that was with us. She was already drunk so was fairly indignant, saying that everyone should be able to drink everywhere, and so on. Anyway, we then proceed to walk a good 2 or 5 kilometers to some bar that an English dude knew well, where yay, we only had to pay 10 dollars to get in. 

No offense, or maybe yes, some offense is needed here, they should be paying people to go there. From there we headed to another place, where I got bored and left. 

It got interesting when I got back, and not in a good way.

I was lying in my slept-in-a-thousand-times bed when all of a sudden a newcomer enters and starts blabbing about drugs. 

I soon found out that I had a drug dealer bunking with me. 

Well, this is just fucking great I thought. 

He tried to sell me something I couldn't even identify, and when I kindly turned him down he proceeded to tell me how jacked out of his mind he was. He kept moving around. This was at around 3 in the morning. At around 3:30 or so my hostel-mates come back feeling good and slightly wasted from the club. I really got along with them so didn't mind asking them how things went, then they all kind of stopped and noticed the extra body in the room. The new guy (self-proclaimed drug dealer),unabashedly said he was a drug dealer and that he was told by a friend to stay there because hostels are great places to sell drugs...at 3 in the morning.

When everyone had more or less settled down in their respective places, the drug dealer, we'll call him Dylan, started either masturbating or playing a video game violently. It was fucking early or late or whatever, and I was tired. So I said something and that stopped, thankfully.

I then drifted off into a dirty smelly drug dealer sleep and woke up about 3 hours later. Thankfully I had a great view when I awoke. 

Two of the hostel flat-mates had become mating mates and had left the bottom halves of their naked bodies uncovered for the world to see. It was apparent that Brazilian bikini waxing was not a thing either subscribed to, as the only thing that really popped out, seemingly almost to the ceiling, were the monster pubes.

In conclusion, I'm now officially done with hostels. I've met many amazing, crazy, fucked up, intelligent, idiotic, arrogant, kind, loving, stupid-as-fuck, clever, old, young, alcohol loving hostellers, but I feel too old for most of it now. 

This may change within a week, who knows.

Australia Is Like an Expensive Hotel

I really like Australia; it reminds me of a really nice hotel to splurge on. It's comfortable, things are generally very clean, I can only afford a night or two, and the internet sucks. 

I'm honestly still processing Australia and trying to figure out how I can love a place so much but still feel this underlying gut feeling of kind of almost not liking it. What does that mean? 

I met some super cool people there, and didn't run into any major problems, so I don't know what my problem is.

Maybe I spent too much time in the business district or tourist sections of Melbourne. Maybe the exorbitant price of EVERYTHING just got to me. In any case, it really is a phenomenal place to visit for numerous reasons. I'll try to leave my jaded fragmented psychological babbling out of it, but no promises.

First, it's clean. It's almost suspiciously clean.  You will not find stray dogs, and the homeless dudes probably make more dough than the average fast food worker in America. I'd bet money on it. 

Let's narrow some things down. 

Melbourne
I went to Melbourne based on many recommendations to go to Melbourne.

Some things:
- The Victoria State Library is awesome. They have workstations all over the place, and in the quiet areas, it's really hard not to fall asleep even if you did just have a strong cup of coffee at Mr. Tulk. The wifi can be okay.
- The wifi in Australia generally sucks more than ...I dunno, it just sucks.
- The botanical garden and tourist spots around that area are definitely worth visiting.  
- The Prahran area is pretty cool, and has a bunch of cool shops and eateries, specially' along Chapel street. There was one place that had a sign that read something like "no suits and ties allowed. Dress code enforced." This was a relief to me, because walking around downtown Melbourne feels like you're constantly surrounded by good looking male and female Mr. Andersons from the matrix. I almost wondered if the Melbourne CBD had been them controlling me for the past nine years and felt the back of my head for an opening, hoping that I too could learn karate like Keanu Reeves in a simulated matrix environment. There was no opening, but my head was shaved, so I guess that was something.

A friend of mine once told me that Australians are Americans in the making. I don't know if that's true, but I can certainly see Sydney or Melbourne as Wall Street's not so little brothers. 

Sydney
Ah, Sydney.
- it's beautiful and has a lot of beautiful spots that you should see. 
- There is a multitude of incredible beaches
- It can get weird in hostels (I have another post about this)
- The Sydney Opera House looks like an alien ship that decided Sydney was its destination for a while. 
- Check out the big bridge over the harbour. Oh yeah, it's the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Don't just go to Bondi beach. Check out the north beaches like Manly, Freshwater, etc.  
- Speaking of beaches, when it's nice out everyone tends to congregate by the beach in the pristine lawns. Families, people playing guitar, etc. it's just freaking cool
- The surf is gold here yo
- There seems to be a high concentration of good looking people here. Maybe it's because a vast majority seem to be on the very cutting edge of fashion.
- The internet sucks and everything is too expensive. 

I rented a car from Sydney to Melbourne, and it was okay. The highlight was Keppel Lookout Trail in Marysville. The Yarra hilly region is pretty cool. I'm pretty sure I missed a lot of awesome things along the way. Oh well!

Jetstar Made Me Hide My Laptop in My Pants

Jetstar, you anal retentive bastard.

I don't like Jetstar and I love Jetstar. Why do I usually love Jetstar? Because they're cheap. Why do I now have a loathing for Jetstar? While purely anecdotal, I despise the fact that they made me put my laptop down my pants.

You may be thinking, "well, we have scanners and what not, and quite a few things that don't make sense like not being able to carry a container of witch hazel that's over 3.4 oz or whatever the limit is, so maybe this is their thing." 

Allow me to elaborate. 

They only allow 7 kg as carry on for economy passengers like yours truly, and they actually take that shit seriously when they weigh it at the Avalon airport. Btw, you should totally check your airports when you book. The Avalon airport is far away from Melbourne and the trip ended up being an expensive and boring Uber ride. 

Anyway, my carry on's weighed in at around 12 or so kilograms. So I had to jettison some stuff because God knows the plane would probably fucking go down because of those extra kilos. 

Even after I threw some things out and stuffed my coat pockets with chords, tablets, typewriters, leprechauns, accordions, etc, I was still over the limit. I wasn't going to just give my laptop up to the anal retentive Avalon airport gods.

I decided then and there to stuff the laptop down my pants. It was my only recourse. 

I looked around to see if the personified Orwellian airport staff could see me. They appeared to be assisting passengers and not noticing me just 2 or 3 Jetstar check-in counters down. 

I looked behind me at the line of Aussies getting ready to go to Sydney but didn't really care if they could see me putting a laptop down my pants. I would probably never see them again...well, after we landed and got our bags in Sydney that is. 

Then I took a normal breath and nonchalantly (kind of)  wrestled my rectangular aluminum MacBook down the front of my pants. It's good that I hadn't gotten fat on the trip, otherwise who knows how it would've gone down. 

I walked gingerly, for lack of any other word at the moment, back to the counter where I waited for an entire family to check-in to their flight. Then I plopped my luggage on the weight machine again and came out at pretty much just 7 kilograms.

I thought it was over at that point, but it wasn't. My guitar almost always goes in the oversized luggage compartment, but I usually don't have to do anything to get it there from the check-in counter. I was asked to follow a representative to the oversize bin with my guitar. So I did. I walked with my coat pockets weighing a good 7 kilos themselves, and of course with a laptop in my pants. I suppose it may have looked like any one of the following: 1) a very odd and outdated chastity belt, 2) a very short but incredibly wide erection, 3) there was a laptop in my pants.

Somehow I made it there and out without her noticing. Or maybe she noticed and decided it wasn't worth asking about because what if it was one of those super sensitive things that one shouldn't ask about. 

Anyway, I didn't keep the laptop in my pants for the flight, in case you were wondering. So yeah, just in case you book a flight with Jetstar, you may end up having to put your laptop down your pants. I recommend the 13 inch Macbook. I can't imagine how the 15 would work.  

Ubud: The City that Sleeps but is Still Ultra-Rad

My first and last stop was Ubud, which is a hotspot for many things, including but not even slightly limited to:

  • Designer clothing (more for women than men from what I could tell) 
  • Yoga
  • Great restaurants
  • Cheap, great lodging
  • Taxi drivers
  • Westerners...lots and lots of Westerners
  • Massage Parlors
  • 1,246,397,201 scooters
  • Monkeys

Following are a few things I can speak to, though just like everything I write, I’m only scratching the surface of things. Good thing there are real writers out there doing this kind of thing. 

Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

If you get a chance, check this out. It’s riveting, with really cool dancing, chanting, and a dude who dances on burning things near the end. I went twice, and both times someone from the audience got freaked out when the guy starting kicking smoldering coconut husks. I would go again, and I've already been twice. 

Campuhan Ridge Walk

Level 3 contributor (whatever TF that means) from Tripadvisor wrote a great review which pretty much sums it up: 

The walk is not long and it suits everybody. On the way you can see a temple and the ricefields and at the end you have cafes where you can have some lunch. Its a great area where you can go walkibg, running, breath or even just take photos. CR: Tripadvisor

Best Wifi/Food/Ambience/Service Combination?

I used a list from the super cool site Trip Canvas (formerly Meh the Sheep) to find decent wifi: https://indonesia.tripcanvas.co/bali/fast-wifi-in-ubud/. In the process, I discovered the best one, which is not on the list, but should be now. The Taksu restaurant, which is a place for yoga and other things, won the Ubud Internet race for me. The service is outstanding, seriously. And the food is truly delicious. 

Getting a Tattoo in Bali

The artist at Bali Bagus is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of getting my old sun tattoo removed, or asked friends, family, other tattoo artists what could be done with it, to no avail. The problem turned out to be with me: I didn’t know exactly what I wanted; I just knew I wanted it to look better than it did. 

Finally, I came up with a general background that I sent to an artist, which was more than I gave to other artists, but still, in this case, it was a resilient, “hell yes we can do this.” It was a “shot in the dark” ya know; it could have gone very very badly. I stumbled across this place because I was looking for an iPhone case at the iStore across the street (yes, it’s called iStore, not an official Apple thing ya know). Other than that, I would have never even thought to come here. In fact, when I got back into town to have my skin drawing done, I went to the wrong studio because I lost his card. There is a Bali Bagus Studio 99, which is not the one I got my piece of work done at. Google Maps is no help either, as it only pulls up the 99 studio. So I will do my part for the tattoo world and show you where it is:

Location of the Bali Bagus tattoo shop:

This is right across the street from the Ryoshi Japanese restaurant: Jl.Hanoman No 68, Ubud, Kec. Gianyar, Bali 80571

A number of people ask me if getting a tattoo hurts. Now, I’m sure you can Google for some awesome insightful answers to how you go about conquering the pain, but I’m still going to throw down my thoughts here. For me, this is how it goes: For the first hour or two, hubris is by my side saying things like “we could do this all day buddy, no problem!” I can read and daydream a bit during phase 1. 

Then comes phase 2, which is the pain phase. Ahhhh pain. It’s where the skin starts to get really raw, and the nerve endings feel as though they’ve decided to become streakers and expose themselves all over the place. For me, phase 2 is when the artist starts hitting more sensitive areas. So what do you do?

After a couple hours, you really do feel like saying “okay, stop, stop stop stop. STOP THAT SHIT.” But, my artist was on fire. He was going at my skin as if possessed by the god of tattoo art. I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t want to interrupt his flow, and I thought maybe it would just be worse if we stopped and continued again. I also kept remembering what a friend told me regarding a culture where when a person (I think just dudes, not sure) gets an old school tattoo as a rite pf passage, they can’t show any signs of pain while getting it done. Otherwise, they’re a pussy or something, I dunno, I need to listen better. 

In any case, I set out to do just that and didn’t allow myself to so much as grimace. At least, I don't remember grimacing. 

How the hell did I do this while it felt like someone was repeatedly driving an ice pick into my chest and between my neck and shoulder blade? 

  1. I stopped resisting on all levels. I didn’t clench my muscles in response to the pain (well, I did but then remembered to try and unclench them). I didn’t keep thinking “stop stop stop motherfucker” even if that particular thought came around more than once. I just acknowledged and accepted what was happening. 
  2. I closed my eyes and tried to just meditate. Don’t get me wrong, thoughts do come, but you just let them come and go. 
  3. At times, focus on the pain, at other times, stand outside of it, as an observer of something that’s going on with your body.
  4. I’m pretty sure I also had the thought that it was a form of torture, and that I must not give up my secrets that the government has implanted in my brain!

Anyway, I’m really happy with how it turned out. Check that off the ever-expanding bucket list. 

Here's how it turned out:

Accommodation

As mentioned in my first post about Bali, Lilicita Inn is pretty damn amazing. It was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and it was $18 a night. The customer service was outstanding, the room was huge, the bathroom was huge and awesome. Seriously, it was just….freaking great. 

Yoga

I’m pretty sure I sweated out 10 pounds of water weight with each yoga session there. 

Conclusion

Ubud is awesome. 

Can Anything Good Come Out of Manila?

This is my first post from a series on the Philippines. There is just too much to write about, so I'll start with my first destination in this amazing country, which only lasted about 2 days: Manila.

Can anything good come from Manila? Ask anyone from Panglao island and they would either say no or "how the hell should I know I can't afford to fly there."

I think Manila is worth visiting, but only for a day or two. Believe me, it does have its own beauty, but there are thousands of islands to visit, so it doesn't make sense to stay unless you have a ton of time, are enamored with the place, or decide that your true calling in life is to be a Manilian (I have no idea if they call themselves Manilians, but it sounds cool as hell).

Initial Inpressions

It reminds me of Juarez, Mexico mainly because of the traffic, but also because of the smells and abundance of people. It does not have a kind smell generally speaking, at least where I stayed and ventured to, and  the air was warm with smog. *Note to my Filipino Manila friends: I don't mean to offend, I'm offering my honest impression of the city. I spoke with a very kind, intelligent, and gorgeous Cebuana (a Cebuana is a girl from Cebu) recently who informed me these things can be taken the wrong way. Much love to you and your country.

The place where I stayed is called La Verti residences, and it was pretty decent, especially at around $30 a night. It's an upper middle class (I think) high rise smack dab in the middle of craziness. Walking around that area could be somewhat of a nightmare with so many buses. I think there are just as many buses in Manila as there are dogs in Costa Rica, which may as well be called infinite. I had a pretty great view of the skyline. The ocean was usually obscured, though you could make out the outlines of boats in the distance through the oft orange-ish haze. Once I walked outside of the high-rise, reality and the way of life for many living in the city always struck me. There is strife and 7-11's. Yes, 7-11's are abundant in this city, for better or worse. American commerce knows no bounds, and neither does strife. Hi America! I love ya but damn you're everywhere son. 

The view from my Airbnb balcony

The view from my Airbnb balcony

I was surprised to find that the time change is not completely unpleasant, though for a couple of days it seemed as though I kept falling sideways to the left. Maybe my body was confused about being on the other side of the planet. The change in time induces a sort of haze, and taking a nap at any given time becomes the norm for a few days.

My other view, facing the sea

My other view, facing the sea

Shotgun Arm

What the hell does this mean? This is a note that I made while in Manila, and I have no idea what it means. You would the phrase "shotgun arm" would be a powerful enough mnemonic device.  

The Streets

There is a lot of poverty in Manila. Infants can be seen sleeping on cardboard a meter away from a sleeping homeless dog. There are quite a few homeless individuals and families scattered throughout the city. It's not the same type of homelessness that we often see in major cities in the states, if I may be so bold as to classify homelessness. In U.S. cities we get used to seeing many homeless persons in rags emanating a sewer-like smell and talking to no one in particular (yes there are exceptions and I'm generalizing/stereotyping here). In Manila, like other cities in developing nations there are many people of all ages lying around inert, sitting quietly as a family, or begging. This is not to say that every square inch of the city looks like this. Quite the contrary, however, it is substantial enough that it's worth noting.  

I won't sugarcoat it; much of the city is dirty, and no, children should not be sleeping on the sidewalk.

There are some things that I feel a city just shouldn't ever do without. One of these things is having trash cans made available to the public, trash service, and no infants sleeping on cardboard in the middle of a hot day. 

I spoke with a few native Filipinos later and found that, surprise surprise, many of the problems in the Philippines are a direct result of action or inaction by greedy corrupt politicians. I'm merely an outsider looking through an admittedly distorted lens. I would love to do a deep dive akin to what Tim Urban does in his ridiculously awesome site waitbutwhy.com, but I know I won't anytime soon. I have a very limited knowledge about all of this, including the social-economic state of things, as well as political. So take my initial impressions for what they are: fragmented, real, narrow, honest, and likely out of context.

Some things aren't easy to see while you travel. Questions enter your mind like: "should I stop everything that I'm doing in life and try to do something about this crazy shit?" In the end you become an Observer Of Society, an OOS if you will. One of the great things about travel is that it can open your eyes to things, and can act as a catalyst to get you involved in positive social change.

Okay, enough on that subject. I'm not ready to be a revolutionary just yet. Anyway if I did it would more closely resemble Don Quixote as opposed to a Che Guevara or [insert revolutionary of choice here]. 

Road Transportation

*I didn't try out the rail system, so maybe that's a better way to get around, I don't know.

In any case...

The buses are these little trucks called Jeepneys, which are very antiquated looking, but also cool in a cartoonish kind of way. They are ubiquitous in the Philippines, and especially so in Manila. There of course trikes and taxis, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. 

Uber is available in Manila, which is the way I recommend getting around the city. The ride rate is always going to be reasonable and you can trust the drivers (more than the taxi drivers anyway). Independent of the type of road transportation you use, know that it is going to take a while to get to your destination. The streets are just too congested AT ALL TIMES. This leads me to my next point, which is: fuck taxis in Manila. I just had one experience so it's purely anecdotal, but it certainly was asinine enough to stop me from ever taking one again the this city.

The Taxi Ride

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

Filipinos are awesome, don't get me wrong, but there are always a few questionable characters anywhere you go. Evidently the taxi drivers are somewhat notorious in Manila for being a tad batshit crazy. It worked out though, as I found a cool restaurant to chill at, after which I used Uber. Thanks old smelly crazy taxi guy!

The Sights

To be honest, I just picked a few of the top Tripadvisor attractions and went with that. This included Rizal Park, Paco Park, and Intramuros. It was definitely worth seeing these places and exploring them. You can read up on them, but I'll relate just a couple things from my time at these places.

Paco Park

Paco park is beautiful, though the experience is somewhat sullied by the loud music playing through PA speakers around the entire little place. There were a couple nooks in the back that I decided to explore. When I went into one there was a group of schoolchildren hanging about. They started chanting "selfie, selfie, selfie." So the first selfie shot in the Philippines turned out to be a group selfie.

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Rizal Park

It's a big park with cool things, and tons of people go there to hang out. 

Rizal park at dusk

Rizal park at dusk

Intramuros

From Wikipedia: Intramuros (Spanish, "within the walls") is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, it was the original city of Manila and was the seat of government when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Districts beyond the walls were referred as the extramuros of Manila, meaning "outside the walls".

This is a must see if you're going to be in Manila. It's fun to wander around there and just soak it in.

When I'm traveling I usually end up talking with a number of different fellow travelers at tourist destinations, but that day turned out to be a bit different.

As I was walking out of Intramuros yet another group of school kids appeared. Instead of chanting for a selfie they asked if they could interview me.

I told those kids to scram and get a job or something, and work on Christmas in a coal mine.

Not really...of course I said yes. 

When I said "sure" they were ecstatic. I could tell right away that this was for a school project, and was happy to provide my uneducated answers.

They asked me a number of different questions about social and cultural differences between my country and theirs, you know, the kind of questions you'd expect from a homework assignment. They recorded the whole thing from a tablet and took notes. They were very kind and respectful. It was really really cool.

At the end of the interview every single one of them shook my hand and thanked me. They told me that I was the only one who even acknowledged them.

This is sad and kind of messed up.

I get it, you can't really trust anyone, and a lot of times anyone of any age might be trying to sell or steal something (read about how I got robbed in Buenos Aires). But come on, you can use some discernment and common sense. If a group of schoolchildren in uniform ask to interview you, don't be a douchebag. 

Isn't that what the golden rule really is? Don't be a douchebag, that's it. World problems solved. Ha! 

I have so much more to write about, but for now I've got an island called Palawan to explore.

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, many good things come from Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing how this scruffy giant of a city turns out in a couple years. 

The school kids who interviewed me

The school kids who interviewed me

Paco Park entrance

Paco Park entrance

Baluster de San Diego

Baluster de San Diego

St. Agustin church

St. Agustin church

Philippines flag in Rizal park

Philippines flag in Rizal park

If You're Heading to New York, Don't Stay in New Jersey

Some Helpful Tips if You Plan on Visiting this Great Place that Arthur Dent Never Truly Believed Existed

New Jersey is not New York. It sounds obvious, right? Let me be very clear on this. New Jersey is not New York, so if you plan on visiting New York, stay in New York. 

This is what I didn’t do. 

To give you a bit of context, I was on a brief hiatus from my foreign travels to visit family and friends during Christmas. For those of you just reading this blog, I’m one of those “I quit my cozy corporate job to travel the world” characters who are becoming more mainstream.

I found a spectacularly cheap flight to Manila, PH out of JFK (it was $399.80), so I thought I’d spend a few days in NY before hitting the sandy beach islands of the Philippines. I’m a fierce advocate of using Airbnb pretty much anywhere in the world, and NY was no exception. 

So I poured my coffee that had the hue of intensely dark chocolate and began to search. There are a few key factors that I consider when looking for a place: 1) it has to be inexpensive 2) it should be located a reasonable distance from where I want to spend most of my time, and 3) it can’t be a dilapidated uninhabitable 4-wall nightmare.

Pretty simple right?

The problem this time is that I got point number 2 completely wrong. I would have loved to stay in Manhattan, as that’s where I was going to be spending my time, but it was a bit too pricey. In retrospect, and of course after being advised/berated (rightly so) by a friend who lives there, I should have stayed in Brooklyn. To be honest, I should’ve stayed in any one of the 5 boroughs where I could skip over to a subway station. 

Instead, I stayed in a place that I believe to be in a separate dimension called North Bergen, which is in New Jersey. If you look at it on a map, it looks as though it’s just a quick swim across the Hudson and voila, you’re in Manhattan. Okay, fine, no-one should be swimming across the Hudson, winter or summer, but still it just looked so close. And the place I booked looked so cozy and nice. “Only 15 minutes to Manhattan” was somewhere in the description. I could deal with that. I could swallow some pride and show some love to NJ. 

I quickly found out that in North Bergen surreal bourgeois suburbia pervades the air like a quickly proliferating mutating virus like the one in 12 Monkeys series. Maybe it was just the weather. It’s just my take on the scene; I’m sure a lot of people love it, like the people I stayed with. 

The people I stayed with were great, a Columbian couple that I was able to practice my Spanish with. I love em’, but they’re more comfortable outside of the city. The city freaks em’ out a bit. That’s okay, I get it, there are a lot of people, and many of them are batshit crazy. I do have to say though, compared to Los Angeles, New York is pretty damn sane.

Anyway, let’s first talk about the transportation situation. This will help you if you still decide that you would like to have a nice surreal bourgeois suburban setting to come home to at night after New York hip styling.  

You have the following options if you want to head over to New York:

Uber (don’t do this): there is a $15 charge to cross the Lincoln tunnel (I assume it’s the same for the others). Talk about fucking expensive. When the Uber driver handed the toll person a $20 only to get $5 in change back, I thought wow, that’s fucked up. I also thought, damn, I better tip this guy. So I Googled something about Uber tipping recommendations for NY.

This was the wrong search, which I’ll explain in a bit. 

Uber is cashless. The drivers want to add the option for tipping in the app like Lyft. I personally love the idea of not having to consider a fucking tip, though I want to be sure that the people that are driving me the fuck around are taken care of (which Uber damn well better be making sure of). Anyway, I didn’t think that toll fares were included in the Uber fare, so I gave the guy a $20 as a tip. 

Then as I walked away I saw the charge, did another Google search (the correct search) and found that Uber includes the toll fares. Son of a bitch. Well, that was my good deed for the month. 

Bus: There are small buses that run every 10 minutes between NY and NJ. This will be your main mode of transportation. There is usually a dude speaking loudly into his earpiece in a language that I can’t ever seem to place. That’s fine, I can handle that. It costs $3 one way, so not bad I guess. They’re pretty shitty buses though, and sometimes the drivers get into yelling matches. One time a driver told a passenger “DO NOT PUSH ME, DO NOT PUSH ME MAN” because the dude made some comment about getting a move on. I found that kind of awesome and amusing.  

What I didn’t like at all about taking the bus is that it took way too long to get there and back. When I went into the city, I knew that I had to stay in the city until I wandered back home at night. One thing to note about Airbnb places. If they say that it takes “15 minutes” to get to some awesome destination, check the facts on those kinds of statements. I get it, it’s kind of a marketing ploy, but no, let’s all be real here. Here's what you have to consider: 

  • Walking to the bus station in NJ takes time
  • Waiting at the bus station in NJ can take time (though it's supposed to be every 10 minutes)
  • The ride seems to vary between 30 minutes to an hour (yes, I know, it's not really that bad)
  • Once you get into Manhattan there's no use in riding it out to the final stop, cuz traffic starts getting intense. 
  • You then walk or take a subway somewhere, which can take a while.
  • Total time to a specific destination can get to 1.5 to 2 hrs, especially if you get lost a lot like me; lost in a location sense, as well as in thought. 

Your Own Car: I sold mine, and I didn't get a rental, so I can't speak to this. I imagine paying a toll both ways would suck, though. Anyone have any insight into this?

Taxi: I didn’t do this because I assumed it would be a ton of money.  

Plane: This option is probably cheaper than using Uber or a taxi. It may be a bit inconvenient, though.

Walk/Swim: I imagine this would be the cheapest option, but I haven’t looked into whether some person pops up out of the water in the middle of the river and charges some sort of toll. So who knows?

My message is simple:

Stay anywhere with a subway line, no joke. Brooklyn. Stay in Brooklyn. Manhattan can be expensive, but if you’re a baller stay there. God, I didn’t know I had so much to say on that topic. 

Once You’re in New York

Grab yourself a Metro card at any of the kiosks spread throughout the city in the myriad subway stations and be whisked away in those lovely underground carriages. They’re really not too bad, though during peak times some can get a bit crowded, and in one car I remember the distinct smell of something produced by the human body pervading the space. There is also a thing every January called “No Pants Subway Ride” day. This is a real thing started years ago by a comedy improv group where people where their coats, scarfs, gloves, shoes, socks, ear mittens, turbans, etc. but absolutely no pants. They wear underwear though, so don’t get too worked up. This year I didn’t see anyone doing this, but I hopped on a train pretty late in the day, so people must’ve decided to don pants once again. I found this to be pretty entertaining:

 

I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you about the awesome places to go in New York; there are plenty of articles about that already, and I was only able to experience a small sliver of what NY has to offer. However, following are some of my recommendations while you’re in this great city:

  • For a great view, instead of going to the Empire State Building, go to Top of the Rock at the 30 Rockefeller Center. It’s a hefty $32, but pretty much worth it. 
  • The New York Public Library. It’s free and the historical significance is pretty awesome (yes, I’m primarily talking about Ghostbusters here).
  • Central Park. If you like to walk/run/people watch/pretend-to-read-while-pondering-the-universe, visit museums, look at statues, pretend to be a statue, then go here. 
  • Times Square. Even though your senses literally get saturated with advertising from ALL sides, and you suddenly feel the urge to buy a Vogue magazine and invest in some quasi-kitsch brand of clothing, it’s cool to check it out.
    • There are a lot of people all the time here. According to the official Times Square site over 300,000 pedestrians can be seen walking around on this concrete per day. On busier days it gets to be upwards of 480,000. Now that is a lot of selfies. I would think that at least 50% of the people striding along in the square are taking selfies, and more than just one. If I’m right, then that means about 150,000 people are taking selfies per day in Times Square alone. Let’s take a modest number and say that each person takes an average of 5 selfies. That’s 750,000 selfies per day in Times Square alone. This is not based on anything but my “not very informed” conjecture, but I’m pretty much right. 
  • Though I didn’t do it this time around, I hear that seeing a Broadway show is pretty much a “must do” thing. Good thing I’ll definitely be going back to NY.  
  • For a more somber experience, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is totally worth visiting. 
  • Want a cool ferry ride for free over to Staten Island and back? Check out the schedule here: http://www.siferry.com/schedules.html. Doing this affords some really incredible views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. 

Just remember: If you’re going to New York, please stay in New York. You’re welcome. I’m more than happy to make a ton of mistakes so you don’t have to. Also, New Jersey is in a different dimension. 

I leave you with a not very relevant, but still cool quote from the late Douglas Adams.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.”

Buenos Aires: You Remind me of a Beautiful Pufferfish

Ah, Buenos Aires. I loathe you and love you. You’re like a beautiful lover who stole my wallet in the middle of the night, but because you’re just so charming and beautiful I barely minded and asked you to stay. You’re a Shakespearean tragedy waiting to happen. You’re a luscious wine with hidden spores. You’re a…ok, I’ll stop. 

When I first arrived in Buenos Aires I was head over heels in love. Seriously. The weather was impeccable. When is weather impeccable? Well, it was that day. The city is teeming with gorgeous parks and aesthetically pleasing architecture. The obelisk in the middle of town is a great sight and is in the middle of the widest avenue in the world. I remember sitting there just enjoying the weather, watching people, and listening to great music. 

It was pure bliss, but don’t worry you schadenfreude lovers, it didn’t last long. You can read about me getting robbed in Buenos Aires here

Before entering the ever-so-beautiful Argentina, you will need:

  • Your passport

  • Reciprocity fee paperwork

  • A dash of snobbery and a slight frown occasionally (love ya BA but you have a few uppity douchebags)

To enter Argentina, you have to pay a "reciprocity fee." I had no idea I had to do this, so thank you Steph Amrite for pointing that out while we were in Brazil. So what the hell is a reciprocity fee? I asked the same question. Here ya go: "U.S. ordinary passport holders visiting Argentina for tourism or business must pay a "reciprocity fee" of US$ 160. This "reciprocity fee" is not a visa. This amount is equivalent to what Argentine citizens must pay when requesting a visa to enter the United States.” http://www.embassyofargentina.us/en/consular-section/reciprocity-fee-for-us-citizens.html

After you buy this result of country-to-country dick-swinging, be sure to print out the form from the website which has a barcode. At the airport in Sao Paulo I had to use a printing shop a few times before I scored the right one (evidently having electronic confirmation doesn’t suffice). It will look something like this, though hopefully with your name on it instead of mine:

From the U.S. Passports and International Travel site: (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/argentina.html)

"A valid passport is required for U.S. citizens to enter Argentina. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days for tourism or business. Argentine law requires that, prior to arrival in Argentina at any entry point, U.S. citizen tourist and business travelers pay a 160 USD reciprocity fee by credit card online at the Provincia Pagos website. For English instructions, check Online Payment brocuhureOnce paid, travelers must print out the receipt and present it to the Argentine immigration officer at the time of entry. The fee is valid for 10 years from the date of payment and for multiple entries. It is advisable to keep multiple copies of the receipt, as it must be presented every time you enter Argentina. The fee applies only to bearers of tourist passports. Travelers bearing diplomatic or official passports are required to get visas prior to arrival in Argentina but are not charged the reciprocity fee, nor are travelers transiting and not entering Argentina.

Is it Safe? Will Anyone Try and Steal my Belongings, my Soul, or Box of Expensive Protein Bars?

The answer is: maybe! Ya gotta be aware of what’s going on and take preliminary steps to preclude theft from happening. My friend Henry thinks I was a target because I was wearing a Marilyn Monroe shirt. I don’t think so. 

Do a Google search and learn about the latest scams going on in either country. The following Infographic has some good tips: Lifehacker Travel Scam Infographic.

Also, Bankrate put together a handy little travel guide for female solo travelers here: Solo female travel: How to keep you and your finances safe

Will you see anything that will boggle your mind? Yes! Well, probably, unless you just stay in your motel and watch The Simpsons. I’m still boggled by something that happened there. 

I was walking down a sidewalk near the Congreso, when all of a sudden a little girl was walking alongside me. She couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, but there were no parents around whatsoever. I was freaking out a little bit and asked her “done esta tu mama hija?” She said nothing. 

There were a couple of guys walking next to me so I told them, hey, guys, this little girl is just wandering with no parents. They didn’t really say anything, but with body language, they basically just waved me off.

WTF was going on?

So I kept walking, hoping to find someone who wasn’t a fucking zombie, when I stumbled across a couple who were coming out of a restaurant. When I asked them about it, they were incredibly nonchalant and basically said it was normal after 10 pm. Huh?

“You’ve never heard of the colectivo?” they asked.

No, I had not. Nothing so far in life had prepared me for everybody being cool with solitary children roaming city streets at night. I just didn’t get it, and you know what? I still don’t get it. 

Can someone please explain this shit to me because Google is failing me here. 

Following are some specifics regarding the city:

  • Free Bikes: evidently you can use city bikes for free though I never got around to it. This blog post has some good information: http://www.discoverbuenosaires.com/buenos-aires-tourist-bicycle-rental

  • Good transportation system.

    • The best thing to do is to go and get a Subte card, which you can use on the trains buses.

    • When you hop on a bus just tell the bus driver where you’re headed, he’ll punch something in, and then you swipe your card.

    • You can get Subte cards at convenience stores throughout the city. If you try and take a bus without a Subte card you need to have change. No bills are accepted.

    • The subway gets crowded as fuck

  • This city has some beautiful people and a lot of dogs. Watch out for dog poo on the sidewalks.

  • It has a real cool European feel to it.

  • Recoleta cemetery is awesome.

  • The Biblioteca Nacional is pretty rad if you need a space to just chill and get some work done.

  • If you go to Buenos Aires before one of their national holidays, make sure you pull a shitload of cash out of the ATMS before the holiday starts. Why? Because when the holiday hits suddenly you can’t get cash anywhere, which can be problematic in a place like Buenos Aires where many restaurants don’t take credit cards. On the day after a holiday be prepared to wait in an ATM line to get some cash. Seriously, Square needs to expand down there.

  • When you go to a restaurant ask if they take cards before you eat a whole meal there without cash. Yes, this happened to me.

  • Many people can come across as condescending pricks here, but there are also quite a few really rad people as well (one guy went to great lengths to get the name of a tattoo artist for me). Don't ever let douchebags stop you from going somewhere and having a great time. We all just need to remember that no one is above or beneath anyone else: we're all very fragile finite beings wandering around making up titles for ourselves.

  • Apple maps seems to be just as good if not better in Buenos Aires.

Taking everything into consideration, I'd go back to Buenos Aires in a heartbeat. It's a great place to visit, even if it has some pufferfish poison coursing through its veins.

Pics of Buenos Aires:

A Taste of Brazil (I feel like we kissed and separated too soon)

I don't feel qualified to write about Brazil because I was only there for a wink, and only visited an incredibly small area of it. I suppose you could liken it to renting a car and just sitting in it, or perhaps paying for a prostitute and just holding hands with him or her. 

I'm going to write about it anyway, because internet. 

For those of you who don't know, Brazil is the only country in the Americas where Portuguese is the official language. 

Things You Need Before Kissing The Great Green Earth of Brazil

  • Passport
  • Tourist Visa
  • Speedo

To enter Brazil you (US citizens anyway) need to have a tourist visa, which is around $160. You can start at the US government site http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/brazil.html and go from there to get your visa going. What it boils down to is you need to fill out some paperwork, prepare the paperwork with an oddly cut picture (it can’t be an 8-year-old passport photo), set up a meeting at the embassy, and go to the embassy and get that visa. My friend and I didn’t have our itineraries printed out, but it turned out ok with just having the itinerary on the smartphone. Feel free to hit me up if you have any questions, and I can give you my two cents.

Initial Impression of Brazilians:

  • They are Accepting, as in, after a few minutes of hanging out you’re pretty much a part of the family. 
  • They are Fun. They are hands down just fun people. I like fun. I love fun. Brazilians know fun. 
  • They are Energetic. They do things, they work hard. They know how to party. I like to think that my vibe is like their vibe. 
  • They don’t mind when an American like myself proclaims to be an official Brazilian during a U.S. vs. Brazil drinking game. 
  • They are Totally Fucking Rad

First stop: Itamambuca

We stayed at this really rad house owned by an ex-Playboy bunny (not really relevant but an interesting fact). It’s a pretty isolated but nice little community. In fact, as far as I could tell it was just about as safe as Kansas though I can’t prove that. *Not including the part of Topeka where Westboro Baptist savages are. It's extremely dangerous to be in close proximity to them because there is a high probability that you'll become unfathomably stupid. 

I was there for the wedding of my friends Josh & Carol, who gave me the opportunity to say things and lead the thing in a very non-traditional way. When the video comes out, you gotta watch it because it’s pretty awesome. Josh pulled off something that only a handful of people could. It involves a Tuxedo speedo in case you were wondering. 

A word of advice: if you go to this beach during the week they don't have the standard "perigo" signs up. On the weekends, they have signs up warning beach-goers that the tide, in certain places, is as dangerous as walking into a Westboro Baptist church. A couple of my friends had some close calls out there in the merciless blue, to the point where one legitimately had the thought "so this is how it's going to end..."

Some pics from my time there:

 

Second and last stop: Rio de Janeiro

I honestly wasn’t planning on going to Rio de Janeiro, but then decided that since I was only 2 hours away that it would be morally reprehensible not to. So my married couple friends Jaidev and Steph and I took an overnight bus from Ubatuba to Rio. Ubatuba is the closest city to Itamabuca. There were some concerns from our Brazilian friends about taking an overnight ride, cuz God bless em’ they didn’t want us to get our stuff jacked. It turned out alright though. I’m pretty sure the clothing I wore the next day was mine. 

Like any city Rio has a decent transportation system and has allowed Uber to operate there. I used Uber a couple times and it was exceptional in both instances. For those of you who are worried about the safety of using Uber in Rio, worry no more! I mean, always use common sense and all that, but it’s pretty damn legit. The subway is pretty great too, and most of the time plays a cool little song after the words “mind the gap” are spoken. When I tried to record that little tune they didn’t play it, so if anyone can record that and send it to me I’d appreciate it.

It was too cloudy for me to catch Christ the Redeemer, but it was still rad doing the other standard sightseeing things like Sugarloaf mountain and all that. If you’re short on time like I was, just do the TripAdvisor top ten and you’ll catch some cool stuff. When I was there they were already setting up some Olympics stuff on Cococabana beach. 

So that's that. Next up: Buenos Aires. 

Travel Destinations - The First 6 Months

Ticketed!: I finally have my travel iItinerary from October 14, 2015, to March 12, 2016. 

I’m still in Austin and have a month before I skim a slice of blue dot rondure. What I've been finding is that it takes a shitload of time researching countries and trying to determine when to go, how to get places, and where to stay. It’s worth it, especially if you want to save some cash and avoid terrible accommodations. I'll provide some inside tips throughout this article, and will call them out in bold. 

Without further adieu here's the breakdown. 

October 14 - October 15, 2015: San José, Costa Rica

The first night I'm there I'll be staying in the city of San Jose, cuz my flight gets in pretty late. 

I thought about going with Airbnb, but found a pretty rad deal at a place called Cocoon Hotel. We’ll see if I emerge as a butterfly resplendent in beauty and stuff. 

October 15: I’m taking a shuttle from my cocoon and going to my loft over on Coco beach. It’s only $52 to take a shared shuttle there. Details can be found here: http://www.transportationincostarica.com

Notes: Initially I reserved a place I found on Craigslist about a mile away from Montezuma beach in the jungle. I reserved it with $100 which I'm not getting back, which is fine by me. I changed it up for a few reasons:

  1. I had a weird feeling about the place
  2. Being so isolated I wondered if suddenly I would have a number of friends that no-one else could see
  3. It was too far from the beach (major first world problem)

Tip: Be flexible, and trust your instincts as long as those instincts aren't based on irrational fear. This is sometimes hard to navigate because we deceive ourselves daily (we are our best and worst lawyers). It's better to lose a bit of money in exchange for a preferred living situation.

An Even Bigger Tip: Go with Airbnb for your worldwide renting needs. Here are the reasons why:

  • The people renting out their places are vetted by Airbnb. Not only that, previous renters leave reviews about how good or bad the place is. 
  • You don't have to sift through a million foreign real estate sites. 
  • You don't have to deal with Craigslist and the risk involved therein. 
  • You know exactly how much to pay, and the transactions are all handled via Airbnb.

October 15 - November 20, 2015: El Coco, Costa Rica

I’ll be staying in a loft at the Tropical Gardens in El Coco, Costa Rica. This is right by Coco beach, which I intend to lay around on when I’m not laying around other beaches. 

View Kayak CR Itinerary

November 24 - December 11, 2015: Sao Paulo, Brazil and other parts of bigass (no euphemisms, stereotypes, puns, or otherwise intended) Brazil.

I’ll be there with friends in the vicinity of Sao Paulo, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to magically speak Portuguese. Carol is from Brazil and Josh is a white dude from Maine. They’re a vivacious married couple doing the ceremonial thing in her home country. How could I miss that shit?

View Kayak BR Itinerary

December 16 - January 5, 2016: Minden, NE.

Christmas with the fam!

January 6 - January 10, 2016: New York, NY.

I’ve been wanting to go back to NY anyway, because I’ve only been there once and it was about a million years ago when I visited just briefly. Additionally, the plane ticket to the Philippines was effin’ cheap from there (like $399.80). A friend asked me to show him the way of finding cheap tickets. Well, it comes down to a couple of things: Research, flexibility, and awesome sites like Kayak and Skyscanner. Because I was willing to spend a few days in NY I found a fuckin’ deal. Maybe the trick is to be flexible a bit. 

View Kayak NY Itinerary

January 11 - 12, 2016: Manila, Philippines

 

January 12 March 12, 2016: Panglao Island, Philippines.

I’ll be about a 5 minute walk away from Alona beach, pictured below. If it's half as awesome as it looks I'll be happy. 

NorCal (Northern California) - Tech Mecca, Beautiful, Expensive

I had initially scheduled the trip out to the Bay Area to work remotely at my now previous company’s office. I had the flight booked already, so I was ready to go out and explore, enjoy, and catch up with old friends. Special thanks to Blaise and his roommates for letting me crash at their pad in Mountain View. If it weren’t for them I would have much less money because holy shit things are expensive out there. 

Fyi, I'm not affiliated at all with the companies linked to in this article. 

August 15, 2015 - Mountain View, Palo Alto

In any case, the first night I was there my friend and I went to a really great little restaurant called Lyfe Kitchen. I totally recommend it if you’re health conscious and all that. After that, some Thai tea hit the spot, sans “bubbles” for myself. 

August 16, 2015 - San Francisco

The next day I went into the “City,” San Francisco that is, and met up with some old friends for food and beer. Just so you know, people living outside of San Francisco in the bay area call it the “City.” No-one says “San Fran” evidently, which is disappointing because I really like saying “San Fran.” 

The restaurant we went to was called Jasmin’s Cafe. It was a pretty cool little place that had Korean and Mexican food. I opted for Bulgogi because I had no idea what the hell it was, and it turned out to be delicious. Btw, Bulgogi is marinated beef. We then headed over to Zeitgeist, a very chill beer garden. It kinda felt like I was back in Austin, for one because it was anomalously warm that day, and two because it had an eclectic crowd more on the tatted up and pierced side. In other words, it didn’t feel like the kind of place a Lamborghini driving Yuppie might frequent, but who the hell knows, it’s San Francisco! I had 3 King Leopold Belgian Stouts. They were delicious but strong, so I had to walk around for a few hours before I knew I could drive home. Ahh and nothing like paying for parking in a garage. 

Tip: just park your car on a street up by Golden Gate Park, then walk, take Uber, or rent a bike. There are “2 Hour Limit” warning signs everywhere, but when I asked a local they said they’d never seen anybody ticketed or towed. I guess the police have bigger things to worry about. I tested this out on my last day there, and my rental car was just fine. 

August 17, 2015 - Santa Cruz

The next day I decided to cruise across some mountains over to Santa Cruz. Initially, I thought about surfing, but then I remembered that I needed to save money, and it was not warm. I had just come from over 100-degree heat in Austin, so anything below 80 degrees felt fairly brisk. It turned out to be pretty rad anyway, as I found some great marking by the main beach. The main beach there, as far as I could tell, was called Main Beach. Neat right? 

Tip: Bring your own towel if you’re going to the beach in a touristy part of a place. 

I didn’t bring a towel and went into a few shops looking for one. I did find a few, but they were all 25-30 dollars, so I said screw it. 

I took some pictures of the sea and sea lions then went down to the water. 

sleeping sea lion

Main beach is cool. There is a boardwalk with restaurants and shops, and right behind the beach is an amusement park with rides and games. I walked among the amusement park people, then went across some train tracks with a sign overhead that said not to walk there because it was an active track. I don’t advocate doing it, but I definitely did it. You gotta be careful, as there are some gaps there that drop straight down. It would be bad enough to lose a sandal, but even worse to lose a life or limb. Anyway, I went this route so that I could hit up Seabright Beach. I brought my GoPro and tried to capture some Sea Lion footage, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t get any. Ho-hum. 

 

August 18, 2015 - Los Altos, San Francisco

The thing about being in Silicon Valley is that you really don’t escape the tech industry. I mean, it’s pretty much the ancient Rome of tech, so it’s understandable. Case in point: I went into a cool little coffee shop called Red Berry Coffee Bar in Los Altos to get some work done. There was a large table in the room on the second floor that had a number of ladies in their 40’s-50’s, and what were they talking about? Business, tech, funding, etc. etc. It was like they were having a board meeting for an awesome company already in existence. And you know what? They very well could have been, because Silicon Valley motherf$cker. 

That night I went into the city by train and took Uber once I arrived over to a place called Lion Pub. It had a very cool ambience, and it was great being able to catch up with an old friend/colleague whom I adore. I had a basil gimlet x2, and it was f*cking amazing. 

August 19, 2015 - Pacifica, Cupertino

My new roommates told me that Pacifica was beautiful and that it had an extravagant Taco Bell. I decided to go, but not for the Taco Bell..I gave up that heart stopping addiction a while ago. 

It was gorgeous. I parked for free next to a pier and golf course so that I could walk to Mori Point. It was overcast and cool at first, so if you go I recommend bringing a jacket. In fact, that calls for another tip.

Tip: Bring a jacket if you’re going to be in or near San Francisco, or if you’re right on the Pacific. It can get cool here my friends, and I'm not just talking about the hipsters. 

When you walk the trails, you’ll notice some that veer off and follow the coastline much more than the wider trail. There is also a sign that reads “Unmaintained trail, proceed at your own risk,” or something like that. So of course I had to take that trail. I don’t recommend it if you aren't into walking close to drop-offs into jagged abysses, but it really afforded some damn awesome views. 

Mori Point is rad, but you can keep on going past it (I started hiking north of Mori Point) and catch some really stunning views. 

Mori Point Pacifica

 

That night I went in and met up with some more homies from the old days in another life at another company in Cupertino. After that, it was time to send Blaise off to New Jersey/Iceland. I wasn’t literally going to ship him anywhere; that would be pretty weird, but it makes me wonder if he would be game if I asked him to give it a try.

August 20, 2015 - South Lake Tahoe

When I was about 14 or 15 the family took a vacation in our blue minivan over to NorCal. 

As part of that trip, we went to Lake Tahoe, but man I was in my “I’m too cool and morose for anything beautiful” stage, and just wanted to listen to Metallica in my headphones, which is what I pretty much did. 

Because I completely missed out on Lake Tahoe the first time around I decided to take a road trip. Let me tell you: it’s dark chocolate caramel for the eye. I snapped a LOT of pics there, and though I wasn’t planning on it, I took a dip in the clear crisp water. If you have a chance to go, go. I stayed on the cheap at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel, which turned out to be pretty damn decent. I didn’t gamble or drink, but instead just kind of walked around a bit through the casino maze. Sometimes all that is needed after a day of driving and running around part of a lake is a good salad and a comfortable bed. Hell, the bed doesn’t even need to be that comfortable at that point.

 

August 21, 2015 - San Francisco

I was considering going over to Yosemite, but since two people had recently gotten the plague there, I decided to go back to the city, because honestly you never have quite enough time there. Also, WTF, the plague?

I was going to go to the Twin Peaks to get some good views of the city from high up, but it was overcast so I threw that idea out and went over to Golden Gate Park. This was another attraction of the city that I had been to, but really never experienced fully. It’s pretty great and reminded me a lot of Oslo for some reason. I guess because it was very green, overcast, and chilly. 

I parked on the east side of the park, and walked most of it, but got off on 36th and went up to Balboa to get some things done at a coffee shop called La Promenade Cafe (http://www.lapromenadecafe.com/). It’s pretty sweet, with a cool atmosphere and bookshelves with…books. 

I’ve been to NorCal a number of times, but this was probably the best trip because I had time to just explore and experience it without being a morose teen or there on business. 

You can see all notable pics from my NorCal trip here

I hope your life is stupendous right now, and if it isn’t, you keep your head up and see things with proper perspective. 

- Jeremy Nickel 

My Favorite Spot in Austin

The place that I enjoy the most in Austin isn't a club, restaurant, or music venue. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of great places like this to go to, but my heart belongs to dirt, gravel, water, and concrete. I'm talking about the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, and Lady Bird Lake itself.

If you love being active and outdoors while still in the city, then you'll understand why I love it so much. If you feel like running over to the Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial to watch the dogs play in the water with the city skyline as a backdrop, you can do so. You can rent a stand-up paddleboard, canoe, or kayak and float your way past downtown, or go west and see the beautiful houses perched on either side of the lake. If you feel like riding your bike, that's no problem either, and if you don't have a bike there are bikes you can rent on the trail itself. You can even grab some coffee, food, or a glass of wine at Alta's Cafe, which is right on the trail.

I love this part of Austin because no matter what I'm doing, whether it's running, biking, walking, or kayaking, it helps with getting rid of all the problems in the day.