The uncertainties of the world

[leia em Português]

Mawlamyine, Myanmar – November 26, 2016

Or should it be a world of uncertainties?

Two months ago I was boarding a plane in Boston to SE Asia not knowing what my itinerary was going to be.

Twenty days ago I arrived in Myanmar anxious to travel around this unknown and fascinating country.

Two days later it was election day in the USA.

The day after, my excitement gave way to disbelief. I remained speechless as I followed the results minute-by-minute from one of the few places where you can find good internet connection in Yangon.

I’m sorry for bringing this up but I need to make a parenthesis before continuing on my adventures.

I’m sure you are upset and tired of reading about Trump. I understand. It doesn’t look good and it isn’t getting any better as days go by. But I can’t help myself. It was too much of a shock to see one more of The Simpsons’ prophecies coming to life.

I’m no political analyst and have no intention whatsoever in becoming one. What I really enjoy are anthropological studies – a fancy way I call “people watching” – and I apologize in advance to my American friends for my honesty – maybe bluntness – here. But I must say I find it an intriguing phenomena that the next US president is a showman.

For me it is quite a natural process for a country where you have TVs everywhere. TVs and hundreds of TV channels – who really watches all those channels? For me it’s an expected election result for a country that judges electoral debates based on the way candidates interact with the cameras, how they articulate words more than ideas and policies, on the color of their ties or blazers. A country where reality shows cover pretty much every topic you can imagine, and where the Kardashians are the example of success to be followed.

I’m sorry my dear American friends… But I can only say I saw it coming that a reality show host becomes your president.

And I really feel for you; I feel for your country I learned to love; I feel for Jack and Sophie, for Yara’s nephews and nieces, for all the kids that have to live not only through a Trump presidency, but who will have to fix what he’s going to leave behind after four – hopefully only four – years in the Oval Office.

I truly hope that after this shocking result people realize that reality shows actually have scripts, that there’s some kind of control behind the scenes – even if it’s only to decide what scenes are going to be aired.

Trump on the presidency, on the other hand, is a free rider. The future of the USA and the world is completely uncertain right now. The direction it’s pointing doesn’t look good from where I’m standing.

*

Enough about the uncertainties of a superpower and the world it influences. Let’s talk about Myanmar and the beauties and challenges of a country in transition, where the future is as uncertain as the USA.

Myanmar is a country at a crossroad. I looked for a better description, but couldn’t find one. It is a country with full potential to develop economically, socially, and politically in a positive way, but struggling to deal with what was left from decades of military dictatorship and young and fragile democracy.[i]

In twenty days I visited the lively cities of Yangon and Mandalay; Kachin’ state capital Myitkyina; hills and villages between Kalaw and Inle Lake; breathtaking Bagan; and George Orwell’s Mawlamyine.

I didn’t follow a logical itinerary; instead I planned according to friends’ schedules. After all, how cool is it to visit a region with your local friend? Or attend a traditional Burmese wedding of another friend’s colleague? This time I preferred to go where friends were, even if it meant a lot of long-distance and time consuming traveling from one place to another, as well as shorter periods of time in each place.

It also means I have quite an extensive list of places to go for my next time in Myanmar: Putao on the very north of Kachin, looking at the Eastern Himalayas; Sittwe and other parts of Rakhine state, region struggling with ethnic and religious conflict; Naypidaw, the ghost-town capital and surroundings; Dawei, the southern coastline and border with Thailand. So many places to be seen that I’ll have to come back soon 😉

Myanmar is definitely a place to visit. It’s changing and it’s changing fast. I wish it changes for the better, although some people I’ve talked to are not as optimistic as they were right after the election last year.

People here look beautiful in their longyis. I love, LOVE men in longyis! How charming they look! The women are super elegant, always matching the colors of their long tube skirts with their tops. I can’t recall seeing obese people even though food is pretty oily. I was told oil is a sign of wealth in Burmese culture. My tummy complained, still no obesity.

The landscape reminds me a lot of Brazil. All the way from Mandalay to Bagan, and from Bagan to Yangon, I was transported to the Cerrado and its veredas. Cities like Yangon, Mandalay, and in a smaller scale Myiktyina reminded me of Northern Brazil and places like Manaus, Belém and Fortaleza. Street dogs, just like in Thailand, the lack of sidewalks, and drivers that speed instead of stopping when they see you trying to cross a busy road also brought me memories of my home country.

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Sun rising in Bagan

Nevertheless, people here are as welcoming as Brazilians, if not more. When not too shy they’d greet me with beautiful smiles, return my “mingalabar” – hello in Burmese – and even start a conversation, sometimes followed by a request to take a picture with me. Often they offered to help when I looked lost – and I had to face my own prejudice and fear of being swindled. Brief notes on the places I visited here.

What I’ve seen and heard so far corroborate my idea that this is, indeed, a fascinating country. There are many areas where a foreigner cannot go due to conflicts between the Burmese Army and local armed or minorities groups – the most pressing currently being the one in Rakhine state involving the Muslim minority (for more on Rakhine’s recent conflict development check this and this).

Together with my “wow” lenses, of curiosity and excitement for the simple fact that I’m finally here, I always carry my geographer view and intuition. And I can’t help but think that this is a country embedded in a lot of tension.

The most obvious refers to an uncertain future: how will the government deal with the ongoing conflicts? Why Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a Peace Nobel laureate, does not address them?

Not so obvious, are the right policies being implemented to contribute to an effective development and inclusive society?

Even less obvious is the way the government and the Army[ii] take over the territory and express their power over it.

In Kachin state, for example, there is a campground where families from the south of the country are living. They were brought by the government to work on the installation and maintenance of power lines. My first question was “why bring people from the South? Why not hire locals?” Well, “very good question” replied my local translator. For him there’s an unofficial strategy to colonize regions like Kachin – where 98% of the population is Christian – with Buddhist Burmans.

On another occasion, my guide made a comment about “the need for Christian buildings on top of hills, because the Buddhists are taking over and building Pagodas everywhere.” For a geographer like me this is more than fascinating. This is the pure expression of how power expresses itself on a territory. I’m fully aware I have a very partial picture of the complexity involving religion and ethnic minorities here, thus I must confess that after his comment I viewed the Buddhist presence in the country in a different way, with more skepticism than I’d even like to.

This uneasiness and discomfort only make me want to learn more and more about Myanmar. And to follow closer how the current uncertainties will unfold and impact the social, economic, and political development of the country.

 

[i] Last presidential election happened in November 2015 and new government took over on April 2016.

[ii] That is independent from the Executive.

 

Travel notes – Myanmar

Yangon is a city I explored mainly on foot. People don’t usually spend too much time here, but a very good friend is living here and I very much wanted to spend time with her.

While she was at work I wandered and got lost in the humid and hot Yangon, alternating with work days when I’d find a Café with internet and spend hours looking at the computer screen.

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Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda is a must see. It’s the most important temple in Myanmar. Entrance fee for foreigners is 8000 kyat – a bit less than US$8. If you ever go and find the “Saturday corner” – you’ll understand once there – let me know; I was super disappointed I could not find it even after going around it three times.

After visiting the Pagoda, it’s worth checking Vista Bar, where there’s an impressive view of the temple, and the lemongrass lemonade is quite delicious. 🙂

Kalaw to Inle Lake trekking is one of the main attractions for foreigners. I usually try to avoid touristy things but I’m happy I did the 3-days trekking through villages (45000 kyats per person in a group of 5+). There I learned a few words in Burmese, such as choré and laré, both meaning beautiful or full of beauty. I got to ask locals about their lives and answered their questions mainly about 1) my age and 2) my country, then if I’m traveling alone, why, if I’m married or not, and so on.

As far as I can tell, the trekking is organized in a way that local villagers benefit from the tourism in the region. They host groups for tea, lunch, and for the night. If you are rested enough to wake up early you can enjoy a beautiful sunrise and witness the whole village coming to life in the very early morning. First getting water for tea, then letting the cattle out and laying the chilies to dry outside; you can smell the wood burning in the cook stoves, see the kids running outside. By 7:30 the streets were busy and full of people.

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Chilies going to the sun
Again the landscape reminded of Brazil. This time it took me to the Serra da Mantiqueira and to my grandparent’s ranch where I spent part of my childhood.

The trekking ended on a small river where we took a boat towards Inle Lake. The lake is very scenic and I couldn’t resist and jumped in the water for a quick swim. So refreshing!

Finally in Nyaungshwe I struggled a bit to find accommodation because the place was FULL due to the festival in Taunggyi – one of the largest, if not “the” largest, festival in Myanmar. Luckily I was able to find a hostel (10000 kyats) AND transportation (8000 kyats) to check out the last day of the festival.

Myiktyina is Kachin’s capital, 20 hours by train (8500 kyats, upper class) from Mandalay and 2 maybe 3 hours by car from the China border. I was the only foreigner on the train to and from Myiktyina, a city without much tourist attractions, a huge Christian – mainly Baptist – community, and a serious drug addiction problem among the youth. Because of the proximity to China, business with that country is an important source of income to most of the local families, being the trade of teak and jade, among other natural resources, the main economic activity.

While in Myiktyina, I visited one of the IDP (internal displaced people) camps that receives people who flee conflict in their villages. There I talked to a woman who’s been living in the camp since 2011. When asked how she deals with the uncertainty of being or not able to go back to her village she replied that she prays to God, that He is the only one who knows what her future will be like.

A beautiful day trip from Myiktyina is the place where the Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady) River starts, at the confluence of the Maika and Malikha Rivers. If carrying a large camera beware of a 1000 kyats “photography fee”. The Irrawaddy is the country’s main river and has enormous cultural importance to the Kachin people. More about the challenges linked to it can be found here.

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Where the Irrawaddy River starts
First time I visited Mandalay it was only for an overnight, on my way to Myitkyina. On the way back I decided to spend more than only a few hours and was quite happy with my decision.

I rented a bicycle (3000 kyats/day) and rode about 25-30km, from Mandalay Hill to the world’s longest teak bridge, stopping at Zay Cho market – where I couldn’t resist the fabrics and got myself two longyis – and making my way to the bridge by the riverside road. The sunset from the bridge was beautiful, and there I had a pleasant chat with a smiley monk. On my ride back to the hotel I thanked my years riding my bike in the Boston area – known by its very aggressive drivers – as I was riding confidently enough to make myself seen by trucks, buses, cars, scooters, other bicycles, and pedestrians despite not having bike lights, riding on occasional sand banks, and crossing dark streets. (don’t worry mom, I’m still alive and have all my body parts with me)

After spending the day exploring Mandalay I boarded the night train to Bagan (1800 kyats, ordinary class only) where I arrived at 3:30 in the morning, right in time to get an amazing spot at the White Temple to watch the sunrise. I‘m still looking for words to describe Bagan. All I can say is that this place will leave you speechless. Don’t give up after going to the most famous and busy temples. Rent an e-bike (I paid 5000 kyats/day) and allow yourself to get lost among the thousands of temples and you’ll find places to appreciate a quiet sunset or sunrise.

Bagan was also the place where I had two “first time” experiences. It was the first place I missed having a travel partner to share impressions, talk about the different temples, discuss which direction to take at a crossroad, and decide the best location for next day’ sunrise. Not that I did not enjoy it, I did! But I couldn’t help but think it would be nice to have company.

Not as romantic as the former, I had my first food poisoning experience in Southeast Asia. Not sure if it was the beer, the local food I had for lunch and dinner, or what. I just know it was not pleasant at all to wake up every 2 hours and climb down from my bunker bed in the middle of the night. Thankfully there’s Imodium, but I wouldn’t say I fully recovered yet.

From Bagan to Yangon I took the morning bus – not before enjoying one last sunrise (e-bike was 1900 kyats just for the sunrise). The trip took around 8-9 hours and once again I was transported to the Brazilian Cerrado as I watched the landscape through the bus’ window. The bus was super comfortable (13000 kyats) and I slept a good part of the way, hoping my stomach would behave.

Back in Yangon it was time to head to Mawlamyine for a Burmese wedding my friend was invited to – and I tagged along. Mawlamyine is the 4th largest city in Myanmar, something I could never tell. My impression was of a quiet town by the river where George Orwell lived, and that serves as stopping point for travelers arriving or leaving Myanmar through the border with Thailand. From there my first idea was to head south to Dawei, but the food poisoning is still bothering me, so I decided to head back to Yangon and enjoy having a “house” to stay for a couple of nights before hopping on a plane back to Bangkok.


Skills acquired throughout my life – and current highly valued by me:

  • Regular trips to the Amazon region from 2006 to 2010 >> ability to survive heat and humidity and to explore Yangon on foot
  • House/dog/cat-sitting during my last year in Boston >> ability to pack light, fast, and organized. Less is more. 
  • Bicycle as main mean of transportation in Massachusetts, home of the worst/most aggressive drivers in the USA >> ability to ride extra confidently among trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, and dogs without falling or being hit. 
  • A childhood eating dirt and a variety of weird bugs >> ability to avoid food poisoning for 2 months while eating a lot of street food in SE Asia. 

For frequent updates on my whereabouts follow @literal.uncertainty on Instagram 😉

The Burmese who wears a tie

[Or that time I played my Brazilian card]

I enter the elevator on the 6th floor.

Two floors down it stops. A Burmese man wearing a tie enters.

I noticed the tie because it’s not something I see around Yangon. A businessman or a lawyer. Or just someone who likes to wear ties.

He looks at me and says hello.

I’m wearing a summer outfit, ready for one more day exploring the city on foot.

He mentions the heat outside and I agree with a head gesture.

Then he says “You know, the heat is your fault. Developed countries’ fault.”

I smile and in a fraction of second think of something to say.

“Actually I’m from Brazil. So it’s not my fault.”

“Oh, Brazil! Then you’re nice.”

The door opens. We have reached the ground floor.

He leaves after me and we take different directions once we get to the street.

The only thing I could think of was “Oh wow! I finally played my Brazilian card!”

And smiled the whole day despite the scalding sun.

[Yangon, 2016]

Respirando e vivendo Tailândia

Chegou novembro e com ele um sonho se torna realidade: eu vim parar em Myanmar! Mas ainda não é dessa vez que eu vou escrever sobre esse país que tem me fascinado nos últimos anos. Calma! Calma! Logo mais eu compartilho minhas impressões. Abaixo seguem alguns detalhes sobre minhas últimas semanas na Tailândia.

Como eu já falei anteriormente, eu tive muita sorte de ser “adotada” por uma família tailandesa que me ajudou na aclimatação cultural e culinária. Com eles eu passei minhas primeiras duas semanas. Desde que me despedi deles e de Phuket, visitei lindos lugares – mas ainda falta muita coisa para visitar na Tailândia e já estou planejando a volta e os próximos destinos por lá.

Quando você viaja por viajar, sem ter que estar num lugar específico, numa data específica, você acaba se permitindo passar períodos mais longos em cada um dos lugares que visita. Você se deixar levar pela velocidade, cultura e atmosfera local. E é exatamente isso que estou tentando fazer – claro que reconhecendo que o tempo que passo nesses lugares não está nem perto do ideal para assimilar o modo de vida local – e ainda por cima é bem óbvio que eu sou turista estrangeira por aqui (ou como diriam os tailandeses, farang).

Com a exceção de Ko Phi Phi – de onde eu saí correndo depois de passar 2 noites (uma delas em claro) – eu senti que poderia ficar mais e mais tempo em cada um dos lugares que visitei. Todos esses lugares me colocaram em contato com coisas que são muito importantes para minha vida e bem estar; coisas que eu gostaria de incorporar ao meu dia-a-dia. Racionalmente eu sei que não preciso estar nesses lugares para poder continuar escalando, meditando, praticando yoga, evitando carne e álcool; mas parece que essas coisas fluem com mais facilidade em determinados lugares. Taí algo para trabalhar e mudar daqui pra frente!

O primeiro desses lugares foi Tonsai – uma praia em Railay, Krabi, que é um paraíso da escalada em rocha. Lá eu me reconectei com a escalada e percebi, uma vez mais, o quanto esse esporte alimenta minha alma e me energiza. Mesmo estando fora de forma, mesmo meus braços e pernas não aguentando meu peso por muito tempo, mesmo com hematomas espalhados pelo meu corpo, eu me senti completa, plena, feliz de uma forma que só a escalada me faz – e que eu tinha, mais uma vez, esquecido.

Eu saí desse paraíso apaixonada. Apaixonada pela geologia e sua formação rochosa – sério, no meio de uma via eu virei para quem estava me fazendo segurança e perguntei se podia chorar, tamanha a beleza daquela rocha! Apaixonada pela energia de paz das marés alta e baixa. Apaixonada pelas almas lindas – umas mais que outras 😉 – que conheci por lá. Se não fosse por um dos únicos compromisso que eu assumi para essa viagem – um retiro de meditação em Ko Samui – eu acho que ainda estaria em Tonsai. Certamente voltaria para lá. Provavelmente vou voltar.

O retiro em Ko Samui começou no dia 20. Foram quase 7 dias de silêncio total, acordando às 4h30 e indo pra cama às 21h, apenas 2 refeições diárias, e muita meditação sentada e caminhando. Por mais difícil que tenha sido deixar Tonsai, eu sabia que algo muito interessante me aguardava. E estou estava certa.

Ainda rola muita incerteza no estágio em que me encontro nesse mundo da meditação. Eu não faço ideia quais as peças que minha mente e meu corpo vão me pregar; para onde minha mente vai perambular; como manter o foco na minha respiração quando meus pensamentos vagueiam por aí. Nesse sentido, a experiência de respirar, sonhar, andar, comer meditação por uma semana foi uma agradável surpresa. Enquanto tentava domar meus pensamentos e me concentrar no ar entrando e saindo pelo meu nariz, minha mente me levou para lugares imagináveis e inimagináveis. Eu tive visões – reais e psicodélicas, caí no sono durante as sessões de meditação, fiquei entediada, frustrada, fiz listas de coisas a fazer, e-mails a escrever, telefonemas. Até escrevi e-mails e cartões postais na minha cabeça!

Mas para a minha surpresa, a parte mais difícil não foi lidar com o silêncio e com a minha respiração. O mais difícil foi voltar para o mundo “real”, barulhento, cheio de carros e motos, cheio de opções de comida, de gente falando comigo e esperando uma resposta. Daí que a decisão de seguir para Ko Phangan e ficar hospedada num bungalow na praia (por U$4/noite), com um restaurante delicioso a 5 minutos de caminhada, e aulas gratuitas de yoga foi perfeita! E mais uma vez eu senti que poderia ficar por lá – Haas Chao Pao – por mais e mais tempo.

No entanto, tinha uma outra coisa já planejada – quem disse que eu não faço planos? Meu voo para Myanmar sairia de Bangkok e eu precisava começar a seguir para o norte.

No caminho para Tonsai conheci uma brasileira e passamos a viajar juntas. Acaba sendo bem mais em conta poder dividir as despesas – principalmente de acomodação – com mais alguém. Claro que é preciso dar sorte de encontrar alguém bacana. E esse foi o meu caso. Ela acabou se juntando a mim no retiro, onde conhecemos um russo – professor de yoga – que nos seguiu até Ko Phangan. De lá, nós três resolvemos ir juntos para Ko Tao, uma ilha pequena conhecida pela grande oferta de cursos de mergulho – e que, aparentemente, é um dos lugares mais baratos, no mundo, para aprender a mergulhar.

Mergulho, no entanto, ainda não é muito a minha praia. Então quando meus parceiros de viagem se inscreveram num curso de freediving eu decidi cair na estrada a caminho de Bangkok. Lá passei mais tempo com a Namsai, lavei – e sequei!!!! – minhas roupas e organizei minhas coisas seguir, finalmente, para Myanmar!

[Escrito em 08 de novembro de 2016, Yangon, Myanmar]

 

 

 

Breathing and living Thailand

[leia em Português]

Yangon, Myanmar – November 07, 2016

It’s November and a dream comes true: I made it to Myanmar! This post, however, is not about this country that I’ve been fascinated by, but the past few weeks I spent in Thailand. Hopefully on the next one I’ll be able to share some of my impressions on this intriguing place.

As mentioned previously, I was fortunate to spend my first two weeks with a Thai family, getting acclimatized to Thailand and learning the basics about Thai culture and food (so good!).

Since I left my adopted family in Phuket, I have visited a few places – but still far from seeing most of the country. When you travel for the sake of traveling, and don’t necessarily have to be in a specific location by a certain date, you allow yourself to spend longer periods of time here and there. You allow yourself to experience the local pace, its culture and atmosphere. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do, but I have to recognize it’s still not enough time to assimilate the local way of life – and I’m an obvious foreigner – farang – here.

With the exception of Ko Phi Phi – that I left after 2 nights – I felt like I could stay longer and longer on every other location I visited. Somehow, all the places exposed me to things that are important in my life, and that I’d like to do more often. Rationally I know it’s not a matter of place/location, I should be able to climb wherever I go, or meditate, or practice yoga, or avoid meat and alcohol; still it feels like certain places are more favorable than others to do so, and that’s something I’ve been trying to change during this journey.

The first place where I felt it in a powerful way was Tonsai, Railay, a climbing paradise where I reconnected with rock climbing and realized, once again, how climbing feeds my soul and energizes me. Even though I’m out of shape and my arms and legs can’t hold for long, even though I left with bruises all over my body, I felt complete, happy and fulfilled in a way climbing allows me to feel – and I had forgotten.

I also left this climbing paradise a bit in love. In love with the geology and rock formation. In love with the peaceful and calm vibe of the low and high tides. In love with the beautiful souls – some more than others 😉 – that I met there. If it wasn’t for one of the few ‘time and date’ plans I have during this trip – a meditation retreat in Ko Samui – I think I would still be in Tonsai. I could certainly go back. I’m probably going back.

The meditation retreat in Ko Samui started on the 20th. It consisted of almost 7 full days of silence, a 4:30am-9pm schedule, only 2 daily meals and tea, and sitting and walking meditation. As hard as it was to leave Tonsai I knew something pretty exciting was waiting for me. And I was right.

At the stage I am in the meditation world, it still involves a lot of uncertainty. I have no idea what kind of tricks my body and mind will play with me, where my mind will wander to, how to maintain the focus on my breath once it starts wandering. The experience of a week breathing, dreaming, walking, eating meditation was, to say the least, positively surprising. While trying to tame my thoughts and concentrate on the air coming in and out of my nose, my mind wandered to imaginable and unimaginable places. I had visions, I fell asleep during the sessions, I was bored, I was frustrated, I made lists of things to do, emails to write and people to call. I even wrote emails and postcards in my head.

But to my surprise the hardest part was not the silence or the mindful breathing. I pretty much enjoyed the challenge. The most difficult part was coming back to this loud and “real” world. It took me a few days to acclimatize again to people talking to me, to cars and motorbikes on the streets,  to so many food options. So the idea to head to Ko Phangan after the retreat was just perfect. A bungalow on the beach, an awesome Thai restaurant 5 minutes away, free yoga sessions every morning. Again I felt like I could stay there – in Haad Chao Pao – for a long, long time. But the other thing I had planned was a trip to Myanmar and it  was time to move and get closer to Bangkok, from where my flight to Yangon departed.

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Sunset in Ko Phangan

On my way to Tonsai I met a Brazilian girl who was also running away from Phi Phi. She joined me in the retreat and there we met a Russian guy – the yoga teacher – who followed us to Ko Phangan. The three of us ended up going to Ko Tao together, a small island known by the infinite offers of affordable diving courses – apparently it is one of the world’s cheapest places to learn how to dive.

Diving is still not my thing. Somehow I feel claustrophobic when wearing a mask and snorkel under water, I can’t even imagine a full scuba diving outfit. Maybe I’ll try it one day, but not yet. So when my travel buddies enrolled on a diving course I  decided to make my way to Bangkok and spend time with Namsai, do my laundry – yay! clean and dry clothes again! – and organize my things to finally enter the fascinating world of Myanmar.

***

Dealing with uncertainty as I go – Not only my itinerary is uncertain, unexpected things also happen as I go and I have to find ways to deal with them without getting (too) upset. So far – knock knock on wood – the main thing that happened, forcing me to re-plan and rethink my already tight travel budget, had to do with technology and connectivity.

The last thing you want when traveling on a budget is your computer AND your phone to die. Well, that was exactly my case. First the computer in Phuket. Puff! One day it did not turn on anymore. Diagnosis: mother board. Dead. Thankfully there’s Dropbox! 🙏🏼

Then my phone died after we were caught on a heavy rain in Ko Phangan, on our way to Bottle Beach – northern part of the island. No, it did not fall in the sea, or in the toilet, or in the pool – so I told the technician who stared at me skeptically. It was rain. And it was gone. Forever.

I had to decide if I’d buy a new computer + a new phone – which I ended up doing – and how I’d recover this money so I can keep my previous travel plans. I still don’t have an answer to the latter, but as life already showed me many times before, I’m sure things will work out. (by the way, if I can do any freelance to anyone out there, let me know!)