The man at the market

Ok, for this story I’m going to need to back up a little, way before I ever got on the plane to Jamaica. Are you ready for a story?

For my last semester of college I wanted to take a rather easy course load, so one of the classes I signed up for was called Stretch and Relaxation. Yes, it’s exactly as it sounds. We literally spent hours stretching and learning different meditation practices. It was awesome! I learned about chakras and I found out what my power animal is. It turns out it’s an elephant, which totally makes sense! I love ellies so much! And my teacher explained to us that you often see your power animal a lot, like when people give you gifts and stuff. Now get this, for Christmas this year I received an elephant necklace, and elephant art piece, and my cousin adopted an elephant in my name. Every time I go into my dad’s restaurant, his delivery driver always gives me an article he found in the newspaper about elephants or he saves up elephant jokes he’s heard and tells me them. It would explain why I’ve always been attracted to Africa so much (African Elephants, mon). My favorite liquor, Amarula, has an elephant on the bottle…. I could go on. 

Pretty much, all you need to know is my spirit animal is an elephant. 

So anyways, now to present day Jamaica. I am strolling through the market, minding my own business, when an old rasta guy comes up to me, holding a (you guessed it!) wooden elephant, and says “Here miss, you need this.” 

What the hell?! 

I was so stunned, I simply asked him why I needed an elephant. And you know his answer???

“Because ma’am… it’s your animal.” 

I wish I was making this up, but this happened in real life people! 

To cut the story short, I bought the elephant and the guy carved my name in it. There is nothing about Jamaica that reminds me of elephants, but this is the best souvenir I’m bringing home. It’s stuff like this that remind me how magical and crazy the world is. Jamaica has made me feel refreshed, and I have been reminded just how much I love life. 

Dunn’s River, snorkeling, and my grandma

Hi guys!

Jamaica’s still great (Ya mon!) and I’ve gone on some pretty fun adventures so far. First, my grandma and I went tubing down this river (don’t ask me which one) and it was awesome! But the real fun was when we went to Dunn’s River falls. I still can’t get over how beautiful Jamaica is, and my little camera doesn’t do it justice, so you just gotta check out the falls on the internet here.

Anyways, Dunn’s River falls is really cool because you actually climb up the falls! A guide takes you and your group up, and holding hands most of the way you all help each other up the slippery or steep parts. Jamaican love mon! Along the way you get to jump in the deeper pools of water, slide down a mini nature slide, and soak in all the green, green, green around you. I seriously don’t want to leave Jamaica!

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Oh yeah, and what would a Jamaican vacation be without snorkeling? If I’m going to be completely honest, the snorkeling here isn’t as good as other places I’ve been. But none the less, the water is gorgeous, warm, and it’s always an adventure here in Jamaica (like having a swarm of fish get ready to attack you).

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Also, I feel I should add in somewhere a little bit about my grandma Pam, who is the whole reason I’m on this trip. To keep it short, she’s crazy. To elaborate a little is hard. Let’s just say traveling with her is like traveling with a chicken with its head cut off. She’s all over the place, stopping to talk to any handsome man she sees. She starts pole dancing competitions on boats, and is the best wingman ever. She’s spontaneous, always down for anything, and a happy person. I love her!

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Until next time, mates,

-Emma

Riu Ochos Rios

Well, it’s that time again. I haven’t been abroad in over a year and the travel bug in me was getting pretty restless! And after the semester I’ve had (I’m a college graduate everyone!) I think I deserve a good vacation. But unlike my usual adventures, I’m trading in backpacking for relaxation, grungy living for unlimited pina coladas, and traveling by plane, train, and automobile for well, sitting on my ass on the beach.

I’m in Jamaica, mon!
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And it is just as amazing as you think it is. I’m staying at the Riu Ochos Rios Resort and it is awesome! Nearly everything is included, so I have already had too many pina coladas  and shrimp to count. Each room has rum on tap, and they stock the mini fridge everyday. This is so different than the sheet-less beds I’ve stayed on in Thailand  I’ll probably gain about 8 pounds this trip, but it is so worth it. Our room overlooks the pool (with a bar you can swim up to – I’m telling you, all this free booze is dangerous!) and the ocean. There is entertainment everynight (I’m really liking the steel drums, mon). Coconuts fall from the trees,  and Jamaican’s personalities are just as colorful and bright as their buildings. The people are friendly, the weather is perfect, the water is warm, and I couldn’t be happier.

Stay in touch!

-Emma

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A night at the Daen Maha Meditation Center

“Do you know what this place is?” a lady, who I later learn is named  Kai, asks me.

“Yes, yes I do” I grin.

“And you’re sure you want to stay here?”

“If I can, yes, I would.”

I follow Kai to the first building, where I would check in to the center. Judging by the looks I was receiving from the other residents, I am assuming that the Daen Maha Meditation Center does not get a lot of foreign, white-faced visitors very often.

With Kai as my translator, I met with the head of the meditation center. After agreeing to the 8 precepts of Buddhism (which as as followed: no lying, no stealing, no makeup, no gossip, no killing any creatures, no alcohol or drugs, no sexual conduct, and no eating after noon), she gave me my  new wardrobe, which was a white robe, and sent me to the shower.

After I settled in, Kai showed us around the center, while teaching us how to do walking meditation.

“You do walking meditation to be one with your body. Everything you do you focus on and you become aware of yourself and your surroundings. You feel the ground with every step you take. It’s hard, and it is sometimes warm. But you become aware of yourself through this.”

After our walking meditation lesson, it was time for the afternoon chanting service. When I walked into the area where they do the chanting, my mind was blown away. Green marble floors reflected the many green columns holding up the roof; everything was spotless. On one wall, a giant Buddha is erected, maybe 50 feet tall. There are really no words to describe how small and simple a statue can make you feel. The Buddha was painted in gold, with big, pink flowers hanging around the edge of it. It was so beautiful. I was instantly humbled.

Because Haley and I don’t speak Thai, the main teacher didn’t want us to get bored during the hour long chant, so she sent us with an English translator to go meditate on our own. Our translator took us to another building; this one constructed of an even more intriquite Buddha statue, this one had a mosaic of glass tile built into it.

I learned how to do sitting meditation, by focusing on the path of air going in and out of my body. Once I controlled that, I could move on to other areas to focus on. If I had pain or if my feet went numb, I should concentrate on that. Then I could move on to focusing on specific thoughts, such as missing my father, missing my mother, missing a friend, etc. Focus on one thought at  a time and then move on to another thought.

It was really cool.

After meditation I visited the Buddha Tree. One is suppose to walk around the Tree 3 times, focusing on a wish or your  prayers to the Buddha. After the 3rd go-around, you poor a cup of water down a bamboo trunk into the tree’s roots.

Bed time was 9 o clock. I slept with nothing more than a blanket; everyone sleeps in rows on the marble floor (you are not to sleep higher than the ground). It was cold at night, but I slept just fine.

The bell woke us up at 3:30. In between showering and getting ready for the day ahead, the ladies are allowed to have coffee or tea. 4 o clock is the start of morning chanting.

We had to leave early in order to catch our train. Walking away from the center, listening to the echoing of the chanting, I felt refreshed.

Before I left Kai told me her goal is to try and meditate at least 5 minutes a day when she returned home from the center. I think I might try that too.

My first portrait in Thailand (finally)

Finally! I have taken a portrait in Thailand. I don’t know why it took me so long! I’m a little disappointed in myself :)
Anyways, I was walking down the road in Kanchanaburi when I noticed this elderly woman sitting on a couch on the side of the road. What struck me as beautiful was that her skirt happened to be the same shade of yellow as the couch. I asked if I could take her picture, and before she could nod her head her husband was running across the street to join her. I think he was the most excited out of all of us to get his picture taken.
After I took the picture, I showed them and their approval and excitement alone was enough to make my whole trip to Thailand worth it. I think I’m going to print out the picture and ask the hostel I was staying at to deliver it to them.

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The last of Koh Samui

1)Wat Khunaram

Wat Khunaram is a temple where a monk has been petrified for over 20 years! It was super cool! When I was looking at the petrified monks gritty teeth and fuzzy head, the monk on sight called me over. I sat down across from him and we started chatting while he made this bracelet. While he put the bracelet on me he said a few prayers for good luck, and told me that I can’t take the bracelet off. Then I went back to the petrified monk. I kneeled before him, shook some sticks in a cup until one of them fell out. Each stick had a number on it, and the first stick that falls out of the cup is your fortune (from the dead guy). I drew an 8. I went over to see what my fortune for the New Year was. It wasn’t that great.To sum it up, I haven’t found my treasure yet and this year I won’t find it either. Because this wasn’t a very good fortune, I folded my paper up and stuck it to The Big Tree, where all bad fortunes go. By sticking it on the tree, I hope that good luck finds me.
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2)Elephant Trekking
I did it! I finally rode an ellie! It was the best day ever. Riding around on this path through the hills of lush, green, landscape, our elephant stopped a few times to grab some bananas or drink from the stream, while the mahout (guy who steers the elephant) sang songs and made us rings made out of grass. It was super cool! Then after the most amazing thing happened to me: I got a massage by an elephant! Haha. He pretty much suction cupped me with his trunk but it felt so cool! I love elephants.
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3) Eat food
We eat all the time here. Everything is so delicious! My favorite stuff though is the fruit here. They have banana shakes and coconut shakes here which as sooooooo yyyuuuummmm-aaayyy! Coconuts run rampant here. There are mounds piled up on the sides of the roads and they wash up shore in the waves. I can also now say that I have ate lots of mangosteens and rambutans. yummmm

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4) Rode around on a motorbike

Sick of relying on public transport, Haley and I rented a motorbike and rode around the island. We did have a few slight bumps  along the way (these bumps may or may not have caused minor crashes for us) but once we got the hang of it, it was awesome! The island of Koh Samui is so beautiful, and driving around with the ocean on one side and green forest of palm trees and hills on the other side was pure perfection.

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The Original Full Moon Party

I spent my New Year’s Eve at the most epic party ever.

Every full moon, Koh Phangan turns into one big, fat, rave. The beach is packed shoulder to shoulder, the bars are spilling out with people,  people are coated with glow paint and the streets are lined with vendors selling “Buckets” (pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a plastic bucket filled with alcohol).

To get to the island, you have to get a 10 minute speedboat from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan. Unfortunately, it rained in the late afternoon here at Koh Samui, so the speedboats were backed up hard core. Our taxi pickup was running an hour and a half late, so Haley and I banned together with a couple of Brits and started heading to the pier. We were determined! Lucky for us, we didn’t get too far down the road before a local with a pickup truck asked if we needed a ride. Feeling adventurous, we hopped in.

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Once we got to the pier, we barely made the last speedboat before midnight. We counted down 2012 on the boat, which was pulling up to the dock at Koh Phangan. It was actually nicer being on the shore during the countdown than on the island in a mob of people, because I was able to see the fireworks from all the neighboring islands. It was really a sight to see.

As soon as we got off the speedboat I picked up a bucket (vodka and redbull… did you know redbull originated in Thailand??) and we headed to the party. Each beach had a different DJ and music selection, but no matter where you went the island was buzzing.

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We partied till we couldn’t party any more. Around 5 in the morning people started dropping like flies. Like, literally. People were falling asleep in chairs, on the street, pretty much anywhere.

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We took a ferry home around 6:30 in the morning.  We spread out with the rest of the backpacker partiers on the ferry deck, and one by one we all started falling asleep. Watching the sun rise I recapped our adventure of the night. It was a great way to end 2012 and begin 2013, and I hope the rest of my year is filled with adventures like this.

Cheers, and happy new year :)