A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 1

A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 1

I wake up without an alarm. Unpeeling my sweaty shirt from my skin, I sit up on my mat. My sleeping space is directly in the middle of the giant hotel ballroom I call home with 40 other volunteers. This makes me the least likely target for the mosquitos that attack from the windows every evening, but the furthest from the fans. Seeing the itchy, red welts on the others, I decide sleeping in sweat is definitely the lesser of of two evils. It is my fourth day as a disaster relief volunteer in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the country three weeks earlier, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving half a million displaced. Shortly after, I canceled my plans to travel through Cambodia and signed up to volunteer instead. I applied with All Hands, an organization that does deconstruction work in disaster zones – cleaning up debris, pulling down wrecked houses, and salvaging materials for rebuilding.  Their project was based in the city of Ormoc, in the hardest hit region of the country. As I have the upper body strength of a six-year-old, no experience using tools outside of hanging pictures, and define manual labor as taking the time to read all the instructions, I have no idea what made me think I was suited to do this. But I bought a sleeping bag, boots, and a flight to to the Philippines and set out utterly terrified. I’d never been to a disaster zone, and I’d definitely never wielded a sledgehammer, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what the next two weeks would be like. But...
Learning to Drive a Scooter in Laos might be a Terrible Idea

Learning to Drive a Scooter in Laos might be a Terrible Idea

Over the course of our trip, Jessica and I had a lot of conversations about learning to ride a scooter – the far and above preferred mode of transportation in SE Asia. Without knowing how to drive one, we were stuck with the super touristy bus routes or having to haggle with a tuk-tuk driver. Our conversations usually went something like this: “Hey Jessica, we should learn how to ride a scooter today.” “Definitely. We should go rent one.” “Definitely.” And then we go buy a ticket for the bus because neither of us can actually work up the nerve. On our second day in Luang Prabang, the 22-year-old guys working at our hotel overheard our usual conversation about maybe renting a scooter to go the Kuang Si Waterfalls. Without missing a beat, they reassured us that this was both a great idea and incredibly easy. They even offered to give us a lesson and call the rental company. Maybe it was our sense of pride – or the fact that they were already dialing – but we finally decided to give it a try. In less than ten minutes, a giant red scooter was waiting for us in the driveway of the hotel. I handed over my passport and signed away my right to everything should anything go wrong. Because I had four minutes more scooter experience (a very brief one-road lesson in San Francisco) compared to Jessica’s zero, we decided that I would drive. The guys’ “lesson” consisted of them telling me how to turn it on, watching me go up and down the driveway, and then...
Rock Climbing at Crazy Horse in Chiang Mai: There Will Be Bruises

Rock Climbing at Crazy Horse in Chiang Mai: There Will Be Bruises

Love hurts. Particularly when that love is rock climbing. By the end of Saturday, I was covered in bruises, scratches, and had a pocket full of bloody tissues. But, like any dysfunctional relationship, the more it pushed me away, the more determined I was to try to make it work. Before my trip to Thailand, I’d never climbed outside. When I lived in DC, I went to an indoor climbing gym and quickly fell head over heels for the amazing athleticism the sport required. Unfortunately, I devoted very little time to attaining this athleticism because I spent most of my climbing sessions staring in awe at the people effortlessly crawling UPSIDE DOWN ACROSS THE CEILING. Wtf. Seriously. Like Spiderman. In Chiang Mai, for 3,000 Baht, you can pay for a one-day course in outdoor rock climbing. Or you can find a nice Polish rock climber who is in such desperate need of a partner he will willingly take a beginner for free. It happened that I was lucky enough to come across just such a desperate Polish rock climber at a Couchsurfing meetup last week. We headed out by motorbike for the 45-minute drive to Crazy Horse Buttress. The area is part of a mountain that looks like someone shaved off the greenery to reveal sheer tan and black cliffs. It’s named after a rock formation at the top that resembles a horse. But, after looking at it, I just referred to it as No Way in Hell l Can Climb That Buttress. Tomek asked if I wanted to start off in the cave. I quickly agreed as that...