My vintage drum set sat, mostly neglected, for the better part of ten years. It had been an untimely purchase, when I moved up to the Bay Area at the start of my first year at U.C. Berkeley. Had I asked, any Berkeley alum would have told me that unless I planned to use it as a multi-tiered desk for all the work to come, that drum set would hold no use for me within weeks. That the set would merely serve as a sweet memory of the time my new friend Francisco took me to Sam Adato’s drum shop and gave me two timbale drum sticks tied with clipped dread locks to celebrate my purchase.

When it came time to sell everything to travel, my drums were emotionally easy to let go of in the first round of purging. I put an ad on Craigslist and within a few hours, I had two responses from the same person “Hi, can I come pick-up your cool drum set?” and the second, “P.S. I can come over at your convenience with cash and no B.S.” I called the number listed immediately but with suspicion. I didn’t expect it to be so fast and easy. I thought I’d be lucky to get any response and if I did, that I’d never get the price I wanted, especially considering the wealth of drum sets available on Craigslist. In fact, I believe I said something like, “I’m never going to get that price. I’ll be lucky not to have to donate them.”

So when “Don” answered the phone and offered me an extra $40 to deliver the set a ten-minute drive away, I had to ask. “I’m sorry, but this seems too good to be true. Do you always keep hundreds of dollars lying around the house in case you want to buy something sight unseen?” He replied with a laugh, “No! I have to find a cool vintage kit today. Do you know the band Romeo Void? You know…” The voice in my head was in synch with his voice as he said “Never Say Never” and mine went on to add “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing).” Was he kidding? My drum set was going to a band with these titles as hits from the 80’s?? Ha! “Never say Never” is right.  Within a few hours of listing the set, my drums were property of great new owners.

I relayed this news to my friend Lia Rose, and half-jokingly told her that in honor, I would call my round the world trip the Never Say Never Tour, as a reminder that you never really know what life (or you) will throw your way. You can imagine my surprise when we went to see a movie soon after and the trailer for Justin Beiber’s documentary by the same name popped onto the screen. I never imagined that he and I would have so much in common. ;)

A big lesson for me has been learning to put never in its place. Here are some ways I do:

Never let what could be an expired definition of yourself limit your future

If I held on to the definition of myself as a student who graduated 465th out of a high school class of 495, I would never have dared to go back to school and ultimately graduate with a 3.95 G.P.A. from U.C. Berkeley. This is true of countless things in my life, and I’m guessing yours as well. We don’t arrive at our fully formed adult selves- we are constantly growing and changing, even if we don’t give ourselves enough credit for it. Once upon a time I was too insecure to go the mall without a friend. Now I’m a solo world traveler.

Never doubt that life can out-perform your expectations

I never expected to be the recipient of free flight benefits when I hatched a plan to travel the world. And I had a very different plan to travel around the country in the months leading up to the time they become active. I had a loose plan to do 22 stops in 26 weeks. Life handed me a better plan- period. And I’m so grateful I was open to it.

Never let naysayers set the limits on your life

Anyone, who upon listening to your plans, says that they will not likely or will never work out as you’ve dreamed, should be seen, as having limited imagination- NOT privileged foresight. Simply say to yourself, or directly to them, “those are your limits, not mine.”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve proved the naysayers in my life wrong. I’ve watched them shake their heads when I moved to L.A. to become an actress, when I moved to New York City with $700 to my name, when I devised my plan to return to school. It’s come to the point where I can honestly say that I believe in myself more than I believe in them. If you’re not already there, I strongly urge you to work on that. YOUR life- the version you want to live- depends on it.

One of my favorite quotes is-

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

-Goethe

One year ago, my To Do List certainly did not include get a divorce, sell everything, move in to a 45 square foot house on wheels, sell my house, start a loosely planned North American road trip, make it as far as stop #3, fall in love with a place, fall in love with a person (more on that later), and restructure said loose plan…but I’m also much happier now than I was last year. Point being? Give more weight in your decision making to your instincts than what you said or thought you’d do…and never say never…you may find more happiness than you can imagine.

How do you give never the middle finger? How have you triumphed over self-doubt or expired versions of yourself? You know I love to learn from you! Tell me about it! :)

Blame it on the rain (she wrote, trying not to provoke a Milli Vanilli cyber sing-along) but today I’m cheered by looking back at photos of fun signs and t-shirts from Rarotonga.  They remind me of the Rartongan people we met- friendly, funny people who are quick to laugh, love to tease, and use the word “cheeky” to describe each other.

Rarotonga’s a small island, and while riding around the island via the main road (less than an hour), shopping in the market, and going out to eat, we saw plenty that cracked us up.

First, it’s impossible to miss the road signs, where the messages are important and spot-on, and the way they’re expressed makes them funny:

And then there are the self-deprecating jokes on t-shirts.  Rarotongans don’t take themselves too seriously to have a laugh at others’ perceptions…or misperceptions:

that's what we said!

And finally the signs in restaurants…we’re all fair game:

oh my!

what a sucker

Have photos of funny signs from places you’ve been? We’d love to see them! Feel free to share them on our Facebook page!

Arriving to RAR by plane felt like arriving to a party at which we were part of a group of honored guests. We landed at sunrise, stepped onto the tarmac and into the small airport ready to deal with the normally tedious task of going through customs.  But, there with his voice and a ukulele, was 70 year-old native Jake Numanga to serenade we new arrivals to Rarotonga from atop the baggage carousel.  And there he stayed and played until the last people (we) left the airport.

We’ve traveled quite a bit, arrived and passed through so many airports, and this was a first.  I was intrigued, and asked others about him during our stay.  Some refer to him as “Uncle” and say that no matter what time of the day or night, he can be found at the airport welcoming and bidding farewell to visitors, and that he’s done it for as long as they can remember.

Jake Numanga welcomes visitors

Jake was kind enough to talk with me before we boarded our flight back to the U.S.  Continue reading »

We’re leaving tomorrow morning for a place that I confess I knew nothing about two weeks ago.

Francisco and I had spent nights, and I mean nights, on dueling computers trying to find a flight we were willing to pay for…to anywhere warm.  We usually travel for much longer than two weeks at a time, when paying for higher priced flights (if you can’t find a deal) pays itself off in time spent abroad.  But this time it’s two weeks.  None of our old tricks were working, we were grouchy, and our vacation planning was taking the fun right out of the idea.  What the hell? How could it be that we were so incredibly flexible and yet we couldn’t find any deals except to the Caribbean in the height of the hurricane season?

The Caribbean is really inexpensive right now, and we’re pretty adventurous.  But we’ve had a not-so-great summer here in the Bay Area, and with only two weeks we’re not in a gambling state of mind.  We want some sunshine with our ocean and sand.

We were ready to give up on the bargain hunting and plunk down the big bucks when the Air New Zealand sale came up with Rarotonga as one of the destinations.  “Where the hell is Rarotonga?!” was followed by a quick info & image search that told us everything we needed to know.  We could go to this beautiful place in the Cook Islands with great weather, turquoise water, white sand, jungle, and some backpacker-friendly lodging, for half the price of anything else we’d found.

So now we’re about to experience an island that wouldn’t have made our list of places to visit because we had no idea it existed two weeks ago.  I love happy accidents, so here’s hoping that something that wasn’t even on the radar becomes a new favorite.

I can’t tell you how many times while traveling, I’m surprised by the inability to find tampons.  I’m there, in some fantastic tropical locale, trying to enjoy some beach time and “Aunt Flo(w) pays a visit”.  I stop into the local convenience, grocery, market, pharmacy, peruse the isles and finally hit the area where such things live, only to find that in this place, “such things” are pads…and they just aren’t for me.

You’re right, I could probably plan ahead a little better, but when you like to pack as light as I do, you’re bound to make a few assumptions about what you can leave “here” in favor of buying “there.”  The problem is that what gear is available to take care of your monthly visitor can be culture-bound and influenced by a broad range of things such as local religion, customs, and access.

So what’s a girl to do when you’ve sufficiently embarrassed enough local women on the road with questions and gestures to learn your lesson, but you still want to pack light?  You can do yourself and the earth a favor and eco your Aunt Flo(w)!

I’m talking about a little gem called the menstrual cup.  These little numbers are made of medical-grade silicone or organic natural gum rubber, and there’s a good argument for switching to them no matter what type of product you currently use, and whether you’re abroad or at home.

Longer use- up to 12 hours
Less in the landfill- Billions of tons of pads and tampons are dumped into landfills each year, while menstrual cups are reusable
Save money- women in the U.S. spend approx. $150-200 annually on pads & tampons, while a reusable menstrual cup is $35 or less and can last up to 10 years
Eco & woman friendly- most models are phthalate-free, plastic-free and BPA-free, and if you’re allergic to latex, you can choose a latex-free model

Check out the literature and see if one’s right for you. You may be able to reduce, reuse, recycle and pack a little something that will ensure you’re always good to go and prepared for Aunt Flo(w).

Learn more-

DivaCup
The Keeper & Keeper Mooncup
Lunette
Miacup

Eight years ago today, on July 24, 2002, we had a motorcycle accident in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. I know, what a travel cliché! While I wish we didn’t have to join those ranks, it gave us a window onto the place we had chosen to do our research, and the people with whom we had chosen to do so, that we otherwise wouldn’t have had…and for that I’m grateful.

Francisco and I were 5 weeks in to our planned 10-weeks of field research and we’d made a great connection with the Kayan women we were working with at Nai Soi Village. Each day, we’d ride our rented motorcycle the 21 kilometers from our guesthouse in MHS to the refugee camp (camp for displaced people fleeing fighting) and spend hours talking with and observing Kayan women, their families, and the tourists visiting them for their interesting cultural feature of wearing a brass neck coil.

This particular day, Francisco was sick, and didn’t want to travel. However we’d managed to line up a very important meeting, one that could provide us with a place to stay just outside the camp, in an area not usually offered to “farangs. I convinced Francisco that we should go, and that I could drive. I’d ridden motorcycles “since I was little” I argued- entirely ignoring the fact that I’d been 12 the last time I’d ridden one, and even then, never with a passenger. Effectively convinced, or too sick to argue, Francisco hopped onto the back of the Honda Dream scooter.

We started off fine, until everything imaginable designed for accidents happened at once-
rain, dirt in my lane, a sharp turn, followed by another sharp turn in the opposite direction. Upon heading into the second turn, as I scrambled to use the right combination and pressure of brakes, the last thing I heard or remember was Francisco saying “Oh shit!”…And then he jumped.

I came to, to the sound of my own screaming and Francisco throwing water in my face to try to make out the damage through the blood. My mouth was full of dirt, I couldn’t move my leg, or open my eyes fully. After an indeterminable time, two men drove up in a truck, picked me up, and put me in the back of the pickup. I screamed all the way to the hospital, louder with each bump and turn in the road.

Still screaming & crying, we arrived to the hospital. After exhibiting great patience, the E.R. doctor finally told Francisco, who had refused care out of concern for me, to make me stop, as I was bothering other patients. She also needed me to hold still to stitch up my eye. Done! That shut me up! I’d never had sutures in my life and I certainly didn’t want to contribute to anything getting worse at that point. Facial sutures, x-rays, bandages, a cast, a broken mandible, tibia and fibula, and days went by in a fog. I remember negotiating with my doctor, promising to drink all my food for two weeks and keep my jaw closed to avoid having it wired shut. From what I’ve been told, it’s a good thing I slept through those first days and wasn’t alert enough to request a mirror.

email home to fellow haas scholars

As soon as I could hold a phone, our mothers were on the line begging us to come home. But I couldn’t do it. I was too grateful for our scholarship and didn’t want to blow what I knew was an amazing opportunity. I’d worked for ten years, often at crappy jobs before returning to school, worked really hard to get the grades that made me even eligible- and Francisco had to- to earn the scholarship. Our families were worried about the care we’d receive in Thailand, but how could they, or I until that experience, know that I would have the best hospital experience of my life?

The hospital and its staff were amazing. It seemed like a place that had been built with the expectation of an impending disaster that never happened. It was clean, pristine, and well staffed, and in the 11 days I was there I had amazing round-the-clock care. It awed me how the nurses used large forceps with the deftness of Edward Scissorhands, to avoid touching the cotton or dressings for my wounds- and they still wore latex gloves. I had a private room, as did most people, with a beautiful view of the mountains. My doctors were incredibly available and attentive. A specialist flew in from Chiang Mai to make sure my leg was set properly and that I didn’t need surgery- one more millimeter of displacement and…phew!

Word spread quickly in this small town, and even got back to our Kayan friends, most likely through our friend Nipon, a local travel agent from whom we’d rented our bike. A couple of our Kayan friends went through the difficult process of checking out of the refugee camp and arranging transportation to come to see us. Sitting in my room near the end of my bed, refusing to come closer, Majon looked relieved and said that they had initially heard we’d died. When she, her Mom and sister left, hospital staff looked at us in disbelief exclaiming, “Long Necks came to see you!” Tourists motorcycle accidents may be a dime a dozen, but apparently this was not.

Nipon was the first person at the hospital and witnessed my she’s-clearly-not-from-Thailand E.R. screaming fit. She was concerned for us, not the least bit angry about her damaged bike, and she visited every day. People in the village, including the owners of our guesthouse, brought food to the hospital from the places that had become our routine haunts, and I got really used to drinking banana porridge and soup through a straw. When Francisco ventured out, scraped, bruised, and hurt in his own rite, everyone asked about us, wished us well, gave him food & free services. It felt like the whole town stepped up to try to make things easier for us.

11 days, 5 casts and a lot of healing later, I was out of the hospital, adjusting to the intense heat with a cast, and figuring out a new mode of transport out to the camp. We traded in our motorcycle for a jeep (and were given a deal for being friends with Nipon) and went back to the camp.

The welcome we got was amazing. It was the rainy season, and I couldn’t crutch my way through the muddy camp, so Francisco would walk in while I perched at the entrance, and one of our friends would come and get me on a motorcycle- yes, I got back on a bike with my cast.


And for much of the remainder of the next weeks, our friends made us lunch and requested that we get to stay after closing hours to have dinner. We’d rotate houses. They signed my cast with well wishes, gave us hand-made gifts, and shared many personal stories and fears with us. The connection was clear, and tourists often asked if we lived there, to which Majon, always the joker, would reply, “Yes, they are Long-Neck too.”

Today, coincidentally, the National Geographic Channel is repeating the episode we shot in 2006, Taboo: Body Modification, in which I discuss our research with Kayan women at Nai Soi.

UPDATE: In the time since I’ve written this post, I’ve realized that for any person considering riding a motorcycle for the first time, that this may be a truly frightening, and not very encouraging post to read (except for the beautiful part of a community helping those in need). Since, I’ve grown into a writer who, while not afraid to share difficult experiences, tries to convey constructive ways to look at them. I gave my childhood riding experience more weight than it deserved and miscalculated how well (or not!) it would serve me. I failed to consider the advanced skills that may be required to handle a passenger, the challenging route we took, and the conditions we were met with. All of those factors contributed to the outcome of the accident.

Having said that, I still love riding motorcycles and feel they can be a safe, convenient, fun, eco-friendly option for getting around, but I advocate for proper skills training. When we returned home, I went on to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s courses and actually got my license. I can’t believe the difference it made. Handling a motorcycle properly is actually counter-intuitive for many- the way to properly steer a bike, how to handle skids, turns, all are different than what one might instinctively do. And the problem is, you often don’t realize you’re doing it improperly until you’re faced with real, immediate challenges that require lightening fast, skillful responses. I can’t recommend getting proper training enough- there are so many skills that can keep you (and me!) safer in getting out of your own way, and of others who may not even see you. Accidents can happen to the best riders, but better equipping yourself to deal with them, may help you avoid some…and greater injury.

The next thing I’ve committed to, is wearing a helmet- regardless of the local laws or customs. My face would not have gone through what it did (and trust me, you don’t want yours to!) if I’d been wearing one, and I am SO FORTUNATE to not have suffered more damage. No more Thai-style for me thanks!

I think it’s also important to gauge your comfort. I’m not comfortable riding by myself over bridges or on freeways- so I’m just not going to push it. Only you know what you’re confident doing.

With the skills I learned in training post-accident, I’ve gone on to enjoy thousands of amazing rides, and owned and rode my own bike, a 1966 CA 77 Honda Dream (a sexy beast!).  And you can bet I’ll continue to ride during my upcoming RTW trip!

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