Peace, Love, and Hippieness

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I’m so enjoying a little time in the original Hippie town of Woodstock New York! Even though the actual Woodstock concert occurred about 40 miles from here there is still loads if hippie history here. The vibe is fun and the scenery stunning. If only I was slightly artistic I might never leave!

The best plans…..

Are naturally no plans at all…..well, at least sometimes.

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At the tail end of my travels abroad, one of my most dear friends jumped ship from her busy life in San Francisco to come play with me in Thailand and Cambodia for a few weeks. We didn’t have many plans but both of us needed a bit of a rest, her from playing a double role of HR director by week and graduate student by weekend and me from traveling hard. I know you are thinking, you needed a vacation from your vacation? Yup – absolutely. Travel is exhausting.

An old college roommate of mine had recommended going to the Rainbow Lodge in a rural area of Cambodia known as Koh Kong. This area isn’t necessarily on the tourist track, unless you are one of those people who enjoy long bumpy bus rides (like me). We made a last minute reservation to stay a couple nights here before departing from Phnom Penh. And after we landed at Rainbow Lodge, we quickly decided to stay nearly a week.

Both of us have stayed at various places in the States who boast their eco friendliness, I suppose largely to attract visitors. Those places might give you some natural soap or biodegradable silverware or something, but “eco-friendly” hotels pale in comparison to what we experienced in Cambodia.

Rainbow Lodge is accessed via a little rickety boat that picked us up after our long bus journey from Phnom Penh. I remember the bus dropped us off virtually in the middle of no where, leaving us to just trust in the directions that the website had provided. Low and behold, that rickety boat driver was there and waiting for us. We headed up the Tatai River in Cambodia’s Cardamon Mountains for about 15 minutes, taking in the natural beauty of the lush jungle surrounding us.

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Our backpacks and us headed up the Tatai River to the Rainbow Lodge.

The lodge has 7 bungalows, each with a different color theme, comfy beds, a porch equip with a matching hammock, and the most stunning views imaginable. They are totally “green”, not because it is a trendy thing to be these days, but because they live and breathe sustainability. Rainbow Lodge uses solar for electricity, sources as many local fruits and vegetables as possible, and recycles/reuses everything.

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The view from our bungalow porch at the Rainbow Lodge.

Molly taking full advantage of the R&R time to finally finish her "light reading" material - 100 Days of Solitude.

Molly taking full advantage of the R&R time to finally finish her “light reading” material – 100 Days of Solitude.

Molly and I whiled away our days playing in the river, kayaking about, reading, sleeping, eating amazing fresh foods, and playing marathon games of “shithead”, this international backpackers card game that I found speaks as a rather universal language wherever I went. We drank “Angkor Wat” beer in between petting the lazy Rainbow Lodge cats and caught up on more chatting than I think either of us knew possible. We had big intentions to paddle to the local waterfall and take in some jungle treks, but our bodies had other plans and forced us to take a serious chill pill.

IMG_0158 IMG_0162Beyond all these envious luxuries, the best part about staying at the Rainbow Lodge was knowing we were also helping to support a local community school by just being there. On our final day, Lois took us, via kayaks, to visit the local school and introduce us to the work that Rainbow Lodge staff have been doing with the money raised from guests. We were blown away. Here are a few pictures from our visit:

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Lois shows us this hand washing sink with soap they helped put in at the school for kids to wash their hands. As all of my Public Health friends out there know, hand washing is such a simple yet effective way to combat the spread of disease. The kids apparently love the sink and take every opportunity they can to soap up.

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The head teacher at the school demonstrates how to wash your hands.

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Lois and the head teacher show us around the elementary school campus. We found out he was the highest paid member of his community, making a giant salary of $80 per month. I have never met a teacher as proud of their school as this man. His smile was beaming as he showed us around.

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Rainbow Lodge helped pay for the installment of this safe, clean water drinking station for the villagers. Another thing we Westerners like to say is that “they” are used to the water but we can’t drink it cause we’ll get sick. The real truth is that everyone gets sick from that water.

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This was the drinking water source before Rainbow Lodge put in the filtration system and water tanks just a year or so ago.

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Molly and I and two teachers from the school pose in from of some of their beautiful flowers as well as a play gym that was paid for by a new hotel that is going in not too far away. Hmmm….as nice as that play gym in, I think Rainbow Lodge is by far more in tune with the needs of this community.

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A village laundry station.

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A simple school room for the kiddos. I can just picture their little faces shouting out numbers in English.

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The head teacher shows us another project that Rainbow Lodge has helped the school with – you guessed it – TOILETS! This is yet another big Public Health win. Look closely if you have never seen a squat toilet before. I grew to find them rather awesome!

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I loved this picture because of the irony. This was a great printer that no one could really figure out how to work or fix. It is a good reminder to really know what the needs of the community are before just donating a bunch of stuff.

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The head teacher shows us this high tech chart which documents the number of students per year since 2000. As you will see, the school size has grown by a lot.

Now, the Rainbow Lodge is not an easy place to get to, but if you ever find yourself in Cambodia, I insist you take a few days to come here. It is ridiculously affordable and officially one of my most favorite places in this entire world. Here is their website for those of you very, very interested in seeing how things run here: http://www.rainbowlodgecambodia.com/default.htm

20k+ and Counting

 

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OneBagNomad reached a giant milestone this week. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend how this happened, but turns out my little blog has been viewed over 20,000 times since I started it last year. Wow.

Friends and strangers alike from so many different countries have somehow stumbled upon my musings a time or two, leaving me with an infinite sense of connectedness with this big world. Like many, I can find myself complaining from time to time in an elitist, snobby tone about the woes of social media. But today I’m sending you tech gurus a giant high five and a big “thank you” for connecting this huge world in such an amazing way. And speaking of high fives, thank you to all of my friends, family, and readers beyond for your support and true interest through every part of this adventure. Whether you commented or liked or followed or just watched from afar, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Before I left for my round the world adventure, I read a bunch of books recommended by friends and solo travelers that had gone before me. One of those books was called “Swimming to Angola” by Christopher Blin, and was recommended by my friend, Heather who had met Christopher when he was traveling through Napa and stopped in to run with our local running group. Admittedly, I had to google, “where is Angola?”, but despite geographical challenges I was quickly swept away by his honest experiences traveling through 96 different countries in the world. His stories were remarkable and brave. One quote in particular stuck like sweet honey to my heart and continues to stay with me in the simplest of ways. In giving advice on traveling through developing nations, Christopher tells his readers to “Remember a few basic rules in order to make it back in one piece. Be aware. And, be gracious. Always gracious.” I really feel like that sums up travel. You can plan all you want but if you aren’t aware and you aren’t gracious, you could find yourself in trouble.

Although I’ve probably overused the word at this point, I feel eternally grateful to all of you for the gracious words and encouragement you have given me throughout this journey. Thank you to all I met along the way for teaching me how to be more and more gracious. Thank you to those who continue to be interested in how this story all ends. I suppose if I continue to follow Mr. Blin’s advice I’ll get there. And so will you. We’ll make it through just fine.

One Bag Plays On

Yesterday, my little brother left for what is bound to be an epic adventure and serious vacation in a rural area of Oaxaca, Mexico. And what did he chose as his perfect packing vessel? None other than One Bag. My backpack had started collecting a little dust and was eager to get out and play. So play on little one. Play on.

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Quick Trip to Lake Tahoe

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After returning from a stellar week of bike racing, beer tasting, and trying to hold my brothers wheel up dirt mountain roads on a borrowed road in Colorado (thanks again Allen Lim!), I was grateful to take a quick trip up to beautiful Lake Tahoe. Friends were up from Southern California and we took full advantage of some quality time together while enjoying a bit of altitude and amazing views.

Although I most often stay on the California side of Lake Tahoe, we ventured across state lines one afternoon to Nevada and indulged ourselves in some seriously blue water and boulder hopping. There are so many pleasures to enjoy out there in the world! I’m reminded again that a large number of them exist so close to me.

Thanks for sending this great pic of us swimming out to the rocks, Anju. May life always be this great.

Get outdoors amigos!

Another Reason to One Bag It

Last week, as I was packing for a trip to Colorado, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to fit all my stuff into carry on luggage this time around. I was bringing a few things out to deliver to family and I had some extra triathlon training items that were taking up space in my normal light packing arena. After a bit of finagling, I’m happy to report I was in fact able to squeeze everything I needed for the trip into just one small carry on.

At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking this is a far cry from a compelling blog post, Hannah. Carry on luggage isn’t exactly a thrilling topic, but hang tight, there is a good story here.

Colorado bound, I arrived at SFO earlier than usual to wait for my flight and took the time to catch up on a bit of emailing. I opened an email from one of the organizations I volunteered with in Northern India, Animal Aid Unlimited, and was treated to a heart wrenching story and video about an abused donkey they had rescued, saved, and subsequently bestowed a life of freedom on (click here to view it!). I was both teary eyed and inspired by the work that Animal Aid continues to do daily.

Even though I don’t have an actual income these days, I felt compelled to do something to thank the organization for doing such incredible work to save animals lives in India.  Because I had already mentally parted with the $50 I thought I would be paying to get to/from Colorado with a larger, checked bag I decided to donate that money to them. For some $50 isn’t a lot, for others it is a ton. For me, $50 represented the freedom that can come for others by our actions to live simply, to pack light, and to tread a tiny bit more consciously on this earth.

I wasn’t expecting anything in return for the donation aside from the satisfaction often felt from doing a good deed for others. What I got however was so much more. Below is the letter that Erika Abrams, co-founder of Animal Aid and a former Seattle resident, personally wrote to me shortly after my donation was processed. It rocked my world and I hope it inspires you to think twice before packing a giant heavy piece of luggage next time. Can you imagine if we all did this and donated just $50 to an organization in need rather than giving more money to an airline? Talk about rocking the world!

Hope you enjoy…..and I hope even more you get a thank you note like this in your inbox one day!

Dear Hannah,
Many thanks for your wonderful donation to help animals in India. I am always particularly touched when someone like you has the beautiful imagination to care about animals so far away from you–to feel them as vividly as if they were sitting there in your room! I know (I feel like I know) that that’s the spirit behind a donation like yours. Thank you so much dear Hannah. $25 is all it takes in India to truly save a life, and as you know, it is an individual life, a real someone who has a unique personality, an individual character all her own, all his own.
It is so important, too, that many people witness the street rescues of these ownerless animals. When they see animals being handled gently and rescued, for some of them, it is the first time it may have even occurred to them that an animal has non-commercial value–that an animal is cherished just for Being. That is one of Animal Aid’s most important “messages.” Slowly, we have a lot of evidence that the message is sinking in, because every year the number of people who have taken the time to request Animal Aid to rescue a suffering animal is increasing. Today Animal Aid has the highest number of people, per capita, calling for rescue of street animals. Our “grand design” is that through the rescue of individual street animals, gradually people will also begin to think about the animals that they cannot see who are suffering in factory dairies and research labs, and who will enlarge their sense of the wonder of all animals everywhere, and our privilege in protecting as many as we can.
Thank you for being one of the leaders in this growing movement of animal protectors, Hannah.
All the best,
Erika Abrams
co-founder

Facing New Fears

IMG_1397For any who have bumped into me lately, you more than likely have not escaped without hearing one (or two) of my new favorite Sheryl Sandberg quotes. If you have not yet jumped on the Sheryl Sandberg bandwagon, you should know she is the COO for a little company called Facebook and is currently providing me with endless amounts of advise and inspiration in her new book, “Lean In”. Apparently the title itself has already become cliche, but for once I’m ok following a fad, cause this one is a really good one.

As Sandberg aims to reignite a modern day women’s equality movement, she also challenges her readers with some very big, very challenging questions. My favorite being, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid.” I therefore both credit and blame her (at least in part) for my recent jump off the cliff decision to, yet again, quit my job and take on a new adventure. Yup, I left my perfectly good, totally adequate job last week in search of something, well, better.

For now, this new adventure does not involve a plane ticket nor a singular bag, but it does involve me facing my fears. Not having a paycheck? Scary. Not knowing how to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” Equally scary. And the most scary of all? After all these months of travel and downtime lounging on hammocks near oceans far and wide, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life! I’m sure many of you are reading this thinking, who really does? But, for now, I’m putting some concerted effort into mastering this question.

All that to say, yes, I’m totally unemployed. It’s a new title to add to my list. Admittedly, it is way cooler to be unemployed and traveling around the world than unemployed bumming around town, but I’m making productive use of my time. In between reading inspiring books, and sipping cups of coffee at local shops (what else is new), you can find me logging some saddle time or pounding the pavement as I also start training for my first ever Ironman triathlon next year.

Who knew unemployment would be this busy? Many new adventures on the horizon…..