When Wolves help kids (right here in LA)

I wrote this to support the program as it was looking forward to a chance at a grant from Mazda/NBC, but I evidently tried to submit it for review shortly after they closed the submissions. Rather than just slide it into a folder, I thought I would add it here and possibly deliver a message to a possible set of eyes that may feel the compulsion to help out as well, in any capacity.

As a photographer and artist by trade, I have long come to realize I will never be “wealthy.” That is defined by the fact that here will be no homes on the ocean with sweeping views that I have dreamed of nor will I fall asleep to the rhythmic lullaby of waves gentle lapping the shoreline.

 

But defining the term “wealthy” and the currency used to gain it, has taken on a completely different meaning lately in my life. The experiences I get to live out on a weekly basis whether it be to traveling to a distant shore, getting inside looks into the lives of celebrities, sport stars and all the common families that help build this country is something I was hoping to do when I retired from my 9-5, suit and tie gig.

 

The currency I was going to save in order to do all of this was based on years of saving and sacrificing what’s left of my youth. For the record I am in my 50’s and consider myself as youthful, if not more so than most 25 year olds. But I know my clock is moving so much faster.

 

The past ten years has blessed me with the chances and recourses to do something I knew I was here to ultimately do; give back. There are a few causes I like to donate my time and services to. One of which is the Wolf Connection (WC), in Acton California.

 

Here, the combination of love and thoughtful direction towards the misunderstood diverge in a perfect symphony of altruism. Abandoned, mistreated and often abused wolves are joined here with their human counterparts and where true healing and hope begin to take root.

 

I have been on hikes through the hot, dusty and steep hills with the leaders of this unique pack, accompanied by select wolves and the at risk kids, who at first often maintain a cool and at arms length disposition. As a photographer watching everything, including the attitudes and body language through my lens, it becomes apparent to me very quickly who is taking this serious and those who choose to keep their protective walls up. However, that will eventually change and that’s where the wolves themselves make their mark along with the stories told by the WC pack members themselves.

 

While the wolves can’t talk directly to them, the level of communication is undeniable. Concepts such as trust, humility, confidence and family will be introduced in simple terms to each child that’s willing to listen.

 

At times I walk with the kids to hear the conversations and a gain sense of their understanding of these new concepts. Last hike I heard terms “I can’t” or I’ll never” referring to their idea they can ever break away form the bad neighborhoods they live in or the broken family they come from.

 

The Wolf Connection offers a place they can learn to understand how to build the foundation for these foreign concepts and hope; strength and a plan to climb out the dark hole they currently find themselves in. The wolves themselves keep a healthy distance to those who aren’t ready to humble themselves by breaking down the rough exterior and walls. It’s when the kids earn their trust when the magic happens. A kinship in the purest and most primal form has planted its first seed and the foundation for a new understanding of how they value themselves as worthy recipients that will translate to the outside world they return to at the end of the day.

 

The idea is the new value they have in themselves keeps them away from the constant street fights, drugs and misleading fraternities within a gang. The very idea of hope is taught here. The direction it takes to be involved so the chance to climb up the ladder and out of their situation, school family and those in the community who are true leaders will appeal to them.

 

Like with wolves in the wild, it’s all about surviving and being associated with the right pack. And like these wolves here, abused and left behind, the hopes for second chances are realized. To move forward, forgiveness, humility and a solid plan path their new road from Acton to Watts.

 

By the end of the hikes, I have often witnessed the “I Cant’ attitude change to many questions of how they can, and this step to these kids is invaluable as the seed has now been planted. The program last several weeks to properly water and feed these them so the roots can spread in an otherwise barren pot. The impact to each kid cannot be measured, as its impact on the community they live in eventually will.

 

If kids who leaned towards the idea of the easy dollar or sense of community through crime and civil disobedience can be show the road to a more fulfilling life, the community itself is exponentially healed. These kids cannot only be the students, but more importantly the teachers. How does one put a value on that that is not understated?

 

In life every thing boils down to currency. In my case, my currency is the gift of trust I ultimately get from many of these kids. To have a child who has literally been left behind by their community, friends and even family ask advise from me or want to bounce an idea of me makes me a very wealthy man. I am honored to contribute to such a program.

 

As for the currency and what it means to (WC), the motor that drives the operation is not cheap. Housing, feeding, caring and medicine for the wolves is expensive. The manpower it takes to maintain the acreage and support the programs for the kids and is paid in US dollars. A donation from Mazda/NBC of this amount is a game changer would help level the playing field for so many more who can’t see that they can also be “wealthy” too.

 

Insignificant; or NOT

From a scribbling I put together a few yrs back with a few small changes. But the spirit of thankfulness, perspective and inspiration remains. I thank God every day for the gifts I have to use at my disposal and why perspective, inspiration and gratitude will always be a theme that dominates my writing.

Like most of my longer training rides on the bike, the goals are simple. Ride until eventually my body learns to the art of minimizing my muscles demands for oxygen to metabolize an increase in blood lactate and increase overall aerobic thresholds. Usually my journey begins with pain in the legs but usually ends up taxing everything from between one ear to the next and back. Tonight’s ride should be no exception.

As turmoil has been a steady companion of late I guess I should have known better. After 2 hours plus of burning the quads with several climbs, I suddenly noticed one of my favorite things in life. The sky was turning all shades of red and blue and the South Bay was preparing for a spectacular show as the sun fell behind the sea. I glided to the end of Hermosa Beach pier and just sat there in a now cold sweat, watching the sky and the water try to outdo each other as if it were a duel of master painters. It was chilly and I was wearing nothing more than swim-bike shots, lycra form fitting vest and arm warmers. But the cold never affected me as I stared at the show like a kid at a first circus waiting for the next thing to happen.

Then the inevitable began to happen….I began to think…Shit; too late now as this ball had already started to roll. For those who can’t sleep at night due to a restless mind know what I am talking about. I stared deep into and beyond the swirls of color mixing the waters currents and then upwards beyond the colors of the sky until the colors were all but gone. Suddenly I could see a star shining over the horizon and it did not appear to be a planet. My astrology is lacking so I can’t tell which star it was, but it caused me to do what most of us have done one time or another; feel really, really small..

I began to think about time and space and my place in it. And in the end how do my problems even matter? How could they? But to me they freeze me in my tracks; every time.

A “first down” in football is ten yards. It takes light to travel that far in about 30 nano-seconds and light can go 300 million yards (or 30 million first downs) in ONE second.

The same little beam of misguided light would take 1 1/4 seconds to get to the moon and to the sun (which is BTW 109 times the size of the Earth) and would take little Mr light beam 8 minutes to arrive.. Hang with me, there is a point.

Jupiter is further out and would take 40 light-minutes to feel the love and Pluto is a whopping 5 ½ hours away for the train to reach its station and far too many first downs for me to figure out.

Now for the amazing part.. That twinkling and insignificant wobble in the sky is no less than 4 ½ years away for that wayward beam of light to arrive. Beyond that, my head just really begins to hurt. It must be from slamming it into that brick wall they built at the very end of the Universe back when the UFO’s also build the Pyramids of Ghiza. It’s enough to imagine our little hub of insignificance in all of this expanse too large to wrap my mind fully around.

But if I were to try…..

The nearest cluster of Galaxy (the Virgo Cluster~only remembered because I am one) is
50 million light years away and to totally blow the top of your head off, the visible edge of the universe is 13,700,000,000 (yes, billion) light years away. Or as Cal Sagan would have said “beillionn.”

So back to our little flickering and dim light in an otherwise endless forest full of Sequoia Christmas trees we have to ask ourselves the same question. Do we count? Do we matter at all in the end?

From events unfolding form warring nations, all the way down to even the little kid crying because Santa’s gift this year wasn’t what was wished for and everything else in between, it’s just a pimple on a pimples ass in the end of a flea no less. That is if fleas actually could get a pimple of course. One day it will be dead silent here and really dark and cold. Somewhere zillions of first downs away and even more zillions of years something will be crawling out of the mud to choke on it’s first breath. Or two overzealous leaf bearing zealots will hook it up again,…But life will come to be. Somewhere out there..

Whatever happens, will they eventually stand at the end of a pier one year and look out to the sky and begin to feel just as small and even insignificant?

As I turned my bike around to ride several, but not too many first downs back to my home, a father and son ( I presumed he was his son) approached me for a picture. I said sure and suggested we use the faded light of the ocean for the background as I reached for the camera. The father said no, it was his son who wanted the picture with me. I just stood there and didn’t know what to say. I was sure they thought I was someone else. It’s happened plenty of times before. So I kept on saying nothing and smiled for the photo with my arm around the kid.

The smile on the teen aged kid was enough to answer my question with out a word being spoken. I was not about to discourage that amazing smile.

Hell yes, I mattered, I mumbled to myself under my breath.. Or at least the guy they thought I was did…It really didn’t matter. I connected with someone the very second I asked this silent question and it was evident.

If this was not significant in any big pictures and about my place in it, then what does that say about me?

I glided back down the pier with my bike toward home.

He glided back down the pier in his wheelchair..

For New Years ~ Reboot yourself

rebootWe all tend to live with an eye on what’s to come based on what has already happened in our lives. The struggle just to get through any given day often forces us to shift our brains into a gear that is meant for plowing forward and gobbling up as much (chores or work) as possible. Most of that time is spent wondering about where the time will come from and the energy to pursue with focus.

Life becomes a never ending stream of checklist, littered with post it notes, leading us faster down a familiar but ultimately unrewarding path. With every passing year, more and more energy on managing the day itself becomes increasingly important.

We are bombarded with notes like, wash the car, clean the yard, pay the bills

pick up groceries, do laundry, fill cars up with gas, pick up kids and drop off form school, get to gym, etc . And thats on our off time like the weekends, except for picking up the kids from school I suppose.

When do we ever to create post it notes like ,take deep breaths, stop and help someone who needs it, slow down or simply think about our dreams. How about ask a friend, neighbor or family member how they are really doing and actually listen until they are done. Take an interest and become something larger than ourselves.

I come from the very definition of a blue collar family, I know first hand how hard it is to turn off the “work mode” and completely relax. Don’t get me wrong, work is really good for the soul. In fact, there are few things that feels as good as a job well done. There has to be a balance though. A long time ago, I turned to Yoga to help me with my triathlon training. I found it also allowed myself the space on ability to take a simple unregulated breath with out any concept other than to feel the air go in and fill my lungs and then leave in a long purging breath out. Sounds simple, but to someone like me, it took months to allow myself to do so with out peeking out squinted eyes to see if every one else was doing the same thing and not all looking at me make a fool of myself. I have been a worker bee my whole life. It’s burned into to who I am as a person. Even in college, I did not go to parties until all my homework and studying was done. Many times I wandered completely sober into a rager well after 1 or 2 am feeling like the only sober person on Earth. But that worker bee attitude also was instrumental getting me caught up there fast enough as well.

Simply saying to get out there and do something and get off the damned couch is lazy and well; simple. It really serves no purpose other than to tell others what their doing wrong. I’d rather offer ideas and underscore the means to connect them to every day reality in an effort maybe reach at least a single person out there who may want a little to a lot more out of life; your life.

So try this project: Take a day and drop off the face of the earth from it all. Turn off the smart phones, computers and TV’s. I know, God forbid! Put some music on and make a home cooked meal with a significant other and the agree to only discuss “trivial pursuits” like philosophy, dreams and wishes…forget anything and everything that reminds us of the day to day task that bury us and our dreams alive.

Stop living in your past and thinking too far into the future and see what its like to feel the here and now .If geographically available climb a mountain, take a long swim in the ocean, go for a bike ride, lay back in the largest field you can find and watch the clouds roll over, etc….

One does not need to be and adrenaline junkie, but if you talk to enough of them there is a very common theme. When climber thinks of a mountain to climb, for instance, there are all kinds of thoughts and ideas into the route, a day, the weather conditions, etc..but when the first step is made at the base of a sheer face, the mind switches to the hear and now. It has to. Each step is calculated, each breath monitored and the brain begins to feel the moment with hi definition with alarming clarity. So much so, that everything that was clouding your thought patterns with bombarding task off the “to do list” is gone. Think of your brain like a computer that has not been turned off for months and has all of those programs running in the background. Its slow, unresponsive and will shut down in an unpredictable way and mostly at the worst time.

Clear out the dead wood in your life or those who continually drag you down. Allow the programs running interference to all be turned off and start of fresh. This does not mean to shun all those that may disagree with you. The ones who challenge you to expand and think deeper should actually be help in high regard. Say good-by to the narcissist in your ives and those who bask in constant negativity. We all know who they are. Sometimes they are even family. If they don’t change, you must. But its crucial you are honest with yourself here as we all tend to protect those who hurt us the most in this regard. This is where the courage must manifest itself. Do you have what it takes?

Rebooting ourselves and clearing the debris to launch the thoughts that we decide to program and not the ones that bombard us though news-bites, headlines, bad apples etc

Fill you heart with life, wonder and love and give it back to those who are in your lives. Pick up someone emotionally and making their day a bit brighter. Then sit back and feel how it affects you. Its the absolute best feeling there is. It feeds you.

So start the new year off with a gift to yourself that is long overdue..just hit  the “reboot” button..Never to beconfused with the “reset” button..We all know that one does not work:)

Machu Picchu magic (if you are open to it)

Machu Picchu 2014

Why does every single person here have ridiculously big smiles here? Same question for the small foothill town of Augas Calientes just below Machu Picchu? Maybe it has more to do with an energy we can’t quite put our fingers on or wrap our brains around. Even the street dogs are all incredibly friendly.

There is no doubt an energy here that I can feel. But what is it? It appears that everyone I see and have seen here now and before can feel it as well. I suppose that the kind of people who would be attracted to such a site can explain some of it. I doubt most who’s idea of adventure travel is going to Las Vegas to see pyramids, towers, palaces while being waited on by overly made up and under-dressed women serving weak drinks at cards tables, pack their hiking boots and cameras while leaving home their hair gel and favorite cologne or perfume are the types to make such a trip. Although it’s much more than a back-packers paradise, it does tend to bring those more intrepid travellers from all four corners to make this journey to see and feel what is here. So maybe they(we) are just more open to it?

Either way, it is worth digging into more.

Not too far away neighboring town of Ollantayambo there is a really interesting story. It’s not folklore or some passed down from one family to the next bed time story either. This sleepy little village is still under excavation and under the watchful eye of archeological societies in Peru and far beyond.
The constant quest for understanding of how the Incan people moved such monolithic rocks to build any number of temples, schools and other buildings as well as agricultural plateaued marvels like Machu Picchu remained a mystery for so long and serves as a possible answer to my initial question.

In 1993, the town decided to try and recreate this feat by strictly abiding by 16th Century drawings rendered by the Spanish monks as described by the Incan people at the time.Rock moving
America sent in a scientific team led by Jean Pierre Protzen, from U-Cal, Berkeley to prove or dispel all the rumors and myths regarding the legitimacy of how these huge stones were moved more than 500yrs ago

As they followed the images to the last detail and used the same rope material as the Incans, the test failed over and over. The ropes that cradled the huge rocks snapped under the strain much to the contrary of all the mathematical calculations indicating otherwise.

Many in the academic community swiftly pushed aside the theory that the monks had laid before them.

Ironically the locals, who were the ones from this small-uncivilized town had their reservations front he get go. The academics were missing one very large component to this inquiry.

The locals explained to the puzzled scientific community that they never permission from the Earth Mother, Pachamama.

Really?

Yup, so with all the effort that went into everything to that point there was no reason not to at least try to get a shaman to ask the Earth Mother for the permission according to Incan tradition. Basically the community members asked the scientific community to proceed and leave science out of it.

A shaman was then asked to and performed this ritual blessing the ceremony of moving the huge stone. As the “putuno” (an Incan ceremonial horn) sounded once again to begin the pulling, the local people fell into some type of hypnotic trance and began to once again pull.

The rock began to move and the ropes held while the rock moved with relative ease 200 yards from the church to a town bridge.

The video footage stands as proof of this and the scientific and stringent care to detail measuring the physics of this are all documented. The ropes that snapped like weak strings were the same for each attempt.
The point I guess here is that other than being a cute story with a hokey ending is that we really are connected to this earth in a sense most dismiss so willingly as it does not fit their dogma and possibly threatens their entire belief system.

We all know what happens when this sacred part of each of our lives becomes threatened. Just look currently at the caliphate in the middle east and beyond killing innocent people in the name of their God. Say what you will about who represents what in any religion, but with historical evidence before us all its easy to see which sectors of society and religion use it for peace building, benevolence, inclusiveness and above all respect for each other and which are not. Religion is like any other part of life and evolves along with each of us. So it’s not fair to base opinions on what happened centuries ago and not look at the good or evil that is conducted under that particular veil today. We need to ask if our faith is based on hate, killing and undermining the basic freedoms every human should enjoy with out repudiation, or not.

It appears though, I am afraid that we never ever seem to learn and history will continue to repeat itself over and over until is beyond the point of no return. As a believer in my God, (as described in the Christian faith) I don’t feel my relationship with him is in any way compromised as I walk on the sacred ground of Pachamama. In fact, I feel more connected and free than before.

The warmth, love and light that is simply undeniable in a place like Machu Picchu is a welcome energy I would never ever turn my back on. No matter where it comes from. God knows, I have felt the darkness as most everyone has in their lives at one time or another. The difference is undeniable.

I certainly would never tell the people of this area that they’re entire way of life is wrong as they have a different inherent belief than I do. Why would I?

I’ve been here before and felt the same warmth and sense of awe. So whatever it is, I thank God for it.

It’s time to take a hard look at contemporary doctrine and see it for what it is as opposed to what it was. If we do this it will be so much easier to get along.

If Jihad and Sharia law is in your heart you are no better than the Spaniards who came here long ago and completely trashed an otherwise peaceful civilization the name of their God.

All I can say is that there are things; forces much bigger than us. But nobody has to believe in anything, as it’s our will. But what a sad ending that would be to eventual end; if that were true.

Time to start being nice to each other and holding the ones accountable who aren’t.

Little Trouble in Big Bangkok

Serendipity is an amazing thing.

As I was looking through some old photos from a trip to Thailand a few years ago, I noticed many of my favorite shots and memories were a direct result of the least favorite memory I had over there.

After a sleepless and long flight from LA, through Tokyo and on to Bangkok, I found myself completely overwhelmed as the cab dropped me off in his words “somewhere very close to my hotel.”  One of the few things I do when traveling to a remote or unfamiliar place is book the first night or two after reading several reviews from various travel sites. I like to get a little bearing on where I am and find better places once I am there and develop a loose itinerary. 

Only problem was that this hotel was on a walk street that looked like the one right before it and the one right after. Aside form the fact that the signs were really of no help, that it was 2:30 am and oh yeah, the sidewalks were crowded as if a major sporting event just ended, I just clutched my camera bags as hard as I could and made my way through the crowd asking anyone and everyone who knew possibly where my hotel was. FInally I got lucky with one old man who with out ever looking directly at me, just pointed me in the right direction through the maze of drunks, peddlers, and tourist (who could be described in the “drunks” category as well.

After 30 or so minutes wandering around with both arms starting to cramp from the death grip I had around everything that was valuable, finally found the Dynasty Inn. It was an understated, small and friendly place and the english was pretty good. It may as well have been the Four Seasons for all I was concerned and with how tired I was. After a non eventful and quick check in, it was upstairs to a cool shower (as it was still sweltering out) and a very deep sleep.

Not so fast. It donned on me I had not sent word back home that I made it in here in one piece to Laura. So I dried off threw my clothes back on and headed downstairs to have them help me with hooking up to the wireless internet. When I was told it was down, I reluctantly headed out back into the chaotic and seemingly intertwined mass of people under neon lights celebrating God only knows; where I remember walking past an internet cafe before.

It was only a block and a half away, but was no easy walk as there simply was no room to walk on these sidewalks. From the tailors or suit brokers trying to fit me for a brand new suit, street walkers walking right up to me, and food vendors wanting me to buy things I have never ever seen before. On top of all this the cool shower I took 5 minutes ago became a distant memory as felt like 95 degree and the humidity was as thick as molasses, the last thing wanted was any human interaction at all. I vividly remember one instance where I was avoiding a female(?) “masseuse” as a running back would an aggressive linebacker and practically had to stiff arm her as I bumped into a man walking the opposite direction. I said “excuse me”, shed the masseuse and scurried along to the cafe. Thats pretty much all I remember from that night.

When I woke up to the filtered glare of the sun streaming through the blinds, I just felt great. I was so excited to finally see Thailand, photograph it and feel the vibrations of a place I have only dreamt about until now. As I showered yet again. (Showers were a normal breaks in the day for me as carrying around a large camera bag filled with lenses in this heat was not comfortable.) But I would have time to get used to it and acclimate. (Loose, baggy and light clothes work best here but pay special attention in Thailand to the colors you decide to wear as there is more than a passionate rift between the Royal Thai Gov’t or the Thaksin Regime which is a monarchy and those who oppose it. Stay away from Yellow as it can show support for a party you never intended to do so and just be neutral.)   As I dug through the pockets of the pants I wore from the airport and out to the internet cafe last night, my heart began to pump more and more frantically with each pocket that did not contain my wallet, and with with all the credit cards and (14) crispy, brand new $100 bills, drivers lic., etc, etc…

The panic consumed me as neither the pants, or anywhere around the chair I folded them over had any clue of it. At about this time I realized in my tired state last night, I committed the cardinal sin of traveling to a big city, anywhere. I left my wallet in my back pocket and never gave it a second thought. I believe subliminally, when I made it back safely last night to the room with all my camera gear present and in tact, I had “made it” and I basically turned off my overly stimulated brain once and for all.

I dropped my guard and simply never gave the wallet or its contents another thought. Lesson forever learned. I now travel with money belts, and have good hiding places and always spread out cards and cash any time I ever travel anymore. The image of that man I bumped into suddenly flashed like a white light and the realization of what happened to me crashed down on me with a thud. I had been pick pocketed!

Reflecting back, I remember being so upset with 2 things more that anything upon that realization. One would think that right at the top of that list would be loosing my entire cash savings and all my credit cards along with needing to replace all my other cards like drivers license, scuba license, gift cards (which I also have no idea why they were even in there) and a great lesson to anyone traveling to ONLY bring the absolute necessary cards and information and leave the rest at home. I mean, why bring a drivers license if you are not going to drive and have a passport, right? I also highly recommend you xerox a copy of your passport and carry that with you around during the day while you keep the original locked in a safe in the room as well. Well I accomplished all of this with in the first hour of setting foot here.

Anyway, I digress. The 2 most infuriating points stemmed from the fact was that I know better than this. First, only a complete novice would stick a fat wallet in a rear, unzipped or otherwise protected pocket in a city like this and expect anything less. Knowing what to do is one thing, actually doing the obvious while tired is a whole different thing. I still have problems reconciling the fact that no matter how tired I was, I simply knew better.

The second thing that to this day, a few years later that chaps my ass is that I actually apologized to the actual thief. I can clearly picture him splitting the cash and cards with accomplices as I am sure there were a few, and giggling not over the amount of money and cards, but the fact I actually apologized to him as he was taking my possessions. “stupid American, maybe next time he will thank us too.” There wont be a next time dirt bag. I hope 🙂

So when I was not on the phones for long hours with banks and credit card companies blocking all charges (and there were already many piling up out there) except for the hotel that swiped the card, I had to find things to do in an around Bangkok, with only 200 baht (basically $6US) for another few days until more funds arrived through my bank to a Western Union.

First of all, thank God I was in one of the cheapest cities in the World to get by on basically nothing. If I ate, and got my water from the hotel with the card on file, I really didn’t need any money walking around with my camera as much as with many other places I have been. In fact, if I woke up early enough, as I did the next few mornings, I could see the streets, quietly and with out the crowds and possible see Thailand for what it really is; a place where hard work and family values is revered as paramount and the people friendly and of course visit the amazing Wats (Temples) the Buddhist monks all attended to pray each day.

I walked with one particular group of monks before the sun rose as they collected alms through out the streets before they headed to the temples and prayed for World Peace amongst other chantings. The elders were gracious to allow me to watch, listen, learn and photograph them from them as long as I stayed respectful and did into interfere. Store keepers and early shoppers (all Thai) for food and flowers showed such compassion and reverence for each barefooted, orange cloaked monk old or young, and gave something for them to use for that day and in return were further blessed.

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As I listened to the low hypnotic, reverberating chanting in Wat Arun and the sun began to rise in the sacred place they also call the Temple of Dawn, an incredible sense of peace swept through me as I realized that I most likely would not be here unless I got ripped off. The initial plan was to hop on a train and head down to Pucket and on the first ferry to get to one of those beautiful islands surrounded by the warm, emerald Adaman Sea.

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As a Christian, it felt like such an honor to be invited with a smile into someone else house of worship with out judgement and as if I was just one of them and with complete acceptance. The monks were benevolent, friendly and had their own sense of humor especially with the kids I adored. To witness all of this in an amazing temple artfully built sometime back in 1656AD before relocated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River a few hundred years later was almost overwhelming. More so, I had the entire place including the grounds to myself. The gates did not even open to the normal tourist until 8am as I just slipped in with my new pals both mornings. By then, I was gone…Image

Then I prepared myself for the long walk back and visited other hot spots along the way, like the Giant Reclining Buddha one has to see in person to actually believe as it is so big. Al the while no retuning warm smiles to the locals who I am sure were not used to seeing westerns up so early it the morning here. But that’s just a guess. I know I did not see any.

The real point of all of this and the revelation I made here and now take with me every place I go can serve as a great tool for anyone who travels and things don’t go as planned.

Just because my own stupidity led me down the wrong path I regret, I have to own it and not blame anyone but myself. Doing so, wont allow the incident to take ahold of my ability to enjoy this trip the way it as meant; with an open heart.

As soon as this little internal conversation concluded, I was walking down a very wide sidewalk outside the high walls of another Temple I did not know much about. It was just about 8 am and my entire day was a complete success. But there was a shifty looking Thai man somewhere in his 50’s, who I noticed on the other side of this walkway headed my way who kind of switch lanes which ultimately would lead us into each other if i stayed the course. I didn’t. I put my head down and kind of meandered to the other side of the walkway and when I looked back up to gauge where this guy was, he was suddenly right there in front of me..

My guard was still up as one camera over my shoulder was clear for everyone to see and the bag behind me obviously packed with lots of other goodies was revealed as the straps pulled the front of my shoulders back. The article I read on the airplane over about the tuk tuk drivers ripping tourist off and should be avoided at all cost was not helping me here as they were buzzing by every were I walked.

So I am now literally face to face with this guy who I felt 100 yrds or so back was eye balling me for God knows what. I began to move to the side to let him by. He smiled this big smile (for the life of me, I cant remember his name, but could never forget the big gap in his teeth as he smiled) and asked how I was doing.

Here we go; right?

What am I going to say to this goofball to just make him go away and not be rude about it. So I said I was just fine and headed back to my hotel to unpack and catch a train.

Now anyone who knows how to avoid someone will be scratching their head at this knowing this is way too much info to give a stranger who I think is about to roll me, or try to. But something funny happened to me in the middle of my reply which made me elaborate just a bit more than I would have. I repelled my initial sense about this guy almost by strong-arming the feeling right out of me..I reminded myself of my pledge not to allow the stolen wallet change my outlook and strip me of whole purpose here.

I added that it was a tough day and a half in Bangkok, and told him what happened after he asked why in decent english, but a thick local accent. He asked me if I had seen a few of the sites like Wat In, Wat Saket and rattled off 3 other places, to which I said I had I had not. Also unfortunately there wasn’t enough time as the train was leaving in 3.5 hours to head to the islands. I also added that I was also out of money as well and could not take a cab to those places and pay for it except for a few Baht left over.

He then took the paper I had in my hand and wrote down a list of 5 places and underneath it wrote 50 Baht. He handed the paper back to me and the always universal proclamation of “No Problem” slipped out on cue and he smiled again and said I could see them all in a few hours as they were pretty close.

Before I could say no, as my head was now swirling and I was actually considering dong this, he whistled for a random Tuk Tuk who sped over and stopped abruptly with a screech. He gave the paper to the driver and talked to him in Thai for me. After a few points and head nods, they both looked at me and waved me over. Are you kidding me? 50 Baht or $1.50 US to be chaffered all over the city to visit and explore these sites and then dropped back at the hotel. Hell, the gas cost more.

I gripped the camera bag a little tighter, took a few steps and hopped aboard. I shook the mans hand and thanked him, still not 100% convinced if this was legit or a scam. Maybe the fact I outweighed them both together give me a false sense of bravado, but I felt safe, never the less.

The driver bolted off into the traffic and I looked back at that man who was standing there watching us leave and waving bye. Good deed done for the day?

As the driver pulled up to the first place “the Gold Mount” I began to fully understand that the benevolence of this little strange man back on the sidewalk was sincere. Although he went out of his way to connect with me as I did the opposite. He reached out as a friend & I wondered if I was going to get jumped. By the time he smiled to say hello, I began to think in a completely different way. In short He was one of my many life-teachers on this day. And he did his job well.

The images I got from these place are to me so special in so many ways the best I’ve ever taken. The freedom I felt to snap each shot was an exercise in gratitude for getting so close to the very things in life that have always been out of reach in the past. It’s amazing what an open heart and a little well placed trust can do.

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I will admit there were a few narrow side streets or alleys we raced down between destinations. My eyes were frantically scanning the darker corners and I was on alert, but soon we were back out into the sun and busier streets and to the next stop.

In the end, the driver delivered me to all the places and allowed me to take as much time as I needed to soak on the site and take photos from every conceivable angle. He said virtually nothing, but smiled at every chance (which is yet another reason to travel and get out of Dodge from time to time. Allow yourself to smile, say hello to perfect strangers and have the sentiment returned in a visceral, natural and unstrained easy way. When was the last time walking the streets of LA, NY or any big city in the US and 

have your smile returned to you with a stone faced expression as if you had the Alien Squid monster laying an egg down your face?)

Pick a destination that you’ve always wanted to go see and learn more about. Find a friend if you can to go along (harder than you think), or just go alone and explore. Feel the excitement or in other worlds LIFE surge through your veins as the familiar becomes very unfamiliar and take a calculated chance or two and learn something deeper about your self in the process..

Here are just a few more images from a few hours that morning..All of which would not have been memories for me at all, unless I gathered my emotions and channelled the bad energy out of me due to one bad incident. There was only time to own it, then make the absolute best of it..

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