Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Memory

A late arrival to the photo archives; they are pretty excited about this one, so I thought I'd add it.  Not too often you get to hold a tiger!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Home Again

We are back.  It is good.

We reunited in Muir Beach with family for a lovely Thanksgiving.  All of our animals are alive and well thanks to Caleb, Ruthie, Moses (heal quickly!), Tracey, Mark, Darcy, Lou, Gretchen, Mike, and all of the associated children who assisted their aforementioned parents.  In Auburn, the air is crisp and from the ground has grown green and soft.  Ski season is near. 

We had fun, learned together, grew closer.  It was good.

It was so nice to relax, read, swim, see and experience amazing natural and cultural things.  For one, this being my first and only adult experience in a primarily Buddhist country, I was interested to see the shrines, temples, and other overt signs of the religion.  I studied Buddhism fairly extensively in college and have always had a strong draw to its teachings.  I was struck by how the religion influenced the culture.   Thailand is well known for having "smiley" people.  They spoke of peace and had a gentleness about them.  There was ease in their ways; in particular in relation to money (as tourists, a lot of our interactions with locals involved purchasing), that I haven't seen in similar circumstances.  Most of my previous international travel has been in poorer countries in Latin America, so some of the difference could be attributed to that: maybe people are more financially comfortable in Thailand.  Maybe in general, Thailand is more enamored of America in general than elsewhere. But in Latin America, I am also able to speak the language and that tends to put people at ease.  In Thailand, I felt like that "ease" came automatically; even without the language connection.  People smiled, made the effort to communicate even when only gestures were available, thanked us for visiting their country.  I attribute at least some of this generosity of spirit to the Buddhist way that teaches moderation, deemphasizes dogma and differences, strives for detachment from material things, and in no way promotes aggression (for example, in the name of religion).

Now that we are home, I can share some images as well (see below).  I have also added some to our previous blog entries (go check them out!).


An open air market in town.  Juliana's favorite place.

Krasts (limestone islands) in Phang Nga Bay (a James Bond movie was filmed at this one).

 Beach life.

 The captain and admiral of Quantum Leap (Tom and Bette Lee).  Thank you!

 A "hong" (room) within one of the islands in Phang Nga Bay.



 Animal encounter.

 These shrines are at every business and many residences.  Note the open Coca Cola offering.

 Typical longtail boats with bow decorations.

 Kayaking at Maya Bay.

 The crew (minus the photographer).


 Duran Duran.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

More News from Thailand

November 19

There were Stewarts on the elephants' backs... 

So our Thailand adventure has continued.  We've seen more beautiful islands, surfed the waves, ridden elephants, swum with a sea turtle, frolicked on white sand beaches, created hermit crab habitat, received Thai massages, eaten well, read a lot, enjoyed each other's company. One could quickly come to love this type of homeschooling.  If only the money and health insurance could hold out! We are presently on our way to our final port of call in Thailand (on the east side of Phuket) where we will spend our last four nights here.

It has been a wonderful trip on so many levels.  The kids have had fun exploring, we have had time to relax and enjoy eachother's company, it has been eye-opening learning about another culture and place.  As our time here draws to a close, We look forward to being back home to celebrate Thanksgiving, see all of you, start ski season, care for the animals, and continue our special year (taking shape: a January trip to SoCal and the Southwest, a July trip to the Northwest and BC).  I've been having dreams about my return to work at Redwood (nothing approaching nightmares--it will be fine), but adventuring sure is cool!

Here are some selected entries from the kids' journals since I last updated the blog:

November 18, Eli
For the last two days we have been anchored near a beach with huge waves.  Today my grampa found two boogie boards.  While the rest of the family went ashore on the dingy, I dragged behind on one of the boogie boards.  When we got to the surf line, I caught a huge wave to shore.  After a couple hours at that part of the beach, me and my dad went down the beach to some bigger waves.  Some of the ones I caught were so big that the board buckled and skipped.  After lunch I wasn't able to catch many more.

November 16, Sophia
An Unexpected Swim
When the sun finally almost had set and everyone knew it was time to eat, Mana, Bapu, Mama, Eli, Grace and I piled into the dingy and rode halfway to shore.  We only went halfway because as I looked back from the beach, a big, salty, blue wave was coming right at us.  Then the boat tipped and a second later I found myself (fully dressed in wet cotton clothes) in the surf.  Eyeing the others and laughing was Papa [who had gone separately in the kayak].  We looked at our drenched clothing: we were going to go back to the boat and Papa and Eli were going to bring us food [delivered back to the big boat from land via the kayak].

November 15, Eli
A Turtle
Today me and my dad were snorkeling.  I was watching some parrot fish eating coral.  Then my dad yelled "Eli!"  I swam over and saw a green turtle swimming near the surface.  We followed it until we were close enough to call my sisters over.  By the time they got to us, it had gone to the bottom and was taking little bites of coral.  Sometimes it stayed at one feeding spot for a while, sometimes it would move on quickly.  One time, I was very close to it and reached out to touch it. Despite its normal, sluggish pace, it darted away.  We watched it for about 20 minutes but during the whole time it breathed only 3 times.

November 15, Grace
Oh, Goody!
This morning Eli, Sophia, and I were bickering when Papa's voice surprised me: "We have a surprise for you!"  Sophia and I scrambled to meet our gift-bearers/parents.  When we got there, we saw a sweet, speckled hermit crab.  "Oh, goody!", I exclaimed happily.  We made a habitat as quick as a flash.  Sophie also named it Johnny.

November 14, Grace
A Pool by the Sea
Last night we sailed to a new island.  Last night was stormy, but in the morning when I woke up, the warm sun was shining brightly.  We did our school work and set off to the civilized island.  When we got there, we (well Mana and Bapu) got Mama and Papa (*only*) a room at the nearby resort.  The resort had a pool!  I was very excited to swim in the pool!  But we had to wait 'til after lunch.  Lunch was good!  *Finally* we swam in the pool.  It was fun!

November 14, Sophia
A couple days ago, the boat was anchored in a pace called Monkey Beach. Monkey Beach was great.  It had good food and swings.  There was only one problem...monkeys.  For example, I was enjoying a cool, yummy coconut when a monkey ran at me, nearly grabbing the coconut out of my hand.  For the rest of the day, I ate in the water.  Another example was when Mama got a grilled corn and an obese monkey shot up her leg, leaving a sandy red handprint on her upper thigh.  That's when Mama and the other corn and coconut eaters joined me at water's edge!


At this point, I encourage you to stop reading and go on with your day.  What follows is my record of our trip.  You are certainly welcome to read it, but I post it here primarily for my own benefit (this is our journal for the year, after all).


Mon Oct 31 Halloween, Departure from San Rafael
Tu Nov 1 Departure from SFO

W 2 Yacht Haven Marina, Ko (Island) Phuket, Arrival, Hat Nai Yang Beach (Sirinat Nat'l Park) [blog post 1]
Th 3 " , Beach again, Ceramic Kitchen for dinner

F 4 Ko Phanak, Cave visit
St 5 Ko Hong, Really cool hong ("room") & inlet @ Koh Phanak, Touristy hong @ Koh Hong: Monkeys, Reef heron, Brahming Kite
Sn 6 Ko Phra At Num, Visit to "James Bond" Island (Ko Ping Kan) w/ small pinnacle, circumnavigation of island in kayak: Cuddle fish, Bats, Sea eagles
M 7 Ko Hong #2 National Park, Visit to fishing village @ Ko Pan Yi
Tu 8 " , Hong visit, walk: Coral and reef fishes

W 9 Ao (Bay) Nang, Touristy bay and town: Sea snake @ Ko Hong
Th 10 (North) Koh Dan Hok, Thai food boat at small island: More monkeys
F 11 Ko Phi Phi Don @ Monkey Beach, Rude monkeys: Cuttle fish, trunk fish, good coral
St 12 " , Ton Sai town visit [blog post 2]
Sn 13 Ko Phi Phi Don @ Holiday Inn Beach
M 14 " , Room at P.P.E.Palms Resort, Massage, Pool :)
Tu 15 Ko Phi Phi Le @ Maya Bay, Beautiful National Park--site of "The Beach"

W 16 Nai Harn Beach, Cruiser boarding @ Maya Bay and Dingy flip
Th 17 " , Surfing, Windsurfing, Lunch in town
F 18 Kata Noi Beach
St 19 Ao Sapam near Royal Phuket Marina, Elephant ride @ Kok Chang (near Kata Noi): Elephants, Gibbons [this blog post 3 typed]

Sn 20 Royal Phuket Marina, Nice Italian lunch
M 21 Bang Tao Beach (Kris Resort), Island drive to Patong and more
Tu 22 Bang Tao Beach (Kris Resort), Frisbee at the beach, Thai pancakes, FantaSea: Tigers
 W 23 Gift shopping, Departure

korm kun, krap (thank you [male]) ...ka [female]
sa wat dee, krap (hello [male])
tow rai (how much)
kai (egg)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

News from Thailand

November 11, 2011

There was a monkey on Eli's head. We were at the far reaches of Ko Dam Hok beach in Phang Nga Bay and we had made a new friend. Actually, he was looking for one of the many handouts tourists are so willing to give. Eli had only smiles to share, but he got some special time anyway.

We've been in Thailand now for 9 days and there has been a lot of special time. After a couple of nights in the marina (the last place we had internet access and blogged), we headed out into the large bay enclosed by Phuket island and the mainland "trunk" of Thailand. Here we have been surrounded by the amazing limestone krast islands that are a famous geological feature of the region. These islands often have enclosed or semi-enclosed lagoons or "rooms" ("hong" in Thai) in their middle that are accessible only through caves or small passages.

During our first week on the bay, we have fallen into a nice rhythm. We are up early to swim, eat, read, and study. Then, if not staying for the day, we choose a destination and sail for a few hours. If we plan to remain at our present anchorage, we kayak (or swim or motor dinghy) to shore and comb the beach or sit in the shade. It is hot here! In the afternoon, we set anchor, swim, eat, talk about the day and tomorrow, have a cool beverage, sit under the stars, maybe watch a movie on the boat's DVD player, read, and go to sleep early--hopefully with a nice breeze coming in through the hatches.

Besides our first days in the marina on Phuket island, we have only twice anchored outside towns. Otherwise, our interaction with other humans besides ourselves has been limited to tourists and their guides coming for the day to the islands by Thai longtail boat. And if you are reading this, we must have found a new inhabited location with internet access! (I'm writing on an offline computer on the boat).

The kids have been writing as well. Below are some of their journal entries to give you a flavor of the bredth of our experience. We have had no news of the outside world since November 2 (US time), but we have been thinking of you and hope all is well.


Journal Entries, Thailand Week 1

Eli, November 11:

We are now anchored in a new place on our way to Koh Phi Phi Dan. Here there are some nice reefs and even monkeys.

The monkeys are often given food so they are very bold and sometimes pushy. One of them sometimes will climb on you. Today I didn't give one of the monkeys a piece of bread that I was holding and he pulled my hair. In the reefs we saw lots of clown fish that were in anemones. We also saw some parrot fish which eat coral that they poo out as sand.

Grace, November 10:

Even MORE monkeys

Yesterday we sailed to a new island. We read that it had a coral reef, so decided to go snorkeling. In the coral reef I saw: purple coral, orange coral, yellow coral, green coral with blue iridescent spots, and many fish! After that, we went to a near-by beach. At the beach we saw a funny monkey family: a mom, a dad, a little girl, a little boy, a big brother, and a grandpa. The big brother climbed all over me! Later they put on a big show swimming in the shallow water.

Sophia, November 8:


Gautama was an Indian prince whse parents tried to shelter him from the fact that others sometimes were not happy. But one day he discovered that not all were happy. The Indians then renamed him Buddha (the enlightened one or the awakened).

A Buddhist goal in religion is to be enlightened or nirvana. It is so captivating that 95% of Thais are Theravada Buddhist.

Grace, November 8:

Asia is the biggest, most populated continent in the world. It has 730 people on each square kilometer. A huge amount of crops are developed each year. But Asia also has down sides: earthquakes, floods, typhoons are not uncommon. Asia is home to one-fourth of the earth's trees. Culturally, the Asians present an amazing picture showing: Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Taoism. All of these originated in Asia. Thailand is in Asia. Thailand has the population of 58.34 million people. Its capital is Bankok.

Eli, November 7:

Muslim Fishing Village
Today we went to a Muslim fishing village that was almost entirely composed of houses on stilts. It had a shopping street running through most of the village. The stores sold mostly all the same thing and the city was full of tourists. My sisters each got something, but I didn't see anything I wanted. Along the way we even got to shake a monkey's hand.

Sophia, November 7:

Bat Cave

Yesterday, Papa and I decided to wanted to explore the beach and island that we had just arrived at by kayak. So, we crammed into the one-person kayak and started to row.

We had gone about 1/4 of the way around when we spotted a big, smelly, loud cave. Then I asked curiously, "are those bats?" "Yes," Papa said, pointing to the grey figures that were flying around over head.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011


After a fun Halloween in San Rafael (and some wonderfully fortifying chili and social time at the Pletcher Hessel residence), we set off for Thailand on Monday night.  Seventeen hours in a plane, a complete skip of Tuesday, and a quick stopover in Hong Kong later, we arrived yesterday (Wednesday local time) in Phuket, Thailand.  The journey was happily uneventful besides the 11 movies we watched amongst us. 

In Phuket, we were greeted by an impressive wall of humidity. A quick cab ride brought us to Juliana's parents on their boat, Quantum Leap, docked on the bay.  That initial cab ride in a new place is always interesting as you soak in some of what is new, perhaps have a conversation with your first local, and begin the acclimation process.  There was little conversation this time as we have no clue about speaking Thai (I have since figured out a close approximation of "thank you") and we were able to gather minimal information from the "writing on the walls" as it is all in Thai which does not use any alphabet we know. But we could gather that the vegetation is tropical and the feel is reminiscent of developing Latin America.  Though Thailand is about 90% Buddhist and we saw some ornate and beautiful temples during our cab ride, the marina where the Quantum Leap is docked is in a distinctly Muslim district complete with mosques and traditional headscarves (hijab).  There were no obvious signs of flooding here or even the devastating tsunami of 2004. 

We only had a bit of time yesterday afternoon to explore further, but we did manage to check out one of the beautiful beaches and sampled some amazing food before I crashed out for the night at 5pm local time.  It is morning now (we all woke up extremely early and read for a while) and the kids have been spending most of their time at the back of the boat checking out the marine life.

Our plans are fairly amorphous (ah, the luxury of staying on a boat on the coast), but ideas include island-hopping, swimming, visiting local markets, riding an elephant, seeing a show, eating lots of Thai food, and observing the wildlife on land and sea.  And those of you out there concerned about the kid's homeschooling education, don't worry, they will stay busy!  We've already had lessons on currency exchange, tropical fish species, mangrove "sprogules", and Thai demographics.

While in port, we have internet access, but we will set sail tomorrow, so not sure when we will be back online.  Nevertheless, your comments and emails are welcome if you have any input or questions.  We will update and reply when we can.