To see annotated photos jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive.
I was really looking forward to Thailand in 1996, undoubtedly the most exciting destination in Asia, in my mind. It was my first visit.
Great beaches, sexy women, great food, breathtaking natural beauty & ruins of fabulous ancient kingdoms.
But transport from the airport to the backpacker centre of Khao San Road was insane, one of the least pleasant airport runs in the world. It was an inauspicious start.
Bangkok is one of most polluted and congested cities in the World.
The climate is great — between November & February. The rest of the year it is either sweltering or flooded.
Sooner or later, every Asian traveller arrives at Khao San Road.
Khao San Road is one of the three Ks of Asia: Kuta Beach (Bali), Kathmandu and Khao San Road.
I was overwhelmed at first. But later grew to love the scene.
I met Sin on Khao San Road, a lovely guy & very organized 26-year-old Japanese backpacker who was travelling 50 countries over 3 years. Sin was the first serious traveller I spent time with.
I was impressed. He definitely influenced my growing love of travel.
Sin’s girlfriend had caught malaria in Africa and was suffering a flare-up in Bangkok. Every second day she needed to lay in bed. Alterrnate days she toured with us, completely healthy.
The Japanese doctors advised her to stay in Bangkok for treatment rather than return home as the doctors here were far more familiar with the disease.
The infamous Tuk Tuk, symbol of Bangkok.
A louder, smellier, more dangerous mode of transport is hard to picture.
Beware anyone who offers you a free Tuk Tuk ride. There are scams aplenty in the sleazy city.
Khao San Road grew up because it is close to major tourist attractions of Bangkok; the National museum, the Grand Temple & Emerald Buddha, and my favourite, Wat Pho.
The second largest Buddha image in Thailand is housed in this, the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok.
Built around a brick core and covered with plaster that is finished with gold leaf, the eyes and feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
This Buddha is huge. And the first reclining Buddha I had come across.
Wat Pho is my favourite temple complex because it is alive, full of monks, kids, students, festivals, soccer games, yoga classes & massage tables.
It houses a bizarre collection of salvaged Buddhas and statuary.
I read more about Thai culture than any other in Asia. Fascinating.
Insects are a popular treat though I passed on the fried scorpion.
Kids catch huge flying insects with butterfly nets, then roast them over the open fire as snacks.
I first saw a Mantis in Thailand, easily the most impressive insect. (Might be tasty too, I wouldn’t know.)
I was keen to visit Patpong, the famous Red Light district of Bangkok.
But by 1996 it had become more tourist attraction than brothel. Families wandered about clicking pictures.
I had a beer in one bar featuring Kick Boxers as entertainment. And I saw the famous clubs where bored topless girls sit behind glass walls watching TV — identifed by felt pen marker like triathletes.
But I left only with fake designer watches. Patpong has become the best night market in town.
Shopping for Buddhas is a popular pastime.
My strong interest in Buddhism started here in Thailand. I like the philosophy & was struck with the contrast between the tolerant Eastern God symbol of the wet paddies as compared with the harsh, unforgiving God of the desert.
I loved a tour to Ayuthaya, one of the ancient capitals.
It’s easy to day trip from Khao San Road. Buses and vans roll in day & night.
Wat Pra Sri Samphet in Ayuthaya, Thailand.
I prefer ruined ruins. They are more evocative of the past than those restored.
The lovely and bizarre Bang Pa-In Palace in Ayuthaya .
Back in Bangkok, I learned to commute by river taxi. Quick, convenient and scenic. The only way to go.
Somewhat disappointed with the crush of Bangkok, right up my alley was the lure of a hill tribe trek in the rugged north.
Our guide was Tien, a former kick-boxer who had travelled in France, fought the Lao in the army, worked for the mafia, & shot tiger with a head torch.
He led us on a three-day trek in Doi Inthanon National Park; Meo country.
We had a good group, all pleased to be getting out into the jungle. This is a very popular tour — over a million take it every year!
The raft trip is a blast. We floated and poled our way through jungle for several hours.
After sleeping in an authentic Karen village, the big highlight was an elephant ride.
Later I travelled to South Thailand and visited a butterfly enclosure. Wonderful.
I’ve taken every opportunity to commune with flutterbys ever since.
I made every effort to avoid it but still somehow found myself in sleazy Phuket, haunt of European sex tourists.
Actually I quite enjoyed a day trip from there to James Bond Island, one of the striking limestone formation typical to this part of the world. We stopped at a Cashew factory & a unique Muslim fisher village on stilts. Sea food dinner was great.
In 1996 the next big thing in Thailand was Ko Tao, a comparatively unvisited and undeveloped island known only to scuba freaks.
I love snorkelling so it immediately became my destination.
Wow. Ko Tao.
The Koh Nangyuan Dive Resort is paradise — the triple bay layout of the island means good snorkelling regardless of weather.
I floated many wonderful hours here.
On a whim I decided to kayak around Ko Tao, a trip which took me about 8 hours.
Unfortunately I got sunburned, so badly so that I felt I should seek medical attention in civilized Singapore.
I would return many times.
Last word: Thailand is often noted for the warmth of the people. I had the opposite experience. I found the Thai cold and aloof, perhaps sick of tourists. The folks in Cambodia, Lao and Myanmar are much happier & more patient with us.
I consider Hong Kong my home away from home in Asia. I could live there.
In 1996 jets still landed at the infamous Kai-Tak Airport (closed July 1998). This approach over densely populated apartment buildings was scary spectacular!
I was forewarned of the high cost of travel to Hong Kong. Backpackers held the city state as a place best missed.
Wrong. I loved Hong Kong instantly and found it quite affordable for the careful penny pincher. This was the first of many trips here.
A typical scene in the tourist ghetto of Tsim Sha Tsui, at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. Shops, restaurants, pubs, topless bars and camera stores.
Kowloon is also home to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the Space Museum, the famous Peninsula Hotel and the Museum of History.
The Promenade, in East Tsim Sha Tsui, is a great place for a stroll, and has wonderful views of Victoria Harbour, particularly at night. The liveliest night market in the territory is on Temple St in Yau Ma Tei.
I stayed first at the infamous Chung King Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui.
I ended up on a top bunk bed with a window looking down 45 floors. What if there was a fire? An earthquake?
It’s amazing these buildings have not been torn down.
I made every excuse I could to hop on the Star Ferry, an inexpensive commute across Hong Kong harbour.
East meets West here. It was the confluences and contradictions which most attracted me.
The public transportation system is terrific. It is easy to get anywhere quickly.
I made the manditory tourist pilgrimage up the cable car to Victoria Peak. 552m (1810ft)
The vista is amazing.
My second night in Hong Kong I moved to Mt. Davis Hostel, high up on Hong Kong island with a harbour view. What a discovery! It became my hostel-away-from-home in Asia on many future trips.
At the hostel the talk was much focused on the hand-over from the British to the Chinese which was to happen a year later in 1997. Many residents were nervous. Affluent Chinese families bought homes in Vancouver and Sydney … just in case.
This is a laugh riot I penned (after returning from the Middle East) for a friendship newsletter put together by Ron Shewchuck and Kate Zimmerman.
Here comes the end of the World.
This is no “Howling Down the Middle East” but rather “Howling Down Middle-age”. The Lifebeat Man should deny aging as he denies death, winter, and the dangers of aspartame.
But, in the fall of ‘94 I started to feel old. I don’t know why. The receding hairline? The steady decline of body functions? Or the fact that I really am old? After all, we’ve been running this fu¢k!ng planet for a long time; the novelty is starting to wear off.
When I reminisce of youth, I think of Mason — that great jumper-off-cliffs. Did he die at 19? Or did we all live forever like I thought at the time? Where has youth gone?
I left Calgary in 1990. Now it is ‘95 and I live in icy Saskatoon, where all forms of sexual deprivation are practiced. What have I done for the past 5 years?
Well, I have become a student of LIFE — which may be preferable to actually having a life. In preparation for this missive I read Maugham and Hesse. I watched The Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day. I re-watched The Big Chill and re-read Time Enough for Love. What better sources of life wisdom are there?
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I’ve gotten any closer in my pursuit of life wisdom. I’ve had a good time trying, though.
And I’ve done a few things right. I traveled to visit with friends who had seemed to disperse in some weird Brownian motion. I’ve traipsed some damn fine golf courses. After all, no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office.
I’ve had the best possible mentor in Keith Russell who taught me to pay a little closer attention to detail, along with everything else.
And I’ve traveled the World. If you’re going to tread water, you might as well do it in the Nile.
I liked the Middle East; the spectacular desert landscapes, peerless architectural sites, the haunting call to prayer, and the fantastic starry, starry desert night.
The people are wonderful, especially the proud Bedu. Camel-herding desert nomads, the Bedouin are a cultural, not an ethnic, group. Their poverty and hospitality is legendary. In the land of baksheesh, they refuse money with contempt. They are untaxed, ungovernable, and free.
Our perception of the region and religions is laughably wrong. “Islamic fundamentalists” are the most honest, charitable, and least hypocritical people in the world. Jordan and Syria vie for the friendliest people in the guidebook awards every year! (Mohammed did muck-up when he included, in the Koran, that straight-to-Heaven Holy Jihad clause.)
Indeed, the evil Syria is probably the last best tourist destination left in the world. Jordan was even better until King Hussein opened the flood gates to Israel in ‘94. It is already too crowded with neo-crusader, white trash tourists.
I’d recommend travel in the Arab countries to anyone who has a stoic tolerance of raw sewage and intense cigarette smoke.
My main complaint is the plight of women in Islam. It is still 1100 AD for Muslim ladies there. I now realize that the single greatest advance of man is the emancipation of woman.
The study of Egyptology is the study of death preparation. The Pyramids were ancient when the Biblical Abraham got there. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn any secrets in the tombs nor from the Egyptian “Book of the Dead”.
Another Western seeker entreated a monk at Mount Sinai, Is there anything I can send you?
The monk replied, with a smile, What I want, you can’t send.
So, is it game over? No fountain of youth? No loopholes? No back door to Heaven?
Well, …I’ve checked out Hinduism and Buddhism and plan to report back. Perhaps there’s something in this reincarnation business.
In the meantime, did you notice that old age is mellowing the Lifebeat Man? That this is a kinder, gentler Lifebeat column? Devoid of personal attacks. No exposé by way of exaggeration and selective grotesquery. No libel.
Nah, I ain’t mellowing. It’s simply fear of the looming Day of Atonement. I don’t want to have to answer for additional sins to a vengeful Western God. That’s all.
May your moisture not be fled.
Ma sha Allah!
Apologies to Rob Glaser, Keith Russell, Ramses II, some monk, Mohammed, & Konwicki.
masterful Photoshop work by Ron Shewchuk 🙂
Today I run INTERMEDIATE!
I know, I know. It’s serious. I’ve never run INTERMEDIATE before. My friend, triathlete Mark Boyd, energetically tries to dissuade me.
“I know. I know. It’s really serious.”
There is another problem. The ADVANCED group is canceled tonight as the top runners are expected to do a 5 km. time trial, instead. However, many of the racers don’t want to do an all out 5 km. sprint in the sweltering Saskatchewan heat. It’s +29C at 6:00 pm. The top guns must stoop to run INTERMEDIATE if they want to run distance tonight.
No matter. Tonight I run with Angie Pratt (a natural if there ever was one) in INTERMEDIATE. Angie is strangely quiet when I tell her my plan.
Forty-five minutes of 7-8 minute miles. How tough can it be?
I’m psyched. Despite my obvious obesity, lack of training, and inadequate running gear (my cross-trainers are duct-taped together), I’m certain I can make it. After all, I’d done blistering 30 minute runs for the last 3 days in series. I shot 89 at the Willows this morning, by far my best round of the year. This is my day. 🙂
We begin with a relaxed jog. Is this warm-up, or their pace? Though I know I should conserve energy, not talk, I can’t resist asking Peter (the “showboater”) what he has strapped to his chest. It is a remote heart rate monitor sending data to his wrist watch display.
“The highest I hit was 217 beats / minute at Provincials. The heart could do more but my legs were gone.”
Pete had qualified for the world Triathlon championships in New Zealand last year.
So far, so good. Steady pace but not too fast. I wanted to wear my “Pain, Sweat, Agony — Love It!” t-shirt today, but it was far too hot. Instead, I wear the lightest shorts and wife beater I own. No socks.
As we hit the river the pace increases. I drop to the last spot in the pack to acknowledge my rank in the pecking order. This hierarchy is as rigid as the castes of India. Indiscriminate of race, religion, education, or income, everyone is slotted by running ability. The group dynamics are fascinating in this other world.
Sh!t. I overhear that we’re doing two hill sprints instead of the railway bridge. Should I suggest to Don, the volunteer run leader, that I do just one?
The queue slows to a walk fighting through the tenacious bushes overgrowing the river path. This offers a chance to catch-up. I run the path, relishing the flagellation of the branches like some neo-Jesuit running martyr. Embrace the pain!
Thank God. Railway bridge.
$hit! INTERMEDIATE “surges” the railway bridge. I fall way back for the first time.
In my proper group, BEGINNER PLUS (the most incorrectly named of all the wrong-named ability groupings in this club), the lead runners circle back to pick-up stragglers. The speedsters shout encouragement to their lessors.
But everyone knows that INTERMEDIATES DON’T LOOP. If you can’t run 7 minute miles, why the Hell aren’t you in BEGINNER PLUS? The unspoken policy in INTERMEDIATE is to offer up silent embarrassment for assholes stupid enough to find themselves in my situation.
Yes! Don stops the group for water at the end of the bridge and I catch-up. This is the most he can do for me within the real rules. The better runners are understandably frustrated with this delay. They are trying to train.
Bad news. I reach a stage where I can run well for a couple of minutes, but then need to slow to recover. One guy drops back, feigning fatigue, to motivate me. It helps, but we both fall still further behind. Finally, the good Samaritan has to dash up to his friends. He tried.
At every level, every night, these runs are very competitive. No one ever admits this. Interesting. What can you expect when you put so many fitness freak over-achievers together?
Pain. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.
At least I don’t have a runner’s cramp. I take solace in that I’m running about as well as I possibly can.
Unbelievably, the group stops again at the Gordie Howe Park water fountain. Damn! I hope this is not another stratagem to help me! BEGINNER PLUS never stop.
Still mystified, I run through to communicate that I don’t want to slow down the group. If there was someone running behind me, I’d abandon them. After all, this is INTERMEDIATE.
All of a sudden I’m in the lead. What? Which route? Do we return over the low level bridge? I feel like the guy who sprints the start of the Boston marathon just to get on TV before being engulfed by the real runners.
No worries. Someone will quickly catch and pass me. One guy does but he doesn’t know the route either. We take the low level bridge. Wrong. The rest of the runners race on towards the Broadway bridge, no doubt relieved by my departure.
I stick it out to the top of the hill but then quit 2 blocks early, limping back to the store. My feet are scraped, my soles bruised. I slump into a chair for about 20 minutes, drained, but kind of proud.
Rehydration, shower, and a quick coma — then it’s off to hear Charlie Sexton with Mark and super-woman Michelle. Beer. Tequila. Scotch.
I’m going to hurt tomorrow.
July 1995 by Ricardo McCharles, Survivor
This is the draft copy I sent to the editor of the red-eye, our friendship newsletter. It is an expose of our hike on the Rockwall Trail.
I asked that the Reditor edit. I know everyone needs an editor. Even Hitler. His original title for MEIN KAMPF was “Four-and-a-half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice.”
I write in order that the truth be known, and to dispel the many rumours about what happened in the Rockies. This is the story of what we suffered and how we stayed alive. It is a catharsis, yet I hope it may prevent such tragedy in the future.
On Thursday, July 13th, five would-be mountaineers set off from Bragg Creek for Kootenay National Park in British Columbia. Reports of good weather elevated the spirits of our ill-prepared band, though most of us were badly hungover. To steel our nerve, we had been drinking heavily on departure’s eve. Ironically, we snacked on “prairie oysters” at Bottlescrew Bill’s Testicle Festival.
The sixth hiker in our party, Ana Farries, left her home in Kimberly, British Columbia to rendezvous at the trailhead. Ana, a journalist whose byline occasionally appeared in publications of a lesser sort, was a first-time alpinist. She didn’t yet know what she didn’t know about mountain survival. No one expected her to live.
We met as scheduled and, overconfident in the bright sunshine, our rough tribe set off. An interpretive walk … to Hell.
Party-leader Rocco (Party-on, Rock!) Ciancio feigned enthusiasm, a picture of false bravado. A professional ass-coverer for the Petro-toxin industry, Rocco’s legendary shitheadedness might help him survive.
Herr Professor-to-be, Juan Long was stoically calm. Late 30s, thin, neat, and unmarried — not that there is anything wrong with that — he was just finishing 23 years of education in order to become an electrician. Juan would be valuable if any of the flashlights went kaput at high altitude.
Ronaldo Shewchuk, the bulky “Buckfart”, anticipated a particularly grueling ascent. Tough and experienced, the cost-unconscious Ronaldo was, none-the-less, heavily laden. And he presented too tempting a caloric windfall as he lumbered up the path ahead. He was also vulnerable in that he slept in his own tent, alone or with some one night bag-boy.
I feared most the menacing Roberto Glaser — sullen and brooding, haunted by ghosts from his past. A latter day Lord of the Flies, I only barely resisted raising a war council against him. Roberto inevitably charged ahead of the group. I stayed close in order to stay in the first echelon of power, and to avoid ambush. I did not intend to go down easily, and Roberto knew it.
I had announced my intentions clearly to Rob’s wife, and mother of 3, Judith, as we departed. “Six-in, six-out. That’s the goal.”
I knew that if I failed we would be killed-off one-at-a-time. Fresh meat. But who would be first?
Most at risk was the trail-rookie Ana Farries. She immediately fell back, left behind to be dispatched by the bears. When Roberto backtracked to claim her corpse, the spunkster was still hobbling along despite gangrenous feet. Disgusted, Rob abandoned her again.
Night 1 — Helmet Creek
We got immediately, and utterly, Shewchuked. While the others tried to out-inebriate each other, I carefully substituted my own Tequila with creek water. I calculated that the highest probability of violent mortality would be at the height of a drinking binge, not on some icy ridge.
Late in the evening, Ana somehow stumbled into camp. Too bad. Now she would suffer the indignity of the rookie hazing.
Yet, somehow Ana survived the profane song, nudity, the physical abuse. I admired her tenacity! Venus envy, I guess.
Night 2 — Tumbling Creek
Camped for the night., we got Shewchuk-faced, again. Roberto decided to give away some of our food to two starving dike fingerers. “What the Hell was he thinking? What’s coming down?”, I fumed, re-checking my secret stash of life sustaining licorice jaw breakers.
Forebodingly, Rocco sang Dolomite. Would it be his swan song?
Day 3 — Tumbling glacier
Roberto’s bestial passions rose as we gained elevation, approaching the high and hideous Tumbling glacier. The impassable and lifeless rock wall loomed immense on our right.
In environs of utmost desolation, astoundingly, that metamorphic shist disturber Rocco collected … rocks, adding them to his pack even as he sucked at the oxygen depleted air.
Night 3 — Numa Creek
Somehow, still alive. Unwashed savages, somehow few peccadilloes offended. Unstated, we knew that we must stick together if we were going to get out alive. But we trusted no one.
What about tomorrow? Would we be lost? Poisoned? A Swiss-army-knife-related fatality at a luncheon boil-up? I slept fitfully.
We had to hike dry — no booze and scarcely any food unless you count the dozen packages of strokanoff which we all refused.
Live dangerously, dread naught.
At low ebb, I could smell freedom. Ana and I took the last of the food and fled the group in a race for civilization.
We got immediately lost. Done for. I had sabotaged Roberto’s pack to discourage pursuit but forgot to nick his map. We were forced to simply follow the creek down the mountain.
At midday on Sunday, July 16th, we walked out of the mountains. No rescue team. No helicopters. Simply eyes-closed-home-run-hitting, numb, dumb luck.
Six-in, six-out? How did our tribe of 8-balls; of back-country boozers, do it? I have no idea.
Somehow, life had won out over death.
There’s no moral. No reason. No justice.
Live dangerously, dread naught. Who dares, wins. You can hike and survive. It happened to us.
Inspired by the novel Alive and the Himalayan writing style of Hunter S. Thompson.
This was my comic review of our annual hike. It was first posted in a (pre-internet) friendship newsletter called the red-eye.
The Gods condemn me to hike with sissy-fussers at the lake of O‘Hara.
“There is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour.”
To hear them boast, to gawk at horse and pony, you may conclude they are admirable men.
I speak from that hellish overworld to tell truth.
I am the absurd hero of this tale — not the sissy-fussers. Mine is the …
“unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.”
If you could see me; face screwed up, cheeks tight, shoulder bracing the day pack (I, of course, carried beer for ALL), arms outstretched to grasp the heavens ….
Ron forgets his new wet fly. Rocco needs lip balm. Rob dreads perspiration. John Long seeks the mild man within. And where is Ian?
The sissy-fussers balk at 2.8 km over well-groomed trails. They fear bears. They fear avalanche. They fear porcupine. They fear fear itself. Four year old children skip by as the fussers decide to pack it in for the day. It is 11:00 am.
“My face that toils so close to stone is already stone itself!” I go back down to the plain with heavy, measured step.
The sissy-fussers came. They saw. They went for mocha.
Oh, the travesty of Le Roleaux gourmet coffee in the Rockies! Merde!
In a saga less Homer than Homer Simpson, the sissy-fussers are a gaggle of giggling school girls. The soundtrack is Gershwin and Mantovani. Yoho-ho, indeed!
A meal with these pantywaists is punctuated by a Flanderian up-tempo “God is Great”. They pooh-pooh single-ply bog roll. Ron contemplates busing down the mountain to use a flush toilet. (The MegaGorp was too fiber-rich!)
Actually carrying a pack is anathema for a sissy-fusser. Ian arrived for the hike with an “ugly dog” — a suitcase with wheels on a leash. Ron and Rocco used a wheelbarrow to move their goods from bus stop to liquor cabinet.
If this myth is tragic, it is because I am conscious. Hope is my torture.
“My boundless grief is too heavy to bear.”
“You, too, work every day at the same tasks. Your fate is no less absurd.”
“The absurd man says yes and his effort will hence forth be unceasing.”
But, “imagine me happy.” I smile an absurd victory smile.
“There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”