Thinking back to the moments that made up 2016 makes my heart swell because they were filled with adventure, laughter, travel, family, new experiences, delicious food, friends, and all of the things that make my soul happy. Kim and I were lucky enough to start our third year living abroad as I continued to teach High School Art as well as starting as a Technology Integration Specialist at the elementary level of an International School in Yangon, Myanmar. We spent the first half of the year in our apartment we shared with two dear friends, then I spent the beginning of the summer becoming a certified yoga teacher before sharing the rest of the summer with my family in Maine, and returning to Southeast Asia in the fall, traveling in bits throughout the whole year. I still enjoy going back to visit my 14 Adventures of 2014 blog post as a little peek into that year of exciting changes so I thought I would return to the idea and create another reminiscent post for 2016. So here it is, 16 Epic Parts of 2016:
Kim and I woke up on the first morning of 2016 to the sound of the ocean lapping against our boat as we cruised through Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s most beautiful landforms. The limestone crests jutted out of the water to every side of us as we peacefully sailed along into the new year. After that we found our way up into the mountains of Sapa and spent days motor biking the chilly twisting mountain roads. What a way to start out the year!
15. Biggest Buddha in the World
When we do my dream road trip across the US I am going to have to plan lots of extra time because I am a sucker for “biggest in the world” things. Let’s be honest here, who isn’t? Okay, maybe it’s just me. Nonetheless, when we visited the quiet Myanmar town of Hpa-An I heard that there was the biggest reclining Buddha in the World just a short ways away and I was sold. Of course we HAD to go see it. I also thought it was a great idea to take the scenic route which ended up being a very long, very dusty, dirt road. Our motorbike was not impressed (nor was the driver – Kim). Just as the sun was setting we managed to pull into Win Sein Taw Ya and it was quite the spectacular site. This paired with a weekend of cave exploring and motorbiking with friends made for a memorable time.
14. Our First No Plans Trip
10 days and no plans, that’s how our trip to the Philippines started in April. With nothing booked besides our plane tickets, we backpacked our way through the Philippine island of Luzon where we hiked to see hanging coffins, ate empanadas on the cobblestone streets of Vigan, and enjoyed to waves of Pagudpud. Although it was not the “perfect” vacation that I could have neatly planned, it was worth it in so many surprise ways.
13. Solo Art Exhibition
In May I completed one of my top artistic goals, to host my first Solo Art Exhibition. The body of work was a series of digitally manipulated (glitched) photographs of Myanmar culture. Since this country is still not completely free (earlier this year a man was imprisoned for using an image of Buddha in a bar advertisement), I held the show in a private location as invitation only. The completion of the show was also intended to model the process of exhibiting your work as a working artist for my advanced art students who also had to host similar shows on their own.
12. Yoga Training in the Indian Mountains
I’m not sure how to summarize the life-affirming experience of yoga training in one simple paragraph so please head over a read the long version of my month in India learning the traditional and modern approaches to yoga. After a month of practicing, learning anatomy, questioning everything through philosophy, and more practicing, I accepted my yoga teacher certification as a full fledge yoga instructor.
11. Megan’s Nashville Bash
Directly after yoga training I flew from India straight to Nashville, Tennessee where the beautiful Meg was parting away with her fantastic gang of girls. It was a weekend of cowboy boots, honkey tonks, and tons of drinking. Unfortunately for me it also included catching some sickness on the plane and being in bed for a good chunk of the time. Nonetheless, it was a time to remember, cowboy hats and all.
10. 2 Weeks (2 Short) in Maine
Such a short amount of time but in just two weeks I squeezed in SO much love, laughter, and memories. For what felt like a blink of an eye, I was surrounded by all of my favorite people and just thinking about the long summer days we spent camping, BBQing, lounging around, and just hanging out fills me with so much happiness.
09. Meatless Me
Okay, this one is not one moment in time but it is HUGE and deserves a slot; half way through the 2016 year I decided to no longer eat meat. It is something that I have considered for some time for many reasons, health wise, ethics wise, and environmental wise. It has had its challenges but for the most part has been rather easy thanks to the goddess that is my wife who has taken on my vegetarianism as inspiration and is constantly concocting delicious new meatless creations. Mainly I feel like I am living less in duality now, that my beliefs match my actions, and that makes my soul happy.
08. Maine Island Clam Bake
Cabbage Island is a small piece of land just of the coast of Boothbay harbor, Maine. It is also the location of one of the oldest Clam Bake traditions in the North East. Kim and I spent an afternoon with her family, Robin and Steve, sailing about the coast before enjoying lobster, clams, corn, potatoes, onions, and other goodies that were cooked under a blanket of seaweed. Nothing tastes more like Maine than that!
07. Road Trip Around Israel
What is better than a summer road trip? How about a summer road trip with three of your favorite people!? How about a summer road trip with three of your favorite people discovering a new country!? On our way back to Southeast Asia in July, Kim and I stopped in Israel to visit my sister Amanda and her husband Josh (who were there while Amanda completed a summer program and internship for her Law degree). Our short visit brought an overflow of fun as we road tripped around Israel. We explored the city of Tel Aviv, walked through the streets of Jeruselum, stopped to ride a camel in the Judaian desert, awed at the mini grand canyon in Ramon Crater, and took a mud bath in the dead sea. I don’t think there were another four days this year that were filled with more fun, exploration, exciting new things, adventure, or love.
06. Meandering Through a Japanese Garden
I did not expect to find peacefulness when I went to the giant city of Hong Kong for a work conference in September, actually I didn’t expect to like it all that much. Fortunately, both of those were way off. Hong Kong is a fascinating city with so much uniqueness, all of which I enjoyed very much. My favorite part of it though was not the huge shopping centers or the bustling streets, but rather a quiet little park called Nan Lian Garden which echoed that of a Japanese Tea Garden. I had learned about these in my college Asian Art History class. The pathways are twisted and uneven to purposefully induce slow walking. Landscapes are created to produce the most picture perfect views with every branch and stone as an intentional brushstroke in the most stunning painting. Water is trickling and soft music is drifting through the leaves adding to the meditative atmosphere. Asian gardens are not manicured pieces of land, they are living art work experiences.
05. Snorkeling in the Andaman Sea
With such an exciting year, Kim and I decided to take our “fall” break and chill out on some of the best beaches in the world. Lucky for us these are found right next door in southern Thailand. We spent the week snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi, enjoying the sunset on Railay beach in Krabi, soaking in the natural hot springs, and adventuring around. The most memorable time for me being the spectacularly turquoise blue waters that were so stunning in color it was almost unbelievable.
04. Half Marathon Trail Run
Sometimes I get some crazy idea in my head and it just sticks. I’m trying to go along with my life and it is sitting over in the corner of my brain tapping its fingers, waiting for me to pay attention to it. This was one of those ideas. On a warm November morning I spent 3+ hours running 13.1 miles through the mud on trails in the Myanmar mountains to complete my first ever half marathon. My legs were shaking but my smile could not have been bigger when I crossed the finish line to a greeting of friends and congratulations. It took a lot of hard work, early mornings, and focused training, but I did it!
03. Yee Ping Mass Lantern Release
When I first decided to move to Asia I began a list of interesting places to visit and three years later I have forgotten everything on that list except for this one. It took a few years to manage the timing and to get ahold of tickets but it was worth the long wait. On the November full moon I joined hundreds of others on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thialand, in a mass release of sky lanterns and it was the most breathtaking sight I believe I have ever seen.
02. A Month on the Indonesian Islands
I didn’t have a lot of expectations, or plans, when we got on the plane for our winter vacation in Indonesia but by the time we left three weeks later I was head over heals about the string of islands. Starting off on Java we adventured to the highest peaks at the top of Mt. Bromo, an active volcano, then down into the blue lake Ijen Crater to view the blue fire alight from the sulfur gases. By the time we got to the island of Bali we more than enjoyed a much needed rest at our friends Ashley and Matt’s villa. The day after Christmas we grabbed a motorbike and hit the road to spend two weeks cruising along the coast, up the mountains, through the rice terraces, and by the temple towns of Bali. We spent New Years at a black sand beach, saw dolphins, got drenched in a mountain down pour, enjoyed mornings of yoga and monkey walks, and so much more. I can see now why Bali stays in the heart of so many, it has a way of rooting down into your soul.
2016 was a year of epic proportions filled with more adventures than most people get to experience in a lifetime and I am so very grateful to call this my life. Yet, not one of these moments would have been half as amazing if I didn’t have my beautiful wife by my side. Her constant encouragement and support through all of my dreams, big and small, makes my life so much fuller. Whatever plan or crazy idea I conjure up is always met with a Yes! My travel companion, my fearless motorbike driver, and my goddess of a chef; the one who always makes me laugh (even when it’s the last thing I want to do) I am so thankful to have celebrated two full years of marriage this year. I read somewhere once that if you love someone, travel with them, for then you will know their true self; happily I can say that I have found someone who loves my truest self right back and that is the most epic part of them all.
Our summer was overflowing with Maine goodness as we visited, relaxed, and enjoyed June and July with our family and friends. The air was still cold when we arrived and I spent the first few weeks in jeans, a sweatshirt, and socks. Coming from the Myanmar hot season, Kim was loving the cool temps and continued to wear her shorts and flip flops everyday. We lived as nomads, moving from place to place spending time with all of our favorite people.
Starting off right away we celebrated Drew’s 16th birthday by camping in true Maine style – cooking lobster over the fire. It wasn’t long before it was Amanda’s 21st as we took her out for her first legal drink continuing with a trip to a casino, margaritas, tacos, and beer pong. The days quickly got filled with lunch dates with awesome people, excursions to the local swimming holes, and frosty deliciousness at our favorite ice cream stands. There were late night bonfires, family BBQs, road trips across states, hikes on the best of forest trails, catching up with friends, and quality time with family.
Our yearly trip up to Lubec (the most eastern point in the US) had a rocky start when the truck broke down on the way up. But we continued on and had a few days of bliss with ocean breezes, starry night skies, not a person in sight for miles, and lobster. There is always lobster on an Ellicott vacation to Lubec. Shortly after we said goodbye to our dearest Ellie May. Words cannot express the loss we feel at the emptiness in our lives left by the happiest creature imaginable. Ellie got along with every person and animal (besides skunks and squirrels). We were constantly complemented on her happy personality and calm demeanor. She was so much more than our puppy dog, she was the third member of our small family.
As we worked through our emotions, we continued to stuff ourselves with our favorite (and much missed) American food. Milk, steak, honey nut cheerios, swis rolls, bread that is not sweet, breakfast sandwiches, waffles, orange juice, chocolate, granola bars, fruit roll ups, meatballs, steak and cheese grinders, and so SO much more. I’m seriously going to have to work off all the extra weight when I get back.
I photographed a wedding with Andrea and some super sweet couples sessions. Kim went fishing with Josh and sunk the paddleboat. We got our one year anniversary photos taken by Aime from Aime E Photography. There was so much amazingness in these few weeks! To wrap it up we spent an unforgettable week with most of my family in a cabin in northern Maine where we explored waterfalls, went white water rafting, cruised the lake at sunset via pontoon, had never ending card games, and laughed more often than not.
The seven weeks we were back seemed more like seven days. I knew it would go by quickly, I was prepared for it to go by quickly. What I wasn’t expecting was the lack of anticipation on returning. I figured it would feel like any other vacation where towards the end of it you get the itchy desire to be back where you came from. Instead I felt very comfortable, very settled surrounded by all of my favorite people and familiar environments. It was easy and not complicated. I guess that is what it feels like to come home.
Yet, in no way am I hesitant to continue our adventures abroad. As I see fewer signs in English and more noodle dishes around me, I feel myself pulling back on my armor. Not in an aggressive way, but the necessary readiness needed for navigating a foreign country. The oh-so-familiar complications of language barriers, unknown customs, foreign cities, unrecognizable food, and general confusion that accompanies traveling is flooding back. With it though, comes endless potential for more life-changing experiences, meeting more awesome people, continuing to broaden our mindsets, and learning more about ourselves and this amazing planet everyday.
So THANK YOU Maine and everyone for the conversations and catching up, for the couches to sleep on and the overly delicious food, for the time spent with us and the un-wavering open arms that welcomed us back. But mostly thank you for all the love that filled our hearts enough to last us (what is sure to be) another remarkable year away from home.
After our 4th of July weekend in Vermont we packed up the tent again and set off for the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Amanda, Josh, Kim, and I had a blast on our mini road trip which included multiple stops at gorgeous look-outs throughout the White Mountain region. We set up camp at Jigger Johnson campground at the end of the Kangamangas Highway and were joined shortly after by Dad, Pam, Drew, Autumn, Brian, and Kirsten. The next couple days were spent sitting around the campfire or exploring various watering holes/ waterfalls. Family meals were shared, trails were walked, and great times were had all around.
We returned from our almost two weeks of camping on Tuesday to the reality of our lengthy to-do list. The first major task was to buy our plane tickets. We had put this off for quite a long time due to the questionable pet situation, but we could not wait any longer. We sat down that evening and purchased one way tickets from Portland, Maine to Bangkok, Thailand. Eeeeeeekk!! No time was wasted on Wednesday jumping back into packing. So much was still left to get done.
Taking a break from everything we headed to Water Country on Thursday to celebrate Autumn's Birthday. Although her real birthday is not until September we knew we were not going to be here and wanted to be sure to do something fun! And boy was it! Drew joined the three of us for a day of water slides, wave-pool jumping, and tube floating. Afterwards we grabbed a pizza and went to a drive-in movie. It was a wonderful day and I'm so glad we took time to have it.
First thing Friday we were back at it starting by going over to Augusta to get our PO Box. We will be forwarding all of our mail there for Andrea to get, she will be taking care of those kind of things while we are away. Stopping into both of our banks we got some financial things taken care of. Then we went over to sign the paperwork for our storage unit. We went with a 10' x 15' space. We wont be keeping much of our furniture but we wanted to have plenty of room.
Before we knew it another week was over, time is just flying by! Crazy to think we will be in Myanmar in less than two weeks!
I kicked off the weekend by photographing another beautiful wedding! Abbey is a Ultimate Frisbee teammate from college and I was thrilled to photograph her and Jason's special day! Congrats you two!!
This week (and next) was all about family! We knew we would want to set aside a good chunck of time to do fun summer things with both of our families before we left so Sunday Kim & I headed up to Avon to join her family for a couple days. We were sure to make a stop at Smalls Falls, one of the best watering holes in the area, a favorite of ours. Robin (Kim's mom) and I took a day to go shopping in North Conway. It was a blast spending time with her and getting all sorts of goodies for Myanmar. The rest of the time was spent laughing and lounging : )
After a quick stop home we packed the car back up and headed to Vermont. My Aunt and Uncle have a camp in Grafton, VT where they hold a weekend long gathering every July 4th. It is a fantastic time to see my extended family (the only time in the year we get to see them usually) as well as have a blast!! There were town parades, bingo, lawn games, fires, lots of rain, and (of course) fireworks!! Happy Independence Day all!
Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer in Maine (and I am sure many other states). For the long weekend we took to the woods for camping with Amanda, Josh, and Meg. We decided to stay close and went to a new campground in Turner called Martin Stream Campground. Arriving Friday night I could feel the stress leave my body as we pulled into our plot of land. Our tent cowered in size under the other tents as we squeezed our air mattress into it leaving only enough room for Ellie's bed, but of course it didn't matter. Nothing mattered, even the fact that we forgot to bring cooking tools and fashioned our own fork and spatula out of wood and tinfoil. I managed to start the fire all by myself one morning : ) We spent the weekend relaxing, drinking, kayaking, talking, and having a wonderful time.
On Monday we joined the family at my Dad's house for a BBQ. It's these little things that I know we are going to miss when we are in Burma.
Kim has been fighting a battle with eczema of the hands for over a decade now. Her hands flare up every couple months and when they do her palms become itchy, dry, peeling, and extreamly painful. On our way back into town on Monday we noticed that they were getting inflamed more than what normally happens during a break out. About a year ago she was hospitalized for a week from an infection that got into her hands and spread to her blood stream. With this in mind we decided it was best to head straight for the ER and it was a good thing we did. The doctor informed us that it was indeed infected and spreading up her arm again. They immediately put her on IV antibiotics and had her go back after 8 hours for another dose. She then spent Tuesday in a soft cast to help the inflammation go down. Although her hands are still broken out at this point, we are happy to report that there are no longer any signs of infection. Our hopes are that when we are in Burma she will be working with her hands less and will be able to give them time to rest and heal.
Wednesday afternoon, while Kim was getting her next round of immunizations, I joined some of my fellow teachers at farewell dinner for a retiring co-worker. It was a lovely afternoon with great people and a fantastic view to boot.
For Date Night Thursday, we picked up burritos from Guthries and ate in : )
Myanmar wise we have been scoring the internet for more information on traveling with our pets and finding the right itinerary to match. Hopefully we will have some progress on this next week because this is the last week of school for ISM and I'm sure people will be harder to get ahold of after they get out.
I did get an email from the HR officer I have been communicating with at ISM about the military coop that has recently occurred in Thailand. It reassured me knowing they are aware and on top of things of this nature. Here is the email:
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world