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"Incredible India"

India living up to it's national slogan

sunny 85 °F

I have to admit, I haven't been very good at bathing in this bucket lately. Our last few weeks in India were emotionally draining as India's in-your-face culture, sights, colors, smells and sounds can be taxing on the senses. The national slogan of "Incredible India" certainly doesn't disappoint. Unfortunately, it's "incredible-ness" resulted in me moping around miserable and on the constant verge of a breakdown. Poor Micah has endured a lot lately!

We have since moved on to Nepal, but India did produce some amazing experiences. Dharamsala, home to the Dali Llama, and Rishikesh, where The Beatles wrote a majority of their "White" album, were spiritual playgrounds. I was in all my glory with fresh mountain air, yoga classes and an Ayurveda cooking and nutrition course.

We visited the magnificent, Golden Sikh temple in Amritsar and experienced eating shoulder to shoulder on the floor with 1,000's of Indians and their families on pilgrimage. The temple provides free meals, 24/7 with a volunteer run kitchen and feeds over 80,000 people a day. Everyone is encouraged to jump in and lend a helping hand washing dishes, peeling potatoes and serving chai. A short taxi ride out of Amritsar to the Indian / Pakistan border allowed us to witness to the spectacle that occurs nightly when the border closes. It's equipped with thousands of spectators sitting in grand stands, a dance party, flag waving, cheering and a showdown by the plume wearing, boot stomping guards on both sides. It felt like a sporting event.

About 2 of our weeks in India were spent traveling through the desert cities, and ancient sandcastle-like forts of Rajasthan. The highlight for me was a 2 day camel safari. To the dismay of our bums, we rode camels for 5 hours each day, breaking mid-afternoon to enjoy chai, chipati and dal cooked over a fire. All the while, our camels munched happily on the trees providing our shade. In the evening, we watched a beautiful sunset, with another chai in hand, over giant sand dunes before turning in for the night to the sounds of our camels chewing, belching and pooping. I made the ironic comparison of it seeming like we were sleeping in a planetarium. There were more stars than I imagined the universe to even hold. We awoke with our blankets surrounded by a complex highway system of footprints that was build by visiting Dung beetles over night. (I hope I kept my mouth closed while I was sleeping.)

Our next stop was the awe inspiring Taj Mahal. India showed us many of the negative effects that tourism can produce and it was most noticeable here. It has created an annoying scene of relentless rickshaw drivers, a two tier pricing system and souvenir sellers. Do people even buy snow globes anymore?! The Taj Mahal was beautiful but this is where dear India started to weigh on me.

My full emotional breakdown occurred in the holy city of Varanasi. The city is a pilgrimage site for Hindus. People come here to die and be cremated at the burning ghats along the polluted Ganga River. Every 20 minutes, another ornately wrapped, deceased body is carried through the people, cow and motorbike crowded streets on it's journey to the burning ghat. Personally, the atmosphere was very unsettling as death is something that is celebrated and not mourned in the Indian culture. It's very different from what we know. Our guesthouse was within 50 yards of the largest cremation ghat that burns 24/7 with multiple fires. I found myself feeling sick, temperamental, emotionally drained and overwhelmed. I tend to be the person in the room that becomes upset when I sense someone is unhappy. I think my body is too tuned into energy to be able to cope with the death, overcrowding and nightly celebration of singing and prayers that occurs in Varanasi. In addition to this, tourism has yet again reared it's ugly head with in your face touts, unofficial guides, boat drivers, drug sellers and children begging you to take their picture in exchange for Rupees. It was all too much and I spent a majority of the time jailed up in our windowless room.

After Varanasi, I couldn't escape India quickly enough. A 12hr government bus ride from India landed us in the quiet, small town of Lumbini, Nepal which archeologists have declared as the birthplace of Buddha. We've since called the more energetic city of Kathmandu our home as we've settled here for Passover. The Chabad House here holds the biggest Passover Seder in the world.

It's hard to believe we only have about 2 weeks of our trip remaining! This weekend we'll be heading north to start 7-days trekking through the Himalayas. I'm hoping to keep my remaining toenails in tact-I lost my 3rd one a few weeks ago with a shrug.

Now that my emotional state is on the mend, I'll try to be a more consistent bucket-bathing blogger! I've got new videos and photos to post as soon as we have faster internet.

Much love from Nepal

Posted by bucketbath 09:42 Archived in India Tagged children desert culture temple india fort bus the trekking river golden safari buddha varanasi fire ganga bath llama cooking camel nepal dali tourism motorbikes mahal taj dal experience yoga rajasthan kathmandu pokhara volunteer ghat journey stars cows beatles rupees sikh hindu cremation spiritual rishikesh bucket nutrition dharamsala souvenir ayurveda rickshaw chai lumbini sandcastle beetles incredible passover dung senses planetarium amristar emotional pilgramage chipati touts beggers governement chabbad seder toenails Comments (4)

Life outside the bucket

Going to school 6 hrs/day while I "vacation" in Chang Mai

sunny 75 °F

I've been practicing and studying hard these last 3 weeks. The Thai Massage School of Chang Mai is teaching me how to master using my hands, fingers, heels, elbows, arms, knees and feet to work on the energy, or Sen Sib, lines of the body. It's a full body workout for the masseur and the recipient!

WIth all that daily physical exertion, living life in Chang Mai has been a welcome change of pace. I have enjoyed waking up to an alarm and having a set schedule everyday. I even unpacked my trusty backpack and stored it out of sight under my bed. I'm not forced to wear dirty clothing that has been rolled up into a ball and jammed into the bottom of my bag. I've had the luxury of a cup of coffee and a hot shower every day. I've even snuck the afternoon power nap back into my life. Slowing down has made me a little homesick and anxious (in a good way) to return to NYC. I'm ready to jump back into over scheduled business mode! It's going to be difficult to prep myself mentally to hit the road with my overzealous, I don't need to eat or sleep, run around for 10hrs a day, sidekick, Micah. I'm going to have to put myself through a mini boot camp to get my brain and body back into shape so I can rejoin the whirlpool we call our Bucketbath. I'm also feeling a little anxiety over trekking through India and Nepal now that my big toenail has officially fallen off (remember that trek at Kawah Ijen, Indonesia?). Stay tuned for another Joanie breakdown video. It's an emotional masterpiece waiting to happen.

No sense in worrying over that now. I'm too busy geeking out over my studies at the moment. In addition to learning how to give relaxing 2 hr massages, I'm also learning how to treat chronic ailments, aches and pains such as: constipation, headaches, neck stiffness, menstrual cramps, anxiety and a long list of others. I had no idea Thai Massage had such healing properties. My roommate, and fellow NY'er, is also studying here with a master in Chang Mai. It's been fun to work on one another, exchange information, and swap "guess what I did at school today?" stories. We're also working on a new business venture once we get back to NYC. Sparkes Wellness meets Motivated Nutrition!

I can't wait to get home and share all of this new knowledge and test out my skills on each and every one of you! Chronic constipation anyone? I got this! Book your massage now!

$30/ 30min, $50/1hr, $75/1.5hrs

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I'm going to continue to enjoy my clean clothes, hot showers and afternoon naps as Micah sprints his way through Bangladesh over the next two weeks. (He's scheduled to fly out of Myanmar tomorrow.) I'm cheering him on. Perhaps he'll wear himself out and I'll be able to talk him into afternoon naps by the time we reunite!

Here are a few photos from my "vacation".

Sporting my Thai Massage scrubs

Sporting my Thai Massage scrubs

Wat in the old city of Chang Mai

Wat in the old city of Chang Mai

Thai Cooking class

Thai Cooking class

Elephant trek

Elephant trek

Sparkes Wellness and Motivated Nutrition

Sparkes Wellness and Motivated Nutrition

Posted by bucketbath 08:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged food indonesia travel india trekking thailand backpack new york bed house fun life school mai packing nyc neck bath relaxation hot dirt power chang thai nepal clean pictures energy breakdown showers bangladesh business massage rescue bucket exercise running clothing prep masterpiece wellness ijen nap study sen workout masseur healing whirlpool anxiety bootcamp mental jogging sprinting cheering geek heartaches stiffness cramps roommate sib masterthai Comments (6)

Falling in love in Laos

A circus dream comes true

Most children aspire to be doctors, teachers, or policemen. Micah’s pint sized dream was to be a long haul, big rig, truck driver so he could sleep in the cab. Mine was to attend clown college and join the circus. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than living a train riding, vagabonding life with 100’s of people and animals sporting heavily made up faces and sequins. At the moment, we’ve both got the vagabonding down. Sadly, Micah may leave me behind if I start trying to paint his face before his morning run. I haven’t bedazzled my backpack yet but am one step closer after taking a 2 day mahout (elephant driver) training course near Luang Prabang, Laos.

The Elephant Village in Laos cares for around 16 elephants, all female, that have been rescued from the logging industry, with a vet on staff and a mahout for each elephant.

For Micah's photos click HERE

Micah and I arrived at the village around 10am, greeted by a cheerful guide and an endless supply of coffee and tea. Our guides poor English in combination with the generous hospitality made partaking in the bottomless rations sound more like a demand than an offer. “You will now drink some coffee or tea.” After gulping our obligatory intake of caffeine, we jumped right into our mahout education. A sign next to the training station informed us: never approach an elephant from behind or from the left side; never pull their ears, never tease them with food; never hug their trunks, and the age old important rule of "an elephant never forgets" so don't screw up. They were the elemental basics that I wished someone would have taught my grade school taunters. (My nickname was Dumbo growing up. For the record my ears aren’t big, they just stick out.) We learned the vital command words: Go:“Pie”, Stop: "How”, along with some other less important ones like, lift up your foot so I can climb on you, turn left, turn right- all of which I have forgotten. What more do you really need than stop and go while driving an elephant? It's not like people aren't going to move out of your way.

No one was too anxious to take a test run so I quickly sprung my hand into the air as the first rider of our group. I gripped the top of the right ear as instructed and my dancer instincts kicked in as I stepped onto the offered tree trunk sized leg with my right foot and hoisted my left leg into a near split to get it up and over the elephant. I was ecstatic to discover that my new powerful commands were actually successful in driving this beautiful, massive, giant around the yard. And when the ride was finished, I was unfazed by the elephant burns on my arms and legs after sliding down its rough, leathery skin.

After everyone took a turn, we paired up to take the "ladies" on a trek. Micah must have sensed my excitement because he didn’t hesitate when I asked if I could ride on the head as he rode in the Howdah (elephant seat) with our mahout. My glee soon turned to terror as we started down the riverbank's 50-degree incline to the water. The elephant’s rocky pathway was no more than 4 ft wide and she carefully maneuvered every step as I peered cautiously over the top of her head. Elephants are known to have impeccable balance, but you would never believe that from the view point atop of one. We trekked through the river, back up the bank, and through a small village full of curious, elephant-frightened little faces peering at us from behind trees. We ended back at camp where we were presented with an all you can eat lunch buffet.

After lunch, we met up with another mahout training group as they finished the elephants daily river bath. I watched in horror (I’m not a fan of water), as the professional mahouts belted out commands they hadn’t taught us. Ones that apparently meant splash your rider with water using your trunk and dunk yourself repeatedly so your rider gets soaked. I prayed that I didn’t end up with the one elephant, named Mae Uak, who loved to go under water and sit. The poor rider on her back spent the bath sitting shoulder high in the freezing river, completely helpless as the professional mahout stood high and dry, laughing on Mae Uak's back.

The newly soaked riders said goodbye to the elephants at the riverbank and we were scooped up by the mahouts to trek them into the jungle for the evening. I was the first to get picked up and didn’t think anything of it until my mahout guide started telling me he had many friends married to beautiful American girls like myself. Then I was fired a round of questions: “How old are you? Are you married? How strong is your boyfriend?” I asked him if he knew Casanova and when he said no, I told him to look it up. It was his new name. Micah later rolled his eyes at my naivete in not realizing what was happening as soon as “Casanova” singled me out. (Un)Lucky for me, those were our mahout pairings for the second day as well.

Once in the jungle, the elephants mozied off to rest and play for the day and we were ferried away on a slowly leaking motorboat to some nearby waterfalls. Our day ended with dinner, drinks, and a few rounds of cards. Micah and I were exhausted from all the excitement and ready to call it a night by 10pm.

Joanie scooping water out of our boat

Joanie scooping water out of our boat

Ending our Mahout training day at Tad Sae Waterfalls

Ending our Mahout training day at Tad Sae Waterfalls

The next morning, we were out the door by 8am to walk into the jungle. Casanova was cheerfully waiting to hoist me up. Once atop, I discovered that the elephant was caked in mud and no longer smelled of the candy appled, popcorned circus dreams from the day before. She stank like…elephant. It was our turn to administer a much needed, icy river bath. The group the day before had the benefit of the hot midday sun. We on the other hand, were welcomed by a chilly morning breeze. I dreadfully lead my elephant into the freezing water, armed with a scrubbing brush and soon found myself sitting shoulder high in the water, shrieking, “I’ve got her! I’m on the dunking elephant!” Shivering in the cold water, I helplessly sat like the training mahout we all pitied the day before. Every once in awhile, Mae Uak would surface and I would frantically scrub as much of her course skin as possible before dunking back under. The only part of her that could be seen was the tip of her trunk bobbing like a periscope out of water.

20 min later, the baths were over and we stood on the shore, shivering, soaked, and wearing the perfume of pre-washed elephant. Correction, I was soaked. Everyone else was only mildly wet from the waist down. We waved goodbye to the girls and hurried off to hot showers and breakfast.

With our mahout training complete, we sat at the top of the river bank enjoying breakfast and admiring the elephants as they gracefully and sure footedly guided the next round of trainees down the incline at the beginning of their first trek. I was in love and made the declaration that I would one day purchase an elephant for the reserve.

But first thing's first. I must bedazzle my backpack.

You can check out information on the reserve HERE. Don't forget to read Mae Uak's BIO. Her name translates into "Seated at the Buffet" as she is known to be perpetually hungry-something we both have in common!

Joanie learning to mount an elephant

Joanie learning to mount an elephant

Micah mounting an elephant.

Micah mounting an elephant.

Descending into the river

Descending into the river

Testing out our new Mahout commands

Testing out our new Mahout commands

Elephant LOVE

Elephant LOVE

Posted by bucketbath 05:34 Archived in Laos Tagged elephant village river laos bath truck riding dream buffet training reserve rescue mahout driver wash clown splurge howdah bathe Comments (7)

Bucketbath takes a Mucketbath

overcast 79 °F

In true Bucketbath form, Micah and I have been moving non stop again. We got to Ho Chi Min, Vietnam on Nov 12 and in the last week and a half visited the Mekong Delta, Mui Ne, Dalat and now the city of Nha Trang.

After a morning at the National Oceanographic Museum and a visit to the Po Nagar Cham Towers, we splurged ($11.50 each!) on a visit to the Thap Ba Hot Spring Center to soak in the mineral water and mud baths.

Enjoy the video from our day below!

Posted by bucketbath 07:41 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mud spa bath relaxation Comments (4)

Downsizing for a Bucket Bath (Joanie)

From a duplex loft to a 30 L backpack

sunny 81 °F

Packed and ready to go

Packed and ready to go

====News Alert!====
Micah and I have both quit our jobs (in my case MANY jobs), the lease on the loft is up, and we are backpacking across southeast Asia for 7 1/2 months. In 1 week, we are going to be boarding a plane to Beijing and in April 2012, we are planning to fly home from New Delhi, India!

We've been planning this trip for months and it's hard to believe that soon we'll be jet setting across the ocean to explore a new continent. It doesn't feel like reality yet. What are we thinking? We are busy New Yorkers! I have a business and 4 other part time gigs. We have friends and a social life and an amazing loft to come home to at night. The entire world is a subway ride away. But as most NY'ers know,(NY artists anyway) living here is a love/hate relationship. I, personally, have been experiencing a little bit of "struggling artist" burn out and am ready to experience life at a different pace for awhile. I'm even more excited that Micah and I can do this together!

The thought of picking up and moving has been a little stressful, but downsizing has been less complicated than I thought. Luckily, I went through the experience of ridding myself of about 70% of my personal belongings during my last move less than a year ago. Most of my life is still in boxes and I haven't missed a majority of it. I'm ready to shed completely and start with a fresh slate. The biggest challenge has been figuring out exactly what I'll need to pack into my 30 L backpack and not carry more than absolutely necessary.

The whole concept of living out of a bag on my back reminds me of a turtle shell. Yes, it's nearly 8 months, but do I really need a full wardrobe, accessories and an armory of sudoku books? I'm beginning to realize that this turtle is probably only going to be concerned about being able to maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene every day. Thus the name of our blog: Bucket Bath. That's code for exciting, unpredictable adventure...much like trying to bathe in a bucket!

I have agonized and revised shopping lists for months on what to pack in my "shell", without having to compromise too much fashion sense. I know, I'm showing my true girl colors right now, but I refuse to be the American traveler in the T-shirt, cargo pants, Chacos sandals and a bucket hat. Wait! I now own cargo pants and Chacos...but I'm NOT wearing a bucket hat! (The day I made the Chacos purchase in EMS was a very humbling experience.)

I'm happy to say, my packing is finished, and my trusty, new "home" is sitting in the corner ready to go. :) It's actually been ready to go for 3 weeks now. Girl Alert!-I even started putting outfit options together and cataloging photos so I have options to choose from while on the road. I'm amazed at how many combinations you can make out of 2 pairs of pants, a pair of leggings, a t-shirt, 2 tanks, a tunic, 2 dresses, and a long sleeved shirt! I have 25 combinations so far. Lucky magazine, eat your heart out! (Micah is slapping his forehead right now) Micah hasn't even started packing. It's ok. I'll graciously help him strategically choose outfits when the time comes. (Again with the forehead slap)

We're excited to go, but sad to leave all of our friends and family for the next few months. We're hoping to keep you connected to our lives as we document our "Bucket Baths" across southeast Asia - fully clothed, of course. Please keep us updated on your home adventures. We've started this blog to keep in touch. Please leave us comments. Send us emails. Send us an address and you may even get a postcard! Stay tuned for what I'm sure will be humorous video posts as well.

-Joanie

Posted by bucketbath 20:50 Archived in USA Tagged travel packing nyc beijing bath asia southeast bucket moving clothing Comments (5)

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