Archive for the ‘Reviews’ category

The death giggles of courtesy

May 13, 2013

***Ever wanted to observe a pitchfork-and-torches mob at it’s inception?***

Let’s face it, the best blog entries are the ones that are entertaining, fun and don’t openly judge you. We love to read and live vicariously through each other and share in fun and often exciting adventures. Sometimes we just love seeing the delicious foods others concoct or purchase. Rarely do we enjoy having something shoved in our eyeholes that makes us think we’re being observed and found lacking. Welcome to this week’s deviation from the norm.

Achebeyo and I went to see a relatively new movie in the theater this past weekend, something that has become fairly rare for us for many reasons. The main reason? How do I put this gently…self-entitled people. Beginning ranting phase in 3…2…1…

Listen, I get it. I get that I can’t possibly know how difficult it is to raise a child. I get that parents need to break free from the monotony and misery that they chose to bring into their lives and enact even fleeting change. What I don’t get is why I pay to see the same movie you do, but you get to ruin it for me by bringing your noisy, fidgety, often sticky progeny to impede my ability to fully appreciate the experience.

There’s this wonderful new technology that will let you enjoy the movie over and over and over again for one low price in the privacy and security of your own home: DVD/Blu-ray. And you can do this for much cheaper than if you took all of your chattering minions to a theater and pumped them full of sugar, salt and soda.

Hey there Mr. Bossy-pants, what gives you the right to tell us what we can and can’t do with our often unruly minions?

The right of a paying customer who didn’t sign up to hear your kids ask you a million questions throughout the course of the 2.5-hour movie, or have my seat kicked 2700 times, or endure the loud, incessant crying of a CHILD TOO YOUNG TO APPRECIATE THE FILM! Oh, and if you have to spend the majority of a film reassuring your children that nobody REALLY died, sweetie, perhaps that movie wasn’t the one you should have dragged them to at that age.

Let me put this into perspective: your child will eventually get involved in some school or community-based stage production. We’re all forced to explore that avenue at least once, whether it’s as a talking item of food, a miniature president, an ambulatory tree or even a prince or princess. Me, I was Charlie Brown. Now, imagine that your wellspring of pride while watching this illustrious performance by the fruit of your overactive loins is suddenly muddied by me. Maybe I’m drunk, maybe I have to pee and want everyone around me to know it, or maybe I’m just more interested in explaining to people around me what’s really going on within the larger context of the story so everyone gets it. Imagine your frustration.

Now imagine I do that for every event you hold dear in your child’s development. I crash their first religious indoctrination to talk about my beliefs and feelings; I show up to their dance recitals and loudly comment on how professional dancers would have made this way more entertaining; maybe I even ring your doorbell 2700 times while you celebrate their single-digit birthdays, or just stand on your porch throwing a loud tantrum when they’re about to go humbly to sleep for the first time in 4 years. The point is, I ruin what was supposed to be good times for you.

And I do it with an attitude of it’s my right as a human.

I didn’t make you squirt out 2-3 snot-machines in the hopes that society would validate your existence for it. I didn’t plant the seed in your brain that your life would only be complete if you assist in the over-population of this planet. I just wanted to enjoy a movie in relative peace and quiet. I’m guessing that was too much to ask.

Laughter and other reactions at appropriate times enhance the experience for everyone in the theater, so I’m not suggesting isolation tubes for each seat. Although…

It’s understandable that you’d want to provide a wide range of experiences for your children, that you’d want to ensure they have wonderful memories of their youth and spending time with their parents. Just make sure you aren’t teaching them that it’s okay to ignore basic common courtesies when it comes to human interaction. Also, you never know what’s going to make someone teetering on the edge of civility snap.

Oh, and if you aren’t a doctor, a scientist working on the cure for stupidity and self-entitlement or the President, nobody needs to get in touch with you that badly while you watch a movie. Again, DVDs and Blu-ray were meant for you.

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Cura-meh-cao

April 12, 2013

***I’ve put off writing this article for lack of inspiration, but then it hit me: maybe THAT’S my inspiration.***

It probably isn’t fair to start off a report about such a beautiful and storied island like Curaçao by giving the impression that I didn’t like it. Makes me seem like I’ve got an industrial strength rod lodged in the ol’ methane-hole. The thing is, I didn’t dislike it, it simply didn’t resonate with me.

They labeled the island…just in case.

Maybe it was the fact that Achebeyo and I have traveled all over the Caribbean so this was just one more in a long line of tropical shopping malls, or possibly the fact that we must have unintentionally chosen International Non-Stop Kite Weather week for our visit (you could have stayed airborne the entire trip with the right parafoil kite). Any number of factors combined could have created this distinct lack of enthusiasm for writing this article, and that simply isn’t fair to this tropical paradise.

The island really is gorgeous, with beautiful multicolored buildings that would seem at first to riot against one another, but actually work quite well on the larger canvas of the island. The shorelines were rocky where we stayed, but there were plenty of beaches on the map boasting flour-soft sand. The people were friendly and helpful, often guiding us away from our own time-wasting ignorance, such as leading us to the pay station in the middle of the longhouse-style cafeteria when we mistakenly stood in food pick-up line. Nothing about this place was bad…it just wasn’t great.

From atop Fort Rif, defending against…loud tourists?

We arrived on a Friday afternoon and had managed not to mangle each other emotionally during what I like to call Arrival Angst. It’s that frustration that builds at the airports and parking lots and taxis until you actually flop onto the bed (minus the crime scene comforter, of course) in your destination. Aside from the typical travel warning my gastrointestinal tract issued (“Per standard operating procedures, we will be halting all functions for the foreseeable future, barring any infusion of significantly spicy food or foreign tap water.”), our arrival was uneventful.

While the room occasionally made noises like the plumbing was filled with movie-grade, mutant, angry bees, and randomly farted when neither of us was standing in that part of the room (I swear), it was a typical hotel sleeping berth. Let’s gloss over the part where our room faced a softball stadium and we occasionally heard noises from that place like someone was murdering werewolves…for fun or profit, I can’t be certain. Regardless, our first “day” was mellow and fairly uneventful. We ‘splored the surrounding mini-city of our hotel complex, but managed not to get ensnared by the excessively-marked-up name-brand stores.

Our hotel village from the pontoon bridge.

We got vague directions to the nearest dive shop and proceeded on the Renpiti plan of navigation: go in the general direction of the half-understood, vague directions until we luck out and find the place so I can dispense the I-told-you-so‘s with feigned confidence. The place was being run by a visiting couple, he of ‘merican heritage, she of Aussie descent. They were warm and friendly and booked us for a wall dive the following day. We wandered around the city some more until we felt we had accumulated enough pinkened skin, then ventured back to the hotel room. We had dinner at a local Indian place and stiffed the staff on tips because I assumed they included it in the pricey bill (like most places we visit outside of the U.S.). Yeah, I was unintentionally that guy. We slunk back to our room like the dirty foreigners we were.

Even though we would be entering the sea from the shore the following day, and not an ocean-borne vomit comet (that would be the next day), I implored Achebeyo to take some light-coma-inducing motion sickness pills just in case. With the winds nearing skin-peeling force, it’s never a bad idea to issue stand-down orders to your stomach in advance. We set triple alarms for the following morning and slept like the sweaty dead.

When we awoke and snarfed down some meager snacks, penance for the lack of tipping the previous night, we made our now-confident way back to the dive shop. We geared up and carried what might turn us into scabbed crybabies to the entry point. You never want to duck-walk in fins over gravel mounds. The entry point was along a pier and very calm. We dove to 15ft before ever reaching pukeville.

The dive was clear and beautiful. If I wasn’t so afflicted with The Lazy, I’d pull stills from my GoPro and share them with you. Alas…

After we finished the dive, with Achebeyo deciding we didn’t need to be molecularly bonded the entire time underwater, we opted to clean up and head back into town to do two things: find an affordable place to eat, and discover the whereabouts of the elusive Piranha Jack t-shirt store. That day, we would only accomplish the former.

The place we chose to eat, after being repeatedly snubbed by a few touristy restaurants (our tipping fiasco must have been shared on the morning news), happened to be where all the locals were eating: a Nordic longhouse-style cafeteria. I sent Achebeyo off to find a seat while I stood in what I thought was the line to order food. A local soon informed me that I would need to actually place an order before standing in this line. It was fortunate he was kind enough to walk me to the ordering table, as it was buried in the middle of the rest of the tables full of happy diners. I finally ordered, paid and went back into the order placement line. After about 10-15 minutes, they took my ticket and told me to go sit among the multitudes of random faces and they would bring my food to me. I joined Achebeyo and three other friendly folks (one resident and his two visiting sisters). These people told us two fundamental facts: 1) we absolutely MUST visit Kleine Curaçao, and 2) if the cafeteria got our orders kind of right, it was as close as we would get. Fortunately for us, we got exactly what we ordered, and it was the best meal we had the entire time on the island…not to mention the cheapest.

The pontoon bridge of pontooniness.

It looks like a barge, but it handles like a skiff.

Ideas for tomorrow’s adventure burning in our brains, we wandered back across the pontoon bridge to our hotel and promptly booked the following day’s Kleine Curaçao trip. This deserted island is located 15 miles off of Curaçao’s eastern tip, and it promised to be more than simply a boat ride to a remote beach, if the shore shattering waves in the bay were any indication. Once again, we both took anti-puke-a-tron meds and sank like lead weights into sleep.

If you’ve ever been anywhere in the Caribbean (or any other island environment), you’ll know what I mean by IPT. For the uninitiated, that’s Island People’s Time. That means if you are supposed to be downstairs and ready to board the shuttle at 7am, they’ll be there at 7:45 to pick you up. I mean, I’m no stranger to The Lazy, but come on! We managed to make it to the boat in time to stand in line with all the other late-arriving passengers (otherwise known as “everyone”), and promptly made our way to the upper deck to stake our claim on…standing room only. This would actually prove to be a boon, as we’d be forced by location to stare at the horizon, instead of the bile-agitating floor of the boat’s top deck. Thus began what I like to call Puke Roulette.

On the ride out of the calm harbor, they gave us lengthy instructions in Dutch. The English version seemed like an afterthought, as the translator was on his first boat trip himself and tended to disappear below and return covered in cleansing sea water. The gist of what he told us was that if we needed external stomach-storage, he had the plastic bags. Looking around me, grinning ear to ear, I began to silently predict who would be having shouting matches with Ralph.

It was a long roller-coaster ride out to the island, and many people availed themselves of the bounty of plastic bags, including one Dutch gal whom I previously had money on making it all the way without showing her last meal. My upheaval-avoidance plan was two-fold: stare at the horizon when not predicting the yakkers, and laugh my tail off each time someone else sang the song of the stomach. You’d think karma would have visited me like a greasy avenger, but I must have banked up some cosmic favors, because I was happy and laughing the whole time. Achebeyo too, though she frequently accosted me for making her look at the technicolor contents of the plastic bags being handed forward.

We finally arrived at the island and endured a 20 minute speech IN DUTCH, extolling the virtues and explaining the dangers of the island. Once that was finished, with no translation, they began taking people to shore by Zodiac boat. I could have swam to shore with the other enthusiastic, impatient folks, but Achebeyo insisted that my life would be cut tragically short if I left her to carry all of our gear to shore on her own. I opted to live longer.

The beach of not-so-much solitude.

As the island had grown in our view from the boat, it looked like that flat patch of barren coral was flipping us the bird. Upon closer inspection, it was merely the island’s diminished manhood in the form of a lighthouse and two oddly placed outbuildings.

Eff you too, island.

We had befriended a lovely couple on the boat: he a heart surgeon living in Philly, and she a medical manager from Jamaica. We bonded over “breakfast”, a Dutch meal comprised of sandwiches and boiled eggs. The jokes shared were funny in context, but hard to relate here. For instance, “I’ve never found anything like that in my butt before, officer” doesn’t really play well out of context. Regardless, we truly enjoyed hanging out with these two, as well as the Dutch couple who’s female participant I had previously bet on not yakking on the boat. They asked to borrow our snorkel gear when we weren’t using it, and I was happy to oblige. Any chance to share one of my most favorite activities in the world.

Achebeyo and I explored the ruined lighthouse, conveniently placed in the middle of the island, and then moved on to view the results of such strategic placement.

Who needs accurate maps when you’ve got a lighthouse?

Apparently, most charts showed this island as having a lighthouse at the eastern tip of the island, instead of smack-dab in the center. Makes late-night navigation a bit…wrecky. We made our way back to the beach in time for lunch, then walked down to where we were told the turtles were out in force. We saw three.

After some snorkeling and solo exploration of the island, I was able to convince Achebeyo that my life would end tragically if I was not allowed to swim back out to the boat before everyone else made it back there, if for no other reason than to secure our previous places on the upper deck. She finally relented and I made my chubby-dolphin way underwater back to the boat…only to find others had the same idea before me. Luckily, none of them wanted to stand, so our spots were available. We eventually made it back to the cove and the buses that would deposit us where we started from that morning. We didn’t manage to get contact information from the Dutch couple, but the first couple we chatted with gave us a business card and email addresses to stay in touch…which I’ve been unable to find after unpacking.

The last day was spent in a dogged attempt to find the Piranha Jack place (a compelling logo is a compelling logo), and hanging out at the Infinity Pool at the hotel. It’s a second-floor “beach” that starts out like this…

2nd floor beach access.

shows more of itself the closer you get…

Still 2nd floor beach.

then reveals its secrets only when you risk your expensive camera by swimming to the ocean edge of the pool:

Dive off that ledge and you’ll eat delicious rocks.

It was a wonderful novelty beach, but it lacked the thrill of potential stingray and jellyfish encounters. We soaked up as much shaded sun as we could endure, then cleaned up and went to dinner one last time. I tipped graciously, seeing as how I won $22 on penny-slots at the hotel’s casino. What can I say? The hotel gave us free $5 gambling cards and we had nothing else to do. Achebeyo’s card lasted less than 5 minutes, but at least she didn’t lose her own $5. Oh, and I managed to find that darn Piranha Jack store and get the requisite t-shirt.

On the way back, I nearly lost it at Miami International airport when a bored mother decided to let the rest of the airport babysit her sugar-amped child while she buried herself in a magazine. This kid was racing around for hours, flinging saliva and noise everywhere he could, but I was the bad guy when I shooed him away from me and my bags. I can live with that.

We returned to a feline overlord with a urinary tract infection and jobs that seemed far busier than they were before we left. At least, that’s my excuse for not writing sooner. Will we go back to Curaçao? Probably not. Am I glad we went once? If for no other reason than travel-bragging rights, yes.

When lethargy attacks!

February 27, 2013

Dear YOU,

I should be writing. I mean, I’m kind of writing now, but that’s not what I mean. I’ve got 99 problems, but creativity ain’t one. The blame lies solely in the hands of the universe. Responsibility, once effectively shirked, can be ignored like a pumpkin rotting on your neighbor’s porch. Plus, who can focus with all of the input?

First off, let me say that I admire you. If you made it this far in my blog without skimming for key, or inflammatory, words, it means you’re either heavily medicated, or able to channel your inner Jedi and pay attention to something not you. Not judging, both paths have merit.

You don’t look out at a vast sea of electronic input and think, Yes, thank you. And can I get that to go? Or do you? I guess I don’t really know you well enough to make that assumption. Do you start a compelling movie, game, book, blog or other fairly passive activity and then rapidly move on to the next bright, shiny object of your desire? Okay, so what if you do? I still respect you. Even if we’ve only known each other for a millisecond.

The thing is, there’s so much of my world designed to snag my attention away from anything else I happen to be doing at any given moment. For instance, I started playing Red Dead Redemption recently, and found it to be very compelling and fun. Since I got it after it was off the buy this now or you’re a scumbag list, it’s worthy of my new $20 Review category. Here’s the thing: before I could get spurs-deep in that game, one of my friends mentioned an online game that offers a 14-day trial to fly around the digital galaxies running errands for people to earn their respect. Who can say no to imaginary work for fun? Apparently not me. And so Red Dead takes an extended nap in my home next to its predecessor in abandonment, Mass Effect 3. Sleep well, inanimate princes.

At some point, once I’m distracted by something else relatively new and shiny, I’ll wonder why I thought mining ore to process into materials to sell at my space station was able to hold my attention for so long (long for me, mind you). At that point, I’ll think to write something else for you nearly as pointless as this.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing these games or their creators for their inability to hold my hummingbird-like attention for more than a few days at a time. I’m bashing the grouping of atoms that is me for not making an effort to stick with one time-wasting endeavor until it’s completed. Like taking my writing more seriously. I’m pretty sure you deserve better.

Look, I’ve bared my flaky self to you, but that doesn’t mean we’re involved or obligated. I just wanted you to know why you’re getting my B-game. It’s because that’s what I left on my mental shelf for you when I moved on to my C, D and E games.

Sincerely,

“$50 Says Achebeyo asks me who you are”

Blips on your Friday radar

February 1, 2013

In lieu of something substantial this week, I thought I’d stream some nonsense across this page and see what stays with you. For instance, it’s apparently very annoying to your co-workers if you sing the gibberish beginning of that Kid Rock song over and over. Now you’ve got another weapon in your pestering arsenal.

Have you ever noticed how the word arsenal starts with the word arse?

Since my game reviews tend to come only after everyone else has already tossed the game into the local trade-in store’s greasy pre-molested bin, and/or soulless superstore chains put them on sale for less than half their original price, I think I’ll start calling my posts $20 Reviews. Either that, or the much longer title I know I’m late to the party, but what’s the rush when you’re playing games the big companies convince you to get at midnight on release day because they know you have no life. They’ve both got their appeal.

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to try my best not to cast aspersions on creative people in a caffeinated, cheese-puffed rage that channels all of my pent up frustrations at never having created anything similar and focuses it like a maladjusted, anti-social laser on processes I can’t possibly understand. While I will point out features and functionality in games that might not resonate with me, it’s always with the knowledge that if my life depended on coding a pixel that moves to touch another pixel, you’d be spared these rambling posts for the rest of your own lives.

Along those same lines, I’ve long abandoned the tendency to wonder publicly if my soul was stolen or damaged by any given film or television project that I don’t personally appreciate. When you work in that industry, even at the lower levels where I lurk, you see the hard work and dedication everyone involved puts into every project. Spend a couple of 60-hr weeks on a set getting paid to pretend, then see how you feel when some basement-bachelor gastropod posts a foaming-at-the-mouth review of the work you just put in. My guess is, you’d feel like Ewe Boll and want to challenge these angst-ridden bile-bags to a publicized boxing match. Watch the movie Heckler on Netflix and see what you look like to the creative world when you bash people who have the stones to put themselves and their work up for the world to see without the veil of protective anonymity the Internet allows. It’s kind of fun to watch some smart-mouthed joystick jockeys get their posteriors handed to them by the filmmaker they blasted in their reviews.

Achebeyo and I are headed to Curaçao soon, if she doesn’t murder me in my sleep over a bag of mouth-destroying chips. Note to anyone still paying attention: never snarkily state your preference for roasted fecal-flakes over the product that was lovingly bought for you as a snack-surprise. If I survive until then, the Curaçao trip should provide some excellent stories and some beautiful dives that I can share with those of you still putting up with my nonsense.

If you love a good, quirky-fun story that also incorporates some elements of action and adventure movies, give Seven Psychopaths a try. The ensemble cast does a great job of playing their roles as average, everyday psychopaths, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a performance by either Christopher Walken (whom I admire greatly) or Sam Rockwell (one of my all-time favorite actors) more. Of course, Woody Harrelson and Colin Farrell deliver excellent performances that will make you wonder how you thought you knew their respective acting ranges. It’s the kind of movie that is poking fun at itself, while telling a few darker stories within the larger one. And if you don’t like it, do the honorable thing and challenge Martin McDonagh to a public fistfight…or, you know, write, direct, produce and film something comparable and see what kind of reviews you can get.

Quite the (Dis)honor

January 24, 2013
***I’ve been busy absorbing free radicals and raising my blood pressure at work, thereby fueling The Lazy nestled within me. Get through this review and I promise to post something self-aggrandizing or offensive soon.***

Have you ever wanted to sneak through a city populated by fascist whale killers and set right the wrongs that began when your beloved Empress was killed and you were framed for her murder? Too specific? Okay then, have you ever just wanted to play an exciting 1st person video game where you have many options for how to go about overthrowing the people that gave you the Imperial Shaft? Come along and share the guilty pleasure of being Dishonored with me.

When I asked for this game a while back, my only reason for having it on my list was that I saw a few seconds of a brief game play video in passing at a big chain store as I was shopping for other over priced items. I was smitten with what little I retained from that brief blip on my geekdar, but little did I know I was in for an eighty-hour sneakin’, sleeper-holdin’, rat-possessin’ ordeal.

This game, unlike most of its 1st-person shooter siblings, let’s you decide how much carnage you want to create, and wraps that into the end story when you finally force steaming piles of justice down the throats of the “bad” guys. Every action you take can either increase the chaos of the overall situation, or decrease it, creating the end result that the new leadership will inherit. The paths are many.

You can opt to hang your man-bag outside your trousers and flat-out end anyone who gets in your way (including noisy maids who can’t simply see that they’d be better off shutting their yappers and sleeping it off in a closet someplace); you can develop your mystic powers of blink and time-slowage and sneak through all of your objectives leaving nobody but the ultimate targets of your endeavors the wiser (quite possibly the toughest way to play); you can sneak-n-grab your way through the game, choking out unsuspecting guards, lodging industrial strength knock-out juice syringes in anyone you can’t put in a combat sleeper-hold, then hide their bodies in trash cans where they won’t be found by either their compatriots or the exceedingly voracious rat population. Heck, you can play any twisted combination of these styles in each mission.

Before I actually knew how I wanted to play, or what the heck I was actually doing, I would set off alarms and take extended dips in flesh-eating fish spawning areas to evade capture (only to suck seaweed after being nibbled to death). There were many alarmed guards who would force me to take the most honorable route and restart from before I set off their spider-sense, and not a few encounters with rocket towers I neglected to power down. Once I started to get a real feel for how I wanted to play, I began sneaking everywhere and leaving piles of snoring bodies in the dumpsters and closets everywhere I went. I’m guessing the remaining “alert” guards had a snoring filter on their hearing. There were  a few times I had no other choice (or slipped on the controller buttons during a ninja move) and sent a target to the electronic afterlife, but I always felt guilty enough to go back to a previous save and see if I could simply get them busted for dereliction of duty.

There’s a twist about midway through the game, but one you can see coming if you have the eyesight and common sense that enables you to hold a console controller in the playing out of this story. I won’t spoil it, except to ask what you would do with a badass like you if you hired yourself to bring down the illegitimate bad-guy ruling class so you could take over. You’d likely cut yourself some slack because it’s you in all the roles in my example. In the game, it isn’t as confusing as I’ve tried my best to make it here: you’re you (the electronic magic man you) and everyone else is not you. Clear? Moving on.

With all of the special powers you can develop, like blinking from point A to point B without detection, slowing time, special vision modes that not only let you see through walls, but let you see the cone of your enemies’ vision, summoning rat swarms to overwhelm your opponents, the ability to possess a rat, person or fish to perform only the most basic tasks, windy bitch-slaps and so on, you’d think this game would be a piece of cake-pie. Not even close. For some reason, some of the guards happen to notice when you drop their buddy with a well-placed night-night dart right in front of them. Oh, and they take offense at that. Weird, huh? Plus there are many potential consequences for each action you take. Possess a rat to get through a crowded checkpoint, and the guards will decide that you are one vermin too many in their plague-infested world, passing this decision on to you in the form of a boot across your spine. Just like in real life: die while possessing a rat, die for real.

While I managed to finish the final missions by stacking more napping bodies behind a boiler than should be reasonably possible, and darting everyone else, I did occasionally play into the amazing physics of this game and accidentally kill a few guards when I choked them out over a rail and watched them slide like a sock puppet over the edge to their demise. Regardless, I managed to finish the game with a low chaos rating and watched as the final cutscene played out what a darn decent human being I was for leaving such a wonderful world for the new Empress to inherit. While I may go back and play it at maximum chaos just to see how that ending differs, I’m not a fan of knifing unsuspecting guards just because I can. But, you know, violent games make violent people and all.

I honestly tried to find something bad to say about this game, but about all I could come up with was the graphics are not PC-grandiose. Do I really need to highlight how spoiled that makes me sound?

If you’re looking for a game that lets you tailor the play to your acceptable level of mayhem, while giving you abilities you forgot to list on your if I could have superpowers list, give Dishonored a try. My guess is, you’ll avoid some area of responsibility in the act of completing this thoroughly enjoyable game.

Thai for Two – part 4 (Muy Muy Samui)

January 16, 2013

***A weekend of unabashed laziness and a busy start to the work week is no excuse to not entertain people I don’t know.***

After Achebeyo and I finished battling over how much time we’d spend underwater, we decided to explore the resort and the surrounding neighborhood. The resort itself was gorgeous, even if their private beach was a bit unforgiving on unshod feet. They had several pools, two restaurants, a massage therapy clinic and much more than I’m currently able to adequately relate with my sleep-deferred memories. While we aren’t really resort-minded people, we’re definitely going back to this place in the foreseeable future, or else…you know, with the pouting and tears and stuff.

The surrounding neighborhood had a little 24/7 market where we picked up some much needed supplies (we live in the US, so that would be snacks), and a nice little open-air restaurant that served the best woon sen noodles I’ve ever had (it’s Thailand…HOME of authentic Thai food). We made it a point to go there every night for dinner, as it was a nice walk both ways.

After the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had on vacation (don’t get me started on Crete and the insanely noisy Irish tourists who all got hang-up calls from me at 6am, after they woke us up getting in at 4am), we awoke to prepare for what had been touted on the never-fallible Internet as one of the best dives I would ever have. The British ex-pat who ran our tour soon yanked (get it?) the rose-colored glasses off of our faces and informed us that during that time of the year, it was one of the worst dives we could go on in that part of the world. After losing my GoPro Hero camera and mask on the first dive, as well as having to buddy-breathe with Achebeyo on the second dive due to a faulty regulator on my rented gear, I wholeheartedly endorse this “worst” rating. Listen, can we stop talking about it? It’s making me agitated all over again. Suffice it to say that any diving we do there from now on will be with a different outfit, and likely in the Phuket region.

We set our sights on the next day’s land tour: Grandfather Rock (a decidedly phallic rock formation), a wildlife park, hand-carved statue garden on top of a mountain, and secluded waterfall with a natural rock pool big enough to jump into and splash the smiles from our fellow travelers. What? Everyone was jumping. I was just the only one doing cannonball drops.

Rock of (phallic) Ages

The best part of the day, for me, was the wildlife park. While I often go off the rails on other web sites about humans being the only species on this planet that hold other species prisoner for our own amusement, here on my site we’ll assume we don’t know that guy (it’s still wrong, but that type of tirade isn’t what I want for this blog; bash me all you want, faceless Internet personalities) and press on.

While there were many points of interest on this part of the trip, including breaking my rule of no trunk on the first date:

I trunk you too, bro…wait, are you drunk?

elephant “happy” endings:

Not me. I’m not stupid enough to put my junk in jeopardy like this.

king cobra dating advice:

Bite my lip once, shame on…me!

and prehistoric death-machine teasing:

I think I left my sock in there somewhere…

By the way, take a close look at the “wall” around the cobra love-zone. Where do you think an angry lord of the serpents goes when he’s tired of being sexually harassed in the workplace? That’s right! The audience! Thankfully, I’ve been snapped at enough by Achebeyo that I can avoid the much slower monarch of snakes.

After we rode an elephant around a large compound, we vowed never to do it again. Not only was the ride incredibly painful and awkward, the elephants all looked like they wished for a Dr. Pachyderm Kevorkian. Doesn’t make you feel very proud to be human. There was a picture of me practically laying on top of a full-grown tiger that might seem impressive if not for the obvious presence of substances that suppress the urge to maul and slowly digest greasy tourists. Still, it was worth a visit to elephant Alcatraz to say I courted contrived and controlled danger.

The rock garden was impressive, especially when you consider that these very heavy stones were hauled up the mountain one at a time by one man and his ox, back before steam-powered motor carriages were a sparkle in a Flemish man’s brain. The garden had many variations on different themes, including animals, houses, warriors and a Thai rock (no roll) band. The best pictures of that place were Achebeyo’s, and I’m too lazy to ask her for digital copies. One more reason you really need to visit the place yourself.

The following day, we arranged to rent a scooter and visit a local mall for souvenir gifts before heading to our appointment with what I can only describe as the absolute center of the serene universe: a resort spa where cameras were not allowed, and you felt like violating that rule would be like jamming an angry king cobra in your pants before landing your first commercial aircraft. Just plain wrong, in other words.

It was all outdoors, but constructed in such a way that you welcomed it. Even the men’s shower was outdoors, if properly secluded. It took me back to my nudist days, only with fewer opportunities for a bruised and battered body. We had enough time before our appointment to don their supplied sarongs, dip in the cooler outside pools before venturing into the steam heated Hobbit holes to sweat out the poisons. At one station, there was even a fruit-based body scrub that I indulged in because I knew this betrayal of manhood would never be witnessed by anyone else.

Before long, our massage therapists were ready for us, and they led us to a raised pavilion on a hill overlooking the whole compound (hello, me from earlier, showering nude outdoors!) and proceeded to provide the kind of G-rated massage that poets write epic poems about. At one point during the hour and a half session, I fell asleep to the sound of the gentle rainstorm that passed through while the birds were singing their little hearts out. If I could have applied for a job as furniture there, we wouldn’t be sharing this moment now. Stating that I will return would be like stating I’ll pass that nickle I accidentally swallowed on a dare: it will happen in time.

We spent the last day on the island being lazy and hanging out in our villa snacking on various salty goods. When it came time to leave, we had made such good friends with the staff that they actually teared up at seeing us go. While I’m rarely critical of any place we visit, it’s also rare for me to go out of my way to write glowing reviews. You know, The Lazy. The moment I had access to high-speed Internet, I was on Trip Advisor talking that place up like I owned it. We left a little piece of us there, and not just the usual skin cells and hair.

Back in Bangkok for one day before we left, we decided to keep it simple and just walk around the places we had already visited. We went back to the mall where we had the excellent meal, and even went into their basement aquarium attraction. It was interesting, if crowded. Since we were carry-on only passengers, we (she) had to limit what we (she) bought at the mall. We made it out of there with some candy and a few shirts.

The flight back to the US was long, made even longer by the impromptu, storm-dodging stay in Tokyo over night. Not the way I wanted my first trip to Japan to be, but it was better than becoming a real-life JJ Abrams story. Even that delay couldn’t dampen the post-travel, soft-fresh-cookie feeling of our Thailand visit. We agreed that we would do everything possible to make it back there in 2013. I think the amended agreement now reads, as soon as reasonably possible. Your own travel constitution should be amended to include a trip to this beautiful, friendly country. Or, you know, stay put and live vicariously through me.

Thai for Two – part 3 (Island of Salty Dreams)

January 11, 2013

If by now you haven’t decided to visit this beautiful country and interact with it’s friendly, helpful people (not counting the Devil’s tuk-tuk driver), perhaps I can entice you with tales of a mystical island only reachable by boat…or plane. Your choice. On this island, you’ll marvel at the swarms of scooters (which you’ll soon realize is the most effective and affordable way to get around on your own), you’ll make happy noises (hopefully with your mouth) at all of the wonderful sights to see and activities to participate in and you’ll only leave because you didn’t plan appropriately to be able to quit your job on the spot and just stay there for the rest of your life. I’m talking about Koh Samui.

These are the ones that DIDN’T have 3 or more passengers.

We made it back to our hotel from the Grand Palace with no trouble. We even knew enough about where we were going now that we didn’t need to consult our map of Bangkok and draw the helpful attention of the local population. We were 6-hr locals now. Ask us anything…anything that pertains to the 5-block radius around our hotel.

After showering for the second time that day, we ventured out to one of several malls in the local area, and one that would shame most American versions (except maybe the Mall of America, you know, that one on commercial-district steroids) and had dinner at a local Thai chain. The food was spicy enough that we were encouraged to select the mild spice. Even that was enough to set my scalp fountain to bubbling over. We headed back to the hotel to shower again and catch a few hours of sleep before our flight to Samui.

If there were any troubles on the flight from Bangkok to Samui, they didn’t generate enough angst for me to remember them and snark them up here. What I do remember is this:

Mecha-Buddha

You can see this massive statue from the air as you fly into the island’s airport. Again, it felt like something out of a non-crusty Harrison Ford movie. If, for some highly imaginative reason, you were stuck having to take on pilot duties over this area and didn’t know where you were going, you’d just look for the giant golden Buddha in the bay, then radio for someone to tell you how to land your first commercial aircraft. In the ensuing media circus, you couldn’t fail to mention that all was lost until Giant Golden Buddha saved the day.

While not excessively large, the island is big enough that the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel took about thirty minutes, and took us down some seedy-seeming back alley before depositing us here:

The lobby of paradise.

Once again, we were afforded the privilege of being labeled as persons of moderate spending, and upgraded to a villa for a nominal fee. When I say “villa”, I really mean, miniature private compound within the boundaries of the resort. We had a privacy wall with a locking privacy gate; we had our own private mini-pool; there was even a pond, fountain and mini-Zen garden. I made up my mind that this would be the model for my retirement compound…wherever and whenever that might be. I would have taken pictures of it, but I was so smitten, and ego-boosted, that I simply forgot to make that effort. Take my word for it: it was paradise. Actually, don’t take my word for it. Go stay at Renaissance Koh Samui and tell me I’m full of it. I’ll pretend not to notice, but you’ll have the self-righteous pleasure of trying to get my attention in a negative way.

Achebeyo and I soaked in all of the calm of this place, then began the verbal Battle of Tour Suggestions – Samui Edition. We would eventually settle on one SCUBA excursion and several shore tours. Interestingly enough, the shore tours would be the highlight of my trip, while the SCUBA trip would see me lose my GoPro Hero 1 and buddy breathe with Achebeyo because of faulty dive equipment.

Continued in Thai for Two – part 4 (Muy Muy Samui)


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