Friday, June 22, 2012

How we paid our debt...

How we paid our debt...

I’d like to share the story of how Laura and I paid off $54,000 in debt in about 10months. We’re sharing the story because we love sharing our lives, but also to inspire and encourage you in your financial situation. Here’s how we did it:
When Laura and I got engaged in August 2011 we became extra proactive in paying off her student loans both private and subsidized loans and remaining car debt totaling to $54,000. Post college, Laura was only able to afford the minimum monthly payments on the loans and was living very simply to make it from month to month. By making the minimum monthly payments, would have been debt free in 2042 at age 57! I told her that I believed we could get it paid off in at least 2 years. She was a little skeptical at first, but soon her mind was changed. I thought that 2 years was more than enough time as long as we lived simply, worked hard, trusted God, and continued to give generously. We got married October 23rd, 2012 and were able to pay off $10,000 in the first 3 months. This happened through radical SAVING. For example, once we got engaged Laura chose to move into my parents house during the engagement period. She was able to get to know my parents and family on a deeper level and also save money by not paying rent. We lived simply and planned a budget-friendly wedding. We also used ALL of our wedding gift money towards debt. We also created a “once used registry” and warmly welcomed used items and second hand furniture as wedding gifts. This was a huge blessing and allowed the Body of Christ to come together to fill our house with everything that we possibly needed.  It also gave us a surplus of items and furniture in our garage. (Going from having nothing to having a surplus of nice things in only a matter of weeks ignited an idea in my mind for a few months down the road).
After marriage, we merged two people onto one income. We were able to live on my income and put all of Laura’s full time salary towards debt. It was a tight squeeze, but we were able to live on one support-raised income.  Laura challenged herself to plan meals and keep the grocery bill at $40 a week. I challenged myself to scavenge for lunches. With a $2 allowance I had to “scrounge” or eat leftovers. You could always find me circling around the free table at the office! One important principal we lived by was to budget every dollar that we earned. We would try to stick to our budget and not have any “free money” that didn’t have a name on it. Knowing exactly where our money was going allowed us to not take for granted the money that we had earned.
My role at the local church is what provided our basic means. It is a one that depends on me receiving monthly donations from my support team. Most months we received all we needed but hardly ever did we have any cushion. Also, with my support raised salary, I am restricted under Federal Law to use any support raised money to pay off school loans.  Any money that I wanted to contribute to pay off our student loans would have to come through other jobs. Having been a Registered Nurse since 2006 I found a flexible job with a Home Health nursing agency. This allowed me to see as many or as few patients as I wished while seeing them at the times that I wished to do so. I was able to maintain my full time job at Antioch and see a few patients on the side.
THEN! About 4 weeks after being married, Laura and I find out we are pregnant! We were shocked, excited, and nervous all at the same time. Within 24 hours the sobering thought of having another mouth to feed while barely making it each month begin to really sink into my mind. I looked Laura straight into the eyes with determination and said “Ok. You are pregnant. I can handle that. This just means that I will need to work harder because I don’t see our 2 year plan of debt free living as an option any more. Our new goal is to get out of debt before the baby comes.” Laura chuckled a little and said “Well I didn’t think we would have such an enormous amount paid off so far, but God has provided in abundance so far. If you really think it can happen, go for it! I think it might take a lot longer but we will just see what happens.”
Knowing that I would be taking care of my wife, my child, and I put the fear of God on how I was living. Laziness was never really an issue for me, but I did see where I wasn’t using the full potential that God has graced me with. God has put a grace on my life to work hard. I mean really hard. With this in mind, I knew that for a short SEASON I needed to push hard, if I wanted to see a large amount of debt eradicated.
I looked at my schedule to find out how I can effectively pour out 45 hours to my job working as the Inner City Children’s Ministry Director.  In a resolve to get out of debt before my child was born I made my schedule a little more tight as I took on twice as many patients with the home health agency and also started a second nursing job teaching nursing students on Thursdays for 12 hours in the clinical setting. Now my nursing jobs averaged 20 hours a week on top of a 45 hour a week job at my church.
Sixty-five hours a week of intense work allowed us to make extra debt payments and by the grace of God another opportunity came our way, a garage sale! We found that our friends in Waco were so thankful to both get rid of old furniture while also blessing a new young couple. Some people’s junk is another person’s treasure.  A dream formed of starting my own “junk collecting business”. It didn’t seem too glamorous at the time and honestly neither I nor Laura thought it would actually pay off. I was hoping that maybe we could make $500 to $1000 selling items that people donated to us. What I didn’t initially realize is that there are A LOT of people that wanted to get rid clutter. I ended up initiating with about 1000 of “my closest” facebook friends letting them know I am collecting stuff for a garage sale to pay off school loans. About half of the people I initiated with never responded back. The other half responded either with a “yes” or a “no”. This left us with about 150 people who gave us their unwanted items. Our two car garage can handle about 50 people’s unwanted items. Laura was great with me putting stuff in the garage but also said that putting people’s random stuff all over our home will not be tolerated! I kept my limited space in mind from the very start of this “junk collecting” business so any time something large or of value entered the garage I would immediately try to sell it on craigslist, consignment of ebay. If I was pressed for time and was running out of space in my garage then I would hire out friends to help me sell the items online. All of this work allowed us to make $3000 even before having our garage sale!
After 3 months of initiating with people, collecting their items and literally packing it all to the ceiling of our garage we had our Mega Yard Sale. Our big sale required about 30 people to help set up from 4am to 7am. That Saturday and Sunday sale brought in $3,600! More money came after the sale as we would hire senior citizens that we met on Craigslist to sell our left over items at the Flea Market with them keeping 50% of the money they made.
To pull off working full time at the church, part time home health nursing, part time nursing instructing, and part time “junk dealing” was a taxing effort. I worked about 80 to 90 hours a week from January 1st to April 1st. This brought great wear and tear on my physical and mental well being, but I knew that this stretch would only be temporary. Both God and Laura were gracious to me. J
Working really hard, receiving the grace of God expressed in a nice tax return and receiving a few miracles donations we went from about $30,000 in debt to about $4,000 in debt in the first four months of 2012. The remaining amount was paid by Laura’s salary, extra nursing side jobs and the remaining items that were sold through the end of May as we continued to work diligently, give generously and live simply. Praise God!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011 The Year of Earthbound

If you want to read about how Earthbound has overlapped with my faith in God then check out my post here:

Through travel, birthdays, dating, engagement, marriage and now the expectation of my first baby- Earthbound keeps being brought to the surface in my life. In fact almost every month of 2011 I received some sort of Earthbound reminder...


Marked my last month to live in what seemed to be the "Deep Darkness" swamp (Cambodia).


My family and friends throw me an Earthbound stlye Birthday party!

I start dating Laura. During one of our first serious talks I tell her what any girl needs to hear before moving forward with an EB junkie; I tell her of my love for the mid 90s 16-bit game known as Earthbound. From that point on she knew to love me was to love Earthbound.

I go to Earth's version of Scaraba (Egypt) and see the pyramids.


I use Earthbound sprites to make my own “RPG profile” to help me keep up with my goals in life.

I propose to Laura. As an engagement gift she gives me an Earthbound Jigsaw puzzle! Thanks to viking011 at Deviant art for the permission to use his art for my gift.

Tiny Tower phone app Earthbound style!

I get married to Laura! During his speech, my best man takes my affection for the game to help illustrate my affection for my wife. Also I got to use viking011 picture again but this time for my groom's cake!

Laura and I move into our new house. As a symbolic gesture of beginning a new life, I paint a “text box” themed chalk board in my office similar to what you would see at the beginning of a new EB game!

It turns out Laura is pregnant! Many of my facebook friends ask if I am going to name him/her Ness. After seeing the sonogram of our child I can see how some theorists suggest that Giegue might have been a fetus...

My wife gets me a custom made Starman shirt packed in a Ness gift bag! Merry Christmas to me!

If you want to read about how Earthbound has overlapped with my faith in God then check out my post here:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Story of Travis and Laura

Dating story from Laura: Travis and I met in 2007 when we did Elevate together- a DTS at our church. The first memory that I have of Travis was a group of us both going to a local production of Pride & Prejudice. That's my favorite book, and I was super excited about the play. He didn't know anything about Jane Austen stories and he thought it was really boring. I guess he wanted more action and less proper English. We hung out throughout the year of Elevate and were friends.
In 2008, I moved overseas and in 2009 he moved overseas. We both supported each other and were excited for the adventure each of us had ahead of us. We both loved our time in those countries.
In 2010, I moved back to America and was living with my best friend, Amanda Espinosa. Travis came back home from Cambodia for Tony and Paige Marinos' wedding. He hung out a lot at the Espinosa's, where I was living. In that time we had some extra long conversations, cups of coffee at 6am (he doesn't even drink coffee), playing very extreme games like Extreme Uno (when I discovered the ONE thing that makes Travis gag), and we also began to like each other.
Travis went back to Cambodia for a time, and came back in February 2011. About a week or two later, he asked me to have breakfast with him. And I said yes, for the first time. The first yes of many. We continued to date and spend time together. I began to see how much I really liked Travis.

Engagement Story from Travis: I knew I wanted to marry Laura and I told her this on the Fourth of July. We had a few weeks of talking about our wedding and even planning our wedding before we were formally engaged. We called this period of our relationship the "engaged to be engaged" period. I would often call her my "pre'ance" instead of my fiance.
On August 1st, Laura, our small group and myself took a 3 day get away at the beach. It was there that I took her on a spontaneous breakfast picnic along the shore. At the picnic, I showed her a collage drawing that I sketched depicting our relationship's history. Immediately after this I "rushed" her into walking back with me. At the time she felt as if I was ruining the mood by brisking her along so quickly. Little did she know what question was soon to be popped.
On the half mile walk back to the condo together we found 5 sea shells that I left for her to discover. After collecting the seashells, I continued a 7 minute long encouragement, in which she was wondering "is he going to go all the way with this?" Finally I led her to a message written really big in the sand saying "Will you marry me?". I got on one knee, and I asked her "Will you marry me?". Then she said "yes" and wrote yes in the sand. Our friends were there watching the proposal and were cheering as she agreed to be my wife.

SAVE THE DATE!!! October 23rd!

For more info check out our wedding website:

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Gospel According to Earthbound

Hey everyone. I wrote this for an online Video Game Network that I am a member of. Hopefuly it helps shed light on the truth of Jesus. I think it is fun that God is wanting to use all things to draw people to Him. He is even using video games. Feel free to ask me anything you like about it. I hope you enjoy!

The Gospel According to Earthbound(Revealing how events in Earthbound relate to salvation through Jesus Christ)

To many players Earthbound serves as a reflection and as a reminder of what is important in life. When some play the game they are reminded of the power of friendship, wisdom and courage. To others it reminds them of the “good old days.” A time where living was innocent, fun and without the demands of life that we face in our present day and age. For me when I think about Ness, Earthbound and the different elements in the game I think about Jesus, his life and what he has done for mankind. I believe that this great story can be used to tell an even greater story. In this article I am simply reviewing parts of Earthbound and then comparing it to the life of Christ. I am going to attempt to convey the similarities I see between the two in order to show that possibly God is wanting to use Earthbound to draw people to himself. I respect the fact that many readers of this article might not be Christian. I am open to hear your thoughts on anything I have put in here or anything that I might have left out.

It is plain to see that throughout the Mother series song, prayer and faith are used as channels to release power against darkness. Could these spiritual elements have been put in the game so players could be pointed to a higher being? Was Earthbound intentionally released by Nintendo so people could be led to Christ? Honestly, probably not. In fact Shigesato Itoi lives in a predominately Buddhist nation, possibly is a Buddhist and the game is filled with elements that reflect religions other than Christianity. Not to mention the fact that Ness and his crew are often doing things that don’t necessarily seem “Christian.”Honestly I don’t know enough about Itoi to say what his intentions were (if any at all) in putting elements of faith into his creation. One thing I am confident in is this, when I think about Earthbound I am reminded so much of the life of Jesus and what he has done for the people of Earth.

Let’s revisit Earthbound looking at specific events that I will later compare to events in Jesus’s life. Before Ness even entered onto the scene “The Apple of Enlightenment” predicted that The Chosen Four would come and defeat Giygas. This would save Earth from annihilation and make Ness the great savior for mankind. In the beginning of Ness’s adventure a creature from afar by the name of Buzz Buzz came as a messenger announcing to Ness his significant destiny. After much travel and adventure Ness paired up with Paula and then Jeff. In the beginning of Poo’s journey, he underwent spiritual training before uniting with his team. Poo is tested as he discerns truth and denies self-gratification. Once his series of temptations are over he then meets his team.

The Chosen Four did many great things that helped a number of people. Their conflict was not against people but was against the evil that influenced the individuals. They tenaciously fought against evil minions in the form of demons, aliens and robots sent by Giygas so that people could be protected. They delivered people from evil possession; they helped solve problems and truly cared about those they came across. The team also helped one another by using powers of physical healing and the ability to revive unconscious teammates. Their love for another was evident in all they did.

Throughout the journey The Chosen Four searched out locations called “Your Sanctuary” where they found peace, quite, reflection and renewal after they defeated the evil that initially inhabited the location. Without going to these locations the team would not have the power to defeat evil. After discovering all eight “Your Sanctuary” spots Ness then went deep inside his mind, into Magicant where he faced his worst fears. The very core of Magicant is the Sea of Eden which held a great evil. This evil had the appearance of the Mani Mani statue, the evil that resided since the near beginning of the game. Once Ness faced and defeated his own nightmare he then reunited with his friends in order to defeat the very essence of evil, Giygas.

To defeat Giygas Ness and his team had to transform from human to robot. This took great courage and humility when they chose to become less than themselves taking the very nature of a machine. Going from a person to a robot is an act of humility. This is so because of the superiority that humans have to metallic objects. Choosing to not stay human but taking the nature of a robot was a key element in the defeat of Giygas.

The prayers of the people around the world led to the end of the rein of evil in the lives of the people of Earth. Paula would pray initiating with their friends and followers worldwide who would then respond to this urge within them to pray. This unity in prayer brought a defeat to Giygas. People were no longer in bondage to the evil that once possessed them. The heroes were then resurrected, crossed over space and time to be brought back to their Earthly bodies. The world had become a better place as Ness and friends became the saviors of the world just as the prophecy had predicted.

Now let’s look at the life of Jesus in relations to the Earthbound story above. A prophecy about The Chosen Four defeating evil was declared many years before Ness and his team even walked the Earth. Many prophecies were stated hundreds of years about Jesus before he was born. The prophet Isaiah declared that that Jesus would deliver the world from sin and it’s evil (Isaiah 53:5). “The Apple of Enlightenment” predicted that The Chosen Four would deliver the world from evil. It was an “apple” that “enlightened” the first man and first woman of evil, sin and death (Genesis 3). Soon after they were enlightened God provided a way to cover their shame with the skin of a sacrificed animal (Genesis 3:21). This sacrifice was the first prophecy that pointed to Jesus who would be the great sacrifice for all of mankind’s shame, sin and evil. The story of Jesus and Earthbound both have a prophetic message that begins with an “apple” that “enlightens.”Both these messages are of deliverance from evil for mankind.

Worth noting are a couple similarities between the beginning portion of The Chosen Four’s adventure and the start of the journey of Jesus. The long traveled Buzz Buzz announced Ness’s significant destiny so did the angel Gabriel announce the significant of Jesus to his mother Mary (Luke 1:30-38). Poo underwent trials and temptations where he was challenged with distractions and that of denying himself. Poo passed this test with flying colors as he stayed focus on the task at hand. A similar incident happened with Jesus as he fasted for forty days without food or water in the wilderness. Satan tempted him with distractions that would satisfy Jesus’s momentary needs but Jesus refused to give in to any temptations. Jesus passed his test flawlessly just as Poo did. The incident Jesus triumphed over was proof that he never sinned even under temptation (Luke 4:1-13). I am not saying that Poo and Jesus were fasting, mediating and were under temptation for the same reason or purpose. Dalaam appears to be a Buddhist nation and Poo’s Mu training had more Buddhist influence than Christian by obvious observation. If Poo was real he would most likely be a Buddhist not a Jew or a Christian. The point I want to make is that both the fictional character Poo and the historical character Jesus were tempted but did not fall for the temptation.

As stated earlier The Chosen Four lived a life that helped and loved people. They did not fight against people but they fought against the evil that inhabited the individuals. The same is true for the life of Jesus. He loved people and it showed by his actions, words and life. He cared about people’s well being, delivering them from the control of evil just as Ness and his crew did. Jesus miraculously fed the hungry, healed the sick, controlled the weather and raised the dead (all similar to situations happening in Earthbound). His abilities were used to show his power, to help others, defeat evil and to show others that he can be trusted (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These are similar reasons The Chosen Four had when using their special powers.

Jesus entered into sanctuary locations pulling away to be alone so that he could also find peace, quite, reflection and renewal similar to what Ness and his friends did. In Jesus’s sanctuary spots he talked to his father who is in Heaven because he knew that apart from the Father the Son can do nothing (John 5:19). I see a similarity here. Jesus cannot destroy the work of Satan apart from his father. Ness being apart from his sanctuary spots can do nothing in defeating Giygas.

In Magicant Ness had to face his fears. Jesus had to face great agony as he waited in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. Note that both Ness and Jesus had to do this alone, with no one by their sides. Jesus being fully God and fully man knew that being killed was going to be painful. He faced and defeated this nightmare as he chose to accept what needed to be done without backing down (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46). In the center of the Sea of Eden was Ness’s Nightmare in the form of the Mani Mani statue. The statue was a symbol of evil that existed since the near beginning of the game. It had wicked influence on people throughout Earthbound. In the Bible, sin and its evil influence on man began in the center of the Garden of Eden when man and woman chose to disobey God. Jesus came to destroy the origins of evil just as Ness destroyed an icon that represents the origin of evil for the people of Earthbound. Both of these evils have ties with the Garden and the Sea of Eden. Coincidence? I think not. Hold on tight for this next part. Ness went into Magicant to face his nightmare that “represents” the origin of evil. Overcoming it would allow him to move forward in seeing evil delivered from the world just as “The Apple of Enlightenment” had predicted. Now let’s parallel it with Jesus. He went into Gethsemane where he faced the nightmare of being the sacrifice for the destruction of the origin of evil which is sin. Accepting the fact of his life as a sacrifice without refusal allowed him to move forward in seeing evil delivered from the world just as the original prophecy stated. Remember this is the prophecy that occurred in the Garden of Eden immediately after the “apple” was eaten that brought the “enlightenment” of sin and death (Genesis 3:21). In the center of Eden stands the ultimate nightmare the protagonists must face; their sacrifice for the purpose of delivering people from evil, which has been prophesied over their lives since the dawn of the ages!

The Chosen Four was able to enter into the battle against “The Devil’s Machine” because they took on the nature of a machine. Jesus was able to enter into the battle with the devil because he took on the nature of man. Ness and company went from humans to robots. They went from a superior being to an inferior structure for the fate of mankind. The Chosen Four doing this had much humility and tremendous amounts of courage. Jesus did not become a robot. However, he did make a decision that caused him to take on an inferior nature. This took great humility and courage similar to what The Chosen Four displayed when they took on the nature of a robot. Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7). He went from fully God seated in the Heavenly realms to being God found with the appearance of a man living on Earth (Philippians 2:5-9). Going from the all powerful creator of the Universe to becoming a “seemingly” common everyday man takes much humility. Being put to death, defeating Satan and then being raised to life takes tremendous courage. Both Jesus and The Chosen Four took on the nature of something more inferior to what they previously were.

In Earthbound the prayers of the people around the world was the “final x-factor” leading to the defeat of Giygas. This caused the world to be free from its evil influence and the bondage it put on people’s lives. Everyone was able to get this free gift of deliverance whether they wanted it or not. However in the Christian faith it is different in one aspect but also similar to the Earthbound situation in another aspect. It’s different in that Jesus does not force anyone to receive this free gift of salvation but instead each individual must choose to accept it or not. It is similar in both Earthbound and in real life in that there is an “initiation” and a “response” that serves as the “final x-factor”. Paula initiated by praying, hoping for a response. In one way she was saying “Here we are, we want to defeat evil. Do you want it also? If so let us know. Please let us know!” With Jesus there is also an “initiation” and a “response.” He is saying “Here I am, I have defeated evil. Do you want to be free from it? If so let me know. Please let me know!” (Romans 10:9) In both the game and in reality there is freedom from all evil through this initiation and response system. The initiation is Paula’s plea for prayers and in our case Jesus’s plea for us to go to him (Revelation 3:20). The response that defeated Giygas and his evil was the one that prayed and the response that defeats Satan and all of our sin is the heart that says yes to Jesus’s invitation. If the people that Paula prayed to didn’t responded they couldn’t be saved. If people don’t respond to Jesus they can’t be saved either (John 14:6).

The observations in this article show how Earthbound has similar events and uses certain key words that reflect important concepts in the life of Jesus. As I said from the beginning Shigesato Itoi probably did not make Earthbound to point people to Jesus. However that doesn’t mean the game cannot be used to direct people to him. God wants all people to be drawn to his grace and he is using every possible means to make his love known. He is even using Earthbound.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 3

It's a good thing I am a nurse, I can get as much dirt in my wounds as I desire without any consequences!

We tried to climb this but after 4 steps we were stopped. Experienced temple travelers told me that I should of bribed them.... maybe next time. :)

The dirt and pain was well worth it to see many breath taking sights such as this Thai/Cambodian border temple.

Day 3
Early in the morning Michael and the Khmer stranger that welcomed us into his home set out together to find the road that leads to the town. There they would buy water and gas. After extended sleep I awaken to moms who are nursing their kids in front of me. Of course they weren’t “shy” and would “let it all hang out” even for a lengthy period after the feeding. After a few hours Michael and the man returned looking exhausted. Mike told me that the second moto ran out of gas and he had to push for the last 30 minutes while the man stared at him and smoking strange homemade cigarettes. Michael and I enjoy the bottled water and then ventured off to find the broke down bike that we left behind the day before. After an hour or so of getting lost, avoiding land mines and receiving more cuts on my bare feet we finally see my bike tipped over onto the ground. I am thrilled to find the moto because with it is my backpack containing my extra shoes and medical supplies used to wrap my sprains, wounds and cuts all throughout my limbs. By the grace of God the bike is able to start. On our way out we stopped by our new found Khmer friend’s house. They told us that the small town was about 2 hours away (which was a true estimation for once). Of course on the way out I fell off my bike and got stuck in the mud in front of the Khmer people who helped us. (Sorry Michael….lol)
The Hidden Temple
Like before we had to travel through many muddy trails so that we could reach the small town. Not having experience with mud biking before and now doing it 2 days straight I gained necessary “on the job training” that allowed me to survive. I was tired of falling in the mud so I was determined to do WHATEVER it took to maneuver the clutch, the brakes, the gas and my own feet position in relation to the mud beneath me in order to minimize my falling. About 30 minutes before reaching the town we come across “The Hidden Temple.” Not many tourist see this temple because of its remote location. In fact VERY few will EVER encounter this temple during the rainy season (we are part of that few).Grass and moss covered nearly the entire temple and it looked as if it hadn’t been visited in ages. The temple was beautiful and it was a visible sign of our determination and effort. However I was too exhausted to enjoy it much. We stayed for less than 10 minutes as we both desired to eat food, drink clean water and sit in chairs. We continue our path of mud and slowly the trail begins to become more developed until eventually it is like the dirt road we originally started on 3 days before.
In the small town
My world view for 50+ hours has been jungles, rice farms and mud with occasional interactions with forest people. Arriving into town I experienced some “reverse culture shock.” In the town we were able to sit at a restaurant table with a table cloth… A TABLE CLOTH! I haven’t seen anything resembling a table in what felt like ages! We told the cook to make us whatever they had, which was eggs, onions and rice. There was at least half an onion in each scrambled egg plate. Normally this wouldn’t be my “1st preference” in how I would eat my eggs but at this point I DIDN’T CARE. I savored every last onion and nearly licked the plate as I was enamored with satisfaction! A can of 7up seemed unreal like a magic potion of happiness, there was bottled water everywhere, and we even met Khmer people that spoke some English! We were in a whole different world. Being in this town gave us the opportunity to drive faster than the pace of an ox-cart( as we have been accustomed to). As we enjoyed this new change of pace we soon realized that our brakes, our clutch and a number of other things needed to be fixed. The town we were in didn’t have anyone that could work on our moto. We had decided that as quaint as this little spot was we can’t stay, we HAVE to keep moving.
Heading to the city
Though our motos were in poor shape we had no choice but to keep moving. Hearing about how dangerous and confusing the roads are ahead we decided to hire a guide to go with us on his own moto. The 3 of us encountered the same type of gruesome paths as before but now we had some one with us that had some experience in this world of mud. We had enough mud, dirt, swamp and feces to keep us more than occupied for well over 2 hours. Around this time I noticed that I was really starting to get the hang of mud biking. I am learning which mud sinks and which mud stinks. I am deciding with wisdom when my only choices of path are either-“ bad, worse or impossible.” This realization of skill gave me a boost of confidence but also a boost of pride. About an hour into this trail I had a lesson in humility that I won’t soon forget. About 20 seconds ahead of me I saw Michael stuck in pitch dark mud waving his hands and yelling “Stop! Stop!” I thought, “Silly Michael stuck in the mud, you should have driven faster, like ME.” So of course in my pride I speed up thinking that “I, Travis the great driver of the moto” can surely skip right past this insignificant black mud. And sure enough my bike stops, my back tire SINKS and I am stuck alongside Michael.
Pond of Pig Poop (you might want skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach)
Plain and simple the black mud is a vast open area of pig feces, pig urine, pig vomit and possibly scant traces of dirt and mud. We are stuck 2 motos and 2 Americans. By the grace of God our guide had sense enough not to get stuck in the poo. This sewer swamp was vile. It was knee deep and about the area of an average American living room. The texture was like walking in 3 feet deep wedding cake (everyone knows what it’s like to step in wedding cake right?). It suctioned to our whole legs even worse than the crud we encountered the day before. Every time we took a step we would have to use all of our force to lift one leg. I almost lost my shoes as the poo of death nearly swallowed me alive. To get the bike out all 3 of us would get under one wheel of the moto and pull with all of our might and move it as far as we could. We were so determined to move it that often we would fall flat into the poo in hope of moving the bike a couple more feet. My thought process was “This is the worst experience imaginable but the only thing worse is STAYING IN THIS MESS!” Not wanting to stay stuck in feces we moved both moto’s (one at a time) out of the crud (even if that meant a face full of poo as we would “rev” the engine for momentum). At this point we had cuts and scratches all over us from our wilderness trek. As we wrestled our bikes out of this mess our open sores became the new home for mass quantities of bacteria (Praise the Lord for Amoxicillin).
River Break
We drove off, away from the poop pond while several Khmer pig farmers laughed at us as we were covered in their pig’s bowel movements. After many miles of riding with a coating of crud crusting onto our skin we approached a fresh (yet muddy) river! We immediately got off our bikes and washed up. I got on my stomach and opened my mouth and drank at least a couple liters of water to replenish myself. Unsanitary water never tasted so good! Immediately next to the river was our final major challenge. A HUGE uphill mud slide that would require a full speed elevated ride in slippery mud- and for once I made it without falling!
A Dirt Road!
The 2 hours of our journey after leaving the small town was difficult (yet funny in retrospect) but worth it to reach the dirt road right at sunset! Wow! No mud and water, only dirt, dust and gravel, something we haven’t had in days. The downside- we were still over an hour and half away from our final destination. We had our hearts set on a near city that had both a guest house (like a motel) and moto repair man. This guest house was complete with shower, clean water and a laundry service! 1.5 hours of riding this dirt road of opportunity was complicated since both bikes had brakes that were out, the clutches were loose and the gas is so hard to twist on the handle bars that it was forming blisters on our bacteria infested hands. Also my moto had broken head lights and because my helmet goggles were tinted I had to choose between-“ not seeing anything because of the tint and no head light” OR “not seeing anything because dirt, dust, pebbles and bugs are flying into my eye while still having no headlights.” I took a risk and chose the latter.
The Journey Ends (or is it the beginning?)
After 3 days of ridiculous mud swamp exploration where we dragged busted up dirt bikes through forests and mine fields (wondering, will we live to tell this story?) we found ourselves back in civilization. Officially off of our "Ancient Highway" we caught our breath and discussed which temples we wanted to visit next (ones that didn't require DAYS of mud trail travel to reach). We rested well in our $13 a night guesthouse for a few days, treated our wounds, had some laughs and then set out to pursue further adventure in this great nation of Cambodia!
Interested in more moto action...
Take a look at- Cambodian Driving Lessons (by yours truly)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 2

Our first family
Me driving (I broke the left mirror)

I am glad to be alive.
random Cambodia pic

Day 2
Early the next day we arose as the roosters crowed. We drank some more out of the “community water bucket”, gave the family some money for their hospitality and also some clothing to them since all they owned was the mere pieces of clothing they had on their frail bodies. As we get on our bikes we immediately see that they won’t start. Mike switches into problem solving mode. We take apart different pieces including the battery, starter and fuses box and do an in-depth detail job removing the copious amount of mud lodged into important parts of the moto. About an hour of detailing didn’t solve our problem so we tried another tactic. Together we all pushed one of the motos down a hill while Mike tried to start it as he and the bike gained momentum. After about 7 tries we have success! One down one to go. The second bike was in worse condition (possibly because I dropped it 60+ times in the muddy water). To get this one working we decided to “jump it.” Of course we didn’t have jumper cables but we had some metal wire which worked great (sort of). Eureka! It worked we have two working motos again! We were on a way to find “The Hidden Temple” we have been searching for.

Darker and Muddier
Every time Michael says “Whatever you do, DON’T fall in front of the Cambodians” (this embarrasses him), what do I do?… I fall! On our way out from our host family’s house I get stuck in the mud and fall. The kids then come and help me out (funny for them [and me] but embarrassing for Michael). The family told us that the rest of the way will be easier (Khmer will tell Americans anything to make us happy) but it was far from that. Our “Highway of Mud” led us into a thicket of woods that was dark, muddy, wet and full of fallen over trees causing us to find temporary paths that were more dangerous than the “established path” known as “The Ancient Highway” recommended by our guide book(established path, what a joke!). The path was worse on the second day and here is why: this narrow mud trail is mostly traveled by people on carts pulled by 4-6 oxen. Big, smelly overworked oxen with heavy wooden carts that dug DEEP into the mud causing unspeakably awful trails to form behind where ever they traveled .This revolting muddy trail led us to what we “thought” was the end of our journey an un-passable river.
The River
This body of water was about 50 feet across and 4 to 5 feet deep that no moto can drive across. I was secretly hoping this would be our opportunity to go back but God provided another way. As we explored the area we noticed three things. ONE, river water is better than no water. TWO, right after crossing the river we would have to go up a 20 foot- uphill-mud slip and slide. THREE, far away we could hear the faint sound of a motorcycle- our saving grace. Soon enough two police officers (with big machine guns) came and they helped us cross the river (of course they asked for a small fee). The 4 of us carried the bikes across the river and we all pushed it up hill! They tell us that we are about 1 hour away from the town but we soon found out that this is far from the truth.

It Gets Worse
After making it up the muddy hill we were brought into a new terrain. We still had lots of mud and water but now also we had really TALL grass. It was more difficult because with the grass there were trees that scraped our arms and legs as we went by. Also in this area were 100s of landmines left over from the Khmer Rouge (I encourage you to look this up if you would like to learn more). Rainclouds began to form that brought in a light sprinkle. We drove miles and miles through mud, water and tall grass and we start to feel as if we were in a survival movie or possibly a Vietnam War scene. We have no food or water, my wallet is gone, our motos have been going nonstop for 2 days, we were in the middle of nowhere with landmines surrounding us, our bodies were filled with contaminated water as well as a plethora of cuts, bruises and insect bites. And then it happened… a dead tree blocking our path causing us to take the “off-off road” route for a small detour where I get stuck like never before.
Mud of Torment (skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach)
This detour around the fallen tree had a path like no other- I compare it to the smell and appearance of the inside of a humid barn containing ill cows with loose bowels causing their feces to gather. The appearance and the fragrance was like a combination of both fresh and rotting manure churned with sticky warm mud. The texture was like standing in 3 feet of wet yet firm thanksgiving dressing (I officially ruined thanksgiving for you- sorry). All of it had a suction quality that would grasp for our legs and feet and bikes. Mike, my moto and myself sat and sank in the mud of torment. So much force was necessary even to lift a leg. To get the bike out I tried to drive as Michael pushed. This only caused feces and mud to be splattered all over us while the bike remained stuck. To move on we had to physically lift the moto out of this turd pit and pull it out. A process of reaching deep into the squishy brown mystery mud (yes, actually grasping manure) to get under the tire and then lift with all of our strength just to move the moto a few feet. We did this several times until my bike was out of this misery.
Out of Gas
The deep suction cow crud swallowed the socks and shoes right off of my feet but I couldn’t let that slow us down. I am tired of this but not wanting to give up, with no shoes my feet receive the “sand paper” treatment from the passing thorns and brush. Nearly every inch of them had some sort of infliction. I began praying, thanking God for every 20 feet of path that was dry, free of thorns or that wasn’t like the horrifying mud we just barely escaped. Along our trail we saw another Khmer on a moto and he told us only 1 more mile until the town (do you believe him?). This encouraged us to keep going (we were still na├»ve thinking maybe only one more mile left). As we continued our journey Michael’s moto stopped, it was out of gas. Michael drank the cleanest creek water he could find and took off on my bike to get help. I was thankful to wait with the other bike. This was my opportunity to just sit, stop and pause. I sat there in the water that was building up on the trail as the rainclouds turned into a rain-shower. I prayed, worshiped God and drank the rain falling from the sky. It was a great break.

As Hard as it gets
While sitting I hear a moto in the distant. I yell out “Michael” and he yells back “Hello! Anyone?HELP!” Not knowing the severity of the problem I run barefoot and leave EVERYTHING behind. I cross over gully’s and ditches flooded with rainwater not knowing where “The Ancient Highway” has washed away to. Heavy rain has inundated our “faithful” mud path and the darkness prevented me from seeing “what was a path” and “what was not.” Not concerned with the potential landmines in the area I continue to make a mad dash until I see Michael. His bike is stuck in a pond and it would only come out by the both of us. We got it out and tried to find the road again. It’s now pitch black, the moto’s light isn’t working any more, one moto left behind with my backpack full of clothes, meds and everything else needed to survive and we are on the search for… for… for…ANYTHING, we are desperate! I sit on the back of his moto as I endure a muddy and dark ride. On the path to “who knows where” my bare feet rip as I ride without shoes or socks. After miles and miles we find the “normal” mud path and it eventually leads us into a meager thatch hut inhabited by a small Khmer family.

Contrast in families

Compared to the people we stayed with the night before this family had a much smaller hut, less of a welcoming spirit, and very little to offer. When we told them we would pay them to allow us to stay with them for the night they agreed. The man of the house said we could stay for $2.50 which was a huge difference from the first family who asked for $30. He was surprised when we ended up giving him a $10 bill on our way out the next day(more than likely he has never seen a $10 bill since he is a remote farmer that is very poor).Even though he had little to offer we were very thankful for all the we received. We had crud all over us so he allowed us to use his farm’s water to clean up. His water was collected by rain that filled up a hole that was dug in the front of his house (and of course the ground was covered in manure[aren’t you glad I added that small point]). With the rain water in the hole we bathed and drank plenty. The family fed us rice and wild vegetables they picked growing about the forest. Michael and I talked about heading back to find the other moto so we could get my backpack and we even attempted to do so but it was a lost cause because of the darkness. We forced ourselves to sleep as we laid without pillow, or blanket and while the people in the house stayed up late smoking tobacco they hand picked and listening to a wind up radio ALL NIGHT LONG! Far from our thoughts was the desire to explore “The Hidden Temple” we originally set out for when we began our quest. All we wanted to do was sleep, survive and somehow find our other moto- hoping and praying it hasn’t been stolen by thieves. We were also hoping and praying that it wasn’t being destroyed as it was unprotected by the rain, wind and agonizing mud path known as “The Ancient Highway”.
What will happen to our dynamic duo?
Will they ever stop smelling the mud of torment?
Will they ever drive on pavement again?
Will they be eaten by alligators?
Only time will tell.... Stay tuned for one more installment coming soon!
In the mean time check out this video I made on my moto journey:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cambodian Moto Adventure (part 1 of 3)

A Blog of an Adventure
My roommate and dear friend Michael is getting married to a Khmer lady (his former language teacher) in a few weeks. As one final adventure in bachelorhood he and I rented some BIG MOTOs (Moto is Cambodian for motorcycle). They are about as tall as a pony and weigh well over 300lbs. Michael loves a rough and tough adventure and has his heart set on seeing “The Hidden Temple” of Central Cambodia. A temple hardly seen by foreigners like us. We can only get to this temple by the “The Ancient Highway,” a 45 mile dirt path from Angkor Wat Temple (well known tourist spot) to the very center of Cambodia (where most tourists dare not visit). Travel guides suggest that this “off road” path can be accomplished by experienced dirt bike riders during the dry season in about 2 hours. 2 THINGS TO NOTE- We are not experienced dirt bike riders and we were NOT driving in the dry season. To sum up the following blog: 45 miles of mud, 3 days without sanitation and 2 ponds of animal poo!

Day one

Covered in Mud
The first portion of the journey was great, a mixture of smooth and rough dirt paths both wide and simple. Our eyes were immersed in the beautiful Cambodian mountains, palm trees and wild life as we raced across “The Ancient Highway.” We were surprised when our peaceful path was overtaken by what looked like a small pond formed by this season’s rainfall (it rains about 5 times a week during the summer). To get across the pond we had to venture off road into the thin layer of grass that covered the deep foundation of sticky hot mud. Michael went through no problem and of course I got stuck. Michael knowing how to “unstick” a moto from the mud got behind me and pushed as I sat on the bike fully accelerating and… I made it out! In the pond next to us a couple dozen Khmer were swimming and they caught my attention when they started laughing at something behind me… and there Michael was covered literally from head to toe in the mud that my moto spun all over him! Needless to say he jumped into the pond with the Khmer.

Miles of Swamp
What we didn’t realize was that this one off road trail that curved around the pond was actually “The Ancient Highway.” This mud detour was only the beginning of MILES and MILES of a smorgasbord of mud, water, dirt and grass that makes up “The Ancient Highway.” We drove through mud that had every shade of tan, red, brown, grey and black imaginable. Occasionally the trail was dirt, emphasis on occasionally. The most common seen path were parallel rows of anywhere from 6 inches to 3 feet of water puddles with a foundation of mud underneath it. This type of trail was the easiest but also harvested swarms of killer mosquitoes the size of bees. Sometimes our “Mud Highway” did not have water puddles but rather only mud for its path where we had to use both of our feet as a way to balance so that us and the moto didn’t KERPLUNK into the slippery mud. Often the mud was really sticky and deep without any water above it where we had to drive WITHOUT stopping or WE WOULD BE stuck and WOULD HAVE TO push ourselves out (and end up a big mess once again). This deep sticky mud was my least favorite. More than 60 times me and my moto fell over. Imagine being eaten alive by bugs you never knew existed, scratches all over your arms and legs from the thorns and brush you are navigating through and falling over with your 300lb motorcycle. There is nothing worse than breathing in lungs full of engine exhaust as you are lying down on the ground with your overheated moto that is being cooled off by a puddle of murky forest water. Accumulating carbon dioxide mixed with “mud steam” into your lungs is plenty of motivation to not give up. Every time I fell I would use all of my strength to lift myself and my 300lb beast out of the mud. When lifting with my arms, back, legs and the top of my head (yes my head, kind of like a rhino) was not enough Michael would come over to help with the rest of the weight (which was more often than not).

Dead End?
After miles of jungle torture we come to a dead end- a HUGE rice field with a small mud stream on its border. After searching the area and scanning the acres of rice before us we determine that this stream is our road. Fortunately we see 2 Khmer guys and they show us how to use wooden planks as a homemade bridge so that we would not sink into the mud. Those guys helped us set up the planks, pushed us when we got stuck and lifted us out of the mud when we fell over. Michael being fluent in Khmer was able to talk with these guys about our situation and from them we found out that this is the correct road and that it only gets worse from here.
Are we “marooned” or just “morons”?
Hours go by, it’s getting dark. I am getting weak, hungry, and thirsty. We were supposed to be at “The Hidden Temple” A LOOONG TIME AGO. Bugs are biting me like crazy, somewhere on this journey my wallet fell out of my pockets. I’m cut, scraped, poked, fatigued and I keep falling over into a combination of cow feces and mud. My nursing instincts kick in which puts the reality check that our bodies are vulnerable out here to fever, influenza, pneumonia , diarrhea, fever, GI bugs, infections, amebas, malaria, typhoid, meningitis, hepatitis, West Nile, scabies, ticks, lice, and the list can go on. I begin to think- “How long are we going to be out here?” “Why in the WORLD did we take this route?” “Maybe we can leave the motos, walk and call an emergency helicopter to get us out of this mess!” I kept my thoughts to myself as I followed Mike who urged us to press on while we still had a little day light left.

Family of Angels
Just when I had almost lost hope we see a wooden shack on stilts in the distance camouflaged with the forest trees surrounding it. From the shack come some barley clothed children and their parents. The family of the forest takes us into their home and says that we can stay the night. They let us shower by taking a large bucket of water (water they collected from a nearby creek) and using a cup to pour the water on our bodies. Out of the same bucket and cup we drink lots and lots of water (step 1 pour water on your body, step 2 pour water into your mouth). My nursing conscience is put on silent, malaria or not I am going to dehydrate if I don’t drink something! They take our dirty clothes and began cleaning them. We sit around the fire together- Michael, me, the kids and the adults. We talk with each other, joke around and eat rice and a chicken they killed just for us. We were treated like part of their family and it showed (especially as ALL of us sat around in our underwear). About 4 or 5 of us piled into one room and fell asleep. They gave us a pillow and blanket which both smelled like pee. Fortunately I had my green zip up jacket (thanks to my younger brother Brady) that was tucked into my backpack. I didn’t know how the jacket remained dry after my bag fell into the muddy water so much. Regardless I was SO thankful to use it as my “pillow case” to keep me from smelling pee all night. I’ve never been so appreciative of such a common piece of clothing.

Will Trav and Mike make it to "The Hidden Temple"?
Will their motos endure such torture?
Will they even keep their sanity?
To be continued....

Within the next 2 weeks you will get the second installment of "Cambodian Moto Adventure"!!!!!!!! Stay tuned!