This is going to take a while, so you might as well grab your beverage of choice and get comfortable as I recount our latest journey around the world!
Eleventh of May – Preparation
Donna and I prepared for the journey to the States, weighing our bags to stay under the allotted 20 kilos of the Thai domestic flight. This would get us to Bangkok and the long flight to America. As we checked on our scales, the bags sure felt light until we realized we forgot to change from pounds (how we weigh ourselves) to kilos. 20 pounds is almost half of the 20-kilo allotment! That made the arrangements of packing much easier with room to spare!
Fourteenth of May – Departure
The morning we left, it began to rain hard as we departed the house and boarded the small boat to our port town of Nakasang. I covered all our luggage with trash bags to help keep them dry. By the time we reached Nakasang, the rains had stopped. We crossed the rickety boards laid as a makeshift gangplank and made our way up the muddy slope. With our luggage loaded onto a motorbike with a side cart, Donna and I squeezed ourselves on. Next was a crowded van to Pakse for two and a half hours. Pakse is the closest larger city and transport hub where we caught a bus to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. We stayed in Ubon for a couple of days ordering glasses for Donna and trimming by her favorite hairstylist.
Sixteenth of May – Pakse to Ubon to Bangkok
Soon it was time to fly to Bangkok. The Ubon airport is tiny but reasonable and runs smoothly. The flight was short and without incident. We attempted to reserve a room at one of our favorite guesthouses, but emails and phone calls were unanswered. Knowing where we were going, we figured we could show up and get a room. We took a taxi from the airport and guided the taxi driver to our guesthouse of choice, but COVID had taken its toll. The guesthouse was out of business.
We directed the taxi to another place nearby, where he dropped us off. The rates had risen astronomically, so I left Donna with the luggage to search for a better deal on foot. I was lucky (as usual) and found a nice place at a low price!
Eighth of May – Bangkok to USA
We were only in Bangkok for a few days before flying again. Most of the small restaurants are now marijuana dispensaries. Where Bangkok was previously teaming with drunk tourists, now it is swarming drunk and stoned tourists. On our last day, we got massages before taking a taxi to the airport. My excellent masseuse was 18 and had been working as such since she lost her family at the tender age of 13. On her own, she was taken in by the ladies of this parlor and was trained in massage. Donna said her masseuse also had the perfect touch for her.
Our flight schedule was from Bangkok to Tokyo, a layover, Tokyo to Chicago, and another layover, Chicago to Orlando. The plane ride from Tokyo was long, and the seats were smaller than previous flights making it nearly impossible to sleep during the 36+ hours of travel and layovers. The final leg from Chicago was the most comfortable, and we “passed out” for about an hour before we were awakened for breakfast on the plane.
In Laos, we are 12 hours in the future from Central Standard Time. Flying backward in time is difficult and causes heavier jetlag. My theory is that time travel into the past is difficult, cosmically designed in this way, so it becomes impossible to change past events. If jetlag is difficult for a twelve-hour difference, imagine how hard it must be to travel back 20+ years or more!
Twenty-second of May – Orlando
Groggy from our lack of sleep, we arrived in Orlando. Donna’s daughter, Shannon, picked us up and drove us to her and her husband Kirk’s home in St. Petersburg, where Donna’s family soon arrived for a Memorial weekend family gathering. The days spent with Donna’s family were filled with laughter, barbeque, and stories. We caught up on each other’s lives, reminiscing about old times. One day a bird decided to come to visit us. Kirk fed him albacore tuna from a paper plate. It turns out this bird has now added their house as one of its regular stops to get fed!
The Floridian beaches beckoned us, so we spent a leisurely day lounging on the golden sands and splashing in the refreshing ocean waves.
After a long weekend with Donna’s children, we bid them farewell, promising to stay connected despite the distance. Our journey continued as we set our sights on Nashville, Tennessee, where my children and grandson awaited our arrival.
First of June – Nashville
We rented a car and drove to Nashville, stopping midway just south of Atlanta. The lady at the hotel gave us every discount she could, AARP, coupons, etc., to save us a bit of money on the room. We slept well with a nice room and a full stomach of Waffle House homefries. We awoke well rested, and we’re soon back on the road.
On the road and after crossing into Tennessee, we spotted a sign I had designed many years ago for Fireworks Supermarket. They were still using it!
As we arrived in Nashville, a vibrant city known for its rich musical heritage, we found our way to my son Joel’s house. We reunited with my children, but unfortunately, my son, Joel, had to go out on tour, so we only visited for two days before he left. My daughter Chanda flew in from her home in California, and my grandson Caleb, who lives with his Uncle Joeł, was there for the visit.
One evening, Chanda, Caleb, and I went to a local honky-tonk bar, where we heard some great local talent and upcoming potential stars. Caleb, an accomplished musician on several instruments, now dedicated to the pedal steel, was greeted by all the local musicians. He’s doing well with his friendships and connections in the Nashville music scene. I glowed with pride at his accomplishments.
Donna and I also went through boxes of memories and photos stored in Joel’s garage, taking much more time than we had hoped, but we found writings that would help reconstruct the stories of our travels and the writing of our book.
Ninth of June – Smyrna
Leaving Nashville was difficult, but our journey was not yet over. We traveled to Smyrna, a small town outside of Nashville, where Donna’s sister, Susie, and many nieces resided. A couple of her brothers also joined the barbecue family gathering hosted by niece Bonnie and her husband Dale. The reunion was heartfelt, and we caught up on the years since we last saw each other. All had a fun time.
Fourteenth of June – St. Pete
Returning to Florida, Shannon and Kirk gave us a guided tour of their area’s local homes, architecture, and history. Gulfport was a lovely area. We also visited their favorite local pub, the Pesky Pelican, joining their trivia night team and a blues jam evening, where I got to shine on guitar for a few songs.
After spending our remaining week in St. Pete scanning photographs we had found in the memoir boxes at my son’s house, the task was finally finished. It was interesting digging through our past, recalling cloudy or forgotten memories. Donna even found a detailed 49-page letter she had written about our India adventure. This will help write the weekly postings as we are currently recounting India!
Originally our flight was to leave on the 19th, but Donna saw that they only had scheduled our return as far as Vienna. We had booked a round trip to Bangkok! After some phone calls with the airline, we found our flight was full but they managed to get us on for the next day. Good thing she spotted that!
Twenty of June – Prep for Leaving
We had eaten out at several fast food and bar food restaurants during our stay. Waffle House surpassed Cracker Barrel in quality, which broke a happy memory of that restaurant. The Pesky Pelican was the best bar food. But, for our last meal in St. Pete, we took Shannon to a Chinese-owned and run family restaurant we had previously eaten at. A salad bowl that was a special mix that tasted resembled sushi. Delicious! It was the winner of all meals eaten outside of the home.
After, we returned to Shannon and Kirk’s to finalize our packing of the bags. We could not surpass 20 kilos, even as the airline to Bangkok allowed 23 kg. The problem was that the Thai domestic flight had a 20 kg cap on checked baggage. Using Shannon’s home scale, we tried to balance our bags before she drove us to the Orlando airport for the two-hour preboard.
Delays, of course
Our flight had been changed many times, and today was no different. Sitting in the Orlando airport, the flight was delayed an additional 2 hours. We now leave at 9:40 instead of 7:55! This made our initial preboard wait five hours. They announced it was time, and I had never seen so many wheelchairs lined up to board a plane! This must be Florida, the retirement center of America!
When we finally took our seats, we found them unusually small and close. It wasn’t just us. Everybody I talked to complained about the cramped seating we would all have to endure for the eight to ten-hour flight. The aisle was barely passible. In a vain attempt to get a modicum of sleep, we twisted ourselves into strange pretzel shapes. The food choice of pasta or meatballs was also inedible. Neither of us could finish the small offering.
With Donna’s difficulty in walking long distances, we ordered a wheelchair service. I followed the racing wheelchair driver in a harrowing chase to our connecting flight in Frankfurt, but we managed to make it.
We arrived to Frankfurt after a cramped flight in the smallest seats imaginable for a commercial flight. It was impossible to sleep. We have been awake now for 24 hours and are getting punchy. The flight from Frankfurt to Zurich was short, and we passed out for half an hour. Now we awaited boarding the next leg of the journey, an eight-hour plus flight to Bangkok. Hopefully, we would sleep.
Twenty-second of June – Finally!
This last flight to Bangkok was the best! Nice seats, good food, WINE with meals, and, best of all, we slept! I’m sure the wine helped with that. We sat in the Bangkok airport waiting to be taken through customs for our last plane to Ubon, where we would get some profound sleep!
I started a stopwatch from the moment Shan dropped us off. It was currently 32 hrs:35min:38sec: & ticking.
After four hours of waiting, we boarded the plane, and both nodded briefly on the last hour-long flight arriving at Ubon, frazzled and functioning on autopilot. As we checked into our room, I stopped the stopwatch. 38:11:11.34 Including the ride from Shannon and Kirk’s (about two hours), the total would be around 40 hours of travel and layovers. I got fried chicken from the night market while Donna organized our room. We ate, took showers, and it was “lights out.” We feel like we could sleep for a week! This completes our travel around the world in less than 80 days!
Twenty-third of June – Staircase Exercise
We got up early in the morning at 5:30, somewhat rested after 8 hrs of sleep, and went for a walk. There is a beautiful park across from our hotel. After playing with some exercise equipment, we joined a stretching class of older ladies. We were sore from all the travel sitting, so the exercises were good for us. We would go back tomorrow, too. But now, it’s back to sleep!
We were on the 4th floor of our hotel, and both elevators are being repaired. Oh my! That means we had to descend and climb 65 stairs to have lunch! We thought they should be finished that night. Donna complained and earned a $5.70 discount on our $14 room, though!
Twenty-fourth of June – More Exercise
We woke very early in the morning and, finding the elevator was working, returned to the park and joined the “old lady exercise class.” I had a difficult time keeping up with the instructor. We continued with it while we were in Ubon. We videoed the instructor to continue when we returned to the island.
Twenty-fifth of June – Sickness
We went back to the “old lady exercise group.” They wore me out! I also got a sinus infection and wondered what medicine would be best for this. Walking into a pharmacy and getting what you need without a doctor is excellent, the pharmacist suggested Amoxicylin. Donna did some research and found a better med that was in our stock. I slept most of the day.
Twenty-sixth of June
We planned to go to a store, but the elevator wasn’t working again. Back to bed. It was good as we still needed the rest. By this time, Donna was also sick.
Twenty-eighth of June
After a good all-day rest, we had arranged to have a little jam with a couple of our Ubon friends, Craig and Kalone. Craig and his wife Nai are schoolteachers that we met by chance years ago. Whenever we come to Ubon we try to connect with him and his wife. She wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it. Kalone is an administrative nurse at the local hospital that we have also known for years. He loves Elvis. He and I performed some Elvis songs on the ward after Donna’s knee surgery.
We met up in Candle Park and played for hours. Kalone recorded some videos. It was a really fun time! By 10 o’clock we were all tired and called it a night.
Thirtieth of June – Return to Laos
We finally felt well enough to finish shopping and return to Pakse, Laos. We had promised our friends we would join them in their 4th of July celebration.
First of July – Birthday
Saturday was the 15th birthday of the eldest daughter of our friends. My son Joel had gifted me his Oculus 2 VR headset, so I brought it to the party and let the birthday girl and her friends, family, and siblings play with it. It was a hit at the party! It was funny to see the reactions of all that tried it. Some of them became pretty dizzy when placed into outer space.
Fourth of July – Party
On the 4th of July, we all went to the restaurant of our friend’s sister. There were red, white, and blue balloons and American flags for everyone. They also made fried chicken, French fries, spring rolls, and an Asian favorite, “hot pot”. The hot pot, also known as Sin Dat, is a do-it-yourself BBQ experience where you cook food on a grill over a bucket of hot charcoals in the middle of your table and keeps a pot of soup stock simmering. Various Asian foodstuffs and ingredients are served beside the pot for the diners to put into the hot stock. After everyone had their fill, the children were given “Roman candle” fireworks shot over the road toward the river. It was a fun evening.
Fifth of July – Home at Last!
The next day, we finally returned to our island paridise…home sweet home. It had been nearly two months since we left. The yard had become a jungle. We worked for the next several days to clean and reclaim our home. We have traveled entirely around the world (for the 3rd, or was it the 4th time?) and are happy to be home!
Next week it’s time to return to writing the story and continue the adventure!