Monday, February 22, 2010

Another Painful Visit to the Thairopractor
















Would you ever say no to an hour long massage for $3.75 USD? Me neither, but due to my travels in Thailand, I will now take it in to serious consideration and humbly ask to see a "short" sampling of 'said' massage. I had successfully limited myself to only Swedish and foot massages (after my unfortunate torture session in Bangkok) for over a month when Mariana insisted that I get massage from a "very good" masseuse in the night market of Chiang Mai. My lower back was hurting, I had already had a fantastic 60 minute reflexology session from the same company, and the whole ordeal would only set me back $3.75 USD. I figured what the hell, why not? That's when I overheard the masseuse assuring Mariana that he could successfully MOVE my spine in one hour. For better or worse, right? So, I begrudgingly thanked Mariana, took a deep breath, laid down, and got the crap beat out me again. I am not sure if he moved my spine, but I have a feeling I will find out tonight when I board an overnight bus to Bangkok for ten hours.

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On a Lighter Note...
















Mariana and I visited a refuge for adopted elephants, many of whom have been neglected and abused. The park was located an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai, near the epicenter of the infamous "Golden Triangle" of Southeast Asia. It was started in 1995 by a tiny Thai woman with a huge heart and a desire to offer any and all pachyderms a safe haven. The Elephant Nature Park's mission embraces positive reinforcement and promotes an elephant-human relationship built on the cultivation of reciprocal love and respect. We learned about the history of each elephant and were given an inside look at their challenging rehabilitation. We were also given the opportunity to feed them by hand and bathe them in the cool waters of the river that runs through the picturesque property. We were proud to hear that the park's benefactor was a gracious man who lives in Austin, Texas. I will let the pictures and videos speak for themselves.

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Excuse Me Sir, Could You Please Hand Me that Soap Box?

I had always been somewhat secure in my assumption that man held sway over animals, until I stood directly next to a herd of Asian elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in the far northern jungles of Thailand. Nothing is more humbling than being in the presence of such strong and majestic creatures who desire only to be free of human abuse and live out their lives peacefully. I have hunted various forms of wildlife since I was a young boy, but I have only recently learned to respect the power and beauty held within all forms of nature. I understand now that every living creature deserves to be protected from unexcusable abuse and annihilation. I don't care if you are a gun-toting hunter or a hemp wearing tree-hugger, people must have respect for the living beings that they track or protect.

As you have read in previous blogs, I do not subscribe to any single religion, but I adhere to the protocalls demanded depending on my location. This is not a form of submission, but rather a form of respect. Unfortunately, life is full of contradictions and sometimes they can not be ignored. The co-inhabitation of people and Asian elephants within Southeast Asia is one of those issues that I simply cannot turn my back on. Elephants have been revered by a wide variety of cultures over many centuries for their strength of body and spirit. They share complex human characteristics that intertwine a longing for peaceful living with a fierce desire to protect their loved ones. They have hearts, minds, bodies, and in the opinion of this writer, souls. So why am I even writing this?

Because, damnit, people just can't leave things well enough alone. The nature preserve that we visited shared an incredible video documenting the "breaking" of an elephant's will that is practiced by almost every elephant handler in Asia. The "breaking" consists of forcefully incarcerating a young elephant in chained confinements that leave the creature immobile and unable to resist. Male villagers, led by a local shaman, then proceed to beat, whip, and stab the elephant for days with bamboo sticks reinforced with rusty nails. The concept is simple and all to familiar...kill the spirit of the elephant and force it to concede control to its human master. My initial reaction to witnessing such an atrocity was one of anger and a desire to enforce vigilanty justice upon the elephants captors, but after some brief reflection I realized that the true root of the problem was ignorance. These villagers had captured and tamed elephants using the only tactics that they assumed were available. The black magic of the shaman was assumed to be the power that captured the animals soul, not the sticks with nails imbedded within them. In addition to ignorance of the people themselves, I believe the lack of action by the government is equally to blame. Animals in Southeast Asia are mistreated and exploited every day for one reason: profitability. Whether it is an elephant that is bred into a life of walking along exruciatingly painful city streets or a chained up monkey trained to accept bananas from paying customers desiring a photo, it is all done to appease tourists. I stated before that ignorance causes many of the World's issues to become worse, so I will take a few minutes of my time to educate those of you who have a desire to visit Asia.

I have grown tired to the point of exhaustion of seeing unpunished crimes against humanity and nature. I have seen innocent animals neglected and abused simply because they are not considered to have any worth outside of their use to humans. I have seen children younger than my nephews try to manage beautiful smiles as they sell souvenirs (and sometimes their own bodies) to benefit others. My lecture is short, my message is simple, but the lesson is excruciatingly difficult to put into practice. Do not, by any means, support the exploitation of the innocent. I know this is especially hard when you are staring into the face of a begging child or the eyes of a frightened animal. I have given a lot of my own money to these ventures with the intent to assist, only to find out later that I have fed a machine the cyclically takes advantage of those without a voice. The battle for social and natural justice is extremely long and uphill, but it begins with one informed person's ability to simply say "no". That has been the first difficult step that Mariana and I have taken, but we are hopeful that our new knowledge will lead us to more legitimate avenues of assistance for those who need it most.

Socialism is Kind of Anti-Social

By the time Mariana and I touched down in Chiang Mai, Thailand last Monday, we had already spent well over a month in socialist republics. To be honest with you, aside from the occasional hammer and sickle waving along the roadsides, there is no real noticeable difference for tourists within a communistic country. This is simply because their spending dollars mean too much to the governments that they ultimately support. People in the cities of Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, and Luang Prabang were all seemingly very capitalistic, with one major exception. Nobody had direct, uncensored access to facebook or google (i.e. information). Notice I said they did not have "direct" access, because most citizens knew how to bypass the blatently obvious, yet publicly denied, censorship. Fortunately, Mariana and I were able to stay connected thanks to a few unnamed technological benefactors. Fights over web access between political giants like China and information giants like Google all of a sudden became crystal clear. Information that is readily available to "Googlers" in one region of the world is not available to similar users in another area. Censorship is real and it is unfortunate. I have discovered that true power teeter-totters on a delicate balance between those who are informed and those who are uninformed. Basic human rights like free access to knowledge are not always viewed as inherent. Sadly, whether you talk about communistic countries or capitalistic giants, access to information will forever be considered an invaluable asset. Those who have it will always hold sway over those who do not. Period.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You Ever Had One of Those Sinking Feelings?





















If there was going to be a single rite of passage for me on this trip, it was going to be my two day slow boat adventure up the mighty Mekong River. The scenery would be exotic, the hours would be long, and I would finally have a better appreciation for the writings of Joseph Conrad. Yes, I am that nerdy. I borrowed a copy of Heart of Darkness from a fellow book worm in Austin, Texas with the very intent to read it as I slowly chugged along through the jungles of Northern Laos. I might even catch a glimpse of the overweight Marlon Brando commanding a small tribe as Colonel Kurtz if I am lucky. But sadly, it was not meant to be.

I know you have heard this story a thousand times and it will sound quite cliche, but there I was, waiting on the banks of the Mekong waiting for my boat when I received some disturbing news. It seems that our boat had sunk in the dangerously low waters about half-way between Luang Prabang and Pakbeng. No one was hurt in the accident, but it still felt like someone had ripped my heart out and stomped on it in front of me. We were provided with the option to take a speed boat (i.e. a 5 person canoe with a jet engine attached to the back), which we quickly declined due to the almost certain death that goes along with accepting such an offer. How dare the Gods of the River curse my trip with such an unfortunate turn of events. How am I ever going to gain the necessary life perspective that I so desperately seek if I can't even have two days to slowly meditate on a boat about it?

That was when our tour guide turned to me and offered a full cash refund. "But I paid with a credit card" I said, and she apologetically answered that she could only refund me in American dollars. I soon realized that I would get my money back at a better exchange rate and still get to keep my credit card points. Screw Conrad and his 130 page novel, I want my air miles!! Besides, I had already done a book report years ago, which received rave reviews from my high school English teachers, correlating Heart of Darkness with Led Zeppelin's smash hit "Stairway to Heaven". It really was brilliant. I guess some people get to have their cake and eat it too.

I later found out that Mariana and I would be flying to Chiang Mai on none other than Laos Airlines and my joyful spirit quickly faded.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Pho Cong Ain't Got Nothin' On Me!!























I never thought I would title something using a play on words that combines one of my favorite restaurants with a Denzel Washington quote, but that's how my mind works.

Thanks to the famous Tamarind restaurant, Mariana and I became master chefs of Lao cuisine in just 6 short hours for the low-low price of $56 USD. That is a small fortune in Luang Prabang and could have covered our hotel room for two nights, but the money was well spent. I am not sure if there is any culinary equal to a Southeast Asian chef. They create the most incredible flavors by delicately blending fresh herbs, spices, produce, and meats. Even a stroll through a local market can make you realize why foods from this region of the World are so sought after and enjoyed. I am of course excluding the butcher section of the market, which can be downright nauseating and awkward for people with weaker constitutions. Fortunately, I am not one of those people, so I cherished every moment of our tour through the vast daily market located 10 minutes outside of town. The closest HEB is 2,500 miles away, so most locals have to visit these types of markets twice a day to prepare fresh meals for their families. They purchase fresh vegetables ranging from the widely used aubergine (small eggplant) and the all too familiar cilantro to exotic fungi and durian fruit (large, spiky, and smells like body odor). These fresh ingredients are then chopped, diced, squeezed, and blended to add flavor to anything that walks on four legs or is found swimming in a body of water. No natural resource is wasted and the Lao people use EVERY part of EVERY living item they harvest (I will spare you details).

After the tour of the market, Mariana and I joined our 10 new friends and headed out to the remote country side for a hands-on cooking class. We prepared 6 traditional dishes that included sticky rice, eggplant and tomato chili dip, steamed mekong fish wrapped in herbs and banana leaves, fried minced chicken mixed with herbs and stuffed into shoots of lemon grass, pork stew with fresh vegetables, and sweet sticky rice served with a variety of diced fruits. Jealous?? You should be.

All of the dishes were made by hand and without the use of any electric appliances. When everything was finished, we sat down together and enjoyed our meal in a family style setting (along with a few BeerLaos), and our master chef supplied us with a copy of each recipe. We are going to have a Lao-style party at the Kuhl house when we return for all those who are interested.







I Bought the Hype and It was Worth Every Penny





















You know those idiots that I was making fun of for riding cheesy bicycles, visiting over-sold waterfalls, and participating in every other form of tourist trap? Well it was finally our turn to be those guys and we loved it. Mariana and I grabbed a tuk-tuk to go see the stunning Kuang Si Waterfall and swim in its refreshing waters. We happily rode through all of Luang Prabang and its surrounding villages on bicycles fully equipped with baskets and bells that went “brrring-brrring” on the handlebars. We visited the famous night market to bargain for traditional souvenirs and t-shirts decorated with Lao lettering. We even visited a slew of ancient caves that were essentially just like the ancient caves in and around San Antonio (except that these caves were filled with images of Buddha). In essence, we were those idiots.

I always wonder what locals think about tourists as they continuously fall for the same traps. Their sense of superiority and cunning must be overwhelming as they easily attract the attention of unsuspecting visitors day after day. I would think it would get tiring to do the same old tour and listen to seemingly the same 21 year old tourist talk about how they “totally out-bargained this vendor for a badass BeerLao t-shirt”. But then I realized that they could care less. Our ability to spend outweighs any and all annoyances that may come with the mundane job of holding our hands as we visit local sights. In fact, I think they are mostly amused with our willingness to venture away from our homes and they are proud to show us their local treasures.

We have a Jack and we have a Janet, but we could still use a Chrissy or Mr. Furley if anyone is interested.

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Volunteering to Promote "Voluntourism"

Somebody finally wants us! Mariana and I had been looking for volunteering opportunities as we traveled, but our search only turned into an act of persistent futility. One of the unfortunate truths in today's World is that a genuine act of kindness from a stranger who desires nothing in return, is usually viewed with jaded skepticism. This truth is not without precedent, as many people offer help with the intent to scam innocent and trusting bystanders. That was the sad truth we were faced with until we met the owner of Tiger Trails in Laos and offered our "free" time to help his company.

Tiger Trails is a tour company that promotes social and environmental awareness for each of its customers. The owner is a young man from Germany who has worked very hard over the past decade to help build a preserve for abused elephants. Laos is a largely rural country that still uses the slash and burn method of farming to grow a variety of crops. This form of agriculture is extremely harmful to the environment due to the deforestation and air pollution it causes, but it has also been especially hard on the elephants who are used for manual labor. Laos was once known as the land of a million elephants, but today's populations number somewhere in the low thousands (wild and tame). Many elephants are born in captivity and immediately placed in to the service of farmers and loggers. Sadly, even some of the tourist agencies still send unknowing patrons to areas where elephants are treated poorly and forced to perform in ridiculous shows under the guise that they are visiting an elephant "preserve".

Travellers in Asia, and every part of the World for that matter, must learn to research any kind of animal attraction thoroughly before choosing to support it with their hard-earned money. For instance, young children will try to sell you small birds held in cramped cages at popular Buddhist temples so you can free them and perform a worthy "act of kindness". This poses two significant problems for any warm-blooded tourist with a heart: 1.) the children are typically VERY poor and VERY cute and 2.) the birds are in dire need of freedom. As hard as it was for Mariana and I to refuse their offer of engaging ourselves in an enlightening act of mercy, we knew that our financial contribution would only promote the continued act of abusing unsuspecting animals. Besides, I found it ironic that a Buddhist temple would ever allow such a predatory act of capitalism to occur within its walls at the expense of another living creature. Ohh...the beautiful love story of religion and money, but I digress.

Back to Volunteering to promote Voluntourism. Tiger Trails informed us that they would like to start giving back to the villages of ethnic minorities (Hmong and Khmu) who have allowed foreigners to sneak a peek at their daily life and traditions. Most of the villages do not have schools, so the owner of Tiger Trails decided that he was going to set up a program where tourists could sacrifice their money and their time to come to Laos and help construct “creative centers” for village children. Their money would go to pay for transportation, accommodation within the villages, and construction supplies. Their time would be spent working side-by-side with the villagers and cultivating an invaluable cultural exchange. Money spent + Time spent = Voluntourism. Mariana and I fit into the equation, because Tiger Trails needed a native English speaker to create the brochure for their new excursion and to edit various older tour brochures that needed some brushing up. As a result, I have been writing brochures instead of blogs and Mariana has been editing her heart out. We did receive a free trip to the villages and the Kuang Si Waterfall for our work, but I will save that story for another blog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

City of Wats
















The predominant faith in Laos is Buddhism and the city of Luang Prabang plays host to over 40 temples known as wats. The wats house hundreds of novice monks who journey to Luang Prabang to learn pillars of the Buddhist faith from wise and peaceful elder leaders. Each morning the monks make a pilgrimage through the city center humbly accepting alms of food and money from lines of local citizens and a scattering of tourists. The monks gratefully accept each offering in a small bronze basket that they wear around their necks as they wind around from sidewalk to sidewalk. The food they collect serves as their only meal for the day and the money is contributed to a fund used for their future education. Monks are deeply revered by members of the Buddhist faith, so it is important to follow a few simple rules when in their presence. People generally try to remain physically lower than the monks, so it is polite to bow slightly as they pass by. In addition, monks are unmarried and celibate, so contact with women is strictly forbidden. A slight touch from Mariana would result in a ritualistic bathing that would last for days for the unfortunate man who was involved in the contact. Interestingly enough, many novice monks seek out westerners to practice speaking English and they are generally very curious about life outside of the temples. I guess this just goes to show that no amount of Dogma, no matter what the source, can completely repress human desires that are inherent in each one of us.

The temples themselves are visually stunning as they are filled with handcrafted treasures ranging from the architectural designs of the buildings to the intricate artwork that is held within each structure. A collection of historical and religous events are illuminated through a variety of mediums ranging from exotic wood carvings to glass mosaics. Endless images of Buddha are cast in gold, silver, and bronze alongside artistic depictions of mythical creatures and sacred beasts of worship. The adornments of the temples seem artistically bold and extravagant, but they leave each foreign visitor with a humbling sense of self-reflection.

As a man who does not consider himself to hold loyalties to any specific religion, I feel like I can objectively say that the attributes of honesty, kindness, and humility are readily available to those who seek refuge in the peaceful settings of the Luang Prabang wats.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Case of the Super Bowl Sundays

I just watched an entire match of women's badminton. It is being followed up with women's ping pong...

Say "Waterfall" One More Time, I Dare You!
















Normally, people start out with phrases like "Hello. How Are You?" when learning a foreign tongue, but this is certainly not the case when referring to Luang Prabang's mass transit system, better known as the tuk-tuk driver. I am convinced that the most important word in their limited English vocabulary is "waterfall". This is definitely not by accident, as there are a number of exceptional waterfalls located within a 30 to 45 minute tuk-tuk ride from town. The price of such a venture ranges widely based on the honesty of the driver and the level of confusion on your face, but the fee for this excursion is the primary source of each driver's daily income. Luang Prabang is small, quiet, and pleasant to walk around, so there is no need to ever really use any means of transportation other than your feet. Tourists also have the option to rent a bicycle for $1 per day that comes fully equipped with a basket and clown horn attached to the handle bars...

"Come and knock on my door, I'll be waiting for you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Three's a Company too!!"

But, I digress. Back to the drivers. They do not resemble the in-your-face, "I know a great custom suit warehouse" tuk-tuk drivers of Bangkok, nor do they resemble the more friendly, straight-forward drivers of Siem Reap. Rather, the tuk-tuk drivers of Luang Prabang are like quiet assassins with only one task at hand...get you to the nearest waterfall for the highest price. I have observed three main forms of advertising that are utilised by almost every driver: excitement, reverse psychology, and my personal favorite, subliminal manipulation.

1. Excitement - You are walking down the street with your wife as a driver jumps directly out of his strategically parked tuk-tuk and yells "WATERFALL!" The power behind his declaration is so convincing that only a fool would refuse his suggestion. Gotcha!

2. Reverse Psychology - This method is best explained using an analogy that hopefully most of you will understand. In the movie "Anchorman", Will Ferrell famously reads "I'm...Ron...Burgundy???" at the end of one of his broadcasts. The miscue draws the ire of the station's producer as he yells to his staff, "Damnit people, how many times do I have to tell you that Ron is going to read whatever you put on the teleprompter!" With that scene in mind, imagine you are walking down the street and a tuk-tuk driver says "Waterfall???" using an intonation the explicitly implies uncertainty. This of course causes the innocent bystander to ask themselves the same question, which immediately peaks their curiousity. They wonder silently, "what is this guy not telling me?", and they decide that they need to investigate this so-called "waterfall" for themselves. Gotcha!

3. Subliminal Manipulation - You and your wife are walking down the street when you hear a faint murmur that sounds like "atrfl...", but you casually continue your stroll because you can not make out what was said or where it came from exactly. A few steps later, the murmur turns in to an almost perceptible word and you really begin to wonder about what you are hearing, but you still continue onwards. Fifteen steps later, you hear it for the final time more clearly, and your mind begins to think about the sweltering heat and the lack of shade along your walkway. You turn to your wife and confidently suggest that you should take an excursion to a nearby cool mountain source of water. She surprisingly agrees, not knowing quite sure why. But how would we get there?? Enter your smiling saviour, emerging from the shadows, keys to a nearby tuk-tuk in hand, ready to drive you wherever you should desire. "On to the waterfall good man!" Gotcha Again!

All that being said, we have not been to a waterfall yet, but we plan to soon.






(whisper) "waterfall"

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Room With A View
















The stark contrast between Vietnam and Laos was felt immediately as I woke up in a small bamboo thatched bungalow located high above a local river with an unpronouncable name. There was no longer the loud sounds of motorbikes, car horns, and street hawkers. The serene quiet kept us in our bed lined with a mosquito net, as Mariana and I actually slept in until hunger got the better of us and we ventured to the hotels open air dining area for breakfast. The hotel provided us with two cups of Lao coffee, a bowl of rice soup with pork, and a bowl of noodle soup with fresh vegetables at the outrageous price of $3 US. I haven't even seen Luang Prabang's city center and I am already loving every aspect of this wild country. The hotel informed us that they actually prefer to deliver our meals directly to our room for no charge, so we enjoyed most of our remaining dining experiences on our front porch. The porch came equipped with two eastern style mattresses and a small ankle-heigth table. Our view of the river provided most of our entertainment as we watched children of all ages come to the waterside to play and bathe throughout the day. Monks use the waters to cool off after a long hot day of walking from temple to temple and women use the waters to wash clothing in a communal manner that resembles happy hour in the US. Local fishermen tend their traps and farmers continuosly checked their water pumps to maintain irrigation to their stepped farms full of lush vegetation. I had heard of Laos' beauty, but I had no idea that the countryside would be this pristine.

Mariana and I walked a long way to the city center in the afternoon to map out our adventures for the next week, and we also decided to book a few nights in the heart of Luang Prabang to maximize our experience. I have not been this excited to explore a country and its culture since I first laid eyes on Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I am hopeful that I will not be disappointed and I will provide updates as soon as I possibly can.

By the way...the video below was filmed with my loving mom in mind, but I think it speaks volumes of the differences in culture between the US and Southeast Asia. The children in the video are between the ages of 4 and 7.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Radar Love




I never really knew what the band Golden Earring was talking about when they sang their hit "Radar Love" until I was sitting on a double prop plane preparing for a flight from Hanoi to Laos. Knowledge is a wonderful thing unless the retained information consists of something along the lines of: "Did you know that the entire country of Laos has no radar and that pilots land the planes using sight alone?" I am sorry, could you repeat that...I thought you said that an entire nation does not have radar. Is that possible in 2010? I have no idea, but it is difficult to shake a statement like that once it has been introduced to my anxiety-ridden thoughts . So, I sat on a cramped plane with two propellers, palms sweating, trying to look confident to my fellow passengers as I rapidly chewed all of the spearmint taste out of my gum. I eventually felt more at ease once the plane took off and levelled at its cruising altitude. That is, until Mariana and I were served our mystery sanwiches, fruit, and cake in a beautiful white box that said..."Laos Airlines - You're Safe With Us".

What?!?!?!

What the hell do you mean "You're Safe With Us"? I am no marketing major, but I think the PR department from Laos Airlines needs to go back to the drawing board. Let me explain.

My mind tends to wander when I hear disturbing slogans like that, and I add things like:

*Naw..."You're Safe With Us"
*Don't Worry..."You're Safe With Us"
*It's OK..."You're Safe With Us"
*I don't know where you heard that from, but..."You're Safe With Us"
*The UN said what..."You're Safe With Us"
*Pay no attention to our casualty statistics..."You're Safe With Us"
*That was months ago..."You're Safe With Us"

After a very long hour and fifteen minutes, we made a very hard and fast landing, stepped off the runway, entered the airport that reminded me of a dated Burger King in Port Aransas, and successfully received our visas. Welcome to Laos!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Never Eat Pink Pringles
















Let me just preface this entry with the fact that I devoured a bowl of noodle soup with snails for breakfast this morning. I am not, and never will be by any means, a conservative consumer of foreign cuisine.

Just stay away from the pink pringles...Trust Me!

Asia as a whole is filled with snacks that are flavored with a wide variety of seafoods. Perhaps the most popular salt water seasoning that the Willy Wonka's of the Far East create is the "shrimp or prawn" flavored chip, cracker, candy, etc. I normally bypass the snack aisle in Southeast Asian supermarkets convinced that their options are not adventurous and hardly worth my refined consideration. That was, until I happened to catch the the eye of a familiar face known as Mr. Pringle inviting me to try his "grilled shrimp flavored" chips. Damn you, Mr. Pringle and your devilish good looks and your lipless, mustache-filled smile, you got me...you got me good. Who in their right mind sees pink colored chips on a bottle and actually buys them...idiot! I had one chip and never touched them again.

It can be very awkward when someone you know and love betrays you. I feel confident that Mr. Pringle and I will eventually patch things up, but I have informed him that, at least for now, we are "on a break" indefinitely.



*Mariana and I were fortunate enough to attend a traditional play consisting of water puppets and Vietnamese music...you can check out the videos below if you are curious.

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Drinking In the Power of the Snake, the Lizard, the Scorpion, and the Crow
















The liquid that had just been siphoned out of a large jar filled with well preserved animal corpses in to my shot glass smelled kind of like almonds. This seemed like an appealing attribute until I remembered that gangrenous wounds also carry the scent of almonds. Still, I shrugged my shoulders, said "cheers" to my wife and shot the liquor straight down my throat before I could have any second thoughts. The drink was surprisingly smooth considering that it was created by fermenting poisonous reptiles and insects. The distiller even threw in the entire dead body of a crow for good measure. Women are not allowed to consume any kind of alcohol that is made with snakes, because the power that it provides its consumer is far too great for anyone but a man. Oddly enough, my muscles didn't feel any stronger as I gathered our bags for our departure. Maybe I will take two shots next time.

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