Raderstorf World Wide Adventure

Thursday, January 27, 2005

And Now... For the Rest of the Story...

Many of you have asked what happen after Scott's initial Blog entry about the Tsunami. Here is Ben's account of the experience from start to finish :

Poseidon’s Wrath:
Tsunami

At eight AM, on December 26, 2004, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the rector scale occurred of the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. This undersea movement displaced millions of gallons of water, causing the most devastating Tsunami in recorded history. Within hours, the enormous waves hit the shores of Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. By the end of the day, the entire Indian Ocean had been devastated by the Tsunami, taking lives as far away as Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania on the east coast of Africa. The death toll exceeded 165,000, mainly due to the fact that no tsunami warning system was in place.
At the time, I was vacationing with my family on an island in southern Thailand. This is my story:

Dec. 24, 2004
We arrived at Golden Buddha Beach resort at about six-thirty in the evening on Christmas Eve. Because the resort was on an island, we arrived by longboat. The moment my toes touched the water, I knew we had reached paradise.
Golden Buddha was located on a peninsula sheltering a lagoon. on the tip of the peninsula was a rock hill, the highest landform on the island. At the bottom of this hill, with a view of both the ocean and the lagoon, was the restaurant and common area. All of the bungalows were located on the ocean in two rows, most of them small grass roofed huts.
The bungalow in which we were staying was named Baan Fred. Many of them had been named for their owners, including Baan Patty and Baan Joe. Baan Fred was located about halfway down the beach. It had two bedrooms and two bathrooms with a sheltered outdoor sitting area in-between.
We had just started to settle in when we realized that if we wanted any Pizza, we’d have to get down to the restaurant quick. Slowly, we set off in the direction of the restaurant. As we walked along the beach, Max and Quin kept stopping to write their names in the sand making our progress slow. We were soon overtaken by another family going in the same direction.
Dad quickly started a conversation with the father who was in the lead. When Dad mentioned we were from Boulder, the man stopped and said, “That’s funny, my wife’s from Colorado.” She then introduced herself, and told us that her name was Carrie and was from Aurora. She had also spent some time in Boulder.
They then asked where in Boulder we lived and we told that we lived at 5th and Marine. “Honey,” said the man. “Isn’t that near where Frances and Elliot live?”
Frances and Elliott are our next-door neighbors. Then all the puzzle pieces fell together. It turns out we had met Roger and Carrie four years ago when she came to Colorado for a hip replacement operation. Their family stayed at the Higgins house over the holidays. We invited them over for Christmas dinner nearly four years earlier to the day. It is a small world!
Dinner that night was delicious. During the meal, we became quickly re-acquainted and soon felt like old friends. We all made our way back to our bungalow at about 10:30. Nathan, at age 7 had become good friends with Quin. But Hannah at age 9, outnumbered 4 boys to 1 girl, was still feeling a little shy.

Dec.25, 2004
The morning was Christmas. Everyone enjoyed their presents. It seems Santa had done his shopping in China as I received a Chinese MP3 player and a stamp with my name in English and Chinese. For breakfast we enjoyed delicious Thai style scrambled eggs with crunchy bacon. After breakfast, we spent the rest of the morning swimming and lounging in the warm, calm Andaman Sea.
Lunch consisted of a spicy chicken curry with warm, sweet sticky rice and fresh mango for desert. In the afternoon, Max and Quin attended some organized Christmas games while I walked the beach. The evening started with traditional Thai dancing by girls between the ages of 5 and 15 from nearby villages. The dances were the longest choreographed pieces I have ever seen, lasting almost an hour. For dinner, there was a Christmas BBQ with fresh fish, chicken and other wonderful things. As a fundraiser for the turtle conservation center, there was a Christmas “Lucky Dip”. For 100 baht, you could draw a wrapped present from Santa’s (JK) bag. I picked a flashlight and Dad drew a coupon for a free beer.
Although the presents where few and small, this was a great Christmas.

Dec. 26, 2004
The next morning, we had breakfast as usual. Max and Quin left early to build a sand castle with Nathan and Hannah. As we were just leaving the dining hall, we heard a huge crash from the beach. we ran to the shore to see that a huge wave had come almost all of the way up the beach. That is when Mom realized that Max and Quin were supposed to be on the beach, or even in the water. All five of us,
Mom, Dad, Carrie, Rodger and I, ran down the beach to our houses. When we arrived, we found them doing what they weren’t supposed to be doing, playing Gameboy at Nathan’s house.
When we returned to the beach, we saw a colossal wave about a mile out to sea. It was breaking to the south. Casually Rodger leaned over to my mom and said, “Joellen, you should probably take the kids to high ground, just in case.”
We took his advice and went to a two story house in the back row. We were standing on the second story balcony when we heard my dad shout’ “run!” A moment later we saw him come tearing around Rodger and Carrie’s house. Behind him was a wall of black water ten feet high. The sound was like nothing I had ever heard, like 10 747s taking off at once. Anything in the path of the wave was destroyed. Baan Glue Mai Par, Nathan and Hannah’s house, exploded as the water hit it full force. Trees were snapped like tooth picks and the wave kept coming. Dad barely made it up the stairs when the wall of water hit the house. All of the first floor windows were shattered. And the water poured in.
All of the kids huddled in the bathroom at the back of the house. If the house collapsed, the rear was the place to be. Quickly we removed all sharp objects or anything that would be sharp if broken, including the mirror, and the light bulbs.
We all were glued to the pane less windows and watched the utter chaos erupting all around us: We watched houses in all directions collapse as the water destroyed their foundations. We watched several injured and uninjured people being hauled from the swirling water, including Carrie and Rodger. Carrie had been unable to outrun the wave and had grabbed a tree while Rodger had stupidly gone back for his laptop and had been in his house when it was destroyed. His pinky finger had nearly been ripped off and only held on by a thread. The most critically injured were a girl named Gracie and her mother. They had both been inside their hut and had not been as lucky as Rodger. The water was about six feet deep at this point and more, smaller waves were riding on the already elevated water.
Because the very first wave had been small and unnoticed, everyone thought another wave was coming. Waves usually come in threes, the third is the biggest. After some arguing, it was decided, once the water had fully receded, we would run to the nearby monkey hill. There were about fifteen people in the house when we left for the hill. We ran as fast as we could and everyone was making sure they knew which tree was closest. The resort had been completely destroyed. Debris was everywhere and the ground had been stripped of everything but sand.
I had just started to climb the hill when someone had shouted, “run!” I looked but there was nothing to hold onto. The small amount of brush that had survived the last wave pulled right out of the ground. The wave didn’t come. Someone had gotten scared by the surf and had yelled. When we reached the top of the hill, we found about fifty other people on the hill as well as a scared monkey. We located a spot to sit down and began to pass the time away. As I was sitting down, I realized that my MP3 player was still in my pocket. Sadly the wear, and tear it had received would cause it to eventually shut down permanently.
We started to talk to pass the time away. The conversation turned from telling jokes to all of the people we were worried about: Nathan and Hannah’s friend Robin, Burt (the sixty year old manager) and a family from Sweden who had very young children. Although the four year old daughter and the two nannies had been found, the parents and the two other children were unaccounted for.
There were many injured on the hill so we were forced to go back down and look for survivors, medicine, food and water. My dad came back with a soggy but full deck of cards. We soon had a large game of cards going.
Our game did not last long. A text message was received that another wave was coming. It had already hit Phuket and would be there in less than half an hour. We were all sucked out of our fantasy world and back to reality.
When the wave was confirmed two hours later, we decided that it wasn’t coming. It was almost dark and we had to move quickly to find mosquito nets for the injured and provisions for the night. Very few of us still had hope that we would be rescued today.
The night was one of the worst times of my life. Any bad situation can be made worse by darkness. Fires had been started on the beach to attract any passing boats. Monkeys had returned to the hill and were now occupying the trees above us. Every time a wave crashed on the beach, it was enough to wake you from a partial sleep. It seemed like days before dawn finally arrived.
We descended the steep slope for what was hopefully the last time. The injured, put on makeshift stretchers, were carried down the hill. One of the Thai staff shimmied up a tree and threw down several coconuts. He climbed back down and skillfully broke them open with a sharp rock. The fresh coconut meat was welcomed by all. The signal fires were relit to create smoke. Anything from vegetable oil to dirty blankets was burned in hopes of the smoke being spotted from afar. On the lagoon side, a sea turtle had been washed up on shore and had been trying to get back to the water. We picked it up and carried it down to the water’s edge. We watched it swim away as if nothing had happened.
Suddenly, from a distance, a small noise like an engine came from the south, getting louder by the second. All around me people started to dance with joy. It was a helicopter.


Epilogue

After two tries, the Thai Royal Navy helicopter landed on the stretch of beach. Two Navy seals jumped out and soon the injured had been loaded on and the copter took off. Soon after, two more helicopters and a boat arrived. Mom, Max, Quin and I, as well as Carrie and her family, got on the second copter (a Huey without doors straight out of the Vietnam War movies). We were delivered to a small town called Takua Pa. We spent the night in a dirty hotel room across from the landing field. In the morning we took a bus to Phuket airport. There we boarded a plane that looked as if it was stolen from an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie. The flight back to Bangkok took almost four hours, when it normally takes one. My dad had arrived the previous day and was staying at one of the nicest hotels in Bangkok, where we were reunited with him. We spent over a week in Bangkok in an American man’s house. This time was spent getting new passports, new air tickets, new backpacks and new clothes.

After purchasing new backpacks and a few clothes, we headed off to explore northern Thailand riding elephants and taking cooking classes in Chang Mai, hanging out in Pai, and exploring the amazing Lod Cave in Soppong. From there we flew to Siem Reap, home of the magnificent temples of Angkor. And the adventure continues!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Life in Northern Thailand

Sending my love from a little wood bamboo hut along a sleepy little river in N. Thailand. I can hear the sound of the water buffalo bells, clang, clang, clang, down by the river. It is a paradise where tourists visit, and yet local life does not feel altered by tourism.

Our first night here, we went through this enormous cave. We were guided through for nearly two hours by a sweet young woman for 100 baht ($2.50). I think she has three children (even though she looked about 18). I know she has a baby. She has a good sense of humor and we shared about 10 words of the same language. This is always my frustration, the inability to communicate with another because we do not speak the same language. I would have asked her about her child (or children), her life and so much more. Inside the cave, we road for awhile on a bamboo raft for another 100 baht. As we came out of the cave, the sun was setting and hundreds of thousands of fork-tailed swifts where flying in for the night while quite so many bats where departing. A crowd of maybe 20 tourists were treated to a remarkable cacophony accompanied by the strong smell of guano. On the first night, someone asked if the birds and bats ever collide? On the second night, as Ben and I read about echolocation (nature’s version of a radar system), a small swift fell from the sky just a few feet in front of us, stunned with it’s wings spread wide and yet still breathing. We watched for awhile and then walked home along a trail, that connected to a road that led through a little village. We passed a woman sitting outside a little general store, “sawadee ka”, and a water buffalo tied into the back of a barely bigger pick-up truck rocking it back and forth. We watched people gathered in a house turned temple for a prayer service led by 2 or 3 monks.

Yesterday we embarked on a wonderful all day journey. We started hiking along the river and with the day rapidly heating up, we ended up in the river hiking up stream to the road that would take us to the nearby (7km) Karen tribe village. After we parted from the river to the road the whining reemerged and only subsided when we launched into 20 questions. After two hours of steep up and down hills, we arrived at a sleepy village of about 100 homes. In no time woman appeared from all directions descended upon me with their scarves while all my guys made a quick exit in search of coca colas. I bought a scarf from each woman and we cordially parted ways. The boys found the general store and a young woman who spoke a tiny bit of English. Another young girl sat on the bench across from the small shop holding a brand new babe while a barely walking toddler played beside her. She couldn’t have been much older than 16. We made our way to the school where we found two young men (temporary teachers) who spoke a small bit of English. Neither of the teachers spoke the tribal language that the children mostly spoke but all the kids were full of joy and so beautiful. One young, village mother of a four-year-old described herself as a “baby” teacher and seemed to hold the whole place together. She found the elephant people for us, she brought us green tea and she shared her lunch of noodles with us. She refused to take anything in return, even a gift of money for the school.

We left the village in peak tourist form atop two elephants, me with a grimaced look on my face trying to stay on the seat each time the elephant lumbered downhill. It was so amazing, something right out of a Heifer catalog: A village with dirt roads, wooden huts on stilts, with cattle, buffalo, pigs and chicks grazing the ground beneath the family home. Each home had a solar panel compliments a new government rural village program and soon they will all have computers. It will be interesting to see how this changes the village. Personally, I was attracted to the uncluttered nature of a life with no excess and seemingly more connected to the land. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and the air is intoxicating. The mahout (elephant caregivers) ride so gently atop the elephant singing sweet sounding serenades to the elephants as we pass by villagers returning from the streams with a net and a basket. We road for nearly two hours through beautiful jungle landscape along a creek back to the river where a father-son team guided us back to Cave Lodge upon a bamboo raft. We floated past a teenage girl shampooing her hair in the river with a bottle of Prell shampoo alongside and I our eyes met, I wondered what is she was thinking. Does she envy me while I’m envying her?

The evenings have been sweet, sharing with the other guests while dining and then all coming together for impromptu fireside chats in the center of the dining area (yes, an open fire in the middle of a wooden structure). As people of Ireland, Australia, Denmark, US) sit listening to U2, watching people play ping pong on a WINNER brand table, drinking Singha beer, it is pretty clear that we live in a global village. Peter Mayer has a really great song called “Earth Town Square” that speaks to this very thing. I hope that the lifestyle of the people living along these back roads and streams can be preserved. But then again, perhaps they would rather welcome progress.

Hi From Pai

Hey all,

I’m writing from Pai, a small town in northern Thailand. Since the tsunami, we’ve spent time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The time in Bangkok was mainly just recovering from the tsunami. After a week of hanging out, we took the night train to Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand. We were there for three days and during that time we rode elephants and took Thai cooking classes. Riding an elephant is somewhat like riding a horse, but bigger and rougher. Now we are in a much smaller town called Pai and despite its name there’s no “pie” to be found. Everything else is delicious. We visited a school today and I have to say that the students in Thailand seem to get less school work done and they are outside more.

I’ll soon be posting my version of the events at Golden Buddha Beach, so check back soon.

Lah gòrn,
Ben

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Children's Day in Chiang Mai

I remember standing in an aisle in McGuckins with Quin sometime ago. As he lay on the ground balancing a soccer ball on his feet, he was lamenting the fact that there is no Children's Day, but we get a Mother's and Father's Day. Lucky for Quin, Thailand celebrates Children's Day on January 8th.

We had a great Children's day in Chiang Mai after leaving Bangkok the night before on the night train and wow did we love the train. The boys love it because they can bounce off the walls, and I think I love it because it gives us time to process the experiences we just had before we launch into the next environment. We can't say enough how appreciate we were of Larry's generosity in sharing his quiet refuge with us. We were also able to have a "celebration of life" dinner with Carrie, Roger, Hannah, Nathan and their friend Marsha. (Roger got out of the hospital on Friday and he gets to keep his finger - Hooray!) We spent some time trying to come up with a collective memory of the time after the tsunami and realized there were many small details that none of us (except Ben) could clearly remember. We are considering visiting their gang in Katmandu if all permits. Most of all I had time to reflect on how incredibly grateful I am for this journey and everyone I meet along the

For now we are enjoying Chiang Mai. Suwai, a friend of a friend, met us at the train station at noon on Saturday, led us to a wonderful lunch and helped us find our lodging complete with a swimming pool (just what kids should have on Children's Day). Our big adventure led us to the night bazaar for dinner and a bit more shopping.

Today I am working on our action for the MAU website (Juliana and I are doing this really cool tag team thing since she's awake when I sleep and vise versa). It feels good to be working after reading the news yesterday of so many children orphaned by the tsunami. It feels so much more real to me now when I think of an AIDS or tsunami orphan or a parent having lost their child to a disaster, war or preventable disease. Watch for our new actions to be up in a couple of days at www.mothersactingup.org. The boys are off on an adventure, riding elephants I think but who knows when you set off to where the wind takes you. Count on lots of great pictures.

Love to you all,
Joellen

Children's Day in Chiang Mai

I remember standing in an aisle in McGuckins with Quin sometime ago. As he lay on the ground balancing a soccer ball on his feet, he was lamenting the fact that there is no Children's Day, but we get a Mother's and Father's Day. Lucky for Quin, Thailand celebrates Children's Day on January 8th.

We had a great first day in Chiang Mai after leaving Bangkok the night before on the night train and wow did we love the train. The boys love it because they can bounce off the walls, and I think I love it because it gives us time to process the experiences we just had before we launch into the next environment. We are very appreciative to Larry for his generosity in sharing his quiet refuge with us. We were also able to have a "celebration of life" dinner with Carrie, Roger, Hannah, Nathan and their friend Marsha. (Roger got out of the hospital on Friday and he gets to keep his finger - Hooray!) We spent some time trying to come up with a collective memory of the time after the tsunami and realized there were many small details that none of us (except Ben) could clearly remember. We are considering visiting their gang in Katmandu if all permits. Most of all I had time to reflect on how incredibly grateful I am for this journey and everyone I meet along the way and for all of you!

For now we are enjoying Chiang Mai. Suwai, a friend of a friend, met us at the train station at noon on Saturday, led us to a wonderful lunch and helped us find our lodging complete with a swimming pool (just what kids should have on Children's Day). Our big adventure led us to the night bazaar for dinner and a bit more shopping.

Today I am working on our action for the MAU website (Juliana and I are doing this really cool tag team thing since she's awake when I sleep and vise versa). It feels good to be working after reading the news yesterday of so many children orphaned by the tsunami. It feels so much more real to me now when I think of an AIDS or tsunami orphan or a parent having lost their child to a disaster, war or preventable disease. Watch for our new actions to be up in a couple of days at www.mothersactingup.org.

The boys are off on an adventure, riding elephants I think but who knows when you set off to where the wind takes you. Count on lots of great pictures.

Love to you all,
Joellen

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Where are we going from here??

I cannot tell you how appreciative we are for all of the emails, VM's, blog postings and prayers we have received over the past week. I intend to respond to each one once things slow down a bit.

We are still in Bangkok at Larry's house. We have booked an overnight train from Bangkok to Chang Mai for Friday night. I think we are all ready to push on with the adventure. The time here playing ping pong and pool (Aka Snooker) has been just what we need. Little did we know that our boys would leave Bangkok with a new Uncle and us with a new good friend. As my mother always said, there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud if you look hard enough.

On Tuesday, Joellen, Ben & I toured the Mercy Centre and had the honor of spending time with Father Joe. He has been living with and caring for the poor in Bangkok's slums for over 30 years. Currently his organization cares for nearly 300 kids and adults effected by AIDS. It was truly awe inspiring to spend time with him and experience first hand the good work they are doing. To learn more about him and his incredible organization, visit www.fatherjoe.org . If your resources allow, please don't overlook the 'Donate' button. It is money well spent, especially now considering that some of their normal sources of operating revenue will be diverted to the Tsunami disaster.

Yesterday we ventured out to take a Canal boat ride through Bangkok's extensive canal network. For 1000 Baht ($25) we had our own chauffeured long boat that took us on a site seeing tour complete with a stop at 'The Incredible Cobra World". There we saw monkeys, tigers, cobras, vipers, cocks, pythons - all very up close and personnel (check out the pics!). The boys were befriended by a pet monkey named Joey. He loved looking in everyone's pockets for treasures. The conditions of this off-the-beaten-track zoo are pretty awful, the people running it are kind, and once again you find yourself shaking your head as there are no easy answers.

Today or tomorrow we will visit Roger at the Hospital and do a little more shopping (Quin is ready to have shoes that match again). Roger's finger continues to heal. He received a skin graft yesterday and all seems to be healing nicely now that the infection is under control.

Best wishes to all for a Safe, Happy & Healthy New Year!!!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Sad news from the Island

Dear Loved Ones,

We are off to the US Embassy to get our passports replaced. Yesterday we purchased backpacks and some underwear. Scott's equipped with a new computer, a camera, and a used cell phone. We are all rested and will probably head north within the next week. We received this news from Golden Buddha Beach today. Many of the children they spoke of performed Thai dance for all the guests on Christmas eve. I can still see their precious faces. More than ever we are truly one human family!

Big hugs and love to you all!!!!

Joellen

Email from Paul Saunders (warning - this is a very depressing email):As for the village, everything within 500 meters of the ocean is in big trouble. There was a hut in the middle of the road and the huts are all flattened. Some of them are just gone- there no rubble or debris to clean up everything has disappeared. You'd never know that there was a hut left there unless you'd seen it before. The school is a pile of rubble and apparently there were a few kids as well as the teacher in it when the wave struck. The teacher is dead as well as lots of the kids. There are 39 definite deaths and one body still unaccounted for. That is about one fifth of the population of the village. The body of Lek's son has been found and Nut's brother's family are all dead.We went to the fishing village near the mangroves and it's unbelievable. There is nothing left at all. It's not like there's some foundations or rubble because the houses were all wooden. A government worker went to asses the situation and said that there was no disaster because he couldn't see any sign that humans had lived there. All the kids were killed and every adult except for two who climbed trees. The bodies of the rest have been found. The only sign that humans have been there for any length of tine is a kid's swing left swaying poignantly in the wind; unfortunately there's no-one left to swing on it now. When you think of all the kids shouting "Hello!!" at you it really brings tears to your eyes.Some of the villagers up near the mangroves saw the wave coming and instead of climbing a tree they got on their motorbikes with their families and tried to beat the wave to the school where they could turn left and move away from the sea. None of them made it. What was even worse was that we were driving back to the centre and we saw a woman lying in the road. We put her in the back of the pickup and then took her down the road to some paramedics. She was ok and not involved in the wave- she'd just fainted upon finding her son's body.We have also been to Hat Praphat Beach where the Research station is that works closely with the turtle project - the little village there is worse than Baan Talae Nok. There are seventy dead which is about eighty percent of the village. The carnage is unbelievable.