noviembre 26, 2013

Long time no see...

abril 12, 2010

over there

I passworded the other blog.

Email me to ask, if you need to read it.  If I don't give it you, it isn't cos there's stuff about you in it, it's cos there's stuff about me that I'm not ready to share right now.  Another time, I swear.

agosto 05, 2009

internet wail

While desperately trying to access the web from a by now ancient laptop bought in Singapore some time back, I find I can blog from Picasa, even if Explorer and Firefox no longer exist on the thing. So. Here's a photo of Isabella eating a Pinta Lengua on day 2 of our trip to the Amazon. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, beyond proving that there is internet. Sometimes. Somewhere out there.

marzo 17, 2008

present-coasting, not future

Oops. I got to Peru and never updated again. '06 to '08 with only one slight twinge of guilt.

In a 17 hour chug-a-thon across the least touristed border crossing between two countries since I got stuck between China and Nepal for 11 days, I got from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas in one day, a high altitude Andean city surrounded by Indiana Jones style archaeological remains. (Really. We're talking going for a walk in the jungle, hoiking up a few creepers, and finding a lost city. Then 300 more just next to it. It's unimaginable.)

Chachapoyas de antiguedad

It's the kind of place (in Ecuador at least) that travellers whisper to each other about - not really touristed, not really on the travel map yet, nowhere near as superficial and banana pancaked, US millionaire infested as Vilcabamba. It has pre Incan fortresses where you will be alone to commune with the place; strikingly different from 2000-visitors-a-day Machu Picchu. Plus, the third highest waterfall on earth - bizarrely 'discovered' just 3 years ago. It's the regional HQ of Amazonas prefecture, perched on a cloudforest ridge between the coastal desert and the Amazonian jungle, 800 miles from the nearest town, and 12 hours hurtling from a city that sells newspapers, it's a little off the beaten track.

Chachapoyas roads

What I'm trying to say is, it's remote.

So anyway, one hour after getting here, and the best burger I ever had in South America, I get speaking to some fella in the Plaza Del Armas, decided to marry him, and stay here forever.
(It was an interesting phone call home.)

And ... that would explain why I didn't update for 18 months. And why the Brazilian postal addresses didn't get much action. Sorry.

noviembre 07, 2007

Yes, I am still alive. And still in Peru, as it happens.

Wow. That surprised me.

noviembre 24, 2006

quick interim post from Perú

Slight adaptation to my plans caused by liking Perú enough to decide to live here forever.

Obviously this could work out a more complex decision than it first seems. But. All good. All, all, good.

Currently, strange forces tie me to the northern highlands, and make it difficult to want to move on. I'd still like to get to Manaus, and to Cayenne, and to México, but it doesn't look like I'll be there (or pick up mail people have sent me there) for quite a while yet. Few months, at least.

In the meantime, if you've been emailing me to ask for a contact address, please use this one till January:
  • Jr Ortiz Arrieta 750
    2do Piso
    Chachapoyas -- Amazonas
More when I get sick of chicken and rice and extra sugar in my coca cola.

noviembre 02, 2006

checking in from the inexpicable silences

Just down from a blissful time in some cloudforest south west of Vilcabamba, and about to set off for the border crossing that's not in any guidebooks, and that if you ask locals about, they say "well if you find out, can you write it up and let us know, in case anyone else ever asks again?"

So ... off the map for a day or two, then I'll be inthe northern highlands of Peru: in Chachapoyas, which will serve as my Machu Picchu (it's all mummies left untouched in the rockfaces beneath jungley creepers, from what I can find out), cos I'm not bloody going there (compare and contrast; I heard pensioners whingeing on about Machu Picchu, british ones, saying they should be shut down cos you have to mix your own hot/cold taps in the poshest hotels...).

After that, the river terrors begin.

Thinking back about in, in my hammock, last week, I realised the last entry was assuming you know what a bad three day river journey is like.
  • When I travelled up the River Ou, in Laos, the boat was a dug out canoe. You couldn't stand let alone move. For 6-10 hours, typically. The boat sank two times on the way. Other boats would pick up rucksacks or floating three legged stools for us, toss them over as they passed.
  • When I travelled up the Mekhong, a two day journey (ie, short compared to the Amazon), I lay groaning on a wooden plank amongst the tribeswomen who had adopted me (if they hadn't, I'd have had to stay upright). No food or drink that you didn't bring yourself. The toilet is a cabin covered in old shit. The bog itself is a hole in the floor, also covered in old shit. There's no paper, no flush, countless flies, no water, no soap. But that's okay, because by that point you're usually way beyond the point where it feels shocking to wipe your diarrhoea infested uncontrollable arse with your own hand, then pathetically try a bit of hand disinfectant gel (if you're bloody forward thinking and brought it in your pocket, not in the pack on the roof) before you have to eat with it (no cutlery in Laos).
  • Add to that trying to work out where to put the used tampons (pocket of course).
  • Or getting up from where you're groaning inside a cocoon of flies, and carrying 25 kilo of pack up a steep sand slippey river bank then hiking through tropical heat across single plank bridges a mile into town, after, looking for a hotel room that night, before day two happens 6 hours later.
These would be why I'm a little antipathetic to long periods of river travel.

But hey! It might not be like that. tock tock tock

octubre 23, 2006

future-coasting on a boat through darkest peru

This first bit's untimely ripp'd from an email I sent today ....

I'm hyper nervous about the river journey through Peru and Brazil. I know it sounds great, but I just can't seem to feel excited about it; just apprehensive about being murdered or contracting hideous diseases while lying prone in my hammock.

Can't wait to get to French Guiana, which sounds much more relaxing.

I got some tablets from my doctor to halt all my periods while I'm away; again, a spasm of fear about a month of river travel. I had a stinking period while going up the Mekhong and don't want to repeat that experience.

dusk silhouette

Now: following my usual boredom-induced terminal fear of brain tumours (totally unrelated to science or to fact, I convinced myself I had a brain tumour below my knee last week, despite not having a brain there (or in my head, come to that)) I wonder what happens inside if you don't have any periods at all, so I'm scared to use the tablets if I'm NOT on a river.....

An amusing side effect is that they make you deeply nauseous, and give you the squits.
I specified that these tablets were to help make longbus/boat journeys possible to the crap UK doctor ... I don't know what possessed him to assume that diarrhoea and nausea would be entirely manageable in the middle of the jungle with a board and a hole to poo in.....

So the river journey's going to be down the Rio Marañón via Zumba (south of Loja), Cacharpoya, Yurimaguas, to the point it joins the Rio Amazonas in Iquitos (brief pause for a jungle trek and dry land), Tabatinga / Leticia, Fonte Boa, Manaus , then possibly Belém.

I'm reckoning that's a month in a hammock on a boat.

    • I bought a hammock that's European sized - long AND wide - but I'm buggered if I know anything about how to put a hammock up.
    • I have a mozzie net, but I'm buggered if I know anything about how to not knock it down in the night. (And I've seen plenty people bitten through a hammock before, if the mozzies are big enough and fierce enough.)
    • I have enough spanish to negotiate boat deals (which will be a necessity at each city along the way). But I'm buggered if I know anything about boats other than that they always have cockroaches, they always have shit bogs, and that riverbanks are boring as hell after the first hour.
When it's done, it'll be the journey of a lifetime.
But right now, it's akin to staring at a vial of a medicine I know will give me serious squits.

octubre 22, 2006

So where've you been? 40 Ecuador

... Okay. After six weeks of studying in smoggy Quito, I'm well up on all things ecuatorian. Including the great weird breads, fruits and juices, and the sodding ever present rice and beans.

The pollution was so bad I ended up leaving Quito every single weekend, in search of air that doesn't make you cough like a seventy year smoker of a Monday. So I visited:
  • Baños (mountain biked downhill through the Andes - super pretty. Super tiring.)
    no bananas vi
  • Latacunga (mad meat-laden Mamá Negra fiesta full of free booze, and virgins held aloft atop of split pigs and hamsters or what have you. Locals spit spirits all over you to 'cleanse' you. We had to leave early, cos the whole town was too pissed ...)
  • Tungurahua (I didn't actually realise my government was warning people not to go visit extremely active volcanoes till a week after, okay?),
    Lava river
  • roof rode the train from Riobamba to Alausí (didn't have a bloody choice, you can ride roof or cattle car. I spent the whole six hours clinging to a railing and whimpering with my mp3 player turned up high as possible)
    roof riding on the Riobamba train line
  • Imbabura province, where I climbed waterfalls with my eyes shut, and yelling 'puta madre' at my teachers,
    Peluche cascades
  • Markets in Otovalo (über touristy), Imbabura, and Saquisili, in Ambato (more authentic, though I hate the word. Nearly came home with a cow. $30. A snip)
  • Pululahua Volcano, near Quito (am Ecuadorian family I'd got chatting to invited me to a reunion there, and I had two singular experiences: one was sitting in a 38 degree jacuzzi drinking and talking shit in spanish (I speak PERFECT spanish when I'm drunk) while a thick freezing fog rolled in around us down the crater rim; the other was overcoming my terror of horses to learn to ride. And actually finding that I'm a natural, I'm really GOOD on a horse. Hurrah!). They're starting up a hostel for mountain climbers, mountain bikers, and horse riders on the floor of the volcano (I was the 7th person ever to go there), for just $8 a night, and all the alfalfa farming you can manage to help out with ... but haven't actually made their web page googlable, for some unknown reason. If ever you're in Ecuador and want an escape route that's the opposite of Quito's smoggy citified blankness, go here.
    my first pony
  • Mitad del Mundo, near Quito, or the big red touristy painted line that marks zero degrees (more or less, I think they got the geography a little wrong). Memorable because I got SO lost on the way, got off a bus early, and ended up hitching down the motorway to the place. (When the guys who offered me a lift offered me beer and weed, and detoured to their house, I got increasingly antsy, me and my then eight words of spanish. (They proffered the opinion that I seemed awful 'serious'. Scared of near death experiences was probably nearer the mark.) But they were - incredibly - decent folk, and got me where I wanted to go.)
    Ecuador = Equator
  • Galapágos. Incredible place. Only Tibet compares for weirdness.

    bait ball

    I went there to dive, primarily - diving in Galápagos is difficult, and is all about the big pelagics (read: sharks), so you either have the best dive of your life, or the emptiest. But the real charm of the Galápagos is the animal world above water - how unafraid they are of humans. Pelicans swoop overhead like something out of Jurassic Park, and swimming marine iguanas spit at you in a desultory fashion, as turtles, birds, sealions, the lot, swim up, sniff you, swim off without much interest. Mockingbirds follow you around, trying to work out what you are. I can see what science fiction writers mean when they say just a tiny change can twist the world into new shapes.

  • Guayaquil and Cuenca: Big city, then pretty city. Wish I'd gone to study in neat, traditional, colonial looking Cuenca weeks earlier, then I wouldn't have had two weeks of the worst spanish teacher ever (La Brujita) in Quito. (They've asked me to give feedback on accommodation and teaching there. I don't particularly want to get anyone sacked .... but I don't need to lie either. When I listen to north americans and europeans these days, I'm struck by how happy they are to complain about everything and anything, and I don't particularly want to join that gang. What would you say? How bad would you let the review get?)

septiembre 27, 2006

me address. es. possibly.

I'm in a bizarre self inflicted rush. Tengo prisa.
Just to say: I'm leaving Quito permanently on the 13th, so you haveabout two days exactly to post that letter there*, or change theaddress to the next one.
I think the next one listed in the sidebar here is Cayenne, in French Guiana, where I can pick stuff up in late November.
But if you want an address in between now and two months from now, then ... there are options.
  • I'll definitely be in Cuenca, Ecuador till October 25th, studying a bit more spanish.
  • I'll also call at Iquitos, Peru at the start of November [but I don't know for sure that I'll have time to get mail there, and as there's noroads to the place, I don't know if mail wil take forever to get thereor not. So if you send anything there, let me know.]
  • I will DEFINITELY go to Manaus, Brazil, for early November, and will have time to pick up mail. And it's a big, reliable city.
* That letter you OWE me. Yeah, you. You got postcards, right? You didn't reply to emails, right? I send out 40 DIFFERENT emails or cards and I can count repliers on the finger of one finger.
** If you have my home address in Quito, DON'T send anything there. It's super convenient for me to pick up, but it has the disadvantage of an extra week for the entire apartment block to read the thing first.
Letters sent to the Lista De Correos in Quito, (the addy in the sidebar) are quicker, delivery takes about 12 days.
*** Lista de Correos, Correo Central, then the name of the city, plus the country is probably enough of an address to get somewhere. In the end.
OKAY: resume of addresses:
  1. Quito Lista De Correos (aka Poste Restante), Correo Central, Espejo 935, Quito, Ecuador - not valid after 2 days, (your end)
  2. Lista De Correos, Correo Central, Cuenca, Ecuador - not valid after 7th Oct
  3. Lista De Correos, Serpost, Arica 102, Iquitos, Amazonas, Peru - not valid after 20th Oct - dodgy. WARN me.
  4. Posta Restante, Correios, Rua Marcílio Dias 160, Manaus, Amazonas, Brasíl **** - not valid after 25th Oct
  5. Poste Restante, La Poste, Place Leopold Heder, Cayenne****, French Guiana, France. - not valid after 14th Nov
  6. Poste Restante, Korte Kerkstraat 1, Paramaribo, Suriname. - not valid after 25th Nov
**** Recap: MANAUS! CAYENNE! These are good reliable time frames!

septiembre 20, 2006

aquí estoy

Quito and I are not speaking any more. The honeymoon drew to a frosty, sudden close.
I can't eat any more rice, any more huevos, I can't suffer Quito's icy 6am showers, they remind me too much of an old man with no teeth spitting, I can't blithely walk into morning smog cloud dense enough to make the Andes disappear.
I'm the snappish bitter wife who wishes Quito would scrub up a bit, act more like we'd just met, send me flower sellers, offer me its ayudar, its corázon once more.

So to spite the whingeing, which can be considerable and lengthy (if I sent mail, I apologise. disculpe) I offer you one of the prettiest dictations I´ve transcribed at mi escuela:

Elefante - Durmiendo con la Luna

Aquí estoy entre el amor y el olvido
Entre recuerdos y el frió
Entre el silencio y tu voz
Aquí estoy viendo pasar los segundos
Viendo pasar los minutos
Viendo pasar el amor
Aquí estoy con la sonrisa fingida
Que me dejó tu partida
Como un verano sin sol
Aquí estoy sin la mitad de mi vida
Uncallejón sin salida
Viendo la vida pasar
Aquí estoy cantándole a la fortuna
Soñando con tu cintura
Con lo que nunca será
Aquí estoy enredado con la duda
Durmiéndo con la luna
Despertándo con el sol
Aquí estoy

septiembre 08, 2006


More on la lengua ... it's making my head hurt. I don't speak any english here ... unless I'm reading a novel or writing an email (oh, that's 75% of the day done, then).
> How strange to be in a
> non-english speaking world, I didn't know they existed!

Me either. Everywhere else I´ve been ('cepting China, where you're inferior for not being chinese anyway, so they expect you to be stupid, which is actually rather helpful) they seemed aware that learning their language was hard, so they helped, or praise you as you stumble through it.

Here, nobody speaks english, so why would they be nice to you for speaking a bit of
spanish? Why can't you speak it properly? You tiresome gringo.
Look, we'll slow it down a bit, and that's all we're doing. Speak spanish properly!
Yeah, I'm picking it up quickish*, but... it feels so weird not to be reverting to your home tongue. Not to be able to say what you really mean, or say it with sub-clauses, or in tenses that are even approaching correct. Some days ... well, most days ... I feel like my head can't take another word of this blasted lingo, and go sit on some steps in the sunshine wondering when it'll be easy.

If my profesora tells me an irregular verb, I quite unfairly fix her with a steely look as if she'd made the language difficult quite on purpose, to destroy me.

Perhaps I should calm down, and just speak it spectacularly badly for a day or two.
(* Disclaimer for people I know who are learning spanish where it's not going so quick: I get 20 hours a week of spanish classes, I do another 25 hours a week of revising me spanish, I only speak spanish at home, I only speak spanish outside the home, and on the weekends, I go on extra spanish language outings. Of course it's going quicker than sitting at home with a book.)
Right, Enough. I'm off to Cotopaxi for the weekend.

septiembre 05, 2006

me gusta mucho viajar*

holy Ganga water
So... I´ve been in Quito, Ecuador, just two days. I had one spanish lesson.

I also had 19 hour flight lag, altitude sickness, major period pain, stinking squits, a stinking cold, and a blister from the damnably new experience of wearing a watch .... moving or standing is hard, let alone recalling anyone´s name.

And nobody speaks english.

But.... I toasted the spanish! I rule!

Soy Yo puedo hablar español!
Yo pienso que español es facil. (Pero la alfabeta es mas es muy difícil...)
No soy tengo miedo después una dias. No tengo vergüenza!

Mind you, I can´t roll an "r" to save my life, not with the cottonmouth that 2800m above sea level gives you.


* feel free to correct all the mistakes.

agosto 31, 2006

(that noise that cars make as they speed round the racetrack past you)

Trying to weather a ridiculously deflating vaccination program, while getting ready for another 6 months away ... but the recovery naps are winning. So if I haven't spoken to you this week, please bear that in mind.
And that my shit mobile company have binned every mobile phone voicemail I got this year instead of forwarding them to me; the only voicemail that works properly is the one listed in the column to the right on this blog. So if you left me a message - I didn't get it. Soz.

>Today a nurse stressed repeatedly to me the importance of avoiding
>unprotected sex with Ecuadorian men before 19th September. Some days
>it doesn't much feel like reality, does it?

More when I get to Ecuador, where hopefully, the altitude sickness and jetlag will feel just like this does. :)

agosto 26, 2006

While I'm tidying this place up ...

water spiral
water spiral ...........
Tidying. Updating details of how you can write to me, or leave me voicemail (not that you ever do, you buggers. How many cards have you had?)

Sneaking in overdue end-of-journey posts I should have written a month ago...

And begging for tips on places / things you recommend on the next lap of the journey.

And eventually, the mysterioso confusion that reigned here for a year starts to defog ... I'm finally having a crack at explaining what I've been up to over the past year or so on some of the older pages of this blog.

The story is slow in coming, but most of it should be up soon enough .... patience! .... I'm getting to it, okay .... damn, this is taking a long time .... it's probably a displacement activity for packing rucksacks, isn't it .... where was I? Cup of tea .... mmm .... oh yeah, you wanted to read about what I got up to in:

2005: the Pacific
New Zealand
Cook Islands
2005/6: South East Asia
Viet Nam
2006: South Asia

I told you it would take me a while.

struck dumb

Bristol Cathedral windows
I got the address of my host homestay family in Ecuador, and suddenly The Terror has me wondering why, at 36, I suddenly need to speak Spanish?

I mean, I'm British: undergoing total immersion in a language isn't going to work, I should have learnt that at 14.
I'm simply going to revert to sign language and photographs, aren't I?

And there's three days of jetlag plus altitude sickness in which I have to communicate with the Benitez-Herrera family sufficiently to be fed, dried, ignored politely, and any stray insects calmly removed - the point of the escapade is that they don't speak any English, and I ... well, I studied a few phrases on a flight to Mumbai a while back, and learnt 'como dice' and 'buenos tardes'.

And I already know 'paella', 'salsa' and 'tortilla' type words.

I know from stumbling, halting conversations in deutsch (with etiquette-challenged north germans in various konditorei this year) that simply speaking faster and louder in one's home language at someone struggling to follow, leads only to loud and angry altercations where I start shouting random german phrases.

This may not go down well in someone's family home.
Oh boy.
[They have two little girls, aged 14 and 8. I know any Brazilian would always bring a gift when visiting someone's home. Any suggestions on what gift to bring the Benitez Herrera family from the UK?]

equipment errors

sunburned UK
You remember my long moan about breaking laptops, mp3 players, health systems, and friendships?

Well, lots of that stuff is still broken. I'm just learning not to blame everybody else.
I sent the mp3 player back, gingerly reassuring myself I still had all the mp3s people sent me stored on gmail, it's the matter of three days solid downloading to replace them ... and was bemused to find the player returned, apparently untouched, but suddenly working.

the only computer at the airport

It wasn't till I went to stay at Lemonpillow's place last weekend that she pointed out (while I was wailing that the bloody thing wouldn't switch off now, and it was fucked, really fucked, and I knew they hadn't done anything to it), that I was pushing the wrong button to switch the thing on and off.


agosto 01, 2006

route with a gap

I booked my flight to Quito! 1st September.

Then I confirmed my place on a six week spanish course there.

THEN I looked up temperatures in Quito .... between 8 and 19 degrees, year round.


So the next two problems are:

1. How to get across the Darien Gap?

Answer: by sea through the caribbean, I think. I can fly from Surinam's Paramaribo to Trinidad, and I hope boat from there.

2. Where else to go in S America, before I hit central America / the sea.

The places I had wanted to go were Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela (largely because it's next to the Caribbean / sea routes to central America).
The places I wanted to avoid were the Peru-Bolivia backpacker route (because it's a backpacker gap year route), Brazil (because I've been there, and because you get mugged), Colombia (because you get mugged, kidnapped, knifed, etc).
But the easiest way to travel along the northern bit is the Amazon, which means going via a bit of Peru at least, and via Manaus in northern Brazil.
It occurred to me I'd always wanted to go along the Amazon in northern Brazil, but the other way around, the romantic east-west boat trip to the interior: Recife - Belem - Manaus: and somehow I didn't want to spoil that pristine trip by buggering it up with real factual knowledge of just the exotic bits of it.
Worse, almost every country requires you to arrive with a ticket out of there pre-booked. AKA, you need to decide your time limit and route out of every country before you're allowed into it.
(I know this routine - it invariably means that the FABULOUS places you hear about en route are out of your time-limit and you can't go there.)

25% of the world was pink

So I started reading around the region, and bloody hell:
  • French Guiana* and Suriname sound stunning - much more the sort of place I enjoy than Macchu Picchu or the damn Andes.
  • Guyana turns out to be one of the most dangerous spots you can go to right now: along the lines of 'don't go ANYWHERE alone'.
  • And the Colombian coastal town of Cartagena sounds interesting too.
So now I'm stumped about planning a route across the top of the landmass.
(The other places I really don't want to cut out of the itinerary are Cuba and Mexico.)

How in hell do you cover a ton of countries, with pre-booked tickets out of there, without losing your mind or doing it all too fast?

[* French Guiana is /still/ a French colony.
So it's part of the EU, trades in the Euro,
and the addresses are via France, not the Americas.
Bloody weird.]

julio 31, 2006

ker ching

But you know what?

Things suddenly feel a lot better when you whip out your plastic and buy yourself a one way flight to Ecuador.

julio 27, 2006


I had forgotten the familiar belly-crunching feeling of frustration life in England provokes.

Things that have gone wrong recently:
  • I can't get a bastard flight to bastard Ecuador for the price I want.
  • I can get a spanish course in Quito, but not for a decent price. I'm currently trapped in a bastard bidding war of ten bastard emails a day, saying 'what a shame, because unless you can get round this, I have to give all this money to that other company'.
  • The bastard cat jumped on my new laptop and knocked it off the desk. This broke it.
  • With the broken bastard laptop I lost all my photos of everywhere I've visited in the last two years.
  • When I tried to find out service details from Fujitsu-Siemens for poxy brand new laptops, they said that you can only get them serviced in Japan, and then not by post, unless it's posted from inside the country. There's a helpline, but it only accepts local Japanese calls, from Japanese landlines, and only dispenses help in the Japanese language. (They end this information with 'sorry about that'.)
  • My bastard new mp3 player won't let me transfer the bastard music files to it on my family's stone age PC.
  • Which is fine, because the bastard mp3 player just decided to die ten seconds ago.
  • I realised that when I totalled my car in ( - what, May 2005?) the insurance company who had declared it a write-off didn't bother to send me the scrap value of the bastard car, crippled axle and all. Oh no, they thought it was a better idea to keep the car, keep the money, and then make their customer really bastard happy by debiting £80 every month from my current account for a year without mentioning it.
  • When I was in Europe for one month at new year, I tried to get medical advice, and was refused by every agency possible, because I wouldn't be in the country more than a month. Having paid national insurance contributions to the tune of three unemployed people every month for fifteen years, I wasn't best impressed with the bastard health service refusing to treat me.
  • Especially since I needed to see a bastard doctor.
  • Today the bastard health service refused to treat me again, on the grounds I'm only in the UK for two months. I asked them what the cut off point was. Apparently they won't let you see a doctor (not even speak to a bastard doctor) no matter how sick you are unless you are in the UK for three months exactly.
  • If I can't get a bastard yellow fever cert, I can't get into bastard south america.
  • Which seems mild compared to the continuing med crises.
  • And the bastard transport system wanted to charge me £50 to go 75 miles to London tomorrow so I can't see Emma or Andre or buy a bastard formal dress.
  • Not forgetting this bastard bidding war with eleven Ecuadorian language schools, to see who will drop the advertising spiel and let me learn as I do best - in a group, instead of one-to-one. This consists of C&Ping ten doubtful questioning suggestions about cognitive processes, then sadly regretting their refusal to take my bastard money. It's a bastard charade.

junio 19, 2006

west countries

I made it back through the wilds of germany to the uk, but the reason my phone isn't yet connected (goddamn passwords) and I haven't rung you or written to you is cos of wild raging feverish shits.

Blimey but this country is clean, though. :)

junio 14, 2006

so where've you been? 39 Germany: Hamburg and Luebeck

I'm doing my best, you know. I'm trying to speak German to everyone. Well, as much as I can.
I'm good enough to do a phone conversation. (It may be the worst phone conversation anyone ever had, but hey, that's a start.)
And I'm dodging into the bogs at Hamburg Altstadt hauptbahnhof, as an American teenager starts down the wrong steps. I'm helpful, I inform him in clear and confident german that he's heading into the Ladies' not the Gents.
I mean, I think the pointing helped, but the point is, I was trying.

wedding group

And even when the fat rude frau pushed in front of me at the turnstile (dragging my case over my foot and ripping most of the flesh from my toes, and didn't respond even slightly at the fact I was screaming (in german!) and the blood was gushing everywhere, and the toilet attendant had to try to stem the gushing), I only voiced one single word that wasn't german*.
And I'm ordering a big piggy meat laden fruhstuck for me and an old friend on our last morning in Hamburg, and the counter staff at the backerei are pissing me off.
They serve people out of sequence, they wander off into a corner if you make eye contact, they refuse to serve a boiled egg in this queue - this is not the korrekt queue for the boiled egg you see - they are hot and sweating and pissed off and they hate all the customers.
And I've already shown my dark side to them.
It might have been the swearing.
Or slamming down a price list.
Perhaps when I put my head down against the glass counter top above the pflaume-thingies, and beat it quietly.

I guess it was always going to go wrong.

twisty windows
What I can't explain is my reaction.

The counter staff speak to me in rapid, brusque tones.
I explain to them that I am not too good at German (in german!).
I ask them very politely if they can repeat what they have just said (in german!).
I tell them which bit of the sentence I am having trouble with (in german!).
I ask if they can speak more slowly for me (in german!).
I don't say anything AT ALL about why the bloody hell won't you speak a word of any of the international languages of communication, none of the top ten of which are fucking german?


I even tried to keep it out of my eyes, in case they could tell when I was thinking it.
And yet, when the fat bloody frau deliberately speeds up what she's saying, with an exasperatedly heavy eye-roll, and raises her voice LOUDER 'so that I will understand'**, I literally cannot believe it.

I throw my arms up, swear at her, and storm out of the backerei. Force Frank (who speaks no german) to deal with it***.
I just can't believe she spoke LOUDER, not slower or clearer.

I mean, I'm British. That's what we're supposed to do.
* or printable.

** she's going to do the coffee later
but she won't bring it to the table,
so I have to come back inside for it,
and they're totally out of orange juice
Take that, fat bloody frau!
I looked it up.
Later. Secretly.
You stroppy cow.
I win.

*** Frank dealt with it. Perfectly.

junio 13, 2006

so where've you been? 38 Isle of Skye, Scotland

I went with a friend on a hiking trip around two Skye peninsulas, and Raasay Island (the nearest approximation of Craggy Island I've ever seen in the real world).

There was tons of fabulous wildlife to spot - oystercatchers, eagles, hares, seals, stags, dolphins, wild otters. And being this close to the Outer Hebrides, to the great cold ocean that you rarely see in little Britain, is romantic and inspiring. And I loved being pretentious and middle aged in an assortment of youth hostels, and cooking something delicious and delicately spiced while everyone else huddled over a Pot Noodle.
But. My main memory is the weather.

(Sorry, Scotland.)

Skye's cold. And wet. And foggy.

the sun did shine in Scotland

No, I mean cold.

People on Skye realise this. Well, sort of. They still maintain they have a 'summer'.
My imagination isn't sufficiently cruel to imagine what a Skye winter could entail.
A particularly horrible Scots french teacher at school has left me with a lifelong mistrust of middle aged scotswomen who over-enunciate and take the piss outright till you do what they say, but people on Skye were pretty nice, really.
They flinched and gaped open-mouthed, though, whenever we wandered into some civilised township wearing shorts, though.
Admittedly, most people, tourist or local, were wearing fleeces, waterproof trousers, and thick mountain jackets. (There was a sale of Himalayan yak wool mountain gear in full swing in Portree.) But hell, it had been hot enough while packing, down south, not to be able to think yourself into the mindset where you'd be cold as a frozen herring next week.

Some lovely old chaps enquired good naturedly if we might be Australian? (I thought it was the shorts, but they said it was the accent .... ????)
One nice lady shivered when we mentioned it was currently 36 degrees in London. 'Too hot'. She shook herself and muttered that 20 degrees was hot enough for her, full stop.
On Raasay, we estimated the temperature at around 14-16 degrees, and managed to score double duvets before escaping at first light (my fault; Tibet's given me a particular horror of being dangerously under-insulated for temperatures below freezing). The hostel warden insisted we all sit in a tight circle around an oil heater, shivering.
Back in Portree, a local commented that it was 'uncomfortably hot and humid'. As a cold hail threatened to beat down.


Even in Glasgow ... I don't think I've ever been in the position, before - as a preternaturally ashen toned individual who does not ever tan - of being the brownest person in the street.

Oh, Scotland. I feel like we should have bought you some proper heaters.

junio 12, 2006

So Where've You Been? 37 Germany a-gain

In the middle of the World Cup, even bloody Frankfurt is a crowded place to be. I bought a stein full of flags, that would be worth something in the UK only if England win, and a badge that showed Brazil v Germany, which rather depends on both those teams getting to the final.

Which they didn't.

But they have funky automatic money changing machines, they were fun. Sort of.

junio 11, 2006

So Where've You Been? 36 Mumbai (again)

[I am going to pretend I didn't have to go back through Delhi, because I hate the place.]

On the way back through Mumbai, things are surreally familiar. I spent hours in see-and-be-seen cafes (best line, from a waiter: Sir, your mother has telephoned. You may not smoke a hookah), or laughing my soaked head off at the oil slick seastorm between me and the temple causeway. I loafed at my favourite Mumbai hotel, like a prince, I ran around eating all the idlis sambhar I could lay my hands on.

mango season

But the most memorable moment was just before I left the city, at dusk. All packed, I walked back to my hotel, wondering where the monsoon had disappeared to, when a five year old flower seller accosts me ten feet away from my taxi to the airport.

I'm not good with the child labour thing. [Evidence. Evidence. Evidence.]

Little kid's selling bigwilting gerberas, big as her face. She's tugging insistently at my trousers, and I only have 8 rupees in my pocket. She doesn't speak much english, but life on the streets has taught her some.

"Twenty rupee!"

No. No. Sorry, darlin'. No.

"Fifteen rupee!" The automatic hard-heart, the necessary guard-against-it response to poverty kicks in as she does the automatic have-you-no-heart begging gesture - pinched fingers coming again and again to her mouth in supplication.
Hungry, it means. I'm no match for it.

I crouch down to her level. I haven't time or expertise enough to sign-language my way out of this, so I hope slow english and gestures will show her what I mean.
No. Don't need it. No money. No. See? No money. Only eight rupee. I would love to buy but no money. No.
I show her the coins. Only eight rupee, see? No money. She shakes her head.

Then takes the coins from my open hand.

Oh shit.

She stuffs the wilting gerbera in my hand. I try to pass it back to her. No. I don't need it. No take. She looks insulted. Turns her face away to indicate this is a sale, not a begging pitch. To maintain the fiction of self-respect, I have to collude, agree to take the wilting oversized flower from her.
She has me now; I feel like shit, and she knows it. The guilt transaction is successful. I've insulted her. I'd probably buy her half a store full of whatever she points at by now. Or a ticket to a country where she doesn't have to beg in the streets at age five.

She points at a paan seller, points to her mouth.

No fucking
way! Chewing baccy?! That stuff's carcinogenic. I'm not buying paan tobacco for an infant. Not in any circumstances.

She starts to cry. There's nothing I can do to end this exchange but stand back up and walk briskly away.

Oh god. I just haggled a five year old down on a daisy.

junio 10, 2006

So where've you been? 35 Rajasthan

I forgot to write about what Rajasthan was like: middle of the desert / middle of a heatwave - hot.

the moustache files

I went to Jaipur (pink city), Jaisalmer (golden fort), and Jodhpur (blue city). When your eyes are turned blue-squinty-green from overhead billion wattage sunstroke, all those colours fade to roughly similar sweat soaked bleachy white.

Glancing at my diary, I'm reminded of keeping a bucket of dirty water in my bedroom to tip over myself at intervals through the night. It was the only way to get cold water, too, as water in the bucket was chilled more efficiently than the water in the hot sun-baked pipes from the roof still.
Until I realised hot showers lessen the shock, and warm your body up to a temperature where the dry desert air starts to feel refreshing. For five minutes at least.

rajasthani parasol

People sleep on rooftops to get cool - at night in Jodhpur, the temperature would drop to 38 degrees, and - praise to someone or something - there'd be a breeze. There you are, lying on hard mud ground in your PJs, trying to sleep on your elbow as a pillow, and you'd be slapped awake by a full bucket of sand gusting into your mouth.
My favourite windows were the diagonal cubby hole windows in thick fort walls in Jaisalmer. They'd be covered with a tiny, 3 by 10 inch glazed window in bright jewel colours, inside, set at random heights into cow dung baked mud walls. The light would flicker and spin slightly, as the birds nesting in the cubbies shifted, trying to escape the dry heat.

Good Old Jaisalmer

There's obviously a strong hippie tourist trail in Rajasthan in the summers, and budget hotels actually advertise themselves as making less insistent sales pitches on camel safaris than anyone else. In a heatwave, though, the place is empty, everything's shut, and you have the view to yourself. Like Varanasi, it was the sort of place locals drag you into their homes and beg you to stay for dinner. One family (who were feeding me for a day or two as they built a backpacker restaurant by throwing up cement illegally on top of the fort walls) pointed out that a safari in June would be "camel suicide".

mayo 30, 2006


I think - I think - this is my 300th day away.

But I'm too lazy to count.


Thanks to four five days of flight cancellations, and an evening spent watching a lizard rotate the room, I'm actually no longer too lazy to count.

If I discount the two weeks I cheated by going back to England ...

On 2nd June, I will have been away 300 days.
On 2nd June, I will have been in India 60 days.

By the end of my trip, I will have been in India 75 days.
And spent 32 days in Nepal, alongside 32 days on Fiji Islands.
I'll have spent 26 days in Viet Nam, almost all of them in Ha Noi.
And 22 days in the USA, all of them in Hawai'i.
I spent 21 thoroughly enjoyable days in Singapore.
And 18 days in Malaysia, of which 8 were in the Malaysian parts of Borneo.
Altogether, in three different bursts, I spent 16 rather forgettable days in Thailand.
And 15 days on Cook Islands.
I spent 14 days in Tibet that will probably, and unfortunately, never fade.
And 13 unexpected days in Laos.
I spent longer than it felt, 10 days, in New Zealand; and indubitably not long enough.
And, surprisingly, on an Asia-Pacific journey, by the time I return, 9 days will have been spent in Germany.
Thanks to the second Bali bombings, I spent just 7 brief days without a guidebook in Indonesia.
Which is marginally longer than the 5 days I spent technically nowhere, shuytned (shuytne-ed?) between two borders. (I actually spent 11 days physically trapped between two barbed wire posts there, but only 5 days without any official visa to remain anywhere).
Strangely, I also spent 5 days in Switzerland. No similarity, though.
Finally, I spent one day in the Netherlands when a plane was redirected.
Please don't be a nerd and tell me the totals don't add up; the international date line was frequently on my itinerary. I lost several days, I gained several days, simply sitting in an overheated aircraft, so the only way to count things is to use home-days.
7 people promised to meet me but for one reason or another didn't make it. But: 10 people have written me letters to poste restante offices and hotels along the way, several of them very very regularly - 5 of which were parcels of christmas tree earrings, emergency immodium, knickers, reading matter, and supplies of british duracell batteries; and another 4 people have sent me muchly listened to voicemail.

That's 18 countries in toto. 8 months in Asia, and 3 months on Pacific islands. In 315 days.

And on 17th June, I'll finally be going home.

mayo 29, 2006

So where've you been? 34, New Delhi airport

Three days. Three Four Five Seven fucking days.

Delhi airport.

Plane is cancelled, madam.
Come back tomorrow madam.
You want refund, madam?

Delhi airport is one of the shittest airports on the planet. Airports in tiny leetle indian towns in the desert are better than Delhi airport.
You have to pay an airport tax to sit down. To go near a stall that will sell you a drink of water, and a nugget of deep fried something. (In the country of amazing food, there seems an unspoken law that all airports must serve only inedible deep fried snackettes and nescafe. If you're lucky.)
You have to pay an airport tax to find shade.

Left luggage? No, madam.

As with many bureaucratic organisations in this country, it's not till I'm granted an audience with the airport manager (after the standard five minute wait that demonstrates he's important) I learn there is somewhere I can store my luggage. Round the back of the arrivals carpark.
No, the airline reps don't know of it. Yes, of course there's a tax.

This allows me three days of fun and bargaining with Delhi taxi touts, who even by my standards of taxi-distrust (around the level of Pluto), manage to shock me by haggling for 650 rupees for a 40 rupee skip down the road.

And ... eventually, to the nearest shopping mall. Hey, I've been in Maharashtra and Punjab for a while, my creature comforts are powered down.
Bookshops with REAL books, not the shitty crap that Londoners leave in India when they don't want to carry it back home. Stores that sell clothes that don't fall to pieces in four minutes, that actually fit me. Cinemas. Juice stands. A Sony emporium. A supermarket, with the white lights and the clean stone flags, and the boulangerie and the charcuterie sections. Not a paan spattered shack containing what in other countries would be the contents of a hotel dustbin. A bloody supermarket.
And ... 'Choko-La'. A chocolate emporium.

With sofas.

There are no sofas outside of the US and Europe.

They have sofas and chocolate. Chocolate from Bernard Decai, Harrods' chocolatier.
I gorge on clafouti with brandy snaps. Coffee. Meze. Coffee. Rich dark mayan chocolate and praline. Coffee. Coffee.

When check-in time approaches, I'm clutching the warm brown leather and nearly crying. No. No! It's a sofa. You can't make me leave. A sofa. Don't you understand?

mayo 28, 2006

So where've you been? 33 Amritsar, the Punjab

Amritsar is one of those Great Places. Like Varanasi, a holy city; the birthplace of the Sikh religion.

what time is it?

I could tell you about bathing in the Amrit Sarovar (pool of holy nectar), at the Golden Temple - in itself a wonder, in India, one pool for all castes?
Or the fat koi that play around you as you bathe fully clothed.
Or the spicy namkin nibbles I gorged on every day.
Or how beautifully my tried and tested Losing Yourself technique succeeded - of getting a rickshaw as far as I can make the guy pedal (anywhere as long as it's out of the city), then trying to find my way without a map back again.
Or the fat black puy lentils that form a punjabi dal, or the butter covered spiral shape that transforms a lowly paratha into a slice of heaven.


But I think my abiding memory of the Punjab will be of the Pakistan border at Attari / Wagah. Around one thousand indians, and me, squashed onto terraces.
(and I read about this ceremony later, in a Palin travelogue, and he laments the lack of chairs, says they had to make the best they could without chairs, and feel worried that not only did I not notice the lack of chairs as I squatted on haunches with everyone else, but it didn't even cross my mind that there ever could be chairs. There may be some adjustments to coming home from ten months in Asia)
It's scorching 46 degree heat (that's something like 115 fahrenheit, I think), and my clothes are soaked with sweat. Not liberally dampened - actually soaked. There is one dry spot, somewhere around my ankles, otherwise it looks like I've been swimming. When the crowd thins, I notice a circle of spatter marks around me, where I've actually been gushing liquid. From such perspiration rich ampules as chin, elbows, knees.
I had a fan, but offered it to a family from Nepal, who promptly invite me to their home in Sunauli. Having avoided Sunauli once this year already, I politely decline.

It's the sort of press of people I've only seen before at an Edinburgh Hogmanay.
Border guards are over six feet high (in a country of three footers), with excessively poncey uniforms: white gaiters, red fans on tall black hats - all adding about ten inches and the look of those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that learn in the third reel to operate machine guns. When they march, polished toes clip up to nose height.
And a man whips the crowd up into a jingoistic frenzy. Men race up and down with the Indian flag, cheered on by fat uncles dancing the dance of tubby indian men at weddings everywhere, the seductive rhythmic shoulder shrug of 'I-don't-care'.
The man yells into a microphone. And a thousand people next to me scream. Hindustan!
Hindustan. Hindustan.

Across the barbed wire and gate, the same ceremony happens in a different country. Two flags are lowered with competitive theatrical glares as gates are thrown contemptuously shut on the only land border crossing between India and Pakistan.
Hindustan. Hindustan. A roar. A delighted roar.

Above us an eagle circles, looking for prey in the rice fields.

mayo 25, 2006

So where've you been? 32 Maharashtra, India: fifty thousand years old and from another planet ... anyone could get distracted, right? right?

So-o-o, I was flying over Maharashtra, see, and the pilot pointed out the window, and showed us Lonar Meteorite Crater.
Fifty thousand years old. Give or take six thousand years
And so-o-o, of course I had to go there. Hang the cost. I could pick up a rock! From another planet!

Maharashtra bicycle

I paid through the nose for the 7 hour drive there and back. Turned out being a tour guide wasn't included in the 1,700 rupee itinerary. Sitting with a cold drink by the car saying 'there it is' was about the extent of it.
'Path's on the right.'

Right of what? Staring down into a partially filled crater pool, fourteen tiny deserted temple structures scattered the sides. 2 kilometres diameter. 170 metre deep salt pool. The largest meteor crater in the world.

A perfect greeny blue hole punched into the earth, before the dawn of (our) time. Noted in the oldest sanskrit documents. Fifty thousand years old.
It made yesterday's second century cathedrals carved top-down into a rockface at Ajanta seem nouveau.

I estimated thirty, maybe forty minutes to get to the bottom (noon. clothed in black. 42 degrees.). Ten minutes to eat salt based stuff and rehydrate, then thirty minutes back.
Started on the right of a crevasse. No path. Spotted a goat track on the left hand side, so retraced myself and alternately clambered / walked / skittered in an ungainly fashion down the road not taken instead.

After about ten minutes of photographing weirdy opals set in black basalt rock (from another planet!), and sliding warily down scree, I noticed the big set of giant's causeway type stairs on the right. Beyond the bloody big crevasse.
Ah well. Didn't fancy being stuck with Suresh, my driver, after dark, much, so there was a time limit. I was a third of the way down by then. What's the diff?

I ran into a herd of goats, thorny silver brambles that looked uncannily metallic, like the truly otherworldly silverswords that only grow above 2000m inside volcanoes. I nearly stepped in a massive honeycomb fallen from somewhere (the moon ...?), and made good use of my camera to photograph dead trees in order to remember the way back up out of there.

Forty minutes of clumping clumsily, trying to remember how trekking in the Annapurna I'd learnt to zigzag downhill, save your knees and ankles from repetitive and unaccustomed shock.
I made it. Emerald green kingfishers diving, cranes rustling in thick bracken clumps on the water. Peacock calls. In the far distance, buffalo bathed in the salt lake. The area surrounding the base of the crater was craggy, parched dry, magnificent. Like a riverbed in a David Attenborough 'Drought Special'.
It almost looked like there could be lava down there, where sun-leeched dust crust slowly morphed into black, into red, into algaed green, and then into thick salt water.
Sweaty hands clutching a faded dying camera. I wanted closeups.

I started noseying around the crusty bits.
African drought ridden riverbeds what you see on telly don't suck you in.
David Attenborough never looks down to find he's sinking.
How was I supposed to know this molten rock like stuff was liquid?
Yep. Unh-hunh. The curse continues.


I fell into the meteorite crater. The ground just Gave a little, and boom. Encased in thick black sludge halfway up the calves of my jeans.
With a forty minute hike back up the crater walls to go. Great. There's no such thing as quickmud, right? I remember thinking. I mean, there's quicksand, but there's no way there's quickmud.
I needed a photo of this. No one can be this clumsy. No one.
Long fumble in pack. Change batteries. Fidget. Find memory card full. It's too bright in the noon burn-beat-heat to seee the miniscule screen, let alone delete anything, and I thanked my foresight in buying a replacement card. Switch card. Fiddle. Fiddle. Fiddle with the stupid things. All this standing ankle-deep in ....


Knee deep.

There is such a thing as quickmud after all.

You know, I haven't even the energy to tell you about getting stuck in the crevasse on the way out (in four inch thick black mud-yeti boots), and having to remember my rock climbing instructor's words from back in 1983 to get up the basalt rockface to the top of the crater.

watery shadows

Or the three maggots I found living between my toes when I finally made it to a standpipe.

mayo 20, 2006

bloody hell!

Have you seen what the new improved Flickr can do?

Karen said:

mayo 18, 2006

< head wobble > Hoi!

Indians! What does the head-wobble mean?

PPQ commented:
Speaking as someone from the Indian sub-continent....I can only say that it is similar to the australian know when even statements are apoken with the tone flicking up at the end so that everything sounds like a question?
I loved this idea, because it actually makes sense. And I think possibly in Nepal it could be true. But my confusion definitely stems from it being used as the sole reply to a direct question. As in:
* Where is the temple?
* [head wobble]

** Should I take my shoes off in here?
** [head wobble]

*** What time is it?
*** [head wobble]
Okay, so the last one is a tad unfair, they clearly didn't understand the question.
One of my most fun days in the Andamans involved hiring a moped to drive around Havelock island, and do a head wobble at every Andamanese we drove past. There was an 80% return-wobble success rate. And still none of us knew what it meant.
Andre commented: it means yes
Ahhhh, but.
The only definite translations I have are confusing - I certainly have seen the head wobble used to represent, without any verbal accompaniment, all of the following phrases
  • Yes.

  • No.

  • Maybe.

  • Not this week.

  • Thursday.

  • You cretin.

  • I'm fine, thankyou.

  • Again?

  • You tell me mate.

  • Baksheesh please.

  • Is that all?

  • Hello.

  • You're funny.

  • I'm going to fucking get you now you bastards.

  • Thankyou very much.

You see my problem? [wobbles head]

Edit ii:
Eguiguren commented:
Ah, yes- the lovely head woggle. I first became acquainted with it in the UAE, where something like 80% of the population comes from the Indian sub-continent.
It can mean "yes." Or "I don't know." Or "maybe".
But here's a radical thought- it actually means nothing. Just think of it as someone blinking. Sometimes blinking in utter incomprehension, but just blinking nonetheless.
You could be onto something, y'know. (Apart from a woggle being something the boyscouts tie their neckerchiefs with :)
So I got me a book on body language. Apparently in Indian expatriate communities around the world (NRI - non-resident indians), the head wobble means yes.
It's close enough to a head shake to be interpreted by a european as no, which is where the double-take and confusion starts.

But apparently, in India, the head wobble means this:
Mm-hmm. I'm listening. Go on.

mayo 14, 2006

So where've you been? 31 Mumbai: Heat Haze

I scheduled myself a week in Mumbai, with no further plans, to see if I could handle the heat before I made any more decisions.

India has three seasons: The Cool, The Hot and The Wet.

This is the last three or four weeks of The Hot, before the monsoon kicks in, and the contents of the sewers float up to greet you.
I had a taste of it in Kolkata, when I first got there - and found that at 43 degrees centigrade, I vomit frequently.

Didn't want to repeat that. So my previous plans, to go north, to the hottest part of the country, to the deserts of Rajasthan, were shelved. Put off slightly while I sat and saw if I could handle the heat in Mumbai.

Chowpatty beach sunset

I've learnt that I'm going to overheat whatever I do, it just makes it worse to hide behind air conditioning. That the early thirties is too hot for you to function between mid afternoon and late evening.
If it hits the mid thirties, you can scratch doing anything between noon and eleven pm. That your eyes don't really open - you miss things. That you need eight cool showers a day to keep going. That salt-sugar solutions don't restore you, they make it possible to stagger to the nearest rickshaw/taxi. That transport will give you a breeze, in the same way that positioning your face above a hot toaster gives you a breeze. That AC is not a refuge. That humidity levels are way way more important than temperature. That lying under a fan for the eight hours a day when movement is denied you is impossible levels of boring.

I've learnt to sleep at thirty degrees (and that at these temperatures, just two degrees can feel like a huge switch into unbearable), with just a fan. Not happily, but I can sleep. I've learnt how much humidity counts - as the monsoon approaches from the south east, the humidity soars. By now, the locals in Mumbai are referring to it as unbearable.
Rajasthan is about 45 degrees right now. It's a heatwave like nothing they've seen in years. 31 people have dropped dead of heat exhaustion (of course! didn't I tell you about the curse?).

Bollywood Dhaba

Rajasthan is Out Of the Picture.
But it's so-o-o-o tedious to have just five or six hours a day where you can move. My activities are circumscribed by taxis, fans and the amount of shade available.
I'm too bored to do anything but bite the bullet and go touring Gujarat and Maharashtra despite the swelter. It was that or go home - I'm serious. It's that hot that I would give up and leave early.
I shan't. I'm too stubborn for that.


But: any tips? On dealing with heat? The humidity? Any tips for a pasty-skinned coward?

It occurred to me I'll never be this (suddenly, forcibly) acclimatised again.

Fuckit. I'm going to the Great Thar Desert.

mayo 10, 2006

camera shake

we were so bored that ...
we were so bored that ...,
originally uploaded by digitalia.
My camera keeps dying. Cameras seem to last about three months in humid countries, and this one's been to Everest along the way (I had to rub the battery points just to get a current going most days in Nepal and Tibet).

The first camera upped and died in Fiji.

The first memory card upped and died in Indonesia, losing about a bazillion shots. Losing every shot, as it happens.

feeding the fish

Stupidly, I continued using it. So it upped and died again this January, losing all my shots from the UK, from Germany, from Switzerland, and particularly annoying - all my shots of Chinese New Year festivities in Bangkok.

peanut seller, Panchakki

My spare memory cards got nicked in Nepal, and the camera resolution started to expire in Tibet. I used to set it to 1 or 2 megapixels. Now it's on 4, and looks less defined and clear.

Forced to keep using the duff memory card, it died again. Losing all my photos of the Andaman islands, of Port Blair, of Havelock, and of Kolkata.

It's weird how depressing it was to have no means of taking photographs. My plane to Mumbai passed over the water filled Lonar meteor crater ... and I couldn't take a photograph. I was the very picture of glum, and started to email morose hints about going home.

Two days ago, I rescued all the last batch of photos, got my camera fixed (though in a city filled with 70% humidity in a heatwave, every shot is still blurry as fuck), and bought a new memory card at a knock down price.

... and continued to use the old, faulty one.

Go me.

The Chateau Windsor Hotel

mayo 06, 2006

So where've you been? 30 Kolkata, India again

Last time I was in Kolkata, my train took 23 hours to get there (8 hours longer than expected: 23 hours of no fans, no seat, trying to sleep on top of my luggage, the only inhospitable indian family in the whole country, raw sewage spilling through the carriage), I missed my plane, I ended up waving eleven inch knives at strangers, the heat made me vomit four times a day, and everyone - everyone I met cheated me.

So this time was to be different. Calmer. Relaaaaaaaax.
I was looking for some science fiction books in the ritziest bookshop in Kolkata, and they file everything with the tag 'science' together on one shelf. Stephen Hawking is next to Douglas Adams. The race to uncover the secrets of DNA next to Terry Pratchett.
Weird way to make you look twice at something you think you know.

Their fiction section, too, only went as far as S.

I thought I was missing something, like an entire wall, maybe, and asked about W. They said they can't possibly find me a W author without knowing the last as well as first letter of his name. I did a double take that only someone who's seen beaky in Buck Rogers in the 24th century lately would recognise (a sort of 'biddly-biddly-hunh?') (do excuse me, I've eaten a lot of sugar.)

So I asked about the rest of the alphabet. They said there aren't many authors after S in the world. "No good authors after S, madam. We do not stock after S."
I asked about T. They said there were some good T authors, but they generally mixed them in anywhere.

I said it seemed an odd thing, strangely random to discriminate against a whole part of the alphabet. What about U? What about ... V?

At the idea of there being an author worth stocking who began with V, the chappie shook his head, mystified, and walked away.
In case I didn't make it clear: Biggest. Bookstore. In The City.

India's insane. In a head-wobble, cutesy, I'll knife you if you don't give me that rupee sort of a way.

So where' ve you been? 28 Varanasi, India

From my Varanasi outbox:

Sorry for the group email...

Hey, you may get a bizarre Indian postcard of Varanasi. It's from me. I was delegating too fast too soon to the two 11 and 12 year old urchin helpers whom I employ to do all my dirty work*.

apprentice postmen

I asked them to check stamp prices, and buy stamps and cards, then leave me a day to write them, and they got over excited after I bought them a fanta, and posted the damn things blank!

Love Vanessa

* Yes, other tourists have pointed out to me that this is child labour.

So where've you been? 29 The Andaman islands

I thought it was the monsoon coming at first. Then I thought it was me being weirdly unsettled because I was staying in a bamboo hut with no door ten yards from the sea, in an area where there were no other women right now.

Gridlock in village 3

And the packs of wild dogs, they didn't make me feel much safer. First person I met on Havelock had twelve stitches on her calf from the last pack's power struggle. The andamanese humans are too small to pose any physical threat, but the dogs ... you learnt to carry a large sharpened stick with you at all times.

Beautiful deserted island hideaway. Remote. Unspoiled.

Havelock village number one

Six hours from a hospital. Six hours from any concrete structure that could withstand a cyclone.

Add in some seriously disturbed mefloquine dreams. Carnage every night. Dream disaster.

For three days before the cyclone, there were rains. Lashing downpours, hard enough to bounce back up at you. Showering at a standpipe in the forest, the rains left you freezing after the baking dry heat of a normal day. Gradually, the rainstorms grew longer, harder, more dramatic. Thunder that shook the hut. Thunder that shook the ground. Electrical displays in the sky that made you thankful the mangrove forests had been thoroughly dampened down.

The day the cyclone hit, at 75 km per hour, the storms stopped. You could hear the winds approaching before they got to you - a dry rustle. If a rustle could sound like it's forty feet high.
Whistling, buildings shaking, mangrove pods and branches falling onto the hut roof at four minute intervals. Scared enough by the thumps and bangs and whistles, I nearly cacked myself when I heard breathing in between the wind bursts. The wild dogs were sheltering under my hut.

The tsunami had taken the beach shelf already. The tides were rising, and there were three ageing mangrove trees between the tides and my bed.

I know what to do if there's an earthquake. If there's an avalanche. If there's an uprising. Alls I know about cyclones is you wear red shoes and cry for Toto.

The east germans who looked like Freddie Mercury lit out at dusk, saying "aren't you scared to stay here?"
Not till you said that, mate. Not till you said that.

Don't think I slept a moment that night.

Disordered recollections

Pfffft ... I still can't even think about Tibet and feel calm.

Let me see. What are the scraps?

Snowburnt cheeks. Looked so pretty on the local girls, with their high cheekbones. Peruvian, almost.

village costumes

I got snowburns on my bum (my other cheeks) from 8 hour van rides across snow deserts. You drink 4 times as much water a day at altitude, and you can't hold your pee. There aren't any toilets. There aren't any buildings. There's only three sealed roads in the country, and they're all 2000 kilometres away.

return journey

So, like the locals, you shit at the side of the road.
One thing I hate about travel guides is their pompous, didactic tone.
'Sterilise your water instead of buying water in plastic bottles.'
'This region isn't safe to travel at the moment, so we haven't included it in the guide.'
'This city isn't interesting - use it as an overnight stopping point to get money and email before moving on.'
'If you
must use toilet paper instead of water, at least bury it.'

Fuck off. You're a list, not a bible. Don't tell me how to live.
I once was appalled by the sight of a posh Malaysian babe climbing up on a western toilet seat to squat-shit. That was before I realised cisterns, toilets, paper, soap, water, partitions, planks of wood with a hole in them - they're all for pussies (so to speak) - anything but the side of the road and a handy sleeve or cuff is extra to requirements.

My driver begins to pray

Pffft. Still can't think about Tibet calmly.

So where've you been? 27 Nepal again - Responsible Tourism

Trying to contextualise and think of moments that stick in the cerebellum:

In Kathmandu I sat watching a city cow eating rubbish in the street after dark, some 8 year old streetkids scrabbled up and asked for money. I was patiently explaining to them that if I give them money it would mean other children come to the city and beg instead of going to school or finding a real job, and halfway through my pompous diatribe about responsible tourism, a german couple walk past and cut the shit by just giving the kids two papads.
I felt *that* big.

the Elenas

Multiplied by a hundred, when their first reaction was to eagerly split them into three and share them out with me.
Not only did I not give them anything, not only did I lecture them on why, not only did I press them to agree it was better they go hungry - I actually took the food from their mouths.

Go me.

mayo 04, 2006

Force Majeure

Where next ... India!
Where next ... India!,
originally uploaded by digitalia.
Brief placeholder, to fill in the details later ... just to point out that I am accursed. I only have to think of going somewhere for disaster to fall.

Nepal: mass rebellion and overthrow (touch wood) of the monarchy; strikes and power cuts, and closed borders.
Tibet: avalanches (two!).
Varanasi: bombings.
Andamans: Cyclone Mala... A cyclone. For crab sake.

Apart from the night I spent in a wooden hut five yards from the sea in the cyclone, it was gorgeous. Full of mind bogglingly big fish, and octopi.
A cyclone. Though.

A bloody cyclone.

I thought about going to Ecuador in August, and, sooner than that, Gujarat - cue bombs and riots and terror.

Mumbai on Monday. Bollywood better watch out.

Let me know if you're going on holiday anywhere - it's possible by now that I can distract the vile forces of fickle fate from your path, such is the sucking intensity of my hold over force majeure.