Hey guys, just to remind any of you that follow this blog, I have a new one at hairywandererridesagain.wordpress.com Come visit me again.
Hey guys, just to remind any of you that follow this blog, I have a new one at hairywandererridesagain.wordpress.com Come visit me again.
After a number of people have asked me to do another blog for my travels in Australia, I have finally relented. You can now follow me at my new blog, http://hairywandererridesagain.wordpress.com/
Hello World, it’s been a while. This last post, as it were, is really just to let everyone who bothers to read this and doesn’t have me on Facebook know what I have been up to since arriving in Australia, and to let them know that I haven’t been eaten by one of the many forms of deadly life on this island. It also marks the 1 year anniversary of my leaving Scotland.
When I first arrived in Australia I stayed with my very good friend Michael and his family. They took me in and treated my like a part of the family. I feel I must thank them specifically for this; Mike, Matt, Lizz, Sue and Russell, and Sam, you made me feel so welcome in your home, just when I needed it. Thank you. After a few weeks of looking I found a place to live in Central Melbourne, with 3 Colombians. This has been great, and I am now happily ensconced in my own room, with my own bed and my own cupboard, things I hadn’t had for 9 long months. I even managed to unpack!
My wonderful parents also came to visit, coming all the way from Shetland to see me. It was a slightly tearful reunion, but saying goodbye to them a few days ago, after their mammoth 2 month holiday, to see me and visit this continent for the first time, was particularly hard, possibly more so than when I bade them farewell in Glasgow all those months ago. We didn’t spend the entire 2 months together but did manage to get out and about, particularly to Phillip Island to see the Fairy Penguins, as well as going to various different places to see Kangaroos, Koalas, and other local Kreatures! Dad being the mental ornithologist that he is, and Mum, the sharp-eyed photographer, saw between them, a staggering 25+ different species of mammals including Echidna and Duck-Billed Platypus, and a mind bending 305+ species of birds! Beat that, Attenborough!
I was also visited by my guardian angel, the beautiful Fu Hoi, or Kathy, who came all the way from Hong Kong to see me. We met first in Luang Prabang, and then a month later, back in the same bar. She looked after me when I came down with Delhi Belly, or should that be Luang Prabang Belly, and even climbed through my bedroom window while I was asleep to bring me Congee, Chinese Rice porridge. We visited the Youyangs, a small range of mountains, as well as exploring much more of Melbourne, and she even taught me some wonderful Chinese dishes. I owe her a lot, and want to thank her as well for the wonderful, but too short time we had together. I do hope we see one another again, some day.
What else have I been up to? Well, I attended Melbourne’s White Nights Festival, an all night arts festival, that was so overcrowded it was impossible to attend any of the attractions until around 5 or 6 in the morning, although I did get to go to the viewing deck of Victoria’s highest building, which was very cool. I recently ran in the Victoria Warrior Dash, a 5km run with obstacles, such as large walls, climbing over cars and mudpits. Below is a picture of myself and Mike. If anyone cares, I finished 305th out of 2249 with a time of 40 minutes and 9 seconds. I also met up with a few people I met during my travels who have now done the same thing as me and have ended up Down Under. It is odd to see people I know from other countries and other continents here, and strange to think of the distances we have all come, and the different paths we have all taken, which all converge again.
My biggest news though is that I have started acting again. After graduating from the RSAMD in 2009 and being virtually unemployed as an actor for 3 years, a part from the occasional job here or there, I was beginning to get a bit disillusioned with the process of applying for things and being rejected. Everytime. Over and over. Incessantly. Anyway, my trip was partly to see the world, experience new cultures meet new people and expand my horizons, but also partly as a kind of self test, to see if I truly did want to continue to be an actor. And it seems I do. In about July or August, I woke up one morning, actually in Xing Ping, Guangxi, Southern China, and thought to myself, “I could go for being on stage now”. This was the first time I had thought about theatre or acting or anything like that in months and it got me to thinking. Yes, I really did want to be an actor, and that thought has stayed with me. So, once settled in my new room in Melbourne, I began to work. Hard. Harder than I have before. I researched agencies, casting directors, and various other bodies that are important in the Australian acting business. I have written multiple emails to everyone I can find, and have finally cobbled together a showreel, a short film of clips of things I have been in, to send to people, and it has been received really well. In the 2 months that I have been actively looking for work, I have had more attention and more job offers than I ever did in 3 years in Glasgow! I have been in a short film, a television advert and will soon be in a music video for a local musician, as well as………………
Sadly, although I am getting paid work, Australia is a very expensive country and the money is not coming in quite as quickly as one would like. This means I am being forced to go back to the world of work, like a normal adult human being with responsibilities and junk. Only joking! I am actually quite looking forward to it. I have an interview soon for a job in an outdoors, camping and travel shop, which ironically is the same as the job I left in Glasgow a year ago to come travelling!
But all is well. Soon I will be heading out West to do my mandatory 3 months labor, either on a farm, or in a mine, or whatever, to help extend my visa. Depending on what money I can make in the next few months, I may buy a car and road trip it. I may just have to bus it. But either way I am heading out West. After my stint of manual labour, I intend to head North along the West coast, to the Ningaloo reef for some diving. I haven’t been diving since I left Thailand, and do miss it. It is getting to winter here, and is just a tad on the chilly side, although my new Colombian friends seem to make out that we live in the Antarctic, while I am still happily walking around in shorts and t-shirt. From there I would like to head across the North of the country to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef and then down the famous East Coast, with all the rest of the tourists, to Sydney, where I intend to stop for a bit more acting work, hopefully. After that, maybe Melbourne, maybe somewhere else, who knows, but eventually my visa will run out and I will then try to head to New Zealand for more of the same. Who knows, I might even be in the next Hobbit film! All of this could change at any point, as who knows what tomorrow will bring. I have plans to come back to the UK, eventually, but I think they are best left for another day.
And remember, watch out for Drop Bears and Bunyips; those things are dangerous!
So here I am; Singapore! I have spent the last couple of days wandering this wonderful city, exploring Chinatown, Little India, the Colonial Districts and much more. I met a lovely local girl who took me to see the Water and Light Show in Marina Bay Sands, a spectacular hotel with a gigantic ship beached on it’s roof, some 50 odd storeys up. We also walked around a beautiful mall, the cleanest I have ever seen, and then I was treated to the most stunning view of a city skyline I have ever seen, from a micro-brewery on the 33rd floor of a bank. What an incredible end to an incredible trip.
And here I am now, standing in Singapore Changi Airport, waiting for my flight to Melbourne, Australia. It feels very strange. The distance I have covered, by bus, by train, by motorbike, by car, by bycycle, by boat, by foot, and even by horse is hard to comprehend, and I know I have not been good at updating my map, but trust me when I say that 41,000km overland is quite a way! The thought of travelling by plane makes me feel a little sad. I almost feel like I am cheating, but this is a new step, a new chapter, as it were, and it seems appropriate that I have come as far as I physically can, with out continuing by boat, and now I am starting afresh, in a new country, a new continent, hell, even a new landmass, and I am getting there by a new mode of transport.
I have learned a lot about myself and the world over these last 8 and a half months. I am impatient with stupidity, but I am stupid; I am angered at bigotry and small mindedness, and yet I can be very small minded; I am more relaxed about being late than I was before, although I still hate the idea of it; my feet are stronger than I give them credit for, as are my legs, but I feel tired after this trip; I have a long attention span, but get bored with lots of things; I like seeing monks doing none-monk things such as using smart-phones and traveling by motorbike, but feel that they probably shouldn’t; there is something adorable about children sitting on tables, but it is not very hygenic; I am not as good a person as I would like to be, but I think realising that is a good thing; I love to travel, but I am now ready to stop. These are things I have learned.
I have seen and done a lot as well; I have been snake hunting in Belgium, slept rough in a train station in Germany, been terrified and turned on at the same time by a Belarussian border guard, seen tanks driving down the road in Moskow, spent 3 and a half days on a train, gotten lost in Siberian forest, been paralytically drunk on vodka, been held at gunpoint at a Russian border, had my future told by a Mongolian Shaman, ridden a horse through an icy river, eaten tarantula, hiked the Great Wall of China, met countless Chinese people, shit myself on top of a Buddhist holy mountain, seen the largest Buddha statue in the world, hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge, taken a slow boat down the Yangtze river, learned how to cook Shanghainese food, went rock climbing in 2 seperate Chinese cities, eaten in a Michelin stared restaurant, swam in the South China Sea, left Macau with more money than I arrived with, fallen in love with a place so much I couldn’t leave, been cormorant fishing, eaten pig penis, danced with Chinese hookers, learned to ride a motorbike, ridden an elephant, been clam fishing with my feet, visited the Mekong Delta, seen an incredible sunset, visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia, seen sunrise at Angkor Wat, slept under the stars in a hammock, gotten paralytically drunk on home-made rice-wine, been ziplining, been in a Buddhist festival, taken a boat through a cave, motorbiked around the Plain of Jars, seen Luang Prabang before it is too late, played in a jazz bar, made a pilgrimage to a bar my parents visited more than 30 years ago, been hit on by a lady-boy, gotten lost in Bangkok, been to the Full Moon Party, burned myself, learned to dive, sent a wish lantern into the sky on new years, rode 300 miles on a motorbike in 24 hours, seen elephants at dawn, covered 2000 miles and 3 countries in 4 days, learned about Islam, fallen in love with another place, seen the most spectacular skyline I have ever seen, and made more friends than I can count, some I have already lost track of, and some that will live in my heart forever. These are things I have done.
So this is it, the end of the road. A new chapter open in front of me, and a new door, which I must go through. I am scared and I am happy. In fact, I feel very dimilar to how I did back in Glasgow on the 25th April, 2012, the night before I said goodbye to my parents and set out on this mad trip. I might be scared, but ultimately, I am happy.
It is getting dark here in Singapore, and I am tired. I think I deserve a rest before my next adventure.
Goodnight, Travel Well.
Well, this has been an interesting week! I left Luang Prabang as expected, and other than the slight hitch of the bus breaking down, arrived into Vientiane with barely a problem. I spent the day with a lovely German couple, walking around possibly the dullest capital city in the world. Laos is a great country, but it’s capital leaves a lot to be desired. With a couple of meager museums and the odd temple, there really wasn’t all that much to see or do. We did however find ourselves at the beach, which in itself was strange as Laos doesn’t have a coastline. It was a vast sandy beach where the Mekong river has ebbed out. The water itself was rather disgusting, and although people were swimming in it, I am pretty sure I saw a few turds swimming with them!
Talking of turds, I was suffering rather badly from a dose of travelers diarrhea, the kind that gives you about 7 seconds of warning to find a toilet before you shit yourself. Luckily, I was within 6 and a half seconds of a toilet whenever this came to pass, just by sheer chance. It was still very unsettling though.
The next night, I was back on a bus, and after a long, drawn out border crossing, where I had to pay some arbitrary bribe for it being past 5 o’clock, I managed to find my way onto a bus to Bangkok. We arrived into the city at 5 in the morning, as is usual for these overnight buses. I still don’t understand why they do this, surely it is better for everyone if the bus leaves an hour or 2 later and arrives at a more reasonable time? No? Just me? Fine. So I jumped on a tuk-tuk (my first in Thailand) and headed for the train station, where I bought a ticket down to Hat Yai, the main transport hub on the way to Malaysia. My morning was spent reading, sleeping, trying not to die of boredom, wandering around Chinatown fruitlessly looking for socks and reading a bit more.
At 2, when my train was due to leave, I boarded and started talking to my bunk buddy, an Englishman called Rich, with a passion for motorbikes. We spent the journey nattering away about different bikes, and travels and Australia and other random travelery things. I really enjoyed being back on a train, and it was so much more comfortable than the two buses I had slept on the two nights before. It was my first train since leaving China as well. We pulled into Hat Yai the next morning and scurried to the ticket window. Both of us were trying to reach Butterworth, and then on to Kuala Lumpur, but there had been no tickets available from Bangkok to Butterworth, so we had to buy the connection in Hat Yai.
Both tired and hungry, we asked a porter when the train would be leaving and were met with a very confident “Yes!” Great. A lady was selling chicken on the platform and we thought it safer to buy from here than leave the station and potentially miss our train, and a damn good thing we did! As we were in the process of getting food, the train began to pull away, so we threw all of our money at the lady and ran for the train, fully laden with packs and dived back onto the carriage! I didn’t think that actually happened in real life. We eventually found a seat, and managed to sleep until Butterworth, only getting up for the quick and easy border crossing to Malaysia.
In Butterworth we boarded a bus to KL and away we went. Ah, the buses of Malaysia! Oh, the ROADS of Malaysia! Heaven! Comfy reclining seats, with enough room to actually sit, instead of perch; a headrest that you can actually rest your head on, instead of it rolling off whenever you might possibly become so tired even the twisting roads can’t keep you awake; the smooth, well tarmacked roads, devoid of potholes or ridiculous bends! Bliss.
Finally, after 4 days of solid travel, 3 buses and 2 trains, I arrived into Kuala Lumpur, checked into a hostel, fell on my face, and fell fastly, unequivocally, asleep.
The next few days I spent with Rich, looking into motorbikes, or on my own, seeing parts of KL I had missed last time around. I visited the National Mosque, and learned a great deal about Islam, I took a train out to the Batu Caves, a network of caves with little Hindu shrines in them, I walked around the beautiful Lake Gardens and even went shopping with my friend Sook Mei, and bought a pair of jeans! Not only that, I bought, new socks, pants and a shirt! I felt so rich, but more importantly, I felt so clean! In the Batu caves, I was met by the local troupe of monkeys. Now to those of you who have been reading my blog regularly, the last time I met monkeys was on Emei Shan in China, when one tried to steal my friends passport and eat it. Here was no different. While trying to photograph (from a respectable distance) a monkey chewing on a toothbrush it had somehow purloined, another sneaked up behind me and took a hold of my guidebook. There was a brief moment of eye contact with the monkey before I simply lifted my arm and he fell off. He stared at me like a petulant child, but one that would quite happily rip your face. Luckily, no harm was done and I didn’t need to make an emergency trip to hospital.
My last night in KL was spent with my old friend Rob, his girlfriend Josephine, and the ever reliable Omar. It was a good night, although I don’t really remember all that much of it. The next morning was not the way I had hoped to spend a hangover. I checked out and headed, again fully laden, to the bus station to catch my bus. There were demonstrations happening for fair elections, and normally I would have been more than happy to watch and even join in, but as they caused my bus to be an hour late, and I had a hangover, and it was ridiculously warm, I was somewhat peeved. Everything was annoying; the heat, the noise, the lateness of the bus, the couple next to me, the heat, the bead of sweat, nay the river of sweat trickling inexorably down my back and between my bumcheeks, the lack of cuing when the bus did arrive, the heat, my sunglasses, my hair, the heat, the bus, my hangover, the heat… You get the idea.
Finally, after 2000 miles, I arrived into Singapore last night, and after the awkward bus transfer nonsense at the border, I made it to a different Chinatown. I booked myself in, and slept, but dreamed of bedbugs that weren’t there, so didn’t sleep well.
And here I am! Singapore, my last country before I hit Oz. I am off to enjoy the city for a couple of days before my first flight on Monday night. I will post again before catching my flight, so check that out when it goes up. I also realise I have not put any pictures up in a very long time, but this is not the easiest website to upload to, and after potentially losing all my Cambodia pictures, I have been loathe to put my memory cards near any computer. I will try to backtrack and upload some soon, but it might be a month or 2 before I can get them all sorted out. For now, enjoy the words.
And remember, there is nothing, NOTHING, like a new pair of socks.
I arrived on Koh Tao, having had virtually no sleep, and bumbled my way along to Crystal Dive Resort, a very professional resort, recommended to me by a friend I had met in Koh Pha Ngan. I was greeted by a friendly man who introduced himself as “Kiwi”, a man who was, unsurprisingly, a kiwi! After filling in some paperwork, and handing over a bunch of money, I was led to my room, which was nicely included in the price of my course and told to meet back at the reception in a couple of hours.
The rest of the day was spent in a classroom with my new dive buddies, Charlie, Joe, Jan (Yan) and Denise, or Dennis as the boat master liked to call her! The theory of diving I found to be quite intense and a lot harder than what I had expected, but it all seemed to come together fairly quickly. The next day we went through the practical side of it and were in the pool, using the kit. It was an odd sensation to be breathing underwater at first, but after only a short period of time, it felt like normal. We spent nearly 3 hours in the pool, practicing our breathing, getting used to equalising the pressure in your ears as you descend deeper and deeper, finding your correct buoyancy and learning how to deal with emergency situation, such as running out of air, ascending at speed and how to take off and re fit your gear underwater. It was really great fun and I was psyched for my first actual dive the next day.
In the afternoon, we returned to the classroom and did our final exam on the theory. Somehow, and I am still not entirely sure how I did this, I managed to get 100% on the test. This is a great way to lose friends and alienate people, if ever you need to do that and you are in an exam situation.
The next couple of days were our open water dives. We had to begin by doing a 200m swim in open sea water, which is much harder than it sounds, followed by a 10 minute float, which is just as easy as it sounds. Then it was time for our first dive. I was a bit nervous at first to be honest, and I had the sense of forgetfulness that you always get just before something big and important. Had I turned my air on? Had I remembered to put my weight belt on? Had I turned off the oven and locked the garage? That sort of thing. Then we were in, and I was in a whole new world. Kiwi, Jan, Denise and I descended to the bottom and rested there, just glorying in being 12m underwater, surrounded by marine life and totally comfortable with the pressure and the breathing, while Joe and Charlie had a little trouble equalising. They were with us fairly quickly though and while we were waiting we were joined by a curious parrot fish, who merely seemed to want to say hello.
It was a wonderful feeling being underwater, and the time flew unbelievably quickly. We saw some wonderful fish, including a White Eyed Moray Eel and a Giant Barracuda, that stopped to stare at us before lazily swimming off into the murk. We practiced our skills on both of our first 2 dives, but spent most of the time just acclimatising to the water and the sensation of being underwater. On the second dive, we went to a sight called “Junkyard”, a man made junkyard, created to encourage coral growth and marine life. As we passed over an anemone that was fairly exposed and in the open, Kiwi stopped to check out the family of Clark’s Anemone Fish that lived there. These are very similar to the fish in Finding Nemo. I approached too, but got a little too close, and the largest of the family, who could have been no longer than my thumb, came out to stare me down, and even took a bite out of my finger. Well, he left teeth marks at least. That’ll teach me to get too close to a fish! The next day we completed our Open Water Course with 2 more dives, reaching down to 18m. By this point, I had been bitten by the diving bug, as well as Nemo’s Dad!
My “buddy” Jan and I both signed up for the Advanced course and started that the next day. This required a bit more theory, though not much, and also got us 5 more dives, all far more interesting. Our first was our Peak Performance Buoyancy. This was to extend our skills of floating, which is an incredibly useful skill to have. We learned how to float suspended in place, how to float upside down, how to swim on our backs, and how to navigate a 3D maze with just the use of our breath to make us sink or float, instead of manually inflating our SCUBA suits. I felt I rather excelled at this, as I had been doing some of it anyway the day before. Jan had a little difficulty, and while he was navigating the maze, I waited, looking around at my surroundings. My attention was caught by a tapping, and I turned to see Kiwi tapping on his air cylinder to get my notice, and pointing behind me. When I turned I saw a Batfish (very similar to an Angel Fish, but larger), about 30cm from my face, staring at the reflection in my mask. I had had a little problem as we had descended with the fit of my mask, and Kiwi had kindly swapped with me, giving me his more advanced and mirrored mask. I spent a good 10 minutes playing with the fish, watching it swim around my head, so curious, letting it nibble gently at my finger and even watching it chase off another Batfish, as if to say, these are my humans, go away! It was a really wonderful moment. Kiwi’s keen eyes also found us a baby stingray in the sand, which swam off after he gently disturbed it.
Our next dive was a navigation dive, where we practiced our underwater compass work. I still do not feel that I am satisfactory at this, but we both passed and that is what counts, I suppose. At the end of the dive we helped our DMT (Dive Master in Training), a friendly English man called Steve, to complete his rescue training. This involved Jan playing dead on the sea floor and Steve having to lift him to the surface, swim him back to the boat and haul him bodily onto the boat. This was very hard and I certainly don’t envy him. Unfortunately he didn’t manage to get Jan out of the water properly, and had to try again, with me. He managed it this time and passed his rescue course!
Our final dive for the day was a night dive, and this was completely different from the previous dives I had done. Sadly there were many many boats out, and there must have been nearly 200 divers down on the reef we had chosen. This would have been very annoying if it had been a fun dive, but it was a teaching dive and it didn’t really bother me all that much. We managed to see Puffer Fish, Crabs and even a large Barracuda, which I somehow missed. We all had torches, and at one point Kiwi indicated to hide the light. We did so, and when we moved, the plankton that got caught in our wash became luminous. It was like brushing your hand through a starry sky and watching the stars move in your wake. It was just beautiful. I was buzzing when we got back on the boat, but drained from the 3 big dives me had done. I slept pretty well that night!
In the morning we were up early and heading out to Chumpon Pinnacle, a deep dive site many miles out into the sea. Here we went all the way down to our maximum of 30m. I accidentally went a little lower to 31.6m! (because I’m bad-ass like that!) Out in the deeps we saw far more than we had seen on the more shallow dives; Giant Groupers nearly as big as myself, huge schools of Barracuda and much more. We sadly missed a 3m Whale-shark by about 5 minutes, but what are you gonna do? Our final Advanced dive was our wreck dive. This we did on the ship Sattakut, a wreck that had been deliberately sunk to allow dives like this to happen. Diving on wrecks is a specialist occupation and can involve a lot of paperwork. Many wrecks are out of bounds as there are still human remains in them and are considered war graves. Sattakut was not one of these, fortunately, and we had free run of it, although we were not allowed to penetrate, due to not having the right level of experience. I managed to see my first proper sighting of a Titan Triggerfish, one of the mast dangerous fish in the area. Sharks are considered dangerous because they can kill you quickly and silently. Sea snakes are considered dangerous because they are immensely venomous. Barracuda are considered dangerous because they are very very fast, but all of these animals will only attack if provoked or confused, or you do not follow proper dive procedures. Triggerfish are considered dangerous because they are just plain moody! Highly territorial, they will attack repeatedly and violently until you leave their sometimes considerably large territories. Luckily the one we saw seemed to be in a rather affable mood and swam off without raising it’s telltale trigger.
Diving the wreck was by far the best dive, and although we didn’t see all that much, due to poor visibility, it was incredibly atmospheric, and made all the better that the three of us were completely alone. I was slightly disappointed when we returned to the boat and the other Advanced course said they had seen 2 sea-snakes at the same sight, minutes after we had been there, but again, what are you gonna do?
Back on land we went through some final paperwork, and that was that, Advanced Open Water Diving Certification! It felt very good to have achieved something like this. That night we all gathered in the bar to celebrate, and to watch the newly inaugurated Dive Masters (including Steve) doing their “Snorkel Test”, a right of passage for all Dive Masters, involving a snorkel and lots and lots of alcohol. It was a pretty mad night all in, and I certainly have felt better than I did the next morning.
Jan and I took the boat back to the mainland that day, enjoying the sun and the calm seas on our return to land and normality. I was rather sad to see my buddy heading off, but such is the way of travel. I carried on from Koh Tao, up to Bangkok and then on up to Chiang Mai to visit a friend for a few days, and then took the bus over to Luang Prabang. It has been a good Christmas and I am so pleased to have seen many old friends again and to have gotten to play some great music.
This shall be my last post of 2012, and one of my last posts altogether, as I get ever closer to the end of my trip. Starting at 20.00 on the 2/1/2013 I make my way down to Vientiane then on to Bangkok and from there, back to Kuala Lumpur, for a rest before a couple of days in Malaka, and my final push on to Singapore to catch my first flight in 15,000 miles, all the way to the other side of the world, Melbourne! Here I am going to hang up my shoes for a while and settle, but who knows where I will go or what I will do after that. Look out for my next blog soon.
And remember, just because they are well loved characters in a a Disney Pixar film, doesn’t mean they aren’t vicious little buggers in real life!
Again, it has been a while since I have written one of these, but I really havn’t had the time. I’ve been a hell of a distance in the last 3 weeks and done a huge amount of stuff. Let me see…
So, I took the bus up to the Cameron Highlands the day after I last posted on here, but I don’t really remember much of the journey, as I was asleep for most of it. I got talking to a lovely Alaskan girl called Tara, who had been teaching in Thailand for a few months. She had accommodation booked in Tanah Rata, the town in the Cameron Highlands we were aiming for, and so, I joined her at the guest house. The dorm I was in was fairly basic, but it did the job, and really felt like a travelers guesthouse; a long dormitory, with single squeaky beds that you had to walk past to get to nearly any other part of the hostel. Feels just like home now! We arrived at about midday, and having slept for most of the journey, and smelling the clean, fresh mountain air, I headed out almost immediately for a hike.
I was rather excited about this, as I hadn’t been for a good wander in months, mainly due to the danger of hiking in South East Asia with it’s mines and un-exploded ordinance. I asked the landlady where was good to walk, and she very kindly drew me a map, which was almost ordinance survey accurate! Off I went and soon found my way up to a rather serious and obviously infrequently used trail. I walked alone for what felt like hours, enjoying the trees and the fresh air and the freedom, before I began to feel that all was not right. I had seemed to have been walking for miles, and the sign I had followed said I should have been at the end of the track by now, according to my mental distance calculations. The track got harder and muddier, and even went down into a ravine, which looked like the ravine I had traversed in Listvyanka, only less Siberian and more Sub-tropical. Back up I went, and had to haul myself up the slope via a rope that had been left for just that purpose. I really began to feel like this path was going somewhere I didn’t want it too. I continued on. Higher I went. Harder the path became. I really thought about turning back, and had literally given myself 10 more minutes walking before I planned to re-trace my steps, when I came unexpectedly on a clearing with what looked like a motorway sign it was that big, telling me that the peak of the hill I was climbing was 0.2 km away, and the town I had come from was down another path, only 3 km away. Oh. Right. So much for doubting. I had however been walking for a good 3 hours by this point, and apparently it was 5 km back to where I had started! Somehow, I don’t believe this! Anyway, I rested at the top and made my way back to the town and then on to the guest house. On the way, I had to pass one of Cameron Highlands glut of strawberry farms and as no-one was around, I snook, (snuck, snuk?) I creeped in and stole a strawberry. To be honest, I’ve had better, and even the thrill of thievery didn’t improve the bland tasteless fruit.
Back at the hostel, I was getting changed, ready for and wanting my nice warm shower, and who should walk past, but Mr Rob Gummer! I have met Rob many times on my travels, firstly in a cave in Vietnam, and then randomly in various cities throughout that country and then again in Phnom Pehn. We had organised to meet up in Georgetown and had had a beer. He had moved on to the Highlands a couple of days before me, but other than that I had no idea he would be in Tanah Rata, let alone staying at the same place as me! It was great to catch up with him again, and after I had had my shower, joy of joys, Rob, Tara and I headed out for dinner, to one of the many Indian run restaurants along the main road.
Malaysia is a very intriguing country, with a wonderful mix of Chinese and Indian culture. It is a country where nearly every religion is celebrated, from Buddhism and Taoism from China, Christianity from the West, and Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism from Central Asia. This also means that there is a wonderful mix of foods as well, and in most restaurants, you can get incredible Chinese AND Indian food! Heaven. I was particularly taken by a drink that Rob introduced to me as “Masala Tea”, a milky tea with legion spices, from cardamom to cinnamon and clove, and so many more that none of us could recognize. It tasted like Christmas in a glass, and was the perfect drink for the cold Highland nights, after a big hearty curry or bowl of noodles. I don’t jest about the cold Highland nights either. I was forced to put on trousers and my fleece! The horror! I knew I had kept them for a reason. To be honest though, it was actually nice to be cold for a change. It sounds crazy, but I have been in a state of constant sweat since I hit China, and other than one or too nights up various mountains I really havn’t been able to cool down much in the last 6 months.
The next morning the three of us decided to rent some motorbikes and head out into the countryside. The Cameron Highlands are famous for their tea-plantations, and apparently for their strawberry farms, so we set out on 2 bikes instead of 3, as they were rather expensive. When we had hired them, the lady that rented them to us showed us a map of where we could go. She explicitly said we should NOT try to get up one of the hills to the north, although there was a road, as firstly the bikes were not strong enough to make it up the hill, and secondly that we weren’t insured to go up it. So what was the first thing we did when we were out of the town? That’s right! On the way to the hill, we passed a Finnish girl called Anna, from our guesthouse, so she jumped on the back of Rob’s bike. So with Rob and Anna on one and Tara and I on the other, the 2 bikes labored up the hill, mainly in first gear. It wasn’t a particularly steep hill, but obviously it was steep enough, as before long, the bikes just didn’t want to go any further. Rob preceded to punctuate this by driving slowly and inexorably into a ditch! Good man points!
We made the unanimous decision that it would not be a good thing to try and force the bikes to go any further up the hill, so parked them by the road and walked the rest of the way. The sign makers of Tanah Rata really need to figure out how far a kilometer actually is, as again, we were walking for a very long time, and much further than the signs indicated before we got to the top. Here we found the “Mossy Forest”, which was a, ahem, mossy forest. ‘Nuff said. There sadly wasn’t all that much to see, as the mountain was shrouded in cloud, but it is noteworthy that we had reached 6,666 ft! On the way down we got talking to a nice Malaysian family (the 10 year old daughter had a picture of a robot farting on her t-shirt!) and the kindly father offered us all a lift in the back of his pick-up. This really helped us save time getting back to the bikes, but danger lay ahead.
As we turned a corner and were nearly back at the bikes, a hornet was sucked over the top of the pick-up and in the wash of the vehicle, got stuck in Tara’s hair. It proceeded to sting her in the head, before launching itself at Rob’s arm. Anna batted it away, but it gave chase, keeping up with the vehicle and getting stuck in Rob’s hair! He managed to brush it off before it stung him a second time, but by the time we reached the bikes both victims were in considerable pain. We found out later that they had been attacked by the Asian Giant Hornet, the biggest hornet in the world, which can kill up to 40 normal bees in 60 seconds, has multiple types of chemicals in it’s sting, including one to dissolve flesh (!) and one to attract other hornets. We also found that if you are allergic to them you can go into anaphylactic shock! Fun for all the family! Luckily, neither of the patients were allergic, but it did make them both rather grouchy for the rest of the day, and also made their various wounds swell up and become rather achey.
The rest of the day was spent zipping around on the bikes, exploring the tea-plantations and inventing a new game, “Tea-bushing” which is basically planking but on a tea bush… One thing that we did do was to visit a butterfly farm. This in itself, was possibly the best and worst thing about the entire trip to Malaysia. We entered, having payed some obligatory fee. Looking around, there were not the swarms of butterflies fluttering around as I had expected. There werw a couple, and they were more flopping than fluttering. At first, we all thought that the butterflies were dead. None moved and they clung to the various flowers they were on without moving, or feeding, or anything. Eventually one fell off it’s perch and proceeded to flop around the floor before it stopped moving altogether. Rather depressing. The rest of the exhibits weren’t much better, from chickens and ducks in tiny cages, to scorpions that people kept throwing coins at for some crazy reason. It was so awful it was a little funny, in a morbid, macabre sort of way. We left feeling perplexed and confused.
We finished the day off with a pint of Guinness and a lovely meal in a rather posh country house called Ye Olde Smokehouse (I jest not) and then a mad dash in the dark to get petrol and bring the bikes back before the shop closed. Sadly, my bike didn’t have lights, so it was a very mad dash. I basically drove within touching distance of Rob, which was probably not all that wise, as he didn’t have rear lights, so every time he braked, I nearly rear ended him! We made it back in one piece and even got back just in time. Phew.
The next day, Anna and Tara departed, leaving Rob and I to our own devices. We tried to go hiking, but found that the hikes that were on our printed map were not as accurate as the drawn one from the guesthouse. At one point, we bumbled out of the jungle, expecting to be near the top of a mountain, but were actually in someones back garden, down in the next valley to Tanah Rata! We hiked back along another annoyingly short trek and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out in the guesthouse. I had a nap because apparently Tom Clancey is a wonderful soporific!
The next day, after we had had our obligatory breakfast of pancakes and Masala tea, we caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur. This may have been the most comfortably luxurious bus I have ever been on, with air-con at the right temperature, a comfy reclining seat, and LEG ROOM, something, even for a short person, I have come to crave on these long bus and train journeys. Sadly, the journey through the Highlands was over very quickly and we arrived in KL by mid afternoon. We found our bearings and made it to a guest house pretty quickly, before heading straight out to get some food in the local market. As we were eating, a thunderstorm erupted over our heads, like nothing I have seen. Within seconds of the first drops falling the locals had pulled all of their wares under umbrellas and tarpaulins and lifted everything off the street, including us! This was a good thing, as within 4 minutes the air had turned to water and the street had become a rapid river. We stayed in the cafe we were in for about an hour, watching the tide slowly rise above the kerb, before making a mad, soaking dash back to our hotel. This became a regular feature of my stay in KL, and as the clock struck 4, pretty much to the minute, the heavens would open for a few hours, saturating the city, and making it virtually impossible to do anything but sit somewhere comfortable with beer. No problems there then.
That night, Rob and I donned our glad rags and headed out to paint the town red. I say glad rags… Rob is rather more refined and dapper than myself and had nice jeans, a clean (and ironed) shirt and shoes, nice, black dress shoes. My best was a pair of very obvious hiking trousers, complete with knee pads, a ratty old Chinese shirt I had bought in Beijing, and the only pair of shoes I have owned in the last 8 months, a pair of well worn Merrells. But I suppose it’s not about the clothes, it’s about how you wear them!
We took a taxi to the nightlife hub of KL, with the intention of meeting up with my friend Omar, who I had met in Ho Chi Minh City, so many months ago back in Vietnam. We didn’t find him at first, but when we did, he was somewhat busy with a girl, so we let him be and went on. The night was alright, but it was not until the lights came up and we were about to leave that the fun happened. As we were walking out, we passed a group of very attractive local girls and we got talking to them. After a little while one asked if we would like to join them at an all night book fair. A what? Yes, a 24 hour book warehouse, with knock-down priced books. By this point it was about half 2 in the morning, and nothing sounded better than getting in a car with 4 complete strangers and going across Kuala Lumpur to an unknown destination with a potential book sale. At half 2 in the morning. I still struggle to believe it actualy happened, as it was such a very surreal experience.
We all piled into one of the girls cars and off we went, 2 in the front and 4 of us squeezed in the back. The journey there must have taken a good hour all in, and we had to pass various check points. At one of these check points, a policeman pulled us over and shined his torch into the back. The 4 of us grinned inanely, well aware that not a one of us had a seat-belt on, and were sitting on top of one another. The policeman smiled and waved us on, with a shrug. Why did he even stop us? What was the actual point? Finally we arrived at a vast shopping complex and we parked and entered. The bookshop was everything that had been promised; a gigantic warehouse full of books, open all night, and it was packed! There were people wandering around with TROLLEY loads of books, armfuls and boxes full of every title you could think of. To my shame, I didn’t get any, as none piqued my interest, but Rob managed to find one to add to his already ridiculously big traveling library and the girls joined the throngs of mass book buyers, filling the car. It was a singular experience to see these glamorous girls in their best going-out gear, high heels and short skirts, struggling under mounds of books on cooking and philosophy and gardening and a plethora of other subjects, as well as the mounds of novels they had picked up, surrounded by people in tracksuit bottoms doing the exact same thing, waiting in cues in a gigantic warehouse, at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning, bathed in the sterile glow of halogen strip lighting. Certainly one of the odder experiences of my trip to date.
We arrived home as it was getting light, and slept for a good portion of the day, before going to meet Robs friend, Chris, who had traveled up from Singapore for the day to meet him. The 3 of us spent the afternoon in a bar, carousing and generally making nuisances of ourselves, before heading back out to the clubs. We did managed to meet up with Omar this time, and he joined us in our merrymaking. Back at Havana we met a bevvy of local beauties and danced the night away with them, separating off to go to a different club, all of us failing, and then somehow rejoining again at a night food stall. The abilities of the human internal radar when drunk are astounding! Either way, it was a very good night, and not a book in sight!
I spent one more day in KL, doing very little other than nursing a 2 day hangover and organising my travel up back to Thailand. This was the beginning of my trip back on myself, up to Luang Prabang for Christmas and New Years. I organised a bus to Hat Yai, a travel hub just north of the Thai-Malay border. This is supposed to be in the official “No-Go” zone, as there are some troubles on the border, but for the few hours I was there, I saw nothing of this, and actually regretted not staying for longer, as I didn’t see any other falang! I arrived into the town and within half an hour had booked my onward travel to Koh Tao, another long bus journey followed by a 4 hour boat. In all, from KL to Koh Tao, I was traveling for 24 hours, of which I slept for about 3. A good way to show up on a paradisaical island and begin to do a serious qualification in diving! But I will rest here for the time being, and will impart my aqueous adventures to you in the second part of this post, which shall be up, hopefully, in the next week.
And remember, come back to find out what happened in Part II; Islands.