Bring on Bali!

25 04 2014

It’s travel time again and on this occasion, Roger and I decided to see what all the fuss was about in Bali.  Since so many Aussies visit there every year, there’s gotta be something worth seeing right?  Although, if I’m entirely honest, I wasn’t particularly hopeful and I had mentally and physically psyched myself up to deal with the very worst that Bali could throw at us.  As a holiday destination, Bali gets a bad rap from the Australian media and we decided NOT to watch the Today Tonight special edition on the eve of our departure which boldly claimed in its trailer that week: “1 AUSTRALIAN DIES EVERY 9 DAYS IN BALI.”  No, best not to watch that sort of thing before one leaves for the destination!

So having spent the last three days stocking up on Cascade red cordial (a precious liquid that supposedly stems the onslaught of Bali belly), cod liver oil tablets, vitamin C tablets, hayfever pills, Berrocca tablets (aids in repelling mosquitoes), and anything else that we had heard/read about, we were almost ready to  go.  The final things to be packed were the Mozzie bracelets, Aeroguard roll on, Dettol hand sanitiser and the dia-stop pills (to “blog us up” should the red cordial fail).

Let the holiday fun begin!

After a very leisurely drive from Midland to Perth International, the best of Wayne Fontana emitting from the taxi radio, we arrived at check in.  Having been appropriately sized up by the check-in attendant, she deemed us fit and able enough to assist with any air emergencies that may arise (excluding of course the disappearance of an entire jet plane) and allocated us the  front row exit seats on our Jetstar flight.  Chuffed to bits to still be considered to look ‘youthful and agile’ , we confidently boarded the plane and in no time at all (3 1/2  hrs), we’d arrived in Bali, Indonesia!  Too easy!  And no time zones to deal with either.

It was when we arrived at Denpasar Airport that things began to go a little awry.  It’s been so long since I traveled, I had forgotten that many small, older Asian women have no understanding of personal space!  The queue to customs was atrocious, and we ended up in the ‘slow lane’.  It didn’t help that we were approached by someone who offered to ‘express’ us…..and I politely sent him away.  I thought he was offering me a taxi.  However, Roger had been informed by his workmates to jump at the offer if it was made (which was purely random and very rare!), explaining that the official walks off with one’s passports to return 5 minutes later to happily lead you past all the the chumps sweating in the Indonesian humidity of the mile long queue.

After 45 minutes of barely moving five metres, and the aforementioned small, Asian women practically riding on my back in the queue (also whilst chewing her gum louder than a cow does its cud!), I was cursing my cautious nature.   In addition to that, the humidity had dramatically increased the volume of my hair ten fold and I was now sporting a  very un-stylish “Monica.”  (I am referring to the episode of Friends when they travel to Barbados).

Monica does Barbados

BUT, as I whined apologetically to Roger, his blue Jeep t-shirt clinging to his sweaty frame, and what I still stand by; you should NEVER let your passport out of your sight when traveling!

After 90 minutes we were through customs and I felt like a celebrity searching for my name among the sea of elegantly printed, glossy placards.  And then there it was, scrawled on a folded piece of A4 refill paper in black vivid marker pen: “Mr Kiri Powell.”

Traffic was, as we expected, organised chaos, and thank the lord we had the foresight to be arranged to be picked up.  We joined the Bali vehicle opera for 45 minutes before finally arriving at Bhavana Villas, Seminyak.  On check in we were greeted with a cool glass of orange juice which we knocked back immediately, letting the ice cubes clink together as we thirstily drained the glass.   Uh oh…Ice cubes!  That’s what “did it” for us in Thailand, and we hoped like hell that the red cordial would live up to its reputation!  Did I mention savvy travelers anywhere above?  Nope?  Good!

Having checked in, we were escorted to our villa, (Number 1 as it happens) which by all accounts was truly spectacular: the tranquil pool lit from every angle, the traditional wooden Balinese furniture that decorated every room, the smell of incense and the beautifully turned down four-poster bed draped in white mosquito netting.

Arriving at Bhavana Villas

Villa No 1

I sighed with relief.  It really did look as amazing as the pictures on the website.  We were especially stunned (is that the right word?) by the fact that, apart from the sleeping quarters, everything was open to the natural environment, in true Balinese style…… a million trillion mosquitoes baying for fresh blood included in the package.  Here’s hoping the money spent on roll-on’s, bracelets and tablets will repay us in kind.  Had we realised our villa was mostly entirely outdoor living, we would have invested in a bracelet for every limb!

Owlface relaxes by the pool.

Owlface relaxes by the pool.

So having smeared a few extra lines of Aeroguard across our virgin skin, and having become accustomed to the skinks coming out from behind the paintings/plants and skittering all over the walls of the bathroom and living areas, we were officially settled in and awaiting our personal butler to arrive with dinner: fries, bruschetta, one beefburger, one chicken burger and one carton of cow’s milk.

Our Sleeping Quarters

Our Sleeping Quarters

Outdoor Bathroom

Outdoor Bathroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Living Room

Outdoor Living Room

Kitchen/Dining Area

Kitchen/Dining Area

After some dinner and a not-too-bad cup of English Breakfast tea, we dove into the safe confines of our Mossie net.  Being too warm to sleep under the covers, there was nothing for it but to sprawl on top – bare, white Aerogaurd-free flesh exposed for the hungry Mossies who had managed to flit in through the doors behind us.   Ahhhh, what a feast they would have tonight….

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NOW AVAILABLE from AMAZON! (Reposted with download information)

15 09 2012

If it’s a bargain you’re looking for, then here it is.  Cheaper than a takeaway coffee and more entertaining than an hour of Big Brother (hopefully……otherwise I’ve got real problems!), my eBook “A Kiwi, A Brit and a Wedding in Spain” has finally been published on Amazon.

Don’t expect to find any boy wizards, teenage vampires or shades of grey in this book.  From the small backwater of Oamaru to the lights on the Eiffel Tower of Paris, this is my tale.

Join me on a whistle-stop tour through Europe for just £1.53  or USD$2.99  – also available at all other Amazon stores.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Buy from Amazon.com

READ Kindle EBooks on your ipad, iphone or ipod – all you need is the Kindle App

which can be downloaded for free.

EBOOKS FOR DUMMIES:   Not up with the latest fangdangle technology of Gen Z?  Don’t panic!  You can download the Kindle App (that’s the name for a programme that allows you to read Ebooks) to your PC and read Ebooks on your home computer.  Instructions with helpful picture guidelines can be found here.

Two teaser chapters are able to be viewed on Kiri’s Travel Tales blog.





From the Windows of Ruby Street – Part I

17 07 2012

Date:  August 2003

While in England, my fiancée and I rented a tiny studio flat on the top floor of a three-storied terraced house, each storey containing its own apartment.  We lived in one of the “jewel” streets in the seaside village of Saltburn-by-the-Sea where stories of pirates, sunken ships and smugglers flourished.

Saltburn Pier at the bottom of the town’s furnicular

The street we lived on was called Ruby Street.  Our back window (there was only one) gave us a view out over the rooftops of the other terraced townhouses in the area but we didn’t open it much.  There was a pipe just to the right outside the window that consistently emitted the stench of blocked drains or sewage into our bedroom.

View from our back window

Can you see the offending pipe?

The two white net-covered windows at the front, however, looked down onto Ruby Street, and it is from these very windows that I observed three extraordinary incidences over the period of two months.  It is these tales that I will now retell:

–  The Skip Rats
–  The Arsonist
–  The Car Thieves

Part I – The Skip Rats

When a large blue skip bin appeared outside the house directly across the road from us, it was clear that some big renovations were about to begin.  Well, either that or someone had passed away and they were clearing out the property.  We weren’t entirely sure, and we didn’t really care.  The only difference it made to us was that it put a bit of a squeeze on car parking in the street for a while.

One morning as I leaned against the kitchen bench, gazing out the window and munching on a Bovril slathered piece of toast, a middle-aged man in a green sweatshirt and track pants shuffled slowly past the blue skip bin.  Seconds later, he shuffled back past in the other direction, peering curiously into the skip.  I watched bemused from my elevated vantage point as he shuffled back past a third time.  What is he doing I wondered?  Is there something in there that he wants?

The terraced house where we lived in Ruby Street

I kept my eyes glued on this mysterious character as he turned square on to face the skip bin.  His shifty eyes flicked left down the street.  Flicked right.  And before I could choke on my crust he had hoisted himself up and swung into the skip with the finesse of an Olympic gymnast on a pommel horse.  My mouth fell open, bits of chewed toast tumbling onto the carpeted floor at my feet.  What IS he doing?!

For ten minutes I watched the man shuffling about inside the skip bin, before I finally called Roger into the kitchen.

“You won’t believe it,” I said.  “Look at this guy,” I exclaimed pointing down to the bin.

“Oh yeah.  Skip rat.”

“What?”

“Skip rat.”

“What the hell is a skip rat?” I sniggered.

I listened attentively as Roger told me the customs and behaviours of a skip rat, a name given to a person who rifles through skip bins seeking antiques, treasures or just a little something for the mantelpiece at home.

“I’ve done some skip ratting in my time,” Roger admitted casually.  “You find some good gear in there.”

I threw him a dubious look before returning my attention to the man in the skip.  Our rat’s rummaging had been a success, and he leapt out with an old painting and a box under his arm, scurrying away with his precious trophies.  However, by midday, he was back, and this time he spent three hours in the skip, assembling his discoveries on the footpath before sweeping them up in his arms and scurrying off home again.

I was stunned!  These English are crazy, I thought, but that was just the beginning.  For the next couple of days I watched skip rat after skip rat stroll down the street, leap in, rummage about, leap out with their treasure troves and disappear.  The rats came in all genders, ages and classes.  They even came in pairs, and I snapped my new digital camera gleefully at the spectacle playing out before me.  For two weeks I stood at my kitchen window, camera at the ready, drinking tea and dunking my biscuits with delight every time someone new climbed into the skip.

“Bazz found a gold necklace in here the other day,” I heard one skip rat say to another.

“A gold necklace…” I murmured, my ratting instincts tempting my better judgement.

Skip rats hard at work

A few days later when I glanced out the window and noticed a witchy looking woman had loaded up the boot, back and front seats of her little blue car, I just had to take a photo.  This is ridiculous, I thought.  Her car was so chock full the mudguards were almost touching the tyres and her toddlers in the backseat had been buried under a plethora of what I can only describe as “junk.”

The next day when I arrived home after work, the police were standing outside the house next to the skip bin.  I raced upstairs and took up my viewing posse next to Roger in the kitchen who had been keenly watching events unfold.  He had no idea why the police were there, and since we had carefully logged the comings and goings over the last two weeks, we went downstairs to see if we could be on any assistance.  Or if I’m truthful, to be nosey!

“Excuse me officer,” Roger said in the deepest baritone he could muster, “is there a problem?”

“Good afternoon sir,” the policeman replied.  “It seems the house has been burgled, the workmen’s tools have disappeared.  Have either of you noticed anything unusual?”

Pffffftttt!  Unusual?  UNUSUAL?  My eyes almost popped out of my head.

“I did notice a blue mark III Fiesta parked here this morning when I went to work, but that car was here yesterday loading up stuff out of the skip” replied Roger.

The policeman became very interested.  “I don’t suppose you saw the registration?” he asked hopefully.

“I can do better than that,” he grinned.  “My girlfriend has a photo of the car.”

He stared in disbelief.  “Can I see the photograph?” he asked.

“You betcha officer!” I replied, and I bounded back upstairs as quickly as my slippered feet would carry me to retrieve my digital camera.

While I was fetching, Roger explained that I was a naïve Kiwi from Down Under who had never seen “skip rats” in action before and that was why I had taken a photograph.  He was trying to convince the policeman that I was not a stalking, obsessive curtain-peeping weirdo!

Caught on Camera! I have removed the license plate after consultation with my legal team.

As it turned out, a male relation of the woman we had photographed loading up her little blue car, had returned that morning and broken into the house that was being renovated.  The photograph that we had unwittingly snapped enabled the Cleveland Police to identify the licence plate and catch the culprit.  And if it wasn’t for us pesky kids, he would have got away with it!

Tune in again shortly for Parts II and III





Old Durham Town

11 07 2012

Date:   3 April 2003  (Sorry, no photographs of my own during this excursion.  I bought my new digital camera the week after this!)

In addition to England being filled from top to bottom with majestic castles and cathedrals, in every church there is inevitably a round ruddy-faced monk, or patient elderly church volunteer, whose job it is to stand at the base of an antiquated stone stairwell and encourage you to contribute a small donation for the pleasure of climbing to the top.  But more about that shortly.  This time around my exploration of the North East of England led me to Durham and the hallowed and ancient grounds of Durham Castle.

Durham Castle - view from within the Castle co...

Durham Castle – view from within the Castle courtyard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having spent a few years as a live-in residential assistant (RA) at University College in Dunedin, New Zealand – a hall of residence for first year university students – I was amused to discover that Durham Castle housed the very first University College in England.  It was certainly a far cry from the two familiar concrete slabs situated next to Otago University in Dunedin.  Spectacular buildings, secret stairways and dark dungeons were all enclosed within the huge, thick and impenetrable castle walls.  In Dunedin we only ever had two large glass swinging doors to keep out predatory teenagers.  Orientation Week was particularly troublesome as randy boys and girls loitered outside seeking a willing participant for a drunken one-night stand.

I used to guard the doors with a fellow RA nicknamed Filthy, and very rarely did anyone get past us on our ironclad watch.  Not even the All Black (who will remain nameless, but who later became Captain!) who pounded on the doors, flexing his calf and bicep muscles, and snorting on the cold glass in desperation.  Not even him.  It was a very entertaining job patrolling those “fresher” halls for three years, but those tales are an entirely different blog!

As I wandered through the dining hall and listened to stories of how Oliver Cromwell used Durham Cathedral as a make-shift prison to house Scottish prisoners of war, I envisaged him sitting at the head table, tearing the meat from a tender leg of lamb with his teeth, then quaffing the remains of his tankard before dragging some unlucky wench upstairs to have his wicked way with her.  Ahhh, the days when men were men.  Thank goodness those have passed!

Durham castle

Durham Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strolling through the castle grounds and into the cathedral, I appreciated the gothic architecture, the flying buttresses, the fact that it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Shrine of St Cuthbert (?!).  Yes I did appreciate those things.  But on the other hand, how fickle of me to get outlandishly excited when I stumbled across the cloisters and learned that parts of the very first Harry Potter movie had been filmed there.  Of course in my defence the Harry Potter phenomenon was sweeping the world at an unprecedented rate at that time.

Durham Cathedral cloisters used to film the Ha...

Durham Cathedral cloisters used to film the Harry Potter movies.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After entering the cathedral I made my way to the central tower, which I had been assured offered the best views of Durham and the surrounding area.  And it is here that I met the round ruddy-faced monk I mentioned at the beginning of this tale, complete with brown robes and rope knotted around the middle.  I grinned stupidly at him.  Let’s remember, I grew up in New Zealand during the seventies, eighties and nineties.  The only place I ever saw someone dressed like that was in the television series Robin Hood.  “Hello Friar Tuck” I murmured, nodding my head respectfully.

For just £2, he told me, I could climb the 325 steps to the top of the tower for a royal view of Durham.  I plonked my gold coin into his collection box, performed a few limbering stretches at the door to the stairwell and then tore up the steps.  I’ll be up here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, I thought.

It turned out to be a whole lot trickier than that.  The stairwell was less than a metre wide and spiraled tightly in a very steep gradient, and with people coming down while I was going up, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to move in that space!  Aside from total lung collapse, a spasmodic heartbeat and unrelenting muscle spasms in my thighs and ass, I eventually made my way up to the tiny door at the top.

Keep stairwell.

This isn’t THE stairwell, but this is exactly what it looked like! (Photo: Flickr)

Unfortunately, the manner in which I swaddled my arms and legs around the centre of the staircase as tourists brushed past me was nothing less than an obscene representation of Demi Moore’s pole dance in the movie Striptease.  While women pursed their lips in consternation, men brushed uncomfortably close on their way past.  It seemed that I was the only one making an effort to flatten my body against the curved walls of the stairwell, while everybody else passed by without even so much as a tilt of the torso!  Children were also not faring well, many on the verge of tears at the steep gradient, which was a hundred times worse going down.  One footing error on the uneven and slippery steps would result in a quick fire ascent on your backside all the way to the bottom.  And I know I used to do that as a kid for fun on the carpet covered stairs of the Awamoa Hockey Pavilion, but having a slightly less robust posterior these days, the idea filled me with horror!

While I leaned over the parapet at the top catching my breath, I barely took the time to admire the views, so apprehensive was I about getting back down!

On my descent, the steps were so narrow that I had to step down each one sideways, and since two feet wouldn’t fit on the same step, I had to either step down two with the right leg and one with the left, or cross my legs over each other.  Both options left me precariously unbalanced.  It was slow going, and then there was the required flattening of oneself against the wall to let people pass on their way up.  It was a stroke of good luck if an arrow slit happened nearby that I could press myself into!

When I finally exited the bottom of the tower, my knees were knackered and my thighs burned hotter than two iron pokers pulled straight from a Blacksmith’s forge.  It made it quite difficult to walk and I looked like a malfunctioning robot as my knees snapped backwards awkwardly causing my legs to straighten in a restricted robotic movement.

I forced a polite smile at the round ruddy-faced Monk as I hobbled past him, trying to muster as much composure as I could.

“Did you close the door at the top?” he smiled.

Nice one, I thought sarcastically.  Friar Tuck had a sense of humour too.

And without looking back, I hobbled out the gates of Durham Castle and tottered back to the train station.





Initial Impressions of England through Kiwi eyes

1 05 2012

In 2002, in a pub in a small town in New Zealand, I proposed to my good friend Shaz that she join me on my OE to England.  I never really expected her to say yes, and when she did, well, I just thought it was the Jim Beam talking!  But when, two weeks later, I received a text from her saying that she had booked her tickets, I couldn’t have been more excited.  And on a summery New Year’s Day in 2003 we boarded Singapore Airlines bound for the wintery streets of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England.

Shaz and I quickly become "allies" with the English publican, part of our master plan to be "locked in."

The posts that follow over the next while are tales from 2003 and 2004 when I was living and working in England, and of course (like every Kiwi who has gone before me) exploring the European countries.

However, now that I am wiser, older (unfortunately!) and much more sophisticated (ahem, cough), I find my observations and experiences to be a little naive, quite embarrassing and almost always amidst an alcoholic haze.  That said, there were also some bloody funny moments that I just have to share!

If there’s one thing to change a person’s outlook on life and make them grow up fast, it’s travelling!  So with some slight editions to one or two monumentally shameful stories (hindsight really is wonderful isn’t it?!), here goes!

 

March 2003

England is:

  • Pubs closing at 11am unless you’re “in the know” and can get locked in after closing.
  • Kiri and Shaz trying desperately to “get in the know”, but sadly often left outside in the brisk night air.
  • Not receiving a cheery “Hello, how’s your day going?” from the check-out operators at the Supermarket, and being blanked when you try to initiate polite conversation.
  • Having to pack your own groceries and waiting for the 70 year old lady with arthritis in front of you to painstakingly pack hers.
  • Walkabout Pub in Middlesbrough, particularly Steve, the manager, with the dreamy brown eyes.
  • Kiri’s drunken failed attempts at complimenting Steve on his dreamy brown eyes, while Shaz pisses herself (indiscreetly!) at a nearby leaner.
  • Cars parking on both sides of the roads facing any direction they please.
  • Leaping out of the way of cars swerving across the road towards you to park on the other side of the road.
  • No reduced cream for Kiwi dip.
  • Baked bean flavoured crisps (not chips!).
  • Being hit on because of your, quote: “exotic accent.”  What, this old thung?
  • Being called an Antipodean who has come all the way from the Antipodes and having no idea where or what that is.
  • Buses lurching forwards before you’ve had the chance to sit down.
  • Landing face first in people’s crutches on buses.
  • Getting the giggles on the Underground because you don’t know where to look, heaven forbid you should strike up a conversation with someone!
  • Leather skinned old women exiting the numerous Sun Tan shops that line the high street.
  • Women wearing high heels and cargo pants. How are they going to scale a two metre wooden wall in those if the occasion calls for it?
  • Girls wearing hardly any clothes at the pubs, and lots of them wearing fishnet stockings (?!!)
  • Kiri and Shaz staring at fishnet stockings in Debenhams for thirty minutes before shaking heads and leaving the department store empty handed.
  • A bird that sounds like an owl waking us up at 6.30am every morning.
  • Spending Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6.30am in pyjamas looking like Medusa on crack, hunting down an owl-sounding bird.
  • Squirrels scampering around the back lawn and up trees.
  • Kiri and Shaz chasing squirrels around the back lawn to see if they bite or not.




“It’s the people that you meet eeeeaaach day” – Sesame Street

18 03 2012

I don’t remember who sang this song, I think it may have been Ernie.  And possibly Bert was harmonising?

One of the best things about travelling are the people who move in and out of your life along the way, not all of them people that you will remember fondly, but people that you will remember for one reason or another.  People that have touched your life for the briefest of moments and then are gone….forever!

From Vietnam, the smiling street seller who let Roger shoulder his business is etched on my memory as the happiest and helpful Vietnamese person I met, but also a person who has the toughest job I’ve ever encountered – pounding the pavements day in day out, from sunrise to sunset, in ridiculous temperatures carrying huge amounts of weight.  But still he smiles.  There is something to be learned from this man.

The old and small taxi driver who maneuvered us through the mad and insane traffic both to and from our hostel in Saigon is a hero in my book and worthy of a guest spot on Top Gear.  Not once did he swear, frown, shake his fist or bump into another car, scooter, bike or pedestrian.  Nor did he seem to mind me laughing like a maniac out the window at the traffic around me.

Roger with some people from our tour of the Mekong Delta

Then there was Tiger, our Mekong Delta tour guide who knew how to say “I love you” in thirteen different languages.  I’m not sure his wife would appreciate hearing him brag about that!  He was a character who on the one hand provided light comic entertainment, but then on the other poured with patriotism for his country which he acknowledged had been struggling for years.  He spoke with enthusiasm of new developments around Ho Chi Minh city, but he also showed despair for the people living in poverty along the delta edges who would be moved on from their shanties by the next big development. And where else could they go exactly?

On the Coconut Canals, Vietnam

On the same tour, I won’t forget the young Thai girl who deduced that I was from Rome because I was wearing an Italia cap. She had never met an Italian before, so I was her new BFF and she literally clung to my arm all day!  And I mean ALL DAY!  Poor girl, after the eleventh photograph with her I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t Italian, so instead I started adding extra vowels onto-a the-a end-a of-a everything-a!

My new Thai BFF is in purple, the man on the left is her Uncle. The bloke topless is Russian. Everywhere we went in SEAsia, Russians were getting their kit off.

Meanwhile, Roger had struck up his own friendship with two Japanese boys because one of them had the same camera as him and was wearing a Bell & Ross watch that Roger also liked.  They spoke excellent English and left him their email address at the end of the tour.  A contact he has since been in touch with.

From Bangkok, our first tour to Ayutthaya was extraordinary.  No-one really spoke to anyone else, it was weird!  Lunchtime was very very quiet, like those old Western movies where the guy on the horse rides into town.  A hush falls over everything and all you can hear is the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves.  In this case it was the click-clack of chopsticks.  And it was that uncomfortable quiet all day!

It was very different the next day on our Adventure Tour.  During the hotel pick-ups in the morning we met a Canadian called Gordon who was a weather expert of sorts, some kind of flood forecaster.  We spent only half an hour in his company before being divided into tour groups at HQ.   However we met up with him on the bus trip back to Bangkok at the end of the day.  An Australian couple from New South Wales also joined us.  She worked for Nestle and following my “Ode to Milo”, we spent an hour enlightening our Canadian friend as to what the product was, the numerous ways it could be consumed and why Antipodeans worshipped the crumbly substance.

We shot the breeze, sharing our day’s experiences and learning about each other – our lives, our travel experiences and poking fun at each other’s cultures.  We laughed loudly, joked badly and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the three hour drive back to Bangkok.  To say we got along like a house on fire would be an understatement.  And then we climbed out of the bus at our hotel and they were gone.  Forever.

How families and workers travel around Bangkok

Life is amazing like that isn’t it?  That in such a short space of time you can connect with people that you have never met, and then as quickly as they arrive they are gone from your life again, leaving a lasting impression.  Is it these types of people who are our soul-mates, whom by some cosmic force we are thrown together with to enjoy their company for a moment in time?  Deep Kir.  Real deep.

From Phuket, we remember every freak, geek, sleaze, Russian and weirdo we came into contact with.  But the receptionists at Patong Beach who happily posed for photographs with a small white owl are definitely worth a mention.  They probably thought we were crazy!  We also fondly remember the kind and friendly hotel manageress at Surintra Resort who ironed Roger’s wedding shirt and pants that had been rolled up in his backpack for ten days.

Travelling makes you reflect on how small the world is and how inter-connected we all actually are, passing in and out of each other’s lives for a fleeting moment, sometimes for longer, and in doing so having an impact on a stranger’s life.

Think about the people you encountered today: the young girl on the checkout at Countdown that you smiled at and said hello – or did you slam your goods down in frustration because you had to park too far away from the door?  The pedestrian that you waited for to cross the street – or from the luxury of your car did you instead cut in front of them?

Ellen Degeneres closes her show every day with the same line. “Be kind to each other.”  Such simple advice.  Ya know I think she could really be onto something there.





The Hidden Hitch-hiker

25 02 2012

Sometimes when you’re travelling you have days where you think, why do crappy things always happen to me?  Days when you are dead set certain that nobody has gone through what you have, and that the universe has taken offence to something you’ve done and is seeking payback.  These are the days when you wish you were that friend sitting in their cosy office back home, with their colourful stationary and hot mochachino reading your travel blog.  Ironically, the one wishing they were in your shoes.

Today was one of those the-universe-hates-me days and it started when we awoke to discover unpleasant and mountainous mosquito bites dotted all over our bodies…and damn did they itch!  For an hour we clambered around our room trying to spot the miniscule culprit, but to no avail, and in the end we zipped up our backpacks and left our room to the pesky insect.

Petrol Drive Through - not for human consumption, for your scooter!

When we arrived at the airport, the universe had decided that no matter which queue we chose, it would be the wrong one.  First it was the long queue into Bangkok Airport which had been moving smoothly, until the bloke in front of us blocked our turnstile for five minutes while he discussed his faulty token with the train guard.  Next it was at the Air Asia counter where we waited for twenty minutes while the dufus up front argued insistently with the air hostess about the size of his hand luggage.  By the time he and his family of eight had moved on, we were the very last passengers to check in.

We strode quickly to gate B4, pointing and sniggering at travellers sprinting past us who were heading in the other direction, obviously late for their flight.  We arrived at our gate just in the nick of time to board, only to discover the lounge empty.  Huh?  On the door, an electronic signboard was flashing “Gate Change – Go to A6.”  It was only the gate at the bloody other end of the fourth largest airport terminal in the world!

And so now we were the passengers running for their gate.  We sprinted along the travelators, cursing groups of tourists and happy families who were leaning casually in our path, chatting about their travels and how early they were for their flight.  We burst with gusto into the A6 lounge with minutes to spare…only to hear the announcement that our flight had been delayed by twenty minutes.  We were the last to board the plane, and in another stroke of bad fortune someone had purposely sat in Roger’s window seat.  Never take the window seat of a man who is obsessed with aeroplanes, and after much grunting, flared nostrils and muttered swear words, he got the quick heave-ho back into his aisle seat.

Patong Beach, Phuket

As quickly as the plane was up it was down again and we had arrived in Phuket airport.  We felt like Posh and Becks as we sauntered through the arrivals foyer while touts, taxi drivers and tour guides clambered over each other, shouting and waving at us in an effort to siphon our Thai baht from our wallets.

Owly lapping up the Thai ladies in Phuket.

Finally we were welcomed at our hotel with a cool glass of pineapple juice and shown to our room, where we more than impressed with the towel arranging abilities of the room attendants.  And as we dropped our backpacks and flung them open, what should zip out right under our noses?  The bloody mosquito from Bangkok!  Unwilling to be a tasty meal two nights in a row, we spent twenty minutes staring into vacant spaces trying to spot it flying by.  Finally, Roger successfully smeared it across the bathroom mirror.

The towelling swans

We headed out into the heat and the streets of Patong Beach, and we had no sooner crossed the road when it struck – an uncomfortable, unnerving churning and gurgling sound coming deep from within the recesses of my stomach that was causing my face to pucker.  I paused on the other side of the road, unwilling to go any further.  And suddenly everything became quite urgent.  With aching belly and clenched butt cheeks I hobbled, staggered, cross-legged shuffled quickly back to our hotel, Roger one step behind me acting as a shield in case I didn’t make it.  But I did, just in the nick of time.  And as I knocked back my first dia-stop pill of the trip, Roger sat smug-faced on the bed happily slurping from his can of tuna.  Given his delicate and selective constitution, I never thought for a minute that it would be me needing the pills!

Enjoying a coconut milk outside our hostel - fresh from the shell!

But within the hour, I noticed Roger standing quietly next to the fridge – eyes bulging, lips pursed, legs buckled and his butt cheeks tightly pinching the back of his cargo shorts.  It seemed I wasn’t to suffer alone this evening!  He bolted for the bathroom, returning twenty minutes later, face a light shade of green and completely spent.  Of course I made him beg for his dia-stop pill.  Nobody laughs at me in my hour of need and doesn’t suffer some sort of punishment!

Even Rog tried some...could this be the culprit?

So the party lights of Patong Beach would have to wait another day.  And then we noticed three fresh mosquito bites.  It seemed that we had not one, but two stowaways with us.

Like I said earlier, some days when you’re travelling you just wonder “Does this shit only happen to me?”  I can wholeheartedly say no.  I think every traveller at some point on their journey has a day just like this.