Monday, December 19, 2005

Trouble in paradise

Hop in a taxi in Bangkok and ask to go somewhere and you'll probably be laughed at. First of all thai is a tonal language and all attempts at mentioning the name of your destination to different pitches is enough to cause an international incident. Should you manage to actually make your intended destination clear the reply will usually be a No way man, are you crazy . The traffic is so bad that to get virtually anywhere will take at least an hour. Even down the road. Worse still that to avoid an unscheduled visit to the jewellers, tailors or massage parlour is virtually impossible. Sometimes the tuk tuk drivers don't even listen to your intended destination and just take you straight to the places where they get commission. The prize quote was when one tuk tuk driver offered the philosophy You like bangkok...then you like traffic jam man. The pollution here is absolutely shocking as well. We spent 70 minutes on a tuk tuk and both came down with sore throats and really bad headaches. Such a pity about the traffic here as it's such an interesting city. I especially like some of the food available below on khao san RoadIt's great to be back in Asia though. We are now in Thong nai Pan beach on the Island of Kho Pang Ghang and after all our travel recently it's great to stop and chill out. In the last month we have travelled in 6 countries with 27 hours on planes, 2 hours on trains and 83 hours on buses(not mentioning those bangkok taxi rides again). Yes the body is starting to take on the appearance of a seat. Lucky they have Thai massage here but unlucky that theres a typhoon heading in our general direction and that it's been overcast on all the Thai beaches in the last 3 days. Also unlucky is that half of essex, blackpool and hull have discovered Thailand. Theres nothing more common than a common pom is what Kate's mum says and must admit starting to believe her. At least we're nowhere near the tsunami coastline. So hopefully Xmas and new years eve here in our very relaxed bungalow will be a real treat. But after last night when we complained to the woman in the bungalow next door with her 2 year old baby knocking back beers and shouting her discusting mouth to quiet down her reply was What ...this is Koh fucken Phang gang... was tempted to tell her pink and purple streaks on a 45 year old is not a good look but refrained. Should be interesting... oh well paradise wouldn't be paradise without a war with the neighbours. Merry Xmas everyone!!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

London Boozer

The urban myth that Australians fancy a drink was proved over the last few days but not near as much as a Londoner. Ever wonder why there is a pub on every corner in london? Because they're a nation of alcoholics silly. So our quick three days in london to visit friends was a quick three days in London to visit friends and drink more mulled wine, warm bitter and dodgy Australian lager than you could ever possibly imagine. And these kids do it all the time. Lunchtime at work, after work, in the pub round the corner from home, at home, not to mention fancy a nightcap luv down at the local. The end result of all this is that Kate and I are utterly shattered and have hangovers to bring down Westminster. Our hosts were Emma and Dan and their baby daughter Winston Churchill who was permananetly outraged at us being there and gave quite a few emotive speeches about the fact. Emma was actually the person responsible for introducing Kate and myself and she spent the entire three days telling every passerby who would listen. It was great to catch up with them and all the old pals from London including Matt on the Monday night who you may recognise as have acted alongside Christopher Walken in that Famous Italian flick I was once was a drunk teenage sailor. We had a great catch up at Gordons Wine Bar in Embankment which is quite a bit like the Bastille in Paris only so smoky that you have to throw out all your clothes afterwards. Our whirlwind London 3 day tour also included the Xmas lights of Regent street which have been monopolised from some dinosaurs from the Ice Age and also an insight into 22nd century retailing at the Apple Store. Yes for a nightclub come futuristic shopping experience like none other take a look if you're passing through. ( not for those not suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder I might add). Other than being dark by 3.30 pm, extremely crowded and fairly cold there is nothing else to add about old blighty. ( except it's still bloody expensive...our fare from the airport to Emma and Dan's and the cheapest available transport at that time of night cost 55 quid or 130 Australian dollars or 11,357 yen but whose counting)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Day in the life of the Djenna el Fna

A huge medievil square surrounded by a medina that has become the centre of Marrakech. The Djenna El Fna is the stuff of dreams or perhaps nightmares if the snake charmers trick you into having your photo taken with a cobra around your neck. The price of the photo will be one dollar plus another 5 if you want them to take the cobra of you. But no need to worry really as it's lips have been sewn togethor so it can't bite. (well one hopes anyway). It's a stage of every busker come street hustler imaginable, in the morning they float in, lay down their wares and start hustling for money, of course tourists are the number one target but this is also a square for locals no doubt about it. The daytime is the domain of the snake charmer, the henna ladies, the orange juice sellers, the street dentists, the bellydancers, the fortune tellers and the witchdoctors. Come mid afternoon and the square starts to liven up with an acrobat troupe from the North of Morocco, a storyteller as old as his stories and the tribal dancers. There are people singing, banging drums, hawking magical cures, juggling fire or simply asking for a spare dirham. As darkness sets and the Muezzin calls his faithful, the food stalls set up selling everything from Goats head soup to boiled snails to pigeon pastillas. Always there are the colourful water sellers, the tea stalls, and the nut stalls all shouting out to the passing tourist "what country you from," hey Kangaroo" Mr Fish and chips" " hola" "oregato". Any Moroccan who doesn't have at least 5 languages here really doesnt cut it. A man darts in front of you with a whispered hashish, an old lady pushes her granddaughter in front of you pleading for a spare dirham, and a cat manages to steal a chicken wing much to the dismay of the matriarch running the food stall. It really is a magical place and the action goes on well past midnight as the songs, stories, music continue before it slowly dies down and becomes the haunt of well groomed young men looking for some action. Everyone enjoys the square and it has become the centre of Marrakech life. Thank Allah that they didn't turn it into a car park in the 70's. The world would have been a much poorer place.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Marrakech Express

After 2 bus rides, a taxi, another bus ride, followed by another taxi, then another bus ride followed by a flight, then, a long wait in an airport then another flight followed by another taxi Kate and I found ourselves in Morocco, and what a pleasent surprise it is. Even the endlessly annoying touts have been a breath of fresh air after South America. The Moroccans really put the Spanish to shame. Their architecture, style and design really bring home the uncreativeness of the Spanish. Considering the Spanish had 300 years of Moorish influence there really is no excuse. In Morocco where there is beautiffuly carved wooden doors and wonderful ceramic tiles, in Latin America there is a plastic chair and the ubiquitous plaza de armas. It's the third time for me here and seems to be a lot more relaxed than other visits. Progressive new king Mohammed has done away with daddy's harem and introduced a whole host of reforms including the penalty of jail for any touts who harass tourists too much. The result is a comparitively peaceful walk through the Bazaar. We flew into Marrakech, and the centre piece of the city is the Djenna El Fna which is a huge square filled with every kind of busker possible. (with the exception thank god of any human statues). Snake charmers, storytellers, acrobats, musicians, monkey handlers, witchdoctors, dentists, tourists and the occasional woman. It all makes for a very noisy concoction of Moroccan mayhem. They also set up rows of delicious foodstalls with fried eggplant, kebabs, tajine and mint tea. After the Americas, the food here is to die for. After a couple of days in Marrakech, Fatima and I headed off to the Atlas mountains for a little camel safari and more. Firstly we headed out to Ouzzazarte ( pronounced wazzazarty) scene of some scenes from Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia amongst othersMost of the buildings out here are made of mud brick in the shape of a Casbah which means fortress. Our group did inded Rock the Casbah and consisted of a couple of Italians, Singaporeans, Americans, and a CanadianThe highlight was camel riding in the sahara up near the Algerian border at a place called Merzouga. We slept in tents banged some drums and counted shooting stars whilst drinking berber whiskey (mint tea). Life isn' t too bad at the moment

After the tour we set off for Essaouira a laid back Morrocan ex hippy town on the coast. Jimi Hendrix wrote Castles in the sand here and one can hear the ubiquitous whisper of hashish upon strolling the narow alleyways. We've got ourselves a little apartment and are taking some R and R before our flight to London on Saturday, probably loaded up with way too many Morrocan handicrafts. Bring it on Mustapha

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Best of South America

As the South American leg of our jouney is about to end I thought I would go into list mode...

1. Animal Park, Villa Tunauri, Bolivia The chance to work with pumas ocelots, spider monkeys was amazing. Although I complained bitterly a lot of the time it was truly one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done
2. The Salar, Southern Bolivia This strange moon like environment is for me the best site in South America that we saw. 4 days in a jeep looking at places I havent seen anywhere else. Amazing 3.Machu Pichu, Peru Yes it´s as good as everyone says
4. Buenos Aires. A cross between New York, Paris and London and at a very affordable price. The only place to live it up on the continent
5. Easter Island the most remote island in the world and one of the most fascinating. Well worth the 6 hour flight from Chile
6. Galapagos islands sailing around from Island to island eating wonderful food and seeing wildlife up close and personal. Magical! 7. Cadmalca, Peru Building a stove for a Peruvian family was a great experience and got us to an area of Peru few tourists visit
8. Living with an Ecuadorian family Thanx to Yoly and Marco for accepting us into their lives and showing us the way Ecuadorians like to live, and teaching us a bit of Spanish along the way 9)Iguassu Falls Brazil truly spectacular sight and better than Victoria Falls in my opinion 10) La Paz A crazy Bolivian city at very high altitude and with dried llama foetus for sale, it´s unlike any other city I´ve ever been to

Top Ten South American strangest moments

1) Villa Tunauri Bolivia Walking a Puma 8 hours a day seven days a week for a month in Bolivia. If it wasn´t actually attacking me it was dragging me down muddy tracks in the rainforest. Here in iguassu the park ranger said we´d be lucky to see a Puma. I beg to differ.
2) Tupiza, Bolivia. Getting blockaded for 5 days in a small town in Southern Bolivia. Having to do all our shopping before the shops shut at 9am and then sneaking into restaurants at night to avoid the angry mob that roamed the town looking for blockade breakers.
3) Tierra Santa, Buenos Aires. A religious theme park smack bang on runway 5 of the international airport. What more can I say 4) Easter Island , Chile. Attacked by a territorial hawk whilst cycling on the Island. The bird came for me three times and the final assault felt like someone slamming a phone book on my head.
5) Cadmalca, Peru Judging the local beauty contest in front of hundreds of tribally garbed Peruvians 6) Cadmalca Peru teaching the local Primary schoolchildren English in very bad Spanish 7) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador Walking around on an Island where the possibility of stepping on an Albatross or 10 was very real indeed
8) Villa Tunauri, Bolivia A spider monkey stole the book I was reading, fled to the trees and then proceeded to eat it.
9) Otavalo Ecuador going to the local fiesta with our host family and finding ourselves in the centre of town getting chased by drunk men in silly hats and fired at with tear gas by riot police 10)Ollytaytambo, Peru. Grabbed by a drunken Grandmother and forced to dance for half an hour unable to leave a very bizarre drinking den

South America´s room 101

Room 101 was the room in George orwell´s 1984 that contained the worst thing in the world. Now after 7 months in South America we have made a list of the 10 things about South America that need to be thrown into Room 101.( In no particular order of course)
1) Plastic chairs. Whoever is making all the plastic chairs over here is definitely not sitting on them. Every restaurant from Quito to Rio is decked out in either red or white... If youre lucky you may get some beer advertising on one of them. Ambience is a dirty word here and why have something nice to sit on when you can fill an empty restaurant with 250 of these things.
2) Buenos Aires taxi drivers. The oxford dictionary definition of maniac driver has been updated to include the antics of these guys. We did 145 kilometres an hour on the freeway from the airport, most of it up the bum of the cars in front. Lanes are optional, pedestrians fare game and cursing par for the course
3)South American cuisine. Ever wondered why you havent seen any South American restaurants recently? Now unless you like fried chicken, served with bland salad and beans you aint gonna be satisfied. And guinea pig... 4) Bolivian Buses. Can somebody tell me why all the buses in Bolivia leave at 7.30 at night and arrive at their destination at 3.30 in the morning so you can spend the wee morning hours cold, hungry looking for a hotel that´s open in a dangerous part of town.
5)Altitude. with most of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile being above 3000 metres this meant that for most of our trip we have been cold, sleep deprived, with headache, nausea, tiredness, breathlessness and other obscure side effects
6) Poo paper in the wastepaper bin. We don´t know how lucky we are in western countries wiping your bum and casually dropping the paper in the toilet. Over here it all goes into a little bin in the corner. Often it´s overflowing and usually only emptied every few days which can leave for a very smelly en suite bathroom
7) Electric showers. Unless you like getting zapped before every wash these are definitely going into room 101. Usually only found in very cold climates, they come with only one tap and the more you turn it on the colder it gets... so if you want a semi warm shower expect a dribble. on the upside the electric zap will definitely get you going in the morning
8) 9pm bedtimes. With the exception of Argentina, it´s tucked in watching some crappy cable tv by 9 pm every night. In Ecuador Peru and Bolivia, it´s too cold out there, nothings open and all the nightlifes gone to Rio.
9)Rubbish. With the exception of Buenos Aires, disposing of rubbish means throwing it out the bus window. 10) 80`s music. Laura Brannigan, Dire straits and Phil collins well and truly live here in South America. Ask someone about English rock and they´ll reply with I love Elton John, ask about Australian music and it´s all about Air Supply. Not that there´s anything wrong with Air fact I have a new appreciation of their music.


If only Kevin Costner thought of coming here to Iguazu falls rather than building the most costly set in Hollywood history. It truly is one of the great sites of South America despite the fact it resembles one of those animated paintings you often see in Chinese restaurants. Iguazu falls borders Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and is also the site I believe of the worlds largest dam(Itaipu). Apparently there were even bigger and more beautiful falls here before the Brazilians decided they needed cheap hydroelectricity. So what to say about billions of tonnes of water pouring out of every nook and cranny you can shake a camera at. For us the highlight was a boat trip into the falls themselves which resulted in us getting completely soaked and having extreme difficulty breathing whilst being underneath the aforementioned billions of gallons. Lots of woo hoos and yeeee haaas made for one of the most fun days to be had. The days comedy moment came after I purchased a packet of chips(crisps to you English geezers) but was unfortunately spotted by a coati (pronounced koarrrteee). Coatis for you non South American Mammal afficionados are an extremely annoying and quite dangerous racoon rat like animal that I loathe. They have an extremely large mouth and even larger teeth that are usually scrounging for food 24 hours a day. So, just after a very hungry Ed purchased his crisps he found himself being chased by not one but 4 of these little buggers. No amount of yelling, sidestepping, cursing or attempting to make myself look bigger did anything to deter the little buggers. So to the soundtrack of Kates hysterical laughter I succumbed and threw my packet of crisps to the devils. I hate them... But revenge was mine when later I found one of them robbing tourists of their sandwiches in the canteen and armed with my latest weapon ( a birkenstock) I chased the little bastard halfway down the falls. Brothers in arms unite..death to all Coatis. So here we are in Iguassu, Brazil and unfortunately our latin American world has caved in on it´s head. Suddenly we´re forced to say Obrigado instead of Gracias. Brazil is a whole different world. 160 million people... more than all the other South American countries put togethor. The country is bigger than Europe, there are more murders here than in South Africa, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. 85% of the worlds portugese speakers also live here... so there. It´s also expensive and especially so during Xmas and new year. In Rio they are asking 50 dollars US a night in an 8 bed dorm. So we have decided to say Vamos to Brazil ( or whatever the portugese equivalent is and hello Morocco and Thailand Via London. Yep tomorrow we hop on a bus to Sao Paolo( God help us) then fly to Marrakech for some mint tea and how much for the carpet. 10 days later we fly to London for 3 days for a bit of Christ it´s cold here followed by a flight to Thailand and show us where the cheap cabana on the beach with the hammock is please. Can´t wait.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Jesus Land

One of the most popular things to do in Buenos Aires is visit Tierra Santa, a religious based themepark right next to runway 2 of the domestic airport. This place has got intelligent design written all over it. Here you can experience "the biggest animated nativity of the world". From the "incredibly real Jesus sitting at his table with his 12 apostles to enjoy the last supper" to the "impressive 18 metre high Jesus Christ with 36 mechanical movements¨. The latter, being a monument to the resurrection, which one can see re-enacted every 20 minutes. To an enigma like soundtrack our Christ rises from the hill to the rapturous applause of everyone belowThere´s the wailing wall, the museum of religiousness, the muppets house, even a mosque. Throw in a few Romans, a couple of Virgin mary´s, Mother Theresa and you´ve got yourself a tourist site like no other. ( well this side of the Dead sea anyway).You can even buy beers, chat to some pharisees, suck on a date palm, and watch some quality belly dancing in one of the many live shows. ( her navel was of course covered up). This place is seriously popular as well, the buses were lining up outside with camera toting tourists ready to feast on felafel and or wander down craftsmen way for the chance to purchase an ornamental Jesus park urn. We all felt like we were in an episode of the Flintstones and have to say that I hope no one in the hills district of Sydney catches on to whats going down over here