Archive for August, 2009

BarrierReefWednesday, 15th July.

Sitting with a tropical rainforest behind me and the Pacific Ocean in front of me.

I arrived at Diane’s (Phil’s friend) place in Cairns yesterday and set off early this morning. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get deeper into Daintree Forest (the oldest on Earth). I’ve decided that Australia is for sitting on the beach, this time around. I’m just going to lie on this deserted beach and ponder about my growing anxiety of flying back.

I’m slouched in a chair at a table in the bar next to the beach. There’s a girl over there doing exactly the same as me, scribbling in a little note book with an anti-social look on her face…only, she’s got a big jug of beer. Being the tit that I am, I forget to get some cash before I set off, so I’ve got a few dollars to last me three days. At least the food is free on the boat tomorrow. I’ll be too busy looking at coral and deadly poisonous marine life to be worried about eating…or will they all look like little cartoon roast chickens floating past my mask?

Thursday, 16th July.

Swam with a turtle.

I’d been snorkelling for an hour or so and he appeared beneath me. I followed him for about fifteen minutes. I almost followed him out of the reef, but seeing I was leaving the boat behind I let him go. I swam a couple of metres above him. His fins moved like wings, it was like watching a bird flying in slow motion.

I’m pretty happy with that.

I spent the rest of the time looking at sea slugs, giant boulder coral, giant clams, sting rays (…was that one following me?), schools of little blue fish and a big b@#%ard fish that I though was a shark. On the way back I laid on the deck in my shorts…like an anaemic Robinson Crusoe.

Friday, 17th July.

Still on the beach.

I was never one for the beach and I do look like a flabby little naked mole rat in the sun, but spending all day here without a soul in sight feels quite…nice. I lost my fear of crocodiles sneaking up on me out of the rainforest very soon after getting here. It’d be a gruesome end, but it’d be a beautiful place to get eaten at least.

There’s no doubt about it, luxury spots make for crap diary entries.

This feels like the official end to my trip. Sitting on a beach next to the world’s oldest forest. I know I go on about it, but this place really was exactly the same a million years ago…except Aborigines were hunting kangaroos out where I made friends with a turtle yesterday. The only niggling disappointment I feel is that I haven’t achieved much. Doing the train journey from Madrid to here would have been a lot harder and I would have missed a lot of Mongolia (the two weeks I’d originally planned would have been heart-breakingly short). But if I were sitting here having got to the far side of Asia over land, I think I would have fulfilled a part of me that at the moment still feels a little annoyed.


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Ehyup Brisbane

StraddyWednesday, 1st July

I’m going to see our Phil today!

I could possibly be a big disappointment and end up plodding round her house like a zombie with a tick looking for goats to milk…

I finished the book the Australian bloke gave me in Beijing. “Stay alive my son” by Pin Yathay. It’s the story of his escape from Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and the loss of his family and friends along the way. I was still going over everything in my head when I went though arrivals and almost walked past Phil and Jon. We set off in time to catch the rush hour traffic. I later went to bed with no intention of getting up early to take advantage of the day…

Thursday, 2nd July

I was greeted by a note from my sister (and her two cats Yorkshire & Pudding) and directions to her office. I wandered around Brisbane and started to get nostalgic about Mongolia when the thought dawned on me that I might never go back there. I was suddenly gripped with the urge to just keep going and began to think of where I could go next (all the while cursing the fact that I hadn’t started ten years ago). After living out of my rucksack for two months, sleeping in the middle of nowhere with very little belongings, making conversation with complete strangers everyday, often only with hand gesture, waking up to landscapes I’d never experienced before…I felt out of place. I wanted my sweaty clothes, goat smelling gers and big blue skies.

I found myself going into every bookshop in the city. I nervously started to read bits of books on anything. First travel books, then art books, then anything that came to hand. I knew I was going to be in relative comfort from now on and wasn’t going to be going anywhere for the moment, so frantically reading was a quick substitute.

But later Phil & Jon took me to see some big whales, so that calmed me down.

Friday, 3rd / Saturday, 4th  / Sunday, 5th July

We went to Stradbroke Island. We camped about a hundred metres from the beach. We had duvets, pillows, cool-box, gas stove, temperatures at night above freezing. I wasn’t a stinky nomad any more.

That day went pretty well. We walked through a gorge whilst humpbacked whales, sea eagles, rays, dolphins and turtles all vied for our attention. We’d walked directly into a nature documentary. We had a beer and watched the neon sunset on the squeaky-sand beach. This is more or less what we did for the following two days…which was fine by me. We also spent a while at Amity Point poking an abandoned catamaran, and Phil mas almost moved to tears by a flock of pelicans floating on the wind overhead. She really quite likes pelicans.

Monday, 6th – Tuesday 14th

I laid in. I wandered around Brisbane. Had nice nights in with Phil & Jon. They showed me forests and mount Coot Thar. But it doesn’t seem like stuff to put in a blog, I prefer to spout ill-informed observations about natives…

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HarbourBridgeMonday, 29th June.

Got caught in a sudden downpour yesterday whilst looking for somewhere to eat.

The sky turned to a thunderstorm grey/pink that I’d never seen before. Got wet and found a pizza place after half an hour walking, listening to French gypsies on my iPod. Did some more walking and found a bar, had a drink and watched people play pool.

I spent today in the Art Museum of New South Wales. Had a lie down in the park of fruit bats before going in and realised that eighty percent of Sydney’s population are joggers. Do these fitness junkies have jobs? How much do they pay the personal trainers that jog alongside them?

I liked the museum. Four floors of everything from Medieval, Aboriginal, Indonesian right up to Modern stuff, where I had to stop myself touching things, knocking them over and fulfilling the habitual pattern of making a complete dick-head of myself…

Later had dinner in an Asturian place with a French girl from my hostel. The crapness of the food made me miss Spain. We talked a lot, but I can’t remember what about.

I wish I had more time here. It seems pleasant on the face of it. It’s strange being in a foreign country where the natives speak your language. It’s a lot more unsettling than being in Beijing or Ulaanbaatar. I’ve just spent the last three days with a puzzled look on my face, wondering if I’d slipped into a parallel dimension. My brain’s now completely accustomed to not understanding a word people  are saying and the Australian accents that I here in the street get automatically interpreted as someone talking Japanese. My brain takes a few minutes to realise that it’s a language that I can understand.

Walked across the Harbour Bridge and I resisted taking photos as seeing so many people with cameras put me into another tourist-hating mood. I should have explored more of what was on the other side of the bridge (there wasn’t much at first glance), but I didn’t.

Later got a bus to Bondi Beach just before it started getting dark. What makes the sand squeak in Australia? Had crap and expensive fish’n’chips and deep fried Mars bar. Went for a drink with Maude (French girl) and we talked about what a nutter Sarkozy is, her grape picking summers in France and her year working in Dublin. We said goodbye at the hostel and I told her to look me up in Brisbane as she’s travelling up the east coast for two months.

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A million cameras...Sunday, 28th June.

Captain Cook sailed all the way from Whitby to get here. I only flew from Ulaanbaatar…but I bet his journey wasn’t half as f@#&ing annoying as mine.

My plane finally left Mongolia three hours late, which meant that when I finally got to Beijing my connecting flight to Sydney had already left. I had to stop overnight in a hotel along with four others, all at the expense of Air China …although they only agreed to pay for four rooms, “only one room per nationality”. We were all complete strangers and nobody felt like sharing so one of the Americans paid for another room.

The next morning at the airport I learnt what an electronic visa was and that I didn’t have one for Australia. I was directed to a small office where I could use the Internet to apply for one while the staff stuffed their faces and watched TV. I put my bag through what must have been it’s fifteenth dose of x-rays to make sure all my film was properly knackered and boarded the plane for two hours of non-stop, soul destroying turbulence. We landed in Shanghai for a short stop which gave me time to buy what I thought was mineral water but in fact turned out to be bottled sweat, before boarding the plane again for another ten hours…

I joined the quarantine queue at Sydney airport, trembling and swearing never to fly anywhere ever again as the turbulence had been pretty much constant. I then learnt that my little wooden turtle (the only souvenir that I’d bought for myself) might be confiscated after reading the big “$10,000 fine” posters everywhere. Luckily I got through and my turtle was also allowed entry.

So, here I am in the southern hemisphere for the first time. I’ve already had pie’n’peas by the river and walked through a park full of fruit bats, and now I’m sitting by the Opera House in what feels like a big 3D postcard.

What did these people do on holiday before they had cameras?

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Friday, 26th June.

I don’t like repeatedly seeing the same faces at an airport. Seeing them often enough, while you’re waiting for your delayed flight, to start giving them a small “ehyup” every time they walk past. It makes me feel as if I were in a disaster film. I’m getting to know all the main characters who will later be going hysterical, screaming, sacrificing themselves heroically or turning nasty and fighting a nun for the last life jacket…

It’s 11:03am. My plane was due to take off in two minutes. I’m sat watching an electronic notice board in Genghis Khan International Airport. When I got here two hours ago they told me that the flight had been put back ten hours to 9pm. I took the news relatively calmly as I had almost expected some sort of f#@k up on arrival. I’d got to the airport in plenty of time and my driver had managed to avoid every one of the heavy goods vehicles on the way by at least a couple of inches…

At the hostel I said goodbye to the remaining few people I’d gotten to know. I’d forgotten or just not bothered to learn the names of all but one of the people who worked there. I said goodbye to Ukhta, shook his three-fingered hand and promised to send him a cassette of decent music. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to “Bob” (one of the family that runs the place), as he was too busy trying to kick the shit out of one of their drivers. As we pulled away and out of the square they were still being held apart.

B@#%@cks, I’m going to miss my connecting flight in Beijing.

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Goodbye Mongolia…

Goodbye MongoliaWednesday, 24th June

“Different Ways to Drink Your Own Piss”.

That was Khuu’s translation of the title of the book she chose in the bookshop she’d shown me. I was looking for souvenirs. It’s quite a common remedy in the Mongolian household for almost anything apparently. Children start off with their mother’s urine then move onto their one.

Khuu had a strange condition when she was little. When she ate meat she’d come out in a strange rash and have difficulty walking. She spent three months on a hospital bed without improvement. She was subsequently sent to her aunt’s house/ger. Her aunt was a qualified nurse and looked after her as best she could. When it was agreed that the medicine that Khuu was being given was having no effect,  she was given a glass or two of her aunt’s urine every day. After less than three weeks, she was cured and the strange illness has never returned.

My last visit was to the Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum, housed in the converted house of prime minister Genden. Genden was executed by the communist after refusing to take part in the communist purges of the 1930s. Every room recounts the stories (mostly in Mongolian) of the countless intelectuals, lamas and other “counter-revolutionaries” that were sent to Siberian camps or murdered by the communist regime. The last room contains several skulls from a mass grave, each with its own bullet hole.

It was quite sad saying goodbye to Khuu, Marieke and Tine. They wouldn’t have been an obvious choice for travelling companions, but I think in the end I was really lucky.

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Back in Ulaanbaatar

Choijin Lama TempleTuesday, 23rd June.

I’m glad I got a few days to wander round Ulaanbaatar again.

I saw the Zanabazar Art Museum yesterday and had a drink in the only place that wasn’t shut at 11pm. Also found the Choijin Lama temple. A beautiful place hidden amongst grey soviet blocks and the capital’s only skyscraper.

I saw a Khoomi concert there with twenty others, which I’ll probably never forget. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos or videos.

The inside of the Choijin Temple (or “Temple of Mercy”) is full of the usual grimacing, fornicating, laughing deities along with amazing (and huge) Tsaam masks. But what makes this place special are the walls covered with representations of hell and suffering. Metres and metres of people being dismembered, eaten, drowned, strangled, sodomised, etc,. You end up looking upwards to rest your eyes and are greeted with the sight of imitation human hides hanging like a bat colony from the ceiling.

I went out later with the Marike, Tine, Stefan (German guy), a cockney boy called Eric and a Japanese trainee chef with no english. We talked about religion, poverty, philosophy and where to get a beer after 11pm in Ulaanbaatar.

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