Come along for the journey!

Come along for the journey!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

BEACH NAZIS: (Varkala, India)

It's Christmas eve. There's nothing like a bit of apartheid on the beach to get you in the festive season and promote some relaxation. The local authorities in Varkala have decided in their wisdom, to implement a strictly policed segregation policy for locals on 'the tourist section' of the beach. That made me feel pretty uncomfortable.

I'm trying to get all the thinking behind it - it goes something like this: the local fellas used to head for the beach for glimpses of the forbidden western flesh in abundance. In such a conservative wider context, this is fairly understandable, but equally understandably, tourists feel pretty annoyed and often unsafe. So, in an effort to safeguard the vital income from the tourist industry in Kerala's premier beach resort, the local communist (relevant?) government simply split the beach in two. There is a line demarcated at the mid-point, where people are dark on one side, and mostly white on the other. Police with sticks chaperone and shepherd the adventurous few who breach the tabooed point.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but I certainly know I wouldn't want the best part of the beach reserved for people from overseas on my annual holiday at Minehead. And this all leads to my nauseatingly trite punchline…"what a complete beach"!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

LIFE-LONG LEARNER: (Kerala, India)

Ten days on the beach for Christmas with the Herberts - fab! Great to be joined by Charlie, Archie, Polly & Trev. It's been nearly six months, and whilst I love the travelling, and the beach here in Kerala, there's a risk my brain is going a little soft. As well as the stimulating and educational experiences we value so much, it's a good idea to read things to stay sharp. The problem is, that reading has a fairly narcoleptic effect on me. Imagine my life as a Uni student - for those of you who were there, I won't let you re-live that thought for too long. We have a few inspiring and interesting books in the backpack: Obama's autobiography; 'The god of small things' Arundhati Roy;  Ghandi's life & ideas, CF Andrews; 'The time travellers wife' etc. I'll normally start one, on my four-page-an-hour pace, N will then typically pick it up at a cafe and read half the book. Then we'll try reading to one another so that I'll keep up, but clearly I was read to sleep as a child…and the usual snoozing happens. So, I've been doing several sudukos a day to keep my brain out of the gutter. Off for a cruise on the backwaters in a rice boat next.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

PILGRIMS & BACKPACKERS: (Somewhere in Tamil Nadu, India)

As a reminder to you that this blog is not simply wasting your time with pictures of our unrecognisably incremental tanning, I submit to you another riveting observation that will be entirely meaningless to most, but will satisfy my pseudo-anthropological tendencies.

I'm going compare and contrast the pilgrims who we believe are headed for the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, and us weary backpackers on the old hippy trail: both consider their trip 'a quest' of sorts - the pilgrims seek good luck and prosperity through their devotions and offerings, backpackers find neither; the pilgrims shave their hair as an act of piety whereas backpackers frequently feel compelled to grow theirs; both have to carry all the posessions needed for the trip - the pilgrims may only take what they can carry on their head, we may take what my wife can carry; neither party showers for extended periods; and both must travel third class (apart from our own Laura Spink who simply 'will not').

Whilst my exhaustive study draws no concrete conclusions, my submission to Harvard will inevitably land me with a grant to pursue yet more inane pontificating.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

SCHOOL: (Pune, India)

Posted for a week at Gyanankur English Primay School in the countryside near Pune, we were keen to help in whatever way would be useful to support and encourage the staff and children. The head, overworked and savvy (aren't they all?), asked if I (Kris) could operate puppets??!! Little did we know that we were being primed to run the whole Christmas party programme.

My lack of puppeteering skills was ignored in favour of our 'open offer to help', and we were asked to "perform something" for the 350 strong school the very next day…for twenty minutes! Thankfully, there was an old youth work stunt I remembered that we could pull out the bag, no puppets, but it's gold. I rallied up some support on the basis of this 'surefire skit', secretly terrified, more than aware that kids are the most frighteningly honest audiences going. Lauren and Jonathan, our lovely hosts from NYC living in Pune, were good sports, volunteering to muck in - even where Jonathan knew he was to be covered in egg, water, and…well muck basically. The following day, relieved as the skit unfolded, to be greeted with riotous laughter and applause, bouquets of flowers, and smiling little faces everywhere, we finally took our bow. Heroes basically. Hearts and minds campaign wrapped up. All part of our charitable portfolio. Please don't hesitate to contact us for birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, summer fetes, Christenings. Ask Dan & Sarah West for a reference on my child entertainment skills in clown suits: not scary or inappropriate at all.

It's an amazing school, with amazing staff, doing amazing work. If you're going to India, go visit and get stuck in.

Monday, 14 December 2009

LUCKY CAFE: (Ahmedabad, India)

I perused the menu. "I'll have the Maska Bun please…with no butter". Maska is Gujurati for butter I have since learnt. So that's like asking for a jam donut with no jam. I could have asked for a plain bun, the equivalent of asking for a ring donut, but no, despite the waiter's earnest advice, I had to insist on the house speciality Maska bun…with no Maska! Us western big shots must look pretty darn stupid most of the time I reckon - but we're loaded, so we must be respectable and clever right?

The other delights that the 'Lucky cafe' served up included a 'Cadbury Pizza'??, a dead dormouse under our table (and N's foot), and it turned out the place was built on an ancient Muslim graveyard, so we were surrounded by around twenty tombs that could not be removed interspersed amongst the dining tables. That was odd.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


Just when you think you have this whole cultural thing in India slotted into neat compartments in your head…Sikhs are the ones with Turbans; Vishnu's the one with a bunch of arms and the attractive blue hue; Coconut chutney isn't the one that makes me sweat and convulse at the table; etc, India decides to inform you that it is far too diverse to be pigeon holed by some blinkered tourist like you (especially smug ones with a Theology/World Religions degree). Hinduism's claim of having 330 million gods, although figurative only, does conspire to bewilder those trying to understand it.
Today, we visited MG's, a fancy hotel restaurant, for some light relief from cheap dal cafes. After being served by men in Turbans, but apparently not Sikh, and eating our breads with our 'unclean' left hands, we tried to eat the banana leaves that the food arrived in (used for cooking only) and spat out the 'Pan leaves' digestif meant for eating. The alloys in the traditional Thali dish were allegedly good for your memory?? but we forgot anything we may have learned over the past month. We thought we were getting to grips with things, but now we've changed state to Gujurat from Rajasthan, the dishes are largely different, people dress differently, the local customs and gods worshipped have changed, and we have to start over again.
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Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Having missed our train connection to Mount Abu (when our driver decided our private bus was an opportunity to slow down to pick up strays in standing room for a few rupees baksheesh), we ended up going directly to our next planned leg where our pals G&Z were already charming their way into a local wedding. We were all hailed as glamourous guests of honour, where our only requirement was to 'look British', and dance in the streets with the closest guests and family before the gaze of the crowded onlookers. No longer strangers, garnished with wreaths of regal orange marigold flowers, we were ushered in to a gathering of nearly a thousand people being fed, and waiting their opportunity to be photographed with the bride & groom. Although an arranged marriage, the couple were apparently smitten, not that you'd know by the lack of smiles…but a serious demeanour is the Indian way for such official photo occasions.

It's funny how it isn't the quality of our dress or manners that influences what people here think of us here. Rather, with prejudices that we also possess, as white westerners we have been treated with all the grandeur or contempt our status inspires. I feel quite awkward that the tone of my skin has 'got me into', and 'kept me out of' various areas of life here in India. Great wedding though.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

"STOP THE BUS!": (Jaiselmer, India)

Trains and buses stop an awful lot in India…that, or not enough when you're trying to get off if you're sick or you've missed your stop. And people stare a lot, not out of rudeness, just fascination. A brief bus stop from Jaiselmer to Jodphur allowed me to nip to the loo and then fetch some fruit. I got onto the bus with hoards of others and the bus resumed its journey. My darling American wife, unaware meanwhile that I was back on the bus, part of the mass of people jostling their way up the aisle, was screaming blue murder and asking random amused co-travellers who understood no English, to stop the bus. Whilst I attempted to shout assurances back in her direction, her own hysteria and the increasing amusement of the people in nearby seats prevented her hearing me and she was on the point of tears / attacking someone / climbing out the window, by the time I reached her. I like to think she was upset on account of my being left behind, but I think it was more likely the prospect of being left alone on a bus full of spectators. Being stared at can be amusing when paired up, but quite an ordeal when on your own, and female.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

18 YEAR ITCH: (Jaiselmer, India)

I suppose as a European tourist, I like my Med azure blue, beaches cultured, and my coffee expensive. It just seems proper. It follows that I like my 'third world countries' dirty, poor, and rough around the edges. How patronising is that?! We want the authentic experience. We enjoy the dramatic contrast to our own lives, the voyeurism of seeing people suffer for our holiday pics. As a humanist and a Christian, I long to see poverty alleviated and people better their situations: then the quintessential pics go out the window though right?

Since my last visit 18 years ago, India has 'fattened up a bit', with population growth outstripping GDP by ten percent, and technological prowess a hallmark of their endeavour. There are 200 million more people here now! That's a whole lot of breeding. Today, the beautiful and 'remote' Thar desert was cluttered with folk wandering around, and our English speaking camel driver was on his mobile phone ordering our group cold beers to have on the sand dunes.

India is growing up and changing a lot. It looks and feels different: it's less exotic and more familiar; less impoverished and more polluted; less mystical and so on… However, people have more choices and some can live more like their European neighbours should they want to. For that matter, India finds me a little fatter, with more travel gadgets, and less the purist, idealist, 18 year old authentic traveller with my old one change of clothing!

The wonderful impressions and scars from my first experience seem slightly unmatched on this visit. Like a hypocrite, I want developing countries to develop so long as they can give me my 'aren't they dreadfully poor here' authentic holiday snaps. Travelling feels less harrowing, and perhaps less remarkable for it. The hazy romance I had with India on my last visit may have died down a bit, but the friendship has deepened.

Friday, 4 December 2009

DESERT SONGS: (Thar Desert, India)

I've never been one for going to 'traditional shows' where I'll see how the local people used to dance, sing, or weave. I do enjoy traditional things though, when it's not quite so simulated for me at a discount pre-booked price.

We slept under the stars in the desert, and it was beautiful. The camel drivers sang for us around the camp fire in those slightly shrill and metallic tones, as perfected by Indians, and it was un-simulated and beautiful. It was a really nice moment, but I didn't want it to be one-way, 'for the tourists', like performing monkeys. We were glad to make it a collision of cultures with renditions of 'In the Jungle'….maybe a little thin on culture our side.
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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH: (Pushkar, India)

I just heard from my brother that his best mate died. It's very upsetting, and he's such a young guy. We hide death pretty well in the West. In fact we hide our lives pretty well too. In India, it's the polar opposite - life and death literally happen 'on the street'. People eat, sleep, wash, work, live, die, and generally loiter for no apparent reason on the street. For this reason it is both a vibrant and vital, messy and decaying place. For this, a bunch of western travellers continue to gravitate here in pursuit of this vibrant reality, despite the trade off of the stench and harsh truths that await.

I saw my first dead body here aged eighteen, on my first day in India wandering through Bombay: a young child in the arms of her wailing father with a prayer chalked on the pavement in front of them. It's no less profound eighteen years later to see bodies paraded through the streets to be burnt publicly and communally grieved. People here are familiar and sensitised to death happening. In the West, we are encouraged to 'work through things ourselves', aside from those around us:  we take our mess out of the family realm where it may stress and shame, we talk to professionals, strangers, to impersonally unravel our pain, we isolate to find inner strength and our own path…perhaps to a fault?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


NO kissing, drugs, photos, or eggs…this is a holy town: (Pushkar, India)
We ambled down to the bathing ghats at dusk to see the local priests and gentry perform Puja, a 'cleansing act of worship' whereupon songs were sung and flowers were cast into the water. Hinduism has many rituals that are as beautiful as they are intriguing. I would have captured more of it on camera but it transpired this was best not photographed out of respect. That made perfect sense to me, as did the prohibition on drugs and public displays of affection. For a drug free town though, there sure is a lot of it peddled, particularly to the hoards of Israeli 'post-military-service-obligatory-year-off-stoned' crowd. I still haven't worked out the eggs thing.

I did manage to get a shot that reminded me of young Amir in 'The kite runner'.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

THANKSGIVING: (Jaipur, India)

There's nothing like being surrounded by some of life's harshest stories to make you appreciate what you have. Neeks and I continued our annual American tradition of eating with good friends and sharing what we're thankful for in life, but over here in India. We were accompanied by our good friends George & Zoe and together we went to the Raghpur Palace, previously home to the local Maharaja, for as close to 'American fare' as we could get…Pizza, Tacos, and Coke. We all agreed that seeing the world, having so much time to indulge in our pursuits, revel in pre-kiddy early married life, enjoy opportunities like dining at palaces that so few here can do, was something to be very thankful for. I thought of the verse in the Bible - 'To those who are given much, much is expected', and I thought of the 'Slumdog 3 musketeers' again. I've been thinking about what work to pursue next, and what my gratitude may lead me into next.
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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

BOLLYWOOD: (Jaipur, India)

G, Z, N, & Me went to the movies, India's largest picture house, a veritable temple to Indian celebrity. Tonight's showing not only incited a very responsive audience to riotous laughter and cheering at the deftest innuendo, but also showcased a doppelganger for one of Bristol's own celebrities, Mikey Bower.

We are keen to acquire the film with English subtitles as we often had no idea what on earth was going on. Essentially, it was boy meets girl - girl likes another boy - boy seems to spend a lot of time goofing around with other boys for someone who wants to get girl and rues squandered opportunities for nookie - boy finally lands girl to scenes of birds tweeting in the trees….you know the story.

We were most entertained by the scenes with Jesus driving a van (see video clip). We were equally bemused by the 'spit pots' outside the auditorium, fancy ones in brass, for all those 'paan' (Indian chewing tobacco) spewing local folk, as we were by the film.

3 MUSKETEERS: (Jaipur, India)

Today, feeling dreadful, we laid in bed sick and watched 'Slumdog Millionaire'. It's quite bizarre to come out of a film and seemingly walk directly into the movie set. I once watched 'Rear Window' (highly recommended if you've not seen it - Jimmy Stewart at his best) in Bryant Park in central Manhattan, right where it's set. Now, we left our sick bed and walked the streets that typify 'Slumdog'. On the way to the cinema, we met 3 young kids on the street asking for money. They looked just like the cast of the film, the 3 musketeer kids, cheeky, grubby, and walking the fine line between innocence and knowing way too much. It's tough in India discerning how, when, what to give. George bought them some fruit. It's a bottomless pit, you can't help everyone, but in the words of our good friend Maria…"it made a difference to them". 

Monday, 23 November 2009

SHANTI SHANTI!: (Agra Train Station, India)

You can't get too fixed an idea in your head about when things might happen in India. You can't get too angry either: watching squatting natives and rodents fight for platform space, whilst the announcements unapologetically inform some unfortunate customers, "The train to Varanassi will be 10 hrs and 45 minutes late", I pondered on when and where I will be later tonight. 'The best laid plans of mice & men…'
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It's hard to get to sleep because we have goats bleating in our hotel reception area, the hotel manager has a Banghra ringtone and either loads of mates or complaints, and there is a guy doing the call to prayer through a fisher price tannoy on steroids. He seems to have quite a liking for his own voice…he's been going five times longer than the other singers in their distant minarets, like the Duracell bunny.

So, between the livestock-themed hotel and our persistent Muslim friend next door, we are unlikely to rest a great deal. I am beginning to think it is through keeping its travelling tourists in such sleep deprived, sick, and deafened states, that India manages to conjure up the dizzy mysticism it is so famed for.
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Sunday, 22 November 2009


Never mind the menacing looking cut throat razors, and the fact that our street audience didn't seem to be 'laughing with us', 20 Rupees and the promise of the removal of my ferociously itchy and unbecoming beard, wooed George and me into the seats of this street-side barber. What I think our assailants heard was "Gimme a quick shave…and a full movie star beauty treatment please". In addition to the shave, we sat through unannounced massages, scrubbings, and other brutal rituals, bamboozled from one to the next. Before you can say "wallah wallah" there's a 1000% increase on the price and a smile, following what we were assured was "the best shave in Delhi". Complimentary skin lightening cream ensured any efforts to maintain a tan were scuppered. Hair product made with all Indian products (what a privilege…these ingredients aren't even available or legal in other countries) ensured my hair was stiff & sleeky for a week, like Bollywood's best…despite shampooing vigourously.

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Thursday, 19 November 2009


We took a bus from Nainital in the Himalayan foothills to Delhi - after about 2km, the bus 'broke down'. Clearly, it was a dud before we even set off, but the tour operator was able to flog the tickets for a 'luxury coach', then bus us off in an ornate but rickety old suspension-less bus-cum-shrine. Clearly we needed to make offerings to the 'god of public transport', a.k.a. 'Poopypete', or else suffer a less than comfortable 10 hr trip?

This lesser known avatar (One of my best mates, Pete) had their divine origins in 1992, when on his own pilgrimage by bike (and train it appears) through the Indian sub-continent to make the Karakorum highway the highest pass traversed by mountain-bike, he made several disciples on an infamous train journey. This cycling feat (unattested, but vehemently assured by Pete that no local Indian might have previously cycled undetected over the said pass) was preceded by a 30 hour trip in 3rd class, perched on a luggage rail (as is customary for India's popular and overcrowded trains), with a bad case of diarrhoea. Whilst the holy one slept, nature called and he unwittingly 'leaked' onto the head of a fellow traveller below. As fate would have it, the blessed recipient of Pete's gesture wore a turban, which neatly soaked up all of the westerners curry-charged goodness until, at saturation point, the fellow became aware…enlightened if you will, about the anointing he had received. Pete awoke to find an initially irate man, who not only softened when he noticed this was English poo, but was charmed by Pete's winning smile and bizarre ethnic appearance. They each shrugged off the humiliation with a shared laugh and a conversation about the state of English cricket. By the end of the journey, he was a committed friend, offering humble accommodation and perhaps even his daughter's hand. What a conversation opener.

JP and I were reminiscing over this very amusing story recently and believe that somewhere, there is a small marble statue on a family's mantlepiece…a white, tie-dyed, dreadlocked, grinning apparition, on a 1990 mountain bike (his chosen vessel) with fire emitting from his bottom, who brings them good fortune and safe travel. Hinduism is such an organic and inclusive religion. I considered perhaps mentioning to our tour operator that I have direct contact with Poopypete, and therefore could I be upgraded. No such karma…we suffered a bone-shaking trip to Delhi on the back seat at the hands of a sleep deprived megalomaniac driver.
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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

DROP THE 'GOD COMPLEX': (Gallilee, Israel)

Since Cappadocia, I've been pretty ill and not really attending to my increasingly furry face. How timely that we arrive now in Israel, fully bearded*, in sandals, having fled exile in Egypt. I drew the line at arriving by donkey.

Coming to Israel is really important to me. People who know me know that I take my spirituality seriously, but seriously…what's with the beard?! I've always been first in line to judge any of my bearded compatriots (somehow it's less sinister for people overseas). Just what are 'beardies' hiding anyway? By way of apology, all I can say is that the darn thing just crept up on me!

Our host JP was not so gracious and in fact reminded me of my last serious 'god complex' case - it was 2 years ago, saying goodbye to Jez &Ana before they left to Australia. A Saturday night trip to the pub, was followed by some testosterone fuelled fence-climbing antics, and several lacerations to various parts of the body. When I was driven to A&E by JP, I received some quizzical looks by the triage nurse: "… it's the early hours of Easter morning, you have holes in your hands and side, your friends have abandoned you, and your name is...?" I narrowly escaped a referral to the Psychiatric unit. For now, I've dropped the beard.

I hope you enjoy the pics of JP and I walking on water at Gallilee.

*Neko wasn't bearded too…v.'Life of Brian'
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Sunday, 8 November 2009


You would not believe just how long the folk in Tel Aviv can hold up play between points in a mates game of beach volleyball. Arguments about the score, the strategy, or the quality of the sand, all serve as weapons of passive aggression to frustrate the other team…actually everyone involved. 'Rann' A friend of JP's and professional football analyst, commented whilst the banter continued on the other side of the net, "That's the problem in Israel…everyone's got an opinion". And yet again, we see that sport provides us with all the social commentary we need to reduce a country's issues into a trite allegory. Stereotypes are such time savers.

BATHROOM SPORTS: (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Following excessive visits to the dungy since the onset of dysentery, it was time to visit the docs. My wife had turned my frequent trips to the bathroom into a game, keeping 'score' and performance-managing my condition. I went to JP and Sarah's Aussie doctor. It was both handy and comforting to find the services of a friendly antipidian medic here in Israel: I had no idea how I would have translated "I've been going like a yo yo" into Hebrew. Even with the language barrier out of the way however, I had to remember the potential cultural misgivings in communicating with our friends from down under. Best 'dumb it down a bit' or put it in a way my sun-burnt chum could understand. I summoned all my cultural flair and explained that "…in the world of 'poo-cricket', I've kept up a fairly impressive batting average, over what's been a fairly gruelling five-day test. I've been in dashing distance of a loo at all times, and just shy of eighty 'runs' to the bathroom has entertained both my wife and restauranteurs alike". He was unamused, but able to make a clear diagnosis: I got a prescription for antibiotics and a superfluous rectal examination (Presumably to stop me being such a Pom and to keep the wise-cracks from re-occurring).

After Maria and Polis's Salvation Army 'forced-feeding programme' in Greece, dysentery was a very timely diet. Be assured, dysentery will be the next big Hollywood weight loss fad….you heard it here first.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


So JP and I had a game - who could get to the bottom of why Israeli amy soldiers carry machine guns home with them? N & I  were amazed at the sheer number of young armed men and women on the streets and the busses. It was nearly 'Shabbat' and so soldiers were homebound from the army camps. On the bus home, I met the suspicious glances of an Israeli soldier with some nice British geniality, and asked the good fellow his name. Turns out he was from the states, a young black man from good zionist stock - converts with a hankering to switch scene from Chicago. On the next seat there was also 'Adriel', a highly literate Goa-visiting pantheist, and of course our very own Jeanph, 'grafted in' resident, married to a nice Jewish girl.

So, with three diverse and valid opinions, and a game to be resolved, the ensuing conversation was pretty fascinating. I 'threw out there' (pretty hazardous on a public bus with armed people on it) the idea that perhaps young soldiers returning to largely 'Arab' areas were potential targets if in uniform, and especially if carrying a gun. I  pointed out that British soldiers are typically in civvy clothing off-camp and never carry guns. I also suggested that a gun might seem an additional trophy / tool to someone with a grudge (max. points for a soldier with a gun?). I'm aware of the historical context and how Israel might reasonably want to be very mobile to defend itself (vis-a vis: Yom Kippur war). This was my only thought of what may reasonably explain such risky action. I felt no clearer following the conversation, but pretty thrilled to have had such a quintessential introduction to Israeli life.

I'm well aware that I am very naive of the complexities surrounding the Israeli political and military situation. It's a cliche, but I'm sure we'll leave with more questions than answers.
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Friday, 6 November 2009

PILGRIMAGE: (Egypt to Israel)

Ever since my family emigrated 'back' to Australia, I've fantasised about visiting them overland/surface. By closing my front door in Bristol, and arriving at my Mum's house in Sydney, I imagined I'd feel more connected to them, knowing the distance for what it really is and being able to paint all the details in-between.

I was keen to take the journey via Egypt, the birthplace of my father, to Israel via the Red Sea, symbolising in a poignant way for me my own spiritual journey as a Christian. It's perhaps even more interesting and special to me that we've managed to go by surface to Jerusalem rather than all the way to Mum's.

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Friday, 30 October 2009


It was intended to be a sacred visit to one of the holiest sites for the major monotheistic world religions - and certainly for me. Instead, with a chronic case of dysentery, and a relentless stream of camels to blame it on, I proceeded to poop my way up the mountain. What I had overlooked, in my zeal to ensure I was not ritually and literally 'unclean' before my fellow pilgrims, was that it was a full moon, thereby making the most private and 'off-the-beaten-track' makeshift loos, an utter spectacle. The tour group following us were not exactly expecting to marvel at an English 'full-moon' in deepest Sinai. Movements of such Biblical proportions, on holy ground, are most likely punishable by death. "Holy camel dung Batman!"
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BLUE HOLE: (Dahab, Egypt)

Travelling is as much about stepping out of your comfort zone and confronting your fears as it is kicking back and having fun. This was the mantra I had LilNeko repeating as we attempted to drop off the pontoon with as little fuss as possible, into a 300 foot sheer hole in the ocean floor just off the beach on the edge of the Sinai Desert. Although her vertigo induced screams were somewhat muffled by the snorkel gear, the sound was the kind that set your fillings on edge. Thankfully, there weren't too many people around to witness her amusing antics….. other than our friends and nearby neighbours from Bristol, Kate & Kenny! Of all the places and times eh? It was a great surprise, if slightly bizarre, to catch up with them and their kids for a drink, and they appreciated knowing they weren't the only ones having to suffer tantrums on their travels.

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

BEDOUIN GIRLS: (Dahab, Egypt)

Today, we were offered bracelets and other pretty things by young Bedouin girls who I imagined ought to be in school. You need to be wise when encountering people 'in need' all over the world, especially when we have such limited insight into their culture, personal situations and pressures. No harm in buying a bracelet from a kid is there? Win-win right? I used to have a part-time job (washing cars) when I was their age, of my own volition, and it gave me a few quid as pocket money. I'm not naive to the fact that kids are often pressured into working for others, taking on responsibilities and often risks, that ought to be left to adults, instead of being able to just….be kids. I suppose I am curious that after years of working with 'impoverished' (often financially) people in the UK and overseas, I still feel pretty clueless when I approach new situations such as these. I realise we can't help everyone, and furthermore, our 'helping' sometimes feeds the problem. It's case by case I know, and there's no lonely planet guide that gives you clear directions.

It felt right not to buy some bracelets today, as we knew nothing of the girls situation. Instead we asked if they'd join us for a drink. We enjoyed mango juices together, played some games, learned one another's names and got chatting. It was nice. I like to think they got more than they came looking for. We certainly did. I expect that's a pretty western take on the story. They still need pocket money, we're still probably clueless…but maybe a little less.
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SPOT THE TOURISTS: (Giza Pyramids, Cairo, Egypt)

At 4am, I got all 'David Bailey' and decided I'd like to photograph the pyramids in all their dawn splendour - "it's all about the light darling". We headed towards the suburbs (yes, we were prepared for the disappointment that the Pyramids are right next to a housing estate!) only to discover that we'd pre-empted sunrise by a couple of hours. We had a bit of time to kill then. Following the kind directions of a gent on the bus, we had a cuppa in an all night cafe, and stayed until we could take no more of the owner trying to flog us breakfast & camel rides. We passed a bakery and were kindly invited to come in when I asked if I could take photos (see album). Whilst I snapped away, N bought  some pitta-like bread. We thanked the guys and went to find ourselves a spot where we wouldn't be too harassed by camel drivers before the pyramids 'opened for business'. Then N realised she'd been ripped off fifty egyptian pounds. She had had so many people thrusting bread at her and talking that she thought she'd handed over a fifty piaster note. Actually, it only amounted to about seven quid, but Nekofelt pretty upset about the dishonesty, embarrassment, the fact that they'd been laughing and managed to bamboozle her. We decided we'd go back and take issue. We did we get the money back and an apology….and all it cost us was another hour on the cairo streets, having to reject further camel ride offers, taking 25 Egyptian men to task over a fiver, getting laughed at, and possibly followed back to our hotel. Totally worth it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


So we arrived in Egypt, following our awesome 'cruise' across the med. Dizzy from the quality on-board entertainment, it was a late night and an early rise with brekkie 'on-the-hop' as we negotiated a fairly militant egyptian immigration authority. We had absolutely no interest in taking the optional, over-inflated tour to Cairo, when we could make our own way at a fraction of the cost, and without the nauseating commentary and tour group crowds following umbrellas. Besides, it would undermine our travellers integrity…."we're backpackers you know!" (healthy doses of inverted snobbery).

Of course, the temptation to 'hitch a ride' on the tour bus, at no cost, rather than wait half a day  with a mob of pushy cab drivers at the bus station proved too strong a pull, and within minutes of being ashore on the African continent, we were swallowing our pride and swallowing our brekkie on the air-con coach convoy as we joined our fellow bloated cruise clientele on a ride to the city but without the 'tour option'. . Now, for reasons we cannot be certain of, the seven coach convoy had a military escort….we had a MILITARY ESCORT I tell you! That's a first for me…. since my band, the BOOM BOOM went platinum in Kazakhstan anyway. Theory no.1 - with oodles of bucks and zero travel savvy, the tour was a prime target for bandits in the desert between Port Said and Cairo. Theory no.2 - Terrorist activity against tourists 2 years ago requires heavy handed, even 'inflammatory' intervention. Theory no.3 - There's no way the tourists on their 2 day cruise to Egypt, with just 8 hours allowed ashore, and 4 hours normal drive in traffic to Cairo are going to see a darn thing unless some local cops are getting a serious back-hander to clear the peasants and traffic off the streets for a quick journey in & out of one of the largest cities on earth. Theory no.4 - with pork actually illegal in all Egypt, someone got wind of my late brekkie on the bus, and decided it best to fend off the madding crowds.

My money's on the bacon sarnie theory.

Monday, 19 October 2009


I like to have some banter with the rest of 'em. Fending off the vendors in Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar is an art, especially when you are resolute to be polite and respectful (learning indigenous swear words is a real time-saver, but not very me). The Turks we met were amazingly good humoured, and whilst they were keen sellers to say the least, if they couldn't secure a sell, they would be satisfied simply to 'spar' with you in the form of some witticism or another. The Turkish people have been incredibly hospitable and friendly without exception. Some bear a passing resemblance to Graham Souness.
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Sunday, 18 October 2009

TURKISH BATH: (Istanbul, Turkey)

There's nothing quite so relaxing as getting a vigorous rub down from a 400 pound sweaty Turkish guy. It's just as well that human skin has about seven layers. The service was abrupt, but sincere, and you have to appreciate that. What I really liked, was being 'clearly directed' when to tip…the intimidation simply helped me overcome my cultural ignorance and shyness. Bless them all. If we could have provided you photo's, we would have.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

SMIRKY TURK: (Istanbul, Turkey)

It's so nice to be welcomed to a country in an affectionate and cordial manner. That's why when the gentleman in the kebab restaurant leading from the train station in Istanbul greeted us with "Yesyes, Nicole Kidman, Antonio Banderas, come have a kebab!", I resisted the urge to smack 'im one (It's Bobby De'Niro or nothing), and instead plotted to exploit our flighting resemblance to random movie stars to our gain. Several attempts since for free drinks and sundries have thus far been unsuccessful.
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Friday, 16 October 2009

BORING BACKPACKERS: (Istanbul, Turkey)

The whole traveling thing is supposed to make you wiser, more interesting. How ironic that we, like many of my fellow backpackers, find ourselves becoming pretty boring at times. We spent a good half hour half-hearing backpackers outside our room talking about sandwiches. Just as we were into full swing judging them for obsessing over something so fickle, and their aloofness to the amazing beauty and culture around us, I caught myself talking for over ten minutes about the amazing plastic toilet seat cover in the hostel bathroom, that retracts automatically around the seat on each use. I suppose there is a risk with traveling, that it 'over-sensitises' us to wonderful things, and that the abundant blend of time and opportunities can lead to being introspective and indifferent, rather than aware and  appreciative. Fantastic toilet though.