Wednesday, 29 July 2009
I came to this island originally almost 3 months ago for only 10 days and I think I knew straight away I would be back. As you know I headed off to the jungles of Cambodia and Laos, rode the mountain roads of Northern Thailand and overindulged in Chaing Mai. It wasn't really enjoyable though, Koh Tao was in my heart by then and as much as a place can call you it called. So on the 7th of June I left Chaing Mai and headed South. 1300Km from one end of the country to other. It sounds like a long way but it isn't. Break it down into petrol stops, cig breaks and the odd photo and it soon changes from distance into time and time, in a place like this and on a trip like mine, is irrelivent. Less then 20 uneventful hours later I am a few hundred K's from my destination and right on time for the 9pm car boat to Koh Tao I get a blow out. The front end looses all feeling and I am swerving across the road. A tree barrier protects me from oncoming traffic but I am out of control the bike is driving and I am just a passenger. I glide slowly to a stop, reach for a cigarette but they are gone so I breathe deeply instead.
Kit out, Wheel off.... the 10mil spanner warps as I remove the brake calliper. The only god damn 10m spanner I have warps on the brake calliper. I can see the boat sailing away. Solve this, you have a 10m bolt and no 10m spanner. How do you get the bolt out? Answer YOU don't. Sitting by the bike now contemplating what to do and the old saviour comes to hand. I've seen him before but he had a different face then. Now he drives a Hilux and is a tyre salesman. He pulls over and, in broken english, offers to help. He has a tool kit and a pack of smokes. Saved, we soon have the tyre off and the tube out. It's torn, no puncture repair kit in the world is going to fix it. Somehow my spare is torn too. It's just one more sign. ...... leaves me a smoke and a bottle of water, takes the tube and drives off, 20 minutes later he is back with the tube and we put the wheel back on. He gives me contacts for all over Southern Thailand and then he drives off.
I don't know if I believe in angels but what I do believe in are people who are just that little bit more decent than the rest of us. Those people always stop and help when someone is in need no matter how busy they are or what is on their mind. More people like that could only be a good thing.
I arrived at 9pm expecting to have missed my boat but it had been delayed and wasn't leaving till 11pm. I'm on the island by 6am and lying in a hammock by a deserted beach as the sun rises.
It's either ironic or fitting that my journey ended the same way it began. A long ride, a short nights stopover, once with my brother and once alone, and a badly timed boat crossing once from and once to an insignificant yet deeply personal island.
I've been here a month now yet a part of me still itches, still waits to leave. I know myself I am staying but how to convince that part of me that sent me out here in the first place? People here ask me “where next?” and I don't really have an answer. The plan is still there but does it fit any more? Is it even possible? Money? Time? Desire? There are too many questions and no answers because honestly I am happy here. Why think about the future when it is now that is good? Tomorrow the only decisions I have to make are Do I dive? Do I lay in my hammock? Night in or night out? They are not hard questions and whatever the answer it is always the right one. So I lay in my hammock and as I drift off I know it is over. For now, at least, I've stopped.
Ok bit of an epilogue or something here. This blog has probably been as important as the trip itself to me. For one it has helped me to understand things better. To write about it I have to consider what has happened more deeply than I would otherwise and that is a good thing. More importantly it has been my connection with home. A weak connection as far as they go but as good a one as I was able to hold. So I thank you for reading and, for a little time each month or so, thinking about me. When I needed it most there was always someone from home or my past who had just the right words at just the right time. I can't thank you enough. You stopped me from stopping, you gave me strength when I had none. Sorry I am smiling as I write this, I am remembering the bad times and I am smiling so I think that sums it up. You made even the bad times a good memory.
So many people to thank but only one to mention by name. Thanks Mum, for always always believing in me and supporting me no matter what. There is nothing I can possibly say to thank you for the encouragement you gave me from the first day I considered this trip. No scrap that, from the first day I took a breathe on this earth. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Ok so in my last post I left you just after I met ........ so if I say “the next day” it means the day after the day I met them.
The next day we hired bicycles and rode the 14km to the dolphin sanctuary. A good ride with no rain, we left early to miss the heat and as the road was so flat we arrived at about 10. Along the way I got to know them a bit better as we talked about our journeys, they had all met on the bus from Laos and, with a welsman thrown in, it was a bit of an international group. At the sanctuary we went out in two boats to see the dolphins, the photos are not so great but it was good to see them rising out of the murky water to take a breathe. We saw a pod of about 5 dolphins and a mother and cub. We rode back in the midday sun. It took longer and we stopped to checkout a temple that had images that depicted heaven and hell which is not supposed to exist in the buddhist culture. The temple had a cult feel to it and, being midday, it was deserted which made it all a bit creepy.
By the time we had got back we all had various degrees of sun burn, fortunately I wasn't the worst for once and I didn't peel but a few beers and a nice meal made the pain go away and we started talking about where we were going next. I had planned to go North to Laos but figured a small detour would be no problem so agreed to go to Sen Monorow with them. The next morning we left in convoy with me following the pickup so I didn't have to navigate but I soon got bored of the speed and so headed off infront with the intention of sorting out the hostel before they arrived.
Within 5 minutes of leaving them behind I took a wrong turning and almost illegally crossed the Vietnam border. The big men with guns decided for me that it was the wrong way so I turned back around and found the right turning. By now it was all offroad riding. The mud was in good condition so I got some speed going and was soon flying along. Every now and again there was tarmac so I was making really good time. The road conditions changed pretty quickly though and I was riding too fast. I came to a bridge that was no more and had to ride through the river. Walked through it once to check the depth. Stared at it for 10 minutes, walked through it a second time to take stuff over that I really didnt want to get wet and then went with the bike. The water came up over the wheels so was at least 21 inches deep and the force of it was incredible. The bike was slipping further sideways than it was going forward but, with the help of some locals, I made it over and emptied half the river out of my boots. Back on the bike and the road turned to thick wet mud. I was surprised at how difficult it was to ride and had to really slow down, unfortunately I still lost control and dropped the bike. One of the panniers was ripped clean off my bike and the front end had dug into the ground breaking the fairing. I gotta tell you this crash scared me. It was infront of some roadworkers and still mid crash I started screaming for help and not the scream of a man in control. I'll never forget it "fuck fuck fuck help HEEELLLP God it hurts Please help me, please" My voice broke and I was close to tears. My leg was trapped under the bike and I was freaking out. I was sure it was broken. The irony was that, once the bike was lifted off me, the pain was gone and I was actually pretty much unhurt. I don't know why I panicked but recalling it still sends shivers down my spine.
The road turned good again and I was moving at 70mph for the second crash. This time I dropped it on the other side completely destroying the pannier and breaking more plastic. The weird thing was I was going in a straight line. One second I was sitting upright and the next I am sliding down the road with the bike pinning my leg down. I still don't know what happened but the bike took a beating. Breaking the hand protectors and the taillight. No panic this time, just shock.
By the time the guys caught up with me I had reached the hotel and was caked in mud. A cold shower kind of cleaned me up a bit but I left the mud all in the bathroom and was really in need of a beer so we walked into town to eat. We found a good place to book a trek and booked 1 days trekking and one nights home stay.
The next day 7 of us jumped on the back of scooters and headed into the unknown. We met our guide, stocked up on food, compared machetes and started walking towards the forest. I guess the walk took a total of 6 hours and we covered about 22km. We started in the early morning and finished at about 4pm trekking through open plains and unspoilt forest. We tried wild fruits, Wouter trying them far more than anyone else. Inn fact I don't think I remember a moment where he didn't have a weird pink or orange thing in his hand which he was chewing on. We traversed slippery mud slopes with deep drops on one side and had to hug trees to stop us from falling. Sometimes grabbing something covered with thorns was the only option to save yourself and it wasn't long until the first person fell. Followed by the second then third and then we started a score sheet. By the end of the day we would be too battered to remember the scores but I think Christine "won" After what seemed like days of walking we reached the waterfall where we would have lunch. It was a practical vertical climb down moss covered rocks and once we had navigated that with only a few slips we had to wade through the river still fully booted. We were all soaked in sweat and mud so we stripped down to our boxers and went for a swim under the waterfall. It was incredible sitting under the water letting it fall on your back. The force of it knocked the wind out of you but it felt good. After the punishment of walking the pure water really cleansed and revitalized. After the swim we had lunch and started to head for home. Our guide pointed us back at the vertical climb we had come down and we all groaned. It was not going to be easy going back.
Back at the village we started cleaning up, taking our shoes off revealed leeches by the hundreds. Most were dead, crushed by our shoes or poisoned by the paint thinner we had soaked our socks in but some had survived and the blood stain running down my trousers hinted to one such bastard! swear the thing had swollen to the size of my thumb, we cut him open and my blood literally flowed out of him. It was a massacre, we killed them by the tens so they would not make a sneak attack later. Once we were "cleaned up" our hosts brought out more food, beer and rice whisky so we had a game of "21", got wasted and relived our war stories. When the whisky ran dry we carried on the game but switched to water. When everybody finally realised it was water we called it a night and headed into the house.
4 of us had to fit under one mosquito net and I was lumped between Christine (who did not stop elbowing me all night) and Wouter (who kept on pushing me into Christines elbows) We probably kept the village awake for several hours by laughing far too loudly. Even the local wildlife probably complained.
The next day was a day of rest. We lay back and let the pains pass. Half the group was leaving the next morning but Elje, Christine and me were staying 2 more days for an elephant trek. I've complained about this trek to some friends. The guides didn't speak English, we didn't get to wash the elephants and at one point they abandoned us by the river for 3 hours. It was not what we expected. I did get to 'drive" one though and it was a unique experience. I was told off for complaining. Apparently if I don't think an elephant trek is cool then I have experienced too much which may very well be true. Maybe my expectations are too high now. We did have a laugh though. Someone was filming a TV series called "You the man" which was a show about being manly. These 4 guys dressed up and probably wearing make-up were going into awkward places, blowing on horns and yelling "YOU THE MAN" while being filmed. We watched and placed bets on which one would fall in the river first.
Ok, that pretty much sums up cambodia. The following day we all packed and headed in our seperate directions. I have since seen Christine and Elsje again and I am hoping to see the others too. Rob and Roh are now in China, Juan is back home but Rose and Wouter are still in Vietnam. After leaving I rode the same road back and didn't crash, the flooded river crossing had dried up and everything went pretty easy. I made my way to the Laos border and stayed about 40km from it. The next day I crossed without too much hassle but that post isn't written yet. As a live update, I am in Chaing Mai and will be leaving tomorrow for Koh Tao to start my diving course. Really excited about that and, in a way, it will be the end of my trip as I will be stopping for 6 months or so. Mixed feelings about that one and when I get there I will probably stop blogging so only 2 or 3 more posts left. Sorry about no pictures again....
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
In all honesty I am not as cut up by it not working as I thought I would be. To be fair I didn't really expect it not to work out but thinking about it now I would expect to be hurting more than I am. Gotta be careful what I write here though, got two peoples feelings to consider.
I'm really glad I met Harriet back in Europe firstly she is a great person and friend but the reason I am glad is that by meeting her and falling for her back then it meant that during the months since I have not had to think about relationships. It was like a part of my life (a particularly difficult part) was all sorted so I could just ride and worry about the trip and not about women. (or maybe I am making excuses)
Apparently Harriet knew after the first day she got here that she didn't feel the same anymore. I thought that was a bit harsh but in a way it is true. It just wasn't the same between us and that was obvious straight away. Anyway, chase and how do I cut to it? I think that we are both ok with how it turned out in the end.
There are parts of this story I can't tell so I won't. I wish things had turned out differently and I wish I had acted better when they didn't. Truth be told I have got myself a bit lost now and need to find the way back or a new way forward. The question on my mind is: Do I carry on? Do I go home? Or do I do something else altogether?
I'll answer that one another day I think.
So back to the trip. Well lets see, after meeting Harriet and Emma in Bangkok they headed south on bus to Koh Tao and I followed on the bike. I (foolishly) left all my luggage in Bangkok and hit the road for a 500km trip south before getting a boat to the island. It took me two very long hours to get out of Bangkok. It has the most difficult road system so far. The traffic moves just fine and there is no real congestion to speak of but navigation is impossible. If you miss your turning you have to ride 2km, do a U turn, ride 4km (yes you have to pass the turning again) and do another U turn then ride 2km and get off. Signposts are completely random. There will be one signpost for, say, Hua Hin and then nothing but you know you have gone too far. Thai people are none too friendly either. They don't even bother trying to help. Eventually I made it out of BKK onto route 4 to southern Thailand. The road isn't much to write home about. It is 500km dual carriageway with perfect tarmac. It is boring. Traffic moves a lot faster here too but at least people do use their mirrors properly.
I got to Champhon at about 8pm and found the hotel where I was planning to leave my bike for 10 days but they didn't have secure parking. I eventually found a decent place that was going to charge me 30 Baht a day for the bike. I left it there and checked into the hotel for the night. In the morning, and not really used to other peoples schedules, I almost missed the boat.
The island is kind of a combination of paradise and Vegas. The main strip on the main beach is full of flashing lights, strip clubs and bars. It would be brilliant for a two week holiday but it wasn't what I (and luckily the girls) were looking for. We found a quieter beach and a decent looking dive school where we agreed a price with a guy called Jess (from Big Bubble) so we got our Open Water diving and accomodation for 9000 Baht. Harriet decided not to dive so the next few days Emma and me would leave early in the morning and g oto class (yes it was like school) watch a video or answer some questions and then we would go diving. In our group was Jess, the instructor, Ben, the trainee instructor, and three Canadian guys. We did 2 or 3 dives a day for three days.
Wish I could describe this one too you but words don't do it. You'll just have to dive for yourselves because it is brilliant. It is, without over exaggerating, entering another world.
After each day we would find Harriet and go for something to eat and maybe a drink or two. Maybe an hour on the beach or maybe just a bit of reading. It was all pretty relaxed and I think Harriet found it difficult doing nothing after being busy back home in England.
We graduated on the third day of our course as open water divers and in the evening we all met up for a couple of drinks before going to the castle party. The party would prove to be my final downfall. We sneaked in a half litre of rum which I promptly stole from the girls, drank by myself and the rest is a blur with some pretty cringeworthy backflashes.
Errr, I did say some nasty things, I did walk out of the party early and I did go skinny dipping at about 1am and then fell asleep in someones boat. When the girls came back and saw my clothes on the beach they figured the worst and started calling my name which woke me up. The final result being that I had to swim back and then walk past the girls and up the beach naked to the room.
(another realisation me+rum = bad) Wasn't too hungover the next day but I had a lot of apologies to make and no-one was kind enough to let the naked part go either.
We were supposed to go to the full moon party together but I figured after showing off my full moon it wasn't going to be a good idea to go to the biggest party of the year for a repeat performance. I was lucky to bump into Juliet and James in Bangkok and they were on the island too so instead of going to the party I stayed in Koh Tao and spent a week doing more diving, playing chess, watching movies and going to the bar. All in it was a good week, ended the chess on 11 wins each and checked off two of the movies “not to watch before you die” It was good to spend time with the J's. A really good couple who, together, equal more than the sum of their two parts. Hopefully I will see them again, it is a small world after all. Safe travelling guys and good luck in NZ.
I've had more time to think now, seeing as this happened ages ago. For starters I am finding it hard to write since the island. Don't ask me why I just am. I kinda figure posting this might get around the writers block. As far as being “lost” goes let me try to explain. Being on the road by myself has some great pluses and minuses. The big minus being that I am on my own. Seeing Harriet and Emma made me realise all the things I left back home. Good friends and fun nights down the pub. A loving family who are there for me when things are down. When the shit hit the fan I was desperate to look into the eyes of someone who I love and who loves me and know that everything is going to be ok. I didn't realise how important that was until I “willingly” left it behind. The real pain is knowing that each day I am on the road I become more separated from the people I love. The effect is that I feel homeless. I am experiencing a million cultures but I no longer have one of my own.
Someone once said all great journeys get lost along the way. I wish he had said it to me before I left so I could at least be prepared for it.
Hope you enjoyed the read and, now I am back on the road, the next post will be purely travel related I promise. I've been through Cambodia and Laos since and have plenty to write about now. So stay safe and (if you don't mind me passing on a little wisdom) let the people you love know it.
Friday, 10 April 2009
Philip jumps on the back of my bike with a map and acts as navigator. Before long we are flying through the empty city heading out to the open road. It takes only 30 minutes to get from the center of the city into the mountains. After that the road twists its way over 100km to the Last Resort. I'm riding slow today, the roads are cold and my pillion doesn't have a helmet. The road is sweet, a lovely mixture of tight hairpins and sweeping corners with a line of sight to the other side of the world. I'm riding slow but for Philip it is pure adrenaline. We stop for something to eat and a quick calculation makes me realise we wont make the 10am deadline at this rate. So now I go at my natural speed and everything clicks in. Philip is making some pretty strange noises behind me, a mixture of whimpers and whoops.
With only minutes to spare we round a corner and someone throws himself off a bridge, I watch from the corner of my eye as he flaps his arms about in panic. A shudder runs down my spine. Bikes parked and a nervous piss later we are looking out across the bridge chattering nervously about how we are going to jump or what we will say to the camera before the jump.
So it's our turn to cross the bridge for the briefing on the other side. A bridge is a very different thing when you are considering jumping off it. Think about it. A bridge is designed to bring you safely from one side to another but I was about to walk halfway out and throw myself off! That is in no way natural! 160M is also different when you are about to jump it. 160M is exactly 0.1 mile. I have so far traveled 16000 miles. You see my point?
The briefing went as expected. If the bridge breaks it is my fault, if my legs get ripped off it is my fault, if world war thr.... But most of all have fun! Philip and me are put into the second group. We get the pleasure of watching about 30 people jump before us. Watching people jump from a bridge becomes boring after a while but listening to the screams... many were screams of joy but the odd one was of pure terror. A scream that makes your heart stop as it echoes around the canyon and birds take off from trees. A few lads screamed like girls and a few girls (actually most of them) seemed to enjoy it the most.
So now I am on the bridge, I have 10 people in front of me and the real waiting begins. I watch a couple jump, I listen to some and then the jump master yells “75” I look at the back of my hand and there it is in bright red permanent marker. 75Kg and I duck under the barrier and put on a harness. The cameraman shoves the camera into my face and asks me questions. I stutter answers that make little sense and wait as the bungee rope is pulled back up. The view is nice....
The jump master clips the rope to my legs and then... Well what then. Was I scared? I had been up until that point but now there was a feeling of inevitability. I stand up and everything is checked and then I am led to another barrier. I have to duck under it and then I am standing on a meter squared platform with 3 open sides. The cameraman is there on my left and the jump master is holding my harness as I wiggle my way to the lip. I'm still not scared. In fact I feel free like I am already falling. As the jump master starts to count down 3.. I turn to the camera. 2.. I smile. 1... I feel the wind rushing over my face but don't hear it. Eternity passes as my view changes from the mountains surrounding me to the river rushing up to me. I start to scream. Maybe 1 second has passed. I scream with joy and fear. Yeah now I am scared. That rock in the river, the one I seem to be flying directly towards, looks pretty damn sharp and I can't feel the rope. It should be pulling me back up by now. In fact, if it had pulled me back up earlier I would have been happy. Then it whips around and everything is thrown on its head.
The river and the rocks it runs over merge with the vertical canyon walls. Streaks of blue from the sky start to appear. Up is down and down is left. Spinning in all directions and completely lost there is nothing to anchor your brain too. Finally the spinning and bouncing slows and my screams start to quiet down. I am left hanging 50 meters above the river still swaying back and forth. My heart is racing and I feel alive. Drag me back up and throw me off again! Don't stop until the sun sets.
Later, when I finally get lowered back down to mother earth the nervous chatter from before is replaced with excited chatter. Everyone says the same things. How, once they stepped onto the platform, they knew they were going to jump. The moment in the air when you realise there is no going back. Abandoning yourself just to enjoy the moment and finally the exhilaration of knowing you have done something that terrifies you.
Ok, not everyone. Remember I told you about the screams of terror? Well those guys didn't abandon themselves. They held on far too tightly and they saw death. As the ground rushed up to them they forgot about the rope and thought only about the rocks. They screamed from the moment they realised they couldn't turn back and they screamed all the way to the bottom, halfway back up and down again. That jump probably changed them in ways I can't imagine. What's it like to see your own death? I've come close but that's just extreme!
If you get the chance to do a bungee do it! One way or the other it will be a hell of an experience and no-one gets hurt doing it. Every time I watch the video or even think about the feelings I had on the edge a little shudder runs down my spine and a smile cracks across my face. Worth every penny!
Thanks to Phillip as well who was extremely generous and bought the video for me after I decided it was too expensive. Really glad you got it for me even if the whole world now knows I scream like a girl.
sorry, one last pearl of wisdom. There are 3 types of noises you can't blame people for making. Sex noises, Pain noises and Fear noises. You can laugh at them sure but you can't blame them!
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Last night in Pokhara, Leaving more people behind now and so it should be a sad night but it isn't. It's more a celebration of my stay (or at least that is how it felt for me, the others probably felt that everything could return to normal again) The night starts as normal with a beer and chatting at the bar. Keep an eye on Mandeep, if a beautiful woman walks the speed at which he trails off from conversation is a good indicator of how attractive she is. The usual suspects are all their, Moniek is talking to a guy I don't recognise. Rick is at the bar with Trev halfway through another bottle of Gorkha. Lucy and Quentin are losing at pool and the locals are crowding around the stage enjoying the music. Just another night at the Busy Bee.
Bimal comes over to my table and tells me they are playing over in Paradiso tonight and I should come and maybe play one time. I'm drunk at this point. Not fallover drunk but drunk enough. I've just put back a Flaming Sambuca and I am pretty sure another one is on the way. It is not the right time to be playing the drums but I agree. People start calling it a night in the BB and head over to All That Jazz but I hold back and then after one more drink head over to Paradiso. We walk in and it is pretty empty. I order beers all round and then Bimal calls me upto the stage. I stumble on the way but once sat down the room stops spinning and the drum kit comes back into focus. Needless to say it wasn't my best performance but everyone was drunk so it was well received and I enjoyed it more than previously.
After that we finished the drinks and headed out, I think I was supposed to pay but didn't. It's ok though, I'll be back in a few years to settle the bill! The rest is a bit of a haze to be honest. I remember not being able to find “All That Jazz” and getting involved in some kind of fight. A police van pulled up and out came 10 officers who surrounded us. A motorbike screams up alongside me and yells at me to jump on. In seconds we are blasting down lakeside at 70kmh (hey come on, it was only 175cc) towards my hotel. The biker drops me off right outside and I realise I didn't tell him where to go. I ask him how he knew and he points at my bike, smiles and rides off.
So whoever you were, thanks for the ride!
Philip got back about 10 minutes later, didn't know anything more about the fight than I did. After ATJ they went back to BB for a drink but apparently it was quiet all over town and so called it early too. Philip had a 6am start the next day so we watched an episode of Family Guy and I went back to my hotel room for one last night in the closest thing I have had to a home in 9 months. It's a good feeling leaving it (huh what?) I love it here but when it is time to move it is defiantly time to move. I'd been getting that feeling, the itchy feet feeling, for a few days and so when I woke up in the morning and the sun was shining I knew it was a good day to ride.
I hit my usual points of call on the way out, the last morning routine, Down to the Asian T House where I meet Shiva (the best omlette chef in town) and had one last breakfast. I check the guest book and look up Gubi's comment. The date? 18-2-09 exactly one month ago. I remember the morning he left and think of the similarities. The gap we left is still there and so I write my own. Just as I am about to leave Shiva tells me he has a gift for me, I kinda figured what it was (think back, if you can, to Pakistan and the “gift” from the police officers.) but he gets out this big package wrapped in newspaper. It's a Kuhkuri blade complete with sheath. I take it out and look at the blade. It isn't the sharpest and the decoration isn't the most intricate or beautiful. The surface of the knife is slightly rusted and the wooden sheath is discoloured. I'm lost for words. As I run my fingers over the cutting edge I try to think of a way to say thank you but nothing comes apart from a handshake and those two words.
Back on the bike and over to see Raju. Blessings of all blessings, Andy isn't their and neither is Peter. Raju doesn't speak much English which makes saying bye a lot easier. We shake hands, wish each other luck and get a few quick photos before me and Graham set off. I make a promise as I ride off. A promise I have made to people here already but one I need to confirm to myself. I'll be back, dunno when but I know it is true. I have made good friends here and I want to know that their lives turned out well.
Four hours and 200km later we arrive in Kathmandu. Horns and traffic, cows and crazies. It's India.. almost. The traffic isn't so bad and they only use the horns once every 3 seconds. Philips caught up with us and you can get wifi pretty much anywhere. The hotel room is a hotel room. Identical in every way to the other 100 hotel rooms I have stayed in and yet so completely different to the one I have just left. It is to be the base of operations for the next 7 days.
I have a bridge to jump off and Tibetan soil to touch. My motorbike needs to be reduced to its component parts, fitted into the smallest crate possible and then loaded onto a plane. I have to get a haircut, a new wallet and a couple of new shirts as mine are literally falling apart. One week till Thailand! Excited? Oh hell yeah! It's good to be moving again!
So long Nepal and thanks for all the fish!
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
It started at about midday, nothing too bad. A few skirmishes here and there but generally nothing major. I'd been on the streets already and had to be careful, dodging out of the way when a mob came through. Most westerners were being left alone at this point. Ever the journalist I had gone back to my hotel to get my camera.
I returned to the madness and on leaving the hotel was confronted by a mob. They charged screaming their war cry. “Happy Holi, Happy Holi” their war paints of reds and greens glisten in the sun and I am soon part of the madness. As I duck to protect myself I feel hands pawing at my face. The whirlwind passes and I am left slightly dazed but grinning from ear to ear. It is Holi, the welcoming of Spring for Hindi's and a festival of colour. As I walk down the street I see other westerners walking along in the same state as me. As we get close we laugh at each other. Reds, blues, pinks, greens. All the brightest colours of the rainbow cover our faces. The spirit of the festival has overtaken us. You can't help but enjoy it and I soon have a 1 litre bottle filled with purple water and adding my own splash of colour.
A child of 10 makes a sneak attack from behind, green water splashes over my shoulder and I turn and chase. With revenge sorted and balance restored to the world I carry on my way down lakeside. The street is pockmarked with colour and I soon find myself within another group. They are singing and dancing and each comes upto me to add to the mess on my face and I add to theirs. A bit of red powder this time, smearing it down their chin or on their forehead. It's still pretty calm and all really friendly. The young kids are out and having water fights. It's the best time of their lives. Some hide on the rooftops letting down streams of water bombs and others in the street attack with water pistols made from whatever they can find. We eventually stop at a bar. It is packed out with tourists seaking shelter but we stay on the street. Too covered now to make a difference we greet everyone who passes and exchange colour. We are changing colours like chameleons blending into one another. With each wave of people that passes we are unrecognisable and taking photos of each other to show us what we look like. Laughing and smiling in some kind of colour induced ecstasy conversation flows easily and a bar of complete strangers are now close friends.
I honestly can't find the right words to describe this so I am going to fall back on the photos:
Ok before I write about the rest of the day there is something that amazed me about this day. I said earlier that I walked down the street and was left alone. What amazes me is not only the way people throw themselves into this festival but the way they restrain themselves as well. Even the photos don't really show it and I have put a video on facebook but there are probably millions of videos now. It is total ecstasy in these crowds. They are dancing and singing. Jumping around like lunatics. The looks on the faces of people are that of men gripped in drug induced happiness smiling and laughing so much it has to be unhealthy. They literally charge at people and cover them in colour from head to toe. As one of these groups approach several things happen to you. Firstly there is a bit of fear. Then they reach you it is madness with hands all over you and strangers within milimeters of your face. The madness is catching and I caught it very quickly. They soon pass and the result is devestating. The madness left my body and it left a gap when it went. I felt both extremely happy and empty at the same time. It was like withdrawal symptoms, fortunatly my next hit was always just around the corner. But back to what amazed me, within this crazy indescribable mass of people there was complete control. If I didn't have colour on me I would not be approached. There were thousands of people dripping in colour and then a few people who were completely untouched by any of it. Some people with cameras were getting right inside the mob to get photos and they would walk out clean like they had a protective bubble around them.
All I can say is that they had the mob mentality. They opened their hearts up to being part of a single mind but they retained enough control in all of it to keep their own mind too. I have no doubt that if one person in the mob put colour on someone who didn't want it then everyone else would do the same but no-one did. Unfortunately, as the sun was setting, I saw some drunk bikers riding around specifically looking for people who were clean and then targeting them. Another reminder that no-where is perfect.
So for me and the rest of the day. Well the group that had formed at the bar moved around a little and got a bit bigger, eventually there were 11 of us so we decided to go for a group wash in Fewa lake. Hired a boat, paddled out into the middle stripped off and dived in. Someone even bought shampoo so we could get the worst of it off. It was good to get into the cool water after running around for half the day and after a bit of splashing around and the odd backflip we cracked open the beers and watched the sun set behind the mountains. After letting the girls try to peddle the boat back in and basically spinning it in circles I took over for the ride back. It was slow going and we had drifted away from the dock but we got there eventually and with only one broken bottle. We docked and after a small incident involving a dog and a drunk Jordie we were back on dry land. We split up and agreed to meet up at the Busy Bee later.
The rest, as they say, is history. A night of too much alcohol which is a story played out all over the world a million times a night and, I suspect, you don't need to read about it.
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Heart rate 120bpm. It just happens to be the same rate as the song that is playing at the moment. A nervous vibration runs through my leg, up my spine and into my fingers. I look around. No-one else feels it, they are deep in conversation and completely unaware of the incredible things happening around them. As the song finishes a line of sweat runs down my back and my hands clench uncontrollably in anticipation. The singer takes a swig of water and reaches up to the mic. “We'd like to ask Oliver up to the stage”
My heart rate doubles, I look around expecting to see people looking at me. They aren't. Still in conversation they don't understand what is happening. I get up. The walk to the stage goes from 10 meters to a hundred and each step rings out the toll to my own death sentence. Every sense says no but I am walking now and it is too late. I reach the stage and climb up. I've been up before, it is one large step that requires a bit of a hop. It feels like Everest
The singer clears his throat, “we dedicate this song to Oliver, our drummer” and the guitarist starts. 1.. 2.. 3.. 4, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4, 1.. I got it, I started on the right beat, amazing... shit, where are we... 4.., and then everyone is in! Lead, second and base guitar and we are all in time. The song changes as the singer starts “Look at the stars..” 3.. 4.. and then it is over. 4 minutes and 29 seconds gone and I remember nothing. I am sure that we missed a verse it was over that quickly. I leave the stage, grab a beer and sit down at the same table I was at before. After 5 minutes talk returns to motorbikes and girls. Nothings happened.
Later Bimal comes over to talk to me and I ask about the missed verse. He looks at me a bit strange and tells me I didn't miss a beat. He tells me how nervous he was and that he was repeating to himself “don't mess up, don't mess up” I didn't imagine the look of relief on his face. He is proud but not just of me, he is proud of himself. Tomorrow the sun will rise as normal, at 2pm I will have my drum lesson as normal and, If I am lucky, the band will let me play again.
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
I still love Nepal. The people still smile as sweetly, the beer tastes just as good, the women are just as beautiful and the view is still incredible so what has changed? Well for starters I met the ex-pat community. It is a strange collection of people mostly from Britain who hang around only with other westerns. Ages range from about 25 to 60 mostly male but some women too. Mostly single and all angry about something.
Peter (names have not been changed to protect the innocent as there are no innocents)
Peter is large friendly seeming guy from Switzerland who has married a local lady. They seem happy together so no problems there. The problem is that Peter is a biker, like myself, who visits the same motorcycle mechanic I do. The mechanic, Raju, is someone I have immeasurable respect for. I cant explain this but when you take your bike to Raju you buy him tea. He doesn't demand it or even ask but you just do because it is right. Peter spends at least an hour almost every day at Raju's but I have never seen him buy a cup of tea, drinks plenty but never buys. He always has a job of course that needs completing and Raju (for some reason I can't quite phantom) will always go up and do the job no matter what else he is doing. I have never seen Peter pay for this work but I have been told that Raju keeps a running total and gives him the bill each month at which point Peter refuses to pay it, calls Raju a con man, eventually pays half and walks out angry. To make it worse when someone comes to Raju (a random person) for repairs Peter will actively tell that there is a mechanic somewhere else who will do it for less or he will tell the person how to fix it themselves.
Daniel (also Swiss come to think of it) was in the BB with me last night having a beer. He paid his bill and took his change (50Rs or about .5 Euro) and held it over a candle burning it. Owen, an Irish guy I met a few weeks back, and me tried to stop him but he did it anyway right in front of the waiter. (Try to recall my story about Bimal the drummer) 50Rs is about half a days wages for the waiter and I looked into his face as this money burnt. He struggled to stop himself grabbing the money and then walked off without saying a word but his face said it all. I tried explaining to Daniel the situation. That people work all day everyday here just to feed their family. That 50Rs covers the cost of rice and dal for a family of 10 for a day and what he was doing was the equivalent of burning 30 Euros. His answer was that he gave the money back to the universe. Owen and me got up and walked away.
There's a Welsh lady who moved here and setup business. All she does is bitch about the locals and how they try to sabotage her because she is white. When she orders a beer she clicks her fingers and doesn't look at the barman. Didn't have one nice word to say about any locals and specifically hangs out in western only areas.
Any number of people who have nothing to do all day but have opinions on how the country should be run and what is wrong with it but they have the perfect solution if only people would listen. They complain about the politics and the police. They are upset about the intermittent electricity supply and know what must be done to fix it. Hell even the weather could do with tuning up a couple of notches.
Back to the bike again now. I was adjusting the rear shock and needed the rear wheel lifted off the ground and the bike rested on blocks. There's a guy there who is mouthing off a lot and using me and my bike as a topic of conversation for no-one in particular. I had been working for going on 2 hours and he had been there the whole time. Raju had rightly walked off for a bit of peace and so I asked this guy to help lift the bike “Get one of the browns to do it”
I struggled and did it myself. When Raju came back he looked over my work and nodded his approval. He appreciates motorbikes the same way an artist appreciates fine art and so while everything is off the bike and he can get a good look at the engine he looks at everything. Gently twists the throttle and watches the carbs. A squeeze of the clutch just to get the feel. Nothing goes untouched and as I watch him for 15 minutes nodding and shaking his head I find myself strangely desperate for his approval of my bike. He finally gets up and with a smile on his face gives me a little nod and walks off. Later I ask him if he wants to ride it. “No friend but thank you” the other guy, the “get one of the browns to do it” guy, is on his feet before I have even finished asking Raju if he wants to ride it and is practically shouting that he will have a go.
They all hang in western only areas, have no Nepali friends and treat the locals like crap that should only be talked to when something needs doing. I asked one why he lives here “Oh I just love it here”. The place stinks of British Imperialism.
So what to do about it huh? Well for starters I have to avoid these people for the next 3 weeks. I have decided that whenever I meet someone I don't like I will just walk away and not get upset with them. I wont judge any more or I will try not to. I have my own flaws, plenty of them. Yeah that's it. I wont let people ruin this little slice of paradise for me and when I leave I will hold it as a memory. I wont make it something it is not in my mind but when I think back I will always smile at the place that was almost perfect.
I dedicate this post to Raju as it is the only honour I can truly give him. A man who knows who he is and doesn't try to be anything else, a great judge of character who can make you feel like everything or nothing just by looking at you. You will never know the effect you had on me. By accepting me, you gave me more honour than I deserve.
Stay safe and ride well friend.
Monday, 16 February 2009
Here is just some pictures and totally in the wrong order, I will sort them tomorrow but have been over an hour on the internet today and that is too much!
but one quick piece of advice for y'all: Drum practice with sticks on the legs is not the same as practicing with your hands! One hurts much more than the other. Equally, drumming with sticks on your legs while only wearing boxers is on the same level as looking down the barrel of a gun after it missfired! I can see the headline: "Drummer turns himself into a eunuch in a One and Two and Three and FouuuARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH"
(ps, click the images for the full sized versions)
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
To compare India and Nepal is an easy thing to do. In India unemployment and the lack of of any prospect of work has left many working age people stupid. Unwilling to learn or do anything. If I said this in England it would be considered racist but it is undeniable fact that many, but by no means all, Indians living in poverty care for nothing. They await the next day with the same boredom that they lived the current. It is disheartening to experience and it also explains the gormless expressions, the constant same questions (Name, Age, location, how many CC, how many litres, how many Kilometres per litre... etc etc etc) that get repeated by nearly every Indian I met. This feeling runs through the traveller community and is the only reason I am willing to express it. Basically they await the passing of time with “knowledge” that they have no control and that drives me mad, it is as near to soullessness I have ever experienced.
Nepal is the polar opposite. I see people with absolutely nothing to do all day and with no reason to do anything as their future is as bleak as any Indians yet they do things. They become great musicians and they study even knowing the study is probably pointless. I know a guitarist here, Bishnu, who is considered Nepals greatest guitarist. He works in a local bar for 300Rs a day (less than $4) and he teaches for a small bonus yet when he decided to try and make a career from this he had to buy his own guitar. A western one because the Chinese and Indian copies are shite. He has to pay the price of the guitar we pay + crazy import taxes, it could never be bought outright so he will spend years paying for it. For maybe 3 hours a day, 6 days a week he plays at the local bar earning his keep and he probably practises every day for at least an hour or two. Bishnu is an excellent musician who you can't help but love to watch play. Every note he plays registers on his face and in his body movements, he loves every second of it.
Next is the drummer, Bimal. He earns the same per day but every session, or two if he is lucky, he breaks a pair of drum sticks. A “new” pair of Indian drumsticks costs 150Rs ($2) or a good western brand costs 600Rs ($8) but last longer. A huge chunk of his wages goes on new sticks and then he has to buy a drum kit too because he isn't allowed to practise at the bar. 25,000Rs for a drumkit which he bought almost 2 years ago and has paid off about 10k. (over $300 and $100 respectively) Besides learning a trade everyone studies up to at least the equivalent of high school. Bimal is studying commerce between practising his art and earning a living. Then to top it off he is giving large amounts of his earnings to his family who lives in a small, 2 room building which also has to house the drum kit. I can't imagine the sacrifice Bimal's family had to make to get this drum kit but they must have weighed it up and figured that the huge wage their son is bringing in (and, in Nepal, it is huge) will eventually be worth sacrificing a bit of food each day.
I've asked if Bimal could teach me the drums, two reasons really. Firstly, like I said in my previous post, watching them play made me want to be a part of it and I regret not putting in the effort when I first failed to learn. Secondly it gives the chance to really find out about a community, and to make friendships within it, which is something I haven't really allowed myself to do on this trip. Bimal is a great teacher and I already feel, after just 5 lessons, that I will be able to play at least one live session with the band before my 2 months in Nepal are up. I will keep you updated on the band and my progress, maybe even some videos/pictures.
Off for a ride upto Muktinath. As far as local knowledge goes we will be the 2nd and 3rd westerners to go on motorbikes. No petrol stations the whole way......
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
This post starts with the ride from the Nepal/India border to Pokhara:
The ride starts as standard as any ride in India ever did, big town, lots of people and the wary eye of a rider who does alot of commuting. It took about an hour to get out of town and for that hour it was one straight road with the odd roundabout. After the dull throbbing of a V-Twin near idle had started to make my brain cry, big hills start towering above the rooftops and 5 minutes later the town is gone, all that is left is the mountains and the curve of the road ahead. I was instantly reminded of Pakistan and the KKH, noting the landslides, the potholes and realising this “easy” 180km wasn't going to be so easy. And then as suddenly as the hills appeared the road turned to perfect tarmac.
My pace increased and I was soon slicing through corner after corner of the most intense road ever built. There is no rest up, no breather or moment to comprehend. It is fear inducing, heart pumping cornering goodness in all its simple glory. Corner after corner after corner, head down, jump on the brakes, tyres screaming! A push on the bars forces the bike over, head inches from mountain walls and oblivion but you see nothing just the black of the road. Midway through the corner you eye up the next one, pick your line and accelerate out. Within an instant your flipping the bike to upright and even before you're vertical you're on the brakes again. Pushing harder into each corner, scrapping pegs Left! Right! Tighter! Faster! Each time on the gas earlier and the brakes later begging the bike into upright and then pushing it to the ground. Every heartbeat is slowed, every hour a hundred and nothing at all. With your soul flying and tears streaming down your face you scream soundlessly into the wind. A scream of hysteria, blood-lust and chase.
It slowly creeps up on you and it is too late by the time it happens. You're no longer in control, from inside your head you watch as your hands act as if someone else is pulling the strings and the road slips by without you. It goes on until your body screams for rest until every muscle aches from your arms to your face, stuck with a perpetual grin. You know you can't keep up the pace. You're numb; completely body and soul numb as you collapse onto the bike and you roll off the gas. How long was it since you started? One hour? Two? Your body feels like it has done a thousand miles but in the split of 20-60mph corners you have done only 30.
Calmed now, the blood-letting over and pulse returning to normal, pace slowed just enough to be able to appreciate the country. 60 becomes 50 and the streaking blurs of blue, green and orange start to form shapes and objects. Head turning every moment to see a new sight, to feel it and know it. Sometimes it is good to slow down, the thrill of the corners still there but without the fear which focuses our mind solely on the road so now the beauty of the surroundings leaks in.
I find a hotel and move in, get the panniers off and look at the bike lovingly. It's my birthday and I need to celebrate somehow, somewhere. I head into town, into a tour office and onto the phone. I call home to speak to my mum and to hear at least once someone I love wish me happy birthday and then as I hang up the phone the tour guide wishes me happy birthday too then asks me what I am doing for it. I explain that I am here alone and I just arrived so he points me towards a good restaurant for dinner and tells me to head down to the Busy Bee for the evening.
I flood my senses with beef and beer. The Carlsberg tasting better than anything I have drunk in over 5 months so I sit back next to an open fire sipping beer and watching this new world tick over. I can't help it, I'm grinning again back on the bike and reliving it moment for moment. I can't contain myself any more I need to talk to someone so I pay my bill and head to the Busy Bee near enough running. I'm in the car park and there in front of me is an R6, mint condition blue and white with Nepali plates. Confused I walk into the bar, order a beer and ask who's bike it is. I am soon pointed towards Rick, a RTW biker who reached Nepal and stopped. He set-up his own business building custom bikes, teaching beginners and experts alike and taking guided tours around the country.
We hit it off straight away talking about the bikes and I am trying to contain my enthusiasm. It's too much, he talks about the road I rode being one of the worst in Nepal, of tracks going nowhere into the mountains and endless miles of tarmac stretched out like a gift to anyone with the balls to claim it. And it is here that I know it. Within this moment in the bar as the live music starts up and Rick tells me that it is every night live rock n roll. The guitarist is Nepal's number one and so is the basest. “Sweet child of mine” bounces off the walls and into my heart as the beer in my stomach starts to mount. It is this moment when I realise that I am home.
As the night carries on we move from bar to bar listening to Jazz and Rock and whatever the band feels like at the moment. Each song feels right to me as I watch the band and wish I was up there with them. Before too long Rick heads home and I'm left with a beer in one hand attempting to play foosball with the other. The bar is shutting down but I'm not ready for it to stop so we grab a couple of beers and head back to some guys hotel where we drink and smoke and I find myself with two people I don't know, debating all too serious topics and laughing all the while. It's too much, my head is spinning now along with ideas of global warming, terrorism and the possibility that I imagined everything. The day is a whirlwind of sensory overload with the drugs and alcohol stirring it into something uncomprehendable. Modern art of the mind spinning, sliding, slipping. I get up, I have to leave and get fresh air. I make my excuses, at least I think I did. I could have just mumbled and stumbled through the door. I walk into the corridor and before I can decide to go left or right 3 walls have bumped into me. I go left but I forgot which door I came from so maybe I went right. The spinning is slowing now as I gulp fresh, clean air and the sounds of the real world make their way back in.
I wake up the next morning, heads banging and the previous night a blur. I'm out of the door by 8am and staring up at the peaks surrounding the lake, more drugs this morning but this time legal, the pain is already subsiding. There is still a hint of orange in the sky, the day is fresh and full of promise. I'm down the busy bee before 10am... They don't open till 12 but they fry me up an omelette anyway. Rick's there working on the bikes and I ask him to name a route. He tells me just to carry on, to ride straight and go around the lake.
Within two minutes of leaving the bar I am on the open road again. Schoolkids are waving to me and old men sitting in chairs nodding to me. The girls giggle when I wave back and the boys chase the bike. I pull a wheelie. I can't help it, it wasn't me the bike did it by itself and then without notice the schoolkids are gone, the old men a distant memory and I'm on a dirt track, pretty smooth nothing challenging but I keep the pace down. A junction sneaks up on my left and I am intrigued. It seems to lead no-where and then that is exactly where I am. The road runs through a river and so do I. The sound of water hissing on my exhaust and the wave spreading in front of me. Dirt, grit sand and stone. It had all been waiting for me on the other side and it was upset that I took so long. So I set free, time to test the knobblies and really find out what kind of bike I'm riding. Moving around the edge of the lake now and it changes constantly from sand to red mud, rocks and pebbles, steps and logs. Each a new challenge and each overcome. The back wheel is sliding out on every corner and the grin is back again. I have dust in my eyes and mouth. My nose is blocked with mud but I carry on regardless. Each corner has me twisting the throttle too hard, too far. Dust flys and the bike lurches sideways then the rubber bites and launches me forward the front barely staying on the ground. On the pegs the whole way with legs and knees aching, my screams ringing through the dense forest and over the empty lake. The track ends and I turn back exhausted. Along the way I pass small villages which I hardly noticed first time passed. I stop, exchange greetings and smiles, no-one is surprised to see me. They look on with the eyes of people who have seen it all before and they just shake their heads with a little wry smile when I try to cross directly over the marshes. I pass woodsmen and women chopping just for themselves and maybe a bit to sell. They all smile and wave, I wave back and before too soon I am back at the river crossing. The hiss of boiling water marks the end of the thrill and the return to serenity. The ride back along the road is calm, I pass paragliders and 4*4s, rafters and kyakers all preparing for a days training getting ready for the tourist season. A paraglider swoops above me and follows along the road before turning back over the lake, we wave and carry on in our own worlds.
It's not long before I am back home ripping the bike to pieces. Time for an oil change, air filter needs cleaning too. Hmm, OK clean the chain and oil it, tighten it a little, loosen it OK perfect. The rear brake is sticking a little so I make a note to buy some dot 4 and some cleaning fluid. I'll do the front too. All the plastic is off and lying on the floor in my room, everything clean and sparkly. New horn fitted, I have two now both make a different sound and it's loud. I love it. Next note, new bolts and screws for the fairings, the rubber is wearing out and they are rattling when off-roading. Everything checked, everything ready? Not quite, shit I'm down at Ricks asking about spares and mechanics expecting pain and translation problems but nothing of the sort. Rick is smiling at me as I worry. Clutch pads? Sure! Springs? No problem! He'll set me up with his mechanic. 2 days maybe 3 and the bike will be pre June 16th condition and then all there will be to do is ride. Ride and sing and shout and cry.