…9 lives.

I’m a cat person. Love ’em. Miss ’em. Identify. They’re magical : a solitary, multidimensional and independent creature existing in a state of unpredictable duality. Peace/Violence, Contentment/Fury. Mostly warm, cuddly and purrrrrry, but never more than a millisecond from becoming a chaotic death dealing whirlwind of tendons, teeth and talons.

Personally, I’m mostly like that cat in the poster but with less fur and no claws.

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These kind of situations bring out the best in me it would seem.

I do have nine lives though. I’ve lived at least 4 of them so far and apparently heading into my 5th in a few months.

That’s about as far as I should stretch this cat analogy.

You might recall that I have been super vague lately…well here’s the thing.

I’m going to live/work in Antarctica for a year or so.

Expeditioner 2017/2018 at Davis Station  and technical officer over summer/winter.

I’ll be looking after all the site IT, dabble as unofficial photographer plus helping out with the scientific research programs as needed. Then I get to be part of the 18 person skeleton crew keeping the home fires burning and the systems ticking over through a dark Antarctic winter. Its going to be a fascinating experience!

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Almost – there’s always a small chance I’ll fail the medicals so its not in the bag yet.

How did this happen?

Earlier this year I was lost : hated my job, hated being here, unhappy and unsatisfied with life. So I did what I usually do – shotgun out applications for work.

A Facebook advert popped up one day. It looks interesting but unobtainable, but regardless I applied for a Technical Officer position with the Australian Antarctic Division. I submitted the application and then quietly forgot about it, thinking “not a chance but Hell – worth a try”.

Then just before Bali this year, in March, I got a call: “Shortlisted?…wow thanks!”

After 2 days of selective testing in Hobart, Tasmania and a technical interview, they called a few weeks later and offered me the job. Out of 3500 people applying globally for 3 positions, they had picked me as first choice for Davis Station. This tickled my withered ego immensely so of course I accepted immediately.

It is dependent on me passing extensive psychological and adapability testing, and ridiculously thorough medicals. I’m waiting on the results of both as I peel the plaster from my elbow from the blood tests (i really really really hate needles).

But I’m mildly confident, hence this post.

So my plans have morphed once again. Rest assured I have a revised Plan B, C and D just in case (some things never change).

I’m currently waiting on the medical result, which will result in a contract being drawn up, which I sign and then thats it. I’ll be in Hobart for 4 weeks pre-departure training early October, and then on an icebreaker heading South for 2 weeks. After that? Antartica.

Once my contract is signed (fingers crossed in a week or so) I’m taking all my leave, resigning and FINALLY kissing this town/job/life goodbye. Heading to San Francisco and then exploring the US for 2 months solo before becoming an icicle. Or Romania. Or Bali for 3 weeks refresher teacher training – I haven’t decided yet.

If it DOESN’T happen and I somehow come up medically unfit, then I’ll be somewhat disappointed but Hell  – I still have my plane ticket. Onwards in any case!

On to life number 5, and whatever surprises that may hold.

Needless to say I’ll be blogging my arse off regardless.

Wanna come?

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Back to the present…

I’m travelling overseas more and more frequently now as my last real anchor to a conventional life was buried with Mum in February. 

All that remains now is a need to keep moving, and the notion of settling down and making do is vanishing behind me.

So… this ‘Travel’ thing eh? 

I’m totally lost to the addiction and it seems to be the only way to stay really connected to the present.  

When I’m “home” I’m unsatisfied/unsettled and constantly planning an escape but when travelling I can easily slip into the “now” of things. It effortlessly brings me back to the moment. 

Travel-based yogic mindfulness, maybe.

So another quick catch up – after 2 weeks of Svastha Yoga Therapy training in Bali, I came home and felt the familiar dip begin.

Luckily a good friend Shay was travelling into South East Asia for the first time (we’d talked about it for ages whilst I was in the US last year) , and she was so close to Australia – I made the call to take some leave (yes somehow I still have a job), bought my one way ticket to Chiang Mai, booked some dental work at my favourite dentist (is that a thing?), counted the hours, and then after several weeks of listlessness, finally left. 

Chiang Mai was instantly welcoming, smoky and hot – but no more so than a Dubbo summer. I caught up with a few friends here and settled in. Walked the familiar streets, caught a First Class movie ( Ghost in the Shell – really good actually),  found my fave coffee shops and vegetarian eateries, took a breath and finally relaxed. 

There was a brief window of opportunity to fly to Cambodia and meet Shay there instead – she had a girlfriend leaving and her partner coming over but there was a 10 day period in between that we could reconnect. 

So…easiest decision ever.

A quick flight to Siem Reap via Bangkok , and voila! 

Hello Cambodia!


What a fascinating place. 

I won’t go into the politics: Pol Pot, the genocide, Killing Fields, land mines and cluster bombs or the aftermath  of it all – it’s relatively fresh and has scarred this country deeply. I’d recommend you do some Googling before visiting if you aren’t familiar with these terms and get a solid dose of perspective on the horrors that occurred here in the 70’s. 

At first glance,  it’s an unusually weird amalgam of American icons and SE Asia. The US dollar rules the streets, prices are high (this is a real tourist town), scarred and limbless land mine victims haunt the tourist areas, cars drive on the right hand side of the dusty roads, tuk tuks and scooters “meep meep” and dash madly around confused pedestrians, trash and plastics cover the roadsides and floats along the sludgy surface of the Siem Reap river, mingling with the rainbow coloured oil slicked algae and water weeds. 

Parts of the city are charming but a lot of it is not. The amount of garbage is surprising, as is the dust and spotty internet. Neither the Hard Rock Cafe, Palacial 5 star resorts with plastic bag shanty towns, or the ubiquitous McDonalds and Starbucks improve things much, but the more you explore away from the tourist traps the more interesting it gets. I’d love to head to Phnom Penh, but Siem Reap is it for me this trip.

Someone asked me today about the food there and how was it different to Thai, but to be honest I couldn’t answer the question. I can say generally it is EXPENSIVE (all in USD$) and that the markets have a massive variety of dried, fried, fresh and absolutely toxic foods available – (like deep fried spiders, crickets and snakes). There are plenty of Western style coffee shops, quite a few French Boulangeries, and plenty of other upmarket options. 

We were railroaded into a small cafe at Angkor Wat for a $1USD soda and a $5USD fried rice with vegetables/Khmer sausage which we only survived by ditching the gelatinous weird pale red sausage pieces (whew!) but was otherwise yum. $1USD Draught Cambodia Beer was the drink of choice and wasn’t a bad drop at all. 

I tried a few traditional Khmer dishes at The Peace Cafe  (http://www.peacecafeangkor.org/ – an awesome vegan and vegetarian spot in Siem Reap ) that were amazing but I can’t recall their names…damn Draught Beer again. 

At dinner in the second night , there was a mango-like fruit that dropped from a tall tree with a SPLAT just near our table  – the waitress picked up the split pale yellow/orange splatted fruit but when Shay asked what is was, it didn’t have a English name but she kindly  offered us some to eat…it was yellow/orange flesh – sweet but chalky and totally delicious.  

The nicest food I’ve had so far : a simple stir fried Morning Glory Salad with some boiled rice. Next time I’ll explore the food side more for sure.

We’ve been travel buddying around for the past few days now though  –  Shay, Dick, Puk and myself – Angkor Wat at dawn, tuk tuk rides, Dr Fish Massages, Siem Reap arts, crafts and shitty tourist markets, off track Hare Krishna compound, smiling kids – always wandering and discovering, roaming the back alleys and secret nooks of this dusty city.

… and the temples. My God – the temples.  Stunning ancient ruins and a history lesson in one, swarming with tourists but somehow still accessible – allowing space and time to find a quiet corner and experience their ruined beauty.

*ditch the shoes and flip flops – climbing the treacherous steps and exploring the temples barefoot is both safer/easier plus the feel of the sandstone is incredibly grounding and connecting.


It’s not hard to connect to the places and the people here in this busy tourist spot, even though this city is a revolving door for tourists – the hostels turn over backpackers of all ages every few days. Last night was games night at the bar, which was a great way to meet and greet – then most people went out for a big night. I stayed in – boring but I don’t like to fly hungover.  The parade of arguing couples and loud rambunctious drunks returning at 5 am is always a bit of fun to watch though.

I’ve made many new friends in the hostel here and as usual HostelWorld recommendations are proving the best way to find a bed. (The Living Quarters in Wat Bo Road is excellent – No. 543, Wat Bo Road, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia )

Anyway I’m back to Chiang Mai today for the next week of two. Getting a wisdom tooth pulled and a crown done tomorrow so that should be a lot of fun.

Shay and her partner are coming up to Chiang Mai in a week or so – itll be cool to explore northern Thailand again, especially Pai.

Then I have to think about booking a flight back at some stage.

Oh !!! I’ve been fortunate enough to get shortlisted for an IT job working in Antarctica next season (with the Australian Antarctic Division) – interviews, psych tests and medical are in May. 

I hope I’m the right kind of crazy . Wish me luck!  

If that comes through for me, then I think I’ve finally won the Oscar for best  “Get Me The Hell Out Of Here” performance for 2017. 

I’ll keep you posted.

…Far far away!

I’m at a turning point in this trip. Bingo funds.

Push on or turn back but as my Dad always said “It’s bad luck to turn back”.

Leaving the chaos of Cairo far behind, I was heading for Morocco for my birthday. Megan was staying in Cairo, D’ had gone home and it was time to go.

Iris my Californian patents lawyer/Star Wars geek travel bud had just visited some original sets in Tunisia before heading off with her Tinder “boys” into the Balkans. She had planted the seed in my brain however for a small detour on the way to Marrakech.

So I booked the flight and landed in Tunisia – a place apparently scary and very dangerous according to our governments website.

Firstly – what a load of fear mongering crap.  I’ve felt more in danger walking down the Main Street of Dubbo at 3am.

FU travel warnings.

*there ARE a shit ton of heavily armed police, national guard and take-no-bullshit military units around with full body armor, big arse truck mounted machine guns, and tanks but hey…that only spells security to me.

Landing in Tunis a few weeks ago was like emerging into a virtual paradise.

Immigration? Smashed it.  Pssst… you are Australian… NO VISA! Welcome!! Wtf?…then 3 steps out of immigration … Pssst… wanna free Orange SIM card? HERE!…just 20 dinar ($11AUD) gets 3gig data and unlimited calls for 30 days…want to top it up now?… Hell YEAH 🙂

Then I stepped outside. Huh? No scammers or sellers? No garbage? Fresh air? No pollution? No crowds? No traffic?

So this is Tunis? But its all so…so clean and so…so quiet? Am I really in North Africa?

Am I lucid dreaming?

Ok the airport taxis were tricky and I only got a tiny bit ripped off  but lesson learned. The lesson is ignore the taxis and the predatory taxi touts, walk out of the airport case park to the road and hail a cab off the street (with a red window light – green means booked), check he turns the meter on and the rate is correct  (1 usually, after 9pm the rate 2 surcharge starts). Typically airport to the French Embassy in town is under 5 dinars as a benchmark…and off you go.

I’d “Plan B”‘d (yes go on…giggle those that know me) the accommodation as the hostel appeared to vanish after my booking and never returned any calls, answered emails or even their phone. Even by their own admission were hard to find AND they advised never walk in the Medina after dark as it was too dangerous.  So in the 11th hour with not even a booking response I went to Plan B.

Plan B was the best thing ever – an Airbnb with a lovely local lady with some amazing housemates – staying up and letting me in after wandering around the Medina at midnight like a lost lamb.

And so, disheveled and slightly in shock, I met Hasna (eventually), Arianna (+ Dino), and Diana – three amazing Tunisian, Italian and Moldovan women studying and working in Tunis that allowed me to share their home for the initial 3 day trip that’s turned into 3 weeks so far and counting.

Arianna was studying Law here for a little while, and Diana had just arrived a few days earlier but was itching to explore the city.  Day 1 was explore day for me so Diana and I set off and began losing ourselves first in the Medina, then Carthage, swimming in the Mediterranean, then the city at large.

Here to study Arabic and already fluent in several languages (including French and Arabic), she was awaiting her partner to arrive and was the perfect travelling companion to ease me into a completely alien Arabic/french speaking Muslim country. I unashamedly picked her brain to help me get oriented and comfortable with some basic French and Arabic.

We also accidentally broke into the Carthage site via “a secret way” but that’s another story.

**note : ALWAYS explore a hole in a fence, especially the one near the roundabout overlook at the base of the site…shhh

We dove into a local Couchsurfing group meeting and met so many friendly and open people who just welcomed us into their fold.

So much so we ended up on a 2 day camping and hiking weekend with about 30 of them way out west near the Algerian border where we endured endless border patrol and police checkpoints but man oh man, was it worth it.

Best birthday memories made so far in Tunisia:

  • spending my birthday weekend hiking into incredible terrain and traveling with a joyous bunch of Tunisian/Egyptian people:  campfires, singing folk songs, dancing and enjoying life well into the night
  • getting more than a little paranoid by being mega close to the Algerian border then getting surrounded and followed in a dodgy border town by the ubiquitous white Toyota trucks that we know all the terrorists drive.
  • driving through each border town with M.I.A “Paper Planes” on repeat,  blaring out the windows and laughing our heads off at all the white trucks. It became our anthem for the trip
  • Meeting and making many new friends.

But SO much better then sitting alone in a bar in Casablanca and proceeding like I’d originally planned.

*Plus waking up with sticky notes all over the house just totally made my day 🙂

There’s so much to see and do in this small but historically rich country.

It’s been a wild few weeks so far.

*breaking in to and exploring historical archaeological sites at Carthage and Sidi Bousaid.

* wandering the Bardo Museum marveling at the mosaics and weeping at the bullet holes.

*spending days wandering through Punic, Roman and even older ruins.

(I MAY have also snuck into the Les Villa Romaines via the paddock and the thorny hedge next to the large Mosque – hey I was exploring!!! )

*wandering lost for hours in the massive Medina.  (dangerous? …pffffft… night is awesome in there)

*Spending an afternoon at beautiful Sidi Bousaid and relaxing by the Mediterranean.

*a 7 hour bus ride to Tozeur and visiting Star Wars and Raiders movie sets.

(I look smug for a reason – I’m on a freakin Star Wars set!!!)


* the 4wd drive through the Sahara that was incredible.

*a virus/food poisoning that laid me so low in Tozeur I missed Star Wars Canyon and had to fly home. Slept for 2 days and have just now gotten over it.
*the possible source of the camel tagine that brought me undone … Dear God the humanity 😦

*and the general weirdness of being in a completely ancient and totally foreign culture.

I’ve also learned that no matter where I go, people seem to generally like me. Perhaps I’m not as awful a human being as I’d convinced myself I was.

To be continued …

checkout time…

It’s 11.45am on Sunday, Islamic New Years Day.  As I sit here at Kafein editing the crazy out of this post, the call to prayer is echoing around the city from every mosque in town. The blend of calls, all slightly out of time and with different tones and voices, create a dull but powerful roar when heard from outside the city but from the inside it feels comforting and warm.

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There is a particular vocalist who’s voice is absolutely beautiful and it literally moves me to tears every time I hear him.

(I recorded a bit on my Instagram so check it out there as I’m only on the tightarse WordPress plan).

It’ll be a bit hard to leave this time as (per usual) in my last few days  I’ve met some fascinating people and just as we are getting to know each other, its time to go.

Megan, Ollie, D’e, Ilva, Iris, Ahmed – uniquely talented individuals : photographers, artists, performers, businessmen. All travelers like myself on various personal journeys and battling their own demons. Despite my best intentions I still seem to collect people.

Letting go is a skill for life – whether its a partner or a friend, or just personal baggage or belongings. It gets easier as you go along I think but the sooner you get used to it the better. Its the whole impermanence thing.

Its almost time for me to check out and move on…next stop Tunisia on Monday for a little while. Going to work my way across the top of Northern Africa and see whats what.

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So some entertaining stories for you. How about the nightclub hostage thing. 🙂

Lets start here.

I met Megan  at my hostel, (we were roomies there) and she’d been her a week already when I first arrived. An American girl on her first trip to Egypt but this wasn’t her first rodeo. Here long enough to make friends with the locals and have some insight into where to go/what to do. We went to a film at a local mega mall (Magnificent Seven – so good!!) and the next night decided to go out to a local bar with some of her Egyptian friends. Met up at a local joint, drank beers and smoked many exotic things, and eventually ended up going to a seedy belly dancing place downtown.

You know the type of place – dark stairs leading up to a black door and doorman on the desk. Tinny arabic dance music blaring, serious sweaty men leaning in shadows.

I let my guard down for a time and relaxed into the evening.

We got to the place, and the sting began.

We had to pay a ‘foreigner’ charge to get in the door. OK, fair enough i guess (entry was free to locals).

So in we walked like hammered lambs to the slaughter, our local friend getting an earful from the host, us largely oblivious and my spider sense chemically dulled. We were guided carefully to a ratty table near the centre of a space where a terrible 3 piece electro-arabic band were belting out belly dance music on a small stage. Fog machines and cheap disco lights. You know what I’m talking about.

The place was a joint. Filled to the roof with a thick layer of smoky haze, tacky tables filled with swarthy men, my friend the only woman save for the dancer on stage weaving through the swirls of fog and spinning disco lights.

At this stage I’d like to paint an exotic picture of your idyllic bellydancer but the reality was closer to a tired old stripper going through the motions, in costume but barely moving at times, stopping occasionally to take a drag of a cigarette or have a brief chat to her thickset handler lurking off to the side of the stage. She coughed heavily several times in the middle of the routine. Possibly spat the phlegm out discreetly into the stage. Bored. Barely there. On autopilot.

The men, all smoking and drinking, never looked directly at her. Eyes to the floor, or ceiling, or each other.

Now for some reason all the lounge singers here appear to be men. The dude on the mike was giving it his all but the incompetence of the band was exceeded only by the shrillness of this guys voice. Using tinny speakers with the treble jacked up to 11, his performance was both interesting as a cultural phenomenon and in the way it made your nose bleed when he hit the high notes – like a slightly blunt dentists drill the ululations made your eyes water.

The drinks started coming immediately – unasked for and unendling. A large silver alfoil swan appeared filled with exotic dried fruits and sliced dates – again unasked for.

Our local friend leaned in “no matter what happens, do not give anyone money. Under any circumstances, ok?

Yeah sure I mumbled, soaking it all in. 

Still no spidey-sense tingle.

Then the dancer seemed to notice us for the first time. She  spun closer and closer and closer, working her way down the tables of now demure men who refused to make eye contact with her.

She got to our table, shimmied up to me and held out her hand… “Hello, where are you from?” she said in perfect English.

Now me, being the canny traveler that I am, immediately smiled my biggest, drunkest smile, shook her hand and said “Hi, my names Jamie. I’m from Australia!”

Snap…and the trap was sprung.

So she smiled and danced on, shimmying her bits,  refusing to let go of my hand, all the while shaking her thang right in my face while I was trying desperately to maintain eye contact. The music played on, her dancing got a little more urgent, her handler came over, and the creepy men around us looked on expectantly.

Then she leaned in and whispered those magical words…

“Money…money?”

huh? (what was that tingling down the back of my neck?)

“you give me money now…”

I looked to my friend quizzically. He was looking at the floor.

Ahh sorry I don’t have any money on me. (the tingling became more urgent)

Her black rimmed eyes hardened. I wouldn’t have thought it possible.

The dancer got closer.  She leaned in and this time practically hissed in my ear.

“money…you give me money. Money.”

The handler put his hand on my shoulder.

Ruh roh.

I looked around nervously – my ‘friends’ were all staring at the floor or off into space, every other eye in the club was on us.

In an unintentional Hugh Grant impression, I tried to bumble my way out of it…lots of umms and ahhs, “sorrys”, “you are lovely but no”, “you danced really well” and such.

With a disgusted snort she eventually turned away and moved on to the next table.

I turned to my ‘friend’ – WTF? Did I do something wrong? You said no money!!!

He just said “No don’t worry about it”. But he looked worried.

But from that moment on I was suddenly sober and on high alert. The club had taken on a sinister tone and I could sense the attitudes towards us foreigners had changed. We weren’t the ATMs that they were hoping for and as such our value had diminished.

I’d completely relaxed my guard and look where it had gotten me. No more beers (I’d only had 2), no more food, no more drinks at all. It was 3am.

Megan had had enough of it all, got up and left, ostensibly for the loo.  One of the local guys at our table left to follow her and they didn’t come back. That’s when I knew we were screwed.

I stayed there with the 2 local guys left at the table and waited for them to finish their drinks – my plan to pay the bill and get the Hell out. My share should have been about 150 Egyptian pounds which was good as that’s all the cash money I had on me (at the last place the beers were 20 Egyptian pounds each and here I’d only had 2)

We asked for the bill.

550 Egyptian pounds.

Fuck.

Explaining that Megan had left and I didn’t have enough money to pay the whole bill, the mood changed. The minders put a hand on each shoulder and guided me back to the table, telling me politely to ‘sit down’ while we waited. And waited . And waited.

I knew shed gone home, but just played dumb.

The locals tried to call Megan and she had gone home, driven home by the other guy as it turned out. She wasn’t in the loo. The local guys tried to call their friends to borrow money (as they had none either but for some reason I was the one being held accountable).

The general atmosphere worsened, the smiles disappeared completely,  and I desperately faked a loo visit to see if there was a way out.

2 guys followed me – 1 stayed at the door, 1 came in and stood next to me.

Damn.

By this stage I was thinking of an emergency exit strategy and whether I outrun and evade 3 tattooed bouncers in their own city.

2 flights of steep stairs, 2 guys at my elbow, one guys at the top of the stair blocking one guy at the door below. I did the math and came up really short.

Anyway, long story short, the local guys finally got a friend to go see Megan, she gave him cash money, we paid the bill at 5am and they finally let me go.

So that’s the story.

People may think that I’m uptight and serious all the time but in truth I’m just as capable of letting my guard down, being stupid, and getting into jams as anyone else.

I’d just prefer not to most of the time.

That’s just one of many tales of this trip though. Its been a buzz.

There’s the hair raising car trip up to Alexandria with Megan and Ollie, the Nile River cruise and the buffet from Hell with Iris, sitting on balconies and talking about life with D and Ilya. To many to elaborate on but they’ll stick with me forever.

The scene here in Cairo is relentless – all-nighters are the norm and the local watering holes are open ’til practically dawn (For a muslim country there sure is a lot of alcohol and weed here).

So my time in Egypt has been enlightening in so many ways. Apart from the massive changes in this countries economy post-revolution, there is a resilience to the general population that is amazing – they just gets on with the job of living, loving, walking their dogs, hugging their children and earning a living. Just like us all in times of adversity.

Much of what happens here stays here and isn’t even reported in the West. We had a car bomb here on Thursday afternoon in New Cairo, locals trying to assassinate the Minister of the Interior – heard the ‘boom’ from here but apart from sirens the locals didn’t even bat an eye. This happens a lot and people get on with life.

Anyway, Ive haunted the streets here for almost 2 weeks, getting to know the city on foot and seeing how people live at ground level.

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I went out to the pyramids a while back – caught an Uber out from my downtown hostel (33 Pounds) and spent the day out there virtually alone for most of it. Explored the entire complex, sat and  rested in the shade with the hawkers out there, who welcomed a chat after realising that they couldn’t sell me anything. As Muhommed said to me after selling me a bottle of water at 1000% the street price “Tell your friends in Australia to come to Egypt. We need you”.

Then I walked back to downtown. 15kms. Took me 4 hours as i wandered and got lost in the alleys and fringes of Cairo. It was the Cairo that you see in the old movies, all alleys and tenements, bumper to bumber traffic mingle with donkey carts and camels, street urchins and marketplaces, all dirty and dusty yet vibrant and alive. Buzzing with energy that I drank deeply of.

If you come here, take time and get out on foot. try not to just do the tourist things and leave as it wont do the city justice.

It is tourist-safe here on the streets and out in the desert, even wandering the alleys and streets at 4am alone  (unless you are an idiot then Darwinism will apply). Ive never felt threatened or anxious about my personal security and literally everyone Ive met has been extremely friendly and welcoming.

If you are thinking about going to Egypt – just do it. they need you.

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Plus the pyramids are nice.

Watch out for dodgy belly dance clubs though.

 

 

 

 

denial ain’t just a river…

So I’m in North Africa now. Egypt to be pedantic. Downtown Cairo to be precise.

Can you see me? Somewhere to the right in this pic.

I’m sitting out front of a small café called Kunst (yes I giggled too ), tucked away off a side alley in the old city. Just across the street from a McDonalds and the ever present Police barricades and clusters of black clad Police in riot gear just hanging about on every corner, sharing a cigarette and waiting for something to happen.

But at Kunst it’s a cruisy mood. From the tinny speaker mounted on the ceiling some arabic folksy tune is blasting away, and the cramped café is full of slinky cats, smoking students and alternative locals sitting around reading, conversing and studying. Possibly discussing the events of the day or politics – my Arabic is non-existent so I am blissfully ignorant.

I’m sipping a half decent Americano (FINALLY) and waiting for a grilled cheese sandwich that was ordered 20 minutes ago. The place is not busy but delays are the norm here so patience is key.

Its well past 4pm: still hot, dry and dusty but the blasting North African sun has just dipped below the hazy smog layer, turning Cairo to gold – an unintentional benefit from a city choking to death on its own exhaust fumes.

 It’s a magical time though and the old city changes with the light. A gusty wind ruffles across the nearby Nile, barely shifting the smog but lifting the dust allowing the city to breathe, revealing glimpses of Cairos past glory and crumbling architectural beauty usually hidden under the dust and grime. Exposed now by the shifting spectrum, the city’s alabaster pillars and monuments glow with a rusty translucence, lit by the afternoon sun.

Its been a day for soaking up the atmosphere though, and after the past few days it’s nice to be finally getting over the jetlag, settling in and getting my bearings.

If you’ve never traveled into the Middle East or Africa before, the first 24 hours can be a real culture shock, even more so than Asia. Luckily I had, well before the 2011 revolution that changed the face of the city, destroyed the tourist trade, bankrupted the country and rendered it impossible to get a decent coffee downtown.

Flying into Cairo last Wednesday reminded me of the day 15 years ago I first arrived here on a whirlwind 3 day trip – totally confused about travel, inexperienced with other cultures, uncertain but optimistic. Cairo floored me in a way Bangkok didn’t and I was energised by the ancient city’s hum. 3 days too see it all and no money to do it with . My last visit was memorable by my sheer wide-eyed naivety and the number of times I was fleeced. The pyramids were nice though. 

Back then, I’d left Cairo having literally run away from a dodgy Giza horse rental dude and his crooked guide that were intent on taking every piastre I had (he had literally taken my wallet out of my hands at one point , removed every Egyptian pound but a 10 pound cab fare home, and handed it back to me). 

My last view of the pyramids were in the rear window of a cab as I bolted from the Giza complex after faking a visit to the toilet, leaving Muhammed the guide unpaid, holding my horse in the sand dunes waiting for me.

Not my finest moment.

This trip so far has been different in that I’ve learned to say NO. In fact that a good tip for anyone visiting Egypt – give a short sharp cranky ‘Shukran’  – basically means No.

Case in point.

Firstly, the hostel offered free airport pickup (awesome I thought) but the day of my arrival this turned into a $10US fare. I said NO and I sent a dot point email and reminded them of the 3 times they said it was free. Problem solved.

“Ahhhh yes sorry of course it is free. No problems”

Then they put me in double room when i arrived on Wednesday night, instead of the dorm room I’d booked…”Thats ok, you can just pay extra” they said…

“NO…” I said “…give me my dorm bed please. I don’t want to pay extra”.

“Ahh yes sorry of course…apologies”…..Sheesh.

BUT ITS ALL OK NOW – after that reintroduction to the Egyptian way of doing business, I was fine after that and could get on with seeing this crazy city.

But since then? Awesome! So far I’ve been held hostage by Egyptian mafia types at 3am, sat through the worst bellydance show on the planet, discovered Koshari, explored Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, New Cairo, Massive mega malls, seen the Magnificent Seven in Arabic, haunted the Egyptian museum, had my roomate harrassed by a group of romeo scammers, and just today realised  that everyone here will automatically keep your change if you don’t ask for it.

To be continued when I get decent internet again…I’m exploring Cairo on foot over the next week or so to get a damn good look at this town. Stay tuned. It ain’t gonna be easy as this city is freakin’ enormous.

Oh yeah THE INTERNET SUCKS HERE…

rain…

Its been almost 24 hours of solid rain here in Chiang Mai and my third soaking by traffic this morning alone. It appears inevitable that no matter what I do today, I will get soaked.

Just as well that I wore the fancy swimming shorts.

I hadn’t even had my first coffee of the day  – 9am standing at the flooded road crossing waiting for a break in the traffic, just thinking about the rain and  – DOOSH – Tourist bus got me…DANG IT  (or words to that effect) had just crossed my mind before…DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH – a stream of tuktuks carrying gaggles of excited Chinese tourists careered on through the same water, almost drowning me. I fully expected to find a fish wriggling in my pocket.

After the first DOOSH, I was like ‘Grrrr’…then after the third DOOSH it was funny, and after the 6th DOOSH it was ridiculously funny.  Certainly lightened the mood and set me on my course for caffeine (and a warm towel).

Thailand has been an experience that I am totally thankful for however. I’m loving every moment.

Thank you Big Green Bus, for drenching me at the traffic lights. It was a hoot. Thank you tuktuk drivers who delighted in hugging the curb to ensure I got more drenched  from the calf-deep rivers overflowing from the open drains, thank you waterproof laptop backpack for saving my phone and my macbook.

Thank you, immune system.

I’m house sitting another house here in Chiang Mai for 2 weeks before heading a looooong way West on the 21st of September. My days here are numbered. Flights booked, plans made. Bags packed. Affairs sorted.

This time its is closer to the old city, a lovely 3 storey family home, complete with 2 awesome cats and 2 not-so awesome snakes to feed and look after. Friends of friends have gone back to Europe for a time and needed someone to feed the animals. Its so good to sleep in a real bed again and have a place to come ‘home’ to , rather than a hostel. I’m so grateful and feel so lucky that these opportunities keep popping up. Sorta makes me feel I’m on the right path.

Chiang Mai is flooding and I’m now trapped in a cafe, so rather than wade through streets knee high with sewage, I’m determined to finish this latest entry, probably post it tomorrow or later today.

I do actually have some almost normal work to do – a while back I volunteered to be on a Committee as the IT Admin guy for Autismcarers.org back home – a wonderful organisation doing some great work but sorely in need of some assistance with their web site and content management. Time to step up I guess.

So I’ll finish that up then I’m going to hide at the local cinemas for the rest of the day.

And then maybe find an unbrella.

Later.

 

 

 

 

nothing is something…2

Yesterdays post was a blomit, (apologies) but today’s will be a little more considered, interesting and hopefully not so meandering.

After Chiang Dao, we decided to head up towards the Golden Triangle – that opium soaked corner of Thailand where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. It seemed suitable remote and mountainous enough to satisfy our call of the wild.

We’d need to head up though Fang via Thaton, but I also wanted to go via Mae Sai and Tachilek  – to cross into Burma via the land crossing there – and then head across to The Golden triangle and back down to Chiang Rai before heading down again to Chiang Mai.

Its basically a big Northern loop and we only had a few days to get back before heading down to the Gulf of Thailand for Meg’s birthday scuba experience.

Before we’d left Fang for Thaton though, we wanted to do a day trip and get out of the city . Again the guidebooks weren’t a lot of help, but we’d zeroed in on some interesting things nonetheless.

We decided on a day trip to the Royal Agricultural Project at Ankhang. It sounded interesting as it wasn’t a Westerner tourist spot but extremely popular with Thais.

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Set up by Royal decree by the King, and used as a training facility for local Thai and Burmese farmers to develop modern agricultural techniques and practices. The primary aim being to move away from slash and burn land clearing, and to reduce their reliance on growing opium poppies (and hence reduce the drug trade that has historically ran rampant in the area).

I thought it sounded a little bit shit.

It wasn’t.

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Taking a “special tour” arranged through our hotel (which turned out to be a red taxi truck and a driver that cost a stupid amount for the day) this was easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Thailand. A social experiment and research station set right up alongside the Burmese border, we wandered virtually alone through the massive site, through orchards and lush farmlands, greenhouses and gardens, all immaculately set up and maintained.

Burmese workers picking chrysanthemums or poppies.

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We wandered around for hours, taking in the silence of the hills and the beautiful countryside. Then our driver gave us the hurry up as the rains were coming and we quickly moved on up to the nearby border crossing at Ban Nor Lae to look over the battlements, as it were, into Burma.

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Borders make me nervous. Bad shit happens at borders. Border guards with dirty great machine guns also make me nervous.

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It appeared to be closed at this point, and standing at the border gazing across I couldn’t help but wonder if some bored Burmese border guard was sighting in on my face as I gazed absently across no mans land.

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The best thing about this visit was the small Hilltribe market there – a group of wonderful little ladies in traditional Akha dress that were expert weavers, ruthless marketers and consummate professionals. We ran the gauntlet  – a row of stalls piled high with clothes and trinkets and whatnots, both of us slowly being passed of to each successive lady as we were moved along the market rows (make no mistake, we we being expertly handled) politely looking but refusing each offer (strangely enough EVERYTHING seemed to be 100 baht here).

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(not my photo – i wasn’t game to take a photo as it would have cost me a fortune)

Then as we neared the last stall, they delivered their coup de grâce. The last stall was owned by a teeny tiny grey haired old lady, dressed to the nines in traditional Akha dress with an enormous toothless smile and a personality larger than Tony Robbins.

I never had a chance.

Quickly convinced to buy a 100 baht handwoven scarf each (it was 34 degrees and 90 percent humidity), she turned the charm up to 11 and like a grandmotherly black hole, began to hoover the money our of our wallets.

I managed a brief hug and got the Hell out, but not before almost buying several bags of fruit. Pulling out a massive pair of rusty dressmaking scissors, she insisted on hand peeling the raw fruit and then practically forced it into our hands. We had to eat it or appear rude. Mmmm dirty potentially fatal raw fruit.

Time was against us though and the sun was getting low, so we jumped back into the back of the truck and headed back down the mountain (narrowly missing herds of mules that seemed to roam free along these steep curvy mountain roads). We headed back into town as the road became treacherous at night and our driver was getting anxious.

Settling in for dinner and an early night, after fixing yet another flaky shower heater, it was welcome to hear the rain on the roof, the barking geckoes on the ceiling, and to sleep in a comfortable bed.

And so another day ended, but from the next day onwards, the mood changed slightly.

After week or so schlumping along together in cramped overheated buses, tuktuks and taxis, sharing shitty hotels and run down resorts, shonky meals and bad coffee,  despite the beauty and wonder of this amazing country, there were small hairline cracks starting to appear in our merry traveling twosome. It was only a matter of time really and to be completely honest I’m not the easiest person to travel with (I can almost hear the nodding of heads).

We developed a case of the niggles.

Long silences. Many “Hmmm” moments. Lots of staring off into the distance. There may have been some frowns at times and possibly more than a little frustration. Mostly from me as I tend to project my own issues onto others, then provoke a discussion but hey – its that restless mind of mine creating its own faulty reality again.

It was easily fixed though – after a few days of an odd growing discomfort, she basically called me on it – several times. Kudos actually as its the perfect way to snap me out of this – a quick slap and I’m back in the room. So after an open and honest chat (or two) and some alone time, we established some groundrules, fell back into the rhythm of travel and got on with having fun.

So early the next morning we headed for the bus station, with a relatively short but interesting journey ahead of us up into the mountains again, this time staying at a traditional Akha village in a adobe mud house high in the mountains.

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To be continued…