Tag Archives: adventure

Adjusting to Reality

So our four months of travelling through South East Asia came to an end…and our New Zealand adventures are only just beginning. But, as is life, before we can continue on our wanders through the world, first of all we need to stop and collect ourselves again..surrender to routine, get saving up those pennies and accept the slower pace of life for a while.

For anyone who has ever travelled anywhere for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know how I feel right now. It is simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable to return to ‘real life’ – as humans, we instinctively look for security of some nature and for some of us the feeling of being secure is enough. As you may have guessed, I am not one of those people. Naturally, it is difficult to settle back into a strict routine after travelling, but the difficulty stretches further than that, for your mind is forever altered from all that you have encountered and experienced, which is near impossible to explain to those who have been on an alternative journey to yourself. This is what makes it incredibly difficult to simply settle back in to real life.

In saying that, like slipping on an old favourite pair of slippers, I immediately feel at home in this world where supermarkets have replaced the authentic street markets full of unrecognisable fruits, and where I simply blend into every day life rather than my white skin morphing me into a walking attraction. Before too long I am conscious of my mind slipping back into the Western way of life, and yet there remains a quiet voice who – just when I think she has disappeared – whispers to me every morning as I get up for work, ‘this isn’t what it’s all about.’ I have to remind myself everyday to stay true to that simplistic way of life I so admired in Asia.

It is so easy to get caught up in superficial wants and needs in Western society but when I drag my mind back to days spent surrounded by large Asian families, I try to embody their genuine happiness. In my opinion, it comes down to materialistic desires – the people I met didn’t own many material goods but they were content, for what they lacked in materialistic goods, they more than made up for in spiritual contentment. Stepping back into a world where our definitions of success and happiness are morphed by our consumerist attitudes, I am trying to embody the values and outlook of the local people we met on our travels who continue to inspire me. I have to remember the things that matter – the minimalist life so many families in South East Asia live by.

After living and breathing South East Asian culture for 4 months, I reveled in such small, minuscule details of western life – things you would never think about in day to day life, but which alter when you immerse yourself in another culture. I was ready to walk down the street and not be hassled; not be shouted at ‘TAXI, MISS, TAXI TAXI’, to be able to buy a bottle of water from a shop and not have to barter for it. But by god I miss it. I miss the way of life. I miss learning something every single day just by watching how individuals go about their lives. I miss the people, and their good-natured souls. During my 4 months in Asia, my idea of the ‘norm’ was reassessed, and then reassessed again and although I have always questioned this concept of a decisive ‘norm’ even in Western culture, I now have no set answer to what I trust to be a normative way of travelling through life.

I’m fortunate that I haven’t hit complete post-travel depression because I’m not home. Although New Zealand is yet another new adventure and there is so much we have yet to explore, western societies have a much closer overlap than developing countries and thus those notions of culture shock I experienced – and loved – in Asia don’t apply. I don’t walk down the street and stop and start and stop and start while I gaze at women of all ages carrying long sticks balanced on their heads, or baskets of fruits, or children shrieking as they run down the street bare footed with large, gaping grins taking over their sun kissed faces.

The quiet here is strange. Typically, S.E.Asians have large families and obviously because of the beautiful weather, they spend a lot of time outdoors so we always heard them. Big family dinners – shouting across the streets at each other, the general hustle and bustle of day to day life which to me, is so enchanting to witness. The families we met and witnessed didn’t hide away, they weren’t private – that is one of the many things I adore about their culture. We tend to hide away in our houses and are often all too concerned with what we should look like or should do. In comparison, the culture we experienced was open and loud, and unapologetic in every form.

It’s strange now – stopping – being in one place for more than a few days and being inside for at least 8 hours a day. They say sunshine and nature is good for the soul and by god do I believe that – who would’ve thought that sitting at a desk is difficult? After basking in the world’s beauty for 4 months and spending everyday outdoors, being inside for that long every day pretty much feels like I’m crushing my soul. I have to remember to engage my mind and not just sink back into the routine which so easily numbs. It’s peaceful to settle, it’s good to have a base but those feet are getting itchy again and so for now I have to remind myself to breathe – to get outside and experience all that I can – before I lovingly haul that rucksack onto my back once more.

The transition back into real life is never an easy one and with it comes questions which many of us aren’t ready to answer – what will you do for the rest of your life? How will you make money? These are questions which we manage to avoid when we’re hauling our backpacks around Asia, sipping on 20p rum and cokes. The silent assumptions that you’re ready to settle down – now that you’ve got that out of your system – come hard and fast. Smile and nod at these people…the ones who are too comfortable in their routines to even dare to dream to do as you have done, for they will never know the wonders and delights of the world which you have experienced.

For now, my soul remains with those beautiful people in those beautiful countries. But I think the thing I’ll try to focus on for now is to continue to integrate the practices and ways of life I learned and loved in Asia into my day to day life…because isn’t that what’s important? In a world where we are constantly being pressured to divide and to shut out others in need, it is so important to spend time exploring these countries and fall in love with ways of life so amazingly different to your own.

It is a good life. It is a damn good life.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

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Manila; A Baptism of Fire

Manila is a hypocritical baptism of fire to the Philippines. Hypocritical because momentarily I feared that the next month of my travels would be spent in places which mirrored this reckless, harrowing capital city; it was not. A baptism of fire as there is no respite in Manila – mocking gazes clung to our skin wherever we walked and sneering faces appeared around the corners of mysterious lanes.

As we wandered the filthy streets, a 3 year old child attached himself to my loose trousers, chasing my gaze while holding his tiny hand out in front of me. My mind fought against itself, silently questioning my morals as I held my gaze straight ahead, focused on some imaginary attraction in the distance, all the while praying the boy who was clung to my leg would lose interest and search for another victim. I despised myself for being so heartless; so detached.

The concept of detachment is something which I really mulled over during our months in South East Asia. I think that Western society makes it so incredibly easy for us to be detached; detached from issues of poverty – because I personally have never had a young child cling to my leg and beg me for money at home, detached from issues of meat consumption – because the majority of our population buy our meat packaged and ready for consumption, rather than choosing the chicken/duck/pig straight from our gardens and butchering it ourselves, and detached from third world development because we are already too comfy curled up on our cosy sofas with a glass of wine in hand. It becomes increasingly difficult to be detached when these people, these animals, these issues are standing right in front of you…screaming at you to listen, to pay attention, to take action. The issue with this is that the moment I stepped back into the comfort and ease of Western society, I started to feel that detachment creep back in and cloud the corners of my mind – to cloud my decisions once more and I have to fight everyday to disentangle what is right from what is simply easy.

Back in the dark streets of Manila, mothers with newborn babies nestled in their arms hovered next to our table with hands outstretched towards us as we absentmindedly munched through another meal. Mothers lie at the side of busy roads, inhaling the nicotine rush from their cigarettes with blanket scraps surrounding them as their daughters run between cars banging violently on the windows, pleading yet another far away gaze to be caught by their empty one. It broke my heart. Their faces haunt me now as I become immersed once again in the consumerist nature of Western society. In a culture which is constantly plaguing us with adverts insisting we buy more materialist items, convincing us daily that we won’t look, feel or be right without the latest item. Meaningless consumerism is something I feel pretty strongly about – especially after spending so much time with those who live such a minimalist lifestyle. It’s an issue which is deeply rooted in Western society and something that I want to write a full blog post on so I will leave it there for now.

Manila is a dark city, infested with crooks who take solace in your naivety of the winding lanes of the city and lurk in shadowy corners. Beggars meet your gaze at every turn, every shop corner and a breath stifling level of pollution attacks your lungs as vehicles jam together trickling along roads at a snails pace. We spent a few days in Manila on both our arrival and our departure from the Philippines and I can say with certainty that I would try to avoid it at all costs if I ever ventured back to the Philippines. As is with all travel destinations, this was simply my experience of Manila and I have no doubt there are many individuals who revel in its manic streets and have the ability to confront the suspicious, sneering faces.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

An Epic Journey: From Lombok to Komodo by bus

From Gili, we started our epic journey to Komodo island. Researching online, naturally, the most popular option was to fly. However, with the flights costing seventy pounds each, this wasn’t an option we could consider. After hours trolling the web, we formed a route plan from snippets of others’ blogs and online sources. The following day we started our journey from Mataram on Lombok to Labuanbajo on Flores.

As we arrived at Mataram bus station, a dozen figures dancing in the shadows of the early morning sunshine flocked to our taxi; jostling with one another for our attention and, most importantly, our money. Opening the door into the, already scorching, heat, we were met with a chorus of voices – ‘where you go sir, where you go mam? Cheap travel, very good deal for you sir.’ Sleepiness still clouding our heads and our empty stomachs rumbling, we pushed our way through the masses of men.
After some bartering, we settled for a deal of 450,000 rupiahs for two of us for a 15 hour bus journey, including a two hour ferry (about ten pounds each).
Taking out seats on the bus, the aisle was soon flooded with numerous ladies and men balancing large baskets on their heads containing a plethora of foods from fried banana to fruit to rice.

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Among these merchants were also young street children who proceeded to play a short song and collect money. There were also numerous beggars – one man remains at the forefront of my mind and I am unable to shift him from latching on to my memory, even months later. Lacking of any limbs – neither arms nor legs – he scrambled along the bus floor. Dressed in scraps of material coated in layers of filth and clenching a hat between his teeth, he stared at passengers with eyes void of any emotion, emulating a frightening emptiness.
The bus journey passed painlessly – aside from being thrown into each other at every sharp bend as the bus swerved round blind corners on the other side of the road, squeaking and moaning as the suspension strained from the demands of the driver.
Only two hours into our journey, we boarded the ferry from Lombok to Sumbawa. Trailing off the bus, we followed the locals upstairs into a small room. The heat was stifling, dozens of pairs of eyes bore into our skin watching our every move. A loud, crass man laughed coarsely and told a tale in Indonesian before hitting us on the back and holding his sweaty palm in front of us requesting money. I slumped uncomfortably in the metal chair, manoeuvring in between it’s cold juts and points, attempting to cower away from the questioning eyes.
My gaze rested on an elderly woman slumped on the dirt ridden floor of the ferry. Large creases crowded her face, paired with dark shadows caressing her deep green eyes. Her right hand aggressively picked at the infected callouses on her foot and her left hand remained stationary – palm up in the air – her eyes searching the passengers, attempting to lock them into an unforgiving gaze.

A ten hour bus journey followed our ferry crossing, after which we caught a quick four hours sleep in Bisa (2 hours drive from the East coast of Sumbawa). In the early morning, we squeezed into the front seat of a bemo to take us to the ferry port where the ferry to Labuanbajo on Flores Island was scheduled to leave at 8am. After two hours of mountainous roads and a constant stream of cigarette smoke – courtesy of our driver – we arrived at the ferry port. On arrival, we were approached by a Russian man who informed us that the ferry was not running that day. This was immediately reaffirmed by a pack of Indonesian men –  dressed in attire which reminded me of pirates. Both the Russian and one of the Indonesians tried to convince us to hire a private boat for 4 million rupiah (240 quid) instead – the first so his personal costs would be reduced, and the second as he was the captain of the boat. Being pretty familiar with Asian travel delays, we decided to sit tight and wait it out with the locals (and save £230!) much to the dismay of both individuals.

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The large, tiled floor, room where we waited was scattered with locals doing the same. They, however, unlike us, had come prepared. They proceeded to lay out blankets and floor mats, curled into one another and snoozed most of the day away – only awakening from their slumber to indulge in home cooked meals of rice, noodles and meat to be enjoyed cold. The children, instead of growing impatient – as they might in our society – shrieked with delight as they chased new friends around the room and danced happily in the afternoon downpour. We passed the day exchanging life and travel stories with a father and son from Canada whom we then went on to explore Komodo island with.
Throughout the day, we gained an attachment, of sorts. An elderly man shuffled towards our corner of the room, gathering his knees towards his chest and muttering to himself in Indonesian. He wore baggy trousers stained with a mixture of fluids and covered in holes, his t-shirt hung off his skeletal bones, his skin was tarnished with pussy, infected bites and scars where flies, which didn’t seem to bother him, took solace in. His scrawny ankles gave way to long toes with yellow, sharp toenails flaking and rotting – forever markedly by years of shoeless wandering. His eyes settled on us and rarely wandered, every now and then he let out a loud cackle. During the moments he was silent, he remained sucking the gaps between his few teeth, shuffling his position on the floor ever so slightly.

After a day of people watching, chatting and adopting a certain patience – which the locals seem to have down to a tee – our ferry to Labuanbajo finally arrived at 5pm.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

Life on the Road: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh by Motorbike

The Logistics 

Starting in Hanoi we spent a couple of days monitoring Craigslist – similar to gumtree and the main hub which travellers use to buy and sell motorbikes in Vietnam – and traipsing around dealers in search of the noble steed which would carry both of us (we ain’t small) and 25kg of luggage 2,500km to Ho Chi Minh. If you fancy making this journey – which you definitely should because it’s awesome!! – I would recommend doing a good chunk of research before you go in search of your bike. Although I know little to nothing about bikes, luckily I had Johnny who knows a damn sight more than me! Ideally, you are looking for a Honda Win 100 which you won’t have a problem finding..however preferably you want to look for a Sufat. Sufat’s are generally much more reliable than the Hondas made in China and although it may be a bigger investment at the time, it really is worth it. Our bike travelled all the way to Ho Chi Minh with no major issues, the only repairs we had done were simple maintenance. I would recommend buying the bike off of a fellow backpacker if you can – there will be less bullshit involved in the buying process as the Vietnamese can be pretty sneaky. If you take care of your bike on the way you will be able to make your money back or even make a profit!

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Thanks to a few travellers’ advice, we headed inland and travelled down close to the Laos border until we got to Khe San where we crossed over to the coastal road at Hue. Highway 1 is definitely the quickest route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh but I would advise staying off of it as much as possible – it is a mass free for all with lorries overtaking buses overtaking cars with you pushed into the side. It is super dangerous and also not the most exciting road to drive so avoid when you can.

Week 1 – Chasing The Sunshine

From Hanoi we travelled south west to Mai Chau and from there we travelled south inland over the most beautiful roads. Keen to make steady progress south and chase that sunshine – which had evaded us since our arrival in Vietnam – our first week saw us riding 200-300km each day (8-10 hours on a bike). Throughout this first week of riding, every night we collapsed at the first guesthouse we could find, shivering despite wearing 7 items of clothing, falling onto the beds which, at best, were marginally softer than you would imagine sleeping on a pool table to be. Every night we got better at communicating through hand gestures and repeating the word for rice in Vietnamese to gain some semblance of a meal. Every night we surrendered to the under side of our eyelids, giving way to a deep sleep in an attempt to rest our bodies from the days riding whilst simultaneously preparing our aching bums for the next days ahead.

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Life on the Road

Life on the road passed in a flurry – one of laughter as we drove through magnificent mountainous villages whilst children sprinted alongside the bike, waving their arms frantically, screaming ‘HELLO’ whilst delight sparkled in their eyes. This delight was reflected in my own eyes as I smiled back at them, my heart swelling with warmth at their welcoming nature.
This laughter continued into moments of exhaustion as our bike chugged through the mountainous roads, 300km already behind us, and 100km since we had seen another soul, with darkness quickly consuming us as the sunlight faded over our shoulders. Laughter came to us then, as we danced with the shadows on the road, attempting to stretch the numbness and the cold out of our limbs.

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Laughter came with our lunch stops – ‘cafes’ constructed out of someone’s house, consisting of a few plastic tables and chairs (all child sized of course). Bemused looks creeping onto the Vietnameses’ faces as we attempted to act out rice and vegetables, repeating our, probably, awfully pronounced Vietnamese – hopelessly attempting to communicate in the narrow overlap of our minimal Vietnamese and their little English. The lines on our faces slightly creased in disappointment as we were served beef noodle soup, but quickly sharing a knowing look, our smiles returned as we picked our way through the steaming noodles.

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The bike gave us the opportunity to experience the stark contrast of Vietnam as a country. From the bustling streets and manic roads of the cities – where ‘rules of the road’, as we have in Britain, simply don’t exist – to the serene mountainous paths, where we travelled hundreds of kilometres deep amongst the forest, with the promises of creatures behind the rustling trees as our only companion.

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The cities are cluttered with rickety stalls selling banh mi and noodles with Vietnamese ladies, whose wrinkles are intensified by the scorching sun, wearing brightly patterned clothing – the material of pyjamas. They lounge behind their stalls, taking comfort in the shadows whilst shouts and corse, harsh laughter forces it’s way from their mouths aimed at their companions across the street. Dark, thick clouds of smoke pollute the, already too thick, air – pumped out of vehicles ever performing a deathly dance with one another.

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As darkness approaches; Vietnamese women are found forcing flyers into your hand, persistently throwing the word ‘massage’ at any foreigner who passes, men who earlier in the day sought you out – like a mammal to its prey – insisting you need a motorbike for wherever you may be headed, now sleep soundly with their limbs piled on top of each other on their bikes, miraculously never falling off! Others, plagued by their disabilities, drag their dysfunctional limbs across the filthy streets, coating their clothes in food waste, urine and litter from the day, desperate madness painted across their face, holding lottery tickets for sale in the air. The wafts of sewer stench drift along the streets and are inhaled into your nostrils, making you gasp for fresh air and momentarily pause with your words – in time we grew accustomed to these stinks, but still they never quite passed without our knowledge. The cities of Vietnam are a wild combination of travellers sipping beers and laughing at their companion’s comments, to dirty narrow lanes where women sit on childlike plastic stools gossiping to their neighbours whilst intermittently shouting to travellers what the downstairs of their house may have on offer – be it an assortment of snacks and drinks, a hairdressers, or a guesthouse. In these dark lanes we witnessed a small child locked behind bars at ground level, madness creeping into his innocent eyes, whilst ravenously chewing on a plastic bag – the cause of this, we determined, was the horrific lasting effects of Agent Orange, a result of chemical warfare, used in the Vietnamese war.

Rather than limiting ourselves to a few well known and already discovered places, we were free to stop and start as we pleased, exploring villages and towns where it was clear by the intrigue coupled with confusion on the locals’ faces that travellers were not a regular addition to their quiet village life.
Steep inclines give way to sharp bends where you are faced with cliff edges boasting startling views of the sea for miles. The quaint countryside villages are connected, often 50km from one another, by dirt paths laden with boulders scattered across the road and stray goats, cows or dogs wandering obliviously into your path.

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Villages only exist of a few houses – predominantly made of bamboo or wood – each overflowing with family members and kids. Some are surrounded on either side by deep forests, some by fields spanning as far as the eye can see, and some by rivers which widen and narrow as the murky water meanders through the valley. By daylight, women bend over in rice fields – their faces hidden from the sun behind tepee shaped hats – tending to their crops, whilst others lay in hammocks swinging the day away by sipping on ice tea in the shade. Children, momentarily excited by irregular visitors, go back to aiming stones at a tree trunk – whoever’s stone lands closest is the winner. Although unfaltering stares analyse every inch of you, their fascination with you as a foreigner rarely stretches to a fascination with your money. In the rural areas of Vietnam, you must search the deserted streets for an evening meal, constantly hoping the next light you can see in the distance is an eatery of some form. The simple life which they lead – detached from the manic city life – holds so much charm to me. Many of their tensed faces, at first cautious of our arrival, ease as we smile in their direction. Suddenly they grin back at us, ushering us into their homes, gibbering away in fast pace Vietnamese. As my mum says… ‘Smile and the world smiles back.’ – turns out that one is universal!

Our journey down Vietnam – 2,500km in 3 weeks – has been one of beauty, amazement, sheer adventure and sore bums! So…buy a bike, ride the length of Vietnam, live the dream – it’s worth every second of having a sore bum!

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Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

Hello adventure time…

Gone are the days of 12 hour shifts and hiding my frustration behind a smile. The days of wandering aimlessly and exploring South East Asia with no more than a rucksack are only just beginning. I no longer wake to the sound of an alarm demanding my foggy brain to rise out of it’s too short slumber. In western society we are constantly rushing, constantly creating to do lists in our heads, constantly stuck in a rat race of competition with those surrounding us at work, creating an unhealthy work to life balance. This norm created in western society is followed blindly by the majority of people. We must question these norms which we have been flung in to – why are they in place? What purpose do they serve?

It is difficult to disentangle our own conscious thoughts and ideals from those which are advertised through the media, regarded as said norm. But it is important to do so in order to figure out your own individual agenda, rather than simply obeying a collective one. I refuse to be a part of this rat race – it has little to no appeal for me – I have no wish to sacrifice the chance to explore the world in order to settle into a routine which, once within its grasps, is extremely difficult to disentangle yourself from.

Thus, I choose to wander in flip flops from day to day, to take the opportunity to experience these different cultures and meet people who view the world in a completely different way. I can only hope this blog is able to communicate the beautiful nature of these countries. Although I can never hope to fully understand these cultures, as sadly my position as a westerner, and thus an outsider is cemented through historical means, I can adopt certain aspects of the cultures into my own life. For the next four months I will turn away from the rat race, and say hello to a whole load of hammock hanging, eating dinner on the floor and to exploring the beauty that this awesome world has to offer.

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Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)