Friday, 29 May 2009

Back To Life (Back To Reality)

Just like my last guest house in India...

My life of luxury has come to an end, but it decided to go with a bang.

Stephen had booked another 5 star hotel for our last two nights in Kuala. As his flight was leaving early on the following day he picked up a hotel near the airport.

So when we got back from Brunei and walked into the hotel we were really quite surprised by how nice the hotel was, especially for an airport hotel.

As we checked in we were told that were not booked in there, but was clear that the hotel was too good for us.

I was left speecheless however when we realized that upstairs was not 'the staff quarters', but the Lounge with all the best rooms.

Everything there was complimentary, they even had complimentary sushi to go with your complimentary evening cocktails...I am used to complimentary bed bugs, and sheets with all the luxury of a roll of toilet paper.

Saying bye to Stephen and Maeve...

It has been so nice to have Stephen here, not just for the luxury. We have spent time doing normal things, such as watching DVDs, things that I can't do nowaways.

Now though, I am feeling sad, and lonely.

Will need to get myself out there again and talk to strangers. I have been travelling with friends for the last 7 weeks or so and it is odd to be on my own again and not meeting anyone for a while.

Brunei's main mosque...

To cheer myself up I am going to make my way to the Perhentian Islands, a tropical paradise with great snorkelling. I need to do some serious swimming as I've put on 7 kilos, and am now 4 kilos heavier than when I left London....

Monday, 25 May 2009

Things that you miss

Proboscis Monkey

It's funny the things you miss when you're away.

I knew I would always miss my friends.

There is no doubt that I have been blessed with the best friends I could ever have. I got some friends that have never let me down, even if I have let them down.

Besides my friends I have missed things that have surprised me. I don't miss the odd luxury, the Molton Brown Shower Gel, the end of Battlestar Galactica, the endless list of needs and wants...

Of all the unexpected things I have missed cooking, so on my last day in Brunei I am cooking, I am cooking lunch and I am cooking dinner.

Lunch will be Jamie Oliver's Creamy butternut squash with spicy chicken and dinner will be Melanie's dish Chicken a la dijonese...

I miss my normal life, my old life, but I am glad that I am here

In the meantime these are the pics from our trip into the jungle where we were lucky to see the male proboscis monkey, a long nosed monkey that lives in Borneo.

My very last day in Borneo before I am heading back to the continent and to slumming it.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Brave is the man who beats his fears

Brunei is a very odd country, full of strange little things that really throw me.

It's a dry state but, if you are a non muslim, you can bring alcohol into the country. So ex-pats are constantly crossing the border to bring across their allowance.

One of the best things is the need to show people toilet etiquette. All over this small country, toilets have a message explaining that you do not need to put your feet on the sides of the throne - so many toliet seats have been damaged by misuse.

View leaving the orangutan centre...

The last two days have been fascinating. On our last day on the Malaysian side of Borneo, Sabah, we went to an orangutan rescue centre. The story of the only great apes of Asia is a sad one. Their habitat is being destroyed at an alarming speed, to the extent that some believe that by 2020 no rainforest at all will be left in Borneo. Sadly, I saw a lot of that.

Orangutans are being displaced and, although several centres are trying to rescue them, their future is bleak without a home.

These great apes, that share 96% of our genes, are fascinating and cute as hell. I could not help but feel sorry for them and wondering when will we stop destroying all that is beautiful around us.

I had been quite sceptical about what I read about Brunei. It promotes itself as having 75% forest cover, with some of the most pristine rainforest in the world, as Laos also did.

Well in this case it is all true.

I can't tell if it is 70 or 75% but there are trees, and trees, and more trees.

Yesterday we went up the river and across to the other side of Brunei to the Temburong National Park.

The boats that do the journey are called flying coffins. I hoped this was to do with their shape and not their speed and the number of accidents.

The best and worst thing of it was taking the jungle canopy walk.

Fear is irrational and cannot be controlled. My fear of snakes goes beyond me to the point that when I once saw one in Thailand, actually it was being waved in my face, I tried to throw one of my best friends towards the snake to get away from it. A very scooby doo moment, I even jumped on his lap.

My fear of heights is slightly less hysterical but, going up the really narrow tower, I was sure I was going to slip on one of the platforms and plummet 40 metres to the ground.

As I said, this was stupid, fear is irrational, but I couldn't help but think about it. As I went up, sweat was dribbling from my face, a mix of heat and fear. But, as Indiana Jones said, bravery is not the person with no fears but the one who beats their fears. I decided to go first so no one would see my face of sheer fear, pure panic.

Nonetheless, when I eventually got to the top the view was breathtaking. The rainforest extended undisturbed as far as my poor sight could see, and my gloom and doom mood lifted.

There may be hope.

The hope is that we pay to preserve our forests. Brunei has not chopped theirs because they have oil resources to pay for the needs of their people. We, the rich of the world, need to pay for the others to preserve their forest, the lungs of our planet, for future generations.

Somehow I agreed to finish the day trip tubing down the river. Sitting on a huge tube from a tractor inner wheel, I drifted down the river, very aware that we were in the middle of a jungle where pythons, crocodiles and an endless list of reptiles live by the water or in it.

Still here, so I guess i made it.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Finding Nemo

That was some weird cloud formation

I'm still living my new life of luxury, but have managed to squeeze some excitement into it.

I have shaved and I am wearing clean clothes...

Yesterday we went to the Tunku Abdul Raham National Park, which is only 20 minutes away from Kota Kinabulu, the capital of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. We visited Mamutik Island, a tiny islet, covered by forest and little else. I spent hours snorkelling, as the fish were great, though the coral has been damaged by bleaching. I managed to see lots of beautiful, colourful fish, though I only remember the name of the Clown Anemona Fish, aka Nemo.

And today we went to the bottom of the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu, 4093 meters all told. We planned this badly, so weren't able to trek to the top, but just the view from the beginning of the trek alone was awesome.

We also visited another National Park, called Hot Springs, a very strange place, a sort of mixture of Jungle and Spa, where people go to 'take the waters' or basically a jungle canopy walk. It was an odd experience, as I am terrified by heights, but I managed it.

We didn't get to see many animals though as the place was full of tourists, mostly Chinese, screaming.

One of our group had to stop at one point in the morning for a break. Turned out she had just given birth and was in some difficulties. The guide was horrified with the thought that the baby might be in her handbag and wanted to know where was the child. Then everything was thankfully, or not, explained.

The mother had simply popped, then left the resulting newborn in Singapore and headed off with her husband on their already booked holiday.

Even I was shocked by the lack of parental love they had.

Taken the waters, but waiting for the mini pool to fill up...

Tomorrow we are back in Brunei. It is a strange country, deeply religious. The Sultan has prohibited the teaching of music following some of the most strict rules of Islam, but he had the Pussy Cat Girls or Dolls or whatever they are called over for his birthday celebrations...

On the positive side though, because they're so rich, they haven't needed to chop down their forests, so we'll be going jungle trekking when we get there.

Monday, 18 May 2009

I just don't know what to do with myself

Petronas towers from below

The last few days have been amazing.

I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, just sitting by the pool, going to the gym, and eating far too much. I have actually managed to put on 2 kilos in four days.

This is not Kolkata

As I am still the same cheapskate, everytime we have gone for a buffet I have eaten so much they have had to call in a crane to get me out of the restaurant. In my view, I am just building reserves for times of scarcity. I have had flashes of 'Monty Python' when the guy explodes after having eaten too much.

Kuala Lumpur is a thoroughly modern city and I have been impressed by its ability to integrate its different communitities. I have also noticed that lots of ethinic malays, mainly muslims, are more liberal than I was expecting, and girls don't always wear headscarves. However, mixing within the communities is another issue. If you marry a muslim you have to convert, and converting from Islam to another religion is a crime in Malaysia.

View from the sky bridge, 149 meters up

We are now on our way to Borneo, to visit Brunei and then Sabah, on the Malaysian side of Borneo.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Life of Luxury

One Petronas Tower at night.I finally got to Kuala and met up with Stephen.
Stephen in the Chan See Shu Yuen Temple in China Town

It has been so nice to see someone I have been friends with for so long and, of course, to catch up on all the gossip.
Kuala Lumpur is an amazing city, I am completely dazzled by it. I knew this was a modern city but I was not ready for what this city, and what I seen of Malaysia, seems to be.

Its motorways are modern, three lanes wide on each side, and the city is clean, modern, and bright though maybe just a bit too clinical and sterile. Walking around the shopping area last night you could easily have thought that you were in Time Square with the bright lights, neon, and skyscrapers.
Stephen is treating me to a bit of luxury so we are staying in a five star hotel. I got here first and checked in after 28 hours of travelling. Unshaved, unshowered, wearing a dirty vest and old hat. In spite of my misgivings, and body odour, check in was straight forward and I was soon able to chill in an air conditioned room, with a toilet not a hole. There was loo role in the bathroom and I had to stop myself from throwing it straight in my rucksack for future requirements.
I was not sure if this was there to be eaten, my dinner looked to good

It is so nice to have Stephen here and to just take things slowly. Kuala Lumpur is very hot from midday to late afternoon so I am going to the gym, then we will have a, so different from my life in Kolkota.

This is probably the campest thing I have ever seen, this huge God in front of the Batu Caves

Way up to the caves
We are off tomorrow to have dinner in the revolving restaurant in KL Communications Tower

Thursday, 14 May 2009

New Friends 2

Since I set out on this little excursion of mine I have met a lot of new people.

However, it's only been in the last week that I have felt truly sorry for seeing some of them go.

I had met some really nice people before, some of which I'm still in contact with. Indeed, there has been many that I genuinely liked:

New Friends

But since then I have met others, and in the last few weeks I have really grown fond of Ignasi and Consuelo and Roberto.

Ignasi and I could not have been more different, and he did annoy me slightly with his rebel attitude (or what he called rebel, in reality he was just contradicting everything I said). But at the same time he has a heart of gold, and very little negative to say about anyone.

Why am I looking like that, and with that moustache?

Consuelo, aka 'Concha tu madre' is just plain mad, absolutely bonkers, and speaks Spanish and English with the strongest, campest accent I have ever heard. She could be straight from a Venezuelan soap opera, or H from Steps reborn.

And then there's Roberto, or as someone described him, Ronald MacDonald. He was aiming to meet us again in Kolkata, but the Indian visa put him off.

Anyway, Consuelo decided to stay in Kolkata and help the poor in Mother Theresa's institution. Ignasi came back with me to Bangkok and has now gone to Mongolia, as he starts his long way back to Spain.

I have managed to entertain myself despite their abandonment, and have rekindled myself with some old friends...the Wonder Girls. I discovered that my favorite song from the days of the water festival was a remix of 'Nobody, Nobody But You'. Not sure if it would work in a club in Vauxhall, London, but it is awesome.

The rainy season has started and it is pretty spectacular. All hell breaks loose for fifteen minutes, the loudest thunders, the heaviest downpours. Suddenly everything stops, and you get to enjoy the most beautiful skies, especially during the sunset.

I am now on my way to Kuala Lumpur where I am meeting Stephen. So looking forward to seeing an old friend. Feeling a bit apprehensive about staying in a 5 star hotel though.

Not sure they're going to let me in.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Why do we do this?

As I near the middle of my year travelling, I sometimes wonder why am I here. Why am I living in these conditions? Why am I not back in my nice Victorian flat in London? Surely things are hard these days back in the UK, but sitting on a bus for 16 hours is not my idea of fun either.

These thoughts particularly came to mind the other day.

We were in Varanasi trying to reach Kolkata to fly back to Bangkok.

I needed to go to the bathroom so, after paying to use the public toilets, I braced myself for the experience.

The toilet was gross, and that is the biggest understatement ever. There was a jobby on the side, someone had missed the hole and didn't push it in. There were red stains everywhere, on the floor and walls. To most people it would have looked like blood but at least I knew they were spits, the result of chewing paan. Only one word comes to mind, yuk!!!!

So there I was squatting, trying to keep some dignity during a completely undignified moment, when the door fell on top of me - it had come of the hinges.

I somehow managed to keep my balance by holding on to the toilet roll that was on the floor with one hand, while I used my other hand to hold the flimsy door.

At that precise moment, while the locals amused themselves with the image of the tourist with pants down around his ankles and the door on top of him, I wondered why?

The thought only lasted one second, if that. I just had to think about all the things that have happened to me, all the great things I have seen, and the amazing people I have met.

I have decided that I would rather be here, shit included, than back there, though I do miss my friends and sometimes I miss things that I used to take for granted, like a hot shower.

She was also queuing for the yoga classes....

I felt really sorry for this kid, he was not any older than 5 but his face showed that he had had a hard life

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Guess who is here?

Storm over Pokhara with the Himalayas behind

I am starting to think that my mother has sent me an undercover bodyguard........Once again, and for the third time, I bumped into Roberto, the red haired Italian builder who I met in Laos and Thailand. It is funny how life throws these things in your path. I hadn't intended to go to Pokhara and I didn't think that our paths would cross again, especially as I had lost his email address.

So it was a great surprise to see his big red afro coming out of the travelller's inn. We went drinking in my guest house and had a laugh.......but he is still with his girlfriend so no plans to marry me (yet).

That is some frakking big afro

Pokhara is famous for its lake and the views - behind the town stands the great Annapurna mountain range with some peaks over 8000 meters. Sadly, however, at this time of the year, visibility is reduced by the smog and dust. Everyone is waiting for the monsoon to clear the air and bring back the lush green colours that normally cover the land at this height.

I left Consuelo, who was terribly hungover, and Ignasi at the guest house and went rowing and trekking with Roberto and some French Canadians he had met. As we got to the top of the mountain behind the lake, to visit the peace stoopa, a huge storm enveloped us.

It was nice to see Roberto. He reminds me, personality wise, of the better side of myself, of a young me. I even told him heads back to Italy at the end of this month so I doubt we will meet again.

Drunken pic very late at night

We are now heading back to India but have had to cancel our plans to go to Darjeeling. The strikes in Nepal have meant that buses are not running from there and train tickets in India to get there have sold out as a result.

Monday, 4 May 2009

A Flat Backside

I feel as if I have spent the last few days on a bus, my back side is so flat you could write a novel on it.

We left the Himalayas on a ten hour bus journey, part of which was on the roof, it was scary to say the least. We did think about buying a bottle of whisky, but then decided it wouldn't have been wise, but it would have made the journey more bearable.

After another day in Katmandu, visiting a couple of temples and getting drunk with Simon, we made our way down to Chatwin National Park, formerly a hunting reserve for the Nepali royal family and friends. George V and his son, the future Edward VIII, killed 39 tigers and 18 rhinos here in just one safari. En route we met Consuelo, a Chilean girl with a wicked sense of humour, who is the latest addition to our little group.

We were introduced to a really good guide by a Spanish girl who, as you do, lives in Bali and a Galician who lives in Nepal...

Where is that polar bear?
The three of us decided to venture further into the National Park, without a jeep, to do a two day jungle walk. We would have to leave the park in the evening however, because, following a tiger attack on a group of tourists, you weren't allowed to stay there at night.......except, of course, if you are a poacher killing rhinos for the Chinese and Arab black markets.

They were two great days and we even got to see three one-horned Indian rhinoceros. There are only about 2000 of them left in the world so I feel extremely privileged to have seen three.

We also saw crocodiles and the most colourful flameback woodpeckers.

What was i thinking of to dress like this....

When we got back from the trek we discovered that the political situation in Nepal had got more complicated and all local buses had been cancelled.

So our plan to exit Nepal through the Indian border in the East had to be changed and off we went up North again, to the second largest town in the country, Pokhara, to get a tourist bus to take us South again......I feel like a frakking yo yo......

Then again, if I had not come here to Pokhara, I would have not bumped into someone for the third time....and would not have had the chance to ask him to marry me........