Sunday, October 30, 2005


I'll get straight to my news, Mick and I are engaged! He completely surprised me, pulling the perfect ring from his pocket while walking down the street, after dinner. While gasping for breath the first thing I managed was, "you dag!".

We have been in QLD for my 30th birthday which turned into a great celebration, happy parents and excitement all round. Mick handled the endless introductions marvelously.

I hope you are all well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Lightening across Laos

Mick and I have just finished three weeks in Laos. Alas, it is the end of our adventures for a while so this is the last rambling you’ll have from me.

Its been great traveling with Mick, he is fun and handy. Not only was he wearing his undies on the outside one day in Cambodia when he stopped boys from stealing our day pack out of the tuk-tuk we were traveling in (the bag didn't survive though - ripped in half) he has also been my consummate chauffeur around the remote areas of the south of Laos.

The highlight has been when we got off the track and took to the jungles of the Bolaven Plateau doubling on a tiny motorbike (think Vespa) with Mick driving. We gave the local hill tribal people plenty to laugh at: two giant Falang (foreigners) on one struggling little bike, egg shell-shaped helmets and sometimes coming to undignified halts. We whizzed past squealing kids springing into water holes in the nuddy, traditional basic thatched huts with satellite dishes attached, women hand pummeling rice, dense jungle and stunning views up at the plateau. The area is famous for its Arabica coffee. It must be good because I, being a dedicated non-drinker, ended up guzzling plenty of it.

Mick and our poor little bike

We bought tribal textiles and stayed in a haunted hotel in a tiny town. It was a case Scooby-Do might investigate. We had howling dogs, slamming shutters and someone banging to get in the hotel and then trying our door in the dead of night. Apparently it is two Malaysian tourists who died in the river coming back for their luggage.

At this point we were hooked and continued further into the remote South East. People gaped open-mouthed even more at the sight of us, and only the quickest kids screamed out "sabady" (hello) before we disappeared. With only one change of clothes each I did lots of hand washing. Our visit here was perfect timing. We got the benefit of a sparkling new road (that has opened a new boarder to Vietnam) but shared it with no tourists, yet. There was more buffalo, chooks, dogs and goats than traffic. The massive hotel in bustling Attapeu we stayed in was empty, but brimming with potential as the manager gleefully set up his tour desk in anticipation of the tourists that will use the new route. It will lose its charm, but that’s progress. We ate grilled goats liver with Beer Lao and crashed when everyone else did at 9pm.

Mick skillfully got us 20 kms along a boggy dirt road to the Ho Chi Min trail where he climbed on top of the Soviet missile still sitting there in its launcher. He rapidly howled off it again as a wasp took a chunk out of him.

The split second before Mick bolted off the rocket with a howl of pain

There is UXO (unexploded ordinance) absolutely everywhere, killing plenty of farmers every year. We dropped in on LAO UXO (
the National Clearance Agengy of Laos) to look at their collection of retrieved stuff. The poor girl who spoke a bit of English just couldn’t understand we had just come to take photos.

Waterfalls were another highlight of the area. Mick climbed up behind them and came back with sore fingers from clutching to ledges as he nearly got washed away. Some places had gorgeous resort accommodation, at only $16 USD but they felt luxurious.

Mick behind a thundering waterfall

At all times during our stay in Laos spectacular storms have brewed. Clouds so dense and dark it felt we could disappear in them. The sky is always flashing. We got caught in downpours while on pushbikes one day, and watched kids go nuts and dance. Lightening claps have gone off like bombs over our heads in the middle of the night. Exhilarating.

We got back without a scratch but nearly killed the bike. I thought the engine was going to blow and take our ankles with it.

We finally headed North to the capital where we dined on French cuisine that we never could afford at home. Then we moved onto Luang Prabang, a tranquil town of 100 wats where the better-off-in-Ibiza backpacker scene was in full swing. The north looks stunning, we have to come back sometime. Now, we must drag our kilos of purchases home and start saving for the next trip!


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Cambodia - Pol Pot Pol Pot Pol Pot

I last wrote half way through Cuba, where I was off on my own for two weeks. I found beautiful colonial towns; determined methods to shake the blokes of my back (I would sit on a bench half in the sun so they would wilt within minutes of sitting with me); ate like the locals and thus started to develop a bum like the them; people watched for hours in fascination of their intermingled lives but never really got the "Cuban" experience I hoped for. So if you go, learn Spanish so you can talk to people other than those wanting you to buy them a drink, and take someone with you, preferable of the opposite sex. It isn't a great place to be solo, on the wallet and the ears.

Now I am in South East Asia. The bum and just about every fluid in me has melted off in the suffocating humidity. I am with Mick, my boyfriend, and we just finished two weeks in Cambodia. I am afraid he might drown in his sweat one day.

Cambodia. Some things where what I expected, some not.

The people are remarkable. I would look at anyone old enough to have lived through the seventies, and not be able to comprehend the horror they must have seen. And they still have smiles firmly fixed. We have learnt a lot about the carnage of various wars, particularly the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, and have seen torture chambers that evil dreamt up. But, as a whole Cambodians are polite, always cheerful, smiling and charming. No one talks about the horrors; they want to move on.

Hordes of tourist touts descended on us at certain points. When I had three young guys inches from my face shouting the benefits of their hotels in only a very small village, I realised Cambodia is far from the "emerging" travel spot I naively imagined. It is so well trodden it is a highway. This was especially evident one night, 3am, when the paper thin fibro wall to our left started vibrating from an argument in some pommy accent, while the wall to the right started shaking from a couple banging away so violently our bed shook with them. We have avoided backpacker ghettos since.

Angkor Wat was magic. We splashed out on a guide for two days. He was worth his weight in gold for what he taught us about the intricate stories carved into the sandstone. We saw temples being strangled by trees, flaming saffron monks flitting amongst the grey stones, and exquisitely carved dancing women with jewels in their hair and voluptuous chests. It is as good as you think it would be.

Mick with our charming guide at one of the ruins of Angkor Wat

We spent a lot more money than I have ever thought I would in a third world country. I have truly moved up from arse-hanging-out-of-my-shorts traveller to someone who runs into an airport and pays a premium to jump on the first plane, gets guides in most areas to give us insights into their culture and to pretend to be our friend, buys silks worth a local's yearly wage, while at the same time still insisting on talking down the room for the night from $5 to $4 and feeling proud of it. But, I think moving up the budget rung is worth it in Cambodia, it isn't as cheap as its neighbouring countries, and we have got a lot more out of our time and the experience by spending that bit more.

There was one area that lived up to the remote jungle and tribes I had envisioned: Ratanakiri in the North East. We hung around at a twisted, collapsed bridge while waiting for our car to be floated across the river on a raft.

An enterprising ferry business that popped up overnight as the bridge in the background completely collapsed.

The road in was like a rally track. We had an entire
eco lodge to ourselves; flies and geckos kept us entertained at night. We swam in a crater lake surrounded by lush jungle. We were guided through an indigenous tribe's farms and homes where they still live quite traditionally. We rode an elephant. Only when I was three metres up on his back did it cross my mind he might have a mind of his own. Just like a horse he didn't want to go, constantly stopped to pull down trees, and sped up when he knew he was on the home stretch.

We crossed from Cambodia into Laos in the bush. Two very basic little huts, each a one-man-band without uniforms. No problems. No attitude. They were the nicest immigration guys I've met in a while. Hang on, maybe that should have been expected.

We are in Laos now, it is going great, but I will take up your time about that later.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Cuba - Baby got Back

In case you didn't know, I've been kicking around Cuba with a friend, Trude, for two weeks. We've sat on icing sugar white beaches, studded with palms. Swam in liquid crystal water. Eaten like royalty in private homes stuck in 1950's time traps. Rum and music are everything in the evening; one night we felt like we were in a vintage movie as we cruised in an antique Chevy, hosted by two young Cuban male models.

Right, now that you have called me B...!....T....C....H at least once I have got that out of the road and can fill you in on what little I understand of Cuba.

1. MC Hammer is not the tune I expected to have in my head but the bums of cartoon proportions on the women have me gaping. Fair enough, many are of African descent, but it must be difficult getting through doors.

2. The women can wear anything they like as long as it is skin tight and tacky. Combined with point one, imagine white bike shorts stretched to be see-through, teamed with a rolls of fat escaping a halter top. Never again will I scoff at teenage Australian chicks sporting their muffin tops. They are amateurs compared to the Cubans. (For a definition on muffin
top - email me later)

3. Communism means food is a limited resource. Rationed and too expensive, food that is affordable to people seems to be mostly oily pizza, anything fried and anything pastry. Hence, the rolls on parade. Atkins would have a heart attack.

A popular meal: something like pizza that needed the oil squeezed out of it before eating

4. In stark contrast, we eat like Queens in the private homes licenced to have tourists stay.

5. Point 4 makes it hard to understand how everyone else lives. Self-righteous tourists declare they have nothing. A taxi driver told me how bad the West's obsession with money is. Everyone is educated. The arts are ubiquitous. Plenty of young men hang on corners with nothing to do but provoke the girls (and me) to want to hit them. I enjoy a life free from visual advertising pollution, to be replaced by endless political slogans on billboards and buildings. They queue for banks and buckets of water, but the greatest queue of all is for ice-cream. Yesterday I saw three girls scoffing huge cones, three each! They love it.

One of the many political billboards featuring Che: a man without blemish and without fear. Photo courtesy of Trude.

In summary, I know nothing: contradictions everywhere. It feels as if understanding the culture is kept behind a veneer labelled TOURISM that I can't see behind, especially without Spanish.

I am on my own now for 12 days and already today three people have wanted to be my friend (and my brother's special friend apparently - look out Scotty one sexy chick has your address). But, I don't know how far to trust people; tourism has meant hassle in some places. So, I am trying to keep away from the tourist hot spots, and I hope my next report will have more tales of mayhem, missing from the first two weeks.

Anyhoo, I'm off to sit in park to work on the art of doing nothing, and learn how to say "I and my brothers are married".