Sunday, November 27, 2011

Take friends, add booze, bake for the entire afternoon/evening/weekend, stir in a dash of YouTube and you will most likely end up smirking at that easy target, the 80s ("you wore what!?")

Which is to say that, back at home and detouring down Memory Lane down that vaugely suspicious alley with a knocked out streetlights that your mum told you never to take a short cut down after a half bottle of rioja (it was actually an illegally purchased half litre of cider at the time but she had no way back then of concieving the dizzy heights we were to aspire to between the end-of-the-Cold War-Round-the-Back -of-the-Reckie and dawning-of-new-World Wine-Bar-Order) one found onself keeping it real with an impromptu disco-for-one (similar concept to the the Silent Disco but more inclusive for the neighbours) when the eye chanced upon a framed photo of turtle watching in Mexico whilst the was reliving its glorious revolutionary teenage years with side helping of maudlin. At this point the ear was heard to remark to the eye "what the f*** happened to you? Turtle watching? Mexico? Ponce".

The eye naturally took issue with this (it had enjoyed the turtle watching trip) but only half-heartedly; somehow it felt like the ear had a point. Thus the killjoy ear managed to deflate the eveing for all the assembled organs (just like any real teenage is highly skilled at doing); they keenly felt the gap between who they had been and who they now were (or formed part of) and went to bed with that feeling of slight regret that occurs when we recall an old friend who, withouth any falling out or concrete reason, we just quietly lost touch with and know we will never see again.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day. And if it didn't things would be horrific (I mean, imagine having to live in 1985 now. Or being a 40 year old teenager, I was enough of a twat back then as it was). Anyway, stop me if you think you've heard this one before...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Yes indeedy. So much did I miss the joys of traveling (trying to sleep whilst balanced on a vibrating, two inch ledge, the thwack of suitcase on pavement) that I elected to journey the old-fashioned way back to Blighty; by train. Alighting in Paris with hours to spare before the first Eurostar I could afford to catch without robbing a bank, I took advantage of le efficient baggage storage services before heading into Montmartre for a reasonably priced coffee and sandwich. Wishing to avail myself of the same facilities back in the U.K, I found neither on hand. “Left luggage?” repeated the 'ticketing and fares consultant', sucking air through his teeth and surreptitiously reaching for the panic button under the counter (“control, the red flag is flying, repeat, the RED FLAG is flying”), “there's no left luggage no more. State of High Alert y'see”. Quite right too. Even now fanatical dentistry professionals are surely unfurling a map of Britain. “Look loyal comrades. We shall strike at the infidel's beating heart. Cheltenham Spa shall be our next target. Praise be to Allah”.

Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Contrary to tradition I arrived back to Best Of British summer weather (it didn't piss it down for ooh, four whole days) depriving folk of the opportunity to trot out the old favorites; 'it been lovely up till now' (usually followed by 'you're not very brown', read; 'you don't spend all your time at the beach, your life isn't better than mine after all'). Afternoon sunbeams transformed four square meters beside a busy Bristol road into a little pub-garden-of-Eden and, as nostalgia and fondness danced a tango we quaffed our ale and remarked how nice it was that the new smoking ban was having the added benefit (boom, boom) of raising the public profile of the unemployed.

My Baby Just Cares For Top-Of-The-Range Designer Baby-Grows.

Whilst the birth rate of most developed nations goes into nose-dive it's good to see we're still 'breeding for Britain' (one way of outnumbering the 'threat from within' Daily Mailers take note). Not a bus journey goes by these days without having to crawl up the wall Spidey-style to avoid the four-wheel drive, all-terrain Humvee buggies blocking the aisles because, after all, a little bundle of joy (and green poo) the size and weight of a rugby ball does need a vehicle recently decommissioned by the S.A.S to be hauled about in doesn't it? Each visit reveals more friends gone 'over the top', transformed into gibbering, permaskint, sleep deprived wrecks (strangely reminiscent of our younger days but without the quality drugs this time round). Evenings in front of Changing Rooms become evenings changing nappies. 'It's different when they're yours' you cry. Damn straight it is; you can't give 'em back. Ladies and gentlemen, the ovaries have left the building.

Before I get branded as a child-hating lesbian it should be pointed out that your author is currently surrounded by little darlings in Italy and looking pretty pregnant herself as a result of a couple of weeks on the Raging Bull diet at the hands of hosts intent on producing English-teacher foie gras ('mange, mange, mange'). Paid aversion therapy and the chance to indulge megalomaniac tendencies in the role of the Big Formagio. What could be better? Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of a child running on the stairs. Ciao ciao.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Goodbye To All That.

All good things must come to an end. So a journey that has taken me from the manicured zen gardens of Koyoto to the wilderness of Patagonia, from the neon billboards (and courtesy flushing toilets) of Shibuya to the favelas of Rio, the dessication of the Outback to the spectacular waterfalls of Iguazu (more water per second than Severn Trent wastes in a summer and a roar almost loud enough to drown out the chattering chavales) is over. Having survived Tokyo commuting, volcanoes, crocs, gap year backpackers and a diet dangerously high in cheese, after 9 months, 8 countries, 66 beds, 41 buses and 36 species of wildlife, I'm coming home. Shortly to be seen sweating and shouting in a Barcelona classroom near you. I can honestly say it's been a blast. There are some things I won't miss of course. Living at such close proximity to others that you can hear your neighbours scratching their behinds, being looked at as if you have three heads when ordering dinner, shouting as a national sport......hmm, hang on a minute....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nice To Pichu, To Pichu....Nice.

Ever been to one of those places so famous, whose pictures youve seen so often that the reality is a tiny bit of a letdown? Well, Machu Picchu isn't one of them. Finally witnessing this archeologist's wet dream sitting prettily and precipitously among steaming Andean peaks can only be described (to borrow a nice expression from the Spanish) as 'the whore mother'. An experience that even the hordes of camera toting yanks cant spoil (although the Peruvian families have a good go).
After some deliberation (and the recent memory of the feeling that every nocturnal trip to the bathroom should be preceeded by Scott's last words) I elected to give The Stinka Trail a miss and got the bus. Seeing the state of those exiting the trail, it proved to be wise choice, allowing me to spend a full sweet-smelling twelve hours roaming the ruins before being reluctantly ejected at closing time. Despite the precipitous nature of it's situation, the Peruvian state fortunately feels no need to clutter up the view with protective barriers, leaving you free to wander up and down slippery, vertical cliff edges with only the meagerest of handrails to cling to. No nannying here. Interestingly the only recent fatality featured, wait for it.... a German!! struck by lightning after ignoring warnings and scaling the mountain in a thunderstorm. Nuff said.

Swamp Thing.

A dream fulfilled, I began to think (with dread) about the (long and poorly maintained) road home, so from Cusco (one of the prettier, more developed cities in South America while still managing to retain that all important, defining smell of wee) it was back across Bolivia and into Brazil for the joys of returning to the linguistic level of a two year old (" me understand no. English you speaking?") and a spot of wildlife bothering. The Pantanal is the worlds largest inland swamp, half the size of France but with much pleasanter residents. Armadillo (crunchy on the outside), alligators, capibara, the worlds biggest rodents and so obviously designed as prey that they might as well have 'eat me' tatooed on their oversized asses, as well as anacondas and diverse winged showoffs.

The Girl From Ipanema.

'Tall and tanned and young and lovely'

After 31 hours on the bus it definitely isn't me that Frank was refering to but even the palest of big-panted (thong=wrong!) gringas are touched by the glamour of caiparinhias on Copacbana in the world's most beautiful city under the gaze of the Big J.C himself. In Rio you can experience it all, nightlife, white sand, colonial architecture, rainforest, and gunpoint robbery whilst admiring it all. Ironically the least likely place to meet with trouble is (properly escorted) inside the favelas themselves. These days no trip to Rio is complete without proving you kept it real on holiday by getting deep in the rat warrens of Rio's slums and showing how street you are by not soiling your pants the sight of A.K toting pre-teens. It seems a little wierd that splashing through an open sewer for the chance of witnessing abject poverty should now be a box to tick alongside a visit to Sugar Loaf but there you have the state of modern tourism. If nothing else it allows you to go away thankful you are not the aforementioned young dealer and have a little more than an average life expectancy of 23 years in which to earn enough cash to impress your girlfriend.

Next and finally; tango and wine in Buenos Aires. Guess which I'll not be doing.
High Plains Drifter.

When your imagination packed it's bags and left for South America, Bolivia is where it sent you the postcards from. Rasin-faced old peasant women wrapped multi-layered skirts, sporting a natty bowler and bridging the fashion divide between a Russian doll and a transvestite Mr Ben as they trudge the (dust, anyone? dust) streets and fields, bent double under a hundred weight of cargo (or snot-nosed offspring) wrapped in acid-striped blankets. A country where Nature dropped a couple of microdots and came down to find She'd created the Altiplano where flamingoes feed in high-altitude frozen desert oasis, cactus sprout from former coral reefs in a blinding white lake of salt and canyon walls defy gravity in the wild west style badlands that served as a second home to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A country witness to the rise and fall of fabulous pre-Hispanic, virgin sacrificing, mother Earth worshipping civilisations etc yawn.
And the home of the world's highest capital and biggest misnomer. La Paz is anything but peaceful. Stepping from my hostel I found myself verbally accosted by a woman half falling out of a minibus and babbling in tounges. After this had occured twelve times in as many seconds I realised I was witness not to the local window-lickers outing but the public transport system. Nose to tail micros clog the steep streets, manned by rent-a-crones sporting enough gold dentistry to put Flava Flav to shame and spitting destinations fast enough to make the wickidest gangsta rapper look like a tired old cruise ship crooner. The only thing that stops the traffic is the daily demonstration ("What do we want?", "Better roads/health/pensions/rights for llamas/delete as appropriate", "When do we want it?", "NOW").

Take My Breath Away.

In a country where it's possible to go from snow covered peaks to the steaming jungle of the Amazon Basin in a day (I'm telling you now) trekking at 5000 meters offers a unique opportunity to get in touch with your inner child. Not the one that wonders wide-eyed at the joys of nature but the one that shits itself, projectile vomits and wakes up wanting it's mummy five times a night. Altitude sickness does not, as I had romanticaly imagined, involve lying wanly sipping brandy on a bed of llama skins but rather an unwelcome flash forward to wheezing old age while a techno rave pulses in your head and your stomache helpfully decides you'll travel lighter without this morning's breakfast. When I got my head from between my knees however, the view was incredible.

Next: A long held dream made real. The Lost City Of Thousand Tourists calls.

I made up the bit about shitting myself by the way. Or did I...?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Don't Cry For Me.

"Las Malvinas are Argentinian" proclaims a sign at the border crossing. They certainly should be, but it does prove you can't always beat the English by pulling a fast one, doesn't it. I prepared for hostilities as I opened my passport but the officials were far more preocupied (they always are) with giving the large group (it always is) of Isralies a hard time. In fact, despite the recent anniversary of the start of the war, the only people to take the matter up with me have been a couple of Uraguayan pensioners wishing to pass the time whilst waiting for the bus. More pertinent for many Argentinians is the ongoing struggle for acknowledgement of attrocities commited by their own government during seven years of dictatorship. Posters calling for the re-appearance of long-vanished individuals and demands to know the fate of 30,000 (certainly dead) desaparacidos are not uncommon. Maggie would have done it too if she could've got away with it.

Ice Cubed.

With the social commentary out of the way, back to all the fun of the fair in a land where folk scoff steaks bigger that their own heads and insist on addressing you in the plural form (sadly, replying with the royal 'we' is not done). If New Zealand is a continent shrunk in the wash, Patagonia is a bicycle tyre that has ignored the warnings and blown itself up using the high pressure line at the car wash. Everything, including the empty space between, is enormous! Arriving at the Perito Moreno glaciar you are hit by a wall of cold air as if God had left the freezer open. On sighting it, you realise that the old fool has let the ice box get out of control again too. 250 sq km out of control. The sound of gawping silence is broken only by the lickety split of gigantic pillars crashing off the 60m high face as glaciar is forced to finaly conceed that gravity's dad is harder.

I Don't Get My Kicks.

Want to appear ten years younger? Take gale force winds, allow to pick up speed unimpeeded over 787,000 sq km of nothingess, mix well with unsealed gravel roads and apply liberaly to exposed skin. The Patagonia Peeling, all the stars swear by it. NB; no claims for loss of sight will be accepted.
Patagonia tests the soul. The emptiness in yours yawns in direct proportion to the vacant landscape. Tourists cling to the mountains and coast like awkward teenagers skirting the edges of an empty dancefloor, afraid to be the first to venture out. I'm ashamed to say I ran away from its' bleakness, the very thing that makes it what it is. Having worn myself two inches shorter from walking, and before the 45º bend in my back became permanent, the only way was up, via the spine-spindling Route 40 which spans the entire nation from north to south. Covering approx half an inch on the map, we jolted for two days through a varied landscape of pampas desert, pampas desert and pampas desert where the vista (interupted only by the odd seething metropolis of three shacks and a sheep) mirrors the lumpy sky above and you become intimately aquainted with the odours of your fellow travelers. Ah but she is "a hard mistress" indeed. She torments you and drives you away but no sooner are you comfortably ensconsed with your fine wines and your fluffy pillows then you're already thinking of begging her to take you back...

Next time; some mountains. For a change.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chile-ing Out.

After haring round NZ like a rabbit out of a trap it was time for a bit of R&R. Rest and Re-tox that is. After a week getting Pisco Soured in Santiago (a much nicer city than it ever gets credit for and brown is the new black after all), re-aquainting myself with the extensive vegetarian options of the Iberian diet ("I can't eat that do you have anything else?" "This?" "Sorry not that either. No, nor that. Or that" "This then?" "Isn´t that what you offered me the first time?") I was once again ready to take on the beautiful nature.


Another day another volcano, this time a relaxing, full day stroll up the vertical, snowy slopes of Mt Villarica. If the altitude gain of over a thousand meters and the stunning veiws don't take your breath away, the acrid fumes belching from the sumit like B&H from a betting shop window will. During our all too brief break I inhaled the equivalent of my duty free allowance and pondered life's eternal questions (why is there always some bint who's hire gear fits and looks great while I get the oven mits and pants from Help The Aged Clown?). Then we were initiated into the sport of Esliding (that's 'sliding' to those of you unfamiliar with the niceties of Spanish pronunciation) for the fast track home. This is basicaly toboganning with your arse and a plastic bag at 1000 feet. We've all done it, none of us were sharp enough to think of convincing tourists to pay for it.

The End Of The World Is Nigh.

Or it will be after another 18 hours of straight-to-video and scurvy. By which time your arse will have passed peacefully into the next life with it's family around it. Patagonia, where men are men and so are a fair percentage of the women. Where brutal winds whip through the Plaza De Armas (one in every tinpot town, like the horse), waiting round corners like a gang of tooled-up teenagers to relieve you of your reason, cash and any important documents not stapled to your person. Where the street dogs wear a permanent grin more often seen on their car-bourne cousins. Where the magnificent, corkscrew columns and vertical granite pillars of Torres Del Paine national park reflect in duck-egg blue glacial lakes. Where even the most annoying been-there-done-thats have had their jaws wired open. A land of brooding, untamed beauty (and that's just the chaps who staff the refuges) where you can watch condors floating over glaciars and lamas lunching on a peaceful Patagonian plain then sleep so soundly that even the brick lobbed through the next window by disaffected yout' will fail to wake you. Patagonia where Nature

Right, I'm poping next door now to have a word about some islands and a certain football match. The hand of God beckons...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fiord Fiesta

Well it rocked my little world and I should know Lord, I've followed a few. The only way to describe the beauty of the Milford track and Sound would be to employ various hackneyed adjectives an a good few expletives. So I won't try. A mixture of temperate rainforest, glacial alpine slopes and turqoise waters, the walk terminates after three days at the Sound itself. It could be the combination of slog and blood loss to winged irritants (sandflies) but the experience of veiwing the improbably angled walls of the Sound for the first time is enough to have you down the nearest gospel church. "Praise the Laaaahd. Ah believe!!". After drinking in so much beauty you're ready to take the floor at an A.A meeting. The walk is obviously not without it's dangers. Mainly to your lunch from the keen-eyed keas (alpine parrots not black dogs). There is definetely no sight more incongruous than a large green bird trying to have your sarnies away against a backdrop of snowfields. Pining for the fiords no doubt.

Ice Ice Baby.

After that I headed back up north to see the glaciers. One nobly named after some Austrian emporer, the other after a sweet popular among O.A.Ps. The Fox Glacier is an impressivly sized if rather unexpectedly dirty river of ice, peopled by chains of shivering human ants yomping cautiously up and down the face. I suppose your face might look a bit grubby too if two hundred plus people a day wiped their boots on it.

Twitching The Night Away

Spare a thought for NZ's native birdlife. Millenia of peaceful, mamalian preadator-free existence allowing evolution to get really carried away, all suddenly shatttered. They're pretty good these days at conserving what's left here (if only because, like the Aussies, they've fucked it right up in the first place) but for once it's not all the white man's fault. The Maori got the ball rolling with the introduction of rats, dogs and overeating (picture giant moa morphing into a roast dinner before their hungry eyes). Then we took over and showed them how it's really done. It has to be said that the birds aren't doing themselves any favours either though. After laying an egg a third her own weight, endangered ma kiwi turns it over to dad who sits on it for a ridiculous length of time. By the time hatching occurs both parents are understandably naffed off with their offspring and turf straight it out at which point the stoats (chavs of the animal world who will happily impregnate their own young for the chance of a free council house) eat it.
Shooting yourself in the foot wasnt just for the birds either. The Maori were so warlike that all the colonists had to do was introduce them to guns, light fuse and retire to a safe distance as they started on each other. One chief, returning laden with gifts after a visit to the King of England, stopped off en route to exchange bling for bullets, arriving home in the mood to strut and wasted no time in poping some caps in some asses.

Well now it's time to bid farewell to our linguistically challenged cousins. A delightful land where bus drivers sport white knee socks and have failed to realise they're not compering the Saga charity gala dinner. Tomorrow I fly forward into my own past, arriving in Chile two hours before I leave NZ and experiencing Friday afternoon twice. It's enough to make your head expl