Tag Archives: Travel

You Like-a Boom-Boom?

Clutching a ticket for the night train headed south, I stood outside the hostel in the dim evening light and said goodbye to the friends I had made in Hanoi.

Adam worked at the hostel, and had just arrived on the back of a Vietnamese man’s motorbike. They shook hands like friends, so I asked Adam if he’d arrange for this man to drive me to the train station. I hopped on to the back of his motorbike and waved a final adieu as we tucked into the tangled traffic.

“You and Adam make-a boom-boom?” he asked me over bubbling the noise of the engine.

“Excuse me?”

“You and Adam make-a boom-boom?” this time with pelvic thrusting.

Ah, he was asking if I had had sex with Adam. A standard kind of enquiry. What?!

“No, we’re just friends,” I answered, trying to hide my indignation, pretending I wasn’t completely taken aback by his brazen vulgarity. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I thought.

“You like-a boom boom?”

What do I say? “Um, that’s a very personal question,” by now, starting to giggle a little bit.

“I like-a boom-boom,” pelvic thrusting again. Oh my gosh!

I’m not sure if I was trying to divert the conversation, or spark some sense of responsibility in the man’s mind; I asked, “Do you have a wife?”

“Yes, but make-a boom-boom many women,” now reaching back and stroking my leg! Shit, wrong question! But at least we had some silence for a little while after that. And then…

“You like a leekie-poosie?” At first I wasn’t sure what I had heard.

“What?!”

“Leekie-poosie.” He turned his head and demonstrated enthusiastically, flapping his tongue about in front of his face like a chameleon with Tourettes, somehow managing to punctuate this terrifying display with a self-congratulatory grin.

“How far is it to the train station?” I asked, timidly.

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The Heart of Hanoi

I couldn’t wait to leave Singapore; its sterile streets and overbearing rules had depressed me, and I was in search of a different kind of adventure.

Before I knew it, I was standing on the side of the road beside the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, waiting for a gap in the thick flood of traffic so that I could cross – and slowly, like water climbing to a boil, it dawned on me that I had found the sweet disorder that I had been craving. I had landed myself in its centre. I was going to have to enter this amoebic mass of vehicles, to become part of it, and then to emerge from it a new person.

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Hanoi is a vascular system; a complex twist of narrow streets and tangled wires, walled by the looming romance of crumbling French facades. Scooters flow staccato through the city’s veins and arteries, from a throbbing heart somewhere nearby. There are no interludes, there is no order, but there is synergy. Beautiful synergy.Hanoi traffic, These Walking BootsHanoi traffic, These Walking Boots

The pavements in the Old Quarter are not for pedestrians. Shops spill out onto the road, rows of scooters stand stationary on the sidewalk, and street-food vendors somehow preserve for themselves sacred little spaces amid the chaos. The streets ooze at the edges and pulsate in the middle. You have to have a new kind of spatial awareness to survive it.Hanoi traffic, These Walking Boots

Always lost; overwhelmed by the city’s unyielding onslaught, and never able to take it all in, I was in love with Hanoi. I moved, purposeless, through its streets; at first trying to gain some kind of traction and then gradually, finally letting go, simply absorbing. The colourful disorder fed my soul, and the contrast of my solitude against the unrelenting chaos became my quietest comfort in the heart of Hanoi.Hanoi street scene, These Walking BootsHanoi street scene, These Walking Boots

No durian, no peanuts, no duck!

Sometimes adventure comes disguised as pain and discomfort. Sometimes it appears in the most unexpected forms. In Malaysia, I had an adventure that took me to a doctor’s room in the town near the lodge, a doctor of Chinese medicine.

I’ll spare you the details of the events that necessitated my visit, suffice to say that I spent two days looking like C-3PO, trying to teach riding lessons – where the students generally circle repeatedly around their instructor – with almost zero mobility in my neck. A colleague recommended the services of a certain Chinese doctor, and I was desperate, so I agreed.

My colleague must have a sadistic streak, because, having been to see this doctor himself before, he knew full well what I was in for. And yet, all he said was, “He’s really good, you will see.”

After some winding through dingy back-alleys after work, we finally found the doctor we were looking for. We presented ourselves at the reception window. Behind the receptionist, rows of dusty manila folders lined the walls, with tatty cardboard tabs in orange and green categorising them by letter. The thought that entered my mind at the sight of them was, “Many people have come before me, it must be okay”. I produced my passport, and the receptionist filled a fresh patient card with my details. Another one to add to the rows. We sat on the bench, watching the LED sign on the wall, which read ’36’.

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’37’. We entered the doctor’s chamber. Patient number 37 for the day? For the afternoon? From the moment I stepped through the doctor’s door, everything happened very fast! A small man wearing a face mask welcomed me into his room, sat me down on a small wooden chair and, standing behind me, asked me where I felt pain. I reached for the source of the pain at the base of my neck. Without hesitating, he grabbed my upper body firmly and started eliciting the most excruciating pain in places I didn’t even know were painful. With each muscle that he clutched he said, “you have pain here, but not here”, and he would grab the same muscle on the opposite side, which, as he predicted, was not in pain. It was debilitating, but I was in raptures because it was so phenomenal to me that he could know all of this with such precision when all I had done was briefly point, inaccurately it would appear, at a place between my shoulders. With each pair of muscles, which ranged from behind my ears to my forearms, and right down to my lower hip area, I blurted out a squawking Yes, in confirmation of his statements. After about six tortured yeses he said, unmoved, “Acupuncture”. Somehow I suspected it was not a question, so I responded with “Okay”.

I felt the same way I felt right before I bungee jumped: I knew if I thought about it, I might not do it, so I just let it happen. Before I had a chance to ask any questions, still sitting on my wooden stool, I was presented with a sealed needle; a routine demonstration to assure me that the needle was sterile. I have to admit I didn’t really know what was going on at this point, and it was probably better that way. The doctor stood behind me, and I could feel a strong, warm sensation down the right side of my neck. In my mind’s eye I could see him wiggling the needle in several points down my neck. And then it was over. Or so I thought.

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No sooner did that end than I was transferred over to a bed and told to lie on my stomach. What came next had me squealing and kicking my feet wildly as I tried to endure the pain. It was the kind of experience that, when I think about it now, the memory appears to me in anime. The doctor is a super fast karate hero, manipulating my body at lightning speed and leaping into the air with every exaggerated movement as he cracked my bones and twisted my muscles. My face appears with big crosses for eyes, a huge, gasping mouth, and drops of water flying off my checks as I scream in pain in a high pitched yelp. The doctor didn’t let up. My desperate pleas did not move him; he just kept on cracking.

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When my torture was finally over, I returned to my stool, tried to straighten up my face and awaited further instruction. “I give you herbal medicine,” he said. “If it’s still painful in three days, come back.” Right, I thought. Alright.

I had questions, so many questions. How did you know so quickly what my exact problem was? How did you know all the places where it did and didn’t hurt? How did I develop this pain; has it been accumulating for some time, or did I hurt myself suddenly? The only one of these he chose to answer was the last. He stood behind me again, and started up with more poking, this time more analytically, comparing the left side to the right. “Six months,” he said. And that was it.

Then he told me, “Also, no durian, no peanuts, no duck.” What? “Why?”, I asked. “Very very toxic. I’m sorry”. “Right,” I thought, “no durian, no peanuts, no duck”. And with that, I was dispatched to the reception again to collect my piles of nondescript, secret recipe herbal medicine. For all I know, for the next three days I could have been an unwilling supporter of the rhino horn trade and the thought made me shudder ever time I took my prescribed dosage.

I really don’t know what happened that day in the doctor’s room. I have no idea how he figured me out so quickly, what he did to me, or what was in the pills he gave me afterwards. The only thing I do know is that as I walked out of the reception and turned to wave goodbye, I realised that I had full mobility in my neck again. Already! All the muscles the doctor had poked and prodded were a little tender for two days afterwards, but as soon as that went away I was as good as new. It was astonishing.

I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to go to just any Chinese doctor on a street corner somewhere, but my experience of this particular Chinese doctor not only cured my pain with the most phenomenal speed, it also sparked in me a new fascination with Chinese medicine and healing techniques. And it was a little adventure all of its own.

South Africa, Beloved Country

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Camps Bay, Cape Town (Kodak 200, Sprocket Rocket)

Whenever I’m abroad, I am reminded of just how incredible South Africa is as a travel destination. From high end tourist types to grungy, hippy backpackers and dreamy nomads, I find myself telling all types of people that I meet on my journeys just how wonderful my home country is, and how appropriate it would be as their next travel destination.

It’s not a conscious thing, I don’t actively promote tourism in South Africa for any particular reason (although the benefits of tourism to any country are real), I simply keep finding myself in conversations with people where they’re describing what they would like from their next adventure, and feeling like Mzansi can offer them all the experiences they’re yearning for, and more. I find myself getting so excitable and passionate as I regale them with elaborate descriptions of the opportunities awaiting them in SA, and I get a real thrill when I watch their eyes sparkle as my contagious enthusiasm for my country takes hold of them.

I have flights booked back to South Africa in December, and I’m so excited to be heading back to such a vibrant and unique country for part of the summer. Visiting home aside, I feel as lucky to be returning as I would to be travelling for the first time to any exciting new country. There’s always so much exploring and discovering to do in SA, and so many old favourites to keep returning to. The more I travel in the world, the more I learn to appreciate just how fabulous South Africa is. How lucky I am to love my country so much!

I recently got a whole lot of photos back from the lab, all of them taken back home. Yes, that’s right, I’m still shooting film. Going through the pictures reinforced these feelings, and reinvigorated my passion for exploring South Africa. Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing them with you, celebrating some of the little adventures I had in South Africa in the months leading up to my departure. I’m a fervent advocate of spontaneous or planned local adventure (read more on my views on this in my piece for Urban Times), and South Africa is wonderfully rich with hidden mysteries and intriguing gems waiting to be discovered; I’m really looking forward to popping in again for a little visit. Mzansi, ndiyakuthanda*.

*Mzansi, ndiyakuthanda is isiXhosa for ‘South Africa, I love you’.

Pasar Malam di Malaysia

I’m a real market junkie, and there’s nothing better than an open air night market in a foreign country to feed my addiction. A pasar malam is a traditional Malaysian night market, and in the town near the lodge there’s a very cool one every Tuesday night. After dinner sometimes, I like to stroll around in the cool evening air amongst the families doing their weekly market shopping. The local pasar malam is a multicultural market; there are Indian, Malay and Chinese stalls, selling traditional products and food items alongside one another. It makes me happy.

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A Story is Brewing in Malaysia

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”
—Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace

I’ve been in Malaysia for two months now, and although I’ve been working busy, six day weeks, I’ve somehow managed to squeeze in a few whimsical adventures and make the most of a some priceless opportunities to explore my surrounds.

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I’ve been generously welcomed into the homes of my Malay colleagues to share food with them and celebrate the end of the fast; I’ve dined in style with friends in the city; and I’ve sampled the local Malay and Chinese cuisine whenever I’ve had the chance to do so. I’ve been on wandering drives in the cool evening air though the kampongs and the palm oil plantations; and I’ve spent time exploring night markets and back alleys on foot. Now and then, we steal away to a strange outdoor Chinese karaoke bar, where we unwind with a few bottles of Tiger beer, and giggle incessantly at the constant wailing of deluded wannabes that sing with far more determination than talent. Sometimes we get a little more than we bargained for.

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Teaching riding here in Malaysia has been both challenging and enriching; sometimes purely puzzling. Guests pass through from all over the world, most of them living as expats in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, but some of them locals too. They range from absolute beginner to riders who have significant competitive experience. I’ve met some really interesting people, and enjoyed the constant flow of stories that come and go at the lodge, but most interesting has been the story that I find myself part of in this unique place. I’m not quite sure how to tell this story yet, but in the moments when I manage to take a step back and reflect on the strangeness of it all, can feel there’s something brewing.

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Crossing Paths with Epic Explorers in Mwanza: a Tragic Adventure Story

We arrived in Mwanza as the sun was setting. Tired from a slightly nerve racking, twelve hour bus trip, we pitched our tent on the edge of Lake Victoria, stood back and breathed a sigh of relief. This would be our little home for the next three nights, right on the water’s edge in the Capri Point area of Tanzania’s second largest city.

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After twelve hours of unsatisfactory grazing on popcorn, samosas and chocolate creams that tasted distinctly of paraffin, the first thing on our minds was a cold beer and a plateful of food. Our campsite at the Mwanza Yacht Club could not have been better suited to our desires. Within minutes we found ourselves seated in front of a frosty bottle of Safari, devouring massive plates of chili prawns, and gazing out over the vast lake as the evening faded into night.

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Our stamina surprised us that night. Casual mention of how lovely it would be to get out on the lake on a boat turned into a conversation with the neighbouring table, which happened to be hosted by the commodore of the Yacht Club himself. His offer to take us on his private boat the following day led to another round of drinks for all, and soon enough, he was seated at the head of our own table, regaling us with endless, riveting stories of his life in Kenya, and now in Tanzania; of business in Africa; of youth and adventure.

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Some people have a real gift for storytelling. I lost track of the details of all the stories the commodore told that night, for the beer was flowing freely, but I remember distinctly the feeling of hanging on his every word. When we finally teetered back to our little canvas home to retire for the night, our heads full of ideas and wonder, and we had made a new friend who was eager to show us around.

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Having told the commodore that night of my interest in horses, and my plans to travel to Malaysia to teach riding, he had offered to drive me out to see some horses he was looking after the following day. When I woke up, I vaguely recalled the story he had told of two South African long-riders who had set out on a journey through Africa on horseback.

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Christy and Billy with Chami and Nali at the start of their journey

On our way out to the small farm where the horses were living, he filled in some of the gaps. The two riders had set out on a journey from the northernmost point in Africa to its southernmost tip, riding their horses Chami and Ennahali. They had faced unthinkable challenges and setbacks along the way: being held up by the Libyan government while their freedom to enter Egypt was contemplated; a thousand mile swamp crossing aboard a barge, riders eating fish and horses papyrus leaves from the banks of the Nile; political turmoil and suspicions that they were spies or gun runners in war-torn Southern Sudan; typhoid, malaria and tick bite fever, to name a few.

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The epic route!

After passing the halfway mark, and Billy having struggled severely with his health through Southern Sudan, he sought medical help in Kampala, and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and returned to South Africa to seek medical care. But even this didn’t stop the intrepid duo: sixteen months later, they returned to Uganda to retrieve the horses and continue their journey.

imageOn the 28th of January this year, having overcome what seemed like all the hardships the world could throw at them, the travellers suffered the most heartbreaking tragedy. On their route alongside the road outside a small village in northern Tanzania, surrounded by a crowd of happy villagers cheering them on, they were struck by a bus that had swerved out of control whilst passing a truck on the road. The collision killed Christy and 25 of the bystanders. Chami managed to narrowly avoid the impact, but both Nali and Billy came away with badly broken legs.

The horses were taken in by the commodore and his friends, and against the advice of every vet they consulted, they nursed Nali and tended to his broken leg. These were the horses we were going to see.

As we neared the little farm on the edge of the lake, we slowed to a halt beside a small store, and the commodore wound down the passenger window. No words were exchanged. A woman scuttled into the store and returned with a handful of carrots. The commodore greeted and thanked her as he payed for his purchase. She waved as we drove off.

The horses will remain on the small farm in Mwanza under the care of the commodore and his friends until Billy is in a position to decide whether he wants to continue and complete the journey alone, in memory of Christy. Should he persevere, Nali will be unable to continue as his mount, his leg having been too badly damaged to carry weight. But Billy may choose to have him stay abreast of the journey in a trailer, symbolically keeping the travelling team together as they press on to their final destination, carrying Christy in their hearts.

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As I petted Nali and Chami and listened to the commodore’s stories of their recovery, I was moved by the sheer generosity of horses, their willingness to obey their masters, allowing us to condition their bodies and minds to perform great feats of physical precision and brilliance; to carry us on long journeys; or to victory in bizarre competitions. And here were two such generous beasts, travelled from Tunisia all the way to Tanzania with their riders through harsh and unforgiving Africa, only to be unceremoniously taken down by a reckless bus on the side of the road in Isela.

I hope Billy decides to continue the journey to Cape Agulhas, and if he does, I would like to be there to shake his hand and to welcome him and his phenomenal horses home. I have been deeply moved and inspired by their epic journey through Africa. I feel privileged to have crossed paths with Chami and Nali in Mwanza, and to have heard just a little part of their incredible story.

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Meeting Chami, Christy’s phenomenal little horse, in Mwanza.

You can read more about Billy and Christy’s tragic accident here, and visit their blog, African Footprints, for awe inspiring stories and pictures from the road.
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