Hearty Welcomes & Salutations! Originally an action-packed travel blog from a globe-trotting Scotsman, An Ache for the Distance has, over the years, slowed down (I post less often), mellowed out (my dogs and kid have found their way on here) and become more of an expat blog (I German things up). Take a look around, leave a comment and share the love if you like something.
Stuart Mathieson, Lübeck, Germany

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Return to Delhi - Dec 2010 India

It was ten weeks ago we left Delhi on a cockroach express to Varanasi and yet, in that bizarre extended travel way, it seems both like a lifetime ago and only yesterday. Ten weeks ago we were easy prey for touts, scamsters and anyone whose pockets are lined by greenhorned tourists. Dozens of chicken masalas & kingfishers later, we can dodge the cow shit with confidence in Paharganj, brush aside the annoyingly persistent Kashmiri salesmen in Connaught Place and even play the commission racketeers at their own game *See the travel tip below*.

The last few weeks of the trip, I lost the inspiration I had at the beginning for writing and photography. Perhaps because it was largely beach life in Goa, Kerala & the Andamans but maybe also due to the how normal everything became. You quickly become accustomed to seeing cows, pigs, chickens, goats and, in Rajasthan, camels on the streets. You don't blink when witnessing the death defying manoeuvres of Indian drivers. And, being asked your "good name", which country you belong to and if someone can have a photo with you becomes as routine as breakfast.

But despite, or perhaps because of, this feeling of normality in what is essentially a chaotic country, the trip coming to an end has a strange feel to it. Nostalgia is already kicking in and the rose tinted glasses are being polished, ready for the Indian memories.

The Bollywood experience in Jaipur provided a million Indians with a ringtone for their mobiles and me with a poignant tune to reminisce over my photos... Enjoy...




From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

Photos Continued Here...

Delhi Travel Tip

If you're ever looking for a cheap ride to Connaught Place from Paharganj simply stand on any busy street in the said district and do your best to look confused, easily achievable when surrounded by standard Indian street activity! Within minutes a tuk tuk driver will approach and ask where you want to go. If he quotes you 50 rupees to the "tourist information" on Connaught Place then he's genuine, honest and not what you're looking for. Send him on his way and wait until a shiftier moustache appears.

Eventually you'll be offered a ride by Rasheed from Udaipur for the bargain price of 20 rupees and whisked to Connaught Place whilst being given a lecture on the beauty of Rajasthan. Don't admit you've been there already, remain quiet and allow the Rasheed to dictate the chat. Once in the centre, politely decline the handshake of the waiting travel agent and proceed to your intended destination with an extra 30 rupees in your pocket (enough for 6 samosas!)

I would add that the above tip is best done only after you've been shafted by tuk tuk drivers in half a dozen Indian states. Revenge for Johnny Tourist!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Andaman Islands Dec 2010 - India

For reasons behind lack of blog activity over the past couple of weeks, please refer to the photos below from Havelock Island in the Andamans...

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

From An Ache For The Distance

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A Recipe From Goa - India

Begin your day in a restaurant overlooking a golden beach, preferably peppered with holy, snoozing beef. Order two boiled eggs, butter toast, a banana pancake and "nescoffee," safe in the knowledge that you'll get change from €5. Once stuffed, park your backside on your shiny, €3 a day, Honda scooter and proceed to cruise the palm lined backroads of tropical Goa, stopping off at markets, beaches, colonial churches and sleepy villages. Once sufficiently windswept, retire to a clifftop cafe and enjoy the Arabian sea sunset whilst sipping ice cold kingfishers and smoking apple laden shisha. Repeat seven to fourteen times for best effect...

From An Ache For The Distance
Holy Beef taking a morning stroll

From An Ache For The Distance
A taste of Lisbon amongst the Hindus

From An Ache For The Distance
Enjoying another sunset...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Indian Railways' Squatty Potties

 


One too many samosas or a dodgy biryani on an Indian train could see your bare bottom hovering precariously over one of these lovely lavatories...Toilet paper not provided...
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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Atholl Cup Preparation - Goa India

From An Ache For The Distance
Grogan & Mathieson find themselves performing rather unusual warm ups in now infamous Murud


From An Ache For The Distance
Grogan furthers his prowess by crabbing on the beach at Baga

From An Ache For The Distance
Mathieson meanwhile opts for the more relaxed approach

From An Ache For The Distance
Nutritional advice was sought from local experts

From An Ache For The Distance
Grogan also sought to gain advantage by refining his now famous invisible surfboard moves

For a full match report, simply click here...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Atholl Cup 2010 - India

The following report is of the 2010 Atholl Football-Tennis cup, written by Ranjid Singh (a.k.a. Allan "I like your chicken skin" Grogan)

Grogan Claims the Title

Allan Grogan sensationally won his first atholl cup in a match marred by controversy after a cow had walked onto the court and refused to move. Grogan, 108, competing in his third atholl cup was awarded the victory by the umpire after winning the first set as play was abandoned and subsequently delayed.

It was the first time the atholl cup had left the sunny meadows of Blair Atholl and the new venue of a goan beach proved just how far this sport has really come.

There were a host of celebrities, with amir kahan, the agger kan and shakka khan all in attendence, with a surprise appearance from the ghost of Jade Goody.

Both men looked calm and well prepared with Mathieson looking brown and slender much like the mongeese he chased in peru to train for this match, Grogan meanwhile seemed to have continued his usual regime which failed so miserably by getting pissed the night before, he however looked calm and quietly confident having his prematch marlboro.

The event started lively with a local seller of beads harassing Grogan, who was casually drinking his robinsons barley water saying he had a body with the complextion of a chicken. Such racist comment again show how much this once great sport has been scarred by racism.

The game started at a frantic pace with both men showing what little skill they had, in the first game grogan broke mathiesons server. From then on it went to service despite both players having numerous break points most of which came on their left foot which clearly for both men is just for standing on. Which leaves this writer to believe theyd both be shit if this was anything other than a two man competition. Grogan held serve to win the first set 6-4.

During the break there was more uproar as the ghost of jade goody was evicted after accusing the bead lady of smelling like curry. At this point mathieson pulled his tongue out of long suffering girlfriend bertha sharapova's mouth to chivalrously admit he had just farted out his breakfast veg thali.

The match continued and with the heat bearing down on both men Grogan began to look more and more like a chicken tikka. The match again had to be stopped as a pungent smell of vinegar. salt and tomato soup, caused a disruption it seemed to be coming from bertha sharapovas direction but she seemed not to notice the [problem as she was being somewhat overfriendly with the local stray dogs.

As the heat continued to mount Grogan seemed to wilt especially after the kingfisher beer it seemed hair of the dog would not work as he went down 4-1 in the second set. Miraculously he was saved by a heavily pregnant cow taking an interest in the proceedings. The match was then postponed for a later date. However it never was reschedules as grogan using some skullduggery refused to leave his beach hut toilet his trainer was quoted as saying " he's not coming out cos hes scared he'll murudd his pants"

Mathieson also went down to injury as a toxic rash appeared over his body and looked like someone had just vomited cherry tomatoes on his neck. Because of this the umpire had no choice but to award the trophy 1-0 to Grogan.

A delighted Allan said," Wow this is unbelievable, I want to thank God, my Kashid posse and the cow for saving my neck cos i was knackered. Also big thanks to Jade Goody's ghost her arrival meant i wasnt the whitest person there."

A peeved mathieson seemed less happy about the decision. "He's a jammy b****rd he's lucky that was a cow and not a bull cos he looked as red as a ferrari sports car I would have loved to see el torro chase after that fried chicken, then he would have muruded himself."

Fried chicken or not Grogan is the new Atholl cup champion. There is now some confusion over where the next atholl cup will be played with Antarctica, Napoli and Carnoustie beach the favourites to host it.

Written by Ranjid Singh for the Mumbai Mirror.

From An Ache For The Distance
One of the many cows causing sporting havoc on Goa's beaches...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Across the Plains - India

"What is your name?" Asked the Indian guy opposite me through a vigorous moustache.
"Stuart." I yelled, over the din of the train.
"What country you belong?" Shouted the tash.
I decided to answer with unusual honesty, "Scotland."
"What you think of Lennon?"
"Lenin the Russian or John Lennon from the Beatles?" I asked, a little taken aback by the unusual direction of the conversation.
"Yes..." Nodded the tash.
A smiling silence ensued.

With this I knew it would, linguistically, be a tough conversation. With only a few steps away from the tourist trail, English as an official language in India becomes a novel idea and, when posed with a question they don't understand, an Indian will simply offer a polite "yes," a head wiggle and a reassuring smile, as if to say "don't worry Gora, I know exactly what I'm saying yes to..."

As we waved goodbye to the polyglot tuk tuk drivers of Varanasi, we were doing so with only the vaguest idea of what lay ahead. Little did we realise that the tourist trail across central India is little more than a goat track across a misty, fern covered hillside (that last reference being a warning to those hillwalking in Scotland!).

Four hours after we left the Ganges' tuk tuk drivers, cars were stopping on the streets of Allahabad as two tourists meandered along seeking out the local sights. In the evening, diners were brought to a jaw-dropping halt as we walked into a local restaurant and the following morning at the train station, children gawped with a mixture of fear and inquisitiveness as I stood on the platform munching samosas for breakfast.

In a second class carriage somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, not only was I asked about my opinion on Lennon/Lenin but anything we did, from opening a book to me scratching my arse, led to a swarm of curious, smiling onlookers and camera phones being pointed in our direction. In the space of 3 hours, we had achieved celebrity status within the train carriage and, when the time finally came for us to disembark, it was with many a handshake and sincere looks of sadness from our new found fans.

We wandered out of the station, into the dusty urban hole of Satna, and sought out some bus station bound transport. We quickly organised a spluttering trip across town in a wheezing antique tuk tuk and were soon faced with dozens of screaming bus touts in a giant dust bowl. Sporting a fresh layer of sweat and dust, we booked ourselves onto a local bone rattler heading for the tourist sanctuary of Khajuraho, home to India's openly filthy, Kamasutra clad temples. However, our presence in the station soon caused a further stir as some people boarded our stationary bus simply to stare at the two Goras and, just before we departed, one enthralled obserever asked for my autograph across the palm of his hand.

We spent three or four days in Khajuraho enjoying the small town atmosphere, watching kids fishing in the lake, cycling through the surrounding countryside, taking sex tips from the one thousand year old temple carvings and avoiding the numerous touts plying everything from Kashmiri shawls to shawls from Kashmir.

Once refreshed, we started the long haul towards the coast which, due to Lana's extreme phobia, would be conducted entirely by bus. That doesn't sounds too bad, especially considering the genius of sleeper coaches with double beds, until you consider the state of Indian roads. Despite the presence of tarmac, the highways provide an authentic experience of what it would have been like to drive across the Somme in 1916. They also offer Indians a good chance to observe tourists at first hand and, when they've had a beer or two, try and get a little closer.

Whilst on a midnight snack and toilet stop, a random Indian pisshead boarded the bus and tried his hand at a conversation, a considerable challenge considering his lack of English and swollen alcohol tongue. After a few minutes of unsuccessful chat, Rab C Sanjeet decided to see if proximity was the problem and climbed the little ladder to our bed until his face was well within the intimacy zone. He then proceeded to touch my hair whilst murmuring "hairstyle" and then slobbered a wet kiss on Lana's hand. It took a loud "Fuck Off!" before he decided that perhaps he wasn't as welcome in our bed as he'd hoped.

We recovered from the trampoline bus bed experience the next night in Bhopal, a town which 25 years ago was accidentally gassed by an American factory leading to thousands of deaths, and which today feels as far from a tourist destination as perhaps central Baghdad. We checked bus times at the station, stopping people in their tracks. We walked along the street, perusing a woman's small jewellery stall and drew in a crowd of at least twenty onlookers. We went into a local bar offering possibly the cheapest draught beer in all of India and had our photos taken with at least ten other drinkers as well as one guy saying he would remember the day he met us forever. Celebrity status had well and truly returned.

However, the swirling dust and clammer of central Indian cities offered little appeal and, after Bhopal, it was another twenty hours worth of bus travel before we were finally reached Bollywood and the Arabian sea. Mumbai could wait, there were beaches waiting for us...

From An Ache For The Distance
Beers in Bhopal

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Varanasi - India

Ten hours of fear, sometimes rising into sheer panic with rushes of blood to the head, tears rolling down cheeks and murmurs of praying for it to be over. That was Lana's experience of the Delhi - Varanasi express train. Why? Cockroaches...

For the hundreds of other passengers scoffing samosas and slurping soup, the roving roaches weren't worth a glance but for the lady with roachaphobia, Lana had one of the most petrified, enclosed nights of her life as they scuttled everywhere from the bathroom floor to the bed sheets we slept in.

I spent the best part of an hour standing by her bunk trying to portray Colin the cockroach in a friendly light but it was like telling a cow loving Indian that he should try a Big Mac. I had no chance. In the end, we slept on the lower bunk together with me acting as a kind of cockroach barrier and although we did eventually manage a few hours sleep, Lana was still in a state of mild panic until we set foot on the platform at Varanasi.

In fact, when her little flip flops finally took her off the train, such was her relief that she failed to notice the two stalkers we had picked up after less than 15 seconds in the station. They didn't exactly show KGB levels of stealth as they plodded along in front of us, stopping when we stopped and occasionally throwing a brief glance. But they also went out of their way to avoid any direct eye contact and tried to make out as if they weren't interested in us and were merely enjoying the ambience of the loud, jostling station. It wasn't until we neared the exit that one stalker scampered over and whispered, "Hello, you need auto-rickshaw?" A question which immediately infuriated his companion. Within 60 seconds, not only did this lead to a heated argument, but also a bout a fisty-cuffs, thus completing the perfect Monty Python stalker sketch.

We skirted the squabble and opted for a bespectacled tuk tuk man who, with minimal haggling, weaved us through 10km worth of Varanasi traffic, to the southern end of the bathing ghats on the Ganges. However the beginning, set the tone for the entire 3 or 4 days in Varanasi. Crazy tuk tuk drivers, traffic clogged streets and constant followers offering everything from help to hard drugs. Serious brain overload...

Any longer than two hours out among the chaos meant slow mental shut down. It sounds quite extreme but in less than five minutes, on a Varanasi street, you will have 15 offers of tuk tuks, 10 offers of cyclerickshaws, 10 people ask where you are from and what your name is, you will hear a constant pumped up version of Ghandis symphony no.3 (the car horn concerto), you will step in at least 4 different types of shit and you will narrowly avoid two fatal traffic accidents. And that's not including the obstacle course posed by the cows, pigs, donkeys, horses and chickens.

As such, chilled out sightseeing was needed to prevent mental meltdown. An early morning boat-trip up the Ganges to enjoy the sunrise and see the pilgrims bathing in the poo-infested, holy river was first on the cards. After reading that there are 1.5 million faecal particles per 100ml of Ganges water, I didn't actually believe people went into the river, let alone attempt to wash in there, but they do. Every plunge likely taking a couple of months off thier SAGA holidays. Despite this, every morning the ghats are lined with people dousing themselves with the brown water and worshipping the rising sun.

We disembarked at Harishchandra ghat where, daily, between 250 and 300 bodies are cremated, filling the Ganges with yet more funk. As we arrived, nobody was performing the "I can fit in an ashtray" trick but, without sounding too hippy about it, the death vibes were strong. Lana, freshly recovered from the cockroaches, freaked out once again after seeing piles of hair shaven from the dead and I became claustrophobic when surrounded by nothing but stacks of firewood, the only way out being a narrow lane into the old town, which wasn't any better.

Varanasi's old city is a bewildering maze of metre wide alleyways, a place where you can easily get lost and not see the sun for a full hour. In addition, the walls of the lanes around the burning ghat are adourned with photographs of the recently deceased, a dangerous combination for a couple suffering from claustraphobia and deathaphobia. It was a long, frustrating half hour before we found our way out and back into the hectic world of "Hello sir, rickshaw?" All in all, a failed attempt at chilled out sightseeing.

Over the next couple of days we tried to chill out in Varanasi but generally, it just didn't work. We spent an hour or so watching monkeys fight and fornicate in a small temple but were hassled the whole way there by every Indian with a set of wheels for hire. We tried to explore the muslim quarter but without success, in hindsight it was a stupid idea to take a blond Russian through streets filled with sex-starved males.

In the end, we gave up. Our final 24 hours in Varanasi were spent in a colonial style hotel on the edge of town, splashing in the pool, puffing on shisha and enjoying a break from the chaos. A bus to Allahabad was next on the cards...

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Transition - India

Hindi Speaker, "Usne banduk si chiriyaan maaree!" (He killed the bird with a gun!)
McTourist, "...sorry, what? I don't speak Hindi. English?"
Hindi Speaker, "Vah ek saptahh men mar jaaegaa..." (He will die within a week)
McTourist, "Good good, yeah..."
Lana, "What did he say?"
McTourist, "I dunno, probably wanted money..."

I needed a phrasebook...

Lost among some dusty shelves of a backstreet bookshop, I had narrowed my choices down to two possibilities, one from Lonely Planet and one by an Indian fella looking to dispense his linguistic wisdom.

I spent the best part of twenty minutes weighing up the pros and cons of each before finally settling for the Indian guy. I'd like to be able to say that it was his useful content (as used above) or his finely worded introduction which won me over, with titbits such as,

"Tourist traffic in India is increasing day-by-day. This book will prove handy for them and they will learn Hindi in a couple of days..."

"Therefore it is essential for every foreigner to have a workable knowledge of Hindi to get through the everyday ordeal of communication." And so on...

But, with a car and driver to pay for, our budget was in need of some David Cameron style cuts and consequently, the fifty rupee price difference was the big decider. We were about to go solo again after two weeks of flashpacking around Rajasthan and every rupee was being counted.

It was a long drive from Bikaner in Western Rajasthan and, as we passed through the dust cloud of outer Delhi and rumbled once again through the bumpy streets to Connaught Place and central Delhi, I had that "end of a chapter" feeling. For fifteen days we had been whisked from city to city in air-conditioned comfort, deposited in nice hotels, taken to the sites and were generally living in a tourist bubble. Suddenly it was all over and we would be left to fend for ourselves...but not before a chicken party!

Sunday afternoon, Lucky & Lucky (two Indian drivers, both called Lucky...) picked us up at the hotel and together we dodged the traffic in the direction of Halal Straße for some muslim friendly chicken. There, two squeamish tourists and three Indians witnessed the murder of a chook called Charlie. I named him for the sake of rememberance.

Charlie was plucked from his cage, twirled into an upside down, dangling from the feet position and allowed one last look at the world, albeit the wrong way up. Disorientated, it's unclear whether or not he saw the knife coming but, even if he did, he wasn't exactly in a position to flap it away from his throat. Bleeding from the neck, he was thrown into a bucket where he spent his last moments in a kind of poultry pogo, rocking the bucket violently as life slowly drained away. Less than five minutes later, Charlie was ready to be curried.

We headed to Lucky's place, after the obligatory English Wine Shop detour, where and he and his father cooked up a tasty Charlie masala. We washed it all down with cold kingfishers and another bottle of Vodsky, acquired through unknown means. Due to the latter, the afternoon flew by and a few photos can be seen on the posting "A Sunday Afternoon in Delhi."

The following day, we attempted the impossible and tried to buy a train ticket at Delhi station. The guidebook warned of touts, scamsters, fraudsters and commission rackets that abound and so there was a slight feeling of apprehension as we boarded the metro in the direction of New Delhi station. En route we were seperated into male and female carriages and as it was morning rush hour, the metro was similar to that of Japan where platform officials shove passengers inside in order to close the doors. At one point I was forced into a standard "where you from?" conversation with a Sikh guy, as Delhi transport broke the Geneva convention on personal airspace and his wirey beard tickled my eyebrows between stations.

After a brief farewell, I squeezed out of the carriage and we weaved our way through the scores of female Nepalese soldiers guarding important parts of the central station against possible "anti-Commonwealth Games" terrorism, although if their positioning is anything to go by, the extremists were targeting toilets, pissy concourses and dark shitty corners of Delhi's central rail hub.

Once into the main station itself, we went into a focused "ignore everyone, all Indians want to cheat you, go directly to the booking office" mode. Perhaps it was the Indian smile or perhaps it was my stupidity, all I know is that ten minutes after trying to buy a ticket to Varanasi we were in the city centre getting the hard sell on a trip to Kashmir with a tuk tuk driver outside sporting an eager commission based grin.

Mr Kashmir salesman tried everything to get us onto one of his pricey tours North, including showing us a page from the Indian rail website and saying the trains were full for the next five days. We politely declined his offer, went for a coffee, made a new plan of attack and found ourselves six hours later on an express train bound for the Ganges. The next chapter was about to begin...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Thar Desert - India

Whether it's about national borders or cricket boundaries, India and Pakistan will squabble. A deep distrust exists between the two nuclear cousins, leading both of which to deploy thousands of troops along the border and invest heavily in armaments. The Indians however, seem to be taking an unorthodox approach to military vehicles, that's if the bases around Jaisalmer are anything to go by.

Spend any time on the highways of Western Rajasthan and you could be forgiven for thinking that when the first Pakistani tanks roll across the border at the outbreak of world war three, the Indian military will likely set into plan "Operation Blitz Tuk."

Their fleet of, Jaisalmer based, camouflage painted tuk tuks will fire up lawnmower-esque engines, splutter out of some sheds, circumnavigate the smouldering bomb craters, buzz past growling tanks and make a noisy counter-attacking dash for Lahore, overcharging each soldier 20 rupees on arrival.

Those squaddies looking for a more traditional approach to local/military transport could always opt for the camel and cart, a popular alternative in India's deserts. They would however have to factor in an extra 20 minutes, in comparison to a tuk tuk, for the arrival time in Islamabad. One other negative factor is that the camels would have to be requisitioned from the hordes of tourists clumping around in the dunes of the Thar desert.

For one night, we were those camel happy tourists....

After a bumpy four hour drive from Jodhpur and a quick chai refreshment we boarded our beasts and set off through the scrub. The initial scenery was more African savanna than Indian desert as this years generous monsoon had left a sea of green in it's trail. Half an hour into the plodding I developed what scientists may call "camel crotch."

No matter how I positioned myself upon the hump, numb bum found it's way to defeat my comfort and my nether area was constantly in a kind of boxer-short strangehold. Thus, with my fatherhood chances firmly diminishing, I was inwardly ecstatic when we finally reached the dunes and hoofed our way to the top.

We spent the best part of an hour on the sandy mass, enjoying the sunset, listening to the camels fart and trying to ignore the ant-like swarm of tourists across the dune tops. When the sun finally took his hat off for the day, we were given the pleasure of another 40 minutes of camel crotch before arriving at a desert resort in the savanna for some dinner.

One drawback of a good monsoon is that it's not only the plant life that explodes after the rains but also the insect population. As the last into the outside dining area, we were left with a table next to the bathroom, the outside of which was bathing in spotlight. As you can imagine, lights in the desert are few and far between meaning every creepy crawly within a 10km radius was drawn to this solitary lightbulb. It was like being under fire.

Something actually ran into my toe under the table with such a thud that I almost jumped out of my chair. Grasshoppers were down my shirt and in Lana's hair. Large black things imitated spitfires with an engine like buzz and occasional divebombs. Long legs would brush past your ears and occasionally crawling little monsters would attempt nasal entry. It was a nightmare.

However, after a simple veggie dinner and some desert disco moves from a local woman in need of a dentist, we hopped into the back of a roofless jeep and were whisked back out to the dunes where two insect free beds awaited under one of the most stunning night skies I've seen. Lying back on the camp bed, with the gentle hum of a camels digestive system in the background, I counted three shooting stars before drifting off into a shallow coma for the night.

I was woken upon the next morning by a combination of a camel fart, a fly in my nose, Lucky snoring like an angry pitbull and a rising desert sun. What a perfect way to start the day...

From An Ache For The Distance
Morning in the desert

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Sunday Afternoon in Delhi - India

From An Ache For The Distance
The "Chicken Party" begins with a freshly butchered halal chook




From An Ache For The Distance

Time for chow


From An Ache For The Distance
An after dinner chai complete with goat in the bathroom

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Vodsky in the Sticks - India

"Every day in India, thousands of people eat with no food."

Despite the truth in it, Lucky's finely composed sentence had me tittering like a school girl. However, as the only native English speaker attending the alcohol appreciation gathering in Ranakpur, the imagery was largely lost. Although the stuff that was being quaffed by Lana, the Indian fellas and a Dutch guy didn't help either.

It was neither vodka nor whisky but apparantley something inbetween. Something which would likely fall into the "home-brew/cleaning product" category. Lucky had bought it from a oily-looking guy with a slick wave of hair, possibly styled using the alcohol, and yellow teeth, definitely because of the alcohol, in a signless doorway in a nameless town somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

The "rural" India experience was a shock to the system after a week and a half purely on the tourist trail. The previous couple of days we had spent strolling around the watery delight of post-monsoon Udaipur. Slurping on coconut juice whilst watching the sun set over the lake, strolling around the royal palace, enjoying celebrity status as locals asked for photos, chowing down on belly-swelling veg thalis and even a visit to a rather mundane vintage car museum.

But despite it's middle of nowhere status, Ranakpur offered a break from the usual traffic-logged streets of the India we'd seen so far. We decided to take the chance to get out into the countryside and go for a walk over a nearby hill to a lake with crocodiles. On the way there wasn't a single horn or screeching tuk tuk to be heard.

Instead, the silence was filled by the squelching and huffing of an unfit, perspiring Scotsman. It was easily over 35C and by the time we hauled ourselves over the hill to the lake, I had the appearance of someone who'd been attempting various swimming strokes in a shallow puddle.

Clearly put off by the overly salted aspect of the Scottish snack before them, the crocs decided we weren't worth the effort and stayed well hidden. I only know this because another couple went to the lake just after us and were actually stalked by two big papa crocs.

Thus, rejected by the reptilians, we headed back to the hotel, narrowly avoiding being pissed upon en-route by some urine happy monkeys, and settled down for an evening of beer, vodsky (my name for the home brew) and banter.

The rest is a little hazy...


From An Ache For The Distance
The crocodile lake

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Pushkar - India

Set by a lake and ringed by forest covered mountains, Pushkar is temple town of the highest order. Holy men, priests and cows meander through hot, dusty streets filled with touts and hippy trail tourists. Holy petals are offered up for the soul and marijuana for the mind. Alcohol is officially forbidden, as are kissing and eggs, but it's possible to get your hands on a beer in some places and, as we all know, where there is alcohol there's kissing...

Eggs however, are most definitely off the menu as the local council plug the chickens and employ various other anti-egg measures. The last sentence may not be entirely true but wouldn't it be a better world if it was? What the town elders actually do, is charge unsuspecting tourists a cheeky entry fee. For 5 princely rupees, a limp roadside barrier is hauled up by an underfed pensioner and you are granted access to Hinduism's holiest, and possibly dustiest, city.

Ten rupees lighter, we rolled under the midday sun into town, wound or way down a long dusty, egg-free track peppered with camels and cow shit, and were deposited in the tranquil gardens of the Prem Villas hotel. After a bit of banter with Pawan the manager and a promise to give his pranayam yoga a bash, we dumped our bags and headed to the markets for a wander.

Central Pushkar is a walking heaven compared to other Indian towns. For Indian town planners, the concept of a pavement is as abstract as the smell of unicorn shit. Pushkar however has a small centre where pedestrians have equal rights with the cows, motorbikes and scooters. We spent an hour in amongst the colourful stalls and stores selling everything from books to banana lhassis, before we found a little rooftop restaurant with a view over the lake. It was just what the travel doctor ordered and when we hit the streets again it was with full stomachs and a springy pedestrian step.

But Pushkar is also a place where you shouldn't get too ahead of yourself. Just because your feeling spritely, it doesn't mean everyone else is. A holy four-legged beef steak decided to teach me this when I failed to move out of his way with enough haste. Instead of politely mooing me out of the way, Billy Beef thought it best to headbutt me into a doorway before continuing with his holy plodding. No damage done but a valuable lesson learnt, never disturb the path of holy beef.

We spent what was left of the day, relaxing in the cow-free hotel garden and quaffing banana lhassis in the late afternoon heat. The next day continued in pretty much the same fashion but with occasional blasts of air-conditioning as the electricity connection was reestablished for brief 20 minute periods. It was lazyness personified but by sunset we were getting restless.

Thus, we hopped into the car just as the sky was turning a pinky orange and headed to an "English Wine Shop" (note: wine not sold) on the outskirts of town to buy some forbidden beers. Once laden with sweaty bottles of Kingfisher, we made tracks for the Pushkar Palace rooftop restaurant. There, we feasted on chapati, poppadoms, curry and beer and 5 hours later my backside was firmly planted upon the porcelain throne, with a bucket in front of me, as I experienced my first, violently sudden, case of Delhi belly. I won't go into detail but lets just say I didn't even have time to look for the lightswitch.

Eight o'clock the following morning, Lana, myself and a grumbling stomach were given a crash course in "pranayam," i.e. an "oooing" and "aaahhhhing" breathing thing. It's something between meditation and yoga and can apparantley cure thousands of diseases and prevent malaria or dengue fever. Under normal circumstances I would have been a keen listener but a nervousness brought about by the slightest abdominal pressure meant that angry stomach took all my attention.

We checked out of the Pushkar hotel that morning, but not before Lana had painted some flowers on the wall at reception and I'd packed the bags, ensuring the toilet paper was sitting ready in my pocket... It was a long road to Udaipur...

Day 7 - Delhi Belly (positive)

From An Ache For The Distance

Monday, 4 October 2010

Agra to Jaipur - India

India is now officially in tourist season as the monsoon ends and the temperatures drop, but as we left Agra after visiting the Taj Mahal, the 40C with 300% humidity felt more like the face of the sun than "the cooler winter months" promised by the guidebook. With heat like this, my forehead in India has the constant appearance of a supersoaker firing range and I've slowly had to accept the small puddle that has formed a permanent water feature at the bottom of my back.

Aquatics aside, after leaving Agra we hit the highway in the direction of Jaipur. En-route we stopped at an alleged "ghost town" with a mosque asking for €5 entry fee. It's highly unlikely that anyone from Tourism India is reading this, but if you are, please note that your ghost town is neither ghostly nor town-like and is in fact just a pile of stones. I was expecting something like that little village in France that still stands empty after the Germans came to pay their respects. Instead, we were faced with the foundations of a village, which we were forbidden to walk around, and a mosque on top of a hill filled with clucking French tourists. The expression "tourist trap" springs to mind, and the number of persistant touts would probably confirm this idea.

*N.B. Between these two paragraphs, a bird shit on my foot. The strange part being, my foot is under a table, there's a roof over my head and there are no birds around...Incredible India...I mean it looks like bird shit...Maybe the mozzies are bigger than I thought?*

We retereated from the mosque's ticket counter, €5 better off, and back to the car with hopes for the next stop, the monkey temple. Two hours later, somewhere in the hills of Rajasthan, we found ourselves in a village, ruled by primates, built onto the side of a hill. It looked like the kind of place where Lara Croft would burst out of a doorway, backward roll, starjump, forward roll, and slap an ape across the face. Clearly that's Monty Python Tomb Raider but you get the idea of the temple.

We bought some nuts, and spent an hour or so at the whim of the monkey gods. Most of the inhabitants were friendly and hospitable, especially after being bribed with a nut, but one mother took a disliking to me after her little one got shoved by another monkey and missed out on a nut. Clearly this was my fault and mama monkey came toward me with a war cry and a look that suggested eye gouging intent. Seconds before she had her hairy fingers in my sockets, the monkeyman (a real man with a self-given title) who was speaking with Lana, stepped in front and stopped her with a human/monkey grunt. This did the trick but mama monkey still wanted my blood and so I backed away slowly, throwing nuts in the opposite direction. We arrived safely, without monkey injury, an hour later in Jaipur.

The next day, after another fine rooftop breakfast of chai, toast, omlette and butter suffering from sunstroke, we went out to the edge of Jaipur and marvelled at the steady stream of elephant taxis, trafficking sunburnt westerners up to the hilltop palace of shiny shiny. The real name is something a tad more official but I never found out as we didn't go in. We opted to watch the elephant taxis instead. And, in defence of my cultural ignorance, in Europe we've got plenty of history with palaces and forts but elephant taxis... a little thin on the ground around Hamburg.

After photographing the tuskless monsters from every possible, respectable angle, we made tracks in the direction of Jaipur's bazaars. A fatal decision. Indian traffic is fantastically chaotic but when channeled down narrow lanes, everything simply comes to a crunching standstill. We spent several small lifetimes, waiting behind motionless tuk tuks, slowly choking to death on exhaust fumes and after only 30 minutes, it becamee too much to handle. We bailed out, pansy tourist style, and went back to the hotel.

That night, desperate to avoid traffic but experience something at the same time, we were formally introduced to the world of Bollywood...

Day 6 - Delhi Belly (negative aside from a few rumblings)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Bollywood Experience

"It is just like sitting in a big cake..." That was the clinching sentence that made me book tickets for "Dabangg" in Jaipur's "Cake Cinema." I just hoped Lucky, our driver, didn't mean Dundee cake.

Bollywood produces hundreds of films each year and draws in regular cinema audiences numbering millions. Most of the films follow the same love, violence, family problems, sing and dance genre in order to satisfy the majority of a 1.1 billion viewer market and in Jaipur, I began my Bollywood education with a standard Hindi comedy called "Dabangg."

Dabangg roughly translated is something like undefeatable, which made sense considering the main character, a cross between a beefed-up, Indian Freddy Mercury and the policeman from The Village People, was largely invincible. The main man also inspired whoops and cheers from the cinema audience when he first came onto the screen, including one guy next to me who let out a bizarre Mohican war cry to show his approval of the characters appearance.

I suppose any character who can bust the Bollywood dance moves, harmonise the Hindi hymns, battle with the bad guys matrix style, dodge bullets, laugh after being stabbed and rip off his shirt with his expanding hulk-esque muscles at the sight of his dead mothers inhaler, deserves to be cheered and applauded when he blesses the screen.

He was also able to woo any lady he thought worthy of his charms and was a perfect gentleman when, after falling through a roof into a bedroom, he was faced with a young damsel with her collarbones exposed. It's possible that lesser men feel certain urges at the sight of such a fine neckline, but not Mr Dabangg. His finest party piece however, which would only be possible in India, was to kill the main bad guy using tractor exhaust fumes. A moment of pure genius…

In Bollywood films there's also often an "item song." This song has absolutely nothing to do with the film and is instead just a chance for a bit of a singalong and for the men in the audience to continue the whooping and cheering as a sexy Bollyood bellydancer belts out a Hindi classic to the beats.

But despite the howling males, Indian cinema is a place for the whole family. There were grannies, toddlers, new born babies and even a couple of birds in the expansive auditorium enjoying the hero-led tale. And, halfway through the 3-hour odyssey, a 20 minute interval is provided where 500 numb bums can stock up on popcorn, coke, samosas and chai (Indian masala tea). Thus everyone is catered for.

From An Ache For The Distance
Interval

From An Ache For The Distance
Keeping it traditional

As for the inside cake aspect, the cinema had an ornate 1920's feel about it, although the carpets may have been there since the British Raj, and the lighting was either a soft green or yellow which, I suppose, would be Indian cakey. We would probably be classified as the topping as, yet again, our white skinned glamour status meant that we were filmed by locals with their phones. And on that note, if the person who filmed me dribbling coke down my chin is reading this, I would like to see that video...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Delhi to Agra - India

The room phone rings, unusual considering firstly I wasn't expecting a call and secondly a phone is an unusual commodity for me in a hotel. I answer hesitantly,

Tourist: "Hello?"
Telephone: "Hello sir."
Tourist: "Hello..."
Telephone: "Hello sir. It is being room service sir."
Tourist: "Uh huh..."
Telephone: "Hello sir?"
Tourist: "Yeah, hello..."
Telephone: "Hello sir, it is being room service sir."
Tourist: "Uh...OK...But I didn't order anything..."
Telephone: "OK sir, no problem, I will be thank you sir."

India is hectic, chaotic, dirty, sweaty and jam packed but at the same time a daily source of Monty Python comments, scenes and conversations. It's difficult not to smile. An example from a few days ago, after months of seeing the "Incredible India" adverts on CNN whilst at work, I couldn't help but guffaw when, whilst stuck in traffic, a passenger in a jeep next to us rolled down his window and spat out a hefty amount of inner fluids, all of which splattered across the side of our car. Lucky, our driver, simply turned around and said, "You see, that is why India is so incredible..."

Anyhow, after the luxury sightseeing, we decided to continue with the flashpacking by booking a two week jaunt around Rajastan with a car and driver. It's worked out to be €35 per person per day with car, driver and hotels, which is a tad over budget but worth it considering the size of Lanas bag and the extra titbits that we'll see along the way. It also means that by the time we're back in Delhi, some of the monsoon floods will hopefully have disappeared and we won't need rafts to reach Kathmandu.

As such, we dined on another curry and japati rooftop breakfast in Delhi before hitting the road in the direction of Agra. En-route we passed through the dusty, industrial pit that is outer Delhi and witnessed shopping centres, slums and car show rooms all side by side. The poverty in India is extreme but it's harder when an abundance of wealth is shining in the middle of a tarpaulin and twig housing area and hungry children stumble around in the dust near McDonalds. Once out of the city, the scene became cheerier. Cows on the highway, four to a motorbike and typical Indian chaos.

From An Ache For The Distance
A moment of calm on the road to Agra as a hippy is transported from the 60's

After 3 hours, we reached Agra, checked into the hotel and went for a wander. Within the space of half an hour we were asked by at least 25 rickshaw, autoricksahw and taxi drivers if we wanted to go to the Taj Mahal. A malnourished horse, surely only hours from death, was offered up as a ride to the Taj. We witnessed a man running across the street with something burning in his hands, more cows blocking the buses, child labour first hand as kids polished metal on the streets and a couple of tipped tuk tuks with guys repairing the engines using cloth and grease. I'm telling you, this country is chaos...

We slept that night in icey conditions, as the hotel's air conditioning was a centralised system with one arctic temperature for the whole building, and woke up to the prospect of the Taj Mahal with mild hypothermia. The drive through Agra at 6am was like a romanticised version of India as a misty haze blanketed the city and the streets were largely empty, except for a sprinkling of cows and dogs. We were dropped off outside the complex and had to walk the last half kilometre. Since 1994, polluting vehicles have been banned from from going within 500 metres of the Taj as the white marble was slowly being discoloured by the Indian smog. As such it's a long walk fighting off touts, hawkers, sellers and rickshaw drivers.

At the ticket counter and security checks, it's typical Indian organised chaos and we ended up with a 10 year old called Sanjeet acting as an unofficial helper. He turned out to be a little gem and so I gave him a few rupees as well as making a little deal. I gave him 10 rupees and told him to buy some postcards. Afterwards, if we saw him again, I promised I would buy the postcards from him for 100 rupees (€2). If we didn't see him again then it didn't matter as it was my money he spent and he could always sell them to other tourists. It was a win-win situation for him and possibly a business lesson at the same time. Later in the day, we did manage to find him again and we did buy the postcards but immediately afterwards, he tried the hard sell with his fridge magnets and keyrings, so in reality he probably needs no lessons from me. To the little fellas credit though, after I'd convinced him I had no fridge for the magnet and no keys for the ring, he gave me a keyring for free anyway, to say thanks.

The Taj itself lived up to expectations. The whole two hours we spent there I never lost the feeling that I was looking at a postcard or some kind of stage backdrop. It was photogenic perfection and somehow unreal. It didn't matter what angle I saw it from, it always offered that same feeling as the car drive of romanticised India. Even the river that runs behind the back of the Taj wouldn't look out of place in the Jungle Book. The whole scene was simply phenomenal and worth every rupee. The only slightly concerning aspect of the whole thing were the Indian tourists wanting photos with us. Various prints are now being slid into Indian families photo albums beside captions such as,

"This is me with a white man at the Taj"
"This is me touching the arm of a Scottish guy"
"This is me with his Russian girlfriend"
"This is me shaking the hand of the Russian girlfriend"
"This is our family with a Russian woman and a man from Yugoslavia" (I often lie about my nationality)
"This is our family with two white people"

And, in addition to the photos are the camcorders and phone videos, daily! A strange process when the tourist becomes the attraction...

Day 4 - Delhi Belly (negative)

From An Ache For The Distance

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Delhi India - The Beginning

Imagine the situation, Olga and Nikolai go carpet shopping somewhere in deepest darkest Siberia. They buy a lovely "Amber de Antalya" number and bundle it onto the roof of the Lada. On the drive home, they don't bother discussing how they will lay it, what furniture will need to be moved or even whether or not they should take their shoes of now before entering the house.

Why? Because in Russia, carpet is what goes on the walls. As such, words to the effect of, "Oh my God, there's carpet on the floor..." were Lana's first in India. The cultural revelation will be profound I thought to myself.

Half an hour later, once the carpet novelty had faded, we found ourselves in the reception of a hotel in a backstreet slum. Maybe slum is a little hard but the streets we went up to get there were barely wide enough to two people to pass each other, the ground was a piss-smelling sludge and in the dim light, things could be seen scuttling. Whilst waiting for the receptionist, I could see Lana wishing she were back marvelling the floor carpet and, when the first cockroach whooshed past her foot, I knew we had problems.

Ten minutes later we were in a slightly more upmarket hotel looking at another room. Lana spotted something dark on the bed and moved in closer to inspect. However the Indian porter had also clocked the new guest and decided to throw a pillow at it whilst reassuring us with, "It's only a mosquito, honest!" The mosquito scuttled down the back of the bed...

Credit though to the folks at the Hindustan hotel as in the end they gave us the room for free, seeing as it was 4am. I passed out around 6am after trying to reassure Lana that the cockroaches wouldn't eat her but she held an all night vigil against any encroaching roach. Thus, with bleary eyes, the next morning we hauled our bags around in search of a cockroach free establishment. We eventually found a fantastic place through the guidebook but not before I had built up a serious, shirt soaking sweat and Lana went ankle deep in a monsoon mud puddle.

Despite finding a fantastic hotel, which incidentally leaves a copy of the "Times of India" outside the door in the morning (I'm easily impressed), the day still went down the pan. We tried to visit the Red Fort but were fucked about by the Tuk Tuk driver, even after I shouted a round of samosas. He took us to the arse of the building, told us it was closed and then whisked us to Connaught Place in the city centre to conduct some dodgy deals. The day ended with a 6.30pm bedtime.

The following day was much better. Newspaper at the door. Breakfast on the roof. Guided tour of the city with a car and driver. Brief stint on a rickshaw with a finely bearded old fella showing that you don't have to retire at 67. Enough temples, gardens and monuments to break a lonely planet writers wrist. Hundreds of hellos and funny looks from curious locals along with the occasional photo (Indians taking photos of us that is!) and to top it all off, 32C and sunshine.

End of day 2 - Delhi Belly (negative)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Travel Limbo - Istanbul

I've never travelled with a laptop before but I have to admit, it doesn't half help with those hours of airport limbo. Albeit the larger than large beer I ordered to accompany the free internet is posing a distinct liquidy threat to the computer as it drizzles over the keyboard everytime I feel my liver isn't working hard enough. But with 3 hours to kill in Istanbul's Atatürk airport, it's a small price to pay.

However, I do have a strange personal record which may be heading down the toilet, quite literally, if I keep up with these 700ml beers. Although I've been to Australia twice, I've never used a toilet on an aeroplane... I should actually take a prostate pride moment after writing that...

...*moment*...

But yeah, despite never visiting a john in the sky over 7 years of intermittent travelling, I think that the Delhi flight might be a cherry breaker. A bathroom plaque would be in order I'd say! And I would also go as far to say that Turkish airlines would consider "plaquing" the toilet on my behalf, especially after experiencing the honest, down-to-earth nature of the airline this morning.

While most airlines try culinary seduction on their passengers, the Turks opt for a more honest approach. Upon the menu card for the in-flight meal were a variety of options ranging from veggie friendly, lactose free, gluten free, hindi-friendly , Turkish titbits and finally the refreshingly blunt "Bland Meal."

Designed for those with digestive and/or chewing problems, the bland meal had me thinking "hmmmm, why not?" And although there were no official meal details, the idea of an English woman at the back of the plane, boiling the life out of potatoes and carrots, had me contemplating ordering just to savour the "tastelessness" before 3 months of curry. In reality however, we didn't get a choice and I was instead forced to enjoy ravioli. Damn the Italians!

Anyway, the beer is coming to an end, my fingers are losing coordination and the prospect of losing my toilet cherry is weighing heavy on the mind.

Next stop Delhi!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Auf Wiedersehen Hamburg

The final night in Hamburg...Two years ago I rolled into town with a backpack, an attempt at a bushy beard, single, perhaps because of the aforementioned, and an iPod full of kiwi tunes. Tonight, I find myself on an air bed surrounded by a mountain of bags, sporting neatly trimmed chin fluff, Russian girlfriend by my side, probably not because of the aforementioned, and an iPod influenced by the Germans...

After two years, I'm thankful to Hamburg. I'm thankful for the German I've learnt. I'm thankful for the beard trimmer I bought here. I'm thankful for the city letting me practice my English teaching on it's unsuspecting populace. I'm thankful for the lessons learnt with German women. And I'm thankful for Hamburg reaffirming my mother's lessons of "it's rude to stare!" If anyone from Hamburg is reading this, when you're on the train, stop staring! It doens't matter how bored you are, look somewhere else!

But the time has come for pastures new. Or maybe "ponds a new," seeing as the pastures are flooded. The river in Delhi is currently 2 metres above the official "danger mark," according to the Times of India. The prolonged monsoon means that much of low lying Delhi is flooded, Dengue fever cases are on the up (2,296 cases as of Sunday) and various other headlines inspire hope for the start of the India trip,

Two foreigners injured in firing near Jama Masjid in Delhi

Rapist school cab driver attacked by angry kin

Mentally unwell woman locked up in dirty room for 3 years rescued

Four held for killing jeweller in N-W Delhi

Woman found murdered in Paharganj (Paharganj is where our hotel is!)

Drunk man arrested for parking car on rail track

The last headline being light news...

But, despite these heart-warmers from the last four days in Delhi, there is good news. The BBC weather report, has for the first time in weeks, predicted a sunny day in Delhi for this coming Sunday! Flips flops ready, sunnies packed and with a generous smattering of mozzie repellent, Delhi belly here we come...

Die Ärtze, spreading the feel good vibes...(skip the first minute)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

India Preparation - Newspaper Research

I can already picture myself, sitting on a Darjeeling rooftop, a view to the Himalayas, a hot chai and a copy of the excellently named Hindustan Times. With a name like that, images of turban-clad, heavily bearded journalists slaving over Raj-era typewriters in a yellowing office in a Calcutta backstreet are conjured up.

Or the tabloid antithesis, the Mumbai Mirror brings to mind chai wallahs oggling over sexy, thigh flashing Bollywood stars. Thighs only mind, it is India after all!

However cliched your perspective might be, newspapers can offer a fantastic insight into a country's mentality. A headline in the Sydney Herald, "Kiwis Call Tait A Chucker" is a 5 worded lesson in Australian culture. From this you learn that Aussies & Kiwis have a somewhat provocative relationship and that although they speak English down under, very often you won't have the slightest idea what they're talking about!

I once read a story in Singapore's Straits Times about police being called out to a peaceful demonstration by a group of Burmese protestors. Within the article was the fantastic line "police were forced to take down the protesters particulars." Not only does it tell you that not much happens in Singapore but also that the British were once here taking down particulars too.

Over breakfast this morning, I found myself reading The Times of India online. In the Delhi section, between flooding problems and increased cases of dengue fever, was a little article about the city's metro system. In preparation for next months Commonwealth Games, the city government is improving the metro system. Nothing overly noteworthy in that until they give exact details.

Apparantley trains on some lines will be running every 2 minutes, or to be exact 2.26 minutes! I know Indians love their trains but I would bet that behind those 26 seconds of preciseness is a German!

Times of India
Metro trains every 2 mins on some routes for CWG rush

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Australia 2007 - An Aimless Day at Hervey Bay

With less than two weeks until the big India trip kicks off, I found myself reminiscing previous adventures and reading a blog post from 2007. More specifically, one from the four weeks of travelling and writing in Australia with the worldnomads campervan. This morning, the laptop was given some stylish coffee stains as I guffawed at my own, 3 year old observations. Sad but true...


Hervey Bay, 17th December 2007

I wake up, yet again, at 7.30am. I feel like a Christmas turkey on slow-bake. As soon as the morning sun is high enough to reach the top of the van, the velcro type material on the ceiling takes on the attributes of a nuclear oven. Every morning it’s a struggle contorting myself out of the coffin-like top bunk and out into the fresh air.


Today’s picturesque scene that I stumble out of the van to is Torquay beach at Hervey Bay. After a minute or two of adjusting to the light, wiping the evenings drool from my face and then taking in the beachfront scenery, I start to think about what to do today. Using your brain at this time of the morning is difficult enough but it slowly dawns on me that I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself here.


Hervey Bay is the jumping off point for trips to Fraser Island and also a good area for whale watching. However the whales are on their summer holidays at the moment, I’m not too sure where but probably somewhere with cheap fish and plenty of good-looking lady whales, and Fraser Island is off the cards for two reasons. Firstly, for matters of a fiscal nature and secondly because I need to leave some new things to see when I next come back to Australia.


So with Fraser Island now on my “to do” list, joining other notable spots such as Karijini, the Bungle Bungles & Kakadu, I start my aimless day by heading to the campsite office to pay for the nights accommodation. I’m greeted by a wrinkly hag who has a receding hairline and all the friendliness of a Gestapo trained Alsatian. She does, however, have reason to be pissed off as she barks down the phone to Dave, “They’ve put a fack’n peg through the bloody water mains again…” I’m left wondering whether Australians have the longest tent pegs in the world or if perhaps they should have laid the pipes a little deeper.


Encouraged by my first interesting encounter of the day, I head into town to hunt down some breakfast. I settle for some gigantic bananas, the fluffiest white rolls you’ve ever seen and a mandatory iced coffee. I grab a copy of The Australian and head down to the beach for a munch and a read.

As I’m trying to decipher the main sport headline, “Kiwis Call Tait a Chucker,” and the reasons behind why it’s souring relations between the two nations, a man with a shiny bald head swims into my field of vision. He’s about 20 metres out and swimming in a line parallel to the beach. He’s the only person in the water and the longer I watch him the louder the Jaws theme tune plays in my head. I start to envisage the reconstruction of the scene for the TV documentary on shark attacks with me as the main witness, my 15 minutes of fame at shiny heads expense. I decide it’s a price worth paying and start scanning the watery horizon in the hope of spotting a tell tale fin. Once again though, my toothy friend fails to make an appearance and I retire back to the campsite, albeit feeling a tad guilty for wishing harm on shiny head.


I spend the rest of the morning with my feet up and do my best to become accustomed to my new status as a man of leisure. Doing nothing is more difficult than you’d imagine and, in my opinion, achieving a status of contentment through merely sitting on your arse is a skill in itself. However, once achieved, there comes a point when you do have to extract yourself from your vegetative state and go out into the world.


I head out onto the main drag and plod along before finding myself in a second hand bookshop, chatting with an extremely spherical gentleman who sports a superbly bushy, white moustache. He starts off the conversation with, “I bet you’re glad you’re not in France, they use bloody horse fat for frying the chips in McDonalds...” and this sets the tone for the ensuing fact filled conversation over the next 5 minutes. He tells me that he’s reading a book about the effect of eating at McDonalds all the time and I become aware of the fact that if I were in a movie, this would be the point where a little red devil Stuart would pop up on one shoulder and an angelic Stuart would appear on the other. Fortunately, angelic Stuart wins and I refrain from suggesting that he looks in the mirror in order to find out the books conclusion.


Perhaps it’s the guilt from thinking these nasty thoughts or maybe it’s my growing obsession with how I could grow a moustache as bushy as his, either way I feel the need to cut the conversation short and flee the premises. I head down to the beach, get my toes wet then take a long walk along the squeaky sand, complete with a very loud iPod. Shiny head is still swimming.


As darkness falls, the fruit-bats come out in search of tucker and the backpackers go out to hunt down beer. I’m in the busiest pub on the main street and surrounded by jiving middle-aged Australians, yet I feel like I’m part of some kind of European Parliament beer drinking committee. My drinking partners for the evening, representing Norway, Germany and The Netherlands at this beer summit, are less than impressed at the boogying on display and the music being pumped out by the hillbilly band.


Of course, as the Scottish representative and a lover of all things Australia, I have mixed emotions about the scene in front of me. I’m inclined to agree that the 40 year olds in “Mrs Claus,” red furry Christmas outfits should put away their disco fingers but I can’t help singing along to the bands cover of the Cold Chisel classic, Khe Sanh. We spend the next few hours polishing off pots and schooners of XXXX Gold and then make a beeline for the only nightclub in a 100km radius.


As we walk into the Koala club I almost go into cardiac arrest. The management are clearly expecting a large contingent of polar bears to be clubbing tonight and as such, the air conditioning is set to “Arctic” mode. It’s so cold that I could easily cut diamonds with my nipples. The freezing conditions are combined with a fly-paper like floor that makes it difficult to move around without losing your shoes. We get a beer and go in search of a semi-warm spot. There’s one corner where the air conditioning is broken and the temperature is a mild -10C, we settle in and start shivering. After 10 minutes everyone is borderline hypothermic and I’m sure my fingers are going black so we decide to call it a night. On the way back to the campsite, I spot a sign above a kebab shop advertising “Kebab, Potatoes, Ice Cream.” Do the polar bears pig out on potatoes after a big night?


As I contort myself back into the top bunk in the van, I’m left thinking about how strange the world can be. Or maybe it’s just Hervey Bay?


From An Ache For The Distance
World Nomads Campervan

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Germans

Two years, three months and seventeen days amongst the Germans in Hamburg. In eleven days it's over... What have I learnt from our Germanic cousins? That in this country, a table has a penis.

Over the past couple of years I've made a linguistic fool of myself on numerous occasions, for example "are you feeling hot?" coming out as "are you horny?" But considering the complexities of Johnny German's language, it's easy to fuck up.

Germans, for example, aren't content with having only one word for the English "the." Instead they give inanimate objects genders and expect us to follow their logic, of which there is very little...

Penis to the Germans is masculine, der Penis. Vagina is feminine, die Vagina. Sounding OK until you reach the testicles, die Hoden???? Why are my balls feminine? German pedants may argue that all plurals have the feminine die but even those with a solitary, lonely, single testicle are given die Hode. A harder blow to the one-ball club I'd say...

Genitalia aside, the Germans are labelled, by the international cliches organisation, as an anal, humourless bunch. In my two years here, I have experienced events which could confirm this. I've been subjected to stand-up comedy that's made it to television and witnessed an auditorium worth of Germans guffawing at the lamest of jokes. I've sat in a cinema and heard people literally crying with laughter at something worth a small chuckle at the most. I've been screamed at for cycling on the wrong side of the cycle path. I've seen strangers bitching with each other for no real reason. And I've heard endless complaing and whinging.

Of course, cliches are cliches. I've met dozens of fantastic people who are kind, friendly and funny. But many would probably agree that Germany, and more specifically Hamburg, can be a bitch of a place to live!

On a more positive note, an exception to the German humourless cliche is Hape Kerkeling. He speaks enough English in this clip, Germans Abroad, to get the gist of what's going on. And even if you don't, take a moment to appreciate his language skills...

Enjoy.




Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Kaltenkirchen - Photo Follow-Up

A couple of weeks ago I posted something about visiting Kaltenkirchen concentration camp north of Hamburg in a post called "An Unexpected Toilet Stop"

http://saharanscot.blogspot.com/2010/08/unexpected-toilet-stop.html

At the time, I didn't have the trusty camera with me. So today, on the way back from another action packed in-company class in Neumünster, I pulled into the camp again, kept conversation with Herr Enthusiasm to a "Hallo," and wandered around trying to get some decent shots. To be honest, I actually only wanted a photo of one collection of stones. Each stone bears the name of a prisoner known to have died at the camp and it has a greater impact than a simple list of names. The little collection has stayed in my mind for the past couple of weeks and so I thought I should get a photo or two...


From An Ache For The Distance
Germans, French, Russians, Poles, Dutch & Yugoslavians...


From An Ache For The Distance
"The Unknown Dead of the Camp. Who knows their numbers???"


From An Ache For The Distance


From An Ache For The Distance
"Prisoner Barrack Block 3" Now a peaceful forest


From An Ache For The Distance
The turning stone on what was the parade ground. "The Ashes of Birkenau" is inscribed around the stone


From An Ache For The Distance
Hoffnung - Hope


Saturday, 4 September 2010

Hamburg - Alstervergnügen

Among the many festivals and events taking place each year in Hamburg, one of the finest in the sausage and beer category is the Alstervergnügen. Lining the banks of Hamburg's Binnenalster, bratwurst, currywurst, beer & schnapps are proffered to strolling Germans & camera wielding Japanese tourists.

From An Ache For The Distance
Binnenalster


From An Ache For The Distance
Sausagey Times


From An Ache For The Distance
Lekker Schmekker


From An Ache For The Distance
Barbeque der Snags


Aside from the cliches, various other options from chips to chorizo are available to help expand the waistline a tad further and sugary treats abound on every corner. Even the fruit on offer, normally well meaning, is a glazed/chocolate covered dentist's nightmare.


From An Ache For The Distance
Glazed Grapes?


Still, at least you can tell you're dentist that the weight you gained and the teeth you lost was in pleasant surroundings...


From An Ache For The Distance
Hamburg Rathaus on the Binnenalster
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