A Travellerspoint blog

The Mischevious Italian

Lorenzo lit up a bidi then started to tell us another one of his stories concerning his mis-spent youth which apparently never ended as his tales encompassed his early 30’s, 40’s and current 50’s. He was two marriages down and had an only child who’d followed in his father’s mischievous ways apparently encouraged by parenting skills that would never make it into a staid child rearing book. My opinion is that if they did it would be a best seller.

It was New Year’s Eve, we were sitting in one of the local bars and Lorenzo was regaling us with hilarious tales of past misdeeds. The village, all four 4 streets of it, was dark (no electricity) and very subdued for the time of year. There was no obvious signs of celebration and I would go as far to say that our group was the party. There weren’t a great deal of people around possibly due to the fact that it was the year that the tsunami hit Asia. I’ve heard many stories starting with “we were supposed to be there but” and my story is of a similar nature. Normally there is a break between Christmas and New Year for school holidays (my partner was teaching in Bangkok at the time) and we’d planned to be on one of the islands for the holiday. But for the first time ever the school decided not to close, we had to change our plans and spent Xmas on Ko Samet and New Year in Cambodia. It was a lucky break as the island we had planned to spend the holiday on was hit by the wave.

As our party moved around the bars we became more and more cheerful, Lorenzo more and more expansive and, as the man was permanently lighting up spliffs, more and more stoned. In all the days we were with him I don’t think that slightly glazed look that comes with smoking substances a lot less harmful than a normal cigarette ever left his eyes. The other significant fact that gave the game away was that he always carried a bagful of snacks around with him to stave off the munchies. Things died down after midnight – not hard considering there was only one bar open at that point and about 10 customers. We all dispersed to our respective beds in preparation for a day of recovery on the beach but Lorenzo was still in a celebratory mode and, as he informed us, horny. He decided to head out and use some of his Italian charm on the nearest available female he could find.

The next day we’d been sunbathing for a few hours when we saw Lorenzo weaving his way up the beach. He flopped down beside us and immediately started rooting through his bag for food. Not finding anything suitable he called the nearest vendor over and soon we were surrounded by hawkers. He bought a lot of dodgy looking food off a lot of dodgy looking people and then, as we declined to join him , proceeded to eat it all whilst recounting his exploits of the night. Not finding a single female/brothel/girly bar around the area we were staying, he’d jumped on the back of a bike of some random local who agreed to take him down to the dock area – suitably renumerated of course. After visiting several salubrious areas to no avail he ended up somewhere that you’d only go if you wanted a fight or to get mugged. Amazingly not only did he find a woman to spend the night with but he also returned unharmed and still cashed up.
We left to return to Bangkok but Lorenzo stayed on. Purely by chance a year and a half later we met him again at Bangkok International Airport. He told us that he’d never left Sianoukville, bought a broken down boat, fixed it up and lived onboard with his new girlfriend and her family. For income they took tourists on trips up the river. He’d just returned from a visit to Italy and was heading back to Cambodia. Unfortunately, we never got back to Sianoukville on that particular trip and didn’t manage to take him up on his offer of a boat ride – one experience that I’ve always regretted missing out on.

I’ve no idea if he’s still there, so if you are heading that way look him up for me and say hello. Better still spend some time with him - the man is a comedy show on legs and real nice guy.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:41 Archived in Cambodia Tagged people travel cambodia humour Comments (0)

The Cake Monster

travellng in South America

The one thing that I could rely on for sustenance whilst travelling in South America was cake. Consistent in quality and quantity throughout countries we visited, gateau’s, pies, tarts and tiramisu, were a safety net when other foods failed to satisfy in terms of appeal, variety and health. A selection of stomach parasites/bacteria coupled with stomach related altitude sickness made it impossible to eat anything heavier than an air filled Victoria sponge without getting sick. As my weight dropped dramatically to the point of a worrying resemblance to Skeletor I found cake was my salvation.

For those of you who have not experienced Altitude Sickness – it’s scary. There are a large amount of anecdotal tales of travellers going to bed with a migraine and dying in the night or experiencing ongoing bouts of diarehia and vomiting. My travelling companion suffered in the main from headaches and vomiting and the choice was to either head back down to sea level or take medication. He took the medication – which was not cheap but worked a treat. Being a bit of a tight arse he stopped taking the medication as soon as he felt better only to be struck down in locations where chemists were as rare as rocking horse shit. The worst moment had be crossing from Bolivia to Argentina when he decided that having run out of medication he would not need any more as Salta, our final destination, was at an altitude that he could cope with. What he didn’t take into his calculations was the 10 hours or so at altitude before we started to descend the alto-platino. Bus breakdown (2 hours), immigration delays (4 hours), bus delays and lunch (1 hour) protestors blocking the road (2 hours), army stop and search in Argentina (1 hour). He was so ill that I thought our final destination was going to be hospital.

We finally arrived in Salta at 10.30 pm, booked into a hostel and because he had started to feel better headed out for something to eat. We opted for cake with its restorative powers and shared the most amazing tiramisu I have ever eaten. Two large moist pieces, decorated with chocolate shavings and mini malteser balls, drizzled with white and dark chocolate sauce - heaven.

I can’t remember when we started to visit the cake shops more than once a day – maybe in Peru where we met a fellow cake and coffee lover or possibly in a country where the altitude wore us out and we needed regular drink and food breaks to recover. Whenever it was, at some stage I changed from a take it or leave it cake person to a cake fiend that needed at least one fix a day. Like a true addict I reasoned that this obsession would go away once I arrived in a country with clean water, good food and little or no altitude.
About a week ago I arrived in Australia and the first thing I did (after a good sleep) was visit a little bakery I know of and buy their supremely delicious, can eat more than two slices and not feel sick, chocolate mousse and pear cake. After all, as I pointed out to my friends whilst salivating over it, I need to put on weight

Posted by travelhappiness 18:39 Archived in Argentina Tagged people food travel humour health Comments (0)

Surviving toilets abroad - a female perspective

Toilets abroad, depending upon where one travels can be a trauma – especially if you have a stomach bug and can’t wait. Hygiene is not a priority, floors are often flooded, toilets double up as showers, there is no toilet paper - douches in the form of hose pipes are provided, squat toilets are a logistical nightmare if you are wearing trousers and have luggage (especially if the floor is wet). Locks often don’t work and peepholes are common in mixed gender toilets. I was on a ferry once travelling from Lombok Island to Flores Island in Indonesia. There were two toilets on the deck at the back of the ship for the passengers. As usual there was a queue that turned into a scrum when one of the toilets became vacant. Shoving back the mass of people behind me I dashed for a door as it opened and secured a toilet. There was no lock, plenty of peep holes, no loo roll, I was wearing trousers, the floor was disgusting and it was a squat toilet. Using one hand to pull the door closed and the other to cover the peep holes I balanced precariously. Obviously frustrated by not being able to watch the men hanging around outside toilet wrenched the door open and had a good look before I managed to pull it shut again. It was obvious at this point I needed to develop a new strategy to deal with toileting needs abroad. Here is my guide:-

1. Wear a skirt. It won’t get wet as you lift it away from water and dirt on the floor. It stays up of its own accord leaving both hands free. If travelling in remote places where there are no toilets squat like the local ladies and let your skirt fan out around you in order to preserve your modesty.

2. The first words you should learn in any country you visit is “where is the toilet please”.

3. Don’t wait till the last minute to go – often you will be in a place where there are no facilities. Take advantage of every toilet and toilet stop going.

4. If you are on a bus when it stops for a break race out ahead of everyone else - they are all heading for the loo as well. Quell your desire to be polite and let people pass – they will not return the compliment. Even old ladies will knock you aside in a desperate attempt to avoid queuing.

5. If you are like me and need to use toilet paper carry your own supply to the loo as well as a plastic bag for rubbish as there is often no waste disposal bin.

6. Check for peepholes and use the toilet paper to bung them up.

7. Wear waterproof shoes.

8. Take a vial of nice smelling oil to smear under your nose in case of gut retching odours.

9. Get a friend to mind your bag or wear a rucksack – again leaving both hands free.

10. Carry hand sanitizer around with you as often there are no wash basins.

11. Ask the most fearsome looking fellow traveller on your tour/bus/train to guard the toilet while you use it.

12. Learn to pee like a man – it is possible I hear.

The answer to the old question "what do women do in toilets?" can in some part be found in the first part of this blog. At home different reasons include, queueing (this takes up a substantial amount of time), talking to each other across cubicles or if one can’t bear to be parted from friends 3 – 4 in a cubicle having a communal wee, taking a phone call whilst on the loo, changing clothes, trying to toilet ones offspring, writing shopping lists, meditating or reading a magazine. All the later are reasons why there is a queue in the first place. The latest addition to my list is being so drunk that you can't work out how to get the door open (it took her 15 minutes). As a person who is not keen on public toilets I tend to hang on for as long as possible, rush to a toilet only to find a queue and end up using the men’s facilities in desperation (unlike women they don’t get territorial about toilets and even sympathise). The only time I tend to hog toilets is when I get stuck in them due to a faulty lock and then generally I have the luck to be in an isolated loo with no one around.

So no matter how pissed off you are waiting in that interminable queue for the loo at home just bear in mind how much worse it could be if you were travelling.

I hope this helps ladies.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:36 Archived in Indonesia Tagged people travel humour female toilets harrassement Comments (0)

Stupid Tourists

Gili Meno island in Indonesia is so small that you can walk around it in half a day. It is part of the Gillis, a group of three islands located just off Lombok. Gili Air is quieter than Meno (well it was until I picked up my pack back and came face to pincers with a scorpion!). Whilst, Gili Trawangan is the party on down island. The beaches are stunning, the snorkelling amazing and the locals very accommodating and friendly. It is an ideal place to chill out.

There were very few tourists on the island and at the time of our visit the resident population (about 1,000 people) outnumbered the tourists by a ratio of approximately 20 – 1. Unfortunately, the hawkers, who caught the ferry from Lombok on a daily basis, also outnumbered the tourists. Pearls “very good quality” (not), trinkets and beads (cheap and nasty), sarongs and clothes (loud floral designs and badly made) were waved under our noses throughout the day. One particularly persistent man told me that unless he sold something his children would go hungry. He huffed off when I told him that I didn’t respond to emotional blackmail and that maybe he should spend the ferry fare from Lombok and back on food for his kids. It may seem harsh but believe me once you start making interested noises the rest of the beach sellers will home in like heat seeking missiles.

Because the island was so small we became a friendly with many of the locals we met on our walks. Often we were the only customers at the various establishments away from the beach and we usually ended up chatting to the owner, staff and any other local with time on their hands. We also got to know the guys who ran a small beach bar that we often collapsed in after our ‘treks’. The staff entertained us with funny stories and wisecracks before settling down to the serious business of chess. As most of the beach boys I’ve encountered are into physically challenging water sports, the sight of the local Jack the Lads in straw hats, sunnies, teeshirts and shorts hunched over a chess board was unusual and therefore fascinating.

One day whilst we were chillin at the bar having a bite to eat, there was a flurry of activity from the staff that caused tourists heads to rise from books, drinks and food. A speed boat had landed on the beach and a couple were being ushered up to the bar’s cafe where the owner made a real production of greeting them. The woman lapped up it up whilst her husband sat timidly by her side. Looking at the menu she announced in a voice as loud and deep as a fog horn that they wanted tuna sandwiches and beers. She then complained to the tour guide and restaurant in general about the exorbitant cost (their menu evidently quoted American big bucks). My companion and I exchanged alarmed looks as we had ordered and were currently tucking into tuna sandwiches ourselves. However, our menu had had the prices in the local currency and it was nowhere near as expensive. Other diners were obviously thinking the same thing as there was a sudden need by a large section of the cafe’s occupants to study the menu again (the tuna must have been a popular choice). It was as we remembered and we concluded that the new arrivals had been given the wrong menu. Before we could say anything the owner started to race around the tables, check menus and talk quietly in people’ ears. By the time he reached our table he had started to giggle and proceeded to explain that there were two menus in circulation. One for regulars who stayed on the island and one for visitors from the very expensive resorts in Lombok. The visitors it seemed paid top American dollar for everything and had no idea they were being fleeced. I began to feel sorry for them.
A hawker, having been alerted that there were rich pickings to be made, appeared from nowhere and made a bee line for the visitors table. We knew this particular man as he was fascinated by my travelling partner’s antiquated long wave radio and had tried to blag it off him on several occasions without success. In fact many beach sellers in all parts of the world are fascinated by this radio. I think it has something to do with the swathes of duct tape holding the body together and the piece of bent wire acting as an ariel that appeals to them. After discussing the radio the conversation invariably turns to football and the male bonding process begins. Thereafter they don’t try to sell us anything but just squat down, bum a cigarette and have chat whilst eyeing up this veritable DIY wonder.
The man waved strings of pearls in front of the woman, who on examining a few necklaces announced to everyone in hearing that she was a fashion expert, in the trade and had a shop in Austria.

“I'll give you fifty dollars for the black pearls and that’s my final offer. Don't try and barter with me, I know what I am talking about and that’s all they are worth” she said.

Any sympathy I felt began to fade as she obviously had more money than sense.

The seller’s eyes bulged with shock but he recovered his wits quickly and replied “eighty”.

“Fifty dollars and no more, I’m a fashion buyer, and I know what I’m talking about” she reiterated. He agreed readily.

Suddenly she was beset by hawkers. Bad taste sarongs, shapeless clothes, hippie unsophisticated jewellery – she bought it all. Refusing to barter she'd named a price and knowing that it was way over what they'd normally make the offer was meekly accepted. Now most switched on people would have realised that this behaviour was well out of character for sellers, surmised that they had offered too much money and moderate their bartering techique. But this women continued to proclaim how wonderful she was, that she knew what she was doing and that she could sell for so much more money in her country.

Eventually the money ran out and the hawkers backed off. Paying an outrageous amount of money for the meal they departed loaded down with goods, none the wiser that they had been thoroughly ripped off and that we all had found it highly entertaining. Our friend the pearl hawker came up to me and showed me a necklace.

"I'll give you 50 dollars and no more” I said laughing.

He cast his eyes up to the sky then looked backwards to the departing speed boat. “Ssssstuuuupid tourists” he said, gave me a massive grin and left.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:34 Archived in Indonesia Tagged people travel humour buying bartering Comments (0)

Please go Away

Not all travellers are alike

For those of you who don't know me well I like comfort but am quite happy to step out of it - it's a challenge. Love people with all their quirks and eccentricities. Am a social worker by trade for over 18 year olds and specialise in older people. When I used to tell people what I did for a living without clarification they would revert to a stereotype and proclaim in a shocked tone "you take children away from their parents" and then leave. Hence the explanation - but for those who are reading this and are having the same reaction. I have many friends who work with children and families and they are good people often demonized by the press and public. I also empathise well, am a good listener and like to think that I'm patient and tolerant.

On my travels I have met many wonderful and interesting people and I'm sure they will be mentioned in this blog sooner or later. I have also met some strange people who at all costs should be avoided. One of my friends, who I met in Peru, has made up a traveler classification code. There is the superior traveler who likes to get off the beaten track and experience 'authentic' stuff, thinks travel books are a waste of time and has always had a better time than the person they are talking to. Then there is the nervous traveler who treats travel books like the bible, follows it to the letter and is afraid to go out on a limb. Finally there is the happy traveler who goes with the flow, enjoys the experience, is willing to try out new things and is good company. Luckily for me I was crowned a happy traveler.

I would like to expand on this theory to include a few more categories. For example, there is the desperate traveler. Self absorbed, thick-skinned and lonely because all they talk about is themselves. I met such a Frenchman in Peru who had come over to meet his internet Peruvian girlfriend. It didn't work out, he found another to replace her and he did not have a clue what she was doing or where she was. She was in incommunicado. He seemed to be forking out a fortune in rent, girlfriend maintenance etc etc. I learned about his love life, friends, past, illnesses, current situation, work and so on. He, on the other hand, knew nothing about me as he didn't bother to ask. Until the second day that is, when he asked my name. My partner and I could not get rid of him. He lurked in the lobby until we came down and accompanied us to breakfast, on walks and visits out. When we hide in our room he knocked on the door. He ignored all hints that we had things to do and continued to talk at us. Finally, in desperation we moved out to the beach. Unfortunately, he spotted us leaving, shared a taxi to our hotel and proceeded to tag along all day. Being English and having polite stamped into my brain I said nothing, smiled, nodded, empathized and listened and seethed from within. At the end of the day the only way to get rid of him was to go to bed. But before leaving he informed us he would come back in stay in the same hotel. I was not a happy traveler, more like a seriously pissed off traveler with the potential to turn into a dangerous traveler if I heard one more story about his absentee love life. We checked out the next day and spent the next 3 days avoiding him. So there are three new three new traveler categories already and a new quality to add to my list of attributes - coward. Therefore, in future when someone invades my space to extent that my status changes to unhappy traveler I will tell them to go away - politely of course.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:31 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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