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The Kelabit Highlands - Borneo. The Naming Ceremony

Are you going for the naming ceremony?” We were asked time and time again as we tried to book flights and accommodation. The reunion we had planned with fellow travellers to meet in the Kelabit Highlands in Borneo Malaysia for Xmas and New Year was not going to plan. Planes were full and accommodation scarce. ‘Must be a christening’ we thought as we emerged from the travel agents clutching two rare as rocking horse shit flight tickets that no one else in our group had been able to obtain.

Raddish, our genial host, picked us up from the airport. “No time for unpacking” he shouted as the 4 wheel careered down roads 3 foot deep in clay mud “we have to get to the naming ceremony,we don’t want to miss the games and we need to pick up some gifts”. Half an hour later we were trudging along a mud road in the must have foot wear for the wet season, the Bario plimsoll – they don’t sink like wellies they skim. We stopped off in the village to buy the obligatory gift, a box of dried biscuits – apparently Kelabitians can’t get enough of them. Raddish tried to explain. For the naming ceremony, all three village communities were coming together to celebrate in one of the long houses. It was an important all inclusive event with the emphasis on hospitality, traditional games, songs, dances and the boiling of 7 hogs. As to what we were celebrating, we were still unsure. But free food, drink, and a ceremony in a longhouse – it pressed all the right buttons for me.

The Kelabit people have a very interesting history, originally nomadic, cannibals and head-hunters the whole community converted en mass, after some kind of revelation, to Christianity. They are a warm, welcoming, intelligent and extremely interesting people.

We found out that naming ceremonies honour the rites of passage through life. Therefore, as a person progress through each stage they are renamed. For example when one gets married, becomes a parent or a grandparent one is honoured with a new name. The day starts with food preparation the traditional way, games involving blow pipes, tug of war, climbing a slippery pole, pig chasing and of course eating and drinking. The eating and drinking continues into the evening, the ceremony takes place then the older generation of ladies sing haunting songs and perform graceful dances that tell of times past.

Raddish had to go on a trek the next day and so we happened to met Peter, Raddish’s brother, a gem of a man. He was working on the government to protect the area from logging, spoke several languages including Penang, studied engineering in order to get electricity into the villages, was head of the family longhouse, an enlightened guide and a dammed good drinking partner. He invited us to New Year’s Eve at his family longhouse. Yet another traditional evening with friends and family ensued with wild boar cooked in bamboo to eat, washed down by substantial quantities of rum and coke. At the end of the evening the ladies of the household sang a traditional song which invited us to become honoury members of the family. We now have a room and board at the family longhouse whenever we return.

I have travelled far and wide but I have never encountered such generosity and friendship as that which was extended to us by the Kelabit people. It was a humbling and enriching experience.

Posted by travelhappiness 21:27 Archived in Malaysia Tagged travel ceremony highlands naming boreno bario kelabit Comments (0)

Ging gang gooley gooley gooley gooley watcha

Camping in England has never been my favourite pastime. Mention the word tent and my mind takes me back to the yearly Girl Guide Camps my parents forced me to attend. Wet English summers, the smell of damp canvas, soggy cloth on the skin, burnt food, pervasive smoke and nonsensical camp fire songs, eggy bread and tramping across half an acre of cow pat covered, insect infested terrain to get the latrines. Not content with testing teenage bodies resistance to hypothermia and pneumonia, the pack leaders would abandon us in the middle of the South Downs with a compass and a map (no phone) and expect us to find our way back to the site by tea time. Amazingly no one ever got lost, molested or hurt. But that was probably because as soon as the van disappeared over the horizon we hitched a lift down to Brighton and spent the day on the beach and caught the train back.

The Australian idea of roughing it is a whole different story – these guys do it with style. First they have the right weather – which is 80% of the battle. Rock up to any camp site and you will generally find power – essential for charging up ipod, batteries, computer etc, a barbecue area, an undercover eating area that often includes, cooker, fridge, microwave, kettle, TV, tables, chairs, cooking pots and utensils. If it rains you have an alternative as there are equipped cabins on site. Add into the mix the Aussies ability to party/barbie and camping takes on a whole new meaning ie fun. I started to warm to the great outdoors.

Uruguay took camping to a new level. We arrived in time for the summer party season and accommodation cost three times more than normal. Hoards of young ravers from Argentina and Brazil flooded the coast, preparing to take part in a longer version of schoolies week. After hours of waiting in the hot sun we were let in to the site to pitch a tent. One thousand five hundred people were crammed into a 500 tent area. Toilet and shower visits had to be timed well in order to avoid the nightly 2 hour queues. Cooking over an open fire was a given as the restaurants were unimaginative, poor quality and expensive. It was a challenge but nutritionally beneficial, cheaper and more fun. And we had enough money left over to lash out on a bottle of wine at night. No one complained, got drunk, fought, annoyed their neighbours with bad behaviour or loud noise levels. Everyone was out to party, have a good time and make new friends. I loved it. But fifteen days on hard un-giving ground, despite alcohol induced sleeps, took it’s toll. We left Uruguay and headed towards Argentina for some soft mattress down time.

Posted by travelhappiness 17:21 Archived in Australia Tagged people travel girl summer camping english humour autralia guides uruguary Comments (0)

Thai Logic

As usual we had messed up. Not realising it was the end of Chinese New Year and the island would be hopping we’d only booked for three nights thinking that the other 9 nights could be sorted out on arrival. After one night’s stay we were in reception trying to sort it out. So far the receptionist had offered us the next three nights at a discounted rate and we were trying to negotiate the remaining 8 nights (the discounted price was actual fact the advertised price- 300bht per night. We paid 500bht for the first night). The remaining 8 nights included the upcoming weekend.

“Room booked for weekend, three people moving in, can’t have” the girl said smugly. ”Everywhere much bookings” she added. Any hopes of getting a swank room for a few days to celebrate my 50th receded. “One hut, not booked if you move now can have for all time...same price” she continued. I knew the hut being touted intimately having been palmed off in it before . The resident neighbors held impromptu karaoke sessions late at night, the toilet block was next door and its associated odors pervaded the room constantly and the noise from the nearby building works often woke me up in the morning. Needless to say I wasn’t happy.

I was about to ask why she thought we would be willing to move to a small – could not swing a cat in, dark, dank, holey cabin that was impossible to keep the mosquitoes out of. When we had booked a concrete mossie proof, 2 beds, light and airy apartment where I could swing Mitch holding said cat by the tail and still have room to spare. I thought better of it – Thais do not get sarcasm. I applied some tact and logic to the situation.

“Why would I want to move when I have a better apartment at the moment for the same price?”

“Because if you move today you can stay all time in shit hut not have to move out” was the reply

“Why can’t I stay in this room for 3 nights already paid then stay another 2 nights before weekend, move to shit hut then move back after weekend?” I responded

“Can’t guarantee you can stay in shit hut for rest of stay then” she replied

I heard a groan from behind me and turned around. My partner was sat on the bench with his head in his hands. I returned to the fray.

“But you tell me no one has booked shit hut, so what is the problem?” I asked.

“OK you can stay the extra 2 night’s then move into shit hut” she conceded

Having reached an agreement we left determined to find another room for the weekend only to discover that everywhere was booked and that if we did not take shit hut we would end up sleeping on the beach. We went back our hotel reception to pay for and secure the accommodation.

“Ok we stay in current accommodation for the 6 nights then move into shit hut for the nights you have booking then move back when it is vacant”. I said

“Not possible nice room may be booked for 2 nights before weekend” she replied

But this morning you said we could have room until weekend then move into shit hut”. “We stay long time, we are here now, the room is not booked so why can’t we have?”

“Ok you come at 8.00 on morning of 16th and see if room available until 18th, if not you c h e c k o u t” the emphasis definitely on the last 2 words.

After a brief conversation with Mitch which consisted of are you confused because I am we agreed with resignation to take the shit hut and move in to it after 3 days.

“ so we stay in current room for next 3 nights move to shit hole for next 4 nights and then move back into current room when weekend over” I clarified.

“Can’t do” she replied obviously relishing the game

“ Why not” I asked

“ Shit hole now booked but if you move in now to shit hole you can have” .

I heard another groan from behind me.

I had a moment of inspiration “what if we pay extra to cover the cost of the 3rd person you can get in the room , would there be anything else available?” I asked

Smiles, deep breaths............ breakthrough!

“Room cost 1000 baht per night for weekend” she said. “Boss say we have to get 1000 baht for room”

No problem we said in unison – although it was a rip off.

“We think you not want to pay this much” she replied. How poor do I look? Would have been my normal retort but I restrained myself.

“No problem” we replied in unison again.

“OK if you pay 1000 a night for 2 nights you can stay in the same room you have now for the rest of the time here” she beamed and thus confirmed my growing suspicions that this had been about getting more money for the room and there was no booking.

“But we give you discount - you here with us a long time”. She added. I screamed silently. I waited for the groan from behind and was not disappointed.

Now here’s the interesting thing about the whole affair. We were quoted 500bht per night and 1000 baht per night for the weekend and we stayed 12 nights which should have cost 7,000 baht. They charged us 500 for the first night, 300 for subsequent nights and 700 for the 2 weekend nights (discount). Total cost to us 4600 baht - much less than we expected to pay. If the alleged weekend booking had been genuine, or they had rented the room out at 1000 baht as they wanted to they would have netted 5600. So in fact after fucking us around in order to get more money they actually made less.
And that’s Thai logic.

A couple days later I walked by reception and heard two tourists asking to change their room. “All rooms booked, no have” was the response. I carried on walking.

Posted by travelhappiness 01:27 Archived in Thailand Tagged people accommodation travel thailand humour ko samed logic Comments (0)

The highest golf course in the world

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia is breathtaking for several reasons. First, the view on entering the canyon, which spans 5 kms and drops to 4,100 meters at its lowest point, is spectacular. Second, the city’s altitude is 3660m and walking anywhere especially uphill (which is a given if you’re staying in the city centre) is a physical challenge. Third, Mount Illamani makes an imposing backdrop for the city and great photo opportunities at sunset.

One of La Paz’s many attractions is its golf course which is the highest in the world. Now at an altitude where walking 20 steps uphill has one gasping for breath and heading for the nearest coffee shop, completing this course without being admitted into hospital would be a real achievement for golf enthusiasts. So of course we decided to play it. After checking out the internet we obtained information on days and times the public were allowed to play and after a little searching, the location and address of the La Paz Golf Association. Hailing a taxi we gave the address, asked a price, hailed another taxi, negotiated a better price and jumped in. Ten minutes into the journey it was clear from the questions that our driver was asking us that: -

- he thought we were heading to a hotel
- had never heard of golf
- did not know where he was going.

Showing him the written address again, demonstrating golf moves (I have no idea why we thought this would help) and talking in halting Spanish we seemed to resolve the problem and sped off into the suburbs. There followed a hair-raising drive involving emergency stops, last minute turns, screeching tyres and trips up unmade and pot holed roads. Directions from locals turned out to be useless as they had never heard of golf either. Concerned about the car’s suspension and an almost empty fuel tank, we stopped in a landscape reminiscent of the moon and flagged down passing vehicles to ask for directions. No one had a clue until a biker knew of the course and gave us accurate directions. By this time we had bonded with the driver and all of us were finding the whole situation hilarious.

One hour after we set off we found the entrance to the club - high fives all around. Unfortunately, they had recently changed the days that the general public could play and had not updated the website. So we had arrived on a day that was advertised as open to the general public but was in fact now a member’s only day. Dejected we turned the car around and headed back to the city. Another traumatic ride followed. Stopping the car on a road we had driven down earlier the driver asked us if we thought it was one way (despite the fact there were cars following us). Being low on petrol he floored the accelerator in order to get to a town before we ran out. Nearing our hotel we told him to stop and let us out but he ignored us and within minutes had driven into the side of a land rover in front of a policeman. Not wishing to get involved we threw his money on the front seat, wished him luck and legged it. From his response I’m pretty sure he will never pick up another gringo again!

Posted by travelhappiness 00:59 Archived in Bolivia Tagged people travel golf la humour paz taxis Comments (0)

What to do on a bad hair day abroad?

“Does anyone know of a good hairdresser in Lima?” Someone had typed in on the Lonely Planet community web site. The request was followed up with “I’m really sorry for asking such a trivial question.”

I felt for her as I was in the same situation and didn’t think it was an inane question at all. I’d been travelling for over three months in Ecuador and Peru and my hair was beginning to look like an out of control shrub that needed a good clipping. The areas that I’d visited so far were known for their beauty in terms of scenery rather than salons and I too was getting a bit desperate for a cut and colour. Had she posted the plea a few weeks later I could have given her the name of a hairdresser in Lima who’d struck up a conversation with me on a bus. After exchanging pleasantries he gave me his card and proceeded to reel a list of things off that needed doing to my hair to restore it to its former blonde sleek state. He named a very reasonable price and declared that he would throw in a hair treatment for free. It was a bargain but unfortunately I had already booked my bus out of the city for the next day and had to pass. However, it did reinforce the fact that my hair was a mess. It must have been if a local hairdresser was so horrified by it that he had to pick me up on a bus and offer a haircut and free products. I needed to take action.

I’m sure the ladies reading this will understand when I say that going to a new hairdresser is always a trauma. I’ve had some shocking haircuts in the past including one that made me look like a boy. I was playing in a cricket sixes tournament at the time and the first sign that the haircut wasn’t working for me was when the barman called me “young man”. The second sign was when our win was reported in the local paper (my bowling confounded the batsmen so much that often they went LBW) and listed me as a Mr under the team picture. My partner had a similar thing happen to him many many years ago, has never been to a hairdresser since and cuts his own hair. Definitely an over-reaction but I decided rather than risk going to a hairdresser in a country that doesn’t understand the needs of a mousy blond, I would follow his example and do it myself. I bought some hair dye and borrowed his scissors. The dye worked a treat and the cut looked amazing – for a day then settled into a style reminiscent of a scarecrow. After that I decided just to touch up my hair colour every couple of months and leave the scissors alone.

Three months later when we were staying in Buenos Aires in Argentina I decided the time had come get a proper cut. I figured that if there was any where in South America that may be able to cope with my hair it was there. We were also heading for Thailand and some serious partying so I needed to look a little more presentable. I psyched myself up and booked myself in at a random hair salon. The owner was delightful and between my shocking Spanish, a lot of hand waving and pointing at pictures we reached an understanding of what was required. The day arrived, and after a couple of sedatives to keep me calm during the ordeal I set off for the appointment. The owner took it upon herself to cut my hair, I think the novelty of a foreigner in her salon was too hard to resist, and luckily for me one of the other customers spoke English and was happy to translate. Despite my fears she did a great job. Well the fringe took a little getting used to ……… and it was a little short, but then I always get a shock when I see my face after a cut!

Arriving back in Australia the first thing I did was to book an appointment with my usual hairdresser. Having warned him about abuse I had subjected my hair to over the last 13 months, he was, surprisingly, calm as I walked through the door. So now I’m am back to my blond, slightly messy style that is versatile for work and play. But you know what, on reflection I think I prefer my wild woman of the hills look – it was a lot less boring

Posted by travelhappiness 18:49 Archived in Argentina Tagged people travel humour hair dressers Comments (0)

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