Asia

THE MOUSE TRAP

mouse“Can you come down and deal with this, please?” the Jungle Gypsy called from downstairs. She sounded in a panic so I rushed, practically teleported, to her locale in the kitchen.

“What’s up?” I huffed, my breath catching up with me from behind.

 

She looked at me a little off-key before a screeching brought her back to the moment.

“What’s that screeching?” I asked, my eyes scanning the layout for the source. “Is that a squirrel?”

“There’s a mouse caught in the glue trap behind the washing machine,” JG directed my sight. “I’m late for work and I hate to have to leave you to deal with this on your own but it’s suffering.” She buried her head into my chest as the screeching continued, my eyes locking onto the source glued to a glue trap behind the washing machine.

Next to it, lying motionless, was a gecko that had free-fallen from the ceiling, landing right into the glue. Beside them was another trap with two geckos that appeared to have followed the same fate as their other buddy.

Glue traps are a horrible invention. Yet another cruel device to remove a being from the living and relocate it to the welcoming arms of death in an agonising and painful way. Like being sawed in half – slowly.

When I was a kid, I admit, I was guilty of violent acts against the smallest of nature’s visible-to-the-human-eye creatures. I’ve killed ants, spiders, pulled tails off skinks, flies, pulled apart millipedes and the never-ending onslaught of our own population controller, mozzies.

But that was before I realised that it was the wrong way to be and I stopped killing everything. Well, mozzies and flies have yet to reach an agreement with me and negotiations are still being held with ticks. The outcome being that it seems that peace in the Middle East might be achieved before peace between mosquitoes and humans ever will.

I hate killing anything. And what initially stopped me and put me on the co-existing track was the simple fact of, ‘What right do I have to take the life of another being?’ And, yes, mosquitoes are another being, but I feel like they can be made the exception. I mean, if you’re up against something that can and will inject you with the equivalent of a ruthless street gangbanger in the form of malaria, West Nile River and Zika parasites, it’s a do or die moment. Although , I’d like to think, they don’t do it intentionally (or perhaps aren’t even aware that they have picked up a  hitch hiker and then injected it into your bloodstream), the price they pay to try and control the human population is a hefty one.

I had no idea that glue traps had been set by JG’s housemate who had already left that morning. I remember as a kid, my mother would set identical traps and dispose of the mice by drowning and throwing them into the neighbourhood council bin.

Jungle Gypsy hugged me, apologising profusely for putting me in this position.

“Don’t worry,” I gritted my teeth. “I’ll take care of it.”

Just wasn’t sure how.

I had a Vipassana course coming up. The last thing I needed to add to my anger issues and other fun topics was the murder of another being (be it for mercy – it’s still taking a life) and staining my karma.

The mouse was screeching in a panic as I lifted the trap. We had just watched the animated film, Epic (about fairies and pixies. Recommended) and in it, it shows the fairies point of view of humans and how their movements seem slow and lethargic because of size. With that in my head, I moved my hand slowly, hoping to emulate the mouse’s perception of time (although, I doubt that, at that sticky point in its life, it was thinking of time).

I had to put it out of its misery somehow. I figured I could remove it from the glue with a stick. We slowly stepped outside where I picked up a stick and proceeded to try and unstick the mouse. It screeched louder so I stopped.

And sat with it on the step.

It seemed to be calming down a bit. Watching it getting stucker with every movement, like watching someone drown in see-through quicksand, I noticed that, through its struggle, it had torn off its left cheek-fur from under the eye to the jaw. There was no blood but the skin would be raw. And the torn part was still stuck to the glue.

I can’t leave it out for another animal to eat it. It would get stuck to the glue. And if it didn’t, and managed to nibble away at the unstuck bits, it might eat a bit of the glue and die of poisoning. What  if that animal had young that depended on it? I’d be responsible for wiping out an entire gene pool.

Seeing no other choice, I took a cardboard box, laid it with plastic and filled it with warm water. If I was going to drown it, at least it should go bathed in warmth. I held the trap above the water, begging forgiveness from the little guy.

“I’m so sorry,” a sadness and the sense that I was doing something wrong began to blanket me. Turning to The Universe I asked, “What else can I do?” There was no internet at home so my research resource was limited. As I began to lower the trap towards the water, The Universe appeared by my side in the form of my subconscious.

“Hold on there, Nelly,” it said. “You’re not even gonna try?”

“Name’s not Nelly,” I began as it ignored me.

“What kind of a human are you? You’re supposed to be compassionate and loving. We can’t kill this creature. What right do you have?”

“But what else am I going to do?” I argued. “Of course, I don’t want to kill this animal but it’s in misery, because of cruel human engineering. Look at it.”

It didn’t and continued to berate me with, “So because it’s a mouse it doesn’t deserve a chance?” It paused for effect. “If it were a puppy would you be so quick to conclude that a mercy killing was the only option? If it were a human baby, you would do everything in your power to save it. Everything but kill it.”

Hmm, guy makes a valid point. Why was my go-to option instantly death by murder? My only go-to option should have been (and this is now set to Default in Settings) Save rather than Delete.

“If cruel human engineering created this,” Subconscious nailed it home, “then perhaps soft human engineering can resolve it.”

“But there’s no internet,” I explained.

“You have another resource,” Subi said matter-of-factly. It waited.

As did I. A moment after it became awkward I asked, “Are you waiting for a reply or was that rhetorical?”

It sighed. “Your brain, mate. Your other resource is your brain.” It shook its head in almost disgust. “Look, lemme introduce you to a couple of very good friends. This is Logic and that’s Common Sense. They’re gonna assist you.” Subi’s shoulders slumped, a sort of all-hope-is-lost halo about it.

Well, there was no arguing the point. The water in the box was still warm and my brain came up with a few search results. I clicked on the first one (under the ads).

‘Try to mix it with soap, get it off the trap for a start.’

Mixing in dishwasher liquid, I dipped the mouse in making sure its head was kept above the water. With a stick, I managed to gently remove it from the glue.

I carefully handled the mouse hoping it wouldn’t bite me, talking to it soothingly, asking it to co-operate with me. It appeared at first that the glue was removed but, after drying the creature in a kitchen towel, it became sticky again. Its tiny claws stuck together. And its whiskers, vital for its survival, where glued together to its neck.

There was no way this rodent would survive (from the Latin: Rodere, meaning ‘to gnaw’. They are mammals of the Rodentia order. What makes a Rodentia? I hear you sing. A single pair of continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws. In fact, according to research on Wikipedia, about 40% of all mammal species are rodents. They are the most diversified mammalian order and live in a variety of terrestrial habitats, including human-made environments), if I released it like this. And if something came along to eat it – raptor or reptile – they’d die from glue poisoning.

“Well now what?” I asked aloud.

“Think, man,” Subi egged me on. “How do you get glue off your fingers?”

“Hmm,” I hmmed. “Usually I let it dry and then peel it off. But I don’t have hairy finger tips.” I examined my fingers to double check. All the while I kept an eye  on the three dogs that came with the house and realised that I could call the local vet for assistance.

“You’ll have to cut the fur off where the glue is,” she recommended over the phone.

“What about its feet?”

“I don’t know. I can’t help you there.” There was a pause. “You might just have to take it out of its misery.”

Seems to be the go-to solution around here. Again, were it a larger mammal, a puppy, a human, that solution wouldn’t never cross anyone’s mind. Sighing, I grabbed some scissors but as I held the mouse and tried to get an angle to cut the fur and not the flesh, I concluded that it would be too risky and sticky.

Alcohol.

“This is no time for a drink,” Subi spat. “Besides, you quit.”

“Not for drinking,” I said, raiding the house bar. “To see if it’ll get the glue off. Like how acetone removes nail polish.”

The house was out of vodka but there was plenty of gin. Pouring a capful into a small bowl I then dipped a cotton bud and dabbed at the mouse’s fur.

The fur came off.

Strong gin.

And then a thought struck me like the discovery of black gold.

Oil.

Yes, oil.

If there was something we had, it was a ton of oil. Olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil and vegetable oil. Why not oil?

Why not, indeed.

I decided to use vegetable oil purely for its affordability and poured some into another small bowl. Carefully, I bathed the mouse in the lubricant and to my astonishment, the glue came off, sliding off the fur.

I watched as its whiskers, crucial to sense changes in temperature and to help feel the surface they’re walking on (mice don’t venture far from their burrows to find food. About eight metres is their boundary line. Their complex burrows usually built close to the food source) came unstuck. It’s toes and claws followed suit. Its mouth resumed moving freely and the only physical injury it appeared to have was where it had torn its cheek-fur under the left eye.

I wiped down the mouse but the oil wasn’t coming off. I figured it’ll dry off and decided to make a little hospital box for it. I placed the lid of a large plastic bottle with water and left  a banana so it could eat (mice eat 15-20 times a day), recuperate and, eventually, be released in a new location in a field somewhere within a few days.

As the days passed I checked on the mouse every morning before heading off to surf and when I came back. I didn’t want to interact with it too much for fear it would grow attached. My 10-day Vipassana course was nearing and I figured that the morning I’d leave for the course would be the morning I’d release the mouse, allowing good karma to carry me through the meditations.

But it’s fur was still in oily clumps, exposing parts of its thin skin. I figured it might be a health hazard if the mouse’s fur couldn’t protect it from pointy things or the cold. I mean, sure, their life expectancy in the wild is six months but you wanna make those six months count, no (in captivity, they can live for two years, depending what experiments they’re subjected to)?

Two eves before the proclaimed check-out date, I headed out to a friend’s art exhibition. I relayed the rescue effort and consulted with him my dilemma of ridding the oil.

“Try warm water and soap,” he suggested. “The best would be dishwasher liquid as it’s a degreaser.”

Of course!

The next day I followed up on his suggestion. After the mouse dried it was back to its furry ball. It had eaten most of the banana and a carrot I had added to spice up its menu.

It was climbing fearlessly on my hand and then up my arm when I cleaned out it’s box. Just chillin’ on my shoulder. I was tempted to keep it but what if it had family? What if it was a mother or part of a bigger colony that was now worried sick?

What if, in fact, it was a baby rat that was still growing?

The morning before I headed out to Vipassana I came up to check on the little fella and to let it know it was being discharged from the temporary hospital. But the box was empty.

“Never even got to say ‘goodbye’,” I complained sadly to Subi.

“Dude, you just rescued and recuperated a mouse after your go-to solution was to kill it,” it consoled me. “I’m sure it knew it was time. It probably just didn’t want to be relocated. Wants to stick around in the hood, make sure you’re doing alright.”

“I’ll take that,” I grinned. “Hope you made it out there, little buddy,” I called out.

I mean a raptor or reptile could have taken it the minute it high-tailed it (or long-tailed it. Mice tails grow as long as their bodies) out of the hospital box. But even if they did, I was at peace knowing that they wouldn’t be poisoned by any glue.

Such is the circle of life.

It used to be that we would co-live with our fellow natural species. If they got into the food, we’d just have to make better containers. The easy way out is to trap and kill but what right do we have? Even if it is ‘just a mouse’ it’s still a living being. We’ve become so disconnected with nature that we’ve created weapons of mass destruction against them and scaring ourselves from things like cockroaches and mice.

Such is inhumane nature.

It seems the only solution we have is to kill – and with cruel devices like a glue trap –  rather than use patience and compassion to find a way to co-exist. I learned a valuable lesson through that mouse: Don’t ever give up on something no matter how small or big or impossible it may seem.

If you just take a moment to think a bit, use Logic and Common Sense (which, when put together, make for a better combination than a burger with fries and a beer) things tend to work out and another life gets to live.

Such is human nature.

 

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ON 14

on14 With a wealth of experience in Sri Lanka’s music scene, Tim Claessen, events manager for Ozo Hotel, brings international and local DJs and bands to entertain the crowds from sunset onwards at Ozo’s rooftop bar, ON 14.

Sharing the stage with DJ Yazz, the night I played was a Cuban-Latin themed night. And somehow, my country-rock-blues-reggae stylin’ (what I like to call, Roc-blu-gae-try) fitted into the spins he was decking.

I’ve played over 150 gigs over three continents and by far the sound at Ozo has been the best. And I’m not just saying that cause it made me sound like Jarred Letho hitting the high notes. I don’t know much about sound systems (I don’t even know where to plug in the guitar jack most of the time) but I do know when the system is amazing.

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And what makes it better is the music that emits from it. Having arrived in the morning I was privy to listen to the collection put together by Tim, who DJ’s retro funk and disco on Friday nights on the rooftop (and happens to be my favourite music to dance to).

For the remainder of the day I was happy to just chill and enjoy the enigmatic chill-out session of a light funk-acid style to bring in the sunset as Yazz set up on the decks. 5

Employees of the US embassy was celebrating an occasion and a group of Aussies made up most of the crowd for the night along with a large table of Sri Lankans who were in the mood to party.

With cocktails being produced left-right-and-centre, the crowd was a buzz as January’s full moon rose up high. A light breeze tap-danced a rippling rhythm on the water of the infinity pool as the waves of the Indian Ocean below lapped at the beach, as though serenading like Romeo to Juliet, the roof-top people.

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A place can be of the highest regard or a shit-hole in the middle of a slum. It doesn’t matter its location. It’s the music and the crowd that is drawn to it. Something that Tim and his team have achieved to the highest possible standard as I witnessed that Thursday eve.

ON 14 is open to all, meaning you don’t have to be a patron of the hotel. Next time you’re in Sri Lanka’s capital city, even if you’re sorted for accommodation, come to Ozo’s rooftop bar. It’ll be a night you’ll forever remember, if not for the scene, then most definitely for the music.

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OZO HOTEL

ozoWhen I first stepped into the lobby of the Ozo Hotel, I looked up at the high ceiling and saw the pipes that seemed to be aiming down, like the belly of a spaceship coming down to land.

This was definitely a place that I generally avoid when it comes to accommodation; fancy, illustrious and a little overwhelming with its technology – for me at least. But get past all the fancy-shmancy aspect of it and you come down to the core of the place. img_0483

What really runs it isn’t its engineering department or it’s kitchen or even the rooftop bar with an infinity pool that looks out to the Indian Ocean.

And it’s not the spectacular sunset that accompanies the happy hour from six onwards or the fully stocked bar to complement it as you sip your favourite cocktail while watching the waves break below as the local train chugs by on the beach-side track.

img_0479It’s not the different themed nights that unfold on the rooftop bar where you can watch the moon rise as the sun sets to jazz, funk or Cuban Afrobeats played through the carefully designed sound system that the DJ and live bands use to convey their sounds to the mixed crowd of international and local folk.

 

It’s not even the incredibly diverse food choices of a full buffet spread (or order off the menu) fusing western dishes with local cuisine. Nor is it the décor of the rooms each with a large, flat screen TV, temperature-controlled AC or a bathroom that’s as big as the room itself.img_0481

It’s not the city-wide or ocean views that await you from any corner of the 14-storey building. And it’s not the welcoming lobby or rooftop with retractable roof to provide shade for those really hot days when the infinity pool just isn’t enough.

Because what is a place if not for its people?

The staff of Ozo Hotel Colombo (it’s a chain) are some of the most accommodating, friendly, smiling-faced folk I’ve ever come across. And they don’t have an inch of fake to them. They genuinely want you to enjoy your time so that you’re happy and relaxed, which is the whole point when you visit anywhere. Yet here, it seems to be the emphasis of Ozo’s staff.

From the moment I stepped into the lobby to the moment I stepped out 24 hours later, from the receptionist to the bar tenders, from hard-working chefs and kitchen hands to the bell hops and the guy doing the rounds asking if you have any laundry; everyone made me feel at home and beyond.

Cause even at home it’s rare that everyone smiles and worries over you. And although these kinds of hotels aren’t my general draw, the uplifting energy at Ozo Colombo was enough for me to tell you that if you really want to spoil yourself on your next visit to what just might be one of the most blessed islands in the Indian Ocean, visit Ozo in Sri Lanka. If not for your stay, then at least for a drink at the rooftop, so you get a sense of what your missing out on.

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YEAR THREE

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2013-2016

The third year of hitchin’ through Africa was turmoilous in a good way. I rose in love with an amazing soulmate. I kinda conquered my anablephobia (an extreme unwarranted fear and physical aversion to looking up) and found out a few more things about myself.

I spent a long time in Kenya and a really short time in Sudan where I almost broke down due to the heat and other personal variables.

I patched up Ol’ Red, jammed from beaches to treehouses to boats. I hung out with artists across all mediums. I’ve visited more hospitals and taken more anti-biotics and pharmaceuticals this past year than I have my entire life. I quit drinking but discovered ecstasy. I got addicted to rolex in Uganda, coffee in Ethiopia, tea in Sudan and falafel in Egypt.

I got a free ride on a train from Khartoum to Shendi in Sudan. I was arrested (Zanzibar) with handcuffs and risked arrest with the Gypsy Queen and had to protect some wannabe hustlers from her ferocity when they tried to pull one over us.

I publicly played a song I wrote for the first time, the soon-to-be Grammy nominated song of the year, The Ballad of Jim-Bob and the Bear. Speaking of Grammy’s, I jammed with a Grammy-nominated artist, singers, poets, rappers, the most talented musicians I’ve ever come across.

I gained an awesome camera with some helpful tips by the talents of the Gypsy Queen and created art in two countries I never thought I’d ever be capable of with said Gypsy Queen (who’ll have a special guest post published here in the coming days. Stay tuned).

And finally (yet sadly), after two amazing years, I’ve left Africa – for now.

And I’ve realised that, after three years of full-time travelling, even though people say I’m living the dream, I’m fuckin’ exhausted. It’s not easy to be continuously on the move carrying 30 kilos of everything you have in extreme heat, rain or cold.

This next year I’m gonna focus on surfing (two years since I was last on a wave), writing a few books, editing some videos (no, not porn), develop some ideas I’ve had, perhaps write an album (whether I record is a different story) and learn a completely new repertoire of songs to cover (suggestions are welcome).

So this list is the absolute TOTAL of three years of travelling from Oz to the Middle East without a flight (except for that one cause of the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi) – from May 13th, 2013, to May 13th, 2016.

Without the good-hearted folks that I’ve encountered on the way, none of this would’ve been possible. So thanks people.

See y’all in a year (or thereabouts. It’s just an outline).

Total distance covered: 47,000 km (29,205 miles) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia – Eilat, Arava, Israel

Total number of countries: 21

Total number of islands: 27

Total number of hitches on cars: 155

Total number of hitches on public transport: 28

Total number of hitches on trucks: 45

Total number of hitches on motorbikes: 1

Total number of hitches on trains: 1

Total number of hitches with police: 3 – Malawi, Uganda, Sudan

Total number of hitches with military: 1 – Uganda

Total number of hitches: 233

Total number of flights: 1 – Nairobi, Kenya – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (only way The Universe was letting me get a visa)

Total number of boats: 17

Total number of boat rides: 45

Total number of travel partners: 4

Wettest country: Uganda

Driest country: Sudan

Hottest country: Sudan

Most Mountainous country: Ethiopia

Flattest country: Sudan

Hottest temperature experienced: 45° C, Omdurman, Sudan

Coldest temperature experienced: 1°, possible 0° C, Mt Kenya, Kenya

Highest Altitude reached: 5,188 meters above sea level, Nelion Peak, Mt Kenya

Lowest Altitude reached: 116 meters below sea level, Danakil Depression, Afar, Ethiopia

Total number of hospital visits: 8 (2 motorbike accidents, 2 spider bites and multiple ear infections)

Total number of spider bites: 2 – Recluse (aka, violin spider), Kilifi, Kenya

Total number of wasp stings: 2 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda

Biggest spider encountered: Rain spiders, in the shower, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda

Most dangerous snake encounter: Boomslanger, WAG, Thuma Forest Reserve, Malawi

Total number of tropical diseases collected: 1 – H. Pylori (stomach bacteria). Still housing it from Madagascar

Total number of bats in the shower: 10 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda

Total number of festivals attended: 5

  • Uluru Camel Cup, Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
  • Sedgfield, South Africa
  • Vortex, South Africa
  • Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar
  • Kilifi New Year’s, Kenya

Total number of conservation\NGO projects volunteered: 8

Total number of volunteer jobs for food and bed: 24

Total number of art installations with Osotua Creative Collective: 5

  • The Cave Mandala – Rubuguri, Western Uganda
  • The Black Lantern String-art sign – Jinja, Uganda
  • Mandalas at The Black Lantern – Jinja, Uganda
  • Dreamcatcher living art, The Black Lantern – Jinja, Uganda
  • Light & String-art pyramid, What’s Good Live Studios – Nairobi, Kenya

Total number of videos on Youtube: 14

Total number of kayaking white water: 1 – Savage Wilderness, Tana River, Kenya

Total number of white water rafting: 3 – Rafting Xtreme, Zambezi River, Zambia and Savage Wilderness, Tana River, Kenya

Total number of SCUBA dives: 1, Red Sea, Dahab, Sinai, Egypt with Sinai Gate – 21 meters

Deepest free-dive: 15 meters

Total number of bungee jumps: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)

Total number of ziplining: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)

Total number of gorge swings: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)

Total number of places surfed: 8

  • Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia (not so much surfing as almost dying)
  • Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
  • Tangalie, Sri Lanka
  • The Strand, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Kalk Bay, South Africa
  • Inner Pool, Mossel Bay, South Africa
  • Dias Beach, Mossel Bay, South Africa
  • Bukka, Mossel Bay, South Africa (last surf, two years ago)

Total number of mountains conquered: 12

  • Chatauqua Peak, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia – 2,546 m
  • Mt Kelimuto, Flores, Indonesia – 1,639 m
  • Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka – 2,243 m (including more than 6,000 steps)
  • Mt Blanc, Madagascar – 420 m
  • Mt Hedelberg, Cape Town, South Africa – 1,001 m
  • Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa – 1,085 m
  • Mt Mulanji, Malawi – 3,001 m
  • Chombe Plateau, Malawi – 764 m
  • Mt Meru, Tanzania – 4,565 m
  • Point Nelion, Mt Kenya, Kenya – 5,188 m
  • Point Lenana, Mt Kenya, Kenya – 4,985 m
  • Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia – 613 m

Total number of active volcanoes: 1 – Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia (with ETT)

Total number of national parks: 54

Longest period in one country: 7 months, Kenya

Shortest period in one country: 10 days, Sri Lanka

Longest wait for a ride: 2 months, Darwin-Indonesia

Shortest wait for a ride: 3 seconds, Mulanji, Malawi

Longest hitch: 4 days with Harley and Em from Jinja, Uganda to Karen, Kenya

Longest distance hiked before getting a hitch: 10 K’s on the road to Lake Tanganika, Zambia

Most remote place to get a ride: Aberdares National Park, Kenya

Total number of Mohammeds met: 30

Total number of continents: 3

  • Australia
  • Asia
  • Africa

Total number of oceans crossed: 1 – Indian

Total number of seas crossed: 1 – Timor

Total number of canals crossed: 1 – Suez Canal, Egypt

Total number of deserts crossed: 5

  • The Outback, Australia
  • The Namib, Namibia
  • The Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
  • The Sudanese Desert, Sudan
  • The Egyptian Desert, Egypt

Total number of gigs: 97

Total number of tattoos acquired: 1

Total number of articles published:  257

Total number of photos published:  6,165

Most camels in a single caravan: 49

Total number of attempted pickpocketers: 2 – Cape Town, South Africa and Mwanza, Tanzania

Best Coffee: Hailu’s mum’s, Ayat, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Best Tea: Mzee Baraka’s spiced chai, Kilifi, Kenya

Total weight of packs: 33 KG

Total number of packs stolen: 1 – Zambia Oktoberfest

Total number of nicknames collected: 18 –

  • Jesus (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
  • Moses (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
  • Noah (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
  • Funny Man (Caprivi Houseboat Safaris, Namibia)
  • Guitar Jesus (by the British Army in Savage Wilderness, Sagana, Kenya)
  • Pan (by the Gypsy Queen in Kilifi, Kenya)
  • Kwizi (by Ruganzu Bruno in Kira Town, Uganda)
  • Sami (by a Sufi priest in Sudan)
  • Chuck Norris (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia)
  • Jack Sparrow (by the crew of Wisdom, Zanzibar)
  • Ntingo (means ‘someone who can survive anywhere’ in Ki-Swahili, Tanzania)
  • Hamlet (in Malawi)
  • Osama Bin Laden (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
  • Robinson Crusoe (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
  • Castaway (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
  • Sami (bestowed upon me by a Sufi priest in Sudan. Used throughout Sudan and Egypt)
  • Rainbow (Dahab. Accused of being part of the Rainbow community. I’m not).
  • Rasta-mun (everywhere)

Total number of hotels bartered with: 39

Total number of couchsurfers from couchsurfers.com: 31

Total number of near-death experiences: 12

  • Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia. 4-foot swell suddenly turned to 9-foot water mountains.
  • Motorbike accident in Koh Phangan, Thailand
  • First storm in open waters sailing the Malacca Straits
  • Motorbike accident in Sri Lanka
  • Multiple stings by Portuguese Man O’War, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean
  • Chased by hippo while river guiding on the Zambezi, Namibia
  • Charged by ostrich, Lake Kariba, Zambia
  • Slipped off a mountain hiking up to The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, Livingstonia, Malawi
  • Almost slipped off a cavern wall at Menengai Crater, Nakuru, Kenya
  • Almost runover by a matatu (mini-van), Nairobi, Kenya
  • Head-on collision averted when oncoming car decided the ditch was the safest bet, Kenya
  • Sucked under and momentarily trapped in a rapid on the Tana River, Kenya

Most amazing experience (cheese alert): Rising in love

Worst experience: Ear infection, Mbale, Uganda. Doctor did not go easy on me.

And, too end on a high,

Total number of acid trips: 4

  • Sri Lanka
  • South Africa x 2
  • Kenya

Total number of ecstasy trips: 10 – 8 in Kenya, two in Uganda

Total number of bad trips: 1 – Kenya

Best Weed: Malawi Gold, Malawi

Strongest Weed: Shisha Mani, Ethiopia

Mellowest Weed: Bungo, Sudan

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, Australia, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Sailing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SPIDERMAN

uluru

You’d think coming from Australia, land of ‘Everything can kill ya’, I’d know how to camp. I’d know that I should shake out my boots (that I never wear). That I should shake out my clothes before wearing them (and wonder where that new stain came from). That I should shake out my sleeping bag even though I don’t use it cause it’s too hot.

You’d think.

Especially since I’ve had some experience with venomous creatures of the lethal kind. You see, the category of animals in Australia is divided into two: Deadly or lethal.

My first encounter would have been back in 2011. I was hiking, barefoot, through the Cumberland River Gorge with two female friends. We reached a beautiful rocky outcrop by the river that spills into the Southern Ocean where my favourite left wave rolls lazily to the beach (it was here that I had my first Epic wave, dropping off the lip of a 4-foot beast, landing it and then zipping between the other surfers crowding the water).

I needed to pee and waltzed up the river, skipping over rocks. A large boulder was in my way so I climbed over it and landed with a thud on the other side. Just as I was about to unzip I heard a hiss. I looked down and froze.

My left foot had magically landed right next to a coiled up Tiger Snake, the 6th most lethal snake in the world, leaving just enough space for oxygen to pass between it and my foot.

tiger snake

Perhaps if I hadn’t drunken mushroom tea and smoked some joints on the trek, then I wouldn’t have attempted to break Usian Bolt’s hundred meter record.

*But I did.

Six months later I was exploring a semi-dry lake with my good friend, Warwick, a talented photographer who had been showing me the ways of the land in the Otways bushland. As we’re hiking through tall, dry grass in the month of September (just coming out of winter), Warwick, who has grown up in the bush, said,

“Careful mate, this looks like snake country.”

lake

As he went to the right, I went to the left and froze after about 10 meters. Before me, on top of the bushes, lay a long dark snake. Motionless. I couldn’t even see if it was breathing. It’s eyes seemed glazed over, like I get when I have one puff too many on a happy stick.

Hmm, I thought. It looks dead. Reckon I’ll pick it up and throw it at Warwick for shits and giggles.

I guess Karma read my mind and decided to intervene. As I bent forward and reached down with my hand I stopped, not dropping my gaze from the snake which had yet to show any sign of life. A gut instinct rang alarm bells.

Hmm, I thought. It might not be dead. And it might actually be deadly.

“Warwick, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, would you mind moseying on over here? I’ve found a snake and I’m not sure what it is or if it’s alive.”

Warwick crashed over through the bushes and stopped upon eying the critter. Carrying a mono-pod for his camera he instructed me to,

“Step to the left there, mate,” as he came to stand between me and the snake. Using the mono-pod, he rustled the bushes under the snake.

Now Warwick is a big guy. In height and in muscle. And when he rustled those bushes and the snake came to life, saw us two bipedals and shot into the bush at the speed of a bullet, Warwick crashed back on to me which resulted in me being splayed on my back like an upturned turtle.

“Holy shit!” I yelped. “What was it?”

“Tiger snake,” Warwick said, standing up and helping me to rise.

“Shit, mate, that’s the second time in six months.”

Tiger snakes have a very potent neurotoxic venom. Death from a bite can occur within 30 minutes, but usually takes 6-24 hours. It’ll will generally flee if encountered, but can become aggressive when cornered and strikes with unerring accuracy.

Let’s fast forward to the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand in the year 2013. I was driving a scooter to a jam session on the other side of the island in torrential rain at night on unlit dark roads. Tall grass was growing by the roadside. I noticed something long and dark just on the edge of the road. I slowed down by it and immediately recoginsed the cobra that had me close my legs in and push the throttle all the way.

A few months later I found myself on the sailing boat, SV San Miguel, hitching a ride to South Africa. An epic adventure of adventurous proportions. We had left Phuket, Thailand and sailed off to Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, we sailed south to Chagos Archipelago, a deserted chain of atolls and islands. The nearest habituated land were the Maldives, 180 nautical miles to our west.

As we cruised the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the depth reader showing 4,000 meters of water below us, we came across a strong current that the marine life were using as a super highway. As there was no wind, we jumped in to swim with sharks, barracuda, leatherhead sea turtles, a small hawksbill sea turtle, corafin fish and some Portuguese Man O’War.

Chagos map P1060956

The Man O’War isn’t a jellyfish. It’s a siphonophore, a collection of living organisims known as zooids (I shit you not). As I was watching a shark swim beneath me I felt a sting on my left ear. I clambered back on board and in the galley I wiped my ear with vinegar before returning to the water. Then I was stung on my left rib.

P1060962

Damn it, I thought as I returned once more to the galley for another swab of vinegar. I hate vinegar. The smell can propel me backwards as though I were taking a 12-gauge buckshot to the chest. Returning to the water for the third time I was then stung on my left ankle. I looked around and saw the floating zooid colony and identified it.

Merde, I thought as again, I returned below deck and swabbed the stung area with vinegar. But the venom of the previous stings had reached my left lymph node and it was fighting back hard. So hard that the pain caused had me stumble back to my cabin like after a typical night out in Bangkok. I collapsed on the bunk and passed out.

An hour later I came too and exchanged survival stories with the captain who had suffered the same fate.

Let’s time-jump to June, 2015, when a recluse spider bit my left shin in my sleep in Kilifi. Not knowing what it was I let the bite fester for 9 days before I figured that the black, dead skin and continuous oozing puss (which was my liquefied flesh caused by the spider’s venom) might need to be looked at in a hospital.

brown_recluse03

After they dug out a hole that could house a piggy bank, placed me on anti-biotics and painkillers, it took four weeks for the wound to heal.

You see, a recluse spider, the size of a quarter, has venom that destroys and melts your flesh. It doesn’t get into the blood stream, it’s extremely painful and leaves a pretty nasty scar if not treated in time and can result in death.

I was close to losing my leg and was very grateful for the treatment I received.

Now, a month later, I’m once again bitten by a recluse fucking spider in my tent. Once again in my sleep. Once again on my left side. This time, on the very point of my left elbow. This time, I knew what it was straight away. Confirmation came on the third day and I headed over to the hospital where I greeted the same doctors that had treated me before (it starts off looking like a mosquito bite, it’ll itch all day and then the day after a white head, like a pimple will appear. Pain sets in like a tender bruise before the venom starts to melt your flesh under the skin).

“Got a new one,” I grinned as they cleaned me up, gave me antibiotics and now, I hope it’ll only take a week to heal.

I love nature but sometimes, nature loves me back a little too hard, like an aunt with giant bosoms who squeezes you in a bear-hug, suffocating you to a point of passing out.

Now I’m practicing how to shoot webs from my wrists.

*Please note: in the event of encountering any snake, you should freeze and give it way. They’ll usually slither off to not be bothered. If it’s a black mamba then good luck.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Australia, Kenya, Sailing, Thailand, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HAPPY HOBOS

hh

I was interviewed by the good people at Happy Hobos. Check their pages out on the social networks.

http://www.thehappyhobos.com/im-bartering-and-hitchhiking-my-way-around-the-world-without-flying/

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, Australia, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Sailing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

YEAR ONE

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A year ago I left everything I ever knew of my life and drove out in the dark morning of an autumn Melbourne sunrise, heading towards a clichéd unknown destiny.

A year on the road (and 5 months at sea) living out of my backpack, escorted by my guitar (the surfboard I had started out with I donated to Soul Surf Project in Bali) and a daypack – my world had expanded beyond the complexities of western society.

In this past year I met the most amazing people I have ever crossed paths with (besides the amazing people already in my life). I did things I have never ever dreamed of doing like hitch-hiking in Asia, catching sailing boats to cross the seas in the off-season (also known as cyclone season). I explored deserted islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, rode motorbikes in suicidal Asian traffic and partied hard on beaches, in bars, clubs and private homes.

I slept in hammocks in the Malaysian jungle, woke up in a car park in Bangkok, did some contortioning yoga in Thailand, swam with sharks in Chagos, swam in 4,000 meters of water, saw dolphins at sunrise and sunset. Saw mind-tripping bio luminous plankton, more stars than in an astronomers wet dream and witnessed some of the most breath-taking sunsets known to man.

12 months, 10 countries, countless of adventures and that cemented feeling of never returning to a ‘normal’ life-style.

This is me for the rest of my days. Thanks to everyone that hosted me and helped me along the way. Before I start my two-year (thereabouts) hitch-hiking expedition across Africa to the Middle East, here’s a quick summary of the year gone by:

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Number of Countries Visited – 10

Number of Islands Visited – 22

Number of Mountains conquered – 6

Number of Boats Sailed – 12

Number of Bodies of Water Crossed – 2 – The Timor Sea and the Indian Ocean

Furthest Distance Covered by Land – 5,400 KM (driving from Melbourne to Darwin through the Outback, Australia)

Furthest Distance Covered by Sea – 4,000 nautical miles (7,408 KM, crossing the Indian Ocean from Thailand to South Africa)

Number of Storms Encountered at Sea – 9

Number of Shitting Bricks Moments at Sea 3

Number of Fish Caught – 5

Number of Fish Hooked but then Escaped – 8

Number of Times Hit by Flying Fish – 1

Number of Motorbikes Ridden – 8

Number of Motorbike Accidents – 3

Number of Motorbike Accidents where I was at Fault – 2

Number of Surf Spots Surfed – 6

Favourite Conservation Project – MYCAT – Tiger Conservation, Malaysia

Number of Leeches – 17

Number of Leeches that Sucked Me Dry – 3

Favourite Surf Spot – Bukka, Mossel Bay, South Africa

Number of Near-death Experiences – 3
– Any bus ride\road crossing in Asia
– Surfing Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia
– Stung by Portuguese Man O’War in the middle of the Indian Ocean

Number of Food Poisonings – 1 (Madagascar)

Number of Jellyfish Stings – 3 (Portuguese Man O’War)

Number of Dinghies Stolen – 1 (Madagascar)

Number of Sandals Stolen – 1 (Madagascar – they were in the dinghy)

Number of Sunglasses Lost – 3 (Timor Sea and Indian Ocean)

Number of iPhones Lost 1 (Timor Sea)

Number of Parties Attended – 31… I think

Number of Parties Remembered – 20… I think

Number of Acid Trips – 2 (Sri Lanka – trippy, South Africa – mellow)

Favourite Word for ‘thank you’ – Stoo-tie (Singahlese, Sri Lanka)

Favourite Word for ‘you’re welcome’ – Suma-suma (Indonesian)

Favourite Word for ‘sweet as’ – Lekker (Afrikaans, South Africa)

Number of Sponsors – 3 – Ticket to the Moon (Bali, Indonesia) supplying a travel hammock
North Ridge (South Africa) supplying a 65L backpack
Source (Israel) supplying hiking sandals and a 3L water bag

Favourite Alcoholic Beverage – Coconut liquor (known as Arak), Sri Lanka

Best Weed – Sri Lanka

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, Australia, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Northern Territory, Sailing, Singapore, South Africa, South Australia, Sri Lanka, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SRI LANKA, PARTY CENTRAL

IMG_3326“I am Sanju,” Sanju introduced himself.

I shook hands with the young Sri Lankan as we sat on the old Dutch Fort in the port city of Galle. Once a main trading port for spices and tea between South East Asia and the Mediterranean, Galle is located on the south-west coast of the island nation.

I was strolling along the 300-year-old fort walls, my calf muscles still pissed off with my ascent of Adam’s Peak three days prior, when I sat beside Sanju and struck up a conversation.

“Do you want to go see the Redbull event?” he asked.

 

Not really knowing what was happening where I said, “Sure,” and followed him along the wall to the entrance tunnel of the fort. It had been blocked of by temporary event walls erected around two F1 Redbull racing cars sitting on stands.IMG_3333

“The newly recruited driver is about to arrive and rev the engines, then do some donuts,” informed the Redbull girl from the capital city, Colombo, handing out free cans of the infamous energy drink with a bright smile and twinkling eyes.

The crowd that had gathered curiously watched the set up as a DJ stall was blasting out electronic music from the grassy area across the road.

“Good music,” I noted.

Sanju nodded. “There is a great party tonight in Unawatuna,” he said. “You should come.”

Unawatuna is the Kuta, Bali of the south west coast of Sri Lanka. It is catered to tourists with backpackers, hotels, restaurants, motorbike hire, beach parties, souvenir and trinket shops (where shop keepers stand in their doorways with calls of, “Yes sir, hello, sir, come inside, sir.”), wi-fi, Internet cafes and one surf shop with boards for hire.

It being the off-season, I could only imagine the hustle and bustle of this one-lane street during peak season that kicks off from mid-December until April.

IMG_3335I exchanged numbers with Sanju as the engines of the F1 cars fired up, deafening everything within hearing range. Not really excited by F1 cars, I parted ways with my new friend and walked back towards Galle Harbour. San Miguel was anchored amongst industrial barges and oceanic exploration boats, surrounded by the kind of industrial water that could disintegrate titanium steel.

I bumped into Manu by the beach-side fish market. He had just returned from the centrally located city of Kandy during his 2-day bike trip on his rented motorbike.

“For sure we go to the party,” he said.

That night we walked the 4 K’s to Unawatuna, stopping at the bottle shop to meet Sanju and buy cheaper beers (180 Rupees for a 500ml bottle instead of 400 at the bar). After a few bottles we headed over to the beach party.

The sign read, ‘Entry 2,000 Rupee, Ladies Free, White Dress Code. Free Entry until 21:00’.

The time on Sanju’s phone read 21:03. The gatekeepers refused to let us in unless we paid the exaggerated amount. Manu took charge and lead us around the back, finding a strategically located tree next to the flimsy tin fence that sealed the party from outsiders.

We climbed over and found ourselves behind the DJ’s stage. We danced onto the beach, mixing amongst the predominantly tourist revellers that were in attendance. At about 03:00 we retired back to San Miguel to rest up for the next night’s party.

We caught up with Sanju again, repeating the pre-drinks routine before hitting the Happy Banana Disco in Unwatuna where Manu and I had partied the previous weekend. It was the kind of place that catered for the western crowd, mostly Russians. I can barely recall that previous weekend. I remember dancing to the same three songs played in various mixes.

I remember that by the end of the night, somewhere in the vicinity of 3 AM, the party had ended and Manu and I had made friends with a group of British girls, a 7-foot German and a few other westerners who had suggested we all go down to Chilli’s, a beach bar that would still be open.

I remember talking to a Sri Lankan who was the manager of the disco.

Who offered me acid.

I usually allow myself to divulge in hallucinogenic drugs once a year at the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria (held over the Australia Day weekend. Highly recommended). I also try to avoid mixing alcohol with chemically enhanced party favourites.

Except when I’m already Aussie-drunk and don’t even think about Nancy Regan’s world famous slogan of saying ‘no’ to drugs (when do I ever?).

The events of that night were relayed to me by Manu the next day (it felt as though a week had passed). He had chaperoned my blitzed condition since leaving Chilli’s.

Deep breath, and:

We had fallen asleep on some rocks on a beach after we had eaten at a beach-side restaurant from where we took a daredevil bus ride back to the harbour where I refused to co-operate in paddling the dinghy back to San Miguel (and if that wasn’t enough, I forgot to tie it up and it floated between two docked barges) and that I eventually fell asleep in the harbour canteen (which had the tastiest, cheapest and largest serving of rice curry in the whole of Sri Lanka) before I managed to hitch a ride on a dinghy belonging to a newly-arrived catamaran that anchored next to us so I could get back to the boat where I promptly went to bed (some might say rendered myself unconscious) until waking up at midnight.

Whew.

Manu thought I was drunk at the time. I confessed that I was tripping beyond hyper-space on some see-you-on-Mars shit (I remember thinking that I had created the planet and all life on it as an arts project in a Dimension X world).

“Manu, don’t let me take any acid tonight,” I said as we hit the empty dance floor at the Happy Banana. “I wanna remember our last weekend in Sri Lanka.”

It was our last night in the island nation before we set sail for the Chagos Islands, Madagascar (where Manu will leave to head to Reunion Island) and eventually South Africa, my last stop with San Miguel.

We partied until 01:00 and then headed over to a beach party at the end of the tourist area of Unawatuna. I’ve seen cemeteries with more living bodies yet, the DJ’s played more than three songs (even mixing it up with different tracks) so we stuck around, dancing until about 02:30 before we decided to head back to the boat.

We were walking along the beach when we came across a crowd that was large enough to block out the bar they were crowding around.

Manu and I looked at each other with a knowing grin. Together with Sanju, we headed in and mixed in among the mainly tourist crowd, arguing with a Kiwi chef about making the best pizzas.

“Try making it at a 45 degree angle”, Manu challenged him. And then asking a Russian surf instructor about surf spots (I know, right? A Russian surf instructor?).

When the DJs packed up and left us without music I spontaneously started to beatbox (which, really, was more like exasperatedly spitting) while a dreadlocked Aussie (arrived just that morning into the country) began to rap as the Kiwi chef clapped a beat and the Russian surf instructor videoed the whole thing.

“Did that just happen?” Kiwi asked about seven minutes later, astounded that in fact,

“It did, mate. It did,” I cheerfully clapped him on the back. “And you gave us the rhythm.”

It was just on 04:30 when we called it a night. Manu and I had a few hours to sleep before we had to ride to Hikkaduwa on the east coast to return his hired motorbike (about 20 minutes north-west of Galle), shop for supplies at the supermarket and fresh produce market, going through the bureaucratic joys of clearing our visas and passports before prepping the boat for our 1090 mile trip south to the British governed Chagos Islands.

Sri Lanka was country number 6 and so far my favourite. The people are super nice (especially to Aussies because of the aid the country provided after the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami), the food is super cheap (with servings so big that a sumo wrestler would be satisfied) and tasty (I recommend the diced vegetable roti with fried rice and egg called Kuti), the weed is stoner-tastic and the acid… Well, that’s a trip all on its own.

If only I could remember it.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Sailing, Sri Lanka, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ADAM’S PEAK

P1060887“Would you like some tea?” asked the sergeant of the Sri Lankan army.

“Oh, yes please,” I said, grateful beyond words for the offer.

I had just clambered down 12 K’s of one of the toughest stair cases I have ever endured. 6,642 steps over 13 K’s to the top of one the most sacred locations in Buddhism – Adam’s Peak, which is named for the Muslim’s belief that Adam (of Adam and Eve fame) landed here after he was thrown out of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit.

The Buddhist believe it is where Buddha ascended to Nirvana.

The place has been around for over 2,000 years, conveniently located in Peak’s Sanctuary, just outside of Ratnapura, a busy town at the foothills of some majestic fog-covered jungle mountains.

In fact, the great explorer, Marco Polo describes the chains he uses to climb to the top. Those very same chains, albeit slightly rusty, are still there, just under the peak.

It’s hard to imagine how the monks of yester-year got the materials to build the monastery up here, 2,242 meters above sea level. Fitness is not the only thing you need to conquer this mountain of pain. It’s the endurance levels of pain that hurt you, pushing on when your body begs you to quit.

And the good sense to stretch once you return to the base.

I like to think of myself as quite a fit person. I’m very physical in my day-to-day activities. I walk every where, climb what I can, surf when there are waves and usually eat healthy. I have a high endurance for long distance running and my pain tolerance would put any torturer out of their mind.

But this climb? It almost defeated me.P1060894

Somehow, I had decided to take the long way up: 13 K’s of stairs that took me 6 hours to climb, through, heat, then cool air as the clouds rolled in, rain and then, at the 6 K mark, I reached the base of the peak. I looked up and almost cried.

Fuck me. My legs screamed for me to go back. My brain said I’d never make it. My heart, thundering in my ears, was ready to jump out of my chest cavity and call it a day. I was drenched from sweat and had already eaten four bananas for energy (I had two more and two mangoes).

With 3 K’s to go I stumbled on, stupidly ignoring everything my body was begging me not to do.

The flow of a stream and small waterfalls could be heard from somewhere behind the wall of jungle canopy that lined the stair case all the way to the top.

The top.

The fucking top.

It just seemed unreachable. I looked up and all I could see were stairs at an 87 degree angle. But my stubbornness, inherited from my mother, kept me going. As I climbed higher, the temperature dropped. I have never in my hiking life stopped every five minutes to rest, my head hanging low as I contemplated taking another step, wiping the sweat dripping from every pore in my face, sipping from the 1.5 liter bottle of tap water (Sri Lanka is not only one of the cleanest Asian countries I’ve been too, but has safe, drinkable tap water).

P1060896I huffed out a ‘hello’ to the few locals that passed me as they climbed down carrying huge sacks of what I can only assume to be rice. As I broke through the fog and came to a gateway with a large statue of Buddha at it’s base I looked and sighted Adam’s Peak, the monastery sitting atop it, laughing at me, daring me to continue.

It is these moments that I hate the most. When you’re so close yet so far and can’t believe you still have so much to go to reach the top. Then again, it’s never about reaching the top but the journey you take to get there. I was 3 K’s away from the peak, stairs at 90 degree angles.

 

 

I tried not to think about the rice and curry that I would gorge myself on once I returned to the village and the Pirwai Hotel (which was a family home with one room for rent). Instead, I focused on reaching the top as I stopped to breathe every three steps, right beside Marco Polo’s chains (which I forgot to take a photo of. Merde).

As I jump-started myself to reach the top, waving a limp ‘hello’ to the worker renovating the last steps atop the 2,242 meter peak, I came across a group of students from the international school in Colombo. They were on a field day with their teacher, Mr Lockwood who gave usthe history of the place.

I offered my mangoes and in return was counter-offered ginger snap biscuits, crackers and cheese, some mandarins and the mother of all heavenly goodness atop a mountain peak, the honour of polishing off the jar of Nutella.

“Where did you guys come from?” I asked, pretty sure I hadn’t passed any one besides the locals on the way up.

“Through the jungle,” said Mr Lockwood. “It’s about a 4-hour trek but there are leeches,” he pointed to his boots. “Hence the leech shoes.”

Give me leeches any day over 6,000 steps. I’ll take it. Especially when the 13 K climb takes 6-7 hours. I took in the spectacular view of the surrounding jungle and a lake dotted with small islands in the distance.

Then the bell rang out 16 times. P1060912

“That’s the amount of times Mr Lockwood has been up here,” explained John, a kid of 15 (I think) from Australia. “Every you time you come up here it’s tradition to ring the bell.”

And so, after feasting and resting, I rang the bell, and cemented my mark in the still-wet cement beneath it.

At 15:00, an hour after I had finally made the peak, I bid ‘farewell’ to the students and, not quite looking forward to the decent, made a slow, yet quicker than the climb, progress to the Pirwai Hotel, some 6,000 steps below.

 

As it grew darker and I ignored the dogs that barked and growled, I had my first Sri Lankan tea at the hands of the kindhearted sergeant, deployed here to help with the renovations of the stair case.

“How many times have you climbed up?” I asked him.

“Once, daily,” he bobbed his head side-to-side.

My jaw dropped as I sipped the hot, sweet tea. “Stootie,” I thanked him in Sinhalese and made my way down the last K with my flashlight. I reached the hotel, had three serves of rice and curry with two fried eggs and another cup of tea before I showered and crashed into bed by 19:30.

The morrow would have me riding the bike 200 K’s south to the coast for my first surf in four months.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

STORMING ACROSS THE OCEAN

“So wake me up if you see another boat, if the wind picks up or if you see a black cloud,” Captain Francois informed me before retiring below deck for the night.

It was 21:00, the start of our 3.5-hour night-watches and I was the first one up.

“No problem,” I said. “Boat, wind, black cloud.” I looked around.

Above me the stars shone, hanging delicately like a crystal chandelier. On the water the kryptonite-green phosphorous plankton blanketed the wake the boat was leaving as we floated by at 2 knots due to the lack of wind.

Black cloud. Black cloud.

I stared out into the black night. The Indian Ocean reflected the blackness turning everything into the kind of darkness that you only ever read about in the bible. In the distant horizon an electrical storm was blitzkreiging the northern tip of Sumatra, bombardments of light resembling an artillery fire in a war zone.

Black cloud. Black cloud.

Manu came up to hang for a bit and survey our surroundings.

“Hey Manu,” I began sheepishly, “how am I supposed to see a black cloud in the black night?”

“Don’t worry,” he grinned. “When you see it, you will know.”

We were anticipating a tropical storm that had been brewing in Thailand two days ago. It was scheduled to reach just north of our position and travel parallel to us towards Sri Lanka. We were to take advantage of its tail-end and use the weaker winds to push us along towards the island nation of tea and cinnamon at our SSW heading of 240°.

After being denied safe anchorage in Sumatra due to lack of papers (but the 4-hour stopover provided some awesome snorkeling) we had continued chugging along with almost no wind. South East Asia had just been hit by the most powerful storm in recorded history, making Hurricane Katrina look like a walk in the park. I was under the assumption that anything after that would be pretty powerful so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to sailing in the middle of the ocean with a storm up my stern.

P1070192So with the ocean turning into a lake with water flatter than a chopping board we motored throughout the night. Before the sun blew itself out in another spectacular array of orange to yellow-pink-red light I registered the positions of the surrounding clouds.

At night their outlines resembled a Roman garrison patiently waiting out a fortified Masada before going in to sac and pillage.

I loved sitting on the beach in Darwin during the wet season and watching the storms roll in, huge black clouds with lightening shooting out of every corner in every direction, like Pink Floyd’s ‘Pulse’ concerts.

I was in the state of Kentucky back in 2005 when Katrina hit. I experienced her tail-end with sheets of rain coming down.

Not drops – sheets.

The storm we were avoiding was bigger in size than the island we were headed towards. The kind of storm that would make the news. And not just local news – international, “This is CNN” news.

I love storms – from a distance, in the safety of a concrete home with a crackling fire and a soft couch; a rhythmic, hypnotic tapping of rain on every surface. The ferocity and power always makes me think of them as nature’s mercenaries, sent for a quick in-‘n’-out operation.

‘Reek as much destruction as you can,’ I can imagine Gaya pep-talking to her clouded army. ‘Leave nothing untouched. Remind the humans who still has control.’

But here I was in the middle of the Indian freakin’ Ocean – no cracklin’ fire, no couch. Just water all around.

And if the anticipation of a mega tropical storm wasn’t enough, my stomach was not handling the salt content of this night’s dinner too well, a storm of its own brewing deep within me. Apparently, the good people of Thailand love a high salt intake. There was more salt on the noodles than in the ocean.

When Manu had dropped the noodles into the boiling water they immediately floated to the top, as though they were in the Dead Sea. I suppose shooting the salt water in chasers with the chef wasn’t the best idea either.

Neither is waiting for a category 3 newsworthy storm.

Two hours into my shift my panic and terror, like the artillery lightening in the distance had subsided.

The shell-bombing that was ripping through my stomach didn’t.

I double-checked for boats – none.

Wind – calmer than air.

Black clouds – all whites and albinos as far as I could tell (the moon had popped up and I used her for assistance).

Now was a good a time as any. I hit the head and hoped, like Gaya’s mercenary storm clouds, for a quick in-‘n’-out operation.

16 DAYS AT SEA

The watches came and went. Breakfast was whenever one would wake up and lunch and dinner served at regular times, a split job between myself and Manu, a French culinary genius who taught me a few tricks in the galley.

P1060485Showers were a dip in the sea, getting dragged behind the boat on a rope. Nothing like swimming in 4,000 meters of the bluest water I had ever seen to make you feel smaller than plankton. When the rains hit, we used the opportunity to shower in fresh water.

During our first night the Genoa got shredded and we had to sail on the main sail and a smaller replacement called the troutement (or something like that). In the morning I helped the captain hoist another Genoa that was already torn but we hoped would last until Sri Lanka.

4 days later it ripped along with the spinnaker. 2 days later Manu and the Captain stitched up the Genoa and with the wind picking up we were finally making some head way.

P1060789I wasn’t sure what day it was when I awoke to the sound of a fishing boat chugging along side us with Manu and the captain bartering for some fish as we hadn’t caught so much as seaweed. Where they came from is beyond me as we were 450 miles from land. We exchanged some smokes, a bottle of Kickapoo soft drink and some canned goods for two large fish that served us well for two lunches and dinners.

“Big storm coming,” said one fisherman.

 

 

The captain wasn’t taking any risks and brought out the life vests. “When you go on watch attach yourself with this rope to the boat,” he said.

That’s when I realised that this shit was about to turn real.

That night the wind whipped up. In the distance I saw the biggest, blackest angriest cloud I had ever seen. There were no stars as it descended down, appearing to swallow up the sky.

“Francois?” I woke the captain during my watch. “Big black cloud on the horizon.” I hoped that the shaking that I felt didn’t come through in my voice.

The rain that hit us was torrential and when the wind changed direction – right when I changed shifts with Manu – we were blown into one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. We were surrounded by at least 16 ships, cargo, tankers and super tankers, boxing us in. It was the equivalent of riding a bike and being boxed in by 18-wheeler trucks.

I went to bed, rolling from side-to-side (not by choice) terrified of what may or may not happen.

When we sailed from November to December I was glad to sight land on the horizon. After the formalities of customs, quarantine and other country entry bureaucracy we were finally allowed entry into Galle, Sri Lanka.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Sailing, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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