Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A book a day

What a difference good weather makes.............Thong Nai Pan before..........................

Thong Nai Pan after...............

I love the long hot lost days that fall between Christmas and New Year. In Sydney I usually managed to take this week off work and it is usually a hazy blur of food, wine, sun, sea and books. Things aren't too different here on Ko Phangan, I think the place has become even more laid back than it was before during this time. The weather has finally decided to behave transforming the ocean from a grey, raging monster to a cool green lake. fringed by coconut palms and a white beach. Days are sliding by punctuated by eating, swimming and reading. I have been living on a diet that consists of a book a day - so far I have devoured The Life of Pi, The Lovely Bones, The time travellers wife, The Right Stuff and now Oracle Night by Paul Auster - I am like a book bullimic.

At night we wander out to the beach, meet up with a few people we have befriended for a beer or some dinner. The restaurants on the beach are all covered in fairy lights and coloured lanterns, the bars hidden up jungle trails and decked out with coloured cushions and hammocks just perfect for lounging. Before I know it another lazy day has slithered past and its time for bed, lucky we have one more week of this before plunging back into some serious hard travel to Cambodia and Burma.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Island to do list

Read book
Have swim
Eat lunch
Get massage

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

And the living is easy.........

So now we are in the islands recovering from an 18 hour spine breaking journey that started on a night bus from Bangkok where we were woken at 4.30am and thrown off the bus in the rain in the middle of nowhere, then taken in the back of a truck to a odd little office where we sat for an hour before being thrown on another bus then a very leaky rusty ferry with only a handful of locals and a buddhist monk for company before being dispatched into the hands of another truck driver to arrive here at Thong Nai Pan Noi.

In the pictures it looked idyllic, all flat crystalline blue water, white sands and sunshine, in reality we were greeted by grey skies, killer winds and alarmingly large grey waves crashing just a little too close to the beach huts. Undeterred Eduardo and I found ourselves a little bungalow for the night. But just like goldilocks the bungalow wasnt just right, the bed was like concrete and it was way too windy. Undeterred again we ventured accross the beach to the delightful Star Hut, where a bungalow with soft beds, verandah with a view and even a friendly dog were awaiting us.

Even though the weather is a bit crap we are still in heaven, after 8 months of hard travel in Sth America having a tasteful place to sleep, delicious food to eat, cold beers and piles of books to read things are looking pretty good. Just got our fingers crossed that the predicted typhoon doesnt materialise and our 3 weeks are drama free...........

Monday, December 19, 2005

Two nights in Bangkok

Smiling through the fear in a Tuk Tuk - Ed on the other hand seems strangely excited.

Lobbed into Bangkok before I knew what hit me, what country am I in now? I swear a few hours ago it was the UK....then Morocco, and when was Brazil again? Oh yes thats right we managed to cover them all in the space of about 3 weeks...ooops, our slow and easy pace of travel over the last 8 months had gone beserk in the last month.

So now its Bangkok all heat soaked grey skies, pollution, traffic and madness. But it also colour and vibrance, from mad little streets filled with coloured fairy lights and lanterns, to vast displays of incredible looking food on street grills, to outrageously elaborate gold and red temples covered in tiny mirrors that sparkle in the moonlight.

Found a hotel a couple of streets away from the infamous Kao San Road, here hundreds of tatooed, pierced, shaven headed or dreadlocked backpackers loll about on couches like packs of fat sea lions sipping beer and watching films on cable. Suddenly I realise that this is where the cliched and often loathed backpacker "type" is spawned.

But besides that Bangkok is superbly kitted out for travellers, everything you could possibly need is available around the clock from cool looking clothes and shoes to books, bags and so on...basically everything that wasn't available in South America is here in spades.

The locals here are incredibly enterprising setting up amazing food stalls, market stalls and even bars made out of old VW Combi vans - it makes for an interesting vibe. On our first day Eduardo and I took one of the infamous Tuk Tuks (colourful little half motorbike, half rickshaw) around town and got to sample one of Bangkoks traffic jams, sitting in the tiny death trap, dodging giant trucks and buses, sucking back pollution and rebuffing our charming but dodgy drivers offers to visit gem stores for over an hour.....kind of funny in a health threatening way.

But after two days it is bye bye Bangkok and hello islands of Thailand where they greatest decision each day will be what to eat for lunch.

Well some street food was yummy....but this stall was decidedly more popular with locals..the sign reads "Locust, Worm, Silkworm, Scorpion and Cricket" The crickets were in demand.

Bars come in all shapes and sizes in Thailand but this was my favourite, the Combi Van bar

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mind the gap, and watch out for those escalators

Its christmas in Regent Street (and its only 4.30 in the afternoon!)

Departed Morocco for a land of decidedly greyer skies....we arrived at Gatwick at the ungodly hour of 12.30 at night and then proceeded to blow over 130 dollars catching a train and then a taxi.(sad postscript to this tale is that our lovely mates/London hosts with the most Emma and Dan had driven all the way to Gatwick to spare us the epic trip but somehow managed to miss our arrival by two minutes making it a futile evening for all.)

So London was a blur of sleep, trips to the pub, bleary staggers back to bed, before rising again to head to the pub. Not very healthy but good fun. London itself was deadly cold, clear and rather pretty in a crisp, sparkling way. I think I prefer it lookswise in winter, though I don't know how people can deal with the whole getting pitch dark at 4 o'clock business, way too depressing for words.

One of my favourite things to do when I'm in the UK is to search out public signage that seems to state the bloody obvious. It is a curious phenomena that seems peculiar to the UK. For example the signs and endless announcements at the Tube station to "mind the gap", its like there is an assumption that if they didnt have warning signs and recorded messages to mind the gap the public simply wouldn't know any better and would be plunging down between the train and platform like lemmings.

But this time it was Marks and Spencers who took the prize, in their Oxford Street shop I spied no less than four signs dedicated to instructing people on how to use the escalators, this included helpful hints like "stand facing forward", "carry your children or pets" and the more obscure"take extra care if you are wearing soft boots or shoes". Nothing like having your hand held I guess........but it does makes me wonder how the Brits cope out in the rest of the world, specially when they are wearing soft boots or shoes : )

Five hours sleep and its off to the pub with the lovely Ms Emma Baxter and Ying

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Cat Empire, Stork City and number 97

The overiding image in my head that sums up Morocco would have to be that of a cat - they are everywhere. Sunbaking in the streets, slouching in chairs at cafes, perching on stools in the barber shop, lolling on the merchandise looking smug in the souk and even sitting on the lap of the man who runs the butcher shop. It seems most people here love them, and if they don't love them they tolerate them to the point of indulgence anyway.

If the cat is Morocco then the Stork is Marrakech, these enormous birds live all over the pink city, with a preference for all the choicest bits of real estate in town for building their crazy afro style nests on. I never realised quite how large these things were til I saw them here, no wonder they were the birds that supposedly delivered human babies to people, looks like they could do it with one wing behind their back. Luckily for the Storks they are considered a holy bird and there is a 3 month jail sentance for anyone caught pestering them, just in case you were considering it.

As for number 97 that is the name of my favourite place to eat here in the city. In the main square at night the place is transformed into a circus of fortune tellers, snake charmers, jugglers, drummers, witch doctors, storytellers, letter writers, belly dancers and every kind of busker you can imagine. Amongst all this activity are the hundred odd outdoor food stalls with shiny metal table tops, frenetic waiters, steaming tea kettles, smoking barbeques and mountains of delicious food. The smoke from the grills and the bright lights make the whole place look like it is on fire.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wizards of Morocco

The winter outfit of choice for most Moroccan men, and the odd woman, is the jellaba; a soft woolly cloak / coat that falls loosely over the body down to the ankles. The highlight of the jellaba is the hood which tapers off into a sharp point. When the locals pop the hoods onto their heads the points stand skywards making the wearer look like a wizard.

Since the weather has been on the turn the streets have suddenly filled with sorcerers. A violet wizard sips tea in a cafe, a yellow wizard strides down the twisty alleyways, an emerald green wizard stops to withdraw money from an ATM machine, a turquiose wizard clip clops past on a donkey smoking a cigarette. Its just like falling into the pages of a Harry Potter book.

Night of 1001 shooting stars

Morocco is so beautiful it is almost exhausting, somedays on a wander through the souk I feel like a team of interior designers and stylists have been at work in the place just beforehand. A brightly coloured carpet, silver bowls arranged just so, a handful of rosepetals lie scattered nearby, a turquiose wooden footstool with a black cat with green eyes draped on top and that is just the entrance to a little shop selling tobacco. In a nutshell the place just ooozes style.

While we have been here we have had a couple of days in Marrakech before taking a trip out into the country and to the desert; through amazing rocky gorges and ancient mud kasbahs til on the last night we arrived in the desert where we were saddled up on camels and whisked out into the orange sand dunes to a traditional berber nomad campsite complete with lanterns and killim rugs on the sand. After an outdoor dinner of tagine where we were mugged by the cats that live with a nearby nomad family, our group all decided to climb the nearest sand dune and star gaze, the difficult climb was worth it when we all collapsed in the soft sand and look up to see the millions of stars so easily seen in the clear air and darkness of the Sahara. Sattelites whized accross the sky accompanied occassionally by shooting stars and the regular stars even made quite a show sparking and flaring in the dark velvet blue.

After a singalong by the fire, some more sugary mint tea its off to bed in our tents, a rather chilly affair until the coarse woolly blankets and the odd opportunistic cat start to warm us up and we fall asleep to the soft grunts of our nearby camels.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


How do you travel from a remote town in Brasil to Marrakesch Morroco? Its easy as long as you are not too fond of sleep. Simply catch a bus, then another bus, then a taxi, then an overnight bus, then a bus to the airport, then you have a one hour argument with the check in people who have accused your boyfriend of tampering with his ticket, refuse to pay fee, finally board plane cursing South America all the while, fly all night, well until 3am when you are woken up, not that you were really asleep anyway, land in Madrid transit where there are no cash machines to get money and spend four hours being bored, hungry and thirsty before catching another plane where you have to pay if you want food or drinks - thanks Iberia Airlines, then catch another cab.

Result - our landscape has transformed from jungles and fried chicken to narrow twisty alleyways, candlelight, insense, spices, donkeys, men in long hooded cloaks, coloured silks, silver lanterns, secret gardens, hidden palaces....... Magic.